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

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

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 Care@skinactives.com for more details.** 

Squalane vs. Squalene, what is it derived from?

Squalane Oil, the serum base in the new Oil Serum For Beginners Kit, is extracted from olive fruit, not from shark liver. This light oil is full of beneficial actives especially suited for the skin; among them are oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol, caffeic acid, catechin, and rutin. Loss of skin lipids results in an increased water loss and increased penetration of harmful compounds, especially for people living in big cities. Continuous use of squalane oil should alleviate skin dryness.


Why Squalane?

Lipids are an important part of our skin chemistry, they are necessary for the skin to do its job of limiting water loss from the body. Lipids also work by blocking pain signals. It is my hypothesis that the explosion in people with “sensitive skin” has to do with the obsession (planted in our brains by the skin care industry) that our skin has to be ultra clean. We are forgetting that the primary function of the skin is to prevent water loss and the entrance of noxious substances and microorganisms into our body.

Squalane versus Squalene

You may remember from high school that hydrocarbons (made only of C and H atoms, no N or O here) have a special nomenclature. Names ending in “ane” are saturated: each carbon has its 4 bonds occupied. Names ending in “ene” mean that there is an unsaturated carbon there, with a double bond somewhere.

Squalene, with 6 double bonds, is a natural chemical present in many plants and animals, including humans.

Squalene is also a triterpene, a class of chemical compounds composed of three terpene units with the molecular formula C30H48. Animals, plants and fungi all create triterpenes, with the most important example being squalene as it forms the basis of almost all steroids.

Squalene sounds like a potentially good emollient for skin care but, because of its chemical structure, it is not stable enough. For this reason, natural squalene is first reduced to squalane before being added to creams and serums.

What do you have in common with a shark?

Squalene. There is no reason to source squalane or squalene from sharks. At an estimated annual global cosmetic use close to 2,000 tons, this would mean millions of shark livers would be required to satisfy global demand. Because this hydrocarbon is present in practically all plants and animals, it makes a lot more sense to extract it from plant oils. This is why our Squalane Oil is sourced from olives; it is just as good for the skin and much better for the environment.

Elixir 10- Phytoestrogen Booster

Our Anti-Aging Cream contains soy isoflavones and resveratrol, but if you are a woman over 50 you may need even more help. Our Elixir10 booster is a mix of beneficial botanical extracts that can supply your skin (and scalp) with beneficial chemicals that will bind to the estrogen receptors left vacant by menopause.  

Phytoestrogens are plant chemicals that can interact with two of the most important receptors of steroid hormones: the sex hormone-binding globulin and the cytosolic estrogen receptor. The chemical structure of phytoestrogens differs greatly and may seem very different from estradiol, but a part of the molecule is similar enough to human estrogen to fool the receptor.

For those who think that Mother Nature made these chemicals for our benefit, think again: they are part of the defense system against fungi. Also, in the 1940s, it was noticed that pastures of red clover, a phytoestrogen-rich plant, had effects on the fecundity of grazing sheep. It is likely that these plants evolved the biochemical pathways required to make these secondary metabolites to disrupt the hormonal balance in their predators, decreasing birth rates in sheep or whatever animal was having them for breakfast.

For our Elixir10, we are using botanical extracts standardized for chemicals with estrogenic properties.  As a bonus, many of these chemicals have other beneficial properties, including antioxidant and anticancer activities, and protection from UV damage.  Please note that the beneficial properties enumerated below are on top of the estrogenic properties.

Ingredients: Soybean (Glycine max) Genistein, Flax (Linum usitatissimum) Lignans, Wild Yam Diosgenin, Soybean (Glycine max) Daidzein, Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) extract, Luteolin, Resveratrol, Apigenin, Phloretin, Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) Puerarin.

  • Kudzu Puerarin– Pueraria is a rejuvenating folk remedy in Thailand, a tradition passed on from generation to generation. The Thai name is White Kwao Krua or Kwao Keur. Besides puerarin, the 8-C-glucoside of daidzein, kudzu contains other phytoestrogens, like miroestrol, deoxymiroestrol, daidzin, genistein, and coumestrol.
  • Genistein and Daidzein- Stimulate the synthesis of hyaluronic acid. Genistein induces collagenation in soft tissue wound healing and inhibits tyrosine kinase.
  • Flax Lignans- A class of phytoestrogens with antioxidant and cancer-preventing properties, and their skin strengthening properties will help preven scarring and stretch marks.
  • Daidzein- Activates all three peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPAR) isoforms, a group of nuclear receptor proteins that function as transcription factors regulating the expression of genes, cellular differentiation, development, and metabolism.
  • Luteolin – A flavonoid with great properties: protection against lipid peroxidation  and protease activation  by UV radiation, anti-age, anti-itch, anti-inflammatory. We will soon start selling this active individually.
  • Resveratrol (3,5,4′-trihydroxystilbene)- A polyphenolic antioxidant found in grapes and red wine, blocks UVB-mediated activation of the factor NFkappa-B, and this is the mechanism of protection against photocarcinogenesis.  Plant polyphenols like resveratrol  may benefit the skin with anti-inflammatory and wound healing activity through their interaction with growth factor receptors (and the cytoplasmic and nuclear pathways these receptors control) besides direct antioxidant activity.

