Ingredient Knowledge for Skin Care Products


More often than not its a question that repeats itself on a regular basis in my medical spa. “What is a good product that I should be using”? The fact that the skin care and beauty industry is a multi billion dollar industry is a que to the confusion of most consumers as to what they should be using. There is just too much selling going on that is disguised as information; which in turn, leaves everyone in a purchasing frenzy to pick up the latest anti aging miracle lotions. If you ask me its reminiscent of the days of the old traveling sales man with his snake oils, smoke and mirror trickery. Leaving most of us with an expensive cupboard full of useless “miracle” potions.

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Following are a list of ingredients that you should be looking for in your skincare, weather it’s from Shoppers, Sephora or your local skincare provider.

Alpha hydroxy acids
(AHAs) Products containing alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic, lactic, tartaric, and citric acids) help with fine lines, irregular pigmentation, age spots, and pore size. Side effects of alpha hydroxy acids include mild irritation & sun sensitivity. Always use a sunscreen SPF of at least 30 with any cosmeceutical to avoid burning. Start with a product with a maximum concentration of 10% to 15% AHA. To allow your skin to get used to alpha-hydroxy acids, apply it every other day for the first few weeks working up to a daily application.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid  Being touted as “the miracle in a jar” for its anti aging effects. It’s an ultra potent antioxidant that helps fight future skin damage & helps repair past damage. Alpha-lipoic acid has been referred to as a “universal antioxidant” because it’s soluble in both water & oil, which allows it to enter all parts of the cell. Because of this permeability, alpha-lipoic acid can provide the greatest protection against damaging free radicals when compared with other antioxidants. Alpha-lipoic acid diminishes fine lines, gives skin a healthy glow, & boosts levels of other antioxidants, such as vitamin C.

Beta-hydroxy acid (salicylic acid) removes dead skin and can improve the texture and colour of sun damaged skin. It penetrates oil-laden hair follicle openings and, as a result, also helps with acne. There are many skin care products available that contain salicylic acid. Some are available over-the-counter and others are available only at a skin care professional’s office. Studies have shown that salicylic acid is less irritating than skin care products containing alpha-hydroxy acids, while providing similar improvement in skin texture and color.

Copper Peptide is often referred to as the most effective skin regeneration product, even though it’s only been on the market since 1997. Studies have shown that copper peptide promotes collagen & elastin production, acts as an antioxidant, & promotes production of glycosaminoglycans (think hyaluronic acid, as an example). Studies have also shown that copper-dependent enzymes increase the benefits of the body’s natural tissue-building processes. The substance helps to firm, smooth, and soften skin, doing it in less time than most other anti aging skin care products. Clinical studies have found that copper peptides also remove damaged collagen & elastin from the skinscar tissue.

DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol), If you’ve heard of fish referred to as brain food, you can thank DMAE. This substance is naturally produced in the brain, but DMAE is also present in anchovies, salmon, and sardines. DMAE boosts the production of acetylcholine, which is important for proper mental functions. DMAE in skin care products shows remarkable effects when applied topically to skin, resulting in the reduction of fine lines & wrinkles.

Hyaluronic Acid Which is not really an acid is often used in conjunction with vitamin C products to help with effective absorption. Hyaluronic acid (also known as a glycosaminoglycan) is often touted for its ability to “reverse” or stop aging. Hyaluronic acid is often referred to as the “key to the fountain of youth“, because it occurs naturally (and quite abundantly) in younger humans and animals, other tissues, and joint fluid. Hyaluronic acid is a component of the body’s connective tissues for lubrication and cushioning. As we age, however, the forces of nature destroy hyaluronic acid. Lifestyle such as diet & smoking  affect your body’s level of hyaluronic acid over time, so using products with hyaluronic acid would help fight the signs of wrinkled skin.

Hydroquinone skin care products containing hydroquinone are often called bleaching creams or lightening agents. These skin care products are used to lighten hyperpigmentation, such as age spots and dark spots related to pregnancy or hormone therapy (melasma or chloasma). Over-the-counter skin care products such as NeoStrata HQ Plus Lightening Gel – 15g contain hydroquinone. Your skin care professional can also prescribe a serum with a higher concentration of hydroquinone if your skin doesn’t respond to over-the-counter treatments. If you are allergic to hydroquinones, you may benefit from use of products containing kojic acid instead.

Kojic Acid is also is a remedy for the treatment of pigment problems and age spots. Discovered in 1989, kojic acid works similarly to hydroquinone. Kojic acid is derived from a fungus, and studies have shown that it is effective as a lightening agent, slowing production of melanin (brown pigment).

L-Ascorbic Acid This is the only form of vitamin C that you should look for in your skin care products. There are many skin care products on the market today that boast vitamin C derivatives as an ingredient (magnesium ascorbyl phosphate or ascorbyl palmitate, for example), but L-ascorbic acid is the only useful form of vitamin C in skin care products. With age and sun exposure, collagen synthesis in the skin decreases, leading to wrinkles. Vitamin C is the only antioxidant proven to stimulate the synthesis of collagen, minimizing fine lines, scars, and wrinkles.

Retinol is derived from vitamin A and is found in many over-the-counter “anti-aging” skin care products. Tretinoin, which is the active ingredient in prescription Retin-A and Renova creams, is a stronger version of retinol. If your skin is too sensitive to use Retin-A, over-the-counter retinol is an excellent alternative. Here’s why skin responds to skin care products with retinol: vitamin A has a molecular structure that’s tiny enough to get into the lower layers of skin, where it finds collagen and elastin. Retinol is proven to improve mottled pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles , skin texture, skin tone and color, and your skin’s hydration levels. Retinyl palmitate is another ingredient related to retinol, but is less potent.


Draelos ZD. Cosmeceuticals. In: Alam M, Pongprutthipan M, editors. Body Rejuvenation. 1st ed. New York, NY: Springer; 2010: Chap 8.

Reszko AE, Berson D, Lupo M. Cosmeceuticals: practical applications. Clinics in Dermatology 2009; 27(4):401-416.

Grossman R. The role of dimethylaminoethanol in cosmetic dermatology. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology 2005; 6(1):39-47.

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