The internet has been a wonderful gift that has given us unprecedented access to all sorts of information. Paradoxically, it is also a repository for misinformation, faux news and rumors that become repeated so often that they are taken as fact. Beauty is a category that seems to be susceptible to the rumor mill, and I receive many emails asking me for advice on assumptions that are based on misconceptions. For your skin’s sake, it’s time to bust these myths once and for all.
Myth: Higher concentrations deliver better results
Truth: I am frequently asked for a recommendation of a vitamin C serum with the highest possible concentration or the most potent dose of peptides. In skin care, more isn’t necessarily better and here’s why.
Let’s take the peptide Matrixyl 3000. This is a proprietary peptide made by Sederma. I have seen serum formulations that claim they have a 20 percent concentration, implying that 20 percent of the product that you are buying is the active ingredient Matrixyl 3000. Firstly, many serums are about 90 percent water and so it could be that what is meant is that there is Matrixyl 3000 at 20 percent of the remaining 10. Keep in mind that Matrixyl 3000 is an expensive ingredient, so if the price looks too good to be true, it probably is. Secondly, Sederma’s own clinical trials tested Matrixyl at a 4 percent concentration and that is what the results claims are based on. I was once told by someone at Sederma that there is a law of diminishing returns: At above 4 percent, you don’t get any better results.
Another example is vitamin C. Now back in the day, vitamin C was a very tricky ingredient due to its instability. Formulators threw in large amounts in the hope that some of it would stick around long enough to produce results. Those products were mostly drying, harsh and not very effective. These days, new inventions have changed all that. There are new types of stable vitamin C that are effective at lower (therefore gentler) doses. Also important are the new delivery systems that can help ingredients penetrate more accurately or over time. Again, this means lower doses can work better. You can read more about this in my article on drone technology.
Myth: Natural ingredients are better for your skin than synthetic ones
Truth: There are merits to all natural products, but they are not always the most effective. Some natural ingredients can cause problems for the skin. At the same time, synthetic doesn’t equal bad.
I’m all for natural ingredients, especially as the growing body of research on plant extracts shows that they can be very effective as part of our skin care arsenal. However, the research often shows that the way in which the plant components are extracted and stored can have a huge impact on efficacy. Only the other day, I was reading up on St John’s Wort, and the research paper pointed out that some versions were significantly powerful antioxidants while others barely worked.
And like I said, not all synthetics are bad. Peptides in skincare are not real proteins that have been extracted from people, they have been synthesized in a laboratory to mimic the behavior of the real thing. This doesn’t make them harmful and many good, “natural” formulas also incorporate these and other (sodium hyaluronate is another good example) synthetic anti-agers.
Finally, some bad things can be made to seem benign by emphasizing that they are natural. Remember, parabens (a highly controversial preservative) are found in blueberries and maple syrup, but that doesn’t make them good.
Myth: You should feel your skin care — tingling, tightening, stinging — for it to be effective
Truth: Skin care should never hurt in my opinion. And if it is known to, it should only be conducted by a professional.
A revelation for me was hearing Dr. Dennis Gross speak about peels and how strongly he felt that chemical peels should be avoided. He is, after all, the father of the in-office and at-home peel. The skin should not be damaged in order to force a recovery. Skin should be changed slowly and from within. With his peels, the skin does not visibly peel, but is gently exfoliated to reveal a healthy glow. This is a far cry from retinols and high doses of AHAs that make the skin inflamed, flaky and sore.
One question I am often asked is for a recommendation to use with microneedling. My answer is always the same and doubtless extremely frustrating: I don’t believe that microneedling at home is a good idea and, therefore, I can’t recommend a serum to go with it. I have had microneedling conducted by a professional esthetician and I did see results, but not enough to merit a painful invasive procedure.
Painful tingling and skin sloughing are the result of shortcuts that are not going to bring lasting results. Patience will be rewarded over time with the cellular rejuvenation that happens without stressing the skin.
Myth: Sensitive skin types shouldn’t use power ingredients like retinol
Truth: This used to be the case, sure, but new techniques have changed the way retinols do their job.
There is an adage amongst skin care professionals that there is no such thing as sensitive skin, people just use the wrong products. There’s a lot of truth to that, but it is also the case that some have tougher hides than others and for them there is no such thing as the wrong products, as they can tolerate pretty much anything. I have always thought of myself as someone with sensitive skin — until recently when I learned more about products and ingredients and found that I can tolerate things I thought I couldn’t, providing they are the right kind of formula.
Someone wrote to me recently to accuse me of being a retinol sell out. Somehow, I am being hypocritical by recommending products with retinol when, in the past, I wouldn’t touch them. What has changed is the products. There are now forms of retinol — the new r-Retinoate from Medik8 being a case in point – that are more effective than traditional retinol, while being very easily tolerated even by those with sensitive skin.
Myth: The older you are, the less you should care about preventative skin care
Truth: We need to focus on repair as we get older (unless you are my wrinkle-free mother-in-law), but not at the expense of preventative treatments.
Repair and prevent work best together. Repairing ingredients make collagen and boost cellular rejuvenation. Preventative ingredients protect from damage either by creating a shield (like sunscreen) or harnessing the body’s natural resources to prevent, say, hyperpigmentation.
Young people without wrinkles need a preventative skin care regimen based on antioxidants that will prevent free radical damage. Us older types with pre-existing damage need a balanced regimen of antioxidants that prevent things getting worse or new damage from forming, plus repairing ingredients like collagen-boosting peptides or stem cells. Even with all the repairing formulas that I use, I am constantly challenging my skin with, well, life. Sun, stress, having an expressive face, the natural depletion of my body’s own resources (such the mitochondria that gives energy to my cells) are all going to continue taking their toll, but with preventative ingredients I can perhaps make life a little easier for my wrinkle warriors.