A dermatologist explains what not to do when it comes to skincare
Skincare…it is one of those industries that is rife with bogus products selling bogus claims backed by bogus ingredients. To successfully navigate it you must have your BS detector switched on at all times. So it only makes sense that as a practicing dermatologist and skincare formulator, a huge part of my job, is busting myths when it comes to skincare. This means a tonne of research around formulating products with proven ingredients that deliver real results (learn more about my approach here).
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Tried and tested versus latest and greatest.
So right now I’m going to go on the record regarding some off the biggest skincare fads at the moment; what my take is on them, and if there is an alternative - covering snail mucus, growth factors and algae extracts.
1. Snail Secretion Filtrate (snail slime)
Ok, so if you are serious about skincare, you would have noticed the trend in recent years of snail secretion filtrate appearing in blogs and products (especially when it comes to the Korean market). But what is it meant to do, and does it work?
The mucus that a snail secretes is packed full of nutrients designed to speed up the healing process of its skin as it slips and slides across rough terrain - it contains things such as proteins, antioxidants and HA. Although this is very effective for the snail, simply applying to our skin and hoping for the same results is ridiculous.
The claim is that the thick gooey substance is fantastic for ageing, wrinkles, hydration and acne HOWEVER let me stress that these are not based on clinical studies, but rather anecdotal evidence. Now, anecdotal evidence should never be completely disregarded however it alone does not sensational skin make.
Not only that, but the snails cannot produce enough mucus on their own for manufacturing purposes, so labs have to artificially stimulate stressful situations to get the right amount (we won’t go into detail - you get the point). In our books this is NOT ok - skincare can and should be cruelty free, especially when we have so many tried and tested ingredients that deliver on these concerns.
Its primary benefit is the hyaluronic acid that you can get from a plethora of other sources. So whats the point of stressing out the poor snail?
My advice - For hydration look to humectants like shea butter, glycerin, medical grade lanolin and other sources of hyaluronic acid. When it comes to ageing, vitamin B3 and C are fantastic antioxidants that have a wealth of evidence to boot. Learn more about B3 and its multiple benefits here.
2. Growth Factors:
Said to have benefits for promoting collagen and elastin growth at a cellular level and repairing DNA - growth factors became a buzz ingredient in the skincare industry and popped up everywhere - however what actually are these so called multi-tasking ingredients and how do they work?
The naturally occurring growth factors in our skin act as signalling molecules between our cells and promote healing, growth and cellular survival. GFs themselves are either bioengineered and taken from plants or are taken from fetal skin biopsies that have then been replicated in a lab.
Furthermore, there are more and more plant based stem cells popping up in botanical brands. These growth factors may have antioxidant benefits however cannot deliver the same claimed benefits of human growth factors as they cannot bind with the signal of human cells.
The debate about their efficacy comes down to whether growth factors can penetrate the skin deep enough to deliver the desired effects. Although benefits have been reported, there are only a handful of studies to support them with very small patient groups.
My advice: Navigating growth factors can be confusing and expensive. Again if you are looking for ingredients that thicken the skin and stimulate cell renewal and turnover, alpha and beta hydroxy acids are fantastic. Looking for vitamins such as B3 which also feeds your DNA, combatting pigmentation, rosacea, acne and ageing. Don’t forget the tried and tested vitamin A, especially in the prescriptive form of retinoid acid.
Learn more about alpha and beta hydroxy acids here.
3. Algae extracts:
There is no doubt that algae is a nutrient rich substance on its own, but how and what does it do for our skin? Algae is claimed to have hydration, softening, anti-ageing and detoxifying benefits for your skin, as well as replenishing essential vitamins and minerals.
This product has a wealth of anecdotal feedback talking about it’s benefits and some entire skincare brands base their philosophy on using algae and other marine extracts as their active ingredient. However when you break it down to whether it is backed by science, the same question that we had in relation to snail mucus arises.
Now we are a big believer in topical nutrient rich formulas, however the key to getting the benefits is if the ingredient can penetrate your skin properly. This is where we would question exactly how effective this product is.
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My advice: We aren’t against algae extracts, they don’t do any harm and are animal cruelty free which is fantastic. However again, if you are looking for hydration benefits we would stick to a humectant ingredients with more concrete credentials like hyaluronic acid, ceremides, shea butter, medical grade lanolin or glycerin. For ageing and sensitivity issues vitamin B3 goes a long way and vitamin C assists with pigmentation. Learn more about our serums here.
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Whether they work or not, trying new things in skincare is always a fun experience. Skincare is also an interesting category as not every experience needs to be backed by a range of scientific studies, sometimes all we are looking for is a beautiful smell, or texture or feeling (think clay masks or botanical products).
However if you are looking for results, and have been dealing with one or many of the 6 key skin concerns, look for ingredients and formulations backed by studies. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel when we approach skincare, the ingredients are already there so get to know them and use them. Just because something is “latest and greatest” doesn’t mean its better than “tried and tested”.
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