Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

The Vitamin C Breakdown February 27, 2012

Maybe you already know the Vitamin C basics – that when applied topically this skincare ingredient is an antioxidant, an anti-inflammatory, and a collagen simulator.  I’ve blogged in the past (see my post Great Skincare Ingredient: Vitamin C) about how much I love Vitamin C as part of a daily skincare routine.  Yet finding the right Vitamin C product for your skin can be confusing because of the numerous products on the market and different formulations of Vitamin C out there.  I hope this post will help clear up any confusion my readers may have about this subject.

Vitamin C Basics

As already mentioned above Vitamin C can have numerous benefits for the skin.  Not only does Vitamin C protect the skin since it is an antioxidant it can also control oily skin, hydrate, and help your sunscreen work better by shielding the skin from UV rays that your sunscreen misses.  But if you get a product that is too strong you can end up irritating your skin instead of helping it.  Or you could invest in a product whose formulation just isn’t effective and/or unstable.

There are numerous versions of Vitamin C formulations in skincare products.  Irregardless if the Vitamin C is from a natural or synthetic source all Vitamin C needs to be processed to some degree before it can be used in skincare products.  Synthetic Vitamin C ingredients are more readily available, are less expensive, can be more sustainable, and break down at a slower rate than natural forms of Vitamin C.  These facts can factor into a company’s decision about which form of Vitamin C to use in formulating their product.

In my research I’ve come across quite a few different forms of Vitamin C found in skincare products.  In this post I’ll discuss the following versions:  L-Ascorbic Acid, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (MAP), and Ascorbyl Palmitate.  Though you will come across other versions of Vitamin C in skincare products these three are widely used in skincare products.  Let’s look at each of these forms of Vitamin C up close.

L-Ascorbic Acid

L-Ascorbic Acid in skincare products is the closest form of Vitamin C to that found in our diets.  But before you think that this version of Vitamin C comes from an orange be aware that companies use a version that is synthesized in a manufacturing plant.  The upside to this version of Vitamin C is that it is an effective anti-aging ingredient that promotes collagen synthesis since it is the most potent form of Vitamin C used in skincare products.  Some studies have found that this version of Vitamin C prevents trans epidermal water loss (which is important in maintaining healthy skin).  The downside to this version of Vitamin C is that it can be unstable because of its low pH and can oxidize when exposed to air so you need to store it in a dark place.

Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (MAP)

This version of Vitamin C is the most stable version of Vitamin C used in skincare products.  It equals L-ascorbic acid’s ability to synthesize collagen, and it can also brighten the skin (aka even out skin tone) and fight free radical damage.  Some experts believe that MAP is not as powerful as L-ascorbic acid in protecting the skin though it does increase collagen synthesis.

Ascorbyl Palmitate

Ascorbyl palmitate is a mixture of L-ascorbic acid and palm oil.  Because of this combination of ingredients this creates a stable, non-acidic, fat-soluble form of Vitamin C.  There are varying opinions about how effective this form of Vitamin C is.  In the winter/spring, 2012 issue of New Beauty magazine Dr. Nicholas Perricone says that this “vitamin C molecule is highly effective, stable in the jar and doesn’t oxidize like the acidic form.  It penetrates better and more rapidly, which causes stimulation of the fibroblasts, in turn creating new collagen and inhibiting wrinkle formation.”  (page 44)   But on the flip side Dr. Carl Thornfeldt, in his book New Ideal of Skin Health, has this to say about ascorbyl palmitate (page 165):

The most common of all analogs is the vitamin C ester known as ascorbyl 6-palmitate (AP).  This ester allegedly is released from the lipid palmitic acid by esterases in the stratum corneum.  However, a 10% concentration failed to increase the skin levels of LAA (L-ascorbic acid).  It is alleged to have antioxidant effect and it supposedly reduces UVB induced erythema by 50% when a 15% concentration of ascorbyl palmitate (Apal) is used.  However, … it suffers with a safety problem.  When applied to human skin it strongly promoted lipid peroxidation and cytotoxicity, which could be cancer causing.  Safety studies are still pending even though this data was published in 2006, and yet many products continue to use AP as an active ingredient.

In my opinion, if there is that much discrepancy in opinions about this form of Vitamin C I would err on the side of caution and avoid it.


Before you run out to buy the first Vitamin C product you can find keep a few things in mind.  Once again I’ll quote from Dr. Thornfeldt’s book (page 165):

Vitamin C products, probably more than any other cosmeceutical, must have stability data and clinical trials using the final product to prove efficacy and safety.  Because of the highly effective reactive nature of LAA, product should begin being used as soon as possible after manufacture.  It is important to ask the distributor for the manufacture date of that lot.  Unfortunately because no federal control is mandates, many companies today in the cosmeceutical arena ask you to believe that somehow their product defies the laws of biochemistry and remains stable long after it was manufactured, when in reality oxidation begins immediately.

So how do you choose the best Vitamin C product?  Future Derm recently wrote a great post about Vitamin C products, including recommendations.

