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How to Treat Skin

Proper skincare, as part of your daily routine, is key to achieving healthy skin and slowing down or even preventing the premature signs of aging. Here are the steps to follow, every day.

Cleanse: It is important that dry skin gets properly cleansed twice a day using water and mild soap. If you only cleanse once, the best time to do that is at night before you go to bed. In the morning, you may skip the cleanser and just splash water on your face. This is particularly applicable for areas of dry skin, since cleansers tend to partially strip skin’s natural barrier, which is already somewhat compromised when the skin is dry.

Toner: Cleansing should be followed by a toner, with mild non-mechanical exfoliators that can also balance the pH after cleansing such as lactic or malic acid. Use an astringent type with ingredients that can regulate oil production. Watch out for toners that contain ethanol or isopropanol (especially those that show them at the beginning/middle of the ingredients list). Such alcohols can dissolve skin’s barrier, which may result in overproduction of oil to compensate and in turn, clogged pores (and zits, black heads, etc.)

Hydrate: A super-hydrating serum with hyaluronic acid, urea, vitamin B and/or ferulic acid should follow. Make sure that the serum also contains proper humectants such as glycerin or other glycols. They are key to ensure proper penetration and delivery of those actives where needed most. Remember that skin’s outermost layer, the stratum corneum is to the hydrophobic side, which makes water penetration more difficult. Those humectants’ chemistry is ideal to “drag” these ingredients down to the inner layers, where collagen resides, in a pool of water.

Moisturize: Moisturization is very important for all skin types. A good moisturizer is that with the right balance of water, humectants, and emollients. For areas where skin is dry, choose one that contains in Shea butter, beeswax, lanolin alcohol, petrolatum and other rich oils and waxes. Opt for non-comedogenic emollients when oil skin is concerned, such as squalane, olive oil, mineral oil, dimethicone, triglycerides, etc. When your skin is balanced, choose a balanced blend of rich and light oils (or more than one product).

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Let’s Talk Hydration

Skin’s hydration is not as simple as putting some water on it, as it will not penetrate. The surface of the skin is predominately hydrophobic, which means that to go through it, you need ingredients that can match the chemistry of the skin and still “carry” water along with.

In your opinion, what are some lesser-known hydrating ingredients in skin care?

I am a big fan of hyaluronic acid (HA), which is anything but lesser known. Despite being a wonder, attention must be paid to this ingredient as not all of its forms created equally.

HA is a naturally occurring substance in the connective tissue. Chemically it is made of a repeat unit (monomer) not too different from glucose, and it is part of the cartilage, helping keep collagen in its desired state of hydration (which also preserves it from degradation). The best formulations that incorporate HA should have a blend of different “sizes” (or molecular weights) of this molecule to ensure penetration through the skin as well as time release ability for those larger ones that diffuse through the skin slower.

Besides HA in multiple sizes, I am a huge fan of SYN®-HYCAN, a synthetic tripeptide that can boost production of your own HA and help fight skin sagging and improve collagen fibrillogenesis. (Our bodies tend to like best what they can produce naturally as opposed to what we put into them). When properly formulated, this ingredient can penetrate deep into the layers of the skin. It is believed to not only boost hydration but also collagen production.

  • Urea is also a wonder ingredient. Loves water, is a small molecule and fairly compatible with skin, which translates into ability to drag hydration deep into the layers of the skin where it is not only very necessary but hard to get into.
  • Clays are also amazing to boost hydration. They come “premoistened” in a formula (dissolved in water) and can redistribute hydration to ensure that is located where most needed.
  • Cellulose derivatives can create a perfect hydration layer on the skin, protecting it and leaving a great feel behind. Great in water-based serums for very oily skin type that can be prone to clogging when using regular moisturizers.
  • Vitamin B3 (niacinamide). Can penetrate skin and drag water too, also collagen production stimulant (therefore increasing elasticity). Best when formulated with HA for hydration purposes. It also helps with reducing inflammation, it helps with spot correction (reduces hyperpigmentation), and it is an antioxidant (antiaging).
  • Sucrose and sodium chloride. So understated and underrated. Both great to “fix” water and avoid loss of hydration. Readily available, inexpensive and incredibly easy to incorporate into formulations. In that same note, honey must also be considered, which also has amazing antiseptic properties.

What are some good hydrators to look for if you have sensitive skin?

All the ones above are great for sensitive skin. When in doubt opt for more inert ingredients, which are those that are “larger molecules”, such as higher molecular weight HA and SYN-HYCAN. Stay away from products with large concentrations of vitamin B3, as it can irritate skin. Same applies to retinol and even vitamin C (this latter not so much for the actual active but because of the pH that it requires to exist, pretty acidic). Careful with those “all natural” promises that can contain naturally occurring ingredients that can cause allergic reactions.

What are some good hydrating ingredients with additional benefits?

As mentioned above, vitamin B3 is a great one. Not only helps boosting hydration and promoting collagen production but it is also anti-inflammatory and reduces hyperpigmentation. Probiotics can also help with the overall health of the skin through cell restoration, which promotes collagen production and in turn water retention, which increases hydration.