Easily add Elixir 10 to your ready made or base creams. This video shows you more about formulating with this active.


-Dr. Hannah Sivak

FDA rules “not enough science” to show antibacterial soaps have a benefit. Soap and water “more effective”.

From the FDA’s Consumer Updates page:

“Because the manufacturers haven’t proven that the antibacterial ingredients are safe for daily use over a long period of time. Also, manufacturers haven’t shown that these ingredients are any more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illnesses and the spread of certain infections. Some manufacturers have already started removing these ingredients from their products, ahead of the FDA’s final rule.”

“Following simple handwashing practices is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of many types of infection and illness at home, at school and elsewhere,” says Theresa M. Michele, MD, of the FDA’s Division of Nonprescription Drug Products. “We can’t advise this enough. It’s simple, and it works.”


So, what exactly is the FDA saying to consumers? Triclosan and 18 other ingredients have failed to show a true benefit in fighting germs and COULD HELP make bacteria resistant to antibiotics. These soap companies have one year to remove the 19 active ingredients from their formulas or they will no longer be available to consumers.

washing_hands-02Here are the top reasons to NOT use antibacterial products (including soaps) on the skin regularly:

1) It may promote the development of bacterial strains resistant to antibiotics.

2) Killing some bacterial populations will push the microbiome off-equilibrium, allowing other bacteria to colonize the skin.

3) Some antibacterials (natural or synthetic) are also irritating and/or allergenic to the skin.



Skin bacteria:

It used to be that we only discussed bacteria when speaking about infections. In skin care, it was all about acne and how to kill Propionibacterium acnes. Now, you can see bacteria and the “microbiome” everywhere in magazines to advertise skin care products.

Human skin functions as a physical barricade to stop the entry of pathogens, but also hosts innumerable commensal organisms (commensal means living in a relationship in which one organism derives food or other benefits from another organism without hurting or helping it). The skin cells and the immune system constantly interact with microbes maintaining an equilibrium, despite a continuous change in the environment.

Bacteria are essential to the function of the human body, and many species live in us, and on us. We are familiar with the negative effect of taking oral antibiotics on our gastrointestinal track and the flora that resides there. The probiotic supplement market is booming and even major yogurt brands now carry probiotic formulas.

The type of bacteria depends on the part of the body and on the person, but there will be many in each part, living in peace with each other and with us. So many factors influence the composition of the microbiome, like diet, gender, the environment including ultraviolet radiation, family and other factors that will impact the species composition.

In the skin, many bacterial species will not grow well in culture, so a complete identification of bacteria requires the use of DNA technology. The dry skin surface is dominated by Proteobacteria, Actinobacteria, Bacteriodetes, and Firmicutes. Moist areas are rich in Staphylococcus and Corynebacterium spp. A lower bacterial diversity is seen in oilier sites, suggesting that only few bacterial communities, like Propionibacterium, can flourish under those conditions; in acne the problem is the abnormal proliferation of this bacterium.

Scientists are getting to know more about the skin microbiome but it will be a lot of research and a long time before we know enough to effect a positive change.

Also, just in case you are not doing it already, stop using antibacterial soaps. Frequent use of some antibacterials will promote the development of bacteria resistant to antibiotics, promoting the proliferation of drug resistant infections, a scourge of medicine.


-Dr. Hannah Sivak


What are ceramides?

Ceramides consist of a long-chain or sphingoid base linked to a fatty acid via an amide bond.

Figure: Sphingosine.

Figure: ceramide, with sphingosine bound to a fatty acid via an amide.

Ceramides are present at low concentration in plants and animals, so there isn’t a good source of natural ceramides for use in the industry. Extraction of a rare chemical from a plant requires laborious processes and the resulting ingredient are terribly expensive. Another source of ceramides, the central nervous system, is not suitable for epidemiological reasons. For this reason, the ceramides used in skin care are synthetic.