Sources and Further Reading:


Ingredient Spotlight: Probiotics February 20, 2012

You’ve probably heard of probiotic supplements and probiotics in yogurt, i.e. good bacteria, that help your digestive system work at its best.  But do you know that probiotics are routinely used in skincare as well?

So how do probiotics take the leap from helping your body maintain a balance of good bacteria in your digestive track to helping your skin look its best?  According to a post from Daily Beauty (the beauty blog from New Beauty magazine) probiotics can benefit the skin in numerous ways:

Probiotics are bacterial microorganisms that are well-known for their ability to alleviate certain internal issues, such as diarrhea, IBS and lactose intolerance. However, dermatologists and other skin experts have found that their benefits go beyond digestive health.

Since acne is partially caused by an overgrowth of bacteria, ingested probiotics help to treat blemish-prone skin by rebalancing bacteria in the stomach to create an overload of good bacteria. Topically, they provide protection against harmful bacteria, restore balance, and build up skin’s protective barrier and normal bacterial flora to help eliminate breakouts.

Eczema is believed to be caused by a skin imbalance that causes barrier dysfunction. Some dermatologists have found that probiotics improve eczema by aiding good bacteria and allowing them to continue releasing oxygen so skin breathes better, blood flows, and balance is restored.

Probiotics may even help fight the external aggressors that speed up aging. Destruction of skin’s barrier due to factors like the sun, smoke and pollution leads to greater dispersion of harmful bacteria, which can cause inflammation, loss of elasticity, and ultimately, wrinkles. But probiotics can help improve moisturization, stimulate cell functions, and regenerate mature skin so it becomes softer and smoother.

According to the article “In the Genes” from Allure back in April, 2011 (I was unable to find the article online):

Probiotics are associated with anti-inflammation and – here’s where we’ll get your attention – promoting glowing skin.  That’s why they’ve been used in skin care for decades.  The probiotic du jour is called Bio-Lysat: Present in both L’Oreal Paris Youth Code and Lancome Genifique products, it’s a lactobacillus – a form of “healthy” bacteria generally found in the gastrointestinal tract and vagina.  …   [Jeannette] Graf [assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center] explains it, “The fermentation of bifidus bacteria triggers keratin B6 gene expression, which is involved with cell renewal and moisture-barrier repair.”  Translation:  This probiotic supports your body’s own ongoing healthy-cell-turnover and moisture retaining capacities.

But what do dermatologists have to say about the use of probiotics in skincare lines?  There are many differing views:

… research published in the British Journal of Dermatology suggested that eczema and the associated itching improved after patients were treated with a probiotic cream.

And, just this month, the Journal of Dermatological Science devoted coverage to a small study that seemed to show that, using probiotics, it is possible to reduce the levels of acne-causing bacteria without harming the good bacteria.

All this is great news if you suffer from eczema or acne, but is it really beneficial for the rest of us to buy into probiotic skincare?  …

Dr Nick Lowe, consultant dermatologist and spokesperson for the British Association of Dermatologists, cautions against getting carried away with the promise of such products.

‘I’m just not convinced about some of the claims that are being made with regard to anti-ageing,’ he says. ‘Until more microbiological studies can prove it, I’ll continue eating my yoghurt rather than smearing it on my face.

(Source:  Probiotic beauty: They’re the bugs that boost digestion – but can they also clean up your skin?  The Daily Mail)

In his book The New Ideal of Skin Health dermatologist Carl Thornfeldt gives probiotics in skincare products a very cautious, yet somewhat positive review (pages 385-387):

As we all know, certain pathogenic bacteria induce infection, and aggravate or activate acne, rosacea, dermatitis and psoriasis.  These harmful microbes also cause damage to the skin barrier, and activate inflammation and stress, which may lead to fine lines and furrows.  Probiotics applied directly onto the skin surface are thought to provide competitive inhibition of this pathogenic bacteria.  Additionally, nutritional deficiencies and immune imbalance hinder barrier repair and magnify destructive chronic inflammation.  Thus, oral probiotics are often recommended as nutritional supplements for certain skin diseases.

The interest in probiotics has resulted in at least one marketed skin care line that has also added a variety of nutrients and pre-biotics to the formulation, upon which the probiotic bacteria are supposed to act.  (I think Dr. Thornfeldt is referring to Nude Skincare here)  This line does not claim to have tested their products in double-blind prospective, placebo or approved prescription, controlled human clinical trials, nor has quoted any data.

