Beauty is only skin deep
How things have changed! In the days of Downton Abbey all we had was light or dark face powder, a couple of shades of lipstick and mainly basic Nivea and one or two other branded skin cream. And this was only for women, the idea of face creams for men would have been greeted with amazement.
Today we have an extraordinary selection of brands and products for both men and women - everything from serums to mineral make up and the choice is pretty well overwhelming. Yet most of us realize that keeping our facial skin moist and in good shape will keep us looking better and younger, and could even be healthier for us, so somehow we have to wade through all the advertising and find the products that would be best for us.
Fashions come and go in skin creams as well as in clothing but today enormous resources are used to develop new ingredients that make skin products more effective. It is today a giant commercial market which warrants serious research and development. As well as discovering new ingredients, cosmetic companies are now finding more effective ways of getting ingredients into the skin. For example, liposomes are now commonly used in face products. These are tiny hollow spheres filled with active ingredients that are absorbed into the skin. They release their contents precisely where they are most needed - under the surface into the deeper layers of the skin.
At the end of the day, you get what you pay for. Cheap skin-care products will use cheap ingredients. In the more expensive brands, you usually pay for the new ingredient or formula that is supposed to deliver the anti-ageing, anti-wrinkle, skin firming benefit. But price isn’t the only guide and the most expensive anti-ageing brands aren’t necessarily the best.
Dermatologists argue that skin products can achieve little except temporary moisturisation but one needs to understand there are different products on the market. Cosmetic products are not allowed to alter the structure or function of the skin; pharmaceutical products generally have to have their benefits proven before being marketed and are subject to tighter controls because they are more potent. There is a grey area between the two types of products.
Serum used to be associated purely with serious medicine. Today the word is far better known in connection with beauty products and comes in a wide range of types, from anti-aging serums to skin brightening serums and even acne preventative serum.
What it really means is that the product has smaller molecules than normal face cream. This means the benefits will penetrate deeper into the skin. Generally serums lean towards depositing key nutrients within the ski while moisturizers concentrate more on hydration.
The active ingredients in face cream obviously vary considerably from product to product and brand to brand. It is difficult to identify back up research as many of the cosmetic companies like to keep their ingredients under wraps to give them that market edge. But the industry is well supervised and controls are getting tighter against brands that are making unsubstantiated claims for their products.
Some of the more talked about 'active' ingredients include:
Amino acids (peptides)
The body's building blocks, amino acids make up proteins that are present in our skin and hair. There are claims that they can be absorbed by the skin to rehydrate and provide nutrients.
Every breath we take leads to the formation of 'free radicals' that can damage healthy cells. In the skin this leads to lines, wrinkles and loss of skin tone. Antioxidants can reduce the activity of these free radicals, so in theory antioxidants can help the body to repair itself.
At present there is limited evidence to back this theory in topical (cream) form. Plenty of products contain antioxidants. In the ingredients list look out for pycnogenol (the active part of grapeseed extract) and vitamins A, C and E.
This is the chemical name for the basic molecule of vitamin C, also known as magnesium ascorbyl phosphate. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can lighten pigment, although its effectiveness still needs further proof. Derivatives are used in skin-care products because the pure vitamin is unstable and very irritating to the skin.
Beta hydroxy acid (BHA)
The most common BHA is salicylic acid. These acids are anti-inflammatory and exfoliating agents, so
are useful in the treatment of spots and acne. BHAs cause sensitivity reactions if overused.
Ceramides are normally found in the skin and help it to retain moisture. Synthetic ceramides are one of the 'buzz' ingredients that claim to reverse the signs of ageing. The level of scientific evidence to back these claims is limited, so judgment is out until more research has been completed.
Co-enzyme 10 (Q10)
Q10 occurs naturally in the skin and is an antioxidant and antibacterial agent. As we age, levels of Q10 decrease and this may play a part in skin ageing. Idebenone (Prevage MD) is a more potent form of co-enzyme Q10. It is the most powerful antioxidant to date, and there is clinical data to support its benefit in ageing skin. It is produced by Allergan, the makers of botox.
Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA)
AHAs, or fruit acids, include citric acid from citrus fruits, malic acid from apples and lactic acid from milk. As a group, no other cosmetic ingredients have been more thoroughly investigated. Glycolic acid derived from sugar cane is by far the most frequently used AHA.
In low concentrations, they act as exfoliators. In higher concentration, AHAs have shown to be effective at reducing visible signs of ageing, treating acne and treating increased pigmentation. Higher strength AHAs are available through beauty salons and cosmetic clinics. They must be used under professional guidance and with a sunscreen.
Collagen is a very large molecule and some reports say it doesn’t penetrate the skin, but can only sit on the skin's surface where it gives little real benefit but science is moving forward on this one all the time.
Green tea is a popular ingredient and can be found in everything from face creams to depilatory waxes. It contains polyphenols which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These effects may explain why cold tea bags are applied to the face to reduce swollen eyes. Research is promising but still undergoing.
An essential protein found in the skin. It has very powerful moisturising properties, able to attract over 100 times its weight in water, but it needs to be at the correct concentration to work.
Obtained from wool and used as a barrier to reduce water loss from the skin's surface. It is a frequent cause of sensitivity reactions to products, so read the ingredient list carefully.
Retinoic acid, retinol or retinyl palmitate
These are all derivatives of vitamin A. Many beauty professionals are now convinced that retinoic acid (tretinoin) in a topically applied cream can reduce the appearance of lines, wrinkles and pigmentation.
Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Often this vitamin is put into sunscreens to fight free radicals made by sunlight. Some rigorous data is being collected about the benefits of topical and oral vitamin E on skin ageing, but research is ongoing.
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