NAD+ is so important; don’t forget it when you take care of your skin!

Do you remember the stories about sirtuins, resveratrol and the “French paradox”?

Sirtuins are proteins with a very important role in the cell: they control the enzyme that converts acetate, a source of calories, into acetyl CoA, a key point of entry to cellular respiration.  Because of this crucial role, it has been proposed that it may be possible to control age-related disorders in various organisms, and in humans.  These disorders include obesity, metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes mellitus, Parkinson’s disease and the “ultimate disorder”: aging.

What is the French paradox?  Despite the high consumption of saturated fats like butter, French people have a lower than expected incidence of heart disease, a fact attributed to their higher consumption of red wine. I think this is a very pleasant way to activate sirtuins! Another effective sirtuin activation strategy is calorie restriction (not eating!) and this is not an experiment that I am eager to try.

Sirtuins are evolutionarily conserved aging/longevity regulators, present in humans but also in yeast, worms, flies, and mice. Sirtuins are NAD+-dependent deacylases, which respond  to nutritional and environmental perturbations, such as fasting, DNA damage, dietary restriction and oxidative stress. In general, sirtuin activation triggers nuclear transcriptional programs that enhance metabolic efficiency and also stimulate mitochondrial oxidative metabolism and the accompanying resistance to oxidative stress. Sirtuins increase anti-oxidant pathways and facilitate DNA damage repair through chemical modification  of repair proteins. Research  has shown that sirtuins promote longevity in yeast, worms, flies, and mice, and can mitigate many diseases of aging in mice, including  type 2 diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, and pro-inflammatory diseases.

The potential role of sirtuins in aging made them an instant hit with the skin care industry. Research on sirtuin-related pharmaceuticals is still in its infancy, but a famous skin care brand promotes one of its products as “pro-sirtuin” (terms like “youth proteins” and “age decelerators”, have also been used).  There is no real pro-sirtuin technology in those products, because there is no such technology yet; the ingredient lists are just more of the same.

There are ways to approach the information now available about sirtuins: add actives than can help activate them or add substrates that are required for their activity. Starving the skin would not work, because it would only accelerate thinning and elasticity loss.  What can be done? We can add sirtuin activators like resveratrol to the skin care products we use. Resveratrol, a favorite ingredient which we at SAS use practically pure, will activate sirtuins and promote DNA repair. We can also add NAD+, a coenzyme required for sirtuin activity.  NAD+ also affects other enzymes, such as the poly ADP-ribose polymerase (PARP) protein family, and the cyclic ADP-ribose (cADPR) synthases which require NAD+ as a co-substrate to perform their function.

The dependence on NAD+ concentration by crucial enzymes like sirtuins, PARPs and cADPRs makes NAD+ even more relevant from the point of view of human health. So be prepared to see NAD+ in the news. And, for now, keep an eye on Skin Actives, because we are planning to add NAD+ to several of our anti-age products.

Note: What is a coenzyme?

Coenzymes are organic molecules required by certain enzymes to carry out catalysis, i.e. accelerate chemical reactions. Coenzymes are often made up of vitamins, or, seen from a different perspective, we need some of the vitamins because they are part of coenzymes. We need to ingest these vitamins because we are unable to synthesize them from scratch, so they have to come from other sources. One of these vitamins is nicotinamide (a.k.a. niacinamide) and it is a critical part of the coenzyme NAD+ (and also of NADP+ and the reduced forms NADH and NADPH).

NAD+ and its role in electron exchange and protein regulation

Structure NAD

Figure: the structure of NAD+

Why is NAD+ so crucial to life? NAD+ acts as an electron/hydrogen carrier that facilitates the transfer of energy between nutrients and the cell’s energy currency, ATP. In these oxidation-reduction reactions, the active part of the coenzyme (the one that gets reduced and oxidized again and again) is the nicotinamide.

Redox NAD

Figure: The redox reactions of NAD+.

