What is Benzoyl Peroxide?

acne_cartoon_faceBenzoyl peroxide is the most common treatment for the most common skin condition: acne. It’s available in prescription strength, which requires a visit to the doctor and over-the-counter (OTC) concentrations, which can be purchased by anyone at their local drugstore.  Benzoyl peroxide comes in all types of forms: cleansers, foams, lotions and gels.

This powerful ingredient fights off acne efficiently and effectively by acting as a peeling agent. It helps to keep pores free and clear of debris. The “peeling” effect increases the normal skin turnover rate, which reveals newer, younger and healthier skin faster. It also does a great job of killing bacteria in pores. In the simplest form, acne is a dramatic reaction to bacteria in the skin. The only way to keep acne at bay is to kill the bacteria that causes it. How benzoyl peroxide fights acne is that it penetrates the pore on the skin and sends oxygen deep into the pore where it then kills the acne-causing bacteria.

Benzoyl peroxide is available without a prescription in concentrations ranging from 2.5 to 10%. More does not necessarily mean better when it comes to this acne fighting ingredient. Dermatologists recommend starting on the lower end of the concentration spectrum when using benzoyl peroxide. This ingredient is so effective in killing bacteria, it can also cause dryness and irritation on the skin. Using a lower dosage enables the skin to be more tolerant of the harsh ingredient, ultimately leading to less skin irritation. It’s typical for the skin to take up to a week before it develops a tolerance to benzoyl peroxide.


What is Hydroquinone?

militiaI learned so much about my own skin when I went to beauty school. One of the main things I learned about my own skin is that I suffer from hyperpigmentation, which is the darkening of skin due to increased melanin. The number one trigger of hyperpigmentation is sun exposure. The Skin Cancer Foundation states that 90% of the visible changes commonly attributed to aging are caused by the sun.

I was one of those kids who grew up in the sun. I spent most of my summer vacations swimming in a pool, lake or at a waterslide park. I always had dark, tanned skin over the summer months. I never wore sunscreen. My love for the sun only increased as I got older. I continued to spend as much time as I could outdoors on a sunny day, preferably swimming, wakeboarding at the lake or even just lounging poolside, soaking up the sun rays.

Around five or six years ago, I started noticing a huge change in the color of the skin on my face. All over my forehead, on the tops of my cheeks, all over my nose and above my lip, I had developed brown, splotchy spots on my normally golden tanned skin. For a few years, I had no idea what it is. I covered it with makeup the best I could and hoped that it would eventually fade away.

They never ended up going away. In fact, they only seemed to get worse. It turns out that my skin was suffering from hyperpigmentation. All of those years of unprotected sun exposure along with taking birth control pills seemed to have sped up the premature aging process on my skin. I’m so incredibly lucky that I’ve only suffered from skin discoloration. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, a person’s risk for melanoma (the most common form of skin cancer) doubles if she/he has had more than five sunburns at any age.

Silly as it sounds, I didn’t learn what hyperpigmentation was or how to effectively treat it until I went to beauty school. In school, I realized how much damage I had caused to my own skin. Over thirty years later, I finally realized that staying out of the sun and wearing sun protection could have prevented me from having the annoying skin discoloration all over my face. I also learned that there was still hope for my skin. Even though I couldn’t turn back the clock, I could effectively reduce the sun damage through the use of skin-lighteners, brightening agents, skin-brightening products and peels.

In her Skin Inc. magazine article, Hydroquinone: Is the Cure Worse Than the Problem?, Diana Howard, PhD discusses how the only FDA-approved melanin-suppressant agent used in the United States to reduce hyperpigmentation is also banned in the European Union and Japan. Hydroquinone is the only ingredient the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers to be a legal “lightening agent.” No other ingredient in the United States can legally be referred to as a skin-lightener or whitener. Hydroquinone is available over-the-counter (OTC) in cosmetic products with a concentration up to 2%. Doctors can prescribe formulations of it up to 3 to 4%.

Howard goes on to point out that even though hydroquinone has been proven to be an effective treatment of sun-induced pigmented skin, it might not be the safest option. Consistent use of hydroquinone may have cancer-causing potential and can even lead to more pigmentation on the skin. “Brighteners” are considered to be safer alternatives that help fight off pigmentation. Key ingredients to look for when searching for nonhydroquinone alternatives are kojic acid, mulberry, licorice root, bearberry and azaleic acid. Also, pigmentation suffers can expect even greater results when they pair together a brightener with a hydroxy acid such as lactic acid, glycolic acid or salicylic acid.

