Evaluating Skincare – Seeing Through the Hype

Marketing Gimmicks to be Aware Of

Be a savvy consumer and be aware that skincare companies want to convince you to buy their products out of the thousands if not tens of thousands lines out there in the market.   Some tactics are deliberately used to draw people into a euphoria of hope, and entice impulse buying.   Don’t fall for marketing hype such as this:

1)  The TV infomercial with celebrity endorsements and auto-ship programs.    Just because a celebrity may have used a product, doesn’t guarantee you the same results.   This is true for anything in life because people are unique….your biological makeup, how healthy you are, what your habits are, what medications you are on, age, gender, environment, all affect your results.   No one product will work the same on everybody.  It’s just biologically impossible.  The auto-ship programs are especially deceitful because many people don’t realize they have committed to auto-ship from an introductory offer until it’s too late, and then it’s hard to stop.  

2)  The amazing “before and after” photos.   I would be cautious about believing what you see in photos.  Lighting and angles can make a tremendous difference on the appearance of lines and spots.   Look at the color of the hair, the background, the lighting levels, and the position of the facial features.  If they are exactly identical, then I would be more prone to believe any changes but even then, photo shopping an image is very easy to do.  You can wipe out wrinkles instantly. 

3)  The “instant’ anything, instant wrinkle removers, instant lightening creams.   The skin isn’t biologically able to instantly repair wrinkles or hyperpigmentation within a few minutes, hours, or even a couple weeks.  Collagen takes a minimum of 3 weeks to rebuild and the skin turnover is from 3 to 6 weeks, longer if you are older.   So anything that results from 2 or less weeks of use is unlikely to be real and permanent.  If you see a product claiming instantaneous or overnight results, you can almost guarantee it’s only temporary and may actually be harming your skin in the long run.   The diminished wrinkles can be the result of irritation, inflammation and swelling, which is also creating free radicals.  Once you stop the irritant, the wrinkles will come right back and maybe deeper.   Applying anything to the skin to the point of saturation, will temporarily plump it up and make it appear more resilient.  But again, when you stop using the products, all the temporary improvements will be gone as well.   Same thing with lightening products.  The immunosuppressants like hydroquinone will lighten your spots while you are using it, but when you stop, the spots come right back and perhaps darker.  While you are on hydroquinone, you are also irritating the skin, which again accelerates aging.  So you put yourself in an endless cycle and are forced to lifetime maintenance on these irritating substances to maintain your “results”.  Unfortunately, they’re not addressing the root cause of the problems and are only band-aids covering up the visible symptoms of the problems.   Also, these kinds of maintenance programs are not usually sustainable due to the sensitivity and irritation which results from long-term use of these products.  Eventually, you will find yourself unable to tolerate these and other substances and in a worse situation than when you started.  So, it’s best to never start using band-aid type skincare regimens.

Learn to Listen to Your Skin

If you find your skin continually dry, irritated, and inflamed after using your products, it’s a sign that your products are damaging the skin, specifically the skin cells are being bombarded with free radicals, the telomeres are shortening faster, and the cells’ energy reserves are being depleted.  If stressed long enough, eventually the skin forgets how to function normally and becomes a dysfunctional artifact.  In effect, the continual damage causes the skin to prematurely age or become senescent.  Senescent skin takes on the appearance of a much older person’s skin in their 80s or 90s, with a hardened, thinned,  inelastic, parchment-like texture, as illustrated by this 90-year-old woman’s face:

This type of skin eventually becomes unresponsive to any kind of skincare treatment.   It’s much harder to repair damage than to prevent the damage in the first place.  So listen to your skin and stop products that are irritating.   

Hallmarks of an Effective Skincare Product

If you can answer yes to all these questions, then you probably have a safe, effective product that is making your skin healthier for the long-run.

