Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Ingredient Spotlight: Salicylic Acid May 31, 2010


I recently wrote about the anti-acne ingredient benzoyl peroxide so I thought it would be good to write about  another great OTC anti-acne ingredient – salicylic acid. 

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that is a derivative of aspirin and functions as an exfoliant helping to loosen and expel comedones (aka blackheads and whiteheads – clogged pores) from the skin.  Salicylic acid also has anti-inflammatory properties which can help reduce the redness of inflamed breakout lesions.  So this combination of exfoliation and anti-inflammatory properties helps the skin heal, prevents scarring, and helps to decrease the chance of future breakouts.  Salicylic acid, which is oil soluble, is able to penetrate deeply into the pore helping to keep sebaceous follicles clear of cellular buildup and can help minimize the formation of new comedones.

In order for the salicylic acid product to be effective it should have at least a 1% concentration of the ingredient but preferably a 2% concentration.  But just as important is the pH level of the product.  The pH must be between 3 and 4 in order for the product to be effective.  Otherwise the salicylic acid is not effective as an exfoliant.  Of course, it is quite hard to determine the pH level of products on one’s own.  Though pH strip tests are available for home use I instead refer to the charts at the back of Lydia Preston’s excellent book Breaking Out (pages 207-208 and 210-212).  Preston tested the pH levels of different salicylic acid cleansers and lotions in order to determine which products would actually do what they claim to do. 

You might also find willow bark listed in the ingredients of products that claim to have salicylic acid in them.  When ingested orally willow bark is converted by the body into salicylic acid.  It is questionable if the same process takes place when willow bark is applied topically. 


Lastly, a lot of ob/gyns recommend that women who are pregnant or nursing not use salicylic acid because of its connection to aspirin.  Most likely a OTC product with 1 to 2% salicylic acid will not harm your child, but be sure to check with your doctor before using such a product during pregnancy or while you are nursing.


Recommended Salicylic Acid Products (taken from Breaking Out)



  • Clearasil 3 in 1 Acne Defense Cleanser
  • Clearasil Total Control Deep Pore Cream Cleanser
  • Clearasil Icewash Acne Gel Cleanser
  • Neutrogena Oil Free Cream Cleanser
  • Zapzyt Acne Wash Treatment


  • Aveeno Clear Complexion Daily Moisturizer
  • Clean & Clear Blackhead Clearing Astringent
  • Clean & Clear Clarifying Toner
  • Neutrogena Blackhead Eliminating Astrigent
  • Neutrogena Multi-Vitamin Acne Treatment Lotion
  • Paula’s Choice 1% Beta Hydroxy Liquid Solution normal to oily


My Recommendation


Any Paula’s Choice BHA lotion, gel, or toner.  These products work and are easy to order online.  Buy samples if you aren’t sure that you want to invest in a whole regular size product.  I like the fact that you can use these as frequently or infrequently as you need to. 


Sources and Further Reading





Sunscreen Woes – The EWG Releases Its Annual Sunscreen Report May 28, 2010


This week the Environmental Work Group, a non-profit watch dog organization made up of scientists, engineers, policy experts, lawyers and computer programmers that researches and reports on issues concerning public health and the environment, released its newest report on sunscreen.  And the report is a doozy.  According to the standards that it sets for safety and effectiveness of sunscreens only 8% of the 500 beach and sport sunscreens that the EWG tested, that means only 39 out of 500, are recommended by the organization.

The report is extensive and long, I’ve been reading it over the last few days, and if taken at face value – scary.  As with all past EWG sunscreen reports there is much bad news and little good news about sunscreens (none really).  I looked up all my favorite sunscreens (the ones I use personally and the ones I recommend to clients, family, and friends) and all of them got poor ratings from the EWG.  What’s an esthetician to do? 

Here are the main points of the report:

  • Sunscreens do not offer enough UVA protection which then exposes people to cancer
  • Spf ratings have gotten out of control.  Spf ratings of 50 and higher aren’t much more effective than spf 30 and furthermore, the high ratings cause people to both stay out in the sun too long and use too little sunscreen
  • When Vitamin A (look for retinol or retinyl palmitate in the ingredient list) is added to sunscreen it will breakdown in the presence of sunlight and thus speed up the development of skin tumors and lesions
  • As sunscreen ingredients breaks down in the precense of sunlight it causes free radical damage
  • The FDA takes too long to approve new and effective sunscreen ingredients (ingredients that are already used in European sunscreen formulations) and to publish new regulations regarding sunscreen
  • Oxybenzone, a very popular chemical sunscreen ingredient (try finding a sunscreen without it – it’s close to impossible) is a hormone disrupting compound.  This chemical penetrates the skin and enters the bloodstream causing damage or worse to the body.

All pretty upsetting things, right?  My fear every time I read the EWG’s sunscreen report is that people will stop using sunscreen because of it.  The EWG even states that the best ways to protect yourself from sunburn and sun damage is not to apply sunscreen but rather to seek shade, wear protective clothing, and avoid the sun in general especially mid-day.  All great advice – but realistically – how many people can maintain a lifestyle like that?

