Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Skin pH January 30, 2012

Filed under: Skin and Skincare — askanesthetician @ 6:05 am
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You’ve probably noticed that some skincare products define themselves as “pH balanced”.  Maybe you’ve tried to remember your high school chemistry lessons in order to figure out what that means.  When it comes to having healthy skin maintaining a proper pH level is important.

What Is pH?

Let’s refresh your memory about what the pH scale is anyhow:

Simplistically, it’s nothing more than a measuring system for comparing the strength of acids and bases. An abbreviation for “potential of hydrogen”, chemists long ago realized molecules which give up more protons the positively charged portion of an atom when placed into water, differed from those that give up a hydroxy group (OH-).

A scale from 1 to 14 was created to gauge these properties. Water, the elixir of life, is neutral; it is neither acidic nor alkaline. It was assigned the midway point on the scale: 7. Anything below 7 is categorized as an acid; those above, a base. ( Note: the terms base, basic and alkaline all refer to the same thing. ) The further the pH shifts from 7 in either direction, the stronger (and potentially irritating) the solution. So a compound with a pH of 3 is more acidic than one at 5; a base at 8 is less potentially irritating than one at 10.

Source:  pH and Your Skin by Audrey Kunin, M.D. on

pH and Your Skin

Our skin’s pH is affected by the skincare products that we use, our environment, our age, and lastly our diet.  When the skin’s acid mantle, a thin layer of sweat and sebum that sits on the epidermis and protects our skin, is disrupted by products or factors that are either too acidic or too alkaline skin issues occur.

An imperceptible thin viscous fluid, the acid mantle, important for maintaining overall health of skin and hair, protects both skin and hair. Secretions formed by sebaceous and eccrine sweat glands comprise the acid mantle. Sebum (the oily substance produced by the sebaceous glands) and sweat, (the salty, watery mix produced by the eccrine glands) blend and are further acidified by secretions from normal flora of the skin (bacteria known as Staphylococcus epidermis). The normal acid mantle for both skin and hair ranges between 4.0 and 5.5.

Sunlight, diet, excessive sweating and the application of skin or hair products can all lead to disruptions in the acid mantle.

The epidermis is protected by an external layer of dead, dry, tightly knit cells (outer stratum corneum) arranged like shingles on a roof. Any disruption to the acid mantle, elevating overall skin pH, interferes with this protective barrier, wrenching cells away from each other and results in dehydration, roughness, irritation and noticeable flaking. Skin is left defenseless and susceptible to further environmental damage.

As cells pull apart, minute breaks become exposed, leaving skin more vulnerable to bacterial invasion. Under normal circumstances, bacteria not only have a difficult time penetrating through the stratum corneum, but the acid mantle creates a hostile environment for bacteria which prefer an alkaline environment to flourish. A rise in pH plays mayhem with natural infection prevention, further increasing infection due to bacteria typically paralyzed by an acidic environment. Once the pH exceeds 6.5, bacterial invasion increases dramatically, a loss of normal skin integrity results and a variety of various skin diseases and disorders such as atopic dermatitis, seborrhea, ichthyosis and irritant contact dermatitis flare.

Source: pH and Your Skin by Audrey Kunin, M.D. on

You can damage the acid mantle and throw off your skin’s natural pH balance by using skincare products that are too acidic (think glycolic acids and other AHA acids) or too alkaline (harsh detergent soaps, like typical bar soaps).  Skin whose pH level has been disrupted can feel dry, irritated, and look dull.

Maintaining a proper skin pH isn’t too hard.  In order to restore balance to your skin choose a gentle or creamy cleanser, moisturize often, don’t spend too long in the shower, and protect your skin from the sun.


  • The Right pH for Perfect Skin – New Beauty Fall-Winter 2009

Further Reading:

Image from


Going Overboard January 27, 2012

Filed under: beauty — askanesthetician @ 6:05 am
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W magazine had a fun feature in their December, 2011 issue that poked fun at people who over do beauty and cosmetic treatments.   (The illustrations Melanie Teppich are playful and definitely worth a look.)

For example:

Eyeagra Latissima

(eye-AG-ra  la-TEES-ee-muh)
Fixation on making eyelashes appear thick and  erect at all times.
Symptoms: Addiction to prescription Latisse  or other eyelash“conditioners”; frequent reapplication of mascara. Often  diagnosed in tandem with Red Carpet Face—a perma-squint resulting from lids  being weighed down with copious amounts of lash.



Obsessive need for  frequent injections of botulinum toxin into one’s face in an attempt to be as  smooth and wrinkle-free as a fiberglass statue.
Symptom:  Confusing actual skin with that depicted in magazines.

Check out all the different beauty disorders here.

