By Hardik Soni, M.D.

People are often confused when it comes to choosing the right skin care.  With a myriad of options for cleansers, moisturizers, and anti-aging skin care, the task of choosing the right combination for your delicate epidermis can be daunting.  Skin care involves a lot of experimentation and many women have an arsenal of different products – none of which may be right for their skin. Obviously, it’s imperative to choose safe and effective skin care  – but how?

Know Your Skin Type

Before choosing the appropriate products, it’s necessary to understand your skin type.  A formulation that may be effective for one skin type may prove to be ineffective or irritating to another skin type.  Selection should primarily be based on two factors.  First is the nature of the skin: oily, dry, combo, or normal.  Second is the sensitivity of the skin.  People with tolerant skin can use almost any products without provoking excessive irritation or sensitivity while those with sensitive skin have to be careful of what they put on their face. In general, people with an oily skin type tend to do better with gels and serums while people with a dry skin type fare better with creams. 

Don’t Fall Prey to Fancy Marketing

The cosmeceutical industry is a multi-billion dollar business and creative marketing often leads to products containing ingredients that sound miraculous but offer no significant improvement in skin integrity and function.  The job of most? Expensive moisturizers.  So how do you know which ingredients to look for so that you can be sure you’re using effective products to take care of your skin? The following ingredients have been heavily reviewed in medical literature as being beneficial to the skin.  While newer compounds such as growth factors, peptides, and stem cells are gaining marketing popularity, further research is necessary to prove their effectiveness.

Are Retinoids Right for You?

Retinoids are a class of multi-functional compounds derived from Vitamin A that have a long history of use and proven effectiveness in skin care. They are small enough to work at the cellular level to return the skin to normal function and work by increasing cell turnover, decreasing oil production, and even stimulating collagen formation.  The net effect is healthier skin, fewer blemishes, and even a reduction in fine lines. 

Retinoids come in a variety of preparations, from retinol to retinyl esters to retinoic acid.  An oral form called Accutane has a long history of use in the treatment of acne but, because of its side effects profile, it is often not the first treatment option.  Retinols are the weakest form and often found in many commercially available skin care preparations.  They do have beneficial effects when used in high enough concentrations.  Retinoic acid is the strongest form and often requires a prescription or can only be sold by a physician. 

Here’s Hydroxy!

Hydroxy acids also have a proven track record and are often employed in skin care preparations as well as chemical peels.  The most commonly used hydroxy acids include glycolic acid, salicylic acid, lactic acid, phytic acid, and lactobionic acid.  They function as exfoliating agents disrupting the bonds between the skin cells on the outermost layers and result in skin regeneration and, to a lesser extent, collagen stimulation.  Glycolic acid is the most commonly utilized alpha-hydroxy acid that also functions to moisturize the skin. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that is perfect for people with acne and oily skin as it is fat soluble. It is commonly found in acne preparations. Effectiveness and irritability is determined by concentration. People with oily, resistant skin may need higher concentrations to see the beneficial effects while people with dry, sensitive skin may need a lower concentration to reduce irritation.

Get Your Antioxidants

Antioxidants are also a popular ingredient in the cosmeceutical industry.  Two of the most commonly utilized ones include vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and vitamin E.  While there are many other types of antioxidants such as green tea extract, resveratrol, and idebenone, vitamins C- and E-based preparations have the most evidence for beneficial results.

The function of an antioxidant is to limit and decrease damage to the skin from environmental factors such as sun exposure. In addition, vitamin C functions as a lightening agent and is an alternative to skin-bleaching agents such as hydroquinone. While oral supplements containing vitamins are often necessary to promote good health, the anti-aging and beneficial effects to the skin require a topical application.

Stave Off the Sun

Finally, everyone should utilize sunscreen on a daily basis. Sunscreens can be physical agents, chemical agents, or a combination.  Most people do not require beyond a SPF 35. Physical agents include zinc and titanium and often have a shimmer to them. Chemical agents function by converting UV radiation to heat and may not be ideal for sensitive or rosacea-prone skin.

You can have beautiful and healthy skin by utilizing certain inexpensive ingredients that have a proven track record of efficacy.  Consistent use is just as important as the treatment preparation being used. Results often take months to appear but will be worth it.  Our skin is the largest organ in the body and you need to take care of it.

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