Honey promotes hydration and has incredible anti-bacterial properties, which makes it also a natural preservative. Same can be said (to a lesser extent) for common table salt (sodium chloride) and sucrose.

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What’s the Difference Between Organic and Natural?

There seems to be confusion with the terms “natural” and “organic”. Much of this confusion is caused by marketing.

Natural

The definition of “natural” in skincare is not regulated (at least I could not find anything that states otherwise). However, it is widely accepted that “natural” refers to what is not synthetically made, but occurs in nature. A couple of “watch-outs” are since “natural” is not officially defined, it may be subject to interpretation and the second is that generally a natural ingredient must be isolated from its source, which could be a process that involves many synthetic chemicals, which makes one question how natural it is when packaged to sell.

Organic

For an ingredient to be considered organic, it must come from a source that was raised or grown without the use of artificial/synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. One must be aware that the definition organic can also be applied even if certain pesticides or fertilizers are used. Also, there are some instances when organic applies even when synthetic compounds are used to assist growth, as long as it is only during a certain period of the life cycle of the resource.

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The Dangers of Screens’ “Blue Light” on Your Skin

A question I am often asked is whether exposure to the light from screen devices can damage our skin, in the same way as the sun, and should we therefore be protecting it by applying an SPF compound as a part of our daily skincare routines. There are certainly plenty of voices within the beauty industry who claim that the high energy visible or “blue light” emitted by our devices could age our skin just like the sun. As a scientist my answer to this question will always be determined by the scientific evidence.

We should begin by looking at the facts relating to the sun itself. In terms of light emissions, the sun sends out or radiates many different rays of different wavelengths, of which VIS (visible, 300-700 nm), UV (ultraviolet, 100-400 nm) and IR (infrared, 780 nm – 1mm) are the most relevant for this discussion. Wavelength and energy are important, but so too is intensity, as it is the amount of radiation and the degree of exposure that will ultimately determine its effects.

Visible rays allow us to see what is around us, while IR radiation is responsible for increasing the temperature of those objects that receive it. UV rays are of higher frequency and energy, and with that higher energy, they have the ability to penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin, reaching the cells that are producing the compounds essential for its health and vitality. As a result, UV radiation can irreversibly damage tissue, collagen, and even cells. Therefore, when protecting the skin from the sun, what is important is to minimize or to entirely block out the penetration of UV rays. The skin in fact does have its own defense mechanism to prevent UV rays from penetrating. It produces melanin, a natural barrier that exists when we tan, but unfortunately it is not an effective one. We should also not disregard IR rays, whilst they may be less damaging in the long term, the fact that they increase the temperature of the objects they radiate, can result in burns, redness and in extreme cases blistering, which ultimately leads to permanent damage of all skin layers.

So, in order to protect our skin from the harmful effects of the sun we apply an SPF and protection is its only purpose. Whether the SPF is organic (chemical) or inorganic (mineral), the active ingredients are not necessary for the health of the skin.

Organic SPF are carbon-based compounds with specific bonds that can absorb light in within the UV spectrum, resulting in bond cleavage and the subsequent formation of the infamous free radicals. Free radicals are very reactive intermediates which can permanently modify the structure of those molecules they react with. They are the same as those that UV radiation causes to collagen, DNA and other skin compounds and substances. And because they react with almost anything they contact with; they are not selective in what they can damage.

The mechanistic action of inorganic SPF against the sun’s damaging rays is less understood. An inorganic SPF is believed to cause a protective physical barrier for the skin, through which the rays simply cannot penetrate. However, more recent research is pointing to the fact that these inorganic filters, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, absorb radiation and transform into other compounds, but the exact mechanism and effect of those on the skin is far less understood.

Therefore regardless of the type of SPF used, whilst applying these actives does not result in a health benefit to the skin, and in fact can be damaging to its vitality, the alternative of not applying them when exposed to the sun’s rays might not be an option You could however consider other alternatives such as minimizing your exposure to the sun, or putting in place other physical barriers such as hats, sunglasses or parasols. Enjoying the outdoors remains essential to our well-being as we know there are so many benefits, including the transformation of vitamin D precursors to vitamin D, a hormone that regulates so many vital functions, and is arguably responsible for boosting one’s mood.

Like the sun, screen devices radiate light of many different wavelengths, mostly visible, the so-called “blue light” in the range 400 to 455 nm. Why blue? Because you are supposed to see it. Whilst it can be harmful to your eyes, there is unlikely to be any effect on your skin, as visible light is unlikely to be able to penetrate it. In fact, your skin doesn’t mechanistically react toward the radiation emitted by monitors, TVs or even lightbulbs by producing melanin. In other words, you are not likely to get tanned no matter how long you sit in front of a monitor, or under your desk lamp, which also radiates blue light. We also know that whilst UV light is scientifically proven to be the one responsible for skin damage leading to spots, premature aging, wrinkles and ultimately melanoma, and that screens do emit UV rays and even X-rays, the intensity is so low as to not have long term consequences for your skin.

