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what is that skin care product doing for you?

Updated: Mar 6


Skincare, I will admit, has become a new interest of mine in the last few months. I think I was just so overwhelmed by all of the different types of skincare that I had been sticking to what I knew. Recently, I have been able to learn from a highly knowledgable upper year student that takes an interest in dermatology. I have since started to do my own research and further develop my understanding. I also started using some of these products on my skin and have noticed an amazing difference. Although skin care can be different for everyone, I want to share some of the research I have found and explain to you the basis behind specific skincare ingredients.


Many of the products on the market are referred to as cosmeceuticals – cosmetic products that claim to have medicinal properties, whether that be anti-acne, anti-aging or other.


One important point about skin care: Patience is key! Keep in mind that it takes 4-6 weeks for new skin cells to make their way up to the top. This means it can take this long to see effects when using new skin care agents.


Okay... continuing on...


Skin products can be divided into many different categories including:

  • Cleansers, Exfoliants, Treatments, Chemical peels, Serums, Oils, Toners, Moisturizers and sunscreen


Here is what most of us know:

  • Cleansers are good to clean the skin and remove makeup, sweat and dirt that we accumulate during the day

  • Exfoliants are used to get rid of dead skin cells and usually have a rough texture that requires circular rubbing motions when applying

  • Treatments usually mean they are targeting something specific

  • Chemical peels remove a layer of our skin similar to exfoliants but are smooth and applied similar to serum or moisturizer

  • Serums are lightweight and penetrate the skin

  • Oils provide moisture to our skin and create a barrier

  • Toners are used to balance pH and remove excess oil or makeup

  • Moisturizers make our skin feel moist and smooth

  • Sunscreen protects us from the damage UV rays


What we don't know as much about are the ingredients within each of these products. This is where things really get tricky. Many of these products share ingredients even though they fall into what we think of as separate categories. I am going to go over the ingredients with you so that whether you are buying a cleanser, toner, serum, exfoliant, chemical peel, moisturizer or other, you know what the active ingredients are doing for your skin.


Here are some of the ingredients we will go over:

  • Vitamin A

  • Vitamin C

  • Vitamin E

  • Niacinamide (Vitamin B3)

  • Glycolic acid

  • Salicylic acid

  • Lactic acid

  • Hyaluronic acid

  • Azelaic acid

  • Benzoyl peroxide


Vitamin A

  • Topical Retinoids

  • Retinoids are sold both over the counter (retinol, retinyl-palmitate, retinyl-acetate, retinaldehyde = less potent) or as a prescription (retinoic acids such as tretinoin, isotretinoin and adapalene = stronger).

  • How they work: These Vitamin A derivatives bind to specific receptors, which activate genes in charge of increasing cell turnover. Meaning increasing the speed in which new cells grow and can replace old ones.

  • What can they do? Reduce wrinkles, smooth over skin, reduce hyperpigmentation and reduce acne.

  • Since it takes our bottom layer of skin 4-6 weeks to reach the top, these retinoids have to be applied daily for this amount of time to show improvement.

  • Caution: Local effects: itchiness, dryness, stinging. Retinoids make your skin much more sensitive to light and can cause you to burn much easier, making sunscreen even more important. Retinol can also cause your skin to peel if you apply too much. Do not use if pregnant or breastfeeding.


Vitamin C

  • Ascorbic acid

  • Our skin naturally contains vitamin C which supports collagen synthesis and is an antioxidant to protect us from UV damage.


Vitamin E

  • Alpha-tocopherol

  • Also an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory molecule that protects us from external causes of reactive oxygen species (UV rays, pollution) as well as internal causes of reactive oxygen species (inflammation).


Niacinamide

  • Vitamin B3

  • It speeds up the creation of new skin cells and has been seen to reduce hyperpigmentation and blotchiness of the skin, reduce fine lines and smooth over skin.

