Anti-irritants make up another vital aspect of any skin-care formulation. Regardless of the source, irritation is a problem for all skin types, yet it is almost impossible to avoid. Whether it is from the sun, oxidative damage from pollution, the environment, or from the skin-care products a person uses, irritation can be a constant assault on the skin. Ironically, even such necessary ingredients as sunscreen agents, preservatives, exfoliants, and cleansing agents can cause irritation. Other ingredients, like fragrance, menthol, and sensitizing plant extracts, are primary irritants and are almost always void of genuine benefits for skin, so using them is a negative, at least if you’re serious about creating and maintaining healthy skin.
Anti-irritants are incredibly helpful because they allow skin healing time. They can also reduce the problems caused by oxidative and other sources of external damage. Anti-irritants include substances such as allantoin, aloe, bisabolol, burdock root, chamomile extract, glycyrrhetinic acid, grape extract, green tea, licorice root, vitamin C, white willow, willow bark, willowherb, and many, many more. Their benefit to skin should be strongly considered, because this is that rare case where too much of a good thing is better!
Skin is permeable
Can skin-care ingredients be absorbed into skin? There is no question that they can. Of course it’s a bit of a paradox that while the skin is designed to keep substances out of the body it can also let other substances in. State-of-the-art skin-care formulations are designed to both stay on the surface and be absorbed beyond the surface to exert beneficial influences on the support systems underneath.
What all skin types need is a combination of ingredients that stay on the surface (technically in the layer called the stratum corneum), as well as penetrate to protect and supplement the lower layers of skin. The right combination includes emollients and antioxidants that stay on the surface, antioxidants and skin-identical ingredients that can penetrate a bit further into the epidermis, and antioxidants and cell-communicating ingredients that can move deeper yet and influence the development of cells in the healthiest manner possible. When you deliver an abundance of these multifaceted substances to skin it is getting the best the cosmetics industry has to offer.
Which substances can penetrate the skin? That is determined by the molecular weight of the substance. Skin’s barrier (the stratum corneum or corneal layer) is able to defend against the diffusion of many molecules, but not the ones that are small enough to pass through its otherwise impenetrable layers. This is referred to as the Dalton Rule, which set a standard molecular/atomic weight for any given substance. Larger molecules measuring over 500 Dalton cannot pass the stratum corneum, but if they’re under 500 Dalton they sail through.
An example of a substance that can sail through the skin is nicotine, as in nicotine patches. In contrast, insulin’s Dalton weight is so high that cannot be absorbed into skin at all, thus diabetics must obtain insulin via shots rather than just sticking a patch on skin. (Sources: Journal of Biomechanics, April 2008, pages 788–796; Journal of Cosmetic Der-matology, June 2007, pages 75–82; and Skin Pharmacology and Skin Physiology, February 2006, pages 106–121.)
There is no single Miracle ingredient
All of the factors above, antioxidants, skin-identical ingredients, and cell-communicating ingredients, are leading elements that contribute to making a state-of-the-art moisturizer. And there are many brilliant formulations in stable packaging that include these substances. It is now far easier than before for a consumer to purchase a truly exceptional product for their skin type, regardless of the name on the label.
Contrary to what the cosmetics industry at large would like you to believe, a state-of-the-art moisturizer does not rely on a single star ingredient to enhance skin’s appearance or function, or to improve the appearance of wrinkles. Month after month, consumers are faced with new ingredients, each claiming superiority over any number of predecessors.
Everything from vitamin C and collagen to some exotic plant from a distant forest or exotic location, or perhaps a newly derived molecule, is advertised as being the answer for your skin. Yet the majority of these have no substantiated, non-company-funded research to prove these assertions. And even when there is research showing the ingredient can be effective for skin, that doesn’t make it better or more essential than other ingredients. This constant yet ever-changing list of “best” ingredients may keep things interesting for cosmetics marketing departments and the media, but it rarely helps the consumer determine what is needed to maintain healthy, radiant skin.
Think about it like your diet. While broccoli or grapes may be incredibly healthy to eat, if you only ate grapes you would soon become malnourished and your body would suffer. Skin lives in the same way. Skin is a complex structural organ requiring many substances to function in a younger and healthier manner. And by that I mean in the way it did before it became damaged by the sun—remember the backside test of aging.
What are Serums, Treatments, Anti-Wrinkle products, etcetera for?
