Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Nothing New: The EWG’s 2011 Sunscreen Report May 31, 2011

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has issued its annual, damning sunscreen report for 2011.  Here’s the thing – besides changing both its product recommendations and the products that they hate there is nothing different in this report from the 2010 report.  As always the EWG uses scary language and offers even more disturbing “facts” (more on that later on in this post) to the consumer about sunscreens.  Here’s a sample of the EWG’s scare tactics:

Is your sunscreen actually protecting your family as advertised? Or are some of the claims just marketing hype?

Of the more than 600 beach and sports sunscreens analyzed by Environmental Working Group for our 2011 Sunscreen Guide, we can only recommend one in five. The sunscreen industry continues to load store shelves with bottles listing misleading, sky-high SPF ratings that may protect against UVB rays that cause sunburn but leave skin at risk for UVA damage. And nearly one in three products in the guide are still laced with vitamin A ingredients that accelerate the growth of skin tumors and lesions according to recent government studies.

Last year I took my time reading through the 2010 EWG sunscreen report and writing a response here in my blog.  Throughout the year I posted updated information in this blog on the EWG report.  Below I’ve listed my other posts about the 2010 EWG sunscreen report.  Needless to say, the 2010 EWG sunscreen report got a ton of media attention and, in my opinion, created a ton of unnecessary hysteria. 

In my humble opinion it comes down to this – just as you shouldn’t believe every skincare claim by beauty and cosmetic companies you also need to take what the EWG says about sunscreens with a grain of salt.  All their scary claims are controversial.  For example many experts completely disagree with the EWG’s claims about Vitamin A in sunscreens.  If you prefer to follow the EWG’s recommendations than go for it, but please keep in mind that they are one opinion among many about sunscreens.  Having said that there two parts of the sunscreen report that I do agree with.  The first one is about how high spf numbers (like spf 100) are ridiculous and ultimately create more harm than good.  Secondly I agree with the statement that the FDA’s new regulations on sunscreen are LONG overdue. 

Lastly, one of the things that bothers me the most about the EWG’s sunscreen reports is the fact that they are all doom and gloom and frankly, I am afraid that people might stop using sunscreen because of all the doom and gloom in their report.  So until they actually come out with that sunscreen pill I’ve read about keep using your sunscreen every day – no matter what.


Further Reading:


Help Support Skin Cancer Research May 26, 2011


As May, Skin Cancer Awareness Month, comes to an end I wanted to highlight a few ways all of us can help support skin cancer research.

Consider donating to the Melanoma Research Alliance and/or The Skin Cancer Foundation.

Or if you prefer to donate in a more roundabout way – consider buying from one of these companies.  When you do a donation will be made to The Skin Cancer Foundation.

And remember to always set a good example when it comes to sun protection.  Never use a tanning bed and educate others on the risks of tanning beds (see my post Teens and Tanning Beds for more information).  Always apply sunscreen daily.  Wear a hat and sunglasses when you are outdoors.  Get a skin cancer screening

Also help out by signing a “ letter to the Surgeon General asking her to urge the FDA to enact stricter regulations and more oversight of tanning beds”.  The letter is sponsored by The Skin Cancer Foundation.

The Skin Cancer Foundation offers even more sun safe tips.

Have a great and sun safe Memorial Day Weekend!


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:


Cocktails That Improve Your Skin: As Bogus as It Sounds May 19, 2011


Quite some time ago I wrote a post about how taking expensive supplements aimed at helping you have great skin are a waste of your money (see my post Nutritional Supplements and Your Skin for more information).  Yet I was still surprised to come across the following article recently in The New York TimesImprove Your Skin by Imbibing: Radical or Fadical?, in which the author describes a bunch of cocktails at an exclusive club in NYC that claim to even out your skin tone or diminish fine lines.  Now wouldn’t that be nice – to have a cocktail and get glowing skin as a bonus?  I found the article very funny for a few reasons.  One was the complete enthusiasm and idiocy of the guy who help create the drinks that include his “crystallines” of vitamins, minerals and fruit extracts.  I mean really – does he really believe throwing back a bunch of drinks with a few added vitamins will improve anyone’s skin?  Apparently yes.  The fact that anyone considers this a true way to help improve the look of one’s skin made me snicker. 

Before you think that perhaps there is some truth to this club’s claims that drinking their cocktails will make you look like a super model remember the following – alcohol will dehydrate your skin and can give some people undereye circles and puffiness.  As long as the alcohol stays in those expensive cocktails no one’s skin is going to be looking any better.  Luckily the article ends with a good dose of real fact from Dr. Patricia Wexler, a celebrity dermatologist based in NYC.  She explains:

that alcohol actually had a dehydrating effect, and that it could lead to puffiness, especially if plenty of other, nonalcoholic fluids weren’t consumed along with it.