Yet according to research published in Experimental Dermatology in 2010 the probiotic lysate, Bifidobacterium longum may definitely benefit reactive skin:

The effect of BL were evaluated first on two different models. Using ex vivo human skin explant model we found a statistically significant improvement versus placebo in various parameters associated with inflammation such as a decrease in vasodilation, oedema, mast cell degranulation and TNF-alpha release. Moreover, using nerve cell cultures in vitro, we showed that after 6 h of incubation in culture medium (0.3–1%), the probiotic lysate significantly inhibited capsaicin-induced CGRP release by neurones. Then, a topical cream containing the active extract was tested in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Sixty-six female volunteers with reactive skin were randomly given either the cream with the bacterial extract at 10% (n = 33) or the control cream (n = 33). The volunteers applied the cream to the face, arms and legs twice a day for two months. Skin sensitivity was assessed by stinging test (lactic acid) and skin barrier recovery was evaluated by measuring trans-epidermal water loss following barrier disruption induced by repeated tape-stripping at D1, D29 and D57. The results demonstrated that the volunteers who applied the cream with bacterial extract had a significant decrease in skin sensitivity at the end of the treatment. Moreover, the treatment led to increase skin resistance against physical and chemical aggression compared to the group of volunteers who applied the control cream. Notably, the number of strippings required to disrupt skin barrier function was significantly increased for volunteers treated with the active cream. Clinical and self-assessment scores revealed a significant decrease in skin dryness after 29 days for volunteers treated with the cream containing the 10% bacterial extract. Since in vitro studies demonstrated that, on one hand, isolate sensitive neurones release less CGRP under capsaicin stimulation in the presence of the bacterial extract and, on the other hand, increased skin resistance in volunteers applying the test cream, we speculate that this new ingredient may decrease skin sensitivity by reducing neurone reactivity and neurone accessibility. The results of this studies demonstrate that this specific bacterial extract has a beneficial effect on reactive skin. These findings suggest that new approaches, based on a bacteria lysate, could be developed for the treatment and/or prevention of symptoms related to reactive skin.

Bottom line:  It seems that probiotics could be a great skincare ingredient once more research is done on its benefits when applied topically.

Skincare products with probiotics in them:


Further reading:



Image from


Ingredient Spotlight: Meadowfoam February 13, 2012

Recently I kept noticing the ingredient meadowfoam popping up in different skincare and beauty products such as GloTherapeutics The Cherry Balm and as a key ingredient in the Epionce skincare line.  When I see or hear about the same ingredient or product in a short period of time I figure it should be worth investigating.

What Is Meadowfoam?


Meadowfoam is a plant in the Limnanthacae floral family that grows in the moist coastal areas of northern California and British Columbia.  It was developed as an agricultural crop in the 1950s.  The seeds and seed oil of meadowfoam are used in beauty products such as shampoos, soaps, lipsticks, lip balms, suntan lotions, make-up, creams, hand lotions, and other lubricants.  The seeds are 20 to 30% oil and rich in fatty acids.  Meadowfoam oil is also one of the most stable vegetable oils since it is primarily composed of long chains of fatty acids. 


How Meadowfoam Helps The Skin


Meadowfoam is both an emollient and a conditioning agent in skincare and beauty products.  For example in shampoos meadowfoam can add shine and moisture to hair.  When added to lipsticks and lip balms it moisturizes.  Additionally, meadowfoam is anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant.  Lastly, meadowfoam can help slow down the aging process and bring back skin elasticity.


Bottom Line:  Meadowfoam is a great ingredient to seek out in order to both moisturize and protect your skin, hair, and lips.





Testing Beauty Products December 8, 2011

Recently I wrote a post all about peptides  in which I presented data both for and against the use of peptides in skincare products.  I wanted to present some information in this post that piggybacks onto that previous post.  In an article entitled Anti-Aging Products: Understand the Fine Print found in the Tips section of the Skin Type Solution website Dr. Leslie Baumann breaks down what the term “in-vitro testing” means when it comes to skincare products.  I felt it important to share this information in order to help my readers become savvy skincare product consumers.  Just because an ad for a skincare product says that it was “tested by dermatologists” or “has undergone testing” doesn’t really mean the skincare product or ingredient will actually be effective on the skin.  I’ll quote Dr. Baumann in order to explain:

“In vitro” is Latin for “in glass,” so when you see this referring to some sort of clinical testing, it means the results are based on lab testing – as opposed to testing on actual human skin.  “In-vitro” skincare ingredient testing involves skin cells in a petri dish, which means that the ingredients’ ability to penetrate to the deeper levels of the skin cannot be assessed.  This isn’t always a bad thing, but in most instances, these “in-vitro” results don’t translate to human skin – or treating the beauty concern or skin condition that the product is claiming to be effective for.  Thing of it this way … No matter how great an ingredient works on skin cells in a glass dish, it’s useless if ti cannot penetrate the upper stratum corneum layer of the skin and get to the deeper cells.

And now for Dr. Baumann’s example which ties into my previous post about peptides:

One example of an ingredient with great “in-vitro” results that does not translate to skin benefits is the family of peptides.  In the lab, peptides have been shown to boost collagen production, reverse skin damage, lighten discoloration and much more.  But while many skincare companies tout these “in-vitro” results, they fail to disclose that most peptide molecules are too large to penetrate the skin – which means they can’t possibly deliver their in-lab results in real life.  Peptides also have a short shelf life and often interfere with other ingredients found in anti-aging formulations, so there are many reasons that peptides in skincare products are not very efficacious.

