August Promo

August Promotion

Receive Your FREE 5 mL Zit Ender!

Our original Zit Ender is a great and effective spot treatment to get rid of unwanted acne blemishes.

Now, Skin Actives’ formulators have improved upon this rescue product that is an essential for those with acne-prone skin. The new version has a thicker, gel-like texture and a lighter color. We’ve also streamlined the formula to stop the product from discoloring.

But I Trust the Current Formula!
Don’t worry! These changes have not impacted Zit Ender’s long-standing reputation for effectiveness. Our new formulation is still packed with beneficial actives you’ve come to rely on. The primary added benefit of these changes is that we have doubled the shelf-life of the product from 6 months to 12.

Can I Try It?
Absolutely! Purchase a 6 oz. Salicylic Wash through-out the month of August and receive a FREE 5 ml trial-size of our new formulation!

New Zit Ender Ingredients: Water, Lactobacillus/Kelp Ferment Filtrate, Salix Alba (White Willow) Bark Extract, Propanediol, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Kaempferia Galanga (Galangal) Root Extract, Oleanolic Acid, Zinc PCA, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera) Leaf Extract, Pyrus Malus (Apple) Pectin, Galactoarabinan, Beta Glucan (Yeast), Fucoidan, Beta Glucan (Oat), Opuntia Ficus Indica (Prickly Pear) Extract, Arthrospira Extract, Porphyridium Polysaccharide, Coleus Forskohlii Oil, Granulysin, Cyamopsis Tetragonoloba (Guar) Gum, Xanthan Gum, Amorphophallus Konjac Root Extract, Calcium Disodium EDTA, Citric Acid, Phenoxyethanol (and) Caprylyl Glycol (and) Sorbic Acid. 

Please note: The free trial will be added automatically. No code is required, and the product will not show in the shopping cart.

Limited Edition Paraben Free Cream Bonus!
Nourish your skin with a special gift from Skin Actives! Starting Wednesday, July 26th, receive a Limited Edition 8 oz Paraben Free Canvas Cream ABSOLUTELY FREE with your order of $79 or more!To receive your gift, simply enter Coupon Code: PBFREE at checkout.

This extremely limited promotion is available to our online customers only and it may be redeemed on a first come first served basis. When they’re gone, they’re gone everybody! So order early and don’t miss out!

Limit 1 per customer, while supplies last!

Put Your Best Face Forward: Getting Rid of Acne the Skin Actives Way

acne drawing

You’re back from vacation with a nice suntan and you look in the mirror to see the acne is worse. That is because ultraviolet (UV) light is another factor that affects acne. It will promote the formation of free radicals and inflammation. UV rays are not your friend.

Now it’s almost time to go back to school. What to do? Even more important, what NOT to do?

First, remember that acne is a very common condition. So, breathe deep. But just because a skin condition is common, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t serious. What happens to one’s skin happens in front of the world, and acne is a good example. Acne affects a large proportion of the population, but again, just because something is common, that doesn’t mean it isn’t serious. Serious acne can ruin a teenager’s life.

Though acne is a normal skin condition, what’s significant about it is that it makes us unhappy. And while ads promise superhuman results, the companies that produce these advertisements clearly stand to benefit by painting pretty pictures to ensnare desperate people.

Let us speak frankly with each other here: there are no such marvels to be found in the real world. There is no easy solution, or cure, for acne. The good news is that we know enough about acne to control it, and this is a great achievement.

The skin care industry continues to introduce “new” products, but whatever the name of the new products that will perform “miracles” on your skin, it always comes back to salicylic acid and/or benzoyl peroxide. So the old saying is fitting: nothing new under the sun. Usually, there is a stinging ingredient (menthol or a derivative) added to make you think that something is happening. These stinging ingredients can only make things worse. Stinging has no beneficial effect on the acne lesion and at high concentration these ingredients can increase inflammation.

If there is a danger in the usual anti-acne products – it’s that fast buck companies don’t care about the long-term health of their clients’ skin. They will use benzoyl peroxide even if repeated use of a product with this ingredient will aggravate acne. Benzoyl peroxide decimates the natural bacterial flora of the skin and ages skin by flushing it with a strong oxidant that will promote DNA mutations, a very bad idea.

Don’t go for fast and furious solutions advertised on TV and elsewhere. Benzoyl peroxide is not your friend either. It is a strong oxidant, so it will promote the formation of free radicals and inflammation just like UV. Because it is a strong oxidant, it will also cause bleaching of fabrics and can dry and irritate the skin. You can buy new clothes but your skin has to last for many decades.

Beware of products containing strong essential oils, as they may cause allergy and irritation. Beware of products containing alcohol as a main ingredient, as the skin will be dry and will not be able to fend off infection by the acne bacterium, Propionibacterium acnes.

If a product seems to increase irritation, produce a burning sensation, or otherwise upset the skin, stop using it. Ask your doctor if there are alternatives.

What can Skin Actives do for your skin? Our products will help control the acne without damaging your skin in the long term. Our products contain no strong oxidants and the retinoid we use is not irritating. We choose actives that decrease sebum production without drying the skin. We target all aspects of acne, starting with inflammation, and we don’t forget the strong hormonal component.