Two other issues brought up in the report interested me in particular.  In the section of the report called Hall of Shame the EWG gives a great big thumbs down to powder sunscreens.  Anyone who has read this blog knows that I use powder (brush-on) sunscreens daily and highly recommend them as a convenient way to reapply your sunscreen throughout the day particularly if you wear make-up.  The EWG objects to powder sunscreens because they say that the titanium dioxide and zinc oxide particles can be easily inhaled and settle in various parts of the body causing damage and irritation.  Another point from the Hall of Shame section of the report is about The Skin Cancer Foundation and their seal of approval on sunscreen products.  According to the EWG all a company has to do in order to receive this seal of approval is to donate $10,000 to the foundation and prove basic claims about their sunscreens and its spf factor.  The company’s seeking approval for their products do not have to prove if the product provides adequate UVA protection, and the company can even make claims about their products that violate FDA regulations.  Since I continually mention The Skin Cancer Foundation in this blog and ways to support their work this information was very interesting to me.


So Should You Worry?  Should You Throw Out Your Sunscreens?

Opposing Opinions to the EWG Report



First and foremost, please keep using sunscreen daily and keep reapplying it especially if you are spending the day outdoors! 

Now should you only use the sunscreens that get the best ratings from the EWG?  Truthfully I don’t know.  First off, all the sunscreens that the EWG recommends are rather obscure, for lack of a better term, for the most part.  These are not the brands that you can readily find on the shelves of Target, Walgreens, and CVS for the most part. 

So is it right to err on the side of caution and only use sunscreens that the EWG recommends?  Perhaps.  But you should know that not everyone agrees with the EWG’s findings.

I found a report on the Cosmetics and Toiletries website that quotes John Bailey, chief scientist of the Personal Care Products Council, views on the EWG report.  The Personal Care Products Council  is the trade association representing the cosmetic, toiletry and fragrance industry in the United States and globally.

I would like to quote the response in full since it addresses all the issues mentioned above:

John Bailey, chief scientist of the Personal Care Products Council, has released a statement in response to the 2010 Environmental Working Group (EWG) Sunscreen Report.

Bailey finds the report unscientific and unsubstantiated, noting that the American Academy of Dermatology, the Skin Cancer Foundation, the Center for Disease Control, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), physicians and other health care professionals have all emphasized the safety of sunscreen use. Bailey is concerned that the group’s report will needlessly cause consumers to avoid using sunscreens, when that use is critical to prevent skin damage and skin cancer.

“Sunscreens in the United States are regulated as OTC drugs by the FDA and must undergo pre-market approval that involves rigorous scientific assessment including safety and efficacy substantiation according to FDA standards,” noted Bailey. He furthered, “The FDA testing and regulatory process for sunscreen products is the most rigorous in the world.”

According to Bailey, EWG did not use the established scientific and regulatory safety assessment process for sunscreen products and ingredients. The following topics are those proposed and questioned in the report.  

Vitamin A: In their report, EWG questioned the safety of vitamin A in sunscreens, referencing the National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) announcement in 2000 that it would study the potential of retinyl palmitate to enhance UV radiation-induced photocarcinogenisity. Bailey noted that the study is ongoing (scheduled for late 2010 or early 2011) but is not designed to study retinyl palmitate in the presence or absence of sunscreen formulations. He notes that retinyl palmitate has been reviewed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) expert panel and found to be safe in cosmetics.

Skin cancer: EWG questions the ability of sunscreen to fight skin cancer based on increased skin cancer rates. Bailey maintains that skin cancer rates are the result of excessive unprotected sun exposure from several decades prior and on our ability to better track, monitor and report occurrence of the disease.

Oxybenzone: In response to the safety of oxybenzone, Bailey notes, “When used as a sunscreen ingredient, oxybenzone, also known as benzophenone-3, protects the skin from harmful UV rays. Oxybenzone is also used to protect cosmetics and personal care products from degradation by absorbing UV rays.” Benzophenone-3 is approved in the United States, Canada and the EU as a safe and effective OTC sunscreen ingredient. In addition, it has been found safe for use as a photostabilizer by the CIR. Finally, Bailey added that there have been no available scientific data supporting a link between UV filter exposure to endocrine-disruptive effects in humans.

Nanotechnology: Nanoparticles have been found to pose no risk to human health, according to Bailey. In addition, when used to protect against UV damage, nanoparticles are required to go through an extensive FDA pre-market review process to prove they are safe and effective.

FDA sunscreen monograph: Finally, Bailey added that the FDA is not intentionally delaying the release of the final sunscreen regulations. He noted that establishing sunscreen safety standards is a long and vigorous process, and that the FDA is considering a number of viewpoints before establishing final guidelines.

So who to believe?  Frankly and honestly, I just don’t know.  I wonder sometimes if the EWG is hysterical or if they are right and we are all just sticking our heads in the sand.  This question made me think of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.  When the book was first published in 1962 and warned of grave health and environmental issues that were affecting everyone and being ignored by the government and industry, many people didn’t want to believe Carson.  Of course, it turns out that Carson was right, particularly when it came to the horrible effects of DDT on the environment and human health.  So I ask myself – is the EWG right?  Should I follow all their instructions?

Truthfully, at the moment I am not going to change anything.  But when I run out of my current sunscreens I think I will look at the EWG’s recommendations again and perhaps try one of the sunscreens that gets a best rating from them.   As for The Skin Cancer Foundation, I still think their website is an excellent source of information about skin cancer prevention and issues, and I will continue to recommend that people look at the site.  I’ll also keep using my brush-on sunscreen.  I just think that concern might be overblown.

