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


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

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

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

Everything you need to know about peels and skin renewal

What does “skin renewal” mean?  

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

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

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

Skin structure

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


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

The epidermis

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

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

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

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


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

The dermis

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

So, you want smooth skin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lactic or glycolic?

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

Don’t play with fire (or acids)

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

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

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

Your skin renews itself, so why push for more?

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

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

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

What do people expect from a peel? 


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

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

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

-Dr. Hannah Sivak

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

Share the Love Campaign- Valentines Day 2017

For Valentine’s Day this year, we want you to share the Skin Active’s LOVE with one of your friends! Click on the link below to submit their name, address and email and we will send them a deluxe sample! (Domestic US addresses only**).



**For our international customers: When placing your next online order, please put “Share the Love” in your ‘Customer notes’ and we will add a deluxe sample to your order for you to gift your friend.**

2017 Holiday Gift Guide

Stocking Stuffers:
Nail Care Duo
Brow and Lash Serum
Liquid Rainbow
Celestite Spritz
Soft Lip Balm


Anti-Aging Wish List:
Skin Actives Essentials Kit
Cream Trio Set
Serum Quartet


Acne Wish List:
Acne Control Set
Alpha Beta Exfoliator
Acne Control Mask


Dry Skin List:
Dream Cream Trio
Every Lipid Serum
Rosehip Seed Oil


Body Care Wish List:
Desert Salt Scrub
Hand and Body Lotion
Dream Cream


For Him:
Shaving Lotion
Coral Nutrient Serum
Salicylic Wash


DIY Wish List:
Formulation for Beginners Kit
Sea Kelp Coral
Canvas Base Cream


Actives Wish List:
Epidermal Growth Factor
Hydrolyzed Collagen
Tetrapeptide Solution (Matrixyl 3000)


Need help finding the perfect gift?
Email care@skinactives.com or call 480-813-5633

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

UV exposure, aging and our remedy: UV Repair Cream

Radiation: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

How to Get “the glow” – If you are a professional photographer you know that the skin does not glow, but that the clever use of light can make it look so, like in the magnificent photographs of Greta Garbo. Women in the 1930s wanted the same glow that we want in our skin now. My son, Jonatan brought me a lovely gift from France, a poster advertising an original way to get “the glow.”

Promising beautifying and curative activity, the Tho-Radia cream and powder were sold in France during the early 1930’s. The products were advertised as the creation of “Docteur Alfred Curie” although he may not have even existed (Pierre Curie had died in 1906, and the rest of his family were active physicists too busy to sell beauty treatments). Never mind that just two years after the discovery of Radium, it was found that it could damage the skin. Physicist Antoine Becquerel (who discovered radioactivity with Pierre and Marie Curie) found out when he carried a small ampoule of radium around in his pocket for 6 hours and reported that his skin ulcerated.



Take home lesson? Very bad people taking advantage of a women’s desire for beauty have been around for centuries. You can’t afford to be naive and ignore science (as opposed to quackery). Radioactivity is a form of radiation, and we can keep it as an example of “the ugly,” we only encounter rarely.

Sunlight is More than What We See

Ultraviolet light is classified into three categories: UVA (long wave, black light, 315 to 400 nm) which causes tanning, UVB (medium wave, 280 to 315 nm) which causes sunburn, and UVC (short wave, germicidal, 100 to 280 nm) which is filtered out by the atmosphere and does not reach us. Incidentally, the ozone layer absorbs 97–99% of the UV from about 200 nm to 315 nm wavelength, which potentially damages exposed life forms on Earth.


Not everything UV light does to you is bad, ultraviolet light (between 270 nm and 300 nm) reaching our skin breaks down 7-dehydrocholesterol flowing in the bloodstream, converting it into vitamin D. Experts believe that our efforts to curtail skin damage are pushing us into the area of vitamin D deficiency. Sunscreen and dark skin interfere with your capacity to make vitamin D, but unless you work outdoors, you may not get enough sun even if you don’t wear sunscreen. Talk to your MD, and she/he may measure vitamin D or simply tell you to get a supplement. You will probably need 2,000-4,000 IU, so the 400 or 500 IU in your multivitamins may not be enough. But don’t skimp on sunscreen, because this is unlikely to solve your vitamin D problem (especially if you are dark skinned) and because skin cancer and skin aging are not nice.

