Skin is an essential unit of the human body that has been given special care and attention throughout history. Our skin is an aesthetic organ as it is often the first thing we observe about someone upon first impression, so it is no surprise that people put in the effort to make their skin look really good. In today’s era, skin care is a multi-billion dollar industry that does not seem to be slowing down any time soon.
Skincare is thousands of years old- Archaeological records show that cosmetics and skincare were an important part of Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Greek culture which dates back roughly 6000 years ago. In earlier times, skincare was not just about looking beautiful, it was also to protect skin against harsh elements. In ancient times, cosmetics were used in spiritual and religious rituals to honor the gods. The Ancient Greeks were known to mix berries and milk into a paste that could be applied to the face.
Sleep plays an important part- Not getting proper sleep can lead to many issues linked which are related to your skin, leading to overall stress on the body, bags under the eyes, and a diminished skin tone. Lack of sleep can also trigger inflammation which can cause acne breakouts. While the amount of sleep a person wants will be different for each individual, the bottom line is that we need proper sleep to keep our skin looking youthful and vibrant.
Renewal of skin occurs naturally- Many products in the market claim to renew the skin and make it better and stimulate new cell growth. But the reality is that our skin does this process naturally without the help of these products by constantly shedding and regrowing skin cells. It is estimated that we shared around 30000 to 40000 skin cells every minute. For the average adult, the skin renews itself completely in around 28 to 42 days. As our age increases, skin renewal slows down.
Connection of Gut health and skin health- The stomach is a thriving biome which contains an estimated 100 trillion bacteria, both good and bad. This biome is responsible for 70-80% of the body’s overall immunity from diseases, inflammation, and pathogens. Many skin conditions like eczema, acne, and psoriasis are caused by inflammation in the body which may be tied to what we are putting into our bodies. Some healthy foods which are conducive to skin health include omega-3 fatty acids from fish and healthy fat from avocados and walnuts.
Treatment of scars- Silicone is a common skincare ingredient in many soaps, shampoos, and cosmetics in the market today. It is the primary ingredient in topical silicone gel sheeting and ointment for post-operative scar therapy. Surgeons and dermatologists around the world recommend medical-grade silicone gel for keloids and hypertrophic scars as it is clinically proven to work for old and new scars. The silicone products can be purchased through your physician or online.
Below are a few facts about skin
- The average woman uses around 12-15 products per day. A man uses around 6, which means exposure to around 150+ unique and potentially harmful chemicals that all interact with each other in many ways.
- We may absorb up to 60% of what we put on our skin. Children’s bodies absorb 40-50% more than adults. They are at higher risk for diseases later in life when exposed to toxins.
- We are exposed to cosmetic ingredients in many various ways, by inhaling powders and sprays and via ingestion of chemicals on the hands and lips. Many cosmetics also have enhancers that allow ingredients to further penetrate the skin. Bio-monitoring studies have found that cosmetic ingredients like parabens, triclosan, synthetic musks, and sunscreens are commonly found pollutants in the bodies of women, men, and children.
- Allergic reactions and sensitivities are continually increasing due to the number of chemicals found in skin care products and in our environment.
- Using toxic products have an accumulative effect, filling the body with toxins and making it more challenging for your body to heal and repair itself.
- Some chemicals which are found in everyday skincare products are also found in brake fluid, engine degreasers, and anti-freeze which are used as industrial chemicals.
- Studies have found that chemicals in skincare products like fragrances and sunscreens have been proven to be endocrine disruptors that can interfere with hormone regulation, increase the risk of feminization of the male reproductive system, affect sperm count and low birth weight in girls as well as learning disabilities. They are also known to be carcinogenic and can lead to skin and eye irritation.
- Just because a product is for sale in a supermarket, pharmacy, or health food store it does not guarantee safety. There is no authority that needs companies to test cosmetics for safety. In Australia, unless they are approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and classified as having therapeutic efforts or claims, most products and ingredients are not reviewed prior to going on the market.
- Selecting certified organic and chemical-free beauty products reduces environmental impact, as the ingredients are biodegradable and do not need the use of chemicals for agricultural cultivation. Organic farming gives healthier soil and sustainability.
- Handcrafted products which are made in small batches have higher concentrations of bioactive ingredients and use few resources. You also need to use less of them.
- Mass-produced products are made in Third World countries and support cheap labor and unethical work practices and conditions.
- Every year hundreds of thousands of animals are killed, poisoned, and blinded to test the safety of cosmetics, skin care products, and household cleaning products. Buying products which are not tested on animals will help put an end to animal cruelty and sends a powerful message to multinationals which still condone these practices.
