Protect your skin this Halloween

Halloween makeup products are considered cosmetics and are therefore subject to the same regulations as other cosmetics, including the same restrictions on color additives. Products made in the USA should follow those rules and should be safe. But, if you are thinking of buying those colorful Halloween makeup sets sold in stores and supermarkets, think again. The FDA has not approved them. The FDA may not even know that those makeup sets exist. Did you know that the FDA has 6 inspectors for 3 million shipments of imported cosmetics? Please remember that cosmetics are not a priority for the FDA, prescriptions medications are, so it is up to you to be vigilant (caveat emptor).

Here is what we know (from the NYT, 8/2/17) “Of the three million imported cosmetics shipments, the agency physically inspected just 9,871, or about 0.3 percent, last year. 15 percent of those inspections resulted in what the F.D.A. calls ‘adverse findings.’ Laboratory tests were conducted on a smaller sample of those shipments — a total of 364 last year — and 20 percent of those led to adverse findings. The agency found bacterial contamination, illegal color additives that can cause skin or eye injuries, ingredients that were not on the label as required, and unsafe chemical substances like mercury, the agency said.” This is why you have to be vigilant.

What should you fear?

Bacterial contamination, illegal color additives that can cause skin or eye injuries, and unsafe heavy metals like lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium or antimony. Our bodies can certainly deal with small amounts of these toxic substances, but not when their concentrations exceed certain values.

What can you do?

Ignore claims of “hypoallergenic.” The word may sound scientific but there is no such category of products, it is just one more of the many advertising claims that have no real (or legal) meaning.

If you’re decorating your skin with something you’ve never used before, you might try a dab of it on your arm for a couple of days to check for an allergic reaction or irritation before you put it on your face. This is essential if you tend to have allergies. And allergies only get worse; you will NOT build “tolerance” by applying more of a product that provokes an allergic response.

Helpful tips to protect your skin this Halloween

Make your own face paints! You can use food coloring (may stain clothes and skin but they are safe) or use washable paint for children from a reputed brand like, Crayola.

You can wear an Italian Carnival mask, or something similar. They are beautiful and will make a great wall decoration after Halloween is over.

Check that the product has been made in the USA or it is distributed by a company in the USA. If something goes wrong, these companies will have to respond to your complaints and to the FDA if their products cause damage.

Follow all directions carefully.

Don’t apply products to your face that aren’t intended for your skin.

If your face paint has a bad smell, this could be a sign that it is contaminated. Throw it away and go for another one.

Some products may be okay on your skin, but not near your eyes. Check the label: some face paint or other makeup may say on the label that it is not for use near the eyes. Be careful to keep makeup from getting into your eyes. Even products intended for use near your eyes can sometimes irritate your skin if you use too much of them.

And most important: please remember to take off the paint before you go to bed! Don’t use products that contain alcohol to do this, it will irritate and dry your skin. Use a good oil-based cleanser, like our Cleansing Oil or Creamy Cleanser.

Remember to take care of your skin before and after applying makeup as well. Use a base that will be good for your skin before applying makeup or face paint, like our Cranberry Moisturizing Serum. And, of course, always moisturize after you remove your make-up with a nutritive product, like Dream Cream or Hyaluronic Acid Cream. There is no harm in participating in the fun and theatrics of playing dress-up, but don’t sacrifice the long-term health of your skin in the process. Play it skin safe this Halloween with Skin Actives!

-Dr. Hannah Sivak

October Promo

October Promotions

Holiday Products

Holiday Scented Products
Available Starting Now Through December Only!

This holiday season we will be creating some decadently scented body care treats. These year’s scents will be Snow Globe (Vanilla Mint Cream), Orange Cocoa Truffle (Rich Chocolate Orange), Warm Gingersnap (Gingerbread Cookie). Not only are we creating three tasty scents using our rich Body Cream, but this year we are trying something new: Shower Gel!

Each of this year’s three scents will be available in a set containing an awesome gel body wash and a luscious body cream. We will also make a fourth set available for those who want to try all three creams at once. These sets make great gifts! But just like the holiday season, these tasty scents won’t be around for long. So get them while you can to stock your bathroom for holiday guests, fill your family’s stockings, or just keep them all for yourself.

Orange Cocoa Truffle Ingredients:

Rich Chocolate Orange Body Cream – Water, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil, Butylene Glycol, Glycerin, Cetyl Alcohol, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Stearyl Alcohol, Sorbitol, Octyl Palmitate, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Kernel Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil, Sodium PCA, Polysorbate-20, Allantoin, Carbomer, Fragrance, Citrus Sinensis Oil, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Sodium Hydroxide.

