About the author: FutureDerm.com is proud to introduce John Su on our staff as a Contributing Writer. John is an established skin care expert and aspiring dermatologist. He also runs a blog, The Triple Helix Liaison, dedicated to providing unbiased, meaningful, and insightful information about skin care. For his full bio, please visit our About page.
Everyone’s made mistakes before, discovered numerous ways of how NOT to do something, or has told people the wrong information. I’m certainly guilty of this. So here are my top five acts of misinformation, in no particular order.
1. Everyone with oily skin types needs to use moisturizer.
Oily skin is attributed to an excess of sebum. While not fully understood, the main functions of sebum are to act as an occlusive agent by retaining water, facilitate the production of humectants (which bind to water) such as glycerol, and protect the skin with antioxidants (mainly vitamin E). (1)
Well, that kind of reads like the functions of a good moisturizer! So why would anyone with oily skin need a moisturizer then? What’s the point of adding additional moisture when oily skin already has an excess of it?
There are certainly situations where a moisturizer would be necessary – for example, if potent acne treatments are used that deplete the skin of its natural sebum, many people with oily skin don’t need a “moisturizer,” given that the other products used aren’t too drying or irritating.
Note that in this situation, I’m defining a “moisturizer” as something that contains occlusive agents and humectants. Many of those with oily skin don’t NEED such characteristics in topical products. Even if those of you with oily skin who still use products with these attributes, they aren’t the driving reason behind said products are used. For example, I use the Paula’s Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum ($22.06, PaulasChoice.com) day and night. However, I use it because of the fantastic antioxidants present in relatively high concentrations, not because I need the additional moisturizer from the occlusive agents (dimethicone and ceramide 3).
Stop the faulty logic!
Before understanding the composition of sebum and what defines oily and dry skin types, I thought for some reason that the skin had a kind of feedback loop where, if it sensed adequate moisturizers present, it would stop sebum production. And that’s what I would tell people. How wrong was I?! If in fact these ingredients could have such a profound effect on the skin, they’d probably be regulated by the FDA as a drug like tretinoin, which can actually affect inherent change.
2. Drying alcohols like ethanol are always bad for the skin.
Ethanol and other similar alcohols are very drying, due to its high hygroscopy (ability to bind to water) and volatility (tendency to evaporate). Basically, alcohols will bind to water present in the epidermis and fly away with that water, leaving that layer parched. Furthermore, alcohols dissolve lipids by interacting with the long hydrocarbon chains present in all lipids due to its hydroxyl group (think hydrogen bonding).
On a positive note, these attributes will enhance the penetration of many beneficial ingredients like vitamin C, because it compacts or shrinks the volume of content the vitamin C has to traverse. Granted, there are other ingredients that function similarly, without being so irritating to the skin, such as limonene, sodium tridecyl phosphate, and ethoxydiglycol. It all comes down to how much the pros outweigh the cons.
That’s why for me, the main benefit of ethanol is its ability to dissolve and encourage the evaporation of various filler ingredients like cyclic silicones and emollients present in heavier products that I use. For example, my daily morning routine consists of layering several products (antioxidant serum, sunscreen, and foundation). The ethanol present in the foundation encourages the evaporation of the filler ingredients like cyclopentasiloxane, which will allow the pigments of the foundation to last longer on the skin, which means better coverage. I’ll also be less oily throughout the day.
Just like how ethanol “compacts” the layers of the epidermis by drying and dissolving various compounds, it functions similarly for the layers of products used. Except in the case of the latter, my skin isn’t actually irritated or harmed in any way.
Why Paula Begoun May Be Wrong about Alcohol
Before learning all of this, I simply supported the advice I gave to others with information from Paula Begoun’s website, which states that ethanol and drying alcohols generate ROS species and cause irritation of the skin, which will inhibit collagen production. I can’t find any evidence that when applied topically, ethanol generates ROS species; the article she sites as evidence only applies to the effects of ethanol when ingested orally. Also, unless the epidermis and upper dermis is largely damaged, ethanol won’t penetrate deeply enough to affect fibroblasts, which are the structures that build collagen. Another reason why all those in science and medicine should do their own research!