1.   Are all the ingredients readily listed and available for the consumer to read prior to buying?

2.  Is each ingredient safe, non-irritating, and have a proven safety record.

3.  Are the concentrations of actives high enough to actuate a change in the skin over time? 

4.  When you stop using the product, does the skin remain the same and does not immediately decline in appearance?   This is the #1 test of effectiveness for any skincare product.  If you stop a product for 2 or more weeks, and the skin remains the same, then it’s a sign the skin is functioning well on its own.   If you notice an instant decline with sagging, dryness, wrinkling, irritation, breakouts, then you know you have developed a dependence on the products….similar to a drug addiction.  Don’t believe the adage that you need products to keep the skin healthy looking on a daily basis.  That is a convenient myth propagated by skincare companies who want to keep you buying their products for as long as possible.  You want products which bring the skin’s own functions back to optimal levels, so it does not “require” any topical to look good.  If you find you need less of a product over time, that is the true sign of effective skincare.  Conversely, if you find yourself in a frantic if you miss a daily application of anything, you have become a prisoner of your skincare.  You want to free yourself from that dependency.  Also, many people who find themselves tied to a maintenance program using irritating and sensitizing agents develop an unnatural fear of being outside, fearing the sun, and enjoying the outdoors.  You need to get a healthy dose of sunshine, both to maintain your vitamin D level and to maintain mental wellness.  

5.  Is the price of the products reasonable for what the contents are?  Look at the ingredients.   Know what you are paying for.  Are you paying for fancy-sounding and exotic ingredients, the latest antioxidants?  Fancy bottle?  Advertising in high-end stores?  What are you paying for?   Just because all the greatest sounding actives and botanicals are in a product, doesn’t guarantee that it will produce results.  Especially if the concentrations are miniscule or the formulation is carelessly thrown together.  Compare other lines with similar ingredients.   It’s not unusual for markups of 100, 200, or 300% on skincare.    Look at the first 4 ingredients.   If you see water (aqua), sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), aloe, mineral oil (paraffinum liquidum), glycerin, alcohols, parabens,  or silicones listed, you are paying exorbitant prices for a product comprised of mostly cheap ingredients.

6.   Are there independent human, double-blind and placebo-based tests to support results?   Eliminate any studies performed by the company or people selling the products because often studies can be manipulated or performed in a way to make the results more impressive than they are.  Also remember many studies are too short and only reflect morphologic changes (surface changes).  You want long-term studies or feedback from independent reliable sources.  If a company claims its studies show results, they may be reflecting temporary results that diminish the “appearance” of wrinkles.   Doesn’t mean the actual skin structure has changed at all, it could merely be swelling.  In order to measure true change, cell health and functioning must be measured, but this is almost never done with skincare products.   So, for now, you will have look for independent testing and/or consumer reviews which support long-term results.  Also, keep in mind if the company studies use in vitro tests to claim results, that may not be a true reflection of what happens on a real person.   In vitro tests are lab tests done in a laboratory setting using Petri dishes within a very controlled environment.  It doesn’t factor in all the variables when applied on real people.   It may work well in the lab, but do nothing in a real-world setting.   You want to find long-term (over 6 months at least) studies using “in vivo” testing on real people, measured in a clinical setting.  

Measuring Results in a Logical Way

Assuming you have chosen a skincare line to test out, how do you measure its effectiveness?   Well, it’s best to start with a clean slate and trial each product one at a time, so you really see what is happening with each individual product.  If you use multiple new products at one time, you will have no idea what is working and what is not. 

So, to begin your trial, stop using all the current products you using on a daily basis for at least 2 weeks.   Find a very simple cleanser with no SLS or other irritants to wash with at night and try to use sunscreen only when you are in the sun for more than 15 minutes at a time.  You want to see what your skin really is like before starting; this is your baseline.     At the end of 2 weeks, take a “before” photo if possible.   This will give you some visual reminder of what you began with.  

Trial each product for at least a month and see what, if anything, happens.  Take another photo at 1 month.  If you are doing okay, you could add another product and then observe what happens after a month of that.   Make notes of when you started each product and what you observe.   Takes “after” photos at 1 month intervals.   

Finding a truly effective skincare line or product takes diligence and patience because real changes don’t happen overnight.   There are no “miracles” in skincare and anybody who claims to have found one doesn’t understand how the skin works.  You can’t solely rely on potions and lotions to reverse signs of aging.  You need to address your overall health too.  Just by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, your skin should visibly improve on its own.   Using skincare to boost your skin’s own natural functions and not artificially forcing it to look a certain way is the ideal long-term solution.

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