Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Adding Coconut Oil to Your Beauty Regime May 28, 2013

Lately it seems everywhere you turn you find information about coconut oil – how to cook with it and how to use it as a beauty product/ingredient.  So I decided to do some of my own experiments with coconut oil to see if it lived up to the hype.

I have to say that I had long thought of coconut oil as an ingredient that was very bad for one’s health.  I can’t say when and why this idea got into my head, but it took until last year when I purchased the vegan cookbook Vegan Soul Kitchen  by Bryant Terry that I began to rethink my anti-coconut oil position.  I noticed that many recipes in the book called for coconut oil.  As Myra Kornfeld explains in her forward to the cookbook:

Byrant is not afraid to use the long-vilified coconut oil, an extraordinarily healthy and delicious oil that only in the last decade has been getting attention for its wonderful properties.

What exactly was the controversy about coconut oil and just what are those wonderful properties that coconut oil possesses?  The article Once a Villain, Coconut Oil Charms the Health Food World from The New York Times explains:

According to Thomas Brenna, a professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University who has extensively reviewed the literature on coconut oil, a considerable part of its stigma can be traced to one major factor.

“Most of the studies involving coconut oil were done with partially hydrogenated coconut oil, which researchers used because they needed to raise the cholesterol levels of their rabbits in order to collect certain data,” Dr. Brenna said. “Virgin coconut oil, which has not been chemically treated, is a different thing in terms of a health risk perspective. And maybe it isn’t so bad for you after all.”

Partial hydrogenation creates dreaded trans fats. It also destroys many of the good essential fatty acids, antioxidants and other positive components present in virgin coconut oil. And while it’s true that most of the fats in virgin coconut oil are saturated, opinions are changing on whether saturated fats are the arterial villains they were made out to be. “I think we in the nutrition field are beginning to say that saturated fats are not so bad, and the evidence that said they were is not so strong,” Dr. Brenna said.

Plus, it turns out, not all saturated fats are created equal.

Marisa Moore, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, a nonprofit association of nutritionists, said, “Different types of saturated fats behave differently.”

The main saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid. Lauric acid increases levels of good HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, and bad LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, in the blood, but is not thought to negatively affect the overall ratio of the two.

She went on to say that while it is still uncertain whether coconut oil is actively beneficial the way olive oil is, small amounts probably are not harmful. The new federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that no more than 10 percent of total dietary calories a day come from saturated fat. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that’s about 20 grams.

Any number of health claims have been made for lauric acid. According to proponents, it’s a wonder substance with possible antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral properties that could also, in theory, combat H.I.V., clear up acne and speed up your metabolism. Researchers are skeptical.

“There are a lot of claims that coconut oil may have health benefits, but there is no concrete scientific data yet to support this,” said Dr. Daniel Hwang, a research molecular biologist specializing in lauric acid at the Western Human Nutrition Research Center at the University of California, Davis.

But, he added, “Coconut is good food, in moderation.”

And just how does coconut oil help the skin?  The article The Surprising Health Benefits of Coconut Oil from the Dr. Oz Show website explains:

Is coconut oil good for my skin and hair?

We tell our patients that from the time of infancy through the senior years,  coconut oil is a wonderful moisturizer for skin and hair. It has good amounts of the antioxidant vitamin E, which is very protective. If you are using on the skin regularly, it is best to try to find an organic coconut oil, to reduce the absorption of toxins and pesticides through your skin.

We even recommend new parents massage infants with coconut oil after a bath. One 2005 study of 120 babies showed that a coconut oil massage is safe and has health benefits.

Allure asked Dr. Jeannette Graf to explain the benefits of coconut oil for the skin (from the article Is Coconut Oil Worth the Hype?):

“Coconut oil is made up of anti-inflammatory dietary fatty acids, which are important for skin health. When applied topically, it has wonderful moisturizing properties for the skin, increasing elasticity and emolliency. In addition, coconut oil enhances wound healing and has antioxidant properties. Studies have also shown that the lauric acid in the oil has antimicrobial activity against P. Acnes [bacteria], so it’s a potential treatment for acne and adult atopic dermatis,” she says.

On his TV show Dr. Oz recommends using coconut oil on your skin if you suffer from eczema, psoriasis, or a fungal infection.

Interestingly enough in her book Heal Your Skin Dr. Ava Shamban advises against using coconut oil on acne prone or oily skin.  Unfortunately she does not explain why.