It is important however, not to overlook the fact that even though the effects of blue light from screens should not be regarded as directly damaging to the skin, they can still be harmful to us, as prolonged exposure is likely to adversely affect eyesight, your eyes being more vulnerable to visible radiation, and less obvious, they could be toxic for our mental health, which is also a vital ingredient for a healthy, glowing skin. Good skin starts with a healthy mind and stress can have terrible consequences on the skin. Too many hours in front of a screen can mean little, poor or even no sleep, as well as a heightened state of anxiety, manifested in symptoms including premature skin aging, which in turn can be compounded by a lack of oxygenation and greater exposure to dry air, as a direct consequence of indoor living. Clearly an SPF is not going to protect you against these effects.

One final thought, modern TVs operate just like monitors, they are simply “screens”. Many of us can attest to the fact that during the Covid lockdowns, exposure to TV was unusually long. Should this not have led to a call to recommend SPF when watching TV ? The cynic in me would say that it was already too late, as TV exposure has been with us for too long to now claim that it may be harmful to our skin, and thereby “make up” a reason to sell product. And the difference, this time the beauty industry has been quick to seize the marketing opportunity.

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How To Treat Skin

Proper skincare, as part of your daily routine, is key to achieving healthy skin and slowing down or even preventing the premature signs of aging. Here are the steps to follow, every day.

Cleanse: It is important that dry skin gets properly cleansed twice a day using water and mild soap. If you only cleanse once, the best time to do that is at night before you go to bed. In the morning, you may skip the cleanser and just splash water on your face. This is particularly applicable for areas of dry skin, since cleansers tend to partially strip skin’s natural barrier, which is already somewhat compromised when the skin is dry.

Toner: Cleansing should be followed by a toner, with mild non-mechanical exfoliators that can also balance the pH after cleansing such as lactic or malic acid. Use an astringent type with ingredients that can regulate oil production. Watch out for toners that contain ethanol or isopropanol (especially those that show them at the beginning/middle of the ingredients list). Such alcohols can dissolve skin’s barrier, which may result in overproduction of oil to compensate and in turn, clogged pores (and zits, black heads, etc.)

Hydrate: A super-hydrating serum with hyaluronic acid, urea, vitamin B and/or ferulic acid should follow. Make sure that the serum also contains proper humectants such as glycerin or other glycols. They are key to ensure proper penetration and delivery of those actives where needed most. Remember that skin’s outermost layer, the stratum corneum is to the hydrophobic side, which makes water penetration more difficult. Those humectants’ chemistry is ideal to “drag” these ingredients down to the inner layers, where collagen resides, in a pool of water.

Moisturize: Moisturization is very important for all skin types. A good moisturizer is that with the right balance of water, humectants, and emollients. For areas where skin is dry, choose one that contains in Shea butter, beeswax, lanolin alcohol, petrolatum and other rich oils and waxes. Opt for non-comedogenic emollients when oil skin is concerned, such as squalane, olive oil, mineral oil, dimethicone, triglycerides, etc. When your skin is balanced, choose a balanced blend of rich and light oils (or more than one product).

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Five “Lifestyle Tweaks” To Support Your Journey Toward Wellbeing

  1. Follow a routine that works for your skin. Don’t be skimpy with the time and the testing that will take to get to what such regimen is for you. I always recommend the following steps twice a day, every day:
    1. Cleansing: Remove excess dirt and oil to prevent pore clogging and potential enlargement.
    2. Toning: Adjust the pH after cleansing and in occasions can be used as a substitution of the first step.
    3. Treating: This is a tricky one as it will need you understand and know your own skin needs. Best way to treat is in my opinion, a serum. It can pack a punch of actives that can target your specific condition and concerns, such as dryness, breakouts, oil, prevention of wrinkles, to name a few.
    4. Moisturizing. Your skin barrier is key to lock water in the skin, which is easier to lose than to get it in. It also helps protect it against elements that can harm the skin. A good moisturizer is normally synonym of adequate barrier.
  2. Remove your makeup before going to bed. I can’t stretch enough the importance of this. You may potentially avoid pores become large, skin thickening, breakouts, dry skin, i.e. the (bad) works. If there is no makeup remover out there that you are happy with, you are not alone. I resolve to use a mild cleanser and sometimes a body lotion for my eye product residue.
  3. Avoid the three Ss, which are the skin’s enemies: Stress, Sun, and Sugar. Avoid exposure to all of them as much as you can.There is a correlation to certain skin conditions caused by stress. It is no easy task to avoid stress, and the mechanism of how those conditions manifest is even more difficult. But stress hurts organs, and in many occasions the damage can be irreparable. Protect your skin from the sun as much as possible when outside. Limit your sugar intake, its metabolism in your body may produce skin-damaging by-products.
  4. Sleep. Another S, but in this case one you should not skip, at least not for prolonged time. Our bodies need to reset and restore, and the same goes for the skin. Although we don’t realize about it, the skin works a lot too. Protecting a body is no easy task.
  5. Find your source of dopamine, whether it’s exercise, relationships, thrill seeker’s activities, etc. Dopamine plays a role in many important body functions, including movement, memory, pleasurable reward, and motivation.

Remember, a happy skin is a healthy and beautiful one.