In order to maintain a leading edge in the skin care industry – I’m constantly evaluating products and ingredients that are marketed as “new” and “innovative.” I have three main sources of information regarding ingredients. The ingredient lists for thousands of products on the market (while reading thousands of ingredient lists is boring, it’s also reassuring because it shows that we’re still the best). Scientific publications that report on how chemicals, synthetic or natural, affect processes related to acne, are also consulted. And our own clients and forum members who write to me suggesting new actives are the final source. Nobiletin was brought to my attention in this way.

What works for acne?

Fucoidan, wild yam* and niacinamide* have anti-inflammatory properties.

*Wild Yam Diosgenin may also help stabilize hormonal microenvironment.

*Niacinamide also helps decreases skin sensitivity.

Salicylic acid, salicin*, and retinyl acetate* normalize keratinization.

*Retinyl acetate (vitamin A) will also accelerate skin renewal to help keep pores clear.

*Willow bark extract (salicin) is also anti-inflammatory.

Nobiletin, coleus, galangal and granulysin* diminish acne bacteria.

*Granulysin is a special active developed by Skin Actives to target blemish prone skin. It is a member of lysosomal proteins and it will help keep at bay the bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes, by creating holes in the tar­get cell membrane.

Zinc, nobiletin and EGCG* help decrease sebum secretion.

*Green tea extract (EGCG) also helps keep pores open and is an antioxidant.

Yeast beta glucan is an immune response enhancer.

Saw palmetto, zinc, and EGCG act as inhibitors of 5alpha-reductase activity.

Using these ingredients, and plenty of other nutrients to promote long-term skin health, we have created a system of acne products better than any of those fast fix products. Using the products in our Acne Control Kit and exfoliating with Alpha-Beta Exfoliant Solution once weekly will help keep your skin clear AND healthy.

So, whether you are headed back to school, starting a new job, or are just tired of dealing with those annoying and sometimes painful breakouts, Skin Actives has got you covered. We will help you beat your acne without beating up your skin.

Acne Control Kit

acne kit

T-Zone Serum Ingredients: Seakelp (Lactobacillus/Kelp Ferment Filtrate) Bioferment, Potassium Azeloyl Diglycinate, Water, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG), Niacinamide, Nobiletin, Fucoidan, Porphyridium Polysaccharide, Arthrospira Extract, Propylene Glycol (and) Diazolidinyl Urea (and) Methylparaben (and) Propylparaben.

Acne Control Cream Ingredients: Water, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Sorbitol, Sea Kelp (Lactobacillus/Kelp Ferment Filtrate) Bioferment, Butylene Glycol, Cetyl Alcohol, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Stearyl Alcohol, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil, Niacinamide, Serenoa Serrulata (Saw Palmetto) Fruit Extract, Salix Alba (White Willow) Bark Extract (Salicin), Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG), Disogenin (Wild Yam), Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Retinyl Acetate, Oleanolic Acid, Beta Glucan (Yeast), Sodium Hyaluronate, Nobiletin, Arthrospira Extract, Fucoidan, Porphyridium Polysaccharide, Polysorbate 20, Dimethicone, Carbomer, Citric Acid, Aminomethyl Propanol, Phenoxyethanol, Methylparaben, Propylparaben.

Zit Ender Ingredients: Sea Kelp (Lactobacillus/Kelp Ferment Filtrate) Bioferment, Salix Alba (White Willow) Bark Extract (Salicin), Water, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG), Kaempferia Galanga (Galangal) Root Extract, Oleanolic Acid, Zinc PCA, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera) Leaf Extract, Galactoarabinan, Fucoidan, Beta Glucan (Yeast), Beta Glucan (Oat), Opuntia Ficus Indica (Prickly Pear) Extract, Pyrus Malus (Apple) Pectin, Arthrospira Extract, Porphyridium Polysaccharide, Coleus Forskohlii Oil, Granulysin, Phenoxyethanol (and) Caprylyl Glycol (and) Sorbic Acid.

Salicylic Wash Ingredients: Seakelp (Lactobacillus/Kelp Ferment Filtrate) Bioferment, Water, PEG-10 Sunflower Glycerides, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate, PEG-16 Macadamia Glycerides, Salicylic Acid, Zinc PCA, Propylene Glycol (and) Diazolidinyl Urea (and) Methylparaben (and) Propylparaben.

-Dr. Hannah Sivak

How much is too much?

How much is too much? The answer to this apparently simple question is very complicated: as complicated as the number of ingredients used in skin care. Also, for a good answer, you may have to go to numbers that are much smaller than a percent (1%) and go to parts per million.

In the best of cases more is likely to be a waste of money. You are throwing away the money you spent on the active by trying to add more. For example, if you add more ascorbic acid to a serum than will possibly dissolve (as determined by the laws of nature and how water interacts with ascorbic acid) the rest will become sediment at the bottom of the tube.

In other cases, the excess of, let’s say copper, will be toxic to your skin and some cell processes will be disrupted. Your cells will become sick and then die. The visible effect on your skin will be more wrinkles, or a change in color, or a loss of fat, etc.

We need to respect the actives. Just as they can benefit your skin, some of them may be deleterious at higher concentrations. If an active works through a receptor, the cells may decide to make less of that receptor to compensate for too much active coming in. This is what happens in diabetes, when too much sugar leads to resistance to the hormone insulin.