For a more in-depth conversation about what hydroquinone is, how it works, why its effective in fighting off pigmentation, how it could possibly cause more damage than good and detailed information about safe alternatives, check out Hydroquinone: Is the Cure Worse Than the Problem?, written by Diana Howard PhD.


Why Have Gluten-Free Products Become so Popular?

GlutenFreeI have to admit, I used to think that the whole gluten-free craze was some sort of fad diet. Working in a restaurant for many years, I grew accustomed to hearing people order their meals in the funkiest ways. Every few months, there was some sort of new trendy diet that everyone wanted to follow because they read about it online, saw it on Oprah or heard that it was mentioned in a magazine. When I would hear people request gluten-free dishes or ask whether or not a dish had gluten in it, I immediately chalked it up to another Atkins-type of diet or just assumed that the person was being high maintenance.

It wasn’t until I started working in the beauty industry that I realized why gluten-free beauty products were so popular among certain clients. The more requests I got from clients, the more I started to wonder why a client would care whether or not a product they used on their skin would contain gluten. It was through my own research and talking with clients on a daily basis that I eventually learned about Celiac Disease.

Celiac, pronounced “See-Lee-Ack” Disease is a condition caused by ingesting gluten (wheat, barley, rye, oats or any of their derivatives) which damages the lining of the small intestine and affects its ability to absorb nutrients from the food properly into the body. This disease causes a person to be malnourished, no matter how much they eat. The exact cause of the disease is unknown. Only one percent of the world’s population suffers from Celiac Disease. This autoimmune disorder can develop at any point in life, from infancy to late adulthood. Symptoms can include chronic diarrhea, fatigue, depression, constipation, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, bruising, hair loss or itchy skin, aka dermatitis herpeitformis. Not exactly fun stuff.

Clients suffering from Celiac Disease should be extremely cautious of the products they use on their mouth, lips or inside of the mouth. These products may include lip conditioner, lip gloss, lipstick, toothpaste and mouthwash. According to the Celiac Society, it’s purely myth that any skin care product containing gluten will penetrate through the skin barrier and trigger symptoms of Celiac Disease. “Gluten molecules are too large to be absorbed through the skin. If you’re having a reaction to a personal care product (such as a moisturizer or sunscreen) that contains gluten, you may be allergic to one or more of the other ingredients.”

Those who have Celiac Disease should steer clear of any products used in and around the mouth area that contain any one of the following ingredients:

avena sativa (oat) kernel flour, cyclodextrin, dextrin, dextrin palmitate, hydrolyzed malt extract, hydrolyzed oat flour, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed wheat flour, hydrolyzed wheat gluten, hydrolyzed wheat protein, hydrolyzed wheat protein/PVP Crosspolymer, hydrolyzed wheat starch, maltodextrin, secale cereale (rye) seed flour, triticum vulgare (wheat) germ extract, triticum vulgare germ oil, triticum vulgare gluten, triticum vulgare starch, wheat amino acids, wheat germ glycerides, wheat germamidopropalkonium chloride, wheat protein, wheatgermamidopropyl ethyldimonium ethosulfate, and yeast extract.

Clients who suffer or think they may be suffering from Celiac Disease should always consult with their physician first before using any product. Clients with gluten sensitivities should always consult with their physician first when trying to determine which ingredients and/or products are safe for them to use.

During my gluten-free products research, I stumbled upon a great blog called Naturally Dah’ling. Kristen was diagnosed as severely gluten intolerant. After many months of researching ingredients, contacting manufacturers, and buying and trying product after product, she developed her own list of favorite–can’t live without–natural and gluten-free products and turned it into a blog. Naturally Dah’ling is an excellent resource for discovering natural and gluten-free cosmetics, skin care, hair care and nail care products.


What is Lactic Acid?

milkMy trusty cosmetics dictionary, A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetics Ingredients by Ruth Winter, M.S. defines lactic acid as being odorless and colorless. It’s usually a syrupy product normally found in blood and muscle tissue that is a product of the metabolism of glucose and glycogen. In plain English, lactic acid is a member of the Alpha Hydroxy Acid family that comes from sour or fermented milk. Even though lactic acid is known as a chemical exfoliant, its perfectly natural because it’s found in our bodies. Lactic acid is the least irritating AHA of all, but can still cause stinging in the most sensitive skin types such as fair, damaged and allergy-prone skin.

What is lactic acid good for in terms of skin care? Lactic acid can be found in creams, lotions and peels. Lactic acid helps to moisturize the skin, slough off dead skin cells, diminish fine lines and wrinkles, reduce the appearance of sun spots, reduce hyperpigmentation, improve skin texture and even stimulate collagen production.