Bottom Line:  If a company is promoting their breakthrough skincare product based solely on “in-vitro testing” think twice before buying it.


The Peptide Puzzle: Hype or a Real Breakthrough? November 28, 2011

If you are someone who is interested in anti-aging advances you’ve probably been hearing about peptides for quite some time.  Since being added to skincare products peptides have been touted as a true anti-aging breakthrough and as an ingredient that will revitalize and rejuvenate the skin.  Yet the question remains – are peptides truly an anti-aging breakthrough or is this just a lot of marketing hype?

What Are Peptides and What Do They Claim To Do?

Simply put – a peptide is a chain of amino acids that form a protein.  Peptides have numerous applications when it comes to our health and wellbeing, but when it comes to skincare peptides are said to repair and regenerate the skin and to help rebuild collagen.  But before you go out and purchase a product with peptides in it (these products are usually very expensive) there are a few things to keep in mind:

Peptides are biologically active compounds that closely resemble proteins—both are chains of amino acids. The difference? Peptide chains include fewer amino acids. Generally, a chain with more than 50 amino acids is a protein while those with fewer is a peptide. However, there are exceptions. Peptides are classified according to their length. Therefore, you’ll often encounter terms such as dipeptides—two amino acids; tripeptides—three; tetrapeptides- four; pentapeptides—five; and so on. Although there are probably thousands of naturally occurring peptides, to date, only several hundred have been characterized.1

Peptides play an array of important roles in the body, depending on the type. They may reduce inflammation, enhance antioxidant defense mechanisms, regulate bodily functions and even offer analgesic properties. In cosmeceuticals, three types of peptides are used, including:

  • Signal peptides that encourage fibroblasts to increase production of collagen while decreasing the breakdown of existing collagen;
  • Neurotransmitter peptides that limit muscle contraction and, thus, are said to mimic the effects of botulinum toxin; and
  • Carrier peptides that stabilize and deliver trace elements necessary for wound-healing and enzymatic processes.

Given that signs of skin aging, including fine lines and wrinkles, are caused by a breakdown of collagen and elastin—the proteins that give skin strength and elasticity, as well as slow cellular turnover—the abilities of these peptides seem the perfect match for skin care formulations. However, not only are peptides expensive to utilize, in their natural state they also have shortcomings that significantly limit their potential in skin care applications. These shortcomings include the following.

  • Peptides have a large molecular size and are hydropholic (water-liking), so they are unable to penetrate the lipopholic (fat-liking) stratum corneum layer of the epidermis.2 Despite this, peptides are generally unstable in water-based formulations. The presence of water breaks down the peptide bond, rendering it inactive.3
  • Should peptides be absorbed, the abundant presence of enzymes found in the skin can also break down peptide bonds.4

Fortunately, peptides are easily modified to improve their characteristics relative to use in skin care formulations. Chemists have found creative ways to overcome their limitations, such as attaching a fatty acid component to improve absorption into the skin, specific activity and economic feasibility.

Source:Peptides: Ready for Primetime?  by Ahmed Abdullah, MD in SkinInc.

Do Peptides Really Work in Skincare Products?

Here are some more consumer tips to keep in mind before purchasing a product with peptides in it:

Although chemists have found ways to optimize peptides for use in topical skin care formulations, they still face hurdles before they can generate the results anticipated by the consumers who buy them. Assuming the peptide has been modified to improve its stability in skin care formulations, through chemistry, the use of appropriate product packaging and its ability to penetrate the skin, it’s still essential that the product feature an effective delivery system to reach the target area where collagen synthesis, wound-healing and other activities may occur. Only when the peptide is absorbed by the skin and delivered to the targeted area in a stable form will it stand the potential of generating results.1

Formulators are certainly rising to this challenge. Sophisticated new delivery systems are regularly being developed, and the onus is on skin care professionals to stay on top of these new developments to ensure the products they are recommending stand a strong chance of truly providing their marketed benefits.

Another challenge: To be effective, peptides must be utilized in appropriate concentrations. Unfortunately, ingredient concentrations within a formulation are rarely disclosed on the label. Given the generally high cost of peptides, some manufacturers use them in concentrations below those utilized in scientific research or recommended by the peptide manufacturer. This is a marketing trick that allows the company to tout the use of a certain peptide and charge a lower price for the product. However, the formulation is nearly certain to be ineffective. Because of this, it is important to request and obtain backup research for product claims from manufacturers.

Speaking of research, although some third-party studies do exist that demonstrate positive outcomes from the use of peptides in skin care, there remains the issue of consumer expectations. For example, acetyl hexapeptide-8 is incapable of delivering results similar to that of botulinum toxin injections. Yet, this mantra is still promoted by many consumers and even individuals within the industry when referring to this compound. Because of this, consumer expectations are often out of line with the true capabilities of some peptide products. To be clear, if peptides were indeed able to produce results that matched much of the hype, they would be classified as drugs and require U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for use. To that point, it’s often necessary to downplay much of the hype surrounding the use of these ingredients until a stronger base of unbiased research exists.

