You’ll find plenty of scientific jabber in your search for good skin care products, but unless you’ve got an advanced degree in bio-chemistry, it can be difficult to know the good ingredients and what they do. The skin care industry is big business, with products that milk the “anti-aging” wave becoming increasingly popular.
Of course, there is more to skin care products than meets the eye. Some products use ingredients in such small concentrations that they simply don’t work. Other ingredients are unstable, or can irritate the skin. And some, like vitamin C, are rendered useless in many of the forms in which they’re used.
Let’s look at some of the common ingredients you’ll find in many skin care products, and what they do.
Alpha-Hydroxy Acid (AHAs) – Over 200 American skin products contain AHAs, which include glycolic, lactic, tartaric and citric acids. Creams and lotions with AHAs may reduce fine lines and improve pigmentation and reduce age spots.
While common, some AHAs can irritate the skin and cause sensitivity to the sun. That doesn’t mean you should avoid products with AHAs (you might have a hard time finding an over-the-counter skin product without them). But start slowly. Use sunscreen with AHA products. Start with products with low concentrations, use them every other day and gradually increase use.
Beta-Hydroxy Acid (Salicylic Acid) – Another ingredient touted for its anti-aging properties, salicylic acid exfoliates the skin, improves skin texture and color and may reduce sun damage. Salicylic acid also penetrates oil-clogged hair follicles and is a common acne treatment.
Studies show that products with salicylic acid produce similar improvements to skin texture and color as AHAs and are generally less irritating, although consult with your doctor before using such products if you’re allergic to salycylates (found in aspirin), as they can trigger an allergic reaction or contact dermatitis.
Retinol – A derivative of vitamin A, retinol is common in many skin products. Retinol has a stronger cousin in tretinoin – an active ingredient in Retin-A and Renova.
Retinol is one of the friendliest ingredients to sensitive skin and can improve pigmentation, reduce fine lines and even skin tone, though with less potency as products with tretinoin.
Retinyl palmitate is another cousin of retinol, albeit weaker, and you’ll therefore need to use more of products with retinyl palmitate to achieve the same effects.
Vitamin C – Collagen is essential for taut, vibrant skin, and vitamin C is the only antioxidant proven to stimulate collagen production. That’s good, because we lose collagen production with age, and products with vitamin C might fight wrinkles and fine lines.
Be picky with vitamin C products, as it’s often used in forms that are rendered useless when exposed to oxygen. Other products use vitamin C in such minute quantities that they don’t penetrate the skin. How will you know a good vitamin C product? Often you won’t – but a dermatologist will. And it appears more effective when used with hyaluronic acid.
Hyaluronic Acid – Another ingredient flaunting the fountain of youth moniker, many skin products use hyaluronic acid with vitamin C to increase the latter’s penetration. Hyaluronic acid occurs naturally (and abundantly) in young skin, tissues and joint fluid. We lose hyaluronic acid with age, hence the fountain of youth references, and diet and smoking can hasten the process.
In addition, you’ll likely encounter hydroquinone, kojic acid, DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol) and copper peptide among the many products that clamour for your purchase.
Skin care products are generally safe, but err on the side of caution if your skin is sensitive. Seek a good dermatologist, watch your skin, and see a doctor if they cause irritations. Skin care products are a journey. So stay the course, be patient, and with trial and error, you’ll find your favorites.