Personal Experience

I had no trouble finding coconut oil at one of my local grocery stores though I did not realize I needed to purchase virgin coconut oil.  Next time I’ll make sure to buy that kind of coconut oil.  Anyhow, after reading all the beauty uses for coconut oil in the sources listed below I decided to try a few of them out for myself.  Some uses worked better than others for me.

I have very thick, curly, very frizzy hair so I was excited about using coconut oil as a hair moisturizer/conditioner.  I applied the oil onto both wet and dry hair.  Neither application helped my hair.  My hair didn’t feel any softer and my frizz didn’t go anywhere.  (I have been on a search for a product that will control my hair almost my entire life; I have yet to find something)  I have to say I was disappointed that coconut oil did not work for me as a hair conditioner.

I tried coconut oil as a body moisturizer.  The problem with this was getting the right quantity.  Sometimes I put too little, sometimes I put too much.  If I put too much I felt greasy afterwards.  When I did hit on the right amount my skin felt good but no better or no worse than after using my regular body moisturizer.

I tried using coconut oil as an eye make-up remover.  I found it much too greasy and not that effective.  I’ll stick to using my jojoba oil for removing my eye make-up.

I did use coconut oil directly on my face as a moisturizer a few times in the evenings before bed and felt that my skin was soft in the morning.  But I am still completely paranoid that putting coconut oil on my face will make me break out even though I keep reading the opposite is true.  What can I say?  Old ideas take a long time to disappear.   I don’t know if I will use coconut oil again as a facial moisturizer.  (Of course one of the advantages of using coconut oil as a moisturizer is that is it quite cost effective.)

Now for the ways I liked using coconut oil and will continue to use it – in the shower instead of soap or a shaving cream to shave my legs.  Using coconut oil to shave cut down on irritation and my legs did feel very soft afterwards.

As a lip moisturizer.  I’ve been using coconut oil directly on my lips before bed and really like how it both feels and works.

So now it is your turn – do you incorporate coconut oil into your beauty regime?  If yes, comment below and explain how.

Further Reading:

Image from endlessbeauty.com

 

Skincare Terms Explained: Glycation May 13, 2013

In July, 2012 I wrote a post all about how terrible sugar is for the skin.  This post is going to expand on the term “glycation” and explain what exactly that process is and how it relates to the skin.  But basically, it all comes back to the same thing again – sugar ruins our skin (and our health).

In her book Heal Your Skin Dr. Ava Shamban explains just what glycation is (page 22 in the paperback edition):

As delicious as sugar may seem to your taste buds, it can be extremely destructive to your skin.  A spike in your blood sugar levels – which can come from eating processed foods or foods with too much refined sugar – can leave too much sugar circulating in your body.  A process called glycation and the formation of advanced glycation end products are the results.

Glycation is a process whereby a sugar molecule, such as glucose or fructose, is added to collagen and elastin fibers, proteins found in the extracellular matrix, which surrounds skin cells.  This makes the collagen stiff, as it is now cross linked in an abnormal way.  In addition, the enzymes that normally remodel collagen no longer have access to the protein, and it can no longer be remodeled in a normal continual fashion.  When the process occurs, the skin appears prematurely aged.

Glycation damages collagen in other organs in the body, too, including the blood vessel walls.  When this occurs, the skin doesn’t remodel in the same way as before, prematurely aging the tissue.

Dr. Peter Pugliese discusses the subject of glycation extensively in his book Physiology of the Skin, 3rd edition (written with Dr. Draelos) in chapters 30 and 31.  A lot of the information from the book was also published in two articles in Skin Inc.: Physiology of the Skin: The Impact of Glycation on the Skin, Part I and Part II.  I urge you to read both articles if you want a very in-depth and scientific description of the glycation process (there are also lots of pictures and chemical equations).  Suffice it to say though Dr. Pugliese’s explanations are welcome they can be a bit overwhelming for those of us who still have upsetting flashbacks to high school chemistry (I still cringe when I think about the periodic table; I was a poor chemistry student to say the least) so I’ll just quote the summary here:

