By Kathy Kantorski
Aging sucks – we all know it. An entire industry has been built to resist it and try to reverse its effects on the body. Skin care is likely the largest niche of the anti-aging industry, yet surprisingly, it is mostly unregulated. "Most people assume that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates skin care and cosmetic products like it does for food, but the truth is that there are very few regulations imposed on personal-care manufacturers," says Sally Larsen, founder, owner and formulator of Sally B's Skin Yummies. "It is a self-regulated industry."
To note, the FDA does govern pharmaceutical-grade skin care products to ensure the quality of their active ingredients, according to Dr. Erica D. Anderson, a plastic surgeon with the Emory Aesthetic Center. "These ingredients have been rigorously tested to ensure their claims are substantiated by research," she explains. Still, the products many of us purchase to care for our skin are called "anti-aging," but if no one's regulating their effectiveness, how can we know what those products are really doing? The answer: we have to educate ourselves.
Lessons on Aging Skin
To begin, Dr. Leslie Gray, dermatologist and founder of the Dermatology Center of Atlanta and the Advanced SkinCare Center, explains, "There are two types of aging: intrinsic aging, which is how you are genetically preprogrammed to age, and extrinsic aging, which includes external factors that affect the skin, such as sun exposure, stress, illness and smoking. We can only really affect the extrinsic factors, but some products are great at helping to improve the appearance of aging skin."
Further breaking down intrinsic and extrinsic aging, Sara Lamond, founder of Fig & Flower Natural Beauty, points to four factors: moisture, collagen/elastin, inflammation and free radicals. The first two – moisture and collagen/elastin – are affected by intrinsic aging. As we grow older, our bodies produce fewer natural oils, and the collagen and elastin in our skin begins to break down. The second two – inflammation and free radicals – are related to extrinsic aging. High stress, a poor diet, exposure to pollutants and more can cause us to develop chronic, low levels of inflammation. Chronic inflammation displays externally as redness, rosacea, dermatitis and breakouts. Internally, this inflammation leads to the release of cortisol, which, when consistent, slows wound healing and breaks down collagen.
And finally, what is likely the worst enemy of our skin: free radicals, which are technically atoms with unpaired electrons (hence the term "free"), making them highly reactive and unstable. "These little jerks attack vital nutrients for our skin, essentially leading to the loss of moisture, breakdown of collagen and elastin, and inflammation," Lamond says. "Factors that contribute to the creation of free radicals include UV rays, pollution, smoke, a poor diet and stress."
Men's Skin Care
According to Linda Silber, co-owner of Woo Skincare and Cosmetics, "Men's skin care is one of the fastest-growing segments in health and beauty." That said, a
man's skin is different than a woman's. "It is thicker, retains more moisture and loses collagen at a much slower rate," Larsen explains. "But while a man's skin appears to be hydrated and does not age as quickly, skin care is still vital for its health. Dirt, bacteria and other environmental influences affect a man's skin as it does a woman's, so while he might not need collagen-producing ingredients, he should use products with antioxidants. This will keep free radicals at bay, which can lead to the signs of aging or, in a worst case scenario, cancers."
Don't be jealous, ladies. Men don't have it all – their skin's pores are larger than women's. This means men should avoid heavier creams, which can clog their pores. But for anyone interested in anti-aging, some of the same ingredients are best across the board.
The Best in the Bottle
To address the issues related to aging skin, a myriad of products are available – almost too many to navigate effectively. Don't fret – we've polled local experts for their recommendations.
For those of us interested in natural, organic products, HollyBeth Anderson, founder of HollyBeth Organics, says, "Keeping your skin ageless requires ingredients that deliver a balance of nutrients that heal, protect and nourish the cells. These nutrients can be found naturally in organic oils such as camellia, pomegranate and carrot seed, which work to soften the skin while protecting from free radical damage." She adds, "I'm a big fan of camellia seed oil. It has UV protection properties and the ability to soften and diminish wrinkles with the help of polyphenols, antioxidants and vitamins." A tip: Antioxidants work to neutralize free radicals, so ensure your skin products are rich in these.
Dr. Alan Gardner from Gardner Dermatology & Med Spa also encourages keeping an eye out for antioxidants, adding that a few other key anti-aging ingredients are tretinoin, retinols and sunscreen.