Source:Peptides: Ready for Primetime?  by Ahmed Abdullah, MD in SkinInc.

There are even more issues with peptides to keep in mind.  Here is what Dr. Ellen Marmur in her book Simple Skin Beauty has to say about peptides (pages 288-289):

 Much like growth factors, peptides are a bioengineered version of a natural element in the body.  (Some natural moisturizers contain plant peptides, derived from wheat or rice.  Along the same lines as kinetin, which has a plant growth factor, these may work as well as biotech versions.  Considering that we don’t know what will penetrate the skin anyway, why not?)  The idea of adding peptides to the skin is theoretically like sending in a surge of troops to carry out repair and regeneration.  In vitro tests have found that pentapeptide-4 does prompt fibroblasts to product more collagen in cell cultures.  (As usual, there is a serious lack of truly objective data since the companies that manufacture the peptide ingredients have funded most of the studies.)  And remember, a cell culture is a dish of cells and is far cry from your skin.

My bottom line:  Can peptides penetrate to the dermis to stimulate collagen production?  Without scientific studies that biopsy the skin, it’s difficult to assess whether they can and if they really work.  The inspiration behind these ingredients makes sense, and time will tell if some may be effective antiagers.  Because peptides happen to be effective humectants, a product containing them will successfully hold moisture in the skin.

They’re worth a try, especially since you’re assured of getting an excellent humectant and most include antioxidant components too.

On the other hand, Dr. Leslie Baumann lists peptides as one of the “most misleading skin care claims of 2009“:

The theory is that topically applying peptides can trick our skin cells into producing even more collagen. In reality, peptides don’t penetrate the skin — if they did, other peptides such as insulin would already be supplied by creams rather than injections. Products like StriVectin may make the skin feel smooth but they have not been shown to have long-term clinically-significant benefits.

The Beauty Brains has even more damning things to say about peptides (though keep in mind that The Beauty Brains post I am quoting from is from 2008)

Peptides have no function in skin care products.  They do not increase collagen or prevent DNA damage.  They are story ingredients that make people feel better about the products they are using.  There’s nothing bad about them in your skin product.  They just don’t provide much benefit.

Should You Buy a Skincare Product with Peptides In It? 

So who do you believe when it comes to the benefits of peptides in skincare products?  I’m on the fence about this one – I do think that peptides in skincare products could be great, just make sure you get the right product.  Remember these products are pricey.  There are two good sources for specific product information – one is FutureDerm and another is Paula Begoun’s Beautypedia.  I would check both of these sources before making any purchases.

Further Reading:  Here are some more resources for peptide information – both for and against their use in skincare products


Lip Balm Lessons August 1, 2011

Can’t live without your lip balm?  Turns out there is a scientific reason for that.  And what exactly is lip balm made of that makes it do what it does?  This post will attempt to answer those questions.


Lip Balm Basics


First created at the turn of the 20th century by Dr. Charles Fleet, all lip balms share the same purpose – to moisturize and protect the lips.  Lip balms vary in formulation but typical ingredients include petroleum, shea butter, lanolin, and natural oils in order to prevent water loss from the lips.  Some lip balms contain ingredients like menthol and camphor which feel tingly when applied; these ingredients are actually mildly antiseptic and help soothe chapped and irritated lips.

One little tip – according to Dr. Amy Wechsler in her book The Mind-Beauty Connection (page 116) you should avoid lip balms with the ingredient phenol (Blistex, for example, has that ingredient) since phenol strips the top layer off your lips which then just dries your lips out instead of protecting them.

Lastly, during the day you want to make sure that your lip balm has spf in it.  Our lips do not naturally have any sun protection in them so you always need to protect your lips from the sun with spf protection.

Two of my favorite lip balms are:  Glo Mint Balm (with spf 15) and Dermalogica’s Renewal Lip Complex.  My go to nighttime lip moisturizer is Aquaphor Healing Ointment – it’s cheap and really works.


Is Lip Balm Really Addictive?


Ever feel like you can’t live without your lip product?  Do you feel the overwhelming need to reapply your lip balm continually throughout the day?  It turns out that there is a scientific reason behind this feeling.  The website The Beauty Brains does a great job at explaining this issue:

Skin signals for new cells

Skin is a very complicated organ with multiple layers. The top layer, the stratum corneum, consists mainly of dead, dried up cells. As those cells die and flake off, they send a signal to a deeper layer skin (called the basal layer) to produce fresh skin cells. This is a very simplified description of the process called cellular turnover. (Contrary to what you might have thought, “cellular turnover” does NOT refer to switching your mobile phone plan.)

Lip balm slows down the signal

When you apply lip balm, you’re creating a barrier layer that prevents, or at least retards, the evaporation of moisture from the inner layers of skin. Since the top layer isn’t drying and flaking off as much, the basal layer never gets the signal to produce new cells.