In over-the-counter (OTC) products containing AHAs such as lactic acid, the concentration is generally around 10% or less. Products administered by licensed estheticians generally contain a 20 to 30% concentration. Doctors can use products that have between a 50 to 70% concentration.

Regardless of the concentration of lactic acid your skin receives in your at-home or in-office treatments, it’s important that whenever you use an active ingredient like lactic acid, be sure to limit the amount of time you spend in the sun and slather yourself with sunscreen. Don’t be shy about reapplying sunscreen throughout the day either. In fact, it’s crucial.


What is Vitamin A?

WrinklesThere’s no getting around it. Our bodies and skin are always aging. Some of us age faster than others depending on the type of environment we live in. Smokers and sun worshipers typically age a whole lot faster than someone who is religious about wearing sunscreen, maintains a healthy diet, exercises regularly, doesn’t smoke and gets at least eight hours of sleep a night.

Putting obvious lifestyle factors aside, nobody really wants to develop those dreaded fine line and wrinkles. Luckily, there are a few key ingredients out there on the market that are effective in helping to keep these pesky aging reminders at bay, even if you haven’t been taking very good care of your skin all of your life.

Vitamin A is an amazing and effective anti-aging ingredient. It’s an antioxidant that is used to neutralize and fight off the damage caused by free radicals. Vitamin A can do a lot of great things for the skin, including:

  • Resurfaces the skin by stimulating cellular turnover
  • Creates softer, smoother, clean and vibrant complexion
  • Aids in the repair of skin cells and encouraging cellular renewal
    smoothing out fine lines and wrinkles
  • Increases elasticity and collagen production
  • Helps to fade discoloration and reduces acne scarring
  • Visibly decreases pore size
  • Treats acne by loosening clogged pores
  • Helps to treat keratosis pilaris

Sound good to be true? Vitamin A can be extremely effective as long as you use the right variation for your skin and use it correctly. With skin care, there are two major types of Vitamin A available on the market: over-the-counter (OTC) and by prescription. Common OTC forms of Vitamin A are retinol, retinyl palmitate and retinoid. Tretinoin, Retin-A, Renova and Acutane are common variations of Vitamin A that are available in a prescription-only form.

The big difference between OTC and prescription-only Vitamin A is the ingredient’s potency. OTC variations generally take about 12 weeks before users will start to see visible results. Prescription-only formulas are typically 10-15 times more potent than their OTC counterparts. Therefore, users can expect to see visible results within four to eight weeks.

Using the right form of Vitamin A for your skin is just as important as using the ingredient correctly. Here are a couple of key factors to keep in mind when using any variation of Vitamin A, either OTC or prescription-only:

  1. Avoid using other products at the same time that might be irritating. This includes exfoliants, scrubs, alcohol-based toners and astringents and medicated cleansers.
  1. If you must wax, wax BEFORE you start using Vitamin A. This ingredient tends to leave the skin dry and sensitized by causing redness or flaking. Waxing while using a form of Vitamin A will only aggravate the skin more.
  1. If you can, try to use Vitamin A during the summer months when there is more humidity in the air. This ingredient can be very drying on the skin. The humidity will help to combat the dryness.
  1. Use at night. Products are more effective at night because they get to sit on top of clean, naked skin. They are also more likely to get absorbed into the epidermis because they don’t have to compete with other skin care and makeup products or the environmental elements.
  1. Only use a pea-size amount and be sure to apply all over the face. Don’t just use as a spot treatment. You’ll have better results with an all-over face application.
  1. Cleanse your skin 20 minutes before you apply the Vitamin A product. Apply Vitamin A to clean, dry skin. Then wait another 20 minutes before applying a moisturizer. If you apply moisturizer too soon, you can lock in the Vitamin A on the skin and exponentially increase it’s intensity.
  1. Slow and easy wins the race, especially if this is your first time using a Vitamin A product on your skin. When first using the product, start off with applying it once every three days for the first two weeks. Then apply every other day for the next two weeks. Once your skin has built up a tolerance to the product, you can start to apply it once a day. If you want to continue to see results, you’ll have to continue to use the product. Results are not permanent for topical applications.
  1. Wear sunscreen. Vitamin A is an aggressive form of exfoliant that removes the top layer of your skin. Protect the new layer of skin from new sun damage and irritation by covering it with sunscreen during the day. Don’t forget to reapply every 1 1/2 to 2 hours. If you want to help reduce inflammation, add a serum with green tea for calming effects.

What is Sodium Laureth Sulfate?