-Dr. Hannah Sivak

Understanding Your Skin Barrier

The image that springs to mind when we read “skin barrier” may be cartoonish, with an impermeable layer of skin resisting entry of anything. This is a false image projected by skin care companies trying to convince us that useful actives will not penetrate the skin unless we use sophisticated delivery systems, a gimmick to sell more products at higher prices. The truth of it is, whatever you apply to the skin will be absorbed, for better and for worse.

What is the skin barrier?

The term “skin barrier” refers to the main function of the skin: limiting water loss through the skin. How does the skin limit water loss? Live cells would not do the trick, so the cells in the interior of the epidermis will die, gradually, while experiencing major biochemical changes.   The live cells of the stratum basale work with the chemicals they have available so that, by the end of the differentiation process (top of the figure), they don’t even look like cells anymore. The resulting layer is the stratum corneum.

The stratum corneum is a multilayered zone composed of flattened corneocytes that lack nuclei, surrounded by multiple planar lamellae sheets, enriched in waxy-type molecules like ceramides, cholesterol, and free fatty acids. This provides a lipid organization that makes the skin unique among biological membranes. So when we formulate a product to help protect the skin, we don’t need to imitate the chemistry of the skin. Skin ceramides, for example, are very complex lipids that you may not wish to imitate chemically in a skin care product. They are terribly expensive and have complex effects on the interior layers of the skin. What is required instead is the use of chemicals, natural or synthetic, with a waxy structure so that they will limit water loss like the skin’s ceramides.


Figure. Skin cells change shape and structure to form the different layers of the skin. Cornified cells (corneocytes) are dead cells, but together they make a layer (horny layer, stratum corneum in Latin) that prevents water loss and the entry of microbes.

Not only does the stratum corneum limit water loss from the body, allowing us humans, organisms that depend totally on water, to walk around in an environment with very low humidity, but it also limits penetration of chemicals into the skin. Although this slows down absorption of nutrients (and noxious chemicals) applied topically, “limits penetration” does not mean that this layer is impermeable. This can be seen by observing water loss across the skin, which can be measured easily with laboratory instruments and increases with age and skin damage. In skin aged by sun exposure, absorption of external nutrients will be higher than in young skin, just like trans-epidermal water loss is higher. The skin is a barrier to losing water and to the entrance of microbes, but it is not impermeable.

Ingredient absorption through the skin barrier

July newsletter picture

How good is the skin as a barrier to the actives we need to apply to the skin? Not very good. After a shower, water soluble actives will enter the skin more readily. Actives will also enter through the pores and skin imperfections. Fat soluble actives will enter easily, especially when the carrier is suitable.

Even a low uptake of nutrients applied topically should substantially improve the health of skin deprived of such nutrients by the decrease of blood supply to the dermis that occurs in all of us as we age. You don’t need to absorb 100% of the useful actives applied topically. You don’t need delivery systems; your skin is permeable enough.

How far will these actives enter? They will get all the way to the external membrane of the live cells at the base of the skin. From there, the structure of the chemical will determine whether it can go further. Glucose, amino acids, and lipids will enter the cell because the cell needs them. Proteins can’t enter, but may still be able to exert an action on the cell if there is a receptor for the protein on the membrane. This is how epidermal growth factor (EGF) does its job. EGF will promote division of cells that have receptors for EGF by binding to the receptors at the cells’ surface and starting a cascade of biochemical events without anything actually penetrating. The culmination of this chemical cascade will be the activation of genes inside the nucleus.

Other chemicals that can’t enter the cell may do their job in the intercellular space, where enzymes are hard at work. Once they are within the intercellular space, enzymes transform these chemicals, hydrolyze esters, synthesize polyschharides, and do all kinds of chemical conversions. The products of these transformations will reach the live cells and enter them following the rules of permeability of that cell, as determined by the structure of the membrane.

A good reason to care about the skin barrier: atopic dermatitis

The terms eczema, atopic dermatitis or atopic eczema are used to describe a chronic inflammatory skin disease with allergic causes in which the skin itches and there is some scaling, crusting and/or oozing, rather than just erythema or inflammation. People who have eczema also tend to have other manifestations of allergy, like allergic rhinitis or asthma.

Atopic dermatitis affects about 10% of the US population and it can start as early as 2 months of age. Diseased skin is often characterized by a reduced barrier function and an altered lipid composition and organization. One possible reason why atopic dermatitis is such a widespread problem may be the emphasis our culture places on cleanliness. Soap and detergents will easily break the fragile skin barrier of a baby. And nothing good can be said about the crazy “treatments” that are out there, like microdermabrasion, microneedling, etc. Unless you have a very good reason not to, be very gentle with your skin.

The sensory interaction of the skin with the environment is also affected in these types of skin conditions, causing itching, stinging or even pain. The itchiness of eczema leads to scratching, and scratching leads to rashes. This vicious circle must be stopped because the scratching can lead to permanent changes in the skin, including scars, and infections.

We need our immune system to defend us from the infectious agents that are trying to invade us, like bacteria, viruses or fungi. However, skin affected by eczema is more prone to bacterial infection, as the skin barrier breaks down, facilitating attack by microorganisms. Atopy is characterized by high concentrations of serum immunoglobulin E (IgE), a high incidence of IgE-mediated responses on skin testing to common inhaled antigens, and many other manifestations of an oversensitive and “skewed” immune system.

For the time being, there is little that can be done about atopy at the molecular level, but if things get tough we can always go for one or more of the over-the-counter medicines available.