Your skin has to catch up

But when you stop using the lip balm, all of a sudden your lips dry out and your basal layer has to hurry up and start producing new cells. But since your lips already feel dry again, you add more lip balm which once again tells the basal layer “hey, everything’s fine up here on the surface – we don’t need any more new skin cells.”

The cycle repeats

But of course, once that application of lip balm has worn off and there are no new plump, moist skin cells to replace the ones that are drying out, your lips feel dry again and you have to add more lip balm. Etc. etc. etc. Get the picture? That’s why you feel addicted to lip balm – you’ve “trained” you body to rely on it!


Sources and Further Reading:




Ingredient Spotlight: Rice/Sake in Skincare Products July 28, 2011


In the July/August issue of Skin Deep, the publication of the Associated Skin Care Professionals (a professional esthetician organization I belong to), I came across an interesting article about how rice and sake, which is made from rice, benefit the skin.   According to Shelley Burns, author of the article, sake can make the skin soft and beautiful.  How exactly?

Sake is made from rice, a staple in the Japanese diet.  The high nutrient content of rice includes the B complex of vitamins and minerals.  Externally, it can be used as an exfoliant or in a spritzer to hydrate the skin.  It can also be used in a bath, if you are not inclined to drink sake.  In fact, before soap was invented, the Japanese would make loofahs by adding rice bran to washcloths.

Since rice has wonderful benefits for the skin, many sake brewers also make skin care products as a side business.  The process entails removing the hull and germ from unmilled rice.  The rice is then steamed and fermented using yeast and bacteria.  This fermentation process breaks the rice down to a low molecular weight, allowing the molecules to deeply penetrate the skin down to the keratin layer. …

Rice-based skin care products can also increase ceramide production, critical in slowing the aging process.  Ceramides are natural fats that help form skin structure; they are the glue that holds the cells together and locks in moisture.  By increasing ceramide production, moisture is secured, allowing for a warm, healthy glow.


If you want to try the benefits of rice on your skin without investing in products that contain rice Burns offers the following advice:

Boil Japanese rice (Oryza sativa var. japonica), making sure the rice is covered by at least one inch of water.  You will be using the water, so you want to ensure the rice does not absorb it all.  Strain the water from the rice, let it cool, and use it as a face wash or wash your hair with it.

The rice water acts as a toner, reduces the appearance of pores, and adds shine to your hair.


Kojic acid, a fairly well-known skincare ingredient that claims to help lighten hyperpigmentation, is actually created as a by-product during the manufacture of sake.  While many tests have shown that kojic acid is quite effective inhibiting melanin production it remains a highly unstable ingredient that quickly loses its effectiveness when exposed to light or air.  Because of this issue there is a high rate of allergies and skin irritations that have been linked to kojic acid.  In order to overcome those issues manufacturers use kojic dipalmitate instead of kojic acid in skincare products, but unfortunately there is no research proving that kojic dipalmitate works as well, or at all, as kojic acid.  So if you are interested in using a product with kojic acid in it in order to lighten hyperpigmentation be sure to check the ingredients of the product before you purchase it to make sure that you are really getting the right ingredient in your product and not just wasting your money.




The Lowdown on Facial Moisturizers May 23, 2011

And How to Choose the Right Moisturizer for Your Skin

A while ago I published a post called Moisturizer Myths  which explained, among other things, the fact that a moisturizer will not get rid of your wrinkles.  Now that I have published that post I decided that it would be helpful to explain how to find the right moisturizer for your skin type.

Right off the bat I want to state that it is actually relatively easy to find a good moisturizer without breaking the bank.  The keys to finding the right moisturizer for your skin is to figure out which formulation is best for you and to find the right ingredients that will benefit your skin the most.

Why a Moisturizer?

In her book The Mind-Beauty Connection Dr. Amy Wechsler makes some great points about moisturizers (pages 31 and 32):

Moisturizers are like aspirin: minimiracles that we take for granted.  While they won’t have an effect on wrinkles per se, they do help protect skin from dryness, chapping, and weathering, and keep it smooth, soft, and healthy.  And a good moisturizer will do more for you than drinking twenty glasses of water per day.  Drinking water does not necessarily make skin moist.  If you’re truly dehydrated your skin can turn dull and peaked, but it’s the moisturizer applied directly to the skin that will keep water from evaporating and give your skin a healthy, dewy appearance.  …It’s important to note that even though moisturizers won’t necessarily affect how the skin functions at the cellular level (that is, they won’t change the production level of collagen and repair of tissue damage), they are an excellent way to keep the skin hydrated, replenishing the natural moisture elements in the upper layers and bolstering the barrier function of the skin.  Yes, that smooth, dewy appearance is temporary but if you moisturize frequently you keep that glow turned on.

Moisturizer Formulations

If your skin is dry:  look for a cream or lotion moisturizer that is oil based.  A rich, creamy formulation is perfect for your skin.

If your skin is oily or acne-prone:  if your skin is feeling tight you can definitely moisturize oily and/or acne-prone skin.  Look for light-weight lotions, gels, serums, or even hydrating mists that are water-based.  Make sure the formulation is oil-free and says either “won’t clog pores” or “non-comedogenic” on the label.