It is known that lying in the sun can make you feel good.  I am sure this is why I see people lying in the sun for hours, even though they look red and puffy. It can’t possibly be just to show their friends that they have money for a vacation in the sun, right? This “sunbathing addiction” may be related to the release of endorphins as UV reaches our skin. That fleeting sense of well being is not worth the “elephant skin” and, worse, melanoma, which years of sunbathing may bring.

If you are over 50 and had beach vacations, look at the sun-exposed side of your arm: patches of hyperpigmentation, whitish areas where there is little melanin and wrinkles, plus a little scar made by your dermatologist when she excised a dark, menacing looking mole. Now look at the “shaded” side of your arm and you will find mostly youthful, elastic, and smooth skin.

Ultraviolet light stimulates melanin production and the melanin formed absorbs the UV radiation in sunlight, so it protects the cells from further UV damage. However, significant melanin production takes about a week, so during the first day on the beach your skin is fully exposed to the fiery sun, and unprotected by melanin.

Sunburn is a delayed erythema (red skin) caused by ultraviolet B, which induces an increase in blood flow beginning about 4 hours following exposure. The underlying cause of this vascular reaction is damage to the cell from photochemical reactions and the generation of reactive oxygen species. There is damage to DNA, and several inflammatory pathways are activated, particularly involving prostaglandins that ultimately lead to vasodilatation and edema. Sunburn is not only painful, it is also a marker for severe UV damage and a predictor of worse things to come (like skin cancer) within years or decades. Why? There is a correlation between erythema and DNA damage; the UV wavelengths more efficient at producing erythema are also the most effective at forming pyrimidine dimers. There is a link between a history of repeated, severe sunburn and increased risk for melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer.

Our answer: UV Repair Cream

UV Repair Cream is a cream for anyone who wants to prevent and repair damage caused by the sun, in addition to providing many other benefits for their skin. This cream contains ingredients for skin lightening, anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, antioxidant, and much more!
This will sound repetitive, but if you keep away from the sun and use sunscreen, your skin will stay younger and healthier. Protecting your skin from further damage and by providing the skin with tools to help reverse the damage inflicted on cellular DNA by age and the environment.
What can you do? You can protect your skin and the skin stem cells that will allow your skin, this most important human organ, to heal and regenerate. The objective of a “rejuvenating” cream should be to promote the skin’s own healing powers by protecting its stem cells and supplying actives known to help repair DNA mutations. This is why we created UV Repair Cream.


Ingredient Functions:
Function Active
Skin lightening Betulinic acid, Niacinamide, Tetrahydrocurcuminoids
Free radical scavenger
Caffeine, Tetrahydrocurcuminoids, Glutathione, Astaxanthin, Lycopene, Alpha-D-tocopherol,  Tocotrienols, Lutein, Slpha lipoic acid, Quercetin, Silymarin, Green tea EGCG, Resveratrol, Porphyridium, Myricetin, Ferulic Acid
Anti-aging Resveratrol, Lutein, Astragalus, Porphyridium extract, Myricetin, Silymarin,
Anti-inflammatory Niacinamide, Boswellia serrata,  Galangal, Quercetin, Centella asiatica, Ursolic acid, Porphyridium Extract,  Mangosteen, Tetrahydrocurcuminoids, Beta glucan from yeast,
Emollients Shea butter, Rosehip oil, Olive Squalane
Skin elasticity Melatonin, Quercetin, Betulinic Acid
Anticancer Astragalus, Betulinic acid, Niacinamide, Galangal, Lycopene, Silymarin, Mangosteen, Green tea EGCG, Caffeine, Pomegranate seed oil, Sandalwood essential oil,  Ceramides, Ursolic acid, Caffeine, Ferulic acid,  Black cumin oil
Immune function promoter and/or Anti-viral/antibacterial Beta glucan (yeast), Boswellia serrata, Sea kelp bioferment, Porphyridium extract, Ursolic acid, Galangal, Quercetin, Green Tea EGCG, Astragalus
Protease inhibitor Boswellia serrata, Betulinic acid, quercetin, Ursolic Acid
Skin barrier repair Ceramides, Squalane, Rosehip seed oil, Centella asiatica, Soy isoflavones


-Dr. Hannah Sivak