- Organic products are more expensive to produce due to their economies of scale. Ethical small companies tend to make fresh small batches on demand and spend more money implementing sustainable practices and purchasing fair trade ingredients.
- Greenwashing is alive and well. The words natural and organic can be used on labeling in marketing and even in the company name without censorship and furthermore, contain synthetic chemicals. Products which are labeled as organic can contain as little as 10% organic ingredients by weight or volume. The companies can also create their own logos to make a product appear as if it is organic. You must know all the labels and read the INCI, and the ingredient list, and look for organic certification from COSMOS, ACO. OFC and NASSA in Australia. These standards are the equivalent of USDA and are the most strict in the world in regard to what actually goes into a product. Companies which are certified are independently audited and must comply with the ingredient criteria set by these standards.
- The cosmetic industry polices itself and is only reviewed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel. In its over 30-year history, only 11 ingredients or chemical groups have been deemed to be not safe. Its recommendations on restricting the use of these are not restricted.
- The companies which use marketing claims pertaining a product to being hypoallergic or natural are not regulated and do not need any evidence to back up such claims which can mean anything or nothing at all and actually have little medical meaning. The only value is using these for promotional purposes. To date, there is no official definition for the term natural used in cosmetics and skincare products.
- The companies are allowed to omit chemical ingredients like trade secrets, namo materials, and fragrance components- with high irritancy profiles from their labels. Fragrance may include any number of over 3000 stock chemicals, none of which are needed to be listed. Tests of fragrance ingredients have found an average of 14 hidden compounds per formulation.
Unless you have a background in Latin or a degree in chemistry, a skincare ingredients check can feel like reading a foreign language. But the language has a name- it is the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients and it exists to help in making a standardized language of ingredient names to be used on labels around the world. And it is not consumer friendly. Sometimes the manufacturers will throw everyday shoppers a bone, putting a more common name in parentheses next to the scientific name like tocopherol (Vitamin E). but without that nudge, an ingredients list just looks like a string of long unfamiliar words separated by commas.
Instead of doing detective work, it can be easier to follow popularity and choose skincare products with a cult following, especially in the age of beauty influencers. But that is not always the best route. There is no one size fits all skincare solution. A famous dermatologist, Jennifer David, MD, who specialized in cosmetic dermatology and skin-of-color dermatology says, What works for your best friend may not work for you.
Know your skin type
According to cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, MD, skin type is the most essential factor in determining what skincare products will work best for you. He said, There are no bad products necessarily, but sometimes people with different skin types use the wrong product for their type of skin. People with acne-prone and sensitive skin need to be the most cautious of different ingredients in their skincare products. On the other hand, oily skin people can handle a wider range of ingredients which sometimes trigger breakouts or irritation for other skin types.
Below are the ingredients suggested by Dr. Green for various skin types
- For oily skin- Look for products that contain alpha hydroxyl acids, benzoyl peroxide, and hyaluronic acid. These ingredients are effective at controlling excess sebum production while hyaluronic acid will produce hydration only in areas needed.
- For dry skin- Look for products that contain shea butter and lactic acid. These ingredients provide hydration and mild exfoliation to keep dry skin looking radiant.
- For sensitive skin- Look for products that have aloe vera, oatmeal, and shea butter. They are really good moisturizers and don’t break anyone out.
Don’t go for the hype products
Dr. David says, Packaging and popularity are sometimes easy traps and should not hold too much weight or value in what we select for our skin. If you are going to buy a product based on a friend or influencer’s recommendation, you should not just pay attention to how good their skin looks now, but rather look at what type of skin they were dealing with. That will give you a more reliable indicator of how well the product will work for you. In the last few years, cult favorites like the St. Ives Apricot Scrub and multiple Mario Badescu creams have faced lawsuits from consumers who have experienced some pretty serious adverse reactions. No need to panic if these products are sitting in your cosmetics drawer at home- this does not mean they are bad for everyone. The backlash some popular skincare brands and products face can serve as a reminder that while something gets the popularity vote, it does not mean that it is famous for the right reasons or that it is the right product for you.
Avoid these ingredients
- Fragrance- The added fragrance can lead to skin allergies and irritation, and it is especially important to avoid them if you have sensitive skin.
- Sulfates- Sulfates are cleansing agents often found in body washes and shampoos. They strip the hair and skin of their natural oil and can lead to irritation.
- Parabens- Parabens are placed in products as chemical preservatives to prevent bacterial growth. They are known to be shat Dr. David and other industry experts call estrogen mimickers and they can have a harmful effect over time by throwing off hormonal balance. Dr. David and Dr. Green both caution that this can be problematic for young children and people at risk of breast cancer.