What can you do if you or a loved one has atopic dermatitis? It may help to avoid common allergens such as dust mites, animal danders and saliva, mold, and pollen. Immunotherapy, i.e. desensitization by “allergy shots”, does not seem to work for atopic dermatitis, in contrast to its relative success in treating patients with other allergic disorders.

Although cortisone is a good idea for emergencies, it cannot be used long-term because it may lead to skin thinning, depigmentation, and stretch marks. Also, topical corticosteroids may reach the blood stream, suppressing the activity of the adrenal glands.

Avoid factors that may worsen atopic dermatitis such as excessive bathing, low humidity environments, dry skin, rapid temperature changes, and exposure to solvents and detergents. After a bath or shower, apply an emollient product that will supplement the damaged skin barrier.

Lotions have a high water and low oil content and can worsen dry skin via evaporation, thus triggering flares of eczema. Conversely, thick, rich creams with a low water content, or ointments, which have zero water content, protect the skin better against dryness and eczema flares.

To alleviate the itching you can use calamine, or reach for Skin Actives Scientific’s Sea Kelp Coral, Rosehip or Pomegranate Seed Oil, or take a warm bath with Oat Beta Glucan and Rose Hip Oil. To decrease inflammation, use our Olive Anti-Inflammatory Cream. The fatty acids in Every Lipid Serum will provide essential nutrients for skin to repair the skin barrier.

-Dr. Hannah Sivak

What do you know about peptides?

“Peptides” in the skin care industry

In chemistry, the structure and definition of a “peptide” is straightforward: two or more amino acids joined by peptide bonds.

Amino acids are relatively small molecules. The smallest is glycine, with just two carbon atoms, one of which is in the acid group (COO-) and the other has the amino group (NH4+) attached to it. Other amino acids have longer carbon chains, some with a couple amino groups or acid groups instead of one. There are many amino acids, but only 20 are common in proteins.

Amino acids can form peptides. Peptide bonds are formed by a condensation reaction and the elimination of a molecule of water. The nomenclature of these peptides is as follows: a dipeptide (two amino acids linked by a peptide bond), tripeptide (3), tetrapeptide (4), etc. When you don’t remember the name of numbers in Greek, use oligopeptide (oligo=few). Peptides are usually represented by a sequence of letters, one for each amino acid, and sometimes by a sequence of three letters for each amino acid. Long chains of amino acids form polypeptides (usually less than 100 amino acids) or proteins (longer than 100 amino acids). Peptide bonds are rigid due to the partial double bond character.

The skin care industry uses synthetic peptides that mimic naturally occurring peptides, but modifies them by attaching a fatty acid to one end. This became possible thanks to methods initially developed to facilitate the work of scientists who needed synthetic peptides for their research. But things have changed in the last couple of years in a worrying way. The chemists working for companies that manufacture these ingredients have been too innovative, drifting away from natural structures in their search for novelty. With novelty comes risk. But because these ingredients are sold to be used in cosmetics, the research done by these companies to prove safety is just a formality. Usually there is no published research on these peptides that has gone through peer review.

What are the innovations?

1) Addition of a fatty acid to a peptide. This should be no problem because the bond will be broken by enzymes in the skin, resulting in the release of the peptide (or amino acids) and a free fatty acid.

2) Addition of a biotinoyl residue, i.e. vitamin B7. Not useful, but not harmful either. The bond is likely to be broken in the skin and the vitamin B7 can penetrate the cell membrane.

3) Peptides that have no known function, like acetyl tetrapeptide-3. Here the rationale is to look at a structure used in tissue engineering to make synthetic skin and choose a four amino acid sequence. The likelihood of this strategy working is nil, but the risk is low.

4) Choose any sequence of any protein related to immunity and hope that the chosen one will do something useful as opposed to damage the skin, which is another possibility.

5) Now that peptide synthesis is getting less expensive, the industry is trying decapeptides (10 amino acids) or longer. It is the same method to synthesize, but a longer sequence and equally futile. What the sellers promise is that these peptides are going to target important enzymes or receptors for signal proteins. This is a fantasy designed for people who don’t know protein chemistry. If the people selling these peptides know that this is a fantasy, they are committing fraud. I sincerely hope it is ignorance.

In theory, it is possible to “shorten” some proteins while keeping one or more of its functions intact. Achieving this is a complex task that involves building molecular models of receptor and ligand, docking models that predict how the receptor and ligand interact, and finally building a model of a peptide that could replace the ligand. And all of this hard work is not enough because a peptide is not stable enough to do the job in isolation. Its spatial structure will change by the second as it is affected by the water, ions, and lipids that surround it. It is possible to do this without the whole protein, but you will need complex chemical connectors. This is a major and expensive enterprise, and not one that will be used by companies looking for a fast buck.

6)  The industry is even trying to change the meaning of the word “peptide,” as strange synthetic structures appear instead of amino acids linked by peptide bonds. This is dangerous territory. By using amino acids from among the 20 natural amino acids that living beings use to build proteins, we can be sure that there are enzymes capable of breaking down the peptide bonds and releasing amino acids for our bodies to use or discard. Introducing new chemical structures into the body, topically or otherwise, should only be done after extensive in vitro and in vivo research. Consumers should not be used as Guinea Pigs.