As for the notion that a measured amount of alcohol in a carefully composed elixir could turn back time, “Nothing in a cocktail will give you younger skin,” she said in an e-mail. “But your judgment might be impaired, and you might see Angelina in the mirror.”


So if you happen upon a cocktail in your neighborhood club that promises to fight acne or make your fine lines disappear just remember that this cocktail won’t make you look better, but it can, as any alcoholic drink can, make you feel better.  Bottoms up!


Fab New Cheap Lip Products May 16, 2011

After reading a glowing review from Paula Begoun* of N.Y.C.’s Smooch Proof 16HR Lip Stain I decided that I just had to try this product.    So far I’ve bought this lip product is two different colors – smooch proof and champagne stain.  The champagne stain color is very close to my natural lip color so I find that I use it almost every day to enhance my natural lip color and give it a little more punch.  The smooch proof color goes on a more intense pink/red shade.  You can play around with the intensity of the color by how hard you press on your lips as you apply it.  Wielding the lip stain like a pen produces a darker color, but you can also glide the product across your lips and then smudge it with your fingers.  Consider applying sheer gloss on top.  The color does fade as the day goes on, contrary to the claims by the manufacturer, and as you eat and drink, but you are still left with some color on your lips at the end of the day which is pretty incredible for a $5 product.  I have to say that I am very impressed with this $5 product and am glad I tried it.

My other new fave lip product is Mint Balm from Glominerals.  This is a very hydrating lip balm that also has spf 15 (yea!!) and feels minty and cool on your lips.  You can use it under or over your favorite lip product.  Now it costs $12.50 and, of course, you may wonder why I am calling this a cheap lip product.  I definitely think it is cheap for the amount of product you get for $12.50.  The tube is HUGE!  Even if you use this product multiple times during the day I can’t imagine that you use it up in less than 8 or 9 months.  Everyone needs a lip product with spf in it; I recommend trying Mint Balm.

*  By the way, Paula Begoun’s Beautypedia, which used to cost money to access, is now free.  You can easily read all her reviews now.


Nail Health May 11, 2011

I can’t remember the last time I got a manicure though recently I did try those Sally Hansen real nail polish strips which say they last 10 days.  Mine lasted about 4 days which made me sad since they did look cool when they were on (I tried the bright flower pattern), and when I went to remove the strips I literally had to scrape/file the nail polish off my nails with a nail file.  Regular nail polish did not remove the strips at all even though that is what the manufacturer said would work.  It was so time-consuming to remove the strips, and my nails were left looking horrible – all beat up and scratched up.  Such a disappointment.  So there went my experiment with those nail polish strips.  I’ve also learned from lots of trial and error that it is best to get professional pedicures during the summer instead of trying to paint my own nails.  The professional pedicures always look better and last longer than any DIY pedicure.  Anyhow, I started thinking more about nails since I scheduled my first pedicure of the season for this week.   My problems with getting the right manicure and pedicure are nothing compared to having real nail problems.  So how does our health affect our nails?  And what is the best way to take care of our nails?

What Our Nails Tell Us About Our Health

It fascinated me to learn how much our nails can reveal about our overall health.  Before I give some explains I think it is important to point out that the growth cycle of a nail is six months.  And what exactly make up our nails?  In her book The Beauty Bible Paula Begoun explains (pages 376-377 , 2nd edition):

 Physiologically speaking, the nail is simply a protective covering composed of dead cells filled with a thick protein called keratin, quite similar in essence to the hair.  Although the part of the nail you can see is dead, the matrix (the part of the nail under the skin) is very much alive.  The white crescent area of the nail is called the lunula and is part of the matrix.  The nail grows out from the matrix and as the growth of new cells build up and dies it is pushed forward and out toward the surface.  The cuticle is the protective layer of skin between the outside environment and the matrix.  Keeping the cuticle intact is perhaps the single most important element in preserving the health of the nail.

It turns out that a lot about your nails is genetically predetermined so you cannot alter the why your nails naturally grow just as you cannot alter how your hair grows.

Ok so what can our nails reveal about our health?  Concave, spoon shaped nails, or koilonychia, can show that you have an iron deficiency.  Those white horizontal line that you sometimes have on some nails but not others?  That is called a Beau’s line and shows that the nail actually stopped growing during a period of physical or emotional stress.  Even a case of the flu can cause those lines to form.  Even the shape of your nails can be informative about a health issue.  Some people have nails’ whose tips are curved and slightly bulbous.  This occurs in people who don’t have enough oxygen reaching the tips of their fingertips because they smoke or have congestive heart failure.  This is actually almost like having a scar.  If the person stops smoking or is able to improve their heart condition their nail shape will change.  If your nails are discolored, for instance blue-gray, that could mean that you suffer from a collagen vascular disease or are having a negative reaction to medication.

