April 3, 2014

What Ingredients Really Matter In Your Skincare Products?

"I’ve read that it’s better to use “all natural” products to treat acne because there are no chemicals.  Is it better to use “all natural” products or is it all hype?"

As an Esthetician who deals exclusively with acne and sensitivity, I'm asked this question a lot. You might think the answer is quite simple, but it really isn't. The problem is that acne cannot always be effectively addressed by ingredients that are typical of "all natural" skin care lines. In fact there are some "all natural" ingredients that can be horribly aggravating to acne. 

The most important thing to keep in mind is that not everything natural is good for acne and redness, and not everything with a chemical sounding name is bad.

For instance, the worst ingredient for acne is cocoa butter. It clogs skin like crazy! Avocado oil is mildly clogging, and believe it or not, coconut oil can also be a disaster for acne skin. If you buy a handcrafted lotion with any of these ingredients believing that it can't be bad because it's "all natural," you could have a real mess on your hands.

On the other hand, the best anti-inflammatory ingredients for redness and blotchiness are from nature - aloe, sea whip (an extract taken from a creature living inside a kind of coral called sea whip or sea fan), chamomile, allentoin (from comfrey) and azulene are mainstays in the skin care world and have no synthetic equivalents.

Or, take chemical sounding names. I've seen natural lines use ingredients like Isopropyl Palmitate, a very pore-clogging ingredient because it's derived from palm oil. It may be naturally derived, but it actually makes acne worse.

Or how about Sodium Hyaluronate. Sounds synthetic? It's not. Your skin makes a chemical called Hyaluronic Acid, but in lesser and lesser amounts as you grow older. At any age, it's one of the most important components of an acne regimen, because it helps hydrate the skin so it can be more pliable and not hold onto its oil so much.  These days it’s created in the laboratory because it used to be derived from rooster combs.  Since it’s now created in laboratories, it has the name Sodium Hyaluronate, but the name Hyaluronic Acid is often used as well for the same thing.  This is an example of ingredients that are called “Bio-Identical,” meaning that chemically they are exactly the same as those found in nature (exact copies produced in the lab) in order to be environmentally or humanely responsible. They do exactly the same things and are chemically the same. But they require chemical names because they are not truly from nature.  Yes, they are technically synthetic – but which would you rather have - an ingredient taken from rooster combs, or an exact chemical copy?

The adage "You should only use products with ingredients whose names you can pronounce." is simply something I do not believe in at all. There are just too many naturally derived and healthy ingredients that acne and sensitivity need that would be unnecessarily missed out on just because their names are long. It doesn't make sense.

There are two very important things to consider when it comes to treating acne and redness here
1)  Tea tree and lavender may be antibacterial, but will never ever be as effective as Benzoyl Peroxide when it comes to flushing out pores and keeping acne bacteria from proliferating and making a mess. Depending on the severity of your acne, it may not be possible to stay entirely natural. On the other hand, Salicylic Acid, which comes from wintergreen and/or willow bark, is one of the best acne medicines around, and even takes care of redness. On the other other hand, Sal Acid doesn't adequately penetrate the skin unless it has SD Alcohol as a vehicle. Are you getting the picture? 

2)  Always remember that when it comes to redness and sensitivity, natural fragrance can be worse than artificial! In fact, if a product has many botanicals in it, this would be something to stay away from. Sensitive skin tends to have quite a few allergies, even when they may be mild enough to cause redness you may have attributed to something else. The most important part of a good regimen for sensitive skin is the inclusion of  anti-inflammatories. Aloe, sea whip (you might see "pseudopterogorgia elisabethea extract" on the label), green tea and zinc oxide are what you want to look for.
Aside from these ingredients, if you see more than 4 or 5 botanical ingredients on a label, the product will not be good for acne or sensitivity.

I've seen so many organic or “all natural” lines make egregious mistakes when it comes to acne and sensitivity, even when a label says an item is meant for acneic or sensitive skin, I prefer to advise you on what ingredients to avoid. If you still need guidance on what to use, you can't go wrong visiting a skin care salon that shares your vision. At least then you wouldn't be flying blind with trial and error on a skin type that can be one of the most difficult to deal with.

Here's a short list of what ingredients to avoid if your skin is oily with acne and redness:

  • Coconut Oil
  • Cocoa Butter
  • Avocado Oil
  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Shea Butter (it can be clogging if it's processed wrong, plus it's too rich for oily skin)
  • More than four or five botanicals in a product
  • Isopropyl Myristate
  • Isopropyl Palmitate
  • Ethelhexyl Palmitate
  • Vitamin C - if it doesn't give what type it is. It's important where it comes from, because it'll be useless if it just says Vitamin C, or if it’s coupled with an acid to stabilize it, it’ll be extremely irritating - I've seen lists on all-natural products with just "vitamin C" on the label; back on the shelf it went.  Look for Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, which is the most gentle and most stable type.
  • Vitamin E if it doesn't give what type. Just plain vitamin E can be irritating and do nothing for the skin - it has to be formulated right.  L-Tocopherol or Tocopheral Acetate is best.

If you need any specific help with your skin care routine and particular issues, feel free to fill out my Eval By Email® Online Skincare Consultation form!

Have you wondered about this issue and have now found clarity, or had a feeling this was true but didn't know how to articulate it?  Please share this post !