Image from W magazine


Inflammation: The Ultimate Skin Enemy? January 24, 2012

One of the hottest topics in the skincare and dermatology world is the topic of inflammation and how it affects the skin.  Just as inflammation in the body can lead to disease and aging, inflammation in the skin can cause wrinkles, acne, hives, even eczema and rosacea.  With inflammation so prevalent in our bodies and skin how do you protect yourself and your skin?

What Is Skin Inflammation?

According to the article “Skin’s New Enemy” from Allure magazine (unfortunately the article is not available online):

Inflammation has become the hottest topic in dermatology today, since research suggests it plays a role in acne, aging, skin cancer, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and even hair loss.  “After the sun, inflammation is the skin enemy number one,” says David J. Leffell, professor of dermatology and dermatologic surgery at Yale School of Medicine.  …  Technically, inflammation is a necessary self-defense mechanism – the immune system’s response to infection, irritation, or injury.  The body produces inflammatory substances, such as histamines and cytokines, and blood vessels swell, sending immune cells to the skin to kill bacteria, says Bryan B. Fuller, adjunct professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center in Oklahoma City.  It’s a kind of scrimmage, then, at a cellular level, with bacteria and viruses the losers (one hopes).  With foreign invaders vanquished, healing can begin.  The problem is that sometimes, thanks to genetic and environmental factors, inflammation becomes chronic.  Like a runaway train, it gains speed (stimulating production of skin-eroding enzymes) and mows down everything in its path (collagen, elastin).  While there are obvious states of inflammation, like a pimple or a rash, we may not even be aware that our bodies are on “red alert”.

Furthermore, according to the article “Seeing Red” in the January, 2012 issue of Day Spa magazine (once again – not available online):

Non-acute, or chronic, inflammation manifests in various ways, including ongoing swelling in the feet and ankles, sinus issues and skin problems.  “The skin is a telltale,” [Wallace] Nelson [naturopathic doctor and president of M’lis] says.  “In skin, inflammation manifests as acne, eczema, psoriasis and rosacea.”  Many people, including Nelson, see a dietary connection.  We know that compounds in the blood called C-reactive proteins are at high levels when inflammation is present.  “Saturated fats, salt, refined sugars and high-glycemic carbohydrates like those made from white flour are foods that set off C-reactive proteins,” says Nelson.

Dr. Amy Wechsler in her book The Mind-Beauty Connection   explains that most of us are not even aware of the fact that our bodies may be victims of chronic inflammation (pages 174-175):

Eventually, you do have to take note of [inflammation] when it builds up over time and results in an ailment or disease, from simple skin rashes and persistent acne t more serious problems like heart disease and cancer.

What fuels the endless burn of chronic inflammation?  Oxidative stress, or free-radical damage that can cause wrinkles and cancer.  Because free radicals steal electrons from other molecules, rendering those molecules handicapped and damaged, they both trigger inflammation and are created by it.

The sun’s UV light also generates an army of free radicals.  It’s estimated that half of the sun’s skin damage is caused by them.  Inflammation and UV assaults are like a one-two punch to your skin because its major components – fats, proteins, and DNA – are favorite free-radical targets.  The end results is, yes, skin aging: collagen breaks down, abnormal elastin increases, moisture is lost, wrinkles accumulate, and skin cancer may start brewing, too.

How Do You Treat Skin Inflammation?

There are actually a lot of different ways that you can treat your skin in order to reduce inflammation:

  • Eat a diet rich in antioxidant foods – think brightly colored fruits and vegetables.  Drink green tea.
  • Eat anti-inflammatory foods like those with omega-3 fatty acids like fatty fish (think salmon), flaxseed, and fish oil.
  • Follow a low glycemic diet – eliminate white flour, processed foods, and sugar.
  • Apply topical antioxidants.  No one antioxidant is better than other; they are all anti-inflammatory and soothing.  Vitamin C, green tea, coffeeberry, and resveratrol are all good antioxidants to try in skincare products.  For more information on antioxidants see my post Skincare Tip: Add Antioxidants to Your Home Skincare Regime for more details on antioxidants and specific product recommendations.
  • Quit smoking.  Smoking creates more free radicals and causes vascular injury which the body then tries to repair thus setting off the inflammatory process in the body.  For more information about how smoking negatively affects your skin see my previous post How Smoking Ruins Your Skin.
  • Allergies to skincare product ingredients, such as fragrance and preservatives, can increase inflammation.  Once you figure out which ingredients have caused a reaction keep a list with you so you can avoid them in the future.
  • Moisture often – skin dryness can lead to the skin barrier, your skin’s first line of defense, being compromised which can trigger more skin inflammation.  A soothing moisturizer can help your skin restore its natural ability to protect and heal itself.  One line of moisturizers to try is from Epionce.  The concept behind this whole skincare line, developed by dermatologist Carl Thornfeldt, is to soothe, protect, and repair damaged skin barriers.  (I’ve been trying these products lately through my job, and I can definitely say that the feel great on the skin and smell wonderful too)
  • Protect your skin with sunscreen.  Too much sun can lead to further skin inflammation.

