5 New Things I've Learned about Skin Care in the Past 5 Years

Skin Care
When it comes to skin care...(243/365)
When I was 12, I thought the Clinique 3-Step was the be-all, end all. When I was 22, I started FutureDerm. Now, at 27, I know even more… (Photo credit: Mags_cat)

FutureDerm will be 5 years old this year, and like any proud parent, I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit there are many surprising lessons I’ve learned.  So, without further adieu, here are five of the best:

1.)  It’s more than ingredients – it’s other ingredients, pH, delivery systems, and packaging too.

English: Ginseng from the DPRK
The packaging matters, as do the ingredients, pH, and delivery system.

Back when I started FutureDerm, I was obsessed with ingredients.  Being young and naïve, I always thought more meant better, regardless of what else was in the product.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I know it’s also about other ingredients, pH, and delivery systems.  For instance, benzoyl peroxide and retinol are great, but benzoyl peroxide will also denature it (British Journal of Dermatology, 1998).  Vitamin C is a benefit in any cream, but it works best in the skin at an acidic pH – less than 3.5, in fact (Dermatologic Surgery, 1998).  Delivery systems pack a powerful punch too – skin care products deliver ingredients much better in formulations that are absorbed rather than those that just sit on top of the skin.

Last but not least, packaging makes a huge difference, particularly with antioxidants.  Always choose the most airtight and light-free option possible!

2.)  Alcohol in products is usually good – not bad.

Straight alcohol on your skin (or in your mouth) is terrible for your skin. But alcohol in a skin care product is beneficial – thinning the solution, helping absorption (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

First, I read Paula Begoun, and I thought alcohol was terrible for my skin.  Then, I discovered the work of dermatologist Dr. Audrey Kunin, and I learned certain alcohols are actually hydrators or emulsifers:

Finally, I met a slew of cosmetic chemists, and I learned more:  In skin care and cosmetics, alcohol thins the solution.  It essentially helps the skin absorb key ingredients and enables layers of product to be condensed.  So while you would never apply pure rubbing alcohol directly to your skin (hello, drying!), if you mix alcohol with a bunch of oils and put it on your skin, it’s actually not such a bad thing.  In fact, it can make everything a whole lot more beneficial.  Who knew?

3.)  Very few dermatologists and aestheticians use only one line of skin care products.

At Vancouver Laser and Skin Care Centre, Dr. B...
Unless your dermatologist has his or her own line of skin care products, chances are, s/he recommends more than one brand of product.

Unless they have their own line, there has not been a single dermatologist or aesthetician I have met who has sworn by one brand of products.  I kid you not.

There are several reasons for this:  First, most skin care lines have one key product that delivers the biggest punch.  Take, for instance, the NIA 24 line.  All of the products contain nicotinic acid, but only certain ones – the serum and the moisturizer- contain the highest concentration of nicotinic acid.  Many experts don’t see the point in being redundant and using the same active ingredients in the cleanser, toner, and moisturizer.

Second, if you know which ingredients should work together and which should not, there’s no reason not to get the maximum benefit with variety!  Here is a shortened guide to ingredients that should not be used together:

4.)  Ingredient databases require further analysis.

The Earth flag is not an official flag, since ...
I’m not against the Environmental Working Group or the Skin Deep Database – but it’s best viewed by scientists who can refute it with other studies and trained analysis, not the public at large.

Increasing numbers of men and women are skeptical because scientists at the Skin Deep database (and other sources) flag studies that say ingredients are harmful.

However, the scientists and the FDA and other organizations regularly find that these same ingredients are fine in the concentrations they are found in skin care and cosmetics.

What gives?  This discrepancy leads to public mistrust and misunderstanding.

In truth, both are trying to do the right thing.  Scientists at Skin Deep flag studies to incite further research.  Scientists at the FDA review all of these studies and draw conclusions.  The problem is, the Skin Deep database should be viewed by other scientists to provoke additional study and review – not by the general public.

I side with the FDA 99 times out of 100 – many of the “flagged” studies turn out not to be applicable to humans.  For instance, if you eat 20,000x the average dose of vitamin C, guess what – it’s toxic.  Well, that’s what some of these studies have done with parabens and other ingredients in rats.

Still, I understand that we’re trying to be safe.  It’s just that sometimes too much precaution turn out to be dangerous – for instance, the Environmental Working Group once suggested sunscreens could be harmful, and excess UV light is one of the worst toxins of all.  So find a trusted physician, scientist, or a voice you trust (pick me!  pick me!), and listen to it.  Please just don’t listen to a database better directed towards scientists.

5.)  It probably is best to stick with the purpose products are labeled for.

Olay Moisturizing Lotions
I used to like Olay body lotions as much as the face lotions, shown here. But in general, that’s a bad recommendation (Photo credit: WindyWinters)

Years ago, I suggested using Olay Quench Body Lotion for the face.  And it was right – that stuff worked, and was pretty similar to Olay face products, minus the peptides.

Then I ran across numbers of people who had used other body lotions and children’s products on their face and gotten widespread contact dermatitis.  And I started to realize that labels exist for a reason.  Companies aren’t usually trying to charge you more per ounce for the face just because they can – often times, body lotions and children’s products are simply heavier, formulated to be hydrating and thicker than face formulations.

So do yourself a favor:  read the labels.

Bottom Line

I’ve learned a lot about skin care in the past five years, and I look forward to growing with the market in the future.  🙂  I also learn well from answering readers’ questions – so if you have any, please let us know!  The best way to reach us is the FutureDerm.com Facebook page.

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  • Christina

    I’m quite interested in the part about not using body lotions as face lotions and how some people said they had contact dermatitis. I have eczema but never had it on my face and I don’t know when I started getting the itchies on my face and when I started using my Aveeno (the regular oat lotion) on my face but I have been thinking I need to try and find a proper face lotion – but everything makes my skin sting and the Aveeno never does.

    Why exactly would they cause dermatitis? It’s just because it’s heavier and the facial skin is more delicate, needs to breathe? Do they use harsher preservatives or emulsifiers or something? I’m not sure if you have any more info on this, but it’s very interesting. Do you have any more thoughts on this?


  • @Angela – Aww, thank you very much! It is much appreciated!

  • Angela

    As a skin care aficionado, I read a number of expert, reputable blogs. Futurederm is my must-have daily read for it’s science-based reviews of product ingredients, usage and efficacy. I’ve been a faithful reader for almost 5 years now 🙂 It’s great to be in the know about all the new and exciting products! Thank you Nicki!

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