  • If anyone has taken B3 internally you may know of something called the niacin flush. When used topically we must be careful as it may cause burning, itching or redness



Chemical peels

  • It has been said that chemical peels were first used in ancient Egypt. They used an active ingredient from sour milk to rejuvenate their skin. In ancient Rome they used an active ingredient from wine to do the same thing. Pretty neat hey!

  • They work by removing certain layers of skin = an exfoliant. However they differ from what we usually refer to as exfoliants which have a rough texture to mechanically exfoliate as opposed to these products that chemically exfoliate.

  • Now a days you can find many types of chemical peels. They are classified by superficial, medium and deep. The depth that these chemical peels go depends on which substance is used, which concentration and skin type. We will talk about two superficial chemical peels: glycolic acid and salicylic acid.


Glycolic acid

  • A type of AHA – alpha hydroxy acid

  • This acid comes from sugarcane and can be used as a skin peel

  • You can find this in concentrations ranging from 20 to 70%.

  • How it works: contains molecules that disrupt layers of our skin which stimulates our skin to heal itself. This includes stimulating hyaluronic acid and collagen.

  • Benefits: anti-aging, reducing hyperpigmentation, treatment of acne and scars.

  • Caution: may cause redness, temporary hyperpigmentation or an outbreak of the skin. Do not use if you have open wounds, active infections, or inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis or atopic dermatitis.

Lactic acid

  • Is another form of alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) just like glycolic acid. Citric acid also falls into this category.


Salicylic acid

  • A type of BHA – beta hydroxy acid

  • This acid comes from willow bark and is said to be one of the safest superficial peels.

  • How it works: it penetrates deep into pores of the skin and removes dirt, debris and microbes. This means it can get rid of blackheads and unclog skin pores. It also exfoliates the skin and gets rid of dead skin cells. It will also reduce oil for those prone to oily skin types and will reduce inflammation of the skin.

  • Uses: treats acne, dandruff, psoriasis, blackheads, hyperpigmentation and scars.

  • Caution: do not use in those with extremely dry skin, with open wounds, in children or teenagers with fever or flu and do not use around flames.

Other products:


Hyaluronic acid

  • We naturally have a whole lot of hyaluronic acid within our skin. It’s main role is to hold onto water and keep our skin moist. It is a type of emollient (see moisturizer section below).

  • It can also speed up the skins healing process and reduce the appearance of scars.

  • Hyaluronic acid is said to be good for dry skin.


Azelaic acid

  • This topical agent must be prescribed in Canada.

  • How it works: Azelaic acid is anti-proliferative and reduces hyperkeratinisation which reduces breakouts. It also inhibits tyrosinase which converts tyrosine to melanin creating hyperpigmentation. It is also antimicrobial and can reduce P. acnes and S. epidermidis - bacterial that can cause acne.

  • Caution: adverse effects may include skin irritation


Benzoyl peroxide

  • An antibacterial agent for skin care in which outbreaks are caused by bacteria

  • looking for a more natural option: tea tree has been shown to have similar effects


There are SO many more ingredients we could go over but I hope this provides you with a better understanding.


If I didn't completely lose you somewhere in this article, checkout some information on moisturizers below.


An FYI about moisturizers:

Moisturizers are important players in keeping skin feeling smooth, plump and glowing.


There are three main categories

  1. Emollient: they fill in dry areas of skin and make it smooth and soft. Look for these words on the back of the bottle: squalenes, ceramides, oils such as grape seed oil, rosehip oil and jojoba oil, butters such as cocoa butter and shea butter.

  2. Occlusive: they create a film like barrier that prevents water loss from the skin’s surface. Look for these words on the back of the bottle: waxes, lecithin, silicone, petroleum jelly, zinc oxide, mineral oil, lanolin. Some emollient oils also act as occlusives.

  3. Humectant: they attract water molecules from the air onto your skins surface to keep it hydrated. Look for these words on the back of the bottle: glycerol, sorbitol, hyaluronic acid, AHAs, amino acids, aloe and elastin.



Sources:

  • Al-Niaimi, F., & Chiang, N. Y. Z. (2017). Topical vitamin C and the skin: mechanisms of action and clinical applications. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 10(7), 14.