Though preventing skin inflammation (and inflammation in the body as well) can seem daunting you can take some small but concrete steps to protect your skin.  Start by quitting smoking (if you smoke), use skincare products with antioxidants, and protect your skin with both moisturizer and sunscreen daily.

Further Reading:

Image from


The Tyranny of Perfect Skin January 19, 2012

Recently I treated a client who had by far the worst skin I had ever seen during my time as an esthetician and even the worst skin I had seen – ever.  Every surface of her face was covered with papules and pustules; her skin was bumpy and extremely infected.  In order for her skin to both look good and be healthy this client will need very aggressive and long-standing anti-acne treatment, probably for the rest of her life.

Without any prompting I can rattle off everything that is wrong with my skin – blackheads galore, acne scars on my cheeks, persistent breakouts on my chin especially around the time of my period (I have two on my chin as I write this), sun damage and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.  Oh and did I mention that I have to pluck hairs from my chin on a daily basis?  Yes, my skin can be a lot of work.  But after treating this client I had to admit that I don’t have it bad when it comes to my skin.  I realized that I shouldn’t complain about my skin any more or at least not as much as I used to.

After seeing this client I also started to think, yet again, about how women have unrealistic expectations about how their skin should look and that most people think their skin looks worse than it really is.  Lots of times I have people come to me for facials who bemoan the state of their skin and make a catastrophy of every blackhead and wrinkle.  (Occasionally I do see the opposite kind of client as well who thinks their skin is fabulous and really they could be doing so much more for their skin, but they don’t think that they need to)  Though I am far from a therapist or cultural commentator I think  that part of this obsession with perfect skin comes from the completely ridiculous expectations and photos presented to us by the mass media.

I’ll give some examples.  In my mind one of the worst magazine offenders, when it comes to setting unattainable expectations for how your skin should look, is Lucky.  I’ve already written numerous times in my blog about how the skincare advice in Lucky is simplistic, unrealistic, and sometimes just downright wrong.  Unfortunately the advice is presented in a know-it-all tone that makes it sound like they really are the be all and end all authorities on any beauty topic.  So please take their skincare advice with a grain of salt.  Every month the magazine also promises perfect skin instantly, with the use of one moisturizer or one serum.  Real skin changes happen slowly over time and with the use of high-tech and/or prescription ingredients.  Every month I cringe when I receive my copy of Lucky thinking of women who want to make their skin look better and actually believe the advice in this magazine.  Take the February issue of Lucky for example.  The cover of the magazine promises the following:

Flawless skin, guaranteed!  Beat acne, shrink pores, and soften lines

You think to yourself “great!  I want my skin to look flawless”, but the advice inside falls so short of being helpful.  It is rudimentary at best.  How do you get poreless skin according to Lucky?  You cleanse with a scrub, use a serum that promises to shrink pores (by the way shrinking pores is impossible, see my post below for a longer explanation), use a primer, and then finish with foundation.  Hello!  Really what they are telling you is to use make-up.  The other two promises made on the cover?  I couldn’t figure out where the advice was inside the magazine.

The January issue of Vogue actually has an article (“Face Value” – not available online at the moment) about how to achieve poreless looking skin.  The key to a flawless face is the right foundation.  Let me repeat that – the key to a perfect looking complexion is make-up.  According to the article:

In this age of high definition, high resolution, and high expectations – where even the camera on an iPad can send a perfectly rational girl shrieking toward the dermatologist’s office – out-of-this-world skin doesn’t feel like an unreasonable demand.  After all, as Val Garland … says, “Your skin is the first thing someone notices about you.”

That’s where a new kind of camouflage comes in.  “Ten years ago, foundation was thicker, more opaque, matte.  You could tell that women were wearing it,” says Olivia Chantecaille, who, along with her mother, Sylvia, has built a beauty empire upon remarkable second-skin formulas with names like Real Skin (a translucent, balmlike gel) and Future Skin (an airy confection with the consistency of fresh-whipped cream).  “A really great foundation is like a really great pair of jeans,” she continues.  “It should make you look better instantly; it should make you feel better instantly.”

Obviously I am the last person to discount the benefits and necessity of a great skincare regime but don’t forget the power of make-up as well.  And above all – remember that the models in cosmetic ads and magazines are airbrushed within an inch of their lives.  Their skin “beauty” is completely unattainable.