I would be very curious to hear what my readers have to say about the report.  If anyone has tried any of the sunscreens that the EWG recommends I would like to hear what you think about them.

Here is a link to another blogger’s take on the EWG report.  You can find the American Cancer Society’s comments on the EWG report here.

Here is one of  The Skin Cancer Foundation’s response to the EWG report.  This is a more comprehensive response by The Skin Cancer Foundation.

And here is a comment from Allure magazine about the issue of Vitamin A in sunscreens.

P.S.  – About two weeks after writing the above post I went to the dermatologist for a skin cancer screening.  While there I asked her what she thought of the EWG’s sunscreen report.   Her response was that she didn’t agree with the findings in the report and that the group’s conclusions were misguided and even silly.  Though my initially my thoughts about the EWG sunscreen report had been more borderline, that I was inclined to change my sunscreens to recommended brands by the EWG eventually, now after more thought I am beginning to think that the dermatologist is right.  Since the EWG is the ONLY group saying the things that they are saying about sunscreens I want validation for at least another source before agreeing with them.  The dermatologist told me that she recommends La Roche Posay Anthelios 45 Ultra-Light Fluid for Face and Vanicream SPF 30 (which by the way the EWG thinks is ok) as good sunscreens for her patients to use. 

For more opinions on the sunscreen controversy see my post The Debate Continues.

For Dr. Leslie Baumann’s opinion about the EWG’s sunscreen report see this blog post by her.

The American Academy of Dermatology disagrees with the EWG’s findings on retinyl palmitate (vitamin A) in sunscreens.



All That Glitters: Gold as a Skincare Ingredient May 27, 2010

When I saw this article in The New York Times it immediately reminded me of an article I had read about a year ago in New Beauty.  The article in New Beauty, in the Spring/Summer 2009 edition of the magazine, was entitled “Bizarre Beauty: Powerful Products with Unusual Ingredients” (pages 48-52).   The article featured products with rare and even strange ingredients like snake venom, snail secretion, and placenta.  Certainly the article was intriguing, but frankly it didn’t want to make me go and seek these products out.

So when I read the following article in The New York Times – “Gold Face Cream: A Costly Leap of Faith” – I had a similar reaction – interesting but I won’t be buying these products with gold in them any time soon.  What was most interesting about the article to me was the contrast between the claims made by the manufacturers of the skincare products that included gold compared to the doctors’ opinions about these claims.  To say that the two sides have opposing views would be a huge understatement.  Those producing the skincare products with gold as an ingredient claim that gold is anti-aging and anti-inflammatory while doctors say that gold is irritating, can cause allergic reactions, and is toxic in high doses.  Yet despite what the doctors say people keep buying these creams and claiming that the gold in them helps their skin.

Two things were very interesting to me about this article.  One was the opposing opinions of the doctors and product manufacturers about what gold can do for the skin.  And the other thing that interested me was the fact that these products were popular despite the very high costs (see this related article “Even Cleopatra Didn’t Have These“).  I guess some people figure the more expensive a product the better it works?  Of course, high cost doesn’t mean much when it comes to good skincare product formulation.  I guess people buy into the idea  that if gold is rare and costly than it must be good for you?  In my opinion there is no need to buy products just for the gold they contain.  There are so many other great skincare ingredients that have a proven track record of both effectiveness and safety.  I would steer clear of rare and unusual ingredients if that is all the product has to offer.


Ingredient Spotlight: Benzoyl Peroxide May 26, 2010

One of the most common and easy to find anti-acne ingredients is benzoyl peroxide.  There is a simple reason for benzoyl peroxide’s availability – it works well as an anti-acne treatment particularly in conjunction with alpha hydroxy acids (like glycolic) or even better with salicylic acid products.  In the case of benzoyl peroxide there is both exhaustive and conclusive research that proves its effectiveness in fighting blemishes which definitely makes it a worthwhile ingredient to seek out if you suffer from blemishes.  


How Benzoyl Peroxide Works


Benzoyl peroxide works by destroying the acne causing bacteria in the hair follicles; benzoyl peroxide can penetrate into the hair follicle without causing too much irritation at the same time.  Benzoyl peroxide works by allowing the benzoyl to draw peroxide into the follicle.  Once the peroxide is in the follicle it releases oxygen that destroys the acne causing bacteria.  Additionally, benzoyl peroxide is anti-inflammatory and can help reduce inflammation around the hair follicles. 


The Upside and Downside to Benzoyl Peroxide


Benzoyl peroxide works quickly which is a definite upside about this product.  Another good thing about benzoyl peroxide is that it does not lose its effectiveness over time like antibiotics do.  Having said that many people have the perception that benzoyl peroxide does lose its effectiveness over time.    What really happens when someone perceives this problem is that benzoyl peroxide has done all that it can to heal the acne lesions, and in order to see further improvement the acne sufferer needs to add another anti-acne ingredient to their daily skincare regime like salicylic acid or a retinol. 

The downside to benzoyl peroxide is that it can cause irritation, dryness, stinging, and even bleach the clothes and hair of the user.  For that reason not every acne sufferer finds that they can use or want to use benzoyl peroxide.



Which Benzoyl Peroxide Product is Right for You?