Glycation is the non-enzymatic joining of a sugar and a protein, or a lipid. It is a process that occurs naturally in foods, especially when cooked. The Maillard reaction is one of these processes that starts by forming a Shiff base and proceeds to forming multiple chemicals called advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs, that have adverse effects on a person’s biological processes. AGEs can link up with many proteins and denature them or alter them to be nonfunctional, cross-linked collagens, which is an AGE protein complex responsible for stiffness of the skin.
Skin collagen has a long half-life; these cross-linked forms do not go away and are not fully reversible at present. Elastin is another long-lived protein that is easily glycated and lasts a long time. Denatured elastin is associated with slackened skin. AGEs have cellular receptors known as RAGEs that initiate inflammatory reactions when activated by an AGE complex. These reactions tend to be chronic and are associated with arterial diseases, metabolic disorders and rheumatoid arthritis. Once they are started, the AGE-RAGE system will accelerate and perpetuate itself.
In the skin, glycation accounts for accelerated aging, yellowing and stiffness of the skin, and decreased circulation. Skin cannot look young and healthy with glycation products. Treatment is best started with prevention by diet control, reducing total calories, avoiding high sugar foods and not cooking at high temperatures. Supplements such as aminoguanidine, pyridoxamine, carnosine and benfotiamine are excellent glycation preventors. A new class of drugs called glycation breakers is being developed to correct the existing glycation protein complexes associated with many chronic diseases. They will truly be the youth drugs of the future.

In my previous post about the subject of sugar and how it negatively impacts the skin I shared with my readers how hard I have found it to cutback on sugar in my diet.  I also started noticing how sugar lurks in all sorts of foods; I try to read food labels more carefully now.  But after researching this post I realize that I also have to be careful about the method of how I cook my food since foods cooked at high temperatures (broiled, barbecued) can negatively impact your health and skin as well.  I wish I had the will power (and the time) to become a raw food vegan, but in the meantime I’ll still keep working on cutting down on how much sugar I consume.

Further Reading:

Image from rokderm.com

 

May Is Skin Cancer Awareness Month May 7, 2013

Sunbathing by the Sea

The number of times I have written a post in this blog about sun safety, skin cancer, or sunscreen could, at this point, fill a book.  Well maybe not a book but at least a thick pamphlet.  But since it is once again Skin Cancer Awareness Month I thought it important to revisit these topics yet again.  It is always good to be reminded about proper sun safety.  Skin cancer is an almost entirely preventable cancer so keeping yourself and your loved ones safe from the sun is of utmost importance.  Yes, proper sun protection takes some extra time and thought, but preventing skin cancer shouldn’t be an afterthought.  And I haven’t even mentioned the wrinkles and pigmentation issues that come from daily sun exposure.  So if skin cancer doesn’t concern you particularly at least protect your skin from the sun in order to keep it looking young and fresh.

The Skin Cancer Foundation provides the following sun safety tips:

Since its inception in 1979, 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. Sunscreen alone is not enough, however.

  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
  • Do not burn.
  • Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside.
    Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
  • See your physician every year for a professional skin exam

Allure adds even more tips:

As much as we know about skin cancer, though, only about 20 percent of us wear sunscreen daily. (Which is crazy, considering in a poll we did onAllure’s Facebook page, 68 percent of our fans said they either have had skin cancer or know someone who has.) But here’s the thing: It’s never too late to start taking care of your skin. Here, a few sun-protection tricks to keep in mind as the temperatures start to rise:

• If you’re the outdoorsy type, you may want to take a summer vacation from retinols: They thin the top layer of skin and can make you vulnerable to redness and brown spots, says dermatologist Fredric Brandt.

• One bottle of sunscreen is not going to last. “One ounce is the right goal for each application, as well as for each reapplication, so a 12-ounce bottle is 12 servings—and that’s not a lot,” says Patricia Wexler, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. Set an alarm on your phone to ring every two hours to remind you to reapply.

• If you’re outside for 30 minutes or more, wear a chemical sunscreen (like one with Mexoryl SX or Parsol) topped by a physical one (with Z-Cote or titanium dioxide). “Neither type is 100 percent perfect, and whatever rays get through the first layer are caught by the second one,” says Miami dermatologist Leslie Baumann.

• Think twice before you use sunscreen wipes: The FDA is reviewing their effectiveness, along with powders and shampoos containing SPF. (No decisions have been made yet.)

So whatever your daily beauty routine is make sure that it includes an SPF of at 15 but SPF 30 is better.  Apply 365 days a year, rain or shine.  And be sure that everyone you love and care about is protected from the sun as well.