One example is Syn-Hycan, Tetradecyl Aminobutyroylvalylaminobutyric Urea Trifluoroacetate. Look at the structure of Syn-Hycan: (2S,5S,8S)-2,8-Bis(2-aminoethyl)-5-(1-methylethyl)-4,7,10-trioxo-3,6,9,11-tetraazapentacosanoic acid 2,2,2-trifluoroacetate. This is NOT a peptide. It is a strange derivative of gamma-aminobutyric acid that includes trifluoroacetic acid.

What will they think of next?  Caveat emptor, let the buyer beware.

If in doubt, write to us at Skin Actives and we will (try) to decipher suspicious ingredient lists.


Eyelashes! Don’t Take Them For Granted.

Eyelashes are vital when it comes to protecting your eyes. They guard the eye from debris and are exclusive to mammals, just as hair is. Eyelashes are sensitive to touch, and will warn the eyelid when there is the possibility of harm, causing them to close as a reflex.

To the Ancient Romans, the ideal eyes were large, with long eyelashes. According to Pliny the Elder (CE 23 to CE 79) eyelashes would fall out from excessive sex thus, long eyelashes would indicate chastity.  

And, no, that is not true.

Eyelashes are also considered a sign of beauty, and long lashes have become an essential attribute of pretty eyes and beauty in general. This view of eyelashes continues, and in the pursuit of long lashes, we may forget that eyelashes are produced by living cells and those cells can be damaged.


How far will we go on the pursuit of beauty?

The answer, when it comes to humans, is always the same: “too far”.

Below we will examine some potentially damaging things you can do to your eyelashes as well as their consequences:

Extensions – Some people will go as far as eyelash extensions, where artificial hairs are glued to the natural eyelashes. The extensions may be made from several materials including silk and mink, synthetic or human hair. The main method of applying the extensions is by individually adhering them to the eyelashes, one-by-one in order to prevent the lashes from sticking together.

Consequences: Some people may become sensitized to the glue (containing ethyl cyanoacrylate and many more chemicals) or even to the pads used in the procedure, which can take several hours. The allergic reactions may continue for months, and cause permanent damage, including the loss of natural eyelashes. Other complications include infections, keratoconjunctivitis and allergic blepharitis.

False Eyelashes and Mascara – False lashes and eyelash extensions are not the same. False eyelashes are a cosmetic appliance that can be taken on and off at the discretion of the user. These products are usually one piece and with proper care, can be used repeatedly. The same can be said for mascara. Though you can use both of these safely and regularly, you must be cautious when it comes to cleaning product off daily.

Consequences – The glue used to adhere false eyelashes can cause allergies and, when left on too long, can cause serious eye irritation. If mascara is not cleaned off the eyelashes nightly, it can cause lashes to fall out and may obstruct the pores, affecting your natural eyelash growth.

Prescription Enhancement Products – Although we have discussed the subject many times, the use of prescription eyelash enhancement products continues and carries with it many inherent risks. Glaucoma prescription medicines are now in widespread use specifically for one of its side effects: elongation of eyelashes.

Consequences – Other, less flattering side effects are also included, so please think about that before, not after you are stuck with unsightly effects like eye irritation, itching, and eye pain. And beware the permanent side effects: change of eye color and darker pigmentation around the eye as well as hair growth on the cheeks. Prostaglandin analogs may also reduce orbital fat tissue in the eye socket by inhibiting differentiation and survival of fat cells. This would aggravate the loss of fat around the eye area that comes with aging and gives a sunken eyes effect.

Caveat Emptor – The Ancient Romans also said “caveat emptor” which translates to, “buyer beware.” Some companies are not above spiking cosmetics with pharmaceuticals in complete defiance of ethical, responsible behavior. If you examine an ingredient list and it does not contain ingredients capable of stimulating hair growth AND it still works, you have to assume that it has been spiked with prostaglandin analogs.


Does castor oil help eyelashes growth?

No, castor oil does not help with eyelashes or hair growth. Period.

But it can work as make up, because it may change the optical properties of the eyelashes. Let’s call it an optical illusion that it will work only for some people. Some silicones will have a similar effect. Beware of castor oil products containing other (unnecessary) ingredients that can irritate eyelids and eyes.  

We at Skin Actives use castor oil in our skin cleanser, because it has a chemical component ricinoleic acid that makes it more polar than other fats.


The Skin Actives alternative: pursue beauty AND health

If I wanted to grow longer lashes or recover lost ones, I would go for keratinocyte growth factor and the other actives in our Skin Actives lash serum. This is what I call “common sense formulation”: tell the cells in the follicle to make hair by giving them the right growth factor and supply the building blocks that the cells require to follow these instructions. This is science-based formulation, which requires the understanding of how living cells work.

To complement the eyelash serum, give your eyelids the lipids they also need to make hair. You will find them in our Every Lipid Serum.

-Dr. Hannah Sivak

Skin Actives Makes Front Page News!

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At the beginning of April, Skin Actives Scientific was very pleased to be featured in a write-up for our hometown news source, AZCentral. Our Founder Dr. Hannah Sivak and CEO Jonatan Funtowicz were able to get out the message about Skin Actives’ unique philosophy and approach to business.  If you missed out on reading that article, you can find it here.

Much to our surprise, at the end of April the article made it to the print version of our local papers! This resulted in a huge week of requests from Arizona locals for help with their skin care regimes. It was really great getting to meet some of our new friends from all over our home state.

However, you don’t have to be local to get this kind of help. We are an online business, and we would be happy to consult on your skin care needs via email, local or not.