These are strictly marketing terms, nothing more. They do not tell you anything about what the product can do for your skin. Serums are not specially enhanced in any way, anti-wrinkle products do not get rid of wrinkles or offer any additional benefit for skin, anti-gravity products don’t lift skin, and on and on. They are all moisturizers with deceptive, meaningless names. As long as a product is well formulated with a variety of great ingredients you will achieve the best results. Everything else is seductive marketing mumbo jumbo, and the reason thousands of “anti-wrinkle” products line the shelves is that they tell us what we want to hear, even when none of them can perform to the extent their label promises.
Taking care of dry skin
Those with truly dry skin (not caused by irritating or drying skin-care products) know that, over and above antioxidants, skin-identical ingredients, and cell-communicating ingredients, which can conquer most moisturizing needs, additional help is required to help skin feel normal or younger. Emollients are necessary to provide dry skin with the one thing it’s missing, the ability to keep moisture in skin. Emollients are ingredients like plant oils, mineral oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, petrolatum, and fatty acids (animal oils, including emu, mink, and lanolin, the latter probably the one ingredient that is most like our own skin’s oil). More technical-sounding emollient ingredients like triglycerides, benzoates, myristates, palmitates, and stearates are generally waxy in texture and appearance but provide most moisturizers with their elegant texture and feel. All of these are exceptionally beneficial for dry to very dry skin and easily recognizable on an ingredient list.
Overall, emollients create the fundamental base and texture of a moisturizer and impart a creamy, smooth feel on the skin. Silicones (appearing on the label in terms ending in “siloxane”) are another interesting group of lubricants for skin. They have the most exquisite, silky texture and an incredible ability to prevent dehydration without suffocating the skin.
All of these ingredients spread over the skin to create a thin, imperceptible layer, recreating the benefits of our own oil production, preventing evaporation, and giving dry skin the lubrication it is missing.
For those with normal to oily skin or minimal dryness
You may be wondering what to use if you don’t have dry skin but still want to give your normal or oily skin such all-important ingredients as antioxidants, skin-identical ingredients, and cell-communicating ingredients. Products (moisturizers) in cream, balm, thick lotion, or ointment form are bound to be problematic if you have any degree of oiliness.
Even many lighter-weight lotions can be too emollient for someone with oily skin. What works instead is to look for water-based or very light fluid or serum-type products that are loaded with antioxidants, skin identical ingredients, and cell communicating ingredients.
These include well-formulated toners—which are all I use because of my oily skin. Using products with a light, fluid texture will give your skin what it needs without layering on emollients, thickeners, or other heavier ingredients that are fundamental for dealing with dry skin but often spell trouble for combination or oily skin.
If you have combination skin but suffer from very dry areas, you will want to be sure the cleanser and toner you are using are not the cause of your dry skin, owing to the irritation and dehydration many formulations can cause. If the dryness is not from the products you are using, you may have no choice but to address the dryness with a more emollient moisturizer. The key is to only apply it to the dry areas and make sure it doesn’t migrate to oily zones.
What about sunscreen? Great question, because this is a daily essential for every skin type! Because most sunscreen formulations apply and perform best when formulated in lotion- or cream-based emulsions, this can be a tricky area to navigate for someone with oily skin or oily areas. The good news is that silicone technology has made it possible to create ultralight sunscreens that allow the active ingredients to remain suspended and spread easily (and uniformly) over skin. They aren’t as prevalent as standard sunscreen creams and lotions, but such products are available from most of the major skin-care companies. You can also opt to use a well-formulated toner and then wear a foundation with sunscreen. That way you get the benefit of the antioxidants, skin-identical ingredients, and cell-communicating ingredients as well as sunscreen without layering products that feel heavy or too emollient on your skin.
(Sources: Current Molecular Medicine, March 2005, pages 171–177; Dermatology, February 2005, pages 128–134; Skin Research and Technology, November 2003, pages 306–311; Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, March 2003, pages 352–358; Applied Spectroscopy, July 1998, pages 1001–1007; and Skin Pharmacology and Applied Skin Physiology, November–December 1999, pages 344–351.)
Dry underneath and oily on top
Several things can cause the combination of a layer of dry, flaky skin combined with oily skin. More often than not this is caused by using the wrong combination of skin-care products. An emollient, wipe-off cleanser, followed by a toner that is too emollient for your skin type, and then an unnecessarily emollient moisturizer can prevent the lower layer of skin from exfoliating, creating a thick, dry, flaky lower layer and a greasy layer on top. Conversely, if you have oily skin, using a drying cleanser followed by a toner with irritating or drying ingredients, and then applying an emollient moisturizer can create the same condition. The drying toner and cleanser can cause the skin to be dry and flaky, while the emollient moisturizer adds to your own excess oil production, aggravating it and making the skin look both oily and dehydrated.