Further Reading:

Related Posts:

Photo from Allure


How to Treat Dry Winter Skin January 16, 2012


As soon as the humidity and temperature drops almost everyone feels like they need a moisturizer for their skin.  With winter really upon us it’s probably time to change-up your skin routine a bit, if you haven’t already.  Treating dry and sensitized winter skin isn’t that hard.  Tweak your home skincare routine a little in order to restore moisture and balance to your skin.

Why Your Skin Becomes So Dry in the Winter

For a technical explanation on why our skin feels so dry and irritated during the winter, for those who like that, I’ll turn to the Skin Inc. article Understanding and Fighting Winter Itch by Dr. Ahmed Abdullah (if you want a less scientific explanation skip ahead):

Physiology of the stratum corneum

To understand skin hydration, it’s necessary to look at key components of the stratum corneum—the outermost layer of the epidermis that makes skin impermeable, and protects deeper skin tissue and the body at large from bacterial invasion and other environmental aggressors.

The stratum corneum is comprised of corneocytes, which are flattened, dead skin cells; desmosomes, the proteins that hold the corneocytes together; and intercellular lipids. Under a microscope, these components appear to be arranged in a brick-and-mortar manner, with corneocytes serving as the bricks, connected by desmosomes, and lipids playing the role of mortar that surrounds and protects the corneocytes. Collectively, these components create a physical wall intended to prevent moisture loss. However, the individual roles of corneocytes and lipids are equally important.

Corneocytes are mainly composed of keratin, which holds water and gives skin its strength, along with various other compounds called natural moisturizing factors (NMFs). As humectants, NMFs not only hold water, but also attract it; thus, they are essential to the skin’s flexibility and water-holding capabilities. However, they’re water-soluble, which is why skin dries out upon extended water contact from showering, bathing, swimming and hand-washing.

intercellular lipids are comprised of ceramides, free fatty acids and cholesterol. In the stratum corneum, their role is to prevent the loss of NMFs from within the corneocytes. On the topmost layer of skin, they combine with sweat to form the thin acid mantle—the chemical barrier that kills bacteria and regulates moisture loss. What’s more, lipids lubricate the skin and, as such, are a major factor in ensuring smooth texture.

Environmental impact on the stratum corneum

For the stratum corneum to properly protect the body, it must be elastic and flexible, which is only possible when the skin is properly hydrated. Normal, healthy skin is 20–35% water. Each day, it loses approximately a pint of water through transepidermal water loss (TEWL), the continuous process by which water leaves the body and enters the atmosphere via evaporation and diffusion. However, when humidity drops, as it does in cold-weather months, there’s a dramatic increase in TEWL as the dry air pulls moisture from the skin. When the skin’s water content drops below 10%, it begins drying and brings discomfort characterized by redness, itchiness and flakiness. With less water in the skin, the production of NMFs becomes impaired and lipid levels fall, setting in motion a vicious cycle that is hard to remedy.

Add to the mix ongoing or prolonged exposure to irritants, such as soap and even water, and you have a far worse situation. This exposure causes the skin’s acid mantle to disintegrate, which further increases the rate of TEWL and decreases lipid levels. The result is even drier skin that may crack and even become infected.

With less water and fewer lipids to lubricate and protect it, skin no longer exfoliates properly. This is what results in the excessive buildup of dead cells on the skin’s surface, giving it an ashy appearance. It also results in an overall degradation of skin health; skin can no longer properly heal itself.

The short, and very easy to understand, explanation about the cause of dry skin during winter?  I’ll quote Barney Kenet, MD, a dermatologist from New York Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical Center, from the WebMD article What’s Causing Your Dry Skin?:

“Dry air is probably the most common cause of dry skin, especially during the winter,” says Kenet, “It draws the moisture right out of the skin.” Dry skin during winter even gets its own name: winter itch.

While cold, harsh weather does dry your skin, another big problem in the winter lies indoors — the dry heat churned out by your furnace. (During the summer, air conditioning can have a similar effect.)

Tips to Fix Dry Winter Skin

First and foremost, if your skin is feeling dry, tight, and even itchy – simply moisturize.  Start off moisturizing twice a day, in the morning and the evening.  If you feel like you need to moisturize more than do that.  Be sure to apply your moisturizer to damp skin.  Once again according to Dr. Kenet in the WebMD article:

“You have to put on moisturizer when your skin is still damp,” says Kenet, author of How to Wash Your Face. “That way, the moisturizer is trapping the moisture still on your skin.” Your skin shouldn’t be sopping wet — just pat yourself dry with a towel and put it on. Let it soak in for a few minutes, and then towel off the excess, Kenet says.

It is especially important to moisturize your hands multiple times during the day.  If you use hand sanitizer get one that is a moisturizing formulation.