We have also put together a list of common skin concerns and the products we would recommend that you start with. You can always customize your routine by mixing and matching concerns, but it is best to start with just a few products at a time and see how your skin responds.

Acne: Salicylic Wash and Acne Control Cream
Anti-Aging: Collagen Serum and Vitamin A Cream
Clogged Pores: Alpha-Beta Exfoliator and Pore Refreshing Mask
Dark Circles/Puffiness: Bright-I Serum
Dry Lips: Liquid Rainbow
Dry Skin: Every Lipid Serum or Dream Cream
Melasma: Skin Brightening Cream
Nail Health: Nail Care Duo
Normal/Combo Skin Moisture: Hyaluronic Acid Cream
Oily Skin: Salicylic Wash and Vitamin A Serum
Overall Skin Health: Collagen Serum
Rosacea: Redness Reduction Serum
Sun Spots: UV Repair Cream
Thinning Hair: Hair Care Serum

Misleading Marketing Hijacks Maternal Instincts to Sell Us Flawed Science

The word “placenta” has strong connotations: it is the organ that delivers nutrition to the baby in a mother’s womb. Is human placenta safe for use by humans? The FDA does not think so. It is contaminated with bacteria and probably with some virus. But virus or not, the FDA does not allow human derived materials to be used in cosmetics.

Still, the word “placenta” is worth a lot of money. Companies will take the strong feelings we have for babies and maternity and use them to sell a product unsuitable for the skin.

Biology of the placenta

The placenta is the respiratory, excretory, and digestive organ for the fetus. In humans, the placenta is delivered by the mother soon after the baby’s birth. It is not needed by the baby anymore. But while it is still developing, the embryo has increasing nutritional needs. These are met by the development of an association with the uterine wall into which it implants. A series of synchronized morphological and biochemical changes occur in the embryo and the uterus. The final product of this is the placenta, a temporary organ that allows physiological exchange of metabolites, but no direct connection between the maternal circulation and that of the embryo.

In the placenta, you will find many growth factors. Some that fit in the development plan for a fetus, like Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF), plus others that promote the development of blood vessels. This is because, after all, the placenta is a big mass of blood vessels moving everything back and forth from mother to baby, and vice versa.

The magic of words

You will find the word “placenta” in some skin care products. Don’t worry though, those products will not be beneficial or dangerous for your skin because they do NOT contain placenta, human or animal. They may contain vegetable placenta: a thin piece of vegetable tissue that transfers nutrients from the fruit to the seed. But this is not much use unless you are actually a seed.

So what is in this BIO-Placenta product on the market? An assortment of growth factors enrobed in lecithin, nutrients derived from soybean, one amino acid (glutamine), hyaluronic acid and preservatives.

Ingredients: Water (and) Lecithin (and) Acetyl Glutamine (and) sh-Oligopeptide-1 (and) sh-Oligopeptide-2 (and) sh-Polypeptide-1 (and) sh-Polypeptide-9 (and) sh-Polypeptide-11 (and) Bacillus/Soybean/Folic Acid Ferment Extract (and) Sodium Hyaluronate (and) Caprylyl Glycol (and) Butylene Glycol (and) 1,2-Hexanediol.

What are the problems with this ingredient list? In this case, the growth factors are obtained using biotechnology just like Skin Actives’ growth factors, so I have no problem with that. However, growth factor IGF-1 (sh-Oligopeptide-2), is usually found in blood vessels in the smooth muscles, which makes sense for the placenta but not necessarily for adult skin. It does not make sense to apply growth factors that promote development of blood vessels to the skin. In fact, there should be a warning for Rosacea sufferers. This product is a result of faulty thinking by people who don’t know enough biology or biochemistry.

Skin Actives Scientific’s product with beneficial growth factors

I could give you other examples of products that proclaim to contain growth factors, but nothing in the market comes close to our Collagen Serum.

Ingredients: Water, Seakelp (Lactobacillus/Kelp Ferment Filtrate) Bioferment, Glycerin, Sodium PCA, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Hydrolyzed Collagen, Sodium Hyaluronate, Boswellia Serrata Extract, Centella Asiatica (Gotu Kola) Extract, Carnosine, N-Acetyl-D-Glucosamine, Niacinamide, Betulinic Acid, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Epigallocatechin Gallate, Glutathione, sh-Polypeptide-2 (Thioredoxin), sh-Oligopeptide-1 (Epidermal Growth Factor), Citric Acid, Phenoxyethanol (and) Caprylyl Glycol (and) Sorbic Acid.

When you look at the ingredient list, you will find a few ingredients that are included to provide a suitable medium for our actives, plus a long list of active ingredients. No fragrances and no colorants. There are building blocks the cells require to do their job, plus actives known to protect the structure and function of collagen. The rest are there to hydrate the skin, keep the active proteins active, and keep you safe from bacteria and mold that would love this rich medium. The idea of this product was to include every active known to stimulate synthesis of collagen and/or preserve its structure, because a protein that has lost its original structure is no longer able to do its job properly. By “known,” I mean studied and proven as shown in research that can be found in reputable scientific journals.

The growth factor in our Collagen Serum is Epidermal Growth Factor, which is there to tell your skin cells what to do. EGF (sh-Oligopeptide-1) is safe and present in your body since before you are born, although levels decrease as we age. EGF promotes cell division and survival, and synthesis of cell components. There is no need for a “delivery system,” as the growth factor works by binding to the surface of the cells.