Benzoyl peroxide can be found in face washes, creams, gels, and serums in both OTC versions and prescription ones.  Some of the prescription benzoyl peroxide products are combined with antibiotics which makes them super anti-acne fighting products and are good for those suffering from more severe acne.   You can find benzoyl peroxide in concentrations of 2.5%, 5%, and 10% in anti-acne products.  In higher concentrations benzoyl peroxide can be irritating, as already mentioned above, and as such it is a good idea to start out using the 2.5% concentration (my favorite 2.5% benzoyl peroxide product is pictured above) especially if your skin is more sensitive or on the dry side.  If you find cream or gel benzoyl peroxides to be irritating you can try a face wash that contains benzoyl peroxide since the active ingredient won’t stay on the skin for too long.  Begin by using the benzoyl peroxide product once a day, working up to twice a day, if necessary, once your skin has adjusted to the product.  Apply the product after cleansing but before your moisturizer, sunscreen, and make-up.

Another interesting point when it comes to benzoyl peroxide products is that a 2.5% concentration product can be just as effective as a 10% concentration product depending on the formulation of the product.  I always recommend that clients start out using a 2.5% benzoyl peroxide concentration product before trying a 5% or 10% product.  Depending on your acne and skin the lower concentration of benzoyl peroxide might be all that you need to help get your acne under control.



Sources and Further Reading



Make a Donation Just by Watching a Video May 24, 2010


I’ve already mentioned in my blog how you can buy a Sun Safety Kit through Sephora that helps benefit The Skin Cancer Foundation, but it turns out there are numerous other ways you can donate to The Skin Cancer Foundation and some of those ways won’t cost you a dime.

Watch this video on YouTube with actress Jane Krakowski and Jergens will donate $1 for every view (with up to $20,000 in donations total).  All it takes in a minute and a half of your time to make a difference.

Or simply sign-up to receive information from the La Roche-Posay Save Our Skin campaign and the company will make a donation to The Skin Cancer Foundation.

And check out this page on The Skin Cancer Foundation website in order to see what other ways you can help out this very worthy.

Isn’t shopping always more fun when you know you are doing some good?


All That Your Skin Does For You: Functions of the Skin May 23, 2010

Filed under: Skin and Skincare — askanesthetician @ 1:40 pm
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I recently finished reading Kate Somerville’s book Complexion Perfection!  (click here to see my review), and some of the points in the book really stayed with me.  For instance in a section of the book entitled “Getting to Know Your Skin” (page 4) Somerville writes:

Human skin is truly amazing.  Despite my years in the business, I’m wowed by this majestic organ every day: what it does, how it heals, and just how beautiful it can be.  If you think you’re good at multitasking, trust me, you don’t hold a candle to your skin. …  Culturally, skin identifies our ethnic heritage, links us to our family, and is a blank canvas we sometimes color to express our individuality.  Like it or not, our skin is a large part of what makes a first impression, and it’s also what sets us apart as humans.  Unlike our pooches, parakeets, or pet lizards, we’re among the rare members of the animal kingdom whose skin is not protected by fur, feathers, or scales.  …  At birth, our physical shell seems too delicate to do everything we ask for it, but it’s more than up to the job.


Functions of the Skin


Somerville’s statements got me thinking about everything our skin does for us on a daily basis.  I think we take our skin for granted and only “tune in” to it when there is a problem.  So I thought it would be a good idea to highlight all the functions of our skin.

Our skin is our body’s largest organ and plays a central role in protecting and caring for our bodies. 

Our skin:

  • Protects us from outside elements, microorganisms, infections, and injury
  • Slows down water evaporation from the body and helps keep our bodies hydrated by producing protective oil
  • Melanin in the skin protects us from the sun
  • Can heal itself
  • Helps regulate our body temperature by warming and cooling the body
  • Detoxifys the body by excreting excess salt and unwanted chemicals
  • Houses our body’s sense of touch so that we can feel and respond to pain, cold, heat, and pressure.


So with everything our skin does for us shouldn’t we return the favor with a little TLC?  Take one day or even just one hour to make protecting and caring for your skin a priority.


Invest in Your Skin May 21, 2010

I received a 20% off e-coupon from this week and was debating if I should use it or not.  Now I love a bargain and like most of us out there I cannot afford to buy everything I would like (and seeing as I have a shoe addiction that is probably a good thing).  I do try to be savvy about my purchases.  Finally I realized that I needed a new brush-on sunscreen so I used my coupon to purchase it.  But all this internal debating got me thinking – isn’t investing in good skincare one of the best investments you can make?  Why was I debating so much with myself about the purchase of a sunscreen I would use daily?

I would love to hear other people’s opinions about this issue.  Personally I think people might have a problem with making skincare product purchases because they don’t always see an immediate return on their investment.  We live in a society that expects instant gratification no matter what the issue or situation.  For instance I recommend using an antioxidant serum daily but rarely will you see an immediate change in the appearance of your skin when you use such a serum.  The use of antioxidant serums is cumulative and long-term.  Additionally, antioxidant serums are usually quite expensive because of the concentration of potent ingredients in them.  Using a product with retinol in it can be the same for many people as well.  It takes months before you will see results from using a retinol product and once again the cost of the product can be high.  Of course in my opinion I would rather have smooth, even toned, clear skin everyday and am happy to cut expenses in other areas to afford my favorite serums and creams. 

I’m not saying all of this in order to tell you that the best skincare products are the ones that cost the most money.  Far from it.  You can find great skincare products at all price points.  Instead my overall point is this – if I had to choose between getting a Starbucks green tea latte everyday (I find them addicting!) and my Vitamin C serum I would choose the serum.