Don’t take long, hot showers or baths.  Limit your time in the shower so that the warm water doesn’t further dry out your skin.  Don’t use drying bar soaps when you shower.  Switch to milder and thicker shower washes during the winter.

Invest in a humidifier for your home and even for your office.

Bundle up when you go outside so that your skin isn’t directly exposed to the air.

Eat Omega-3 rich foods like cold water fish, walnuts, and flax in order to fortify the skin’s natural oil retaining barriers.

Don’t put away your sunscreen!  Sun protection is as important in the winter as it is in the summer.

Finding the Right Moisturizer

I’ve been using Trader Joe’s Midsummer’s Night Cream moisturizer for years on my body after the shower and find it to be a very cost-effective and great body moisturizer.  When I need an extra boost of moisture for my face I like to use a B5 serum.  GloTherapeutics and Skinceuticals make good ones.   You could also use a moisturizing mask once or twice a week to add moisture back to the skin.  For more product ideas check out this post by FutureDerm about her favorite winter skincare products.

You actually don’t need to spend a lot of money on a moisturizer in order to find an effective one.  Once you settle on one use it often for the best results.


Sources and Further Reading:

Related Posts:

Image from The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Decoding Skincare Ingredients – What They Really Mean January 12, 2012

I’ve already mentioned numerous times in this blog how understanding skincare ingredients makes you a better educated skincare consumer.  The more informed you are can help you both save money and buy the most effective products instead of just believing the marketing hype from cosmetic and skincare brands.

Luckily there are numerous great and easily accessible resources out there in order to understand skincare ingredients.  Here are some of my favorite sources:

  • The Beauty Brains – this website is written by cosmetic chemists and they have numerous posts that just analyze ingredients in skin, hair, and make-up products
  • Future Derm – the author of this site also analyzes ingredients in numerous skincare products
  • Use Paula Begoun’s online ingredient dictionary in order to analyze and understand skincare ingredients on your own

Recently I came across two articles that succinctly explain some of the more hyped skincare ingredients.  The first article is from Prevention magazine and it provides information about some widely promoted new skincare ingredients:

Epidermal Growth Factors: EGFs have the ability to promote cell growth and wound healing if used in the right amount, but they’re very hard to keep stable—and still extremely expensive.

Repair Enzymes: Inside your body, these types of proteins may facilitate skin renewal, but they’re difficult to stabilize in skin creams. Only time will tell whether they’re truly revolutionary.

Peptides: These proteins can improve skin’s appearance, and some companies claim they’ve found ones to fix damaged DNA. Experts say it’s possible in theory, but there’s no good proof it’s happened yet.

I also recently found a post from The Beauty Brains from back in 2008 that talks about well-known skincare ingredients.  While I don’t entirely agree with everything The Beauty Brains have to say about every ingredient (particularly their comments on antioxidants and Vitamin C) I do like the fact that they cut through a lot of the BS and marketing lies from cosmetic and skincare companies to deliver useful information to their readers.

The bottom line is this – keep educating yourself!  There will always be new skincare ingredients being hyped, but it is easy to stay on top of these things.


Further Reading:



Related Posts:

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Truth in Beauty Advertising – There Isn’t Much Out There January 9, 2012

Filed under: beauty,make-up — askanesthetician @ 6:05 am
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Perhaps you have already heard that the above CoverGirl advertisement has been withdrawn from publications by CoverGirl’s parent company Procter and Gamble because the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus ruled that the ad was misleading.  I have to say that I applaud both this ruling and the fact that Procter and Gamble withdrew the ad from publications.  One of my pet peeves about the beauty industry is that ads for cosmetics and skincare are so air brushed and unrealistic looking that they set-up unattainable goals for real women about how they should look and can look.

Here’s the scoop on what happened with the CoverGirl ad:

There’s a certain Taylor Swift ad for CoverGirl mascara that you won’t be seeing in American magazines any time soon.

In the ad, for CoverGirl NatureLuxe Mousse Mascara, Ms. Swift’s eyelashes have been enhanced after the fact to look even fuller, and, as a result, the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus ruled this month that it was misleading.

In response, Procter & Gamble, the owner of the CoverGirl brand, “permanently discontinued all of the challenged claims and the photograph in its advertisement,” the ruling said.

In a statement, Procter & Gamble said: “Our scientists work very closely with our advertising teams to ensure that benefits are accurately portrayed, and P&G’s policy is to feature visuals and claims that accurately reflect these benefits. As soon as we were aware that the N.A.D. had concerns, we voluntarily discontinued the advertising — a move that the N.A.D. itself regarded as entirely proper.”

