Beauty products like to talk about ‘miracle ingredients’ or ‘breakthrough technology,’ but let’s cut through the marketing hype. What are we really putting on our face, what does it do, and is it worth the price tag?
Unfortunately the cosmetics industry doesn’t exactly make it easy for us to make an informed choice. The labels on products all include multi-syllable chemical compounds. Here’s a simple list of what you should look for, and the verified claims of its effect on skin. You make the final choice.
Hydroquinone was approved by the FDA in 1982, to treat freckles, melasma and brown skin patchings. It has since become a popular bleaching substance in the US, because it lessens formation of dark spots on the skin.
Although hydroquinone has been banned in some countries in South Africa and in France because of cancer concerns, most experts argue that, under close medical supervision, a topical application is generally safe. Some dermatologists recommend using products that only have 4% hydroquinine, and to limit use to four months at a time. If you wish to continue using it, take a one-month break before resuming.
Hydroquinine can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. To prevent hyperpigmentation, use it in tandem with sunscreen during the day, or with retinoids or AHA at night.
2. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)
AHA’s were developed in 1974 for ichthyosis (extremely dry skin) and was intended to safely exfoliate the outer skin layer. Reports show that aside from exfoliation and moisturization, AHA also reverses sun damage and promotes collagen and elastin production for firmer skin. Dr. Leslie Baumann, author of ‘Cosmetic Dermatology’, also cites reports of improved skin texture and less pigmentation. AHA also reduces age lines, roughness and freckles.
AHA is best used at night, after cleansing. If you are using AHA’s, double your skin protection with a high-SPF sunscreen. Also avoid excessive exposure. Like hydroquinine, AHA makes the skin sensitive to the sun.
Retinoids are aa prescribed topical substance (Retin-A), contains a derivative of vitamin A originally used in treating acne. Over the years, patients discovered retinoids dramatically decrease wrinkles and improve skin texture. That’s because Retin-A’s active ingredient, tretinoin, treats collagen loss caused by photo damage (the fancy term for sun damage).
Retinoids should be used with sunscreen every morning, as it makes the skin more sensitive to the sun. However, it shouldn’t be used with AHA (alpha hydroxyl acids). The combination will irritate your skin! That’s because both retinoids and AHA exfoliate, so using them together will traumatize your skin and cause redness and breakouts. A dermatologist may prescribe both but under careful supervision.
Antioxidants prevent skin aging caused by free radicals, pollution, alcohol, smoking, UV radiation, and other harsh environmental elements. Antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E stop the free radical chain reaction, while antioxidants like glutathione slow down the reaction by stabilizing the unstable free radicals. Antioxidants effectively boost the power of sunscreen, so it’s best to use them in the morning before applying your SPF cream.
5. Topical vs. oral vitamins
Skin products may also mention that they have Vitamin E or Vitamin C. What’s the difference between putting these on your face and just taking them through food or a multivitamin?
Topical vitamins are readily absorbed by the skin, so the effects are more visible. On the other hand, vitamins in pill form are for ‘systemic reaction’. They supply the needed body nutrients for better body function. For best anti-aging results, it is advised to simultaneously use topical vitamins and beauty supplements (and of course, observe proper lifestyle — such as these 10 tips for healthier skin).