But even if you check out the ingredient label, how can you be sure a product is organic if there are no regulations on cosmetics? Larsen advises, "Look for safety indicators, like the Certified Organic seal or Leaping Bunny certification (no animal testing or cruelty in the formulation process). You can also reference the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database, which provides third-party testing and safety information on products." Anderson also points to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) list as a great resource for researching unknown ingredients.
Silber says a favorite of hers is hyaluronic acid. "It's an oil-free humectant that is like a drink of water for the skin," she says. "It will not only hydrate the skin, but also plump it up to reduce the appearance of wrinkles." She goes on to tout a new ingredient emerging in the market: resveratrol. "When it's formulated properly, it has shown to drastically increase collagen levels in the skin."
The beneficial ingredients don't stop there, though. Julian Reynolds, owner of Julian's Cosmetics and Skincare, recommends hexamidine, explaining that it restores the top layer of skin, thus retaining the skin's moisture. "It's now being used in serums, creams and lotions," he adds. Anita Vadria from Fountain of Youth MD points to the benefits of peptides. "Peptides are proteins that help stimulate cell turnover and production," she explains.
And of course, vitamin C is a time-tested standby. Just keep in mind when purchasing products with high concentrations of vitamin C, these products must be stored in a way that protects them from air and sunlight. Lisa Washington from B'Tyli Natural Skin Therapies says if the product is stored on a shelf in a clear glass or plastic bottle, take caution of its effectiveness. She recommends buying vitamin C products in dark bottles that are not stored under fluorescent lights.
Ingredients to Avoid
In the "buyer beware" category, Larsen says mineral oil tops the list. A common ingredient in skin products, "Mineral oil is a known carcinogen and petroleum byproduct that Johns Hopkins University touts as the number two cause of aging," she says. "It creates a barrier on your skin, which can give the illusion that it is moisturizing (it will block in moisture underneath it); however, it dehydrates the skin and slows the rate of cell reproduction, which ultimately damages collagen, elastin and connective tissues. The barrier it creates can also block pores and the skin's natural respiration, while at the same time trapping dirt and bacteria."
Other common ingredients to avoid include parabens (the word "paraben" appears within a chemical compound) and benzophenone and its derivatives BHA and BHT. Also, avoid products that include retinol mixed with other anti-aging ingredients. "A retinol will 'eat' other active ingredients in the same bottle," Silber says, adding that you're better off purchasing retinol as a separate product and layering the retinol below another anti-aging product.
An Investment for Today
To find a product with all the right elements and none of the wrong ones, you may have to spend a little more. If you can afford it, Silber recommends opting for a higher-end product. "You get what you pay for," she says, noting that there are expensive brands that don't work, but then pointing to the brand SkinCeuticals, which has very stringent testing methods, including testing through ultrasounds and biopsies for significant objective improvement in the skin. "You're not going to get that level of proven efficacy from the products you purchase at discount, grocery and drug stores," she says.
And it's never too early to start making that investment. "Think about anti-aging before you have wrinkles," Larsen says. "You can delay the process by maintaining proper skin health from an early age." The "early and often" recommendation is shared by every skin care expert, yet consumers – specifically women – tend to get impatient. "Too many women give up too quickly on a good skin care program because they don't feel like they are seeing changes fast enough," notes Dr. Gray. "A good anti-aging program doesn't need to be expensive or complicated. It just needs to be done consistently, over time, and it will pay off greatly in the long run."
Dr. Erica D. Anderson, Emory Aesthetic Center www.emoryhealthcare.org/cosmetic-aesthetic
HollyBeth Anderson, HollyBeth Organics www.hollybethorganics.com
Dr. Alan Gardner, Gardner Dermatology & Med Spa www.gardnerdermatology.com
Dr. Leslie Gray, Dermatology Center of Atlanta and the Advanced SkinCare Center www.dermatology-atlanta.com
Dr. Alex Gross, Georgia Dermatology Center www.gadermctr.com
Sara Lamond, Fig & Flower Natural Beauty www.shopfigandflower.com
Sally Larsen, Sally B's Skin Yummies www.sallybskinyummies.com
Julian Reynolds, Julian's Cosmetics + Skincare www.julianscosmetics.com
Linda Silber, Woo Skincare and Cosmetics www.wooskincareandcosmetics.com
Anita Vadria, Fountain of Youth MD www.fountainmd.com
Lisa Washington, B'Tyli Natural Skin Therapies www.btyliskintherapies.com