This is the first time the advertising division has brought a claim like this against a cosmetics company, said Linda Bean, a spokeswoman for the advertising group.  …

In the Procter & Gamble case, the advertising division looked at both the express claims made in the ad and what was being implied, Ms. Bean said. The express claims were that the mascara would give eyelashes “2x more volume” and that the product was “20 percent lighter” than the most expensive mascara.

But, she added: “The photograph stands as a product demonstration. Your eyelashes will look like this if you use this product.”

The fine print under a photo of Ms. Swift read that the lashes had been “enhanced in post production.”

Andrea C. Levine, a lawyer who worked on the case and who is the director of the National Advertising Division, said on Wednesday: “This isn’t a question of airbrushing. It’s a question of actually demonstrating what your lashes will look like when you use this product.”

Lawyers at the advertising division routinely scour print publications, broadcast, television and social media to find misleading advertisements. They also help settle claims of misleading advertising that competing companies bring against each other.

“The rule is that an advertising has to be truthful, accurate and not misleading,” Ms. Levine said. “What the picture says, the small type can’t take it away.”

(Source:  CoverGirl Withdraws ‘Enhanced’ Taylor Swift Ad – The New York Times)

The UK is well ahead of the US in cracking down on misleading photos and ads for make-up.  Back in July of 2011 ads from L’Oreal and Maybelline were banned in the UK for being overly airbrushed.  British ads are regulated by an independent body called the Advertising Standards Authority which works to make sure that the ads are truly presenting consumers with truthful, not misleading, information.  In the US the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) oversees advertising yet airbrushed ads are very rarely withdrawn or even commented upon by the authorities.  Let’s put it this way – cosmetic companies have a lot, and I mean a lot, of wiggle room when it comes to how they can promote their products both with the images and the words they use.  Buyer beware.

I do have to applaud the attitude and actions of one make-up company – Make Up For Ever.  This company has started running print ads that are not airbrushed.  Hooray!  I hope more companies follow suit.

Further Reading:

Photo from The New York Times


Acupuncture Facelifts – Do They Really Work? January 5, 2012

In the quest to look younger many women turn to surgery, skincare products, and injections.  I’m all for looking your best because when you feel that you look good those positive feelings radiate out into the rest of your life.  The traditional Western ways to stay looking young involve injectable fillers, Botox, and even cosmetic surgery but it turns out that there are other ways to look younger such as trying facial acupuncture.

Personally, I am a very strong believer in acupuncture.  I have been going regularly to an acupuncturist for over a year and a half and love it.  I love acupuncture because it helps me with stress relief, PMS relief, and overall well-being.  Also acupuncture treats the body as a whole and does not separate emotional wellbeing from physical wellbeing.  I think a holistic outlook on health, including skincare health and beauty, is important.

What is Acupuncture?

Here is a great summary of what acupuncture is and how it works:

Traditional  acupuncture is an ancient Chinese form of natural medicine that dates back  approximately 5,000 years. It has developed from careful observation of the  workings of the body and how the environment affects it. The principle behind the  medicine is to view and treat the body, mind and emotions as a single unit,  working on the cause of the illness, not the  symptoms. In many countries it is a primary form  of health care; in the hospitals in China it  is used directly alongside Western Medicine.
Here is a simple analogy to get a basic understanding of how our body is viewed in Chinese Medicine: Think of the body as a complex system of water pipes which need to be in good health for     everything to work smoothly. When a blockage develops in a pipe somewhere it affects the workings of the entire system and generates symptoms. This is akin to what happens when an injury or     disease affects our body. These “pipes” which run all over our body are called meridians. The “water” which flows through them is named Qi (Chi). The Chinese mapped out these meridians over the course of almost a thousand years. By inserting a needle into specific points along these pathways, the blockages can be removed and harmony returned to the body. Whilst  several research studies are being performed to explain how Acupuncture works  in a Western Medical Framework, these scientists have not yet been able to  explain how it works exactly; however, they have provided solid evidence that  acupuncture does in fact work very well.

The benefits of Traditional Chinese Medicine are:

• Drug-free pain relief without the side effects

• Boosts the immune system against disease

• Treats the cause as well as the symptoms

• Effectively treats many common ailments

• An all natural form of Medicine

• A good form of maintenance and prevention

• Can prevent chronic conditions from further deteriorating

 (Source:  Traditional Healing Acupuncture Clinic)

Facial Acupuncture 

How exactly does facial acupuncture work?  According to Mary Elizabeth Wakefield, one of the leaders in practicing and teaching facial acupuncture in the US, facial acupuncture is:

… a safe, painless and effective treatment for renewing the face as well as the whole body. Fine lines may be entirely erased, deeper lines reduced and bags around neck and eyes firmed.