Investing in your skin might not yield instant gratification but the long-term results are well worth the money.

(For tips on how to save money on skincare products and make-up see my early post How to be a Skincare Recessionista)


Nanoparticles in Sunscreens – Should You Worry? May 19, 2010

When it comes to skincare advice a few sources of information consistently upset me.  One is all the misinformation on the web about skincare (one of the reasons I started this blog was to “combat” all that misinformation) and the other is the so-called skincare advice found in glossy fashion magazines.  Now I love fashion magazines – LOVE them – but for the fashion not for the skincare advice.  I do love to get make-up advice and tips for fashion magazines, but for me fashion magazines consistently fall short when it comes to skincare advice.  Either the advice given is basic, even out-dated or it is just downright wrong or ridiculous.  In my opinion only Allure and Elle actually do real in-depth research about skincare issues and trends. 

One beauty editor who constantly gets my goat is Jean Godfrey-June, the beauty editor at Lucky magazine.  I happen to love Lucky for the fashion advice because they highlight trends and clothes that I can actually afford and would want to wear.  I love the way they style the clothes as well.  But when it comes to skincare advice Lucky sucks, in my opinion.  In particular the advice that Godfrey-June gives in her monthly column “The Beauty Closet” makes me want to scream.  Since I took the time to read Godfrey-June’s book about being a beauty editor I now know that she has absolutely no expertise in skincare beyond reporting about it (see my review of her book).  I can take or leave her make-up advice, but her skincare advice is so completely off base at times that I felt I needed to mention it here in this blog.  For example in the June issue of Lucky in the article “Clear Skin Forever: 12 Rules for achieving a perfect complexion no matter how bad you think it is” rule number 5 is:

The only topical treatment to even slightly faze the dreaded body acne is copious amounts of isopropyl alcohol.

This is completely terrible advice!  Isopropyl alcohol is drying and irritating for the skin.  On top of that it can create free radical damage in the skin.  And I should add that this is not the first time that the beauty staff at Lucky has recommended isopropyl alcohol as a treatment for body acne.  (By the way, the correct way to treat body acne is exactly how you would treat the acne on your face.  Look for products with AHA, salicylic acid, and benzoyl peroxide in them)

And then in the same issue there was this gem of advice regarding sunscreen:

The Beauty Closet

Anyone who has ever looked for a no-artificial-chemicals, all-mineral, whole-body sunscreen that does not leave you covered in a whitish film has been, until now, a very frustrated person. This brilliant, answer-to-all-my-dreams SPF30 sinks in instantly, miraculously.

And no, it has no nanoparticles either (if you’re the sort of person searching for the above ultimate formula, you do not want nanoparticles). And it smells nice! Like … lotion. That unobtrusive-yet-somehow-comforting lotion smell.




So perhaps you are wondering – what made me so upset about this product recommendation?  Let me explain.  First of all there are many, many great sunscreen formulations out there that include chemical ingredients and will not damage your skin.  Yes, some people do believe that physical blocks ( titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) are the best sunscreen ingredients just as many people believe that chemical sunscreen ingredients are just as effective as the physical ones and in some cases even better because they are longer lasting for one thing.  It all comes down to finding a sunscreen that you like and that works well with your skin type (and that you like enough to reapply throughout the day).  Chemical, physical ingredients – just use your sunscreen please!

But what was written about nanoparticles really bugged me since Godfrey-June states that if you want an all mineral sunscreen you also do not want nanoparticles in your sunscreens.   Of course, she doesn’t explain what nanoparticles are or why you would want to avoid products with them. 

I had actually been meaning to address the issue of nanoparticles in sunscreens for some time and seeing this item in Lucky finally prompted me to write this post.  The issue of nanoparticles in sunscreens is far from a simple issue and when it comes to nanoparticles in sunscreens in particular different, very credible, sources actually have come out in defense of  their use in sunscreens.


What Are Nanoparticles?


Simply put nanoparticles are tiny particles (a nanometer is one billionth of a meter) of an ingredient.  Scientists shrink ingredient particles to such small microscopic size in order for the ingredient to be able to penetrate cell membranes.  When it comes to sunscreen the ingredients that are nanosized are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide so that sunscreens do not leave a white film when applied to the skin.  The use of nanotechnology in sunscreens improves the aesthetic quality of the sunscreen and thus makes it much more likely that consumers will be willing to use the sunscreen.

The use of nanoparticles is certainly not limited to skincare products.  Nanoparticles can be found in a range of products from toothpaste to nutritional supplements to food colorants.


The Controversy Over Nanoparticles


The controversy with nanoparticles stems from research that suggests that when nanoparticles are absorbed into the skin, inhaled, or other wise consumed they can damage chromosomes and cause inflammation that could lead to cancer.   But the data about nanoparticles/nanotechnology is far from conclusive and far from exhaustive.  Much more research needs to be done about this new field of technology before a general conclusion can be reached that nanotechnology is dangerous to humans. 

When it comes to skincare products and nanotechnology it must be remembered that even if there is data that nanotechnology can be harmful to humans it might not be harmful in all forms.  Inhaling and consuming products with nanoparticles might be much more dangerous than spreading a product on your face with nanoparticles.  This is the very point about nanotechnology that has to do with sunscreens.