If you have sensitive skin:  look for a water-based lotions and creams that are labeled “fragrance-free”, “for sensitive skin”, or even “hypoallergenic”.  Try to get a moisturizer that doesn’t contain a ton of ingredients.


Moisturizer Ingredients

No matter what your skin type your moisturizer should contain antioxidants.  The number of antioxidants out there is becoming mind-boggling, and I truly don’t believe that one is better than another.  What is important is to apply antioxidants to your skin either in your moisturizer or in an antioxidant serum or both.

All moisturizers contain two types of hydrating ingredients: humectants and emollients.  Humectants attract water to our skin while emollients seal moisture in our skin by forming a protective barrier.  Emollients act as a lubricant on the surface of the skin keeping the skin soft and smooth.  Humectants increase water content in the skin stopping the evaporation of water from the surface of the skin; they can feel more heavy and greasy.

Additionally other moisturizer ingredients are ceramides and collagen.  Once again I’ll quote Dr. Wechsler (pages 31 and 32 in her book):

Ceramides are lipids naturally found in the skin’s top layer of the epidermis, alongside other fats such as cholesterol and fatty acids.  Their chief role is to keep moisturize in the skin, and they have been used to treat eczema, as studies show that people with eczema have significantly fewer ceramides in their skin.  Collagen can help give the illusion of smoothness, but don’t be fooled into thinking that rubbing a collagen-containing moisturizer on your face will suddenly help your skin’s natural collagen.  Large collagen molecules cannot penetrate the skin’s deep layers, so they remain on the surface and do not have an effect on how the skin performs.

Humectant Ingredients Include:

  • glycerin
  • hyaluronic acid (for more information about hyaluronic acid see my post all about this ingredient)
  • propylene glycol
  • butylene glycol
  • sodium PCA
  • sorbitol
  • allantoin

Emollient Ingredients include:

  • shea butter
  • mineral oil
  • lanolin
  • petrolatum
  • paraffin
  • beeswax
  • squalene
  • coconut, jojoba, and sesame oils
  • cetyl alcohol

More good moisturizer ingredients to look for:

  • aloe vera
  • apricot kernal oil
  • borage seed oil
  • canola oil
  • cholesterol
  • cocoa butter (this isn’t good for acne prone skin)
  • colloidal oatmeal
  • dexpanthenol
  • dimethicone
  • evening primrose oil
  • glycerin
  • macadamia nut oil
  • olive oil
  • safflower oil
  • stearic acid and other fatty acids

How to Find the Right Moisturizer for You

There are tons of good moisturizers out there.  Finding the right one is just a matter of personal preference and budget.  Some of my favorite moisturizers come from Skinceuticals, PCA Skin, Dermalogica, and Glotherapeutics.  Some good budget buys are Neutrogena, Aveeno, and Eucerin.  But really that is just scratching the surface of what is out there.  For even more recommendations see Paula Begoun’s Beautypedia or read The Skin Type Solution by Dr. Leslie Baumann.

Does Your Daytime Moisturizer Have to Have Sunscreen In It?

Anyone who reads this blog with any consistency knows that I am a sunscreen fanatic so my answer to the above question my surprise you.  I actually don’t think that your daytime moisturizer needs to have a sunscreen in it.  I always want everyone to have a separate facial sunscreen that it at least spf 30.  I believe this for a few reasons.  First off, I am never convinced that people use enough of their moisturizer in the morning to actually get adequate sun protection.  As the seasons change and the weather gets warmer many people don’t need to use moisturizer as much and this is exactly when you need that facial sun protection more than ever.  If you are going to apply too much a one thing to your face let that be sunscreen.  You probably won’t want to reapply your moisturizer throughout the day, but you’ll need to reapply your sunscreen.  For those reasons I always advise people to have a separate moisturizer and sunscreen.  Also if your moisturizer doesn’t have sunscreen in it you can use the same one morning and night.  So in case you were wondering – no you don’t need a different morning and evening moisturizer.  If you want both a daytime and nighttime moisturizer go for it, but it isn’t a necessity.  If you still want to get a daytime moisturizer with sunscreen be sure the moisturizer has at least spf 30 and is a broad spectrum sunscreen which means it protects you from both UVA and UVB rays.

Sources and Further Reading:


Ingredient Spotlight: Caffeine in Skincare Products March 24, 2011

It might sound funny, but the inspiration for this post came from reading the food magazine Bon Appetit.  There I am minding my own business and looking for recipes (and I must adding asking myself for the thousandths time:  “why did Conde Nast stop publishing Gourmet but kept Bon Appetit around?  This magazine sucks”) when I happened upon a blurb called: Why You Should Put Caffeine On Your Face.  Though I’ve never tried any of the products mentioned in the magazine and find some of the product claims far-fetched, I did realize that I had stumbled upon an idea for my blog.  One never knows when or where you’ll find an idea, right?