Confusing Terminology

The chemical nomenclature for ceramides is simple enough: it combines the names for fatty acids and long-chain bases to denote the molecular species of ceramides, e.g. N-palmitoyl-sphingosine is d18:1-16:0.
For ceramides, the INCI (International nomenclature for cosmetic ingredients) nomenclature is not helpful. For the synthetic ceramide caproyl sphingosine  (about $25,000 per gram, for comparison, the price of pure gold is around $55 per gram), with CAS# 100403-19-8, several INCI names are used: Ceramide 5, ceramide 4, ceramide 3, ceramide 2, ceramide 1, ceramide 1A, ceramide 6, ceramide 6II, etc.
A typical ingredient list of a ceramide mix used in the industry will read as follows: Ceramide 3 (and) Ceramide 6 (and) Ceramide I (and) Phytosphingosine (and) Cholesterol (and) Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate (and) Carbomer (and) Xanthan Gum. Even with additives, this ingredient still cost several thousand dollars per Kg.
The forum question that started this article was “which ceramide does Skin Actives use?” The INCI name for “our” ceramide is “ceramide E”, and CAS No is 153967-07-8
Synonyms: Cetyl-PG Hydroxyethyl Palmitamide and Hexadecanamide, N- (2- hydroxyethyl)- N- (3- hexadecyloxy- 2- hydroxypropyl)-
If you look at the chemical formula below, you will see that this is not strictly a ceramide, thus its name “pseudoceramide”. Pseudoceramides were created to solve the problem created by topical steroids, a medication used for serious inflammatory illnesses; when used long term corticosteroids affect the skin in negative ways. Pseudoceramides are capable of forming lamellar structures like those ceramides form; they will restore the skin barrier, decreasing water loss in skin damaged by corticosteroid use.

Figure: Ceramide E (chemical name Cetyl-PG Hydroxyethyl Palmitamide).

What do ceramides do for our skin?

Ceramides are important to our skin, an important part of what makes the epidermis a good barrier against water loss. They form part of the “cement” that together with flattened, a-nucleated cells (corneocytes) make the cornified layer (stratum corneum, SC) of the epidermis. The SC is central to the role of skin as a barrier against water loss, bacterial and fungal attacks and penetration of anything foreign to the skin.








Figure: Skin layers (from Wikipedia).

The most external layer is the stratum corneum, preventing water loss and entry of noxious substances. How is the stratum corneum formed? In the layer below, keratinocytes are losing their nuclei and releasing polar lipids that will be transformed into ceramides and free fatty acids.

The SC consists of corneocytes, flattened cells that have lost their nuclei, imbedded in a lipid mixture consisting mainly of a lamellar structure of ceramides, cholesterol, and free fatty acids.  Insufficient lipids or lipids in the “wrong” ratio (because some were lost or there were not enough in the first place) can result in an increased water loss and/or increased penetration of harmful substances from the environment causing skin dryness and skin sensitivity

Now, we can make a big thing of this and say that we need to plaster the skin with topically applied ceramides in order to improve the barrier, but by the time ceramides are deposited in the epidermis it is a bit too late to change much. In my opinion, the time to work on a good stratum corneum is long before it has been formed: provide your live skin cells with the polar lipids they will use later on to make ceramides.  As for the fundamental role of the SC, the corner stone of the skin barrier, at this late stage other actives may do just as well.

How do you get ceramides in your daily skin care?

Try our ready made Every Lipid Serum which provides all of the lipids your skin needs, it is 100% active ingredients and no fillers.

We also offer 1g of Ceramides which can be added to your creams or oils.


-Dr. Hannah Sivak

Vitamin A in Skin Care

How vitamin A was found to be a Vitamin

Vitamins are organic compounds that are essential to human metabolism, but that humans are unable to synthesize so they must be acquired through food. During evolution, we “simply” lost some enzymes required for their synthesis. Observations made before 1900: Nutritional deprivation caused corneal ulcers, blindness, and high mortality. Also, an unknown substance present in milk and egg yolk is essential for nutrition.

In the early 20th century it was found that this unknown substance was fat soluble. The growth-supporting “accessory factor” in milk and egg yolk became known as ‘fat-soluble A’ in 1918 and then ‘vitamin A’ in 1920. Further research, and huge advances in chemistry and biochemistry in the 20th century, elucidated the chemical structure of the molecule and eventually lead to its chemical synthesis in the laboratory.

One of the very important roles of vitamin A is maintaining epidermal integrity. Vitamin A appears to maintain normal skin health by switching on genes and differentiating keratinocytes (immature skin cells) into mature epidermal cells.