Fine needles are placed at a variety of acupuncture points on the face, neck and around the eyes to stimulate the body’s natural energies, or Qi. Since muscle groups are addressed as well the acupuncture points, the face lifts itself, via the acupuncture points, through the muscles’ toning and tightening action. The needles also stimulate blood and circulation, which improves facial color.



  • Improves acne (caused by hormonal imbalance)
  • Helps menopause, perimenopause, PMS and other GYN issues
  • Helps sinus congestion and headache
  • Improves hyper- and hypothyroidism
  • Reduces symptoms of toothache, TMJ, trigeminal neuralgia, and Bell’s palsy
  • Helps headaches (except severe migraine)
  • Treats diarrhea and constipation (most digestive issues)
  • Helps to eliminate edema and puffiness
  • Benefits eyes, ears and brain
  • Can help insomnia and dizziness
  • Helps depression and aids self-esteem


  • Improves collagen production and muscle tone
  • Helps reduce bags and sagging tendencies
  • Helps eliminate fine lines and diminish larger wrinkles
  • Helps reduce double chin and lift drooping eyelids
  • Improves metabolism
  • Tightens pores and brightens eyes
  • Increases local blood and lymph circulation
  • Improves facial color
  • Reduces stress and promotes total health and well-being

Short and Long-Term Effects of Facial Acupuncture

After the first treatment, one usually observes an increased glow to the complexion, the result of increased Qi and blood flow to the face. The person’s face appears more “open”, there is a clarity in the eyes (“clear Shen”), and the patient appears to be more rested; wrinkles start to lessen and the skin appears more toned.

A significant difference in their appearance can be ascertained following the 5th to 7th treatments; even more marked changes in wrinkles, skin tone, etc. The impression of relaxation and calm is more pronounced; they appear as if they have returned from vacation. Lifting of the jowls, neck and the eyes has begun and is usually noticeable. With continuing treatment, constitutional issues like digestive complaints have been ameliorated or subsided.

By the end of a series, the patient should look and feel 5-15 years younger. These results may vary slightly, depending upon how well the patient has taken care of themselves during the process, and afterward. At this stage, booster treatments provide ongoing support within a normal process of aging.

If you are interested in pursuing facial acupuncture as an anti-aging method be aware of the fact that there is quite an investment of time required to see results.  (This is true with any acupuncture treatments since Traditional Chinese Medicine works differently and more slowly usually than Western medicine techniques and medications).  Once again according to Mary Elizabeth Wakefield:

How Long is the Treatment?

Constitutional Facial Acupuncture™ involves the patient in an organic process, in which a series of treatments is necessary to achieve maximal effect. After an initial session, practitioner evaluates the patient’s response, and then can determine the number of follow-up visits that will be required:

After this evaluation, and taking into consideration other variables such as stress, diet, lifestyle, genetic inheritance, proper digestion and elimination, sleep, emotional balance, and age, the following durations of treatment are customarily recommended:

  • Usually 12-15 treatments;
  • 20 treatments for smokers or people whose skin tends to sag, i.e., who manifest jowls, “turkey wattles,” droopy eyes, etc.

It should be noted that age is not as crucial as might be estimated; an older patient with a healthy lifestyle may in fact have a better prognosis than a younger person who is prone to dissipate themselves.

Treatment Timeline:

  • 2 times a week (if possible), for 45 minutes to 1 hour; or
  • 1 treatment per week, 90 minutes

Maintenance Treatments:

Within the normal parameters of aging, the completion of a series of treatments should be effective. To ensure the persistence of the results, ongoing maintenance treatments are recommended:

  1. Every 2 weeks for 2 months following the completion of a treatment series, then once a month for an indefinite amount of time;
  2. Of course, the patient can also embark upon a subsequent series after a week’s respite

Cost of the treatments varies widely according to who you go to and where you live, but overall investing in this treatment could be less costly in the end than getting surgery or regular fillers and Botox (or both).

Of course not everyone is so gung-ho about facial acupuncture as an anti-aging cure-all:

Rhoda Narins, MD, president of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, says she thinks acupuncture has its place, especially as a pain reliever. But she doesn’t believe in it as a replacement for cosmetic treatments such as surgery, Botox injections, and the like. “Acupuncture doesn’t stop the muscle movement that creates lines,” she says. “Botox does.” Nor can acupuncture tighten or “fill” the skin as surgery or injectable fillers such as Restylane can.

Too many “extreme makeovers” on television are leading many of us to believe that a new look is a no-muss, no-fuss proposition. “That’s just not the case,” says Narins. “Changing your appearance is not something that should be taken lightly.”

(Source:  Acupuncture: The New Facelift?  WebMD)

If you feel that you want to try facial acupuncture you can find an acupuncturist through Mary Elizabeth Wakefield’s referral list.