My Related Posts:

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post I’ve written so much about the topic of this post that I decided to choose some of my related posts to share here.  If you type “sun” into the search line on the home page of this blog you’ll find even more related posts.

Image from askdegas.com: Sunbathing by the Sea.  And yes, I do think everyone should go to the beach fully dressed 🙂

 

Time to Rethink Antioxidants? May 1, 2013

Filed under: Diet and Skin,Ingredients — askanesthetician @ 7:33 am
Tags: , ,

More foods are being marketed as high in antioxidants despite their questionable health benefits.

Last week I once again addressed the issue of antioxidants and free radicals as they impact the skin.  Today I thought I would give my readers a little food for thought  (pun intended) when it comes to antioxidants and our health, in general, and not just how it relates to our skin (even though this is a blog about skincare).  This post is a little off topic from the information that my blog usually contains, but I thought the information below was worthwhile to share, nonetheless.

Recently I came across a few articles that explain how consumers are being mislead when buying grocery products that claim to contain antioxidants.  The article Radical Thinking on Antioxidants from The Chicago Tribune explains:

Antioxidant-rich products promise an easy way to stave off disease. Simply swallow two softgels daily or knock back a glass of goji-pomegranate juice and the “supercritical” compounds will neutralize those nasty free radicals that threaten your health.

Such bold claims seem logical. There’s evidence that free radicals, or oxidants, are involved in certain illnesses, including cancer and degenerative brain diseases.

And when oxidants turn up in our bodies — it happens when we turn food into energy or are exposed to infection, smoking and other triggers — we fight back by producing antioxidants that can soak them up like a sponge.

Thus a theory was born: Maybe oxidation and disease can be prevented by eating fortified foods or taking dietary supplements containing plant-based antioxidants, which include vitamins C and E, beta carotene and polyphenols (flavonoids).

But researchers now say antioxidants have been overhyped and widely misunderstood. Scientists haven’t determined how antioxidants work in our bodies; it’s also unclear whether dietary supplements have any beneficial effect. In some cases, studies suggest antioxidants may cause more harm than good.

One recent study found that antioxidant compounds caused fertility problems in mice. Though popular among athletes, antioxidants haven’t been shown to improve performance or speed recovery. To the contrary, supplementing with antioxidants may blunt the beneficial effects of working out. And while some dietary antioxidants may have a role in cancer prevention, excessive doses of some vitamins can aggravate illness or even cause it, researchers say.

“People should be aware that there is little to no data supporting the use of antioxidants to protect against disease,” said cardiologist Toren Finkel, chief of the Center for Molecular Medicine at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Yet “antioxidants” remains one of the hottest buzzwords in the health and wellness industry.

Manufacturers have emblazoned it on everything from water and cereal to alcoholic drinks. Last year hundreds of products with antioxidant claims were launched, and products containing the nutrients continue to be a strong area of development, said Carlotta Mast, editor in chief of newhope360.com, which tracks the market in natural, organic and healthy products.

In the U.S., sales of top antioxidant supplements hit $5 billion last year, up 2.3 percent over 2009, according to Nutrition Business Journal.

“Consumers have made an association between antioxidants and health,” said Mast. “They have a general understanding that antioxidants help with free radicals, and they know free radicals are bad. So they see a functional beverage that’s ‘rich in antioxidants’ and think, ‘This will be healthy for me.'”

A natural byproduct of eating, drinking and breathing, free radicals are an unavoidable hazard of living.

“Oxygen oxidizes our food to produce energy, and the oxygen is reduced, mostly to water,” said biochemist Barry Halliwell, a pioneering researcher in free radicals and disease. But some oxygen winds up as free radicals, unstable molecules that are missing an electron.

Desperate to regain its balance, a free radical will steal an electron from the nearest substance, whether it’s cellular DNA, protein or fat. The theft alters the structure of the nearby victim, creating another unstable compound and triggering a chain reaction.

In response, our bodies naturally produce antioxidants that, like bodyguards, defuse free radicals by donating electrons while staying in balance themselves — a system people can strengthen through regular exercise.

But aging and exposure to environmental stressors from sunburn to pollution make it harder to keep up with antioxidant production, said Amy Howell, an associate research scientist at the Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research at Rutgers University.