Sodium-Laureth-SulfateAccording to my ultimate product ingredients bible, A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetics Ingredients, Sodium Laureth Sulfate is defined as being sodium salt of sulfated ethoxylated lauryl alcohol. For those of us whom aren’t scientists, Sodium Laureth Sulfate is considered a surfactant, similar to a detergent. It’s the main ingredient responsible for making a product foam. It can be found in products like soaps, shampoos and even toothpaste.

What’s great about Sodium Laureth Sulfate is that it’s a highly effective foaming agent. This is a common ingredient found in drugstore facial cleansers. If you’re an oily or combination skin type, chances are you love using foaming facial cleansers because they help to dissolve the oil on the surface of the skin and leave behind a “squeaky clean” feeling. Sodium Laureth Sulfate gives products like facial cleansers, bubble bath, shower gel and shampoo that rich, foaming lather. It also makes these types of products inexpensive.

What’s not so great about Sodium Laureth Sulfate is that it’s known to cause skin and eye irritation. Even though this ingredient is considered perfectly safe for consumer use by the FDA, it can still be irritating for some. The higher the concentration of Sodium Laureth Sulfate in a product, the higher the irritation factor can be. That same “squeaky clean” feeling users crave can also be the culprit of dry skin due to the ingredient being a little too effective in dissolving the oil on the skin’s surface. It’s natural to have some oil in the skin. If users deny their skin of any oil at all, they risk drying out their skin and possibly create other skin conditions to treat on down the line.

Just because a product contains Sodium Laureth Sulfate doesn’t mean that you have to stop using it. If your favorite foaming facial cleanser contains Sodium Laureth Sulfate and you have yet to experience any sort of irritation or excessively dry skin, then by all means, keep using it. If you are concerned about experiencing negative effects from products that contain this ingredient, try alternating your cleansers. Use your favorite, drugstore foaming foaming cleanser every other day. Then on the other days, alternate the foaming cleanser with a non-foaming version. Your skin will get the best of both worlds-a deep, effective cleanse on one day and a rich, moisturizing cleanse the next.


What is Dimethicone?

DimethiconeHave you ever wondered what in a product makes it glide across the surface of the skin so smoothly?

Many beauty and skin care products like moisturizers, body lotions, body butters, makeup primers and hair care products contain Dimethicone. Dimethicone is an ooey, gooey, thick, clear and odorless substance that causes many products to be easily spreadable on the skin.

This silicon-based material can wear many different hats in the beauty and skin care world. It can act as an inactive base ingredient. It can also act as a protective layer that prevents water loss on the skin by forming a hydrating barrier on the skin’s surface. Dimethicone is most commonly known to serve as a delivery vehicle for products on the skin, making them easy to spread and rub in on the outer layers of the skin.

Even though Dimethicone is considered a chemical, it has very low toxicity.


What is Titanium Dioxide?

happy sunWhen we think of titanium dioxide, we usually think of being out in the sunshine. Have you ever seen a lifeguard sporting an all-white nose? That’s titanium dioxide. According to A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, titanium dioxide is defined as being a covering and tinting powder of any white pigment used in bath powders, nail whites, depilatories, eye liners, white eye shadows, antiperspirants, face powders, protective creams, liquid powders, lipsticks, hand lotions and nail polish.

Technically, titanium dioxide is what gives cosmetics a white color. It’s used in a wide variety of makeup products, daytime moisturizers and sunscreen. Titanium dioxide is the non-chemical ingredient that blocks or deflects UV rays. A lot of people associate titanium dioxide with sunblock because it sits on the skin’s surface and “blocks” out UV rays. Keep in mind that there isn’t a product on the market that can block out 100% of all UVA and UVB rays. In reality, sunblock doesn’t really exist. The closest thing to a sunblock would be a physical sunscreen that has titanium dioxide in it.

Physical sunscreens that contain titanium dioxide are great for sensitive skin types. These types of products aren’t absorbed into the skin like chemical sunscreens are. This is why physical sunscreens aren’t as irritating as chemical sunscreens can be.

The drawbacks to physical sunscreen with titanium dioxide is that they are harder to blend onto the surface of the skin, often leaving a white hue on the surface of the skin. They can also be responsible for mild breakouts. If you are prone to breaking out using mineral makeup, physical sunscreen with titanium dioxide may break out your skin.


What Does Organic Mean?

USDA-OrganicTerms like organic and natural are popular buzzwords in the skin care industry. Everywhere you look these days, skin care companies are developing natural lines or claiming that they use organic ingredients. Now more than ever, consumers are searching for products that contain less chemicals and have more natural or organic ingredients. But just what does it mean when something is considered natural or organic? The biggest difference between natural and organic is government regulation. Natural product are not regulated in any sort of way. If a product is labeled organic, there are specific government regulations on how the ingredients are grown and processed, where the term organic can be placed on the label and how it’s presented on the product.