 Brittle and peeling nails are chiefly caused by wetting and drying your hands and nails.  Chronic exposure to harsh detergents, water, toluene and formaldehyde in nail polish, and harsh nail polish remover solvents can stress our nails once again making them brittle.  Genes and diet definitely play a role in nail health as do medical conditions (as illustrated above).  And of course many people add to their nail problems by biting and picking at their nails when they are stressed, anxious, or bored.

According to an article in the Fall-Winter 2010 issue of New Beauty – pages 46-48 (New Beauty used to put issues of their magazine online but no longer do which is too bad in my opinion):

    • If your nails have white spots then you may have a vitamin or mineral deficiency
    • If your nails are brittle and separate easily from the nail bed, you may have a thyroid condition
    • If your nails are thin and concave, then you may have an iron deficiency
    • If your nails are overly thick or flakey you may have a fungal growth
    • When nails have a yellow case to them, it can be from a variety of causes, and a common culprit is dark nail polish. …  But, if you don’t regularly wear dark shades and your nails are yellow, it may be the sign of a health condition.  Discolored nails can hint toward fungal infections, psoriasis, diabetes or liver, kidney or lung conditions that require medical attention.

Suffice it to say, if your nails don’t look right go see a doctor immediately to have them checked since your nails could be revealing a larger and more serious health issue.

What Can or Cannot Help Your Nails

Can using a product on top of your nails help them grow or make them stronger?  Sadly no.  You cannot change the way your nail grows by applying a topical product.  In order to see a real change in the health or appearance of your nails you need to either treat a health problem or perhaps tweak your diet.  Remember that no matter what a manufacturer claims neither topical applications of fluoride or calcium will improve your nail health.

According to Dr. Amy Wechsler in her book The Mind-Beauty Connection (page 159):

Contrary to popular belief, our nails do not contain much calcium, so supplementation, while good for our bodies, may not help our nails.  In fact, vitamin and mineral deficiencies are rare causes of nail problems.  More often than not, brittle nails are caused by excessive exposure to harsh soaps, irritants, polish remover, and the wetting and drying of nails (all typical of a busy, kitchen-maven mom).  Brittle nails can also be seen with medical conditions like psoriasis, fungal infections, and thyroid problems.  Age also factors in, and the older you are the more likely your nails will become brittle.

That said, one little nutrient that may help give your nails a boost is biotin.  Found abundantly in foods like cauliflower, peanuts, and lentils, biotin is absorbed into the core of the nail, where it may encourage a better, thicker, nail to grow and prevent splitting and cracking.  In one study, people who consumed 2.5 milligrams of biotin daily had marked increases in nail thickness after six months.  To get this much biotin, ask your doctor about taking it in supplement form.

Nail Care 101

  • Moisturize the cuticle area
  • Wear gloves when washing dishes and doing house work
  • Apply hand cream frequently and especially after you wash your hands
  • Use a sunscreen on your hands – better yet get a hand cream with spf in it.  My current go to hand cream with spf is Boots No7 Protect and Perfect Hand Cream Spf 15 which you can get at Target or online
  • Don’t soak your nails for long period of time
  • Don’t use your nails as tools to open things such as letters or anything else
  • Avoid nail polish with toluene and formaldehyde and nail polis remover with acetone
  • Don’t bite or pick your nails

Sources and Further Reading:


In Your Face: See What Skin Cancer Looks Like May 9, 2011

Filed under: skin cancer — askanesthetician @ 6:11 am
Tags: , , , ,


Since May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month I wanted to devote another post to the subject of skin cancer.  I urge everyone, especially those who have never had one, to go get a skin cancer check.  You can even get one for free.  And if there isn’t a free screening in your area you can certainly do a self-examination.

Remember that being aware of what is going on with your skin involves much more than paying attention to if you need a moisturizer or not or if your skincare products are doing what they should.  Though those things are important being aware of what is going on with your skin also means being very aware of any changes that might be going with your skin and/or  appearance of new growths and spots on your skin.

I’ll explain using an example.  The other day a regular client came to see me for a chemical peel.  Before we got started she asked if I could look at a small, white dot that had appeared seemingly overnight by the side of her nose.  I told her truthfully that I wasn’t sure what it was and that perhaps it was a clogged pore.  Since I work for a doctor we were able to get the doctor to come in and give it a look as well.  Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the doctor disagreed with my assessment and thought that it could be a precancerous lesion.  My client, on the advice of the doctor, agreed to monitor the area for about a month.  If it hadn’t disappeared in a month she would come back to have it biopsied.

Though I am, of course, hoping for the best for my client and keeping my fingers crossed that this white lesion is nothing, I did tell her that it was great that she was so aware of what was going on with her skin.  If the mark turns out to be something serious we will be able to take care of it before it turns into something even more scary.  Paying attention to your skin could be life saving.