All of these factors make our Collagen Serum the best anti-aging product you can get. Using effective growth factors and supportive actives provides you with almost everything your skin needs. Use this serum with our Every Lipid Serum to provide essential fatty acids, and your skin will thank you.

-Dr. Hannah Sivak

Epidermal Growth Factor: the closest you can get to a miracle ingredient


A good example of an active that has been discussed in articles published in peer-reviewed scientific journals is epidermal growth factor (EGF). There are more than 50,000 pieces of scientific literature document the activity of EGF. What is a growth factor? Growth factors are naturally occurring proteins capable of stimulating cellular proliferation and cellular differentiation. Growth factors bind to specific receptors on cell surfaces and are important for the regulation of a variety of cellular processes. Among the practical uses of EGF are its use in accelerating healing of the skin and cornea (the outside coating of the eyeball). EGF was the first growth factor to be discovered and studied, but many more factors have been found since then.

“In 1986, Stanley Cohen received the Nobel Prize for his work elucidating the role of EGF in the regulation of cell growth and development. This small protein (only 53 amino acids) was found to enhance epidermal growth and keratinization. Work by Cohen and his collaborators demonstrated that EGF directly stimulated the proliferation of epidermal cells, and this stimulatory action of EGF did not depend on other systemic or hormonal influences. Cells that respond to EGF do so because they have receptors on the cell membrane that recognize the factor which has been produced by cells that may be near or far from the target cell. The binding of the growth factor to the receptor initiates a cascade of molecular events that will eventually lead, among other effects, to cell division. Among the practical uses of EGF are its use in accelerating healing of skin and corneas. Although EGF was the first growth factor to be discovered and studied, many more factors have been found since then. These growth factors differ in size and structure, and as a consequence, in the receptors and types of cells that recognize them, and the effects they have on the target cell. Not all growth factors are suitable for skin care; some of them can have unwanted effects on normal skin.

Excerpt From: Hannah Sivak, PhD “The Scientific Revolution in Skin Care.”

Everything you need to know about peels and skin renewal

What does “skin renewal” mean?  

Nothing and everything: it depends on the context and who is talking. What do you need to do to renew your skin? Nothing. Your skin renews itself all the time.   

So what does the skin care industry mean by skin renewal?
Generally, they mean that you should peel your dead skin cells off. But those dead skin cells, which make up the stratum corneum, are what make your skin impermeable to water using chemicals like ceramides.

If we want to be more specific in defining what renewal means, we first need to understand what is going on in the anatomy of the skin.

Skin structure

The skin is made of two “sections”: the epidermis and the dermis. The subcutaneous fat, which underlies the dermis, also affects the way the skin looks and the shape of the face.


Figure. Skin structure showing epidermis, dermis and hypodermis. Notice the blood vessels and nerve fibers that connect the skin with the rest of the body.

The epidermis

The stratum basale is primarily made up of basal keratinocyte stem cells, which are the stem cells of the epidermis. They divide to form the keratinocytes of the stratum spinosum, which migrate to the surface. Other types of cells found within the stratum basale are melanocytes (pigment-producing cells), Langerhans cells (immune cells), and Merkel cells (touch receptors).

The keratinocytes change in shape, structure and biochemistry as they are being pushed outwards by new cells produced by the basal layer. Keratinocytes mature and die in a very special way, in a progression that will form an almost impermeable layer of dead cells. Many chemical reactions happen in this gradual process, and one of them is the formation of ceramides from fatty acids present in the keratinocytes. One lesson here is that if we want ceramides in our epidermis we should feed our skin plenty of unsaturated fatty acids.

Melanocytes are cells located in the epidermis, but they have more in common with the brain (they originate from the same embryonic tissue) than with the epidermis itself. Their function is to protect the skin from UV light. The melanocytes by themselves will not be sufficient to protect your skin from the sun. To delay skin aging and prevent skin cancer you will need to supply further UV blocking.

Your job is to facilitate the job of the epidermis by covering the epidermis with a cream, lotion or gel that retains water. You should also make sure that the cracks in the epidermis, visible and otherwise, are taken care of. Do we need to supply ceramides to the skin as well? Not really. If our skin has the required nutrition, including unsaturated fatty acids, it will be manufacturing and modifying a variety of ceramides that skin care products can’t hope to match. However, if for some reason you have not been doing a great job of supplying nutrients to your skin, you may need to supplement the skin barrier with a ceramide substitute like petrolatum or lanolin.


Section of the epidermis showing the five layers. You can see individual, nucleated cells in the two bottom layers and how the cells lose structure as they mature to form the more superficial layers of the epidermis. Structural changes are accompanied by changes in chemical composition. Skin cells change shape and structure as they transit the different layers of the epidermis. Cornified cells are dead cells, but together they make the stratum corneum that prevents water loss and the entry of microbes.

The dermis

Just as the epidermis is formed mostly by cells (alive or dead), the dermis is a matrix made of mostly proteins and polysaccharides, with scattered cells (fibroblasts) that synthesize these macromolecules. Many of the changes we see as skin ages reflect changes originating in the dermis, so it is a good idea to look after the dermis too. You may think that the epidermis, in charge of protecting the underlying tissues, would not let anything go through. But the epidermis is far from impermeable. When intact and healthy it will protect from water loss, but this does not mean that chemicals cannot penetrate. The skin of a 50 year old is no longer intact and will allow water to escape and many more chemicals get through.