The condition of dry skin underneath and oily skin on top rarely requires additional skin-care products. Instead, taking a completely different approach and eliminating overly drying or overly emollient products can help a great deal.
It is also possible that the dry layer covered by an oily layer could be a result of psoriasis, rosacea, seborrhea, or eczema.
Dry patches of Skin
Skin can develop dry patches for many reasons. Makeup left on overnight can cause irritant or allergic reactions; but there are also drying skin-care products, dermatitis, eczema, and heavy moisturizers that can cause a buildup of dead skin cells. Any and all of these can contribute to dry patches of skin. The best advice is to avoid drying skin-care products and to use only the lightest-weight moisturizer for dry skin areas.
If the dry patches are chronic or itchy, they can be a form of topical dermatitis or eczema and may require treatment by a dermatologist. If you’ve done your best to eliminate the cause of the problem and the problem persists, one of the best ways to calm down the appearance of dry patches is with an over-the-counter cortisone cream. Lanacort and Cortaid are 1% hydrocortisone creams meant for dry patches of skin, for short-term use only. It is amazing how effective they can be. If the problem lingers, consult a dermatologist for topical prescription options, but for many people over-the-counter hydrocortisone is all it takes.
What about eye Creams?
Most women believe that eye creams are specially formulated for the skin around the eye area. Although the eye area does tend to be more prone to allergic or sensitizing reactions and often shows wrinkles before other areas of the face, it turns out the product formulations for eye creams don’t differ from those for face products. There is no evidence, research, or documentation validating the claim that eye creams have special formulations that set them apart from other facial moisturizers. There is also no research indicating what ingredients should be used around the eye but not on the face or vice versa.
Aside from the actual lack of research, I have also never interviewed a dermatologist, cosmetic chemist, cosmetic ingredient manufacturer, or opthalmologist who has ever identified what moisturizer-type ingredients the eye area needs or doesn’t need in comparison to the face. On occasion one of these “experts” might say that they eye is more sensitive and therefore doesn’t need ingredients that cause irritation, which is just utter nonsense—the face doesn’t need irritating ingredients either! What is problematic for the eye area is problematic for the face. It only takes a quick look at the ingredient labels of any moisturizer or eye moisturizer to see that they don’t differ except for the higher price and the tiny containers the eye creams come in. Eye creams are a great way to waste money on a skin-care product that is truly unnecessary.
The only time you might want to use a different product around the eyes is if the skin there happens to indeed be different from the skin on the rest of the face. For example, if your face is normal to oily and doesn’t require a moisturizer except occasionally on the cheeks or around the eyes, then an emollient, well-formulated moisturizer of any kind will work beautifully—you do not need to seek out a special eye cream! If you are using a well-formulated face moisturizer (anti-wrinkle cream or whatever the name is on the label), it can and should be used around the eye area.
Ironically, one of the drawbacks of many so-called eye creams is that they rarely contain sunscreen. For daytime, that makes most eye creams a serious problem for the health of skin. You could believe that you were doing something special for your eyes, but you would actually be putting them at risk of sun damage and wrinkling by using an eye cream without sunscreen. This is another example of the way cosmetics marketing and misleading information can waste your money and hurt your skin.
Is there a difference between a daytime versus night time moisturizer?
Putting aside the claims, hype, and misleading information you may have heard, the only real difference between a daytime and nighttime moisturizer is that the daytime version should contain a well-formulated sunscreen. A popular myth told repeatedly by cosmetics salespeople echoes the notion that skin is doing some kind of special repairing at night that it isn’t doing during the day. Even if that were true, and there is no research indicating it is, exactly what those ingredients are supposed to be has never been identified in any medical or scientific journal.
Skin is struggling to heal and repair itself 24 hours a day. It is not doing anything different at night than it is doing the day except taking a rest from the assault of sun exposure. And therein lies the only difference between a daytime and nighttime moisturizer. For daytime wear, unless your foundation contains an effective sunscreen, it is essential that your moisturizer features a well-formulated, broad-spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 15 or higher. Well-formulated means it must contains the UVA-protecting ingredients of titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone (also called butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane), Tinosorb or ecamsule (Mexoryl). As for moisturizing in general, your skin needs all the state-of-the-art ingredients I described in this post—antioxidants, skin-identical ingredients, and cell-communicating ingredients—regardless of the time of day.