There’s no dream recipe for the skin of our dreams. But there might be some dream ingredients if we can choose and use them wisely - preferably with lots of information and evidence to guide you.
In the beauty world, you have never heard of skincare as much as in the past few months. And in the marketing world, there has never been a better time to launch product after product that promises glowy skin and all of the trendy ingredients. If I get up from the improvised home office where I’ve lived in the past months walk to the shelves where I keep my beauty products - me, a beauty hoarder - I0ill be able to find labels that list at least 5 different acids, niacinamide, retinol, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B3 (which is the same as saying niacinamide but it makes it seem like something new, more interesting, the next big thing), CBD, bakuchiol and one hand full of plant extracts that promise benefits from head to toe. Browsing through shelves, which are now online, gets more complicated and more confusing. Adjusting expectations when brands describe their products with perfecting, brightening, illuminating, nourishing, deep-cleansing, refreshing, and regenerating (and don't get me started anti-aging) is almost impossible. We must do the so-called filtering and if possible, speak to those who understand the topic. Marta Ferreira is a Pharmaceutical, Master in Pharmaceutical Technology, author of the blog A Pele que Habito and the book O Livro da Pele and tells us that labels don’t tell the whole story: “Unless the brand reveals it, it is impossible to guess the concentration of ingredients in its products. And if for actives used in very low concentrations, such as retinoids, this is impossible, when we talk about vitamin C or niacinamide, and if the brand highlights these ingredients on the label, they should be in the first positions of their composition. In any case, it seems important to me to emphasize that concentration is not everything. The effectiveness of the product depends on this aspect, but also on the stability of the active ingredients, in the formulation, packaging, on its ability to reach the 'target' of action, and on potential interactions, positive or negative, with other ingredients.”
If, on one hand, it seems to us consumers, that new ingredients are always popping up and that there are constant news coming from the skincare world, the specialist reveals that, in fact, only a small part of what goes on behind the scenes gets to us and new skincare ingredients are likely to be developed every week. “This happens because, in addition to the segment of the cosmetic industry visible to the consumer, which constitutes the sale of the finished product, there is a very competitive segment of companies producing raw materials that develop new ingredients, whether they are actives, preservatives, emollients or others. However, few ingredients resulting from the creation of new molecules, and even fewer those that succeed among the preferences of brands and consumers. That is why trendy ingredients rarely come to stay. Although the big brands have more resources to participate in scientific research and develop products of superior efficiency, recently the small brands are the ones who set the trends for new ingredients and the big brands the ones who follow them”, he explains. Look at cases like The Ordinary or The Inkey List, who entered the skincare game precisely because they took their raw materials to the consumer and made them famous. In short, if in the past a product had "antioxidants" written on the label, today we want to know what makes it an anti-oxidant? Is it vitamin C? Niacinamide? Ferulic acid?
At the same time, the fact that we are more familiar with the actives in the products and their benefits can trigger a more is more mindset. If I know that glycolic acid has great benefits for my skin when used as a toner twice a week, I’ll get even more benefits if I use it every day and add that ingredient to my cleanser and moisturizer, right? Wrong. Super wrong. And in addition to being wrong, it can do more harm than good. But don't just listen to me. “It is common for this to happen with exfoliating products since they offer an immediate result. In such cases, the skin may begin to show persistent redness throughout the face, especially on the cheeks, flaking, burning, or sensations of discomfort when touching or applying other products. Exfoliating products are for occasional use, 1 to 2 times a week. In addition to respecting the manufacturer's recommendations, it is important not to use more than one exfoliant in the same routine, unless the exfoliating action of both products is very mild. When cleaning brushes are used daily, we can set aside the exfoliants”, explains Marta. Although the matter deserves more attention when we talk about exfoliating acids and avoiding an ‘over-exfoliation that can damage the skin barrier, we don’t have to be concerned with all ingredients. “It always depends on the concentration, the characteristics of each of the products, and even the degree of tolerance of the skin. Over-the-counter cosmetics are safe products due to legal requirements. However, brands can’t predict or even warn the consumer about all the combinations they can make with each product. If we talk about chemical exfoliants, such as glycolic acid, the use of more than one product with high concentrations of this active (more than 10%) may be incompatible for most consumers, with retinoids, or with vitamin C in concentrations above 15%. Even so, if we talk about someone with a very resistant skin using a cleansing product with glycolic acid, which will be rinsed, this might not apply”. But cheer up! Among the many trendy ingredients, not all come with a warning sign. On the contrary, some trends make sense. Mainly because they are not trends: they have been studied to prove their effectiveness. Ingredients like niacinamide (or vitamin B3), for example. “Niacinamide is a cofactor for the cell energy metabolism, which is why it is also called vitamin B3. It is a beneficial ingredient for virtually all skin types, as it can slightly reduce your sebum production while strengthening the skin's barrier function, which is so often damaged in dry skin. It can also help to control hyperpigmentation, and combating skin aging because of its antioxidant action. It is well tolerated by most consumers and is even used in products for intolerant skin. Its effectiveness is demonstrated from 2%, for the reinforcement of the cutaneous barrier, and 4% on acne-prone skin”, explains Marta.