Sunscreens and Nanotechnology


Most sunscreens sit on top of the skin and do not penetrate past the the very top layer of the skin.  As such the use of nanoparticles in sunscreens do not pose a threat to consumers.  But don’t just take my word for it.  The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization of scientists, engineers, lawyers, and policy makers that researches and advocates on issues of public health and the environment, reached the same conclusion in their annual report on sunscreens in 2009.  The EWG is a watch dog group that does extensive research on a huge range of subjects that affect public health and their conclusions can be taken seriously.

Instead of paraphrasing the EWG report I will instead highlight some of the important points from the report here.  I want to quote quite a bit of the report since it does a great job of explaining the risks involved with the nanoparticles in sunscreens and then fully explains the conclusions of different research studies about nanoparticles and sunscreens. 

I get the feeling that people are having a knee jerk reaction to nanoparticles in sunscreens like they do to the issue of parabens in skincare products.  There is a lot of smoke and mirrors and hysteria without any real scientific evidence to support the fears that people express over those ingredients.  So please read the excerpts below.  You’ll find a link to the full report at the end of this post.


Nanotechnology and Sunscreens by the Environmental Working Group:

When we began our sunscreen investigation at the Environmental Working Group, our researchers thought we would ultimately recommend against micronized and nano-sized zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sunscreens. After all, no one has taken a more expansive and critical look than EWG at the use of nanoparticles in cosmetics and sunscreens, including the lack of definitive safety data and consumer information on these common new ingredients, and few substances more dramatically highlight gaps in our system of public health protections than the raw materials used in the burgeoning field of nanotechnology. But many months and nearly 400 peer-reviewed studies later, we find ourselves drawing a different conclusion, and recommending some sunscreens that may contain nano-sized ingredients.

Consumer Reports (2007) testing showed that consumers can be protected from UV radiation using products free of nano-scale ingredients like zinc and titanium. We expected to find this as well, but we took our study further than Consumer Reports to be certain. We looked not only at whether or not products provide broad-spectrum UV protection, but also at which sunscreens break down in the sun, and at the full range of potentially hazardous sunscreen ingredients that can absorb through the skin and into the body to pose other risks. Our answers changed.

Our study shows that consumers who use sunscreens without zinc and titanium are likely exposed to more UV radiation and greater numbers of hazardous ingredients than consumers relying on zinc and titanium products for sun protection. We found that consumers using sunscreens without zinc and titanium would be exposed to an average of 20% more UVA radiation — with increased risks for UVA-induced skin damage, premature aging, wrinkling, and UV-induced immune system damage — than consumers using zinc- and titanium-based products. Sunscreens without zinc or titanium contain an average of 4 times as many high hazard ingredients known or strongly suspected to cause cancer or birth defects, to disrupt human reproduction or damage the growing brain of a child. They also contain more toxins on average in every major category of health harm considered: cancer (10% more), birth defects and reproductive harm (40% more), neurotoxins (20% more), endocrine system disruptors (70% more), and chemicals that can damage the immune system (70% more) (EWG 2007).

We also reviewed 16 peer-reviewed studies on skin absorption, nearly all showing no absorption of small-scale zinc and titanium sunscreen ingredients through healthy skin. In a 2007 assessment the European Union found no evidence of nano-scale particles absorbing through pig skin, healthy human skin, or the skin of patients suffering from skin disorders (NanoDerm 2007). Overall, we found few available studies on the absorption of nano-scale ingredients through damaged skin, but nearly all other sunscreen chemicals approved for use in the U.S. also lack these studies.

On balance, EWG researchers found that zinc and titanium-based formulations are among the safest, most effective sunscreens on the market based on available evidence. The easy way out of the nano debate would be to steer people clear of zinc and titanium sunscreens with a call for more data. In the process such a position would implicitly recommend sunscreen ingredients that don’t work, that break down soon after they are applied, that offer only marginal UVA protection, or that absorb through the skin.

If this were nano-containing eye shadow, blush, or body glitter our position would be different — if it’s not protecting your health, don’t use it. But sunscreen is meant to protect us from exposure to a known human carcinogen, UV radiation, responsible for some of the more than one million cases of skin cancer diagnosed in this country every year.

EWG conducted our sunscreen study because comprehensive sunscreen safety standards have not yet been set in this country. FDA has been drafting these standards for 31 years, and still has set no firm deadline for finalizing their latest proposed rule, issued in August 2007. FDA has also not yet evaluated sunscreen chemicals that are widely available in other parts of the world and that could potentially replace nanoparticles in sunscreen.

EWG has called for more safety studies for all sunscreens, nano or not. We’ve called for more data to understand when and in what amounts these ingredients penetrate the skin, and we’ve advocated for science-based assessments of health risks, so that everyone from consumers to health officials at FDA will know that we have the best possible products on the market. For nano-scale ingredients we have also called for full labeling so consumers can make informed choices.

 safety concerns surrounding nanomaterials lead some manufacturers’ choice to label their products as free of nanoscale zinc and titanium. EWG’s 2009 analysis of sunscreens identified 16 manufacturers claiming to steer free of nanoparticles.Consumers should view such claims with skepticism. FDA has neither set standards for nanoparticle claims nor defined the maximum dimensions of a nanoparticle. Products claiming to be nano-free do not divulge the size of the particles used instead. Friends of the Earth has called for consumers to avoid zinc and titanium-based sunscreens unless manufacturers specify that they use no nanoparticles (FOE 2007). A more reliable criteria is the color of the sunscreen: larger particles leave a white coating on the skin.