Rich Chocolage Orange Shower Gel – Water, Sodium C14-C16 Olefin Sulfonate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Acrylates Crosspolymer-4, Gluconolactone (and) Sodium Benzoate (and) Calcium Gluconate, Lactobacillus/Kelp Ferment Filtrate, Sodium Chloride, Citric Acid, Fragrance, Citrus Sinensis Oil, Disodium EDTA, Potassium Hydroxide. 

Snow Globe Ingredients:

Peppermint Vanilla Body Cream – Water, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil, Butylene Glycol, Glycerin, Cetyl Alcohol, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Stearyl Alcohol, Sorbitol, Octyl Palmitate, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Kernel Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil, Sodium PCA, Polysorbate-20, Allantoin, Carbomer, Fragrance, Mentha Piperita Oil, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Sodium Hydroxide.

Peppermint Vanilla Shower Gel – Water, Sodium C14-C16 Olefin Sulfonate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Acrylates Crosspolymer-4, Gluconolactone (and) Sodium Benzoate (and) Calcium Gluconate, Lactobacillus/Kelp Ferment Filtrate, Sodium Chloride, Citric Acid, Fragrance, Mentha Piperita Oil, Disodium EDTA, Potassium Hydroxide.

Warm Gingersnap Ingredients:

Gingerbread Cookie Body Cream – Water, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil, Butylene Glycol, Glycerin, Cetyl Alcohol, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Stearyl Alcohol, Sorbitol, Octyl Palmitate, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Kernel Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil, Sodium PCA, Polysorbate-20, Allantoin, Carbomer, Fragrance, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Sodium Hydroxide.

Gingerbread Cookie Shower Gel – Water, Sodium C14-C16 Olefin Sulfonate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Acrylates Crosspolymer-4, Gluconolactone (and) Sodium Benzoate (and) Calcium Gluconate, Lactobacillus/Kelp Ferment Filtrate, Sodium Chloride, Citric Acid, Fragrance, Disodium EDTA, Potassium Hydroxide. 

SPF_Social_Media Boost-06

40% OFF Our New Daily Defense Anti-Aging, SPF 30 Day Cream

Skin Actives Scientific is proud to unveil a cutting-edge product three years in the making!

Skin Actives’ new Daily Defense delivers the powerful anti-aging activity that our customers have come to recognize and expect. We’ve combined these anti-aging and antioxidant ingredients with an SPF 30 sunblock that is light and silky enough to be worn daily.

We’re bringing you this amazing new product in a stylish box and airless pump jar. The lively presentation on this product is great for gift giving, or for taking a second to treat yourself.

Skin Actives is now offering this scientifically proven new product at a deep discount of 40%, but only for a limited time! Check out our webpage for more information and make sure to get your hands on a jar as soon as you can!

Behind the Scenes at Skin Actives’ SPF Photo Shoot

In September, Skin Actives partnered up with Photographer, Noemi Gonzalez, to shoot photos for our Daily Defense SPF 30 launch! We are beyond lucky to work with Ms. Gonzalez and our lovely models!

Here is a behind the scenes shot featuring our models (left) Jessie Marman, (right) Adaria Gonzalez-Brown, and our Creative Director, Claire Thomas.

About Noemi Gonzalez:
“Daughter of Mexican immigrants, I was the first-born in the US and thus was born the first Xicana in the household – whose first words were a combination of Spanish and English–never an expert in one, always struggling and gracefully tumbling my way through the binary of two cultures.

When not glued to my computer or photographing those around me, you can find me 3,000 feet in elevation at Yosemite or lost in the hills of Superstition Mountains.”

See more of her photos at:

Make a Difference with Skin Actives!

Make A Difference

Help those affected by the recent storms just by purchasing from Skin Actives. Starting today, all proceeds from the purchase of 1 oz Firming Collagen Cream will be donated to ShelterBox.

ShelterBox is a global organization dedicating to providing shelter to families who have lost their homes due to conflict and natural disaster. They are still working to help those families affected by Hurricane Harvey and have sent out response teams to help with Hurricane Irma as well.

Join us to help in this worthy cause and provide some emergency shelter and tools to families in need. Our Firming Collagen Cream as a great anti-aging product that many of you already enjoy, but you can enjoy it more knowing that your purchase has made a difference.

Help Now

Post-Summer Anti-Aging

What causes wrinkled skin?

What you see in the mirror are wrinkles. What happened to the anatomy and the biochemistry of your skin that makes it look this way? Many, many changes happened.  Skin aging causes subcutaneous fat reduction, increased accumulation of damaged elastin in the upper dermis, destruction of the skin fibrillar structure, accumulation of inflammatory infiltrate, and more.

The epidermis becomes thinner during aging. Although this happens throughout the epidermis, this thinning is more pronounced in the deepest portion of the wrinkle and is sometimes accompanied by a reduction of the number of cellular layers. The dermis and hypodermis become atrophied during aging, with a decrease in collagen content, certain glycosaminoglycans, and in the fat tissue of the hypodermis. Conversely, there is an increase in elastin, often with a distorted structure and impaired function.