RH2 + NAD+ → NADH + H+ + R;

From the hydride electron pair, one electron is transferred to the positively charged nitrogen of the nicotinamide ring of NAD+, and the second hydrogen atom transferred to the C4 carbon atom opposite this nitrogen.

The redox couple NAD+/NADH participates in numerous reactions that require electron exchange, such as glycolysis, pyruvate-to-lactate and pyruvate-to-acetyl-CoA interconversions, beta-oxidation, citric acid cycle (TCA cycle), and oxidative phosphorylation. For example, NAD+ is converted to NADH in the glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase step of glycolysis, a pathway in which glucose is converted to pyruvate. Conversion of NAD+ to NADH is also important in mitochondrial metabolism. In mitochondria, NAD+ is converted to NADH in four steps of the mitochondrial TCA cycle, in which acetyl-CoA is oxidized to carbon dioxide. NAD+ is also converted to NADH during the oxidation of fatty acids and amino acids in mitochondria. In these mitochondrial pathways, the NADH generated is an electron donor for oxidative phosphorylation and ATP synthesis.

NAD+ also plays an important role in the regulation of NAD+-consuming enzymes, including sirtuins, poly-ADP-ribose polymerases (PARPs), and CD38/157 ectoenzymes. NAD+ biosynthesis, particularly mediated by nicotinamide phosphoribosyltransferase (NAMPT), and SIRT1 function together to regulate metabolism and circadian rhythm.

NAD+ levels decline during the aging process, causing defects in nuclear and mitochondrial functions and resulting in many age-associated pathologies. Restoring NAD+ can dramatically ameliorate these age-associated functional defects, counteracting many diseases of aging, including neurodegenerative diseases. Thus, the combination of sirtuin activation and NAD+ intermediate supplementation may be an effective anti-aging intervention.

Sirtuins are evolutionarily conserved aging/longevity regulators, which are present in yeast, worms, flies, mice and humans. Sirtuins are NAD+-dependent deacylases, which play key roles in responding to nutritional and environmental perturbations, such as fasting, DNA damage, dietary restriction and oxidative stress. In general, sirtuin activation triggers nuclear transcriptional programs that enhance metabolic efficiency and also upregulate mitochondrial oxidative metabolism and the accompanying resistance to oxidative stress. Sirtuins foster this resistance by increasing anti-oxidant pathways and by facilitating DNA damage repair through deacetylation or ADP-ribosylation of repair proteins. Accordingly, many studies have shown that sirtuins promote longevity in yeast, worms, flies, and mice, and can mitigate many diseases of aging in murine models, such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, and pro-inflammatory diseases.

The dependence of crucial enzymes like sirtuins, PARPs, and cADPRs on NAD+ concentration, makes NAD+ even more relevant from the point of view of human health. So, be prepared to see NAD+ in the news. And, for now, keep an eye on Skin Actives, because we are planning to add NAD+ to several of our anti-age products.

-Dr Hannah Sivak


Imai S., Guarente L. (2014) NAD+ and Sirtuins in Aging and Disease. Trends Cell Biol. 2014 Aug; 24(8): 464–471.  10.1016/j.tcb.2014.04.002


Understanding Elastin for Advanced Home Formulators

The effects of solar elastosis

One of the most recognizable and striking signs of skin aging is actinic elastosis. You know what it looks like: thickened, leather-like, deeply fissured skin seen on the back of the sun-exposed neck, but in some people it is also on their faces. These are the most striking wrinkles because they are deep and large. The little wrinkles we complain about are nothing when compared with these huge valleys and mountains in the skin of people who have exposed their faces and necks to UV damage for decades.

Do you know what is going on in actinic elastosis?  Probably not, but you don’t have to. It does matter when people who design skin care products don’t know either. One example of this is the use of sh-polypeptide 50 in skin care. The first problem with this ingredient is that it can be almost anything. In an annoyingly vague International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) definition, it seems that it can be almost any length and any sequence.

