Typically when we think of acne, it is our natural instinct to think about products like a “drying toner” or a “spot treatment,” but there are times these products can leave skin dry, reddened, or irritated. A new product, Unagel, provides a unique angle by featuring a formula with 2% salicyclic acid at a more neutral pH – 6.6 instead of the typical 3.0-3.5. This, plus the gel form, green tea extract, and grape seed oil are together designed to produce acne-alleviating results without the redness, stinging, burning, or irritation.
Yet one of my favorite things about Unagel is that it allows for retinoids to be used afterwards. As I’ve addressed many times on FutureDerm, the pH that is optimal for retinoids is not acidic. The fact that Unagel has a neutral pH allows for retinoids – also great for acne – to be used in conjunction with salicyclic acid. Awesome!
What the Science Says
According to a 2009 study in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 1% salicyclic acid at pH 6.50 produced no stinging or redness sensation. On the other hand, 1% salicyclic acid at the typical pH 3.12 produced redness and stinging. This indicates neutralized salicyclic acid is better for sensitive skin than non-neutralized sensitive skin.
Yet this brings up another pertinent question: Does neutralized salicyclic acid work? To that aim, researchers measured the effect of 2% salicyclic acid at pH 3.3 and 2% salicyclic acid at pH 6.95 on skin cell turnover using a tape strip method. The result? Both were found to increase cell turnover – regardless of pH level (International Journal of Phameceutics, 2005).
Salicyclic acid is often used in acne treatments for three reasons:
- 1.) Salicyclic acid works as an anti-bacterial agent. (Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2003)
- 2.) Salicyclic acid is an anti-inflammatory agent when it is provided in a neutral pH solution, though it typically is included in acidic formulations that make it irritating. (Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Allergy Agents in Medicinal Chemistry, 2007)
- 3.) Salicyclic acid softens keratin, a protein that forms part of the skin structure. This helps to loosen dry scaly skin, increasing cell turnover and effectively renewing the skin.
What about the Butylene Glycol and Parabens?
As far as propylene glycol goes, I personally agree with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who have said, “Studies have not shown these chemicals [propylene or the other glycols as used in cosmetics] to be carcinogens”.
The internet rumor surrounding propylene glycol started about five years ago, when people realized the industrial Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) can cause liver and kidney damage and act as a skin irritant. Considering that over 4000 beauty products in the U.S. alone contain propylene glycol, this was a big deal, to say the least.
However, MSDS sheets refer to 100% concentrations of a substance, as propylene glycol is found as anti-freeze. In the small concentrations used in skin care cosmetics, it is not a concern. In fact, propylene glycol is used in many life-saving drugs as a part of transdermal patches. It is a known absorption enhancer, enhances the penetration of other ingredients into the skin. For more, please read: Is Propylene Glycol Harmful in Beauty Products?
As for the parabens, I’m one of the few people left who says they are fine when used in the concentrations found in beauty products. Based on as much research as I can find (read more), typical paraben exposure from skin care products does not seem to increase health risks. In fact, we eat a lot more parabens than we use in skin care or cosmetics! According to Journal of Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, we eat ten times more parabens in foods than we apply topically. Parabens are found in many packaged:
- Pie crusts
- The jelly coatings of meat products
- Surface treatment of dried meat products
- Cereal- or potato-based snacks and coated nuts
- Confectionery (excluding chocolate)
- Liquid dietary food supplements
[Read more: Are you aware of the parabens you eat?]
As such, I personally still use skin care and cosmetics that contain parabens. I’m far more concerned about eating packaged food with parabens – with up to 0.1% parabens allowed. In skin care and cosmetics? Only 0.25%- and you’re getting a far smaller dose than from eating a huge meal of packaged foods!
Is This Product Really Revolutionary for Those with Sensitive Skin and Acne?
I really love the idea of using a neutralized, less-irritating salicyclic acid in skin care products. I have a feeling Unagel is the first of many products we will see with this form of salicyclic acid in the future.
My only warning about it? If you have sensitive skin, be strategic about what products you apply after! While Unagel is designed to be soothing, the propylene glycol in Unagel will slightly increase the absorption of ingredients used afterwards. This is a blessing for spot treatments, like benzoyl peroxide. (Poof! Pimple’s gone!) On the other hand, it may increase the effect of retinoids, alpha hydroxy acids, and other ingredients. So, if you have sensitive skin, use a gentle hand with the products you apply afterwards! My best advice is to cleanse, use Unagel, and then try your usual products after. If there is any redness or irritation from your normal products, taper off your usual products to every other night, and then gradually work back up to using them every night.
One of the first companies I’ve ever worked with, Advanced Skin Technologies, asked me to review Unagel and sent me a sample to review. When an advertiser premieres a product, I am extra careful in my review not to be partial in any way, sometimes refusing to do a review altogether if I don’t like the product.
That said, given the length of this review (!), I think you can tell I honestly like it a lot. I really do feel the neutralized salicyclic acid in Unagel is special. I also like the fact that the treatment is a lightweight, quickly-absorbing gel-like formula, replete with skin soothers like green tea and grape seed oil.
It’s best for those who are acne-prone with sensitive skin; a close second is those who are acne-prone who will continue to use other full-strength acne products afterwards, as Unagel will help them absorb into the skin better!
Product Rating: 9/10
- High or optimized concentration of proven ingredients: 3/3
- Unique formulation or new technology: 3/3
- Value: 3/3
- Sunscreen: 0/1
Founder and CEO Nicki Zevola started FutureDerm as a medical (M.D.) student studying to be a dermatologist. She is an award-winning scientific researcher and writer. She currently is concentrating on FutureDerm and developing FutureDerm's one-of-a-kind products. She can be found on Google+ and Twitter.View all Nicki Zevola posts.
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