Vitamin A activity step by step (it is complicated)

After retinoic acid enters the cell, it binds to specific nuclear receptors. These “activated” nuclear receptors in turn bind to specific regulatory sequences (called retinoic acid response elements) in the DNA inside the nucleus and directly change gene expression of specific genes. Such changes in gene expression translate into changes in the production of proteins, and are responsible for the biological and therapeutic effects of retinoids.
Acne and retinoids

In the 1970s, retinoic acid was used topically to control acne, and the effect was thought to be through reduction of sebum secretion. In 1979 a synthetic derivative of vitamin A, 13-cis-retinoic acid (isotretinoin), was found to help with severe nodulocystic acne by reducing the size and secretion of the sebaceous glands. Although it is known that a certain fraction of isotretinoin breaks down to retinoic acid, the mechanism of action of the drug (original brand name Accutane) remains unknown and is a matter of some controversy. Isotretinoin also reduces bacteria in both the ducts and skin surface. This is thought to be a result of the reduction in sebum, a nutrient source for the bacteria.

The chemistry of vitamin A

The vitamin A found in animal sources, retinyl ester, is fat soluble. This is also the form of vitamin A we use in our Skin Actives products, and what is used in commercial vitamins. Retinol (the alcohol) and retinal (the aldehyde) are very unstable.

Plants can be a source of pro-vitamin A because, if they contain alpha carotene, beta carotene, and other carotenes (as long as they contain the beta-ionone ring), the animals (including humans) that possess the enzymes required can transform these carotenoids into retinal.

Why the use of some retinoids must be medically supervised

Retinoids have significant effects on normal embryonic development. Retinoic acid has recently been characterized as a vertebrate morphogen, i.e. a signaling molecule that controls the spatial pattern of differentiation and the shape of the developing embryo. The potent teratogenic effects (malformations of the embryo) of retinoids are well established and are a consequence of their central role in morphogenesis. Isotretinoin is also a teratogen with a number of potential side-effects, so its use requires medical supervision and it is strictly controlled by law.

Retinoids are not interchangeable

Retinol and its esters (retinyl acetate and retinyl palmitate) are converted into retinoic acid and bind to receptors on the nuclear membrane, and through these receptors they exert their effects.

Some effects of vitamin A deficiency are reversed by retinoic acid, but some organs (i.e. the retina and testes) require retinal or retinol, depending on the metabolism of the organ. Skin requires retinoic acid. In short, not all of the effects of vitamin A in every organ require the same chemical form of vitamin A.

Hundreds of different chemicals share some of the activities of vitamin A, but their different structures also mean that side effects will be different. When it comes to synthetic derivatives, like isotretinoin, part of the effects may be due to its partial conversion in the body into retinoic acid. However, there is more to the mechanism of action, and this part of the story is still a matter of investigation (in other words, caveat emptor, because we have no idea how it works).

Too much can be too much

In general, retinoids tend to normalize cellular proliferation and differentiation. In human epidermis, low concentrations of retinoids generally increase keratinocyte proliferation, but high concentrations can be inhibitory. This effect is used in the treatment of psoriasis.

How vitamin A was found to have effect on aging skin

The benefits of topical tretinoin on human photodamaged skin were first observed in middle-aged women treated for persistent acne. These women described smoother, less wrinkled skin in addition to the clearing of acne. Improvements were noted in skin texture, wrinkling, pigmentation, and sallowness. Although these effects were first studied using tretinoin, retinyl acetate (vitamin A) has similar effects BUT without the irritation caused by tretinoin (and without the need for medical supervision required for the synthetic retinoid).

Many people can’t use topical tretinoin because of its side effects, which include skin irritation. We know that this is not a problem with retinyl esters, like retinyl acetate, because they work just as well or better, because they don’t have serious side effects and don’t require medical supervision. The take home lesson is that it is simply not worthwhile to suffer the side effects of tretinoin and other synthetic forms of vitamin A. We have two ready made products, Vitamin A Cream and Vitamin A Serum to deliver the benefits of retinyl acetate safely.

-Dr. Hannah Sivak


Reference: J.J.J. Fu, G.G. Hillebrand, P. Raleigh, J. Li, M.J. Marmor, V. Bertucci,_P.E. Grimes, S.H. Mandy, M.I. Perez, S.H. Weinkle and J.R. Kaczvinsky (2010). A randomized, controlled comparative study of the wrinkle reduction benefits of a cosmetic niacinamide⁄peptide⁄retinyl propionate product regimen vs. a prescription 0.02% tretinoin product regimen. British J. Dermatology, 162: 647–654