There is a lot more to the skin than “just” the cells. The changes in cell morphology and biochemistry are accompanied by major structural and functional changes that occur in the dermal extracellular matrix where fibrillar collagens, elastic fibers and proteoglycans provide tensile strength, resilience and hydration, respectively.

As time passes, skin proteins get glycosylated (sugars are attached to the amino acids), modifying structure and function.

The number of blood vessels reaching the skin (vascularization) decreases, and this causes a decrease in the supply of nutrients to the skin. This is why Skin Actives products contain so many nutrients (including vitamins, amino acids, hyaluronic acid, etc.) in order to compensate as much as possible for this loss.

What is an age spot?

Synthesis of melanin and its accumulation in the epidermis is a complex process. Many proteins participate in this process and when one or more of these proteins are effected by mutations in the DNA of the genes which code for them, you can expect changes in the pigmentation of your skin. Mutations accumulate as we age, and are accelerated by exposure to UV radiation and to ROS* (radical oxygen species), including those present in polluted air. In the areas of our skin most exposed to the sun we end up with areas of hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation, depending on which proteins have been affected.

UV and aging skin

As we all know by now, UV radiation makes intrinsic aging worse. Think about the tanning that happens when you are in the sun for a while. What happens when UV reaches your skin? UV contains energy that can be absorbed by chemicals in the skin. UV light reaches human skin and leads to inflammation, DNA mutations and more. UVA and UVB radiation also induce reactive oxygen species (ROS*) in the skin and contribute to the deleterious effects of skin damage by sunlight. ROS* promote lipid peroxidation, protein oxidation, protein cross-linking, enzyme inactivation, and DNA damage. These effects of ROS* result in decreased cell viability and biological function, increased degradation of the dermal extracellular matrix, skin carcinogenesis, and aging.

The visible result of UV exposure may be, at first, inflammation and redness. The ultimate affect, after all those chemical reactions are over, are wrinkles, sun spots, and “crepey” skin. It may take months or years until you see the final result, but the changes start as soon as you go out into the sunlight.

Independently of the damage caused by UV radiation, some changes are intrinsic to aging and happen all over the body, not just in the skin. Cells age, mutations accumulate, mitochondria age, cells divide more slowly, metabolism slows down, and the turnover of macromolecules slows down as well.

The good news is that it is never too late. Using sunscreen and Skin Actives products will help you repair and protect your skin. Just as proteins and cells were damaged, they can also repair themselves if you give them the right tools.  Wearing sunscreen and protecting yourself from UV radiation will allow your skin to repair itself. Your skin, not matter how old it is, can make new, fresh proteins and glycosaminoglycans. Your stem cells, protected and deep inside your pores, can make new cells.

An SAS program to reverse skin aging.

To get your older skin to look smooth and glowing, you can’t treat it as you would an old, cracked wall. Why? Because your skin is alive, and the wall is not. If you try to sand your skin the way you sand a wall, bad things will happen. Don’t go for experimental procedures, at home or in medical spas, which go for abrasive or high energy damage to the skin as a way to get some kind of “rebirth.” Often the results are new or increased scarring and hyperpigmentation.

Both the perfections and the imperfections you see in your skin are the result of biochemistry, with live cells making proteins, carbohydrates, and more, and changing their structure as the old cells die and new ones take their place.

It is okay to clean your skin, but not if you are going to remove most of what makes the skin a good barrier against the environment. Applying a cream with ceramides will not be enough to compensate for damage done by alcohol or detergents. Instead, try our Cleansing Oil or Creamy Facial Cleanser; they will remove dirt without removing the complex skin barrier.

Use a sunscreen. It has been shown that even without doing anything else, use of sunscreen allowed the skin to repair itself to some extent, as shown by a decrease in wrinkles and irregular pigmentation. We recommend using an SPF 30, like our SPF 30 Advanced Protection Sunscreen.

Remember to include antioxidants, including SAS proteins. ROS* have been implicated in aging and disease, including skin disease. Go for actives that work: epidermal growth factor, vitamin A, nutrition (including essential fatty acids), actives that strengthen the immune response, mitochondrial components, etc.

Use our anti-aging products that actually work. Look at some of our ingredient-packed products like our Vitamin A Cream, Antioxidant Day Cream, Collagen Serum, Every Lipid Serum, Anti-Aging Cream, and Revitalizing Night Cream. These products will provide you with the actives your skin needs to help repair itself, with none of the harsh ingredients that would only cause more harm.

In short, you have in Skin Actives’ products a resource that was not available 10 years ago. Use it to your advantage!

-Dr. Hannah Sivak

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