3. Petrolatum is petroleum.
Before you draw any conclusions, know that I didn’t think petrolatum was petroleum in the sense that it was the same compound, since the latter is quite harmful due to things like its benzene content. I just thought that the “petroleum” listed on ingredient lists was still called “petroleum” and not “petrolatum.” I assumed that the form present in cosmetic ingredients was just a refined version of its crude oil cousin, which is true. However, for some reason my brain read petrolatum as petroleum. I hope I’m making sense. Basically, I was a victim of the concept known in psychology as “Priming.” So don’t worry, my error was a purely semantic one. You can imagine when I finally looked closer at an ingredient list and realized that I’ve been saying/typing petroleum instead of petrolatum for months! But no one else pointed that out to me either, so perhaps they fell victim to the same effects of priming or they were too polite. In the future, if you find an error in my articles, please correct me rather than risk offending me!
4. All lighteners that inhibit the tyrosinase enzyme work the same way.
Several lighteners like hydroquinone, licorice, and aloesin all have the same end result: the inactivation of tyrosinase, the main enzyme that regulates melanin production. However, they achieve that result through slightly different pathways.
Hydroquinone causes tyrosinase inhibition by affecting DNA and RNA synthesis.(2) Licorice does so by inhibiting tyrosinase activity without affecting DNA synthesis. (3) Finally, aloesin does so competitively by suppressing DOPA oxidation (DOPA is the compound that forms after tyrosinase hydroxylation). (4)
Before, after reading discovering that arbutin was just a different form of hydroquinone, I just assumed that all other tyrosinase inhibitors worked the same way. I didn’t investigate each ingredient to the letter. Granted, since the end result is the same across the board (though with varying degrees of effectiveness); my corrections aren’t a huge step forward. Still, it’s nice to be knowledgeable about the specifics.
5. All retinoids are extremely sensitive to UV light and air.
Retinoids possess an acidic component at one end and a lipid-soluble component at the other, with a long [polyunsaturated] carbon chain linking the two. A retinoid’s stability is determined by the last characteristic: its long carbon chain. It’s true that first and second generation retinoids like tretinoin and acitretin are sensitive to light and air, due to the presence of many weak double bonds in the carbon chain.
However, third generation retinoids like adapalene are highly resistant to oxidation due to the introduction of aromatic rings that strengthen the resultingly shorter carbon chain. Adapalene is so adept in this aspect that it is even resistant to oxidation from benzoyl peroxide, something that no other retinoid can claim! (5) And benzoyl peroxide generates significantly more ROS than those that arise from day to day autoxidation reactions.
Before reading about the structure of retinoids and learning this information, I assumed that all retinoids behave similarly because the most common retinoid that’s studied and discussed in OTC products is retinol, a precursor to tretinoin. Retinol of course, is extremely sensitive to air and UV exposure.
Bottom Line: Keep Fixing Your Errors!
Now, most people will probably think that by introducing myself to the FutureDerm audience as an error-prone skin care “specialist,” I’m hurting my chances of success and credibility right out of the gate. They’d probably be right. But for me, honesty is the foremost guide in gauging ethical morality. And even though the enumerated errors are small in scale and likely meaningless to most people, they illustrate a paramount concept: the need for “constant vigilance.”
Unfortunately, I’m not the only one to commit such blunders. An esteemed dermatologist recently told me that the Garnier BB Cream provides broad –spectrum UVA and UVB protection, even though the only sunscreen ingredient present is octinoxate (a chemical UVB sunscreen). His mistake wasn’t that he didn’t know what octinoxate does. Rather, it was simply not validating Garnier’s claims by looking at the ingredient list. Just like several of my mistakes, his stemmed from a failure to investigate and elucidate. So regardless of who you are, or how much medical/scientific education you’ve received, this vigilance can never falter.
However, just like how the dermatologist was not aware of the error until after his audience pointed it out, I’m ecstatic about joining FutureDerm, knowing that its astute and cognizant readers will correct me if there are further fallacies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to do my best to confirm every fact and ensure logical thought processes. But it’s comforting to know that a community is there to back me up! Thank you everyone!
If you’d like, share YOUR thoughts on this article or acts of treason (misinformation) in the comments below or on my blog!
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