Further Reading (and lots of first hand accounts from those who tried facial acupuncture):

Photo from


Is Cruelty Free Really Cruelty Free? January 2, 2012

I’ve been a vegetarian for ethical reasons for the past 21 years so it stands to reason that I do not use cosmetics or skincare products that have been tested on animals.  I also, of course, make sure that all the make-up brushes are cruelty free as well (Urban Decay makes fabulous, but pricy, vegan brushes and Eco Tools has great lower priced brushes).

Unfortunately finding cruelty free cosmetics is not as straight forward as it would seem to be.  Keep a few things in mind when looking for cosmetics or skincare products that are not tested on animals.  It turns out that terms such as “cruelty free” or “not tested on animals” are not overseen or regulated by any government body and are essentially meaningless.  According to the FDA:

Some cosmetic companies promote their products with claims such as “CRUELTY-FREE” or “NOT TESTED ON ANIMALS” in their labeling or advertising. The unrestricted use of these phrases by cosmetic companies is possible because there are no legal definitions for these terms.

Some companies may apply such claims solely to their finished cosmetic products. However, these companies may rely on raw material suppliers or contract laboratories to perform any animal testing necessary to substantiate product or ingredient safety. Other cosmetic companies may rely on combinations of scientific literature, non-animal testing, raw material safety testing, or controlled human-use testing to substantiate their product safety.

Many raw materials, used in cosmetics, were tested on animals years ago when they were first introduced. A cosmetic manufacturer might only use those raw materials and base their “cruelty-free” claims on the fact that the materials or products are not “currently” tested on animals.

You may ask yourself if cosmetics really do need to be tested on animals in order to be sure that are safe for human use.  The FDA does not actually require animal testing in order to establish that a cosmetic is safe for human use, but they don’t out right discourage its use either:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for assuring that cosmetics are safe and properly labeled. This mission is accomplished through enforcement of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), related statutes, and regulations promulgated under these laws.

The FD&C Act does not specifically require the use of animals in testing cosmetics for safety, nor does the Act subject cosmetics to FDA premarket approval. However, the agency has consistently advised cosmetic manufacturers to employ whatever testing is appropriate and effective for substantiating the safety of their products. It remains the responsibility of the manufacturer to substantiate the safety of both ingredients and finished cosmetic products prior to marketing.

Animal testing by manufacturers seeking to market new products may be used to establish product safety. In some cases, after considering available alternatives, companies may determine that animal testing is necessary to assure the safety of a product or ingredient. FDA supports and adheres to the provisions of applicable laws, regulations, and policies governing animal testing, including the Animal Welfare Act and the Public Health Service Policy of Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. Moreover, in all cases where animal testing is used, FDA advocates that research and testing derive the maximum amount of useful scientific information from the minimum number of animals and employ the most humane methods available within the limits of scientific capability.  …

FDA supports the development and use of alternatives to whole-animal testing as well as adherence to the most humane methods available within the limits of scientific capability when animals are used for testing the safety of cosmetic products. We will continue to be a strong advocate of methodologies for the refinement, reduction, and replacement of animal tests with alternative methodologies that do not employ the use of animals.

The European Union certainly thinks that a lot of animal testing should be severely limited.  The New York Times article Leaving Animals Out of the Cosmetics Picture explains:

On March 11, 2009, the European Union banned cosmetics and personal-products companies from testing their products on animals for things like skin irritancy, sensitivity to light and acute toxicity. The decision also banned the import of cosmetics containing ingredients that have been animal-tested in this way. By March 11, 2013, companies will be forbidden from further tests designed to establish longer-term toxicity.

Unfortunately the US lags behind in establishing a ban on animal testing.  According to The New York Times article:

But no such laws exist in the United States. The closest is the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011, which was introduced on June 24, 2011, (it has yet to be adopted) and encourages, among other things, the development of alternatives to animal testing.

What is interesting about the fact that the FDA or another government branch hasn’t done more to stop animal testing on cosmetic products is that the majority of Americans actually oppose animal testing for cosmetics.  According to an independent survey conducted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine :

  • 72 percent of respondents agreed that testing cosmetics on animals is unethical.
  • 78 percent agreed that the development of alternatives to animal testing for cosmetics testing is important.
  • 61 percent said cosmetics and personal care product companies should not be allowed to test products on animals.
  • 58 percent said they would purchase cruelty-free personal care products.


So how do you make sure the products you are using are cruelty free?  Look up PETA‘s list of companies that do not test on animals or the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics list of companies.  Each of these groups also has symbol that you can find on cosmetics so keep your eyes open for those as well.  You can also help support bans on animal testing through both of these two organizations.


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