Retinol (vitamin A), on the other hand, is almost the poster child of the ingredient family, as it is the one with most studies to corroborate all the compliments all the love we profess to it, as demonstrated by the expert: “the effectiveness of retinol (vitamin A) has been known for some decades, and unlike other ingredients, well documented in the scientific literature. This active accelerates the renewal of the epidermis of the skin, and at the dermis level, it inhibits degradation while promoting the production of collagen and glycosaminoglycans (such as hyaluronic acid). Clinically, its effects translate into a reduced appearance of wrinkles, and a more uniform complexion. This active is usually found in concentrations between 0.1 to 0.3%, and we can occasionally find products with 0.5 to 1%, which should be used with special caution”. However, more effectiveness and/or a more concentrated active requires some care. “During the first uses, and depending on individual tolerance, retinol can cause a renewal of the epidermis so accelerated that it causes visible flaking and/or redness, which can be accompanied by itching, stinging, burning, or exacerbated sensitivity during use. These signs and symptoms can occur whether the product is used correctly or not, but they should be mild and temporary. If these persist for several weeks or become severe, the use of the product must be discontinued immediately, and it may be necessary to consult a dermatologist ”. And the caution isn’t always about the active percentage or the frequency of use. With vitamin C, for example, the concern is the stability of the ingredient itself: “vitamin C in its pure form, ascorbic acid, is sensitive to oxidation when in contact with water, oxygen from the air, heavy metals or in the presence of heat. Thus, the products that contain it must be stored in packaging capable of protecting them from these threats throughout the product's lifetime. As an anti-aging ingredient, vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid is effective in concentrations from 5%, being well tolerated by most people up to 15%. However, people with sensitive skin or who suffer from rosacea may experience discomfort or irritation when using products containing this ingredient ”. After talking about ingredients with scientific proves of efficiency, we needed to talk about those who are used with low to zero pieces of evidence to support the affirmations and attributes given to them by the brands. “Recently, CBD (cannabidiol) has been identified as a soothing active agent, although its effects on the skin are far from being known. We have also often heard of probiotics in the context of cosmetics that, by analogy to food supplements, would be able to repopulate and modulate our skin flora, when, in fact, those microorganisms are not alive for our safety, and we do not even know what will be its real effectiveness in the skin's microbiota ”. But the future will bring dream-worthing news. Marta concludes with a prediction (skincare lovers, get the notepads): “in terms of promising ingredients, I predict that tranexamic acid, which has a depigmenting action and reinforces the barrier function, will have more prominence in this segment. Bakuchiol, on the other hand, is often referred to as the 'alternative to retinol', although scientific evidence is scarce and does not corroborate this statement, with the importance that this ingredient has gained, we may have further studies regarding it ”
*Originally published in The Creativity Issue of Vogue Portugal, from march 2021.
Full credits on the print version.