  • Bissett, D. L., Miyamoto, K., Sun, P., Li, J., & Berge, C. A. (2004). Topical niacinamide reduces yellowing, wrinkling, red blotchiness, and hyperpigmented spots in aging facial skin 1. International journal of cosmetic science, 26(5), 231-238.

  • Gehring, W. (2004). Nicotinic acid/niacinamide and the skin. Journal of cosmetic dermatology, 3(2), 88-93.Bissett, D. L., Oblong, J. E., & Berge, C. A. (2005). Niacinamide: AB vitamin that improves aging facial skin appearance. Dermatologic surgery, 31, 860-866.

  • Khan, N. T. (2019). SALICYLIC ACID–An Effective Skin Care Agent. Journal of Medical Reviews, 2(1), No-269.

  • Kim, S. J., & Won, Y. H. (1998). The effect of glycolic acid on cultured human skin fibroblasts: cell proliferative effect and increased collagen synthesis. The Journal of dermatology, 25(2), 85-89.

  • Khee, H. J., May, L. M., Sam, Y. S., Derrick, A. C. W., & Sue-Ann, H. (2017). The efficacy and safety of a 70% glycolic acid peel with vitamin C for the treatment of acne scars. Journal of Surgical Dermatology, 2(4), 209-213.

  • Nachbar, F., & Korting, H. C. (1995). The role of vitamin E in normal and damaged skin. Journal of Molecular Medicine, 73(1), 7-17.

  • Oon, H. H., Wong, S. N., Aw, D. C. W., Cheong, W. K., Goh, C. L., & Tan, H. H. (2019). Acne management guidelines by the dermatological society of Singapore. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 12(7), 34.

  • Oremović, L., Bolanča, Ž., & Šitum, M. (2010). Chemical Peelings–when and why?. Acta clinica Croatica, 49(4), 545-548.

  • Pullar, J. M., Carr, A. C., & Vissers, M. (2017). The roles of vitamin C in skin health. Nutrients, 9(8), 866.

  • Packer, L., & Valacchi, G. (2002). Antioxidants and the response of skin to oxidative stress: vitamin E as a key indicator. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, 15(5), 282-290.

  • Pereira, C. S., Abdalla, B. M. Z., & Da Costa, A. (2020). Glycolic Acid Peel for Extra-Facial Areas. In Minimally Invasive Aesthetic Procedures (pp. 81-85). Springer, Cham.

  • Rogers, C. (2020). The difference between humectants, occlusive and emollients. Skincare.com found online: https://www.skincare.com/article/emollient-vs-humectant-vs-occlusive

  • Serri, R., & Iorizzo, M. (2008). Cosmeceuticals: focus on topical retinoids in photoaging. Clinics in dermatology, 26(6), 633-635.

  • Thielitz, A., & Gollnick, H. (2008). Topical retinoids in acne vulgaris. American journal of clinical dermatology, 9(6), 369-381.

  • Thielitz, A., & Gollnick, H. (2008). Topical retinoids in acne vulgaris. American journal of clinical dermatology, 9(6), 369-381.

  • Thielitz, A., Abdel‐Naser, M. B., Fluhr, J. W., Zouboulis, C. C., & Gollnick, H. (2008). Topical retinoids in acne–an evidence‐based overview. JDDG: Journal der Deutschen Dermatologischen Gesellschaft, 6(12), 1023-1031.

  • Thiele, J. J., & Ekanayake-Mudiyanselage, S. (2007). Vitamin E in human skin: organ-specific physiology and considerations for its use in dermatology. Molecular aspects of medicine, 28(5-6), 646-667.

  • White, M. F. (2020). Salicylic Acid for Face (Facial Salicylic Acid Peel). In Minimally Invasive Aesthetic Procedures (pp. 121-126). Springer, Cham.

  • Yarnell, E., & Abascal, K. (2006). Herbal medicine for acne vulgaris. Alternative & Complementary Therapies, 12(6), 303-309.

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