Sunscreen manufacturers have used nano-scale titanium dioxide since 1990 and nano-scale zinc since 1999. Now the typical size for titanium in sunscreens is 10-100 nm for titanium and 30 to 200 nm for zinc (Nohynek 2007). At these sizes both zinc and titanium are nearly transparent. An estimated 1,000 tons of nanoparticles were used in sunscreen worldwide from 2003 to 2004 (Börm 2006). Nano zinc and titanium are thought to be widely used in US sunscreens, although they are rarely labeled as such. The common label terms “micronized” and “ultra-fine” do not preclude the presence of nano zinc or titanium in sunscreen. Consumer Reports recently tested 8 mineral sunscreens and detected nanoparticles in each one (Consumer Union 2007).

The European Union and Australian cosmetic regulatory bodies have reviewed the toxicity of zinc and titanium nano-ingredients in sunscreen. In 2000, the EU approved nanoscale titanium for use in sunscreen, concluding that the chemical does not penetrate the skin or present risks for cytotoxicity, phototoxicity, or genotoxicity (SCCNFP 2000). In 2004 the same panel reviewed nano-scale zinc and found the evidence insufficient to support its use in sunscreen. The panel could not preclude the possibility that nanoscale zinc might penetrate the skin or damage human DNA (SCCNFP 2004). In 2005 the panel called for additional study by manufacturers to evaluate these concerns (SCCP 2005). The EU Scientific Committee on Consumer Products recently recommended a case-by-case risk assessment of all nanoparticles used in cosmetics, particularly those particles that are insoluble and biopersistent, with the potential to build up in body tissues (SCCP 2007).

In 2006 the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration concluded that the weight of evidence showed no penetration of nanoscale zinc and titanium to viable skin cells (Australia TGA 2006). The US has not evaluated the safety of nanoscale zinc and titanium in sunscreen. The FDA considers their approval of zinc and titanium as sunscreens to encompass all particle sizes.

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide offer moderate to strong UVA protection. In the nano size range UVB protection increases and UVA protection decreases. These 2 chemicals are among only 4 US-approved sunscreens providing significant UVA protection. The remaining two, Avobenzone and Mexoryl SX, provide UVA-I protection. However Avobenzone can be quite unstable and Mexoryl is not widely sold in the U.S. Two alternative UVA blockers, Tinosorb S and Tinosorb M, have been used in Europe since 2000 but have not yet been approved by FDA.

The European Union-funded NanoDerm project conducted a series of experiments over 3 years and found no evidence of dermal penetration in human and pig skin using a variety of analytical techniques, titanium types, and test conditions. NanoDerm focused on titanium penetration since zinc is not approved for use in European sunscreens. They observed that nano-scale titanium particles often aggregated into larger masses on skin, and penetrated deepest in hair shafts. The project also performed absorption studies on skin samples from several patients with psoriasis, which has been a particular concern because skin affected by this condition lacks a protective barrier. Titanium particles penetrated nearly to the level of living skin cells (keratinocytes), but researchers found no evidence that the particles reached the bloodstream. None of their 11 publications found evidence that nano-scale titanium reached “vital tissues” (NanoDerm 2007; Kiss 2008).

EWG separately reviewed results from 16 academic experiments representing a variety of skin types (mouse, pig or human skin) and including nano-scale titanium and zinc. All of the studies examining human skin or pig skin (the most suitable surrogate for human skin) conclude that very few particles, if any, reach living skin cells (Cross 2007; Dussert 1997; Gamer 2006; Gottbrath 2003; Kiss 2007; Lademann 1999; Landsdown 1997; Mavon 2007; Menzel 2004; NanoDerm 2008; Pflücker 2001; Pirot 1996; Schulz 2002; Tan 1996; Wu 2000; Zvyagin 2008). The only signs of penetration come from studies of hairless mice, whose skin is much more permeable than human or pig skin (Kuo 2009; Wu 2009).

One recent study found no titanium particle penetration and limited zinc particle penetration (1.5 to 2.3%), though the study is difficult to interpret because of apparent background contamination of laboratory materials by zinc (Gamer 2006). Hair follicles make up 0.1% of the skin surface and can be potential openings for deeper movement of nanoparticles into skin. Penetration studies for nano zinc and titanium note accumulation of the particles in follicles, but no movement into deeper tissues (Lademann 1999, 2005, 2006, 2007; NanoDerm 2007).

The available research, including studies of psoriatic skin tested by NanoDerm, does not completely address the potential for penetration in damaged skin. Sunburned skin might be more permeable, as might skin of children or the elderly, or thinner skin that occurs in some areas of the body. The NanoDerm assessment concluded that sunscreen containing titanium nanoparticles should not be applied to open wounds, and called for more study of psoriatic skin, which has a damaged outer protective barrier.

Two studies find direct evidence of skin penetration to hairless mice (Kuo 2008, Wu 2009). Hairless mouse skin is less than half as thick as human skin and is a poorer barrier to absorption (Kuo 2009). The European Union’s Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products considers it to be a poor proxy for human exposure (SCCP 2006).