In some company’s advertising they talk about this peptide being proelastin, a soluble protein precursor to the very insoluble elastin, which is a giant molecule of incredible complexity (proelastin has a MW of more than 60,000, with more than 600 amino acids). Whatever they are using in their products, there is no mention in the scientific literature that adding proelastin can increase synthesis of elastin in the skin. And this is not surprising if we look at how elastin is actually made in the skin. Please bear with me as I describe this complex process as briefly as I can. If you think that collagen synthesis is complicated, then elastin synthesis is crazy complicated.

Elastin production

The fibroblasts are a major group of cells in the dermis involved in making elastin, a process that occurs in the dermis. During this process, the tropoelastin monomer is synthesized on the rough endoplasmic reticulum of the fibroblast and undergoes intracellular post-translational modification. In this phase, the elastin-binding protein associates with tropoelastin monomers to form a complex before being released on the cell surface. This association of elastin-binding protein and tropoelastin monomers is responsible for the elastin stability.

elastin synthesis

Figure. Synthesis of elastin in the skin.

As for all proteins, the first step in the synthesis of elastin occurs inside the nucleus of the fibroblast where the gene is transcribed into messenger RNA. Polypeptide formation from this messenger RNA to form tropoelastin occurs in the endoplasmic reticulum, but several other proteins are also involved. Inside the cell, the elastin-binding proteins associate with tropoelastin monomers to become a complex that will be released from the cell surface (number 2 in figure above). During the formation of elastic fibers, microfibrils’ components function as a scaffold where elastin will deposit. Several other molecules are involved in the process, such as the enzyme lysil oxidase, fibrillin, microfibrils-associated proteins, decorin, fibulins, and more. The mature elastin (number 3 in figure above) is then formed by cross-linking of lysine and tropoelastin, mediated by enzyme lysyl oxidase.

How NOT to repair elastin

Elastosis is also a complex process, where elastin fibers become a mess and the structure of the elastin fibers is completely different from what it should be. From the biochemical point of view, actinic elastosis consists of accumulation of degenerated elastic fibers.

The take home message? That actinic elastosis does not happen because of the scarcity of elastin but because the elastin present is “faulty.” There are two main causes for this problem: 1) normal elastin is modified in a number of ways and 2) newly formed elastin is made “wrong.” Both happen in elastotic skin.

There is no (scientific) reason to believe that adding tropoelastin to aging skin will solve the problem. Indeed, there is no reason to believe that increasing supply of this component of elastin, normally produced in the dermis, will cause it to incorporate into new elastin.

Moreover, because of the complexity of the whole process, we can assume that by adding tropoelastin, or whatever sh-polypeptide 50 may be, elastosis can be aggravated. There is no proof that it helps and no proof that it hurts because no research has been published in scientific journals. The experiment is being done on the consumers, in a gigantic project where the guinea pigs are paying millions of dollars to be used as research subjects in a completely uncontrolled experiment.

The experiment started decades ago when partly hydrolyzed elastin from the neck tendons of young calves was used on women’s skin; an experiment that was granted a patent without any published research to prove benefits to the subjects. The use of elastin pieces received a very small grant from the government because it was suggested that these pieces could be made into a scaffold that may be used in vitro for experiments. The structure of this hypothetical scaffold has no relation whatsoever with the highly organized elastin we have in our skin. I don’t think this was dangerous, because small peptides, if they penetrate the epidermis, will be degraded and used as amino acids by the skin. Yucky? Yes. Dangerous? No.

Don’t let the industry use you to try an undefined ingredient of any molecular weight and amino acid sequence.

-Dr. Hannah Sivak

Reference: Weihermann, A. C., Lorencini, M., Brohem, C. A. and de Carvalho, C. M. (2017), Elastin structure and its involvement in skin photoageing. Int J Cosmet Sci, 39: 241–247. doi:10.1111/ics.12372

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

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

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!

unnamed (1)

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 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.