For example, X-rays create oxidative stress because “radiation splits the water to make free radicals,” said Halliwell, a deputy president of the National University of Singapore. And “cigarette smoke is already full of free radicals that attack the lungs and other parts of the body.”

Researchers have known for decades that diseases including heart disease, cancer, stroke and neurodegenerative disorders are linked to damage caused by free radicals. They also found that people who eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables have lower rates of disease.

As a result, they hypothesized that taking antioxidants as supplements or fortified foods could decrease oxidative damage. But when antioxidant compounds were tested, the results were largely disappointing.

Beta carotene supplements didn’t just fail to protect people against cancer, they increased the risk of lung cancer in smokers. Trials looking at cardiovascular disease, other cancers and strokes have been mixed, but most haven’t found the hoped-for benefits. When Ironman triathletes supplemented with vitamin E for two months, it exacerbated oxidative stress and inflammation.

Meanwhile, free radicals aren’t always bad. The oxidant hydrogen peroxide, for example, can help open blood vessels; removing it with antioxidant therapy can impair the body’s ability to get oxygen to muscles.

There’s also some evidence that what doesn’t kill you can make you stronger: A little short-term free radical damage may activate pathways in the body that are protective in the long run, Finkel said.

“The real debate is whether we should let the radicals do their thing and not get in the way,” said David Neiman, director of the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University. “Probably 90 percent of all people who exercise will do fine with a fruit- and vegetable-based diet. But those who engage in more stressful exercise — marathoners, ultrarunners and Ironman triathletes — may need extra help.”

Consumer Reports goes into further detail about how antioxidant foods can be over-hyped to the detrement of the consumer (from the article Antioxidants: More Is Not Always Better).  The article busts several myths about foods and antioxidants such as:

MYTH: Packaged food with labels touting antioxidants will boost your health.

Antioxidant claims on packaged food don’t always mean a health benefit. “Unfortunately, ‘antioxidant’ is a very loosely used term,” says Joy Dubost, Ph.D., a nutritionist and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Outside the lab, it has become more of a marketing term than a scientific term.”

Some food manufacturers add an antioxidant, such as vitamin C or E, and then label the product as containing antioxidants, presumably in hopes of boosting sales. Kellogg’s FiberPlus Antioxidants Dark Chocolate Almond bars, for example, have 20 percent of the daily value of vitamin E and zinc. But they also contain 7 grams of sugar and 5 grams of fat. You can avoid processed food and eat an ounce of dry-roasted almonds, which provides more vitamin E, and 3 ounces of lean beef, which has more zinc.

Some food manufacturers even advertise antioxidant “power,” represented by ORAC, or oxygen radical absorbance capacity values. But ORAC measures antioxidant activity in a test tube, not in the human body. So if you’re tempted by Mystic Harvest Purple Corn Tortilla Chips, which are supposed to have an ORAC score of 6,000, don’t be. “We don’t know what these values mean biologically,” Dubost says, but they don’t guarantee better health.

A class-action lawsuit filed in November 2012 against the makers of 7Up Cherry Antioxidant Soda claimed that the packaging and marketing could lead consumers to think that the antioxidants in the soft drink come from fruit, when they really come from added vitamin E, and a 12-ounce can provides only 15 percent of the daily value.

Another class-action lawsuit, filed in April 2012 against Hershey, alleges that the chocolate giant makes “misleading” and “unlawful” claims regarding antioxidants. For example, certain packages of Hershey Special Dark Kisses state that “Cocoa is a natural source of flavanol antioxidants.” While cocoa is a reasonable source of antioxidants, the suit alleges that many—if not all—of Hershey’s cocoa or chocolate products undergo alkalization, a process that reduces or virtually eliminates the flavanol content.

Both companies have publicly denied any wrongdoing. The maker of 7Up Cherry Antioxidant said that in a decision unrelated to the lawsuit it has produced a new version of 7Up Cherry without antioxidants.

After reading the above articles I began to wonder if the same findings might eventually come out in regards to topically applied antioxidants in skincare products and the fight against free radicals when it comes to skincare.  As I write this I haven’t seen anything that would contradict the advice that estheticians and dermatologists continue to give – that using a sunscreen with antioxidants or a serum with antioxidants is a must in order to keep your skin healthy and to stave off free radical damage.  It will be interesting to see in the future if this advice changes just as advice about consuming antioxidants in our food has changed.

Further Reading:

Image from The Chicago Tribune

 

 
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