If you look at the different skincare products that contain caffeine and highlight caffeine’s powers in their products you’ll notice that caffeine is included in products that claim to tighten and get rid of vexing issues like dark under eye circles and cellulite.*  There is a good reason that caffeine is included in products that make those claims.  Caffeine constricts blood vessels which may help puffy eyes and facial redness.  But I should warn you any change that you see in your appearance because of the caffeine in your skincare product is temporary at best.  The same goes for caffeine in cellulite creams (skip the cellulite creams altogether – they don’t work.  Click on the link below to my post about cellulite cures below for more information on that topic).  On the upside caffeine is an antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties (like all antioxidants) so applying a topical skincare product to your skin that has caffeine in it will protect your skin from free radical damage.

One of the more intriguing things about caffeine in topical skincare products is that the caffeine may, and this is a big may, have anticarcinogenic properties and may reduce the appearance of wrinkles when applied topically.  This research is in preliminary stages so keep your eyes open for more information on it in the future.  Most of the research about the connection between skin cancer and caffeine has been about when people drink beverages with caffeine but that doesn’t mean that one day there will be conclusive evidence that applying skincare products with caffeine in them will help prevent skin cancer.  One never knows.


Sources and Further Reading:

*  I’ve written posts in the past about both these issues.  For more information see my posts:  Can You Get Rid of Cellulite?  and Can You Banish Dark Undereye Circles?


Ingredient Spotlight: Hyaluronic Acid January 13, 2011

During the winter most people are looking to restore the moisture content in their skin and finding the right moisturizer for your skin type will help you do that.  One great skincare ingredient to look for in a moisturizer is hyaluronic acid. 

Hyaluronic acid is a humectant skincare ingredient which means it draws water to the skin and increases the water content of the epidermis (or outer most layer of the skin).  If you are in a humid environment, picture yourself on a tropical island, than a humectant like hyaluronic acid can actually draw water from the atmosphere around you to your skin.  The great thing about hyaluronic acid is that it holds 1,000 times its weight in water.  Think of it as a super sponge.  So when applied topically hyaluronic acid has a two-fold purpose – it increases your skin’s moisture content and helps prevent moisture loss as well.

Everyone’s skin naturally contains hyaluronic acid.  It is found in the reticular layer of the skin or the deepest layer of the dermis (the dermis is located under the epidermis or the top layer of our skin).  The reticular layer contains collagen and elastin, and hyaluronic acid is found between these fibers helping to give your skin its volume and snap.  Babies skin in full of hyaluronic acid which explains why a baby has such soft and moist skin.  As we age the amount of hyaluronic acid in our skin diminishes; we simply produce less of it.  (This is why hyaluronic acid fillers like Restylane and Juvederm are so popular and effective.  I decided not to address the topic of hyaluronic acid fillers in this post since I wanted to concentrate on the subject hyaluronic acid in topical skincare products in this post instead) 

Don’t forget – applying hyaluronic acid topically will not replace what your skin has lost as it ages.  When applied topically hyaluronic acid simply acts as a great moisturizing agent – nothing more.  Only hyaluronic acid fillers can temporarily replace what has been lost as you age. 

Have I convinced you yet that hyaluronic acid is a great topical skincare ingredient?  Well before you run out to buy a moisturizer with hyaluronic acid in it there are a few more things to consider.  Hyaluronic acid is extremely expensive, it is more than a 1,000 times expensive as glycerin for example, so most topical skincare products don’t contain enough of it in order to be effective over the long-term according to dermatologist Jeannette Graf (in an article in Allure from December, 2010).  According to the Allure article the most effective skincare formulas with hyaluronic acid in them use a dehydrated form of hyaluronic acid packaged into microspheres which apparently makes it easier for this ingredient to be absorbed into the skin.

One more thing to consider – according to dermatologist Leslie Baumann in a low humidity environment, like a plane for instance, using a cream with a high concentration of hyaluronic acid could be counterproductive since in such an environment the hyaluronic acid actually draws water from the skin and dries out the skin.  According to Dr. Baumann, and so far I’ve only seen her say this, when hyaluronic acid isn’t getting enough moisture from the surrounding environment it will take moisture out the skin. 


Bottom Line:  Hyaluronic acid is a great skincare ingredient to look for in your moisturizer.  Perhaps if you are in a desert or a plane you might want to consider actually using a moisturizer without a high concentration of hyaluronic acid but that is really an individual choice. 



  • The Skin Type Solution by Dr. Leslie Baumann – pages 23 and 50
  • The Mind-Beauty Connection by Dr. Amy Wechsler – pages 31, 42, and 270
  • Hyaluronic Acid - article from Elle magazine from a few years ago (can’t say the exact date and can’t find it online – sorry!)
  • Best Face Forward - Allure, December 2008
  • Anti-Aging Know-it-alls - Allure, December 2010
  • Milady’s Standard Fundamentals for Estheticians, 9th edition – page 157


Products with Hyaluronic Acid:

The article in Allure, Anti-Aging Know-it-Alls, recommends more products with hyaluronic acid in them.



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