So, you want smooth skin?

A peel may improve the way your skin looks and feels by removing the upper layers of the epidermis. These are dead cells, but they are the ones that are providing you with a barrier against water loss. A peel also allows damaging UV light into the deeper layers of your skin. Sometimes the end result of a peel is scarring, hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation.

Exfoliators remove the top layer of dead skin cells to make the skin feel smooth. There are three ways of exfoliating your skin: physical scrubs (which involve a gritty texture that can come from sugar, salt, crushed nuts, crystals used in micro-exfoliation, etc.), chemical peels, and enzymatic peels. You need to be cautious with exfoliation because you can cause permanent damage to your skin. Mistreatment can lead to scars and/or hyperpigmentation.

Skin Actives has products that use these three exfoliation methodologies without resorting to brutal treatments. The skin doesn’t need to be treated like an old wall in need of resurfacing by sandblasting. The skin is not an inanimate object but a living organ, and our goal at Skin Actives is to preserve your skin’s health.

Our Alpha Beta Exfoliator is a mild form of chemical peel that is safe to use on the face, décolleté and hands weekly without problems. When used as directed, it will provide an invisible peel, and you will have satisfyingly smooth skin without down time or visible peeling.

Pumpkin Enzyme Peel is great for more sensitive skin types. This is a natural, gentle enzyme peel that leaves the skin cleansed and silky smooth. You will see no peeling, but your skin will feel smooth and look great.

Skin: dermis and epidermis.  How far does a peel go?

A peel is a controlled chemical burn of your skin that can go from superficial (top layers of the epidermis) to deep (halfway through the dermis). If you go any deeper, you will end up in the emergency room.

Chemicals peels are usually made of weak alpha hydroxy acids (ie: lactic or glycolic) dissolved in water. These acid solutions (often called “chemical peels”) will break down the proteins in the most external layers of the skin when used appropriately and with caution. If used without great caution they will burn the skin. As the solution denatures the proteins in the upper layers, it penetrates further and further, eventually reaching the inner layers of the epidermis and even the dermis. The acidity of the peel and the time until neutralization occur are factors in how far the peel will penetrate. Other chemicals that are used in the peels may act in different ways, but their action usually involves denaturing proteins and killing cells. Please remember: an acid peel is a controlled chemical burn. It must be controlled carefully.

Lactic or glycolic?

Does it matter which acid you use? Not much. What matters is how acidic the peel is. The desired pH can be obtained with many different acids, all of them suitable for use on the skin. The pH depends on the concentration of the acid, in molecules per unit volume, and the pK of the acid (how likely it is to release its protons). This can be slightly confusing to non-chemists because the molecular weight of glycolic acid is lower, so you get more molecules per unit of weight. 

Don’t play with fire (or acids)

Glycolic 70% will burn your skin. I am confident working with it because I have decades of experience in a laboratory and the necessary tools to deal with strong acids. It is concerning that solutions claiming to be 70% glycolic acid are readily available for purchase online.

Why would people risk “burning, dermatitis or rash, swelling, pigmentary changes, blisters or welts, chemical burns” by buying and using such a solution? And why would an honest seller risk breaking the law?

Dermatologists are allowed to use peels with a pH as low as 0.6, and may even add dangerous chemicals like phenol in order to kill cells deep within the skin. These doctors have very high insurance premiums because peels can go terribly wrong. They also have an office where medical emergencies can be managed appropriately.

Your skin renews itself, so why push for more?

There is no need to push for skin renewal, unless you have very good reason, like acne.

Pores can get clogged with sebum, keratin, and dead cells. This results in an environment lacking in oxygen and favorable to the growth of the acne bacterium, Propionibacterium acnes. These products of bacterial metabolism cause the inflamed pimples known commonly as acne. This is a real problem and one that adequate skin care can help to prevent and correct. A comedo may be closed by skin (whitehead) or open to the air (blackhead). Being open to the air causes oxidization, which turns the lipids in the top of the ‘plug’ black or brown.

What can you do? Use a retinoid that will normalize keratinization and maintain epidermal integrity, like vitamin A. It will help to keep the skin healthy by switching on genes and differentiating keratinocytes (immature skin cells) into mature epidermal cells. There are many retinoids that are available, at Skin Actives we use retinyl acetate because it doesn’t cause unnecessary irritation.

What do people expect from a peel? 


A good peel may cause no visible peeling or a light fluffy peeling. People tempted to “help” the process along by peeling the skin away may find that the skin revealed is raw and painful. People expect the skin to peel like a fruit. If their skin just gets red that is not enough.

People go to Ebay hoping to find a strong enough peel (70% glycolic acid, anyone?) that will peel their skin and show beautiful baby smooth and clear skin below. This is not how things happen.

To satisfy unrealistic expectations, a formulator may mix a mild acid with a chemical that will dry as a film so that you have something to peel off. The rest is a fantasy of a snake-like miracle peel in which an old, ugly skin peels off and a new, luminous glowing skin is being revealed, a sort of Cinderella story. Skin does not peel like this. The skin is not a film to be removed, but a structure made of cell layers.

-Dr. Hannah Sivak

**Note: We have recently removed the TCA peel for sale on our website due to concerns about potential chemical burns. It will still be available to licensed professionals. Please call 480-813-5633 or email for more details.**