Our assessment of the comparative benefits of zinc and titanium sunscreens that might contain nanoparticles is obviously not meant as an endorsement of all nano-scale products nor the manufacturing processes. But we find nano-scale zine and titanium to be reasonable choices for use in sunscreen, particularly given the known hazards of UV exposure, and the limited choices for UV protection in the United States. We are concerned about the potential for nanoparticle inhalation with powder or spray forms of mineral sunscreens, particularly given marketing claims promoting their use on faces and on children’s skin. EWG urges consumers to avoid mineral-based sunscreens sold in powder or spray forms, and for manufacturers of these products to avoid using nano-scale particles. Consumers can expect a wider range of safe and effective products when FDA finalizes comprehensive sunscreen standards and reassesses the safety of all sunscreens to ensure they are effective and that they are safe for people and the environment alike.



Bottom Line



I trust the research done by the EWG and see absolutely no reason to be concerned about nanoparticles in sunscreens that are rubbed into the skin.  Remember to always take the skincare information that you read in glossy fashion magazines with a grain of salt.  The people writing those articles are journalists not dermatologists, not estheticians, and not scientists.  Do your own research before reaching conclusions. 


And one last word about sunscreens.  I think the Skin Cancer Foundation says it best:

Consumers should rest assured that sunscreen products are safe and effective when used as directed. Since our inception 30 years ago, The Skin Cancer Foundation has always recommended using a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher as one important part of a complete sun protection regimen which includes seeking the shade and covering up with clothing.


So get out your sunscreen, with or without nanoparticles, and use it!







The Best Anti-Aging Skincare Ingredients May 18, 2010


This post aims to offer general guidelines about how to care for your skin so it can look as young as possible.  Certainly I have nothing against looking your age, if that is what you want.  I think you need to look the way you think you look best so if you want to get Botox or have fillers injected – go ahead!  There are also so many things that you can do on a daily basis to protect and nourish your skin so that you retain what you consider to be a youthful appearance.  All it takes is a few minutes a day in order for you to preserve what you already have and to help slow down the effects of aging.

This post is all about tips and ingredients.  I actually don’t want to recommend products here, unless readers ask me to, because what I really want is to help everyone understand what they should be looking for when purchasing anti-aging products.  Everyone has different products that they love and that work for them so this post just wants to steer you in the right direction about finding those products.


Ingredients and Tips


Sunscreen: At the risk of sounding like a broken record I’ll say it again – if you want to stay looking young use a sunscreen daily and reapply it!  Sunscreen will protect your skin from wrinkles, laxity, hyperpigmentation, and of course, skin cancer.  Though it is great if your moisturizer and/or make-up contain sunscreen be sure to apply enough of that product in order to get complete coverage.  Personally I don’t think people do apply enough of either their moisturizer or make-up to get complete spf coverage so I always recommend using a separate sunscreen too.  Be sure to cover not only your face but your neck, chest, and hands as well.   So many women concentrate all their anti-aging attention on their face and then their neck, chest, or hands gives away their true age. 

Antioxidants:  Antioxidants fight free radical damage caused by the sun and pollution, reduce inflammation, can repair DNA damage, restore the skin’s surface barrier, protect the skin from environmental stress, brighten the skin, help the skin build more collagen, and some new research indicates that some antioxidants might help protect the body from skin cancer.   Antioxidants can indirectly stop damage to collagen and DNA in skin cells thus stopping new wrinkles from forming.   In my opinion there is no “best” antioxidant; there are many great ones though.  Look for Vitamin C, E, and of course A (retinols), green tea, idebenone, coffeeberry, resveratrol, and alpha lipoic acid.  I suggest using an antioxidant serum in the morning and a moisturizer and sunscreen that contains antioxidants.  For more information on antioxidants and retinols specifically (and product recommendations) see my previous posts: Add Antioxidants to your Home Skincare Regime and All About Retinol.

Exfoliate: As we age our skin cell turnover rate slows down considerably which translates to uneven, rough skin.  Gentle exfoliation is a must in order to remove layers of dead, thick, and rough skin cells.  Regular exfoliation (approximately twice a week) will help reveal bright, even toned skin.  For lots more information about exfoliation see my early post All About Exfoliation.  There are lots of product recommendations in the post if you need them.

Peptides:  This ingredient is a bioengineered growth factor that mimics a natural element in the body.  Peptides are chains of amino acids help heal, repair, and even can increase collagen and elastin production in the skin.  Additionally peptides are a humectant and have antioxidant qualities as well.


Sources and Further Reading



Caring for Your Feet May 15, 2010


I think/I hope we might finally be having spring weather in Chicago so summer is just around the corner.  Summer always makes me think of pedicures and having nice looking feet for sandal wearing.  I suspect that I am not the only person who suffers from rough, even calloused, feet year round.  I’ve tried to treat my own feet with callouse removers in the shower – scrubbing away at my heels to no avail; I never saw much of a difference when I used an emery type board on my feet.  I have also tried different foot creams that advertised that they would smooth your feet.  Then finally I got a clue – glycolic acid!  It was time to try a body lotion with a hefty dose of glycolic acid (10%) in order to smooth and soften my feet, especially my heels.  After all two things that glycolic acid does is smooth and soften the skin.  Products with glycolic acid that are formulated for the body are stronger than those for the face and worth trying.  I’ve been using DDF Pedi-Cream for only about a week now and immediately saw results.  I’m converted – no more scrubbing away at my heels in the shower.  And what could be easier than just applying a lotion to your feet and heels after you shower?


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