Organic refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. Organic ingredients are grown and processed according to strict standards governed by a third-party certifier who annually inspects the farms and facilities in which the ingredients are grown and processed. In order for an ingredient to be considered organic, the farm growing the ingredients must maintain a system of farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility without the use of toxic materials, pesticides or fertilizers.

The National Organic Program regulates organic ingredients used for personal care products. According to the NOP, products containing the USDA organic seal must be in compliance with US organic law. This means that you can see USDA organic certified products labeled in four different levels of USDA Organic certification:

100% Organic– This is the real deal. This means that 100% of the product is considered and labeled organic by the USDA. The use of the USDA Organic label is optional, but it’s more than likely proudly displayed on the front of the product’s label.

Organic-This means that 95% of the ingredients in the product are considered and labeled organic by the USDA. Just like with 100% Organic products, the use of the USDA Organic label is optional, but it’s more than likely proudly displayed on the front of the product’s label.

Made With Organic Ingredients-This means that at least 70% of the ingredients in the product are considered and labeled organic. These products cannot bear the USDA Organic label, but they can proudly state on the front of the label that the product is made with organic ingredients.

Less Than 70% Organic Ingredients-The only place on the label that can state that ingredients are organic are on the back of the label in the product’s ingredients listing. These products cannot bear the USDA Organic label

If you don’t see any of the four different levels of USDA Organic certification as listed above on a product label, then you can safely assume that the product in question is not recognized by the United States government as a certified organic product.

Even though the NOP can legally impose fines on products that are dishonestly labeled organic up to $11,000 per violation, there are still plenty of companies out there who incorrectly label their products organic. It’s a Buyer Beware market. Don’t assume that just because a product is labeled organic or the name of the product contains the word “organic” that the product is going to be a certified organic product using certified organic ingredients. Do your homework and research before purchasing organic products. Read product labels. Read ingredients listings. Check with groups such as the Organic Trade Association for a list of certified organic brands and companies.


What is Talc?

TalcA Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients defines talc, in its purest form, as being Magnesium Silicate Hydroxide, otherwise known as French Chalk. Cosmetic-grade talc is finely powdered Magnesium Silicate Hydroxide. There are sometimes small traces of other powders like boric acid or zinc oxide added with talc when its used as a coloring ingredient.

Talc can be found in many different types of cosmetics and beauty products. It can be used as an absorbant, an anti-caking agent, to improve the feel of a product, a color additive or as an inactive, filler ingredient in a product. Talc can also be found in baby and bath powders, face powders, eye shadows, liquid powders, protective creams, face masks, foundation cake makeup, skin freshners, foot powders and face creams. The most common use for Talc in cosmetic products such as powders and creams is to give the product a slippery sensation.

What’s the deal with talc? If it’s so common in may of the cosmetic and beauty products on the market, why are some consumers concerned when they see talc in the product’s ingredients listing? Some consumers believe that talc contains asbestos, which is a known carcinogenic that causes cancer. Some also believe that talc has negative effects on the respiratory system when its inhaled.

Does talc contain asbestos fibers?
Cosmeticsinfo.org is the trade association founded in 1894 that represents over 600 cosmetic, toiletry and fragrance manufacturers, distributors and suppliers in the United States and globally. This council works with the FDA to help standardize ingredient labeling on products. They share their main goal with the FDA, consumer safety. According to cosmeticsinfo.org, cosmetic-grade talc does not contain asbestos of any sort. The proof? Producers of cosmetic-grade talc have established purity specifications using x-ray diffraction and optical and electron microscopy to test their results. This specialized testing system helps to ensure that their product, no matter how small of an amount, does not contain any sort of abestos.

Does talc have a negative effect on the respiratory system when inhaled?
Not with cosmetic-grade talc it doesn’t. Why? Cosmetic-grade talc that is found in loose powder products within the United States is milled to a relatively large, non-respirable particle size. According to cosmeticsinfo.org, studies have shown that the lungs suffer more of a particle overload from other factors in the environment than they do from inhaling talc directly.

Even though studies and tests show that cosmetic-grade talc has not been proven to contain asbestos and perfectly is safe to use in cosmetic and beauty products, some consumers are still concerned or have even expressed a sensitivity to the ingredient. Many cosmetic and beauty companies have recognized the consumers concern for having talc in their products and have responded to that concern by offering a number of different products on the market that are free of talc.