Now if you are wondering what sorts of things to look out for when it comes to your skin here is a slide show of photos of suspicious lesions.  The photos aren’t gross.  Believe me – I get very squeamish very easily so I wouldn’t recommend that people look at photos that would make me cringe or feel sick.

So give this slide show from WebMD a look.  A little knowledge could be lifesaving:


A Moment of Zen: Finding Your Favorite Massage May 5, 2011

Filed under: Spa Services — askanesthetician @ 6:08 am
Tags: , , , , ,


I’ve written about facial massage before in this blog but never about a full body massage.  In my mind I divide spa goers into “facial clients” and “massage clients”, and I find that clients really do have preference when it comes to spa services and that they stick to their preference.  Rarely do I find that skincare clients get massages and visa versa.  Truthfully when it comes to spa services I am a “massage client”.  I would be more than happy to get massages daily if I could afford it (and had the time for it).

 Recently I came across a fun article in Travel and Leisure magazine called Great Massages in Unusual Places in which the author recounts some of the highs and lows of receiving massages all over the world.  I also liked how the article included a history of massages:

History of Massages

Circa 2300 B.C.: Weary Egyptians embrace reflexology enough to depict it on their tombs—perhaps ensuring a foot-rub-filled eternity.

Circa 400 B.C.: Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, writes about the physiological effects of “rubbing.” Without specifying parts of the anatomy, he concludes that “hard rubbing constricts, soft relaxes, much rubbing thins, and moderate thickens.”

50 B.C.: Julius Caesar gets massages for his neuralgia—he was said to have been “pinched” every day (a practice continued by Italian men on public transportation).

1813: Per Henrik Ling, a Stockholm fencing master and gymnast, is credited with developing modern Swedish massage.

1868: Ling’s place in history is challenged by Johan Georg Mezger, a Dutch practitioner who classifies massage techniques, using terms such as effleurage (stroking) and petrissage (kneading) that nobody on a massage table cares about, so long as it feels good.

1895: J. H. Kellogg promotes “The Art of Massage” from his Battle Creek Sanitarium, in Michigan. Not to mention Corn Flakes.

1922: Reiki, an ancient Tibetan practice, is discovered by Japanese businessman Mikao Usui. He and his disciples, known as Reiki masters, claim healing powers even without touching—their hands hovering over the body like low-flying aircraft.

1928: A French chemist, René-Maurice Gattefossé, uses lavender oil to heal his burned hand. Aromatherapy is born, and forever after “aromatherapy massage” costs more.

Today: Ashram-style austerity is back, with the rise of detox and weight-loss spas and even “bikini boot camp” programs. What does it mean for sybarites? You now have to earn your end-of-day massage.

There are so many different types of massages that one can receive.  If you want to dip your toe in the water (pun intended) and have never had a massage before try reflexology since the only part of your body the massage therapist will be touching is your feet.  Finding the right massage therapist for you might take a bit of trial and error (and a few bad massages), but once you find that right therapist you’ll be delighted (and more relaxed).  My personal favorite kind of massage is a Thai massage which involves the therapist using their body to manipulate your body; you remain fully clothed and the work is done on mats on the floor of the massage room.  This is a very different type of massage if you have only had European type of massages in the past, but I highly recommend it if you’ve never tried one before. 



May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month May 2, 2011

Filed under: skin cancer — askanesthetician @ 2:57 pm
Tags: , , , , ,


May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month making this the perfect time for me to once again get up on my soapbox and give out some very important sun protection tips. 

First and foremost, and I can’t emphasize this enough, be aware of the fact that skin cancer is preventable.  Be vigilant about using your sunscreen and you will drastically cut-down on your chances of getting skin cancer.  Never, ever use a tanning bed!  Using a tanning bed is almost like asking to get melanoma.  Just say no!  Get a fake tan instead.

Everyone, no matter what their skin color is, needs to use a broad-spectrum (that means the sunscreen blocks both UVA and UVB rays) sunscreen of at least SPF 30 every day – no matter what.  Even if you the only time you are spending outdoors is in your car driving around – you still need sunscreen.  Even if it is cloudy outside you still need a sunscreen.   Remember to put sunscreen on every part of your body that is exposed – like your ears, your neck, and your hands.

Get a skin cancer check from a dermatologist.  It only takes about 5 minutes.  You can even get one for free.

Protect yourself and protect those you love.  Set a good example for your kids by using sunscreen and wearing a hat when you are outdoors.

Can’t decide what sunscreen to buy?  Get Sephora’s Sun Safety Kit for only $25.  It includes sample sizes of 11 different products.

Want to learn more?  Two of my favorite online sources for skin cancer information are The Skin Cancer Foundation and The American Academy of Dermatology website.

And above all – use your sunscreen and be sun smart!


%d bloggers like this: