Deciphering Skin Care Product Labels

When reading skin care product labels these days it helps to be a chemistry major. However, not all of us are. So here are some useful tips to clue you in to what you are using to look gorgeous every day!

Although most ingredients are listed in order of their concentration, manufacturing companies today are not required to list percentages. So as a general guideline, pay attention to the top five ingredients to inform you of the product’s main functions. Most active ingredients are also listed separately – for example, sunscreens and acne products. But just to confuse the issue, not all active ingredients have to be near the top of the list and can be beneficial at lower levels. Certain botanicals, vitamins A, C and E are good examples of these ingredients.

Know that there is a difference between ‘fragrance free’ and ‘unscented’ products. The first claim means that raw ingredients used have had their odors removed before blending in a formulation and contain no fragrance at all. The second claim refers to a formulation where ‘masking’ or ‘neutralizing’ agents have been added to the formulation to disguise any odor. Although fragrance free products tend to be more costly, the investment is worth it if you have very sensitive skin. Another point to make here – ‘hypoallergenic’ doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the product won’t cause a re-action. Skin can be sensitive to just about anything! I often see a client who has been using the same products for years and suddenly finds that their skin has become sensitive to those trusted products. Anything is possible and it depends on the expertise of your facialist to find a regime that works for you.

Buy date-stamped skin care products when possible or mark the date of purchase yourself especially on those items that last for a while. Products are supposedly manufactured with a shelf life of two years but it is impossible to know when the product was actually sealed and left the factory for distribution or how long it has been shelved. As a general rule and it hotter climates, keep nothing past six months ( prescription and highly active products no longer than three months) and buy what you need rather than stock piling products. As a precautionary measure, store unopened products in the refrigerator.

Skin is a mixture of oil and water. Therefore an oil-free formulation has to have something in it that will adhere to the skin. Silicone is generally a good substitute in these cases. If you have a real problem with oils, use serums, water based products or powder formulations.

Word to the wise – all products claiming to be organic are not created equal!! Great as they are, by nature, organic formulas tend to show some inconsistencies in both texture and smell with each new batch. Well formulated cosmeceuticals tend to be more consistent and just because you can’t pronounce an ingredient doesn’t mean it is a bad addition to a product. Some of those chemicals are extremely necessary and most are completely harmless. When shopping for organic, look for the NSF and USDA symbols both of which guarantee high organic content in the formulas.

Whatever you use keep in mind that during the day your products should hydrate and protect. At night they should correct and treat.

Many of you have read my previous blogs about the latest in skincare ingredients. Here is another interesting breakthrough that we are already using at Skin Sense. As with many discoveries, scientists trying to understand and solve one mystery often happen upon a possible solution for another. Many of us have watched the movie “Benjamin Button” and outside of Hollywood have seen the sad images of tiny children who grow old way before their time. This is because of a rare disease called Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome. Patients develop age-related disorders and diseases when still very young that shortens their life span to no more than twenty years in most cases. It affects only a handful of children worldwide and I am sure that the scientists who are working tirelessly to understand and help those who suffer from this terrible affliction are somewhat surprised to find the beauty industry calling it the new answer to anti-aging.

However, that is exactly what has happened. This genetic mutation creates a toxic protein called progerin that prevents cells from renewing properly.  In 2007, the US National Institute of Health also discovered that progerin was present in healthy skin and fat cells. And as we age, it increases by 3% every year!

What does all this mean?

Aging skin recycles itself more slowly with time. Progerin, it has been discovered, can contribute to this process by slowing the skin’s production of collagen and hyaluronic acid – both important components in keeping our skin youthful. Sun exposure also increases the amount of progerin in our cells. No surprise there. So how do we reduce or even remove this demon?

We have two exciting new formulas from Guinot that can help. Creme Riche Fermete Lift and Creme Lift 777 both contain an ingredient called Actiprogerin which claims to limit the production of progerin at a cellular level. The research is still very new but Guinot rarely includes a new ingredient in their products without seriously considering the benefits. Ask for a sample on your next spa visit. We would love to get your feedback.

WW-US-LA-SkinSense-Photos-08-editElectrical currents have long been a part of the SkinSense anti-aging arsenal. They provide many benefits for all skin types. So let’s discuss the various protocols that we use continuously during our facials with great results.


Ultrasound consists of high frequency sound waves that are particularly good at getting rid of waste both on and in the skin. For example, we all love mineral cosmetics but the powders in particular tend to stick in the pores. Some sunscreens do the same thing. Ultrasound ensures that the pores are cleansed thoroughly and that the skin surface is scrupulously clean during treatment which enables later absorption of the anti-oxidants we apply.

Ultrasound also increases blood circulation, stimulates the lymph flow and reduces puffiness. Indulged in too much salt or not getting enough sleep? That tired, puffy look will vanish after an ultrasound facial.

The heat produced on the skin by the ultrasound current is mild and can be very healing for skin that has been burnt or for acne lesions that have left scarring. Not to mention the anti-aging benefits of collagen production.

The notable feature about the ultrasound unit we use is that the bracelet worn during treatment to conduct the current is a form of Galvanism.

The Galvanic current operates by electro-osmosis using negative and positive ions as a method of transport. It helps active ingredients, such as moisturizers and cleansers, do their work. This current is ideal to treat dry and sensitive skin.

High Frequency:

This is an electric current with a topical frequency of 10,000 or more cycles per second; it produces no muscular contractions and does not affect the sensory nerves but is very useful to ensure the skin is completely clean after extraction by killing bacteria and promoting healing.

This blend of electrotherapy ensures great results for a myriad of skin conditions and all three are very relaxing to experience.

Anti-oxidants can be vitamins, minerals, or proteins (enzymes) that assist in reducing the damage caused by free radical activity.

Free radicals are groups of atoms that come to us through food, chemicals, the environment, radiation and stress. In part, they are a necessary and natural by-product of our bodily functions and metabolism. But when the production of free radicals is beyond the capability of our natural anti-oxidant defenses they can have damaging effects on our body cells and immune systems and can be extremely aging.

Skin is especially vulnerable to damaging free radicals, which can cause wrinkles (cross-linking) sagging and in extreme cases, when over exposure to UV light is involved, cancer.

Here is a list of ways to fight free radical activity:

Make sure your skin care products contain high levels of anti-oxidants and when having spa treatments have your aesthetician include vitamins along with hydrating and anti-aging ingredients that maintain the skin’s general well being.

Eat organic foods that have a high antioxidant level. Include lots of color in you daily food intake of fruits and vegetables – dark green, yellow, red and orange are the best – and eat moderate amounts of nuts and oil. (Extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed and hemp are excellent.) Make sure when you shop, you add carrots, kale, broccoli, avocados, spinach, citrus fruits, onions, walnuts, berries and tomatoes to your basket.

If you feel the need during extremely stressful times, add supplements, especially vitamins A, C and E, which speed up the skin’s natural repair systems by directly inhibiting further damage. B vitamins prevent itchy, dry skin and drinking green tea and eating dark chocolate keep skin soft and supple. There is also some proof that both may help protect the skin from cancer.

We cannot fully influence the environment or the level of radiation around us. But we can control what we are putting in our own internal environment – our bodies.

As far as prescription skin care products go, I get more questions about Retin-A – a form of vitamin A – than any other item. Retin-A is a proliferator. This means it speeds up cell renewal and the production of collagen and elastin, the skin’s building blocks. As far as anti-aging goes, a vitally important process that  keeps the wrinkles at bay and heals the skin more rapidly from any break-outs and sensitivity. There are many forms of vitamin A – Tazorac, Differin, Avage, Renova for example, and then blends that include topical anti-biotics, hydroquinone and cortisone. And it is really important that you know how to use whichever one you have been prescribed.

All these products make the skin photosensitive so they must only be used at night. During the day use plenty of moisturizer and an SPF of at least 30. Never use any product that combines a sunscreen and a vitamin A derivative. When used in the evening, I prefer clients to alternate Retin-A with other treatment cremes and moisturizers. Most skins should not use the product every night and I generally start first time users at 2-3 times a week. Scrubs, all AHA’s and BHA’s should be stopped until the skin has adjusted and then used sparingly on the days when Retin-A is not being applied at night-time.

If you get regular facial waxing stop using Retin-A a week before your waxing appointment to be on the safe side. I often combine my Retin-A with my moisturizer before I apply it to my skin but either way, always use a creme on top.

There are now many over the counter products that contain Vitamin A and the same rules apply. At SkinSense, we can advise you about the use of all vitamins and anti-oxidants in your every day skin care regime so don’t hesitate to get in touch. And if vitamin A doesn’t suit you, we have plenty of other options that are just as effective at fighting gravity and keeping your skin youthful.


I have written about many different ingredients over the years, particularly the new ones as they come on to the market and seem to be the next best thing! And following on from my last blog, “The Discipline of Great Skin Care” there really are some effective products and ingredients available today that have stood the test of time and have made a huge difference to how our skins age.

One I have not addressed yet is stem cell extract. Just to be clear, there is no relationship between human stem cells and plant stem cells that are used in skin care. I want to avoid any misunderstandings for ethical, political and philosophical reasons.

The advantage of plant-derived stem cells is that they are unspecialized or meristematic, until they receive a signal from the host plant to differentiate or change. Meristematic cells are generated from a defense response from the plant when it is cut. The responding callus contains stem cells that are now neutral. As they carry the entire DNA gene expression of the plant, they can turn themselves into any particular cell that is needed to heal or regenerate. At this stage these cells are cultured in the laboratory, become a usable active ingredient that eventually, when applied topically can trigger cell renewal and repair. The first research into plant stem cells was done on a variety of apple in Switzerland in the 18th century which seemed to have the ability for long-term self-preservation.

More recently, other plant extracts have been tested including edelweiss, gardenia, sea fennel, grape and lilac. The role of these plant derived ingredients in skin care products is to protect against free radical damage caused by pollution, UV exposure, inflammation and photo-aging. And the results can be dramatic. Smoother, toned skin with improved elasticity and firmness.

Stem cell harvesting does not damage or endanger the plant because a very small amount of tissue is needed and easily replaced by the host plant.

I have been in the skincare industry for many years and this is one of the most significant partnerships between nature and science I have used to date. Add some of the other great ingredients we now have at our disposal – ATP, peptides and hyaluronic acid to mention three – and we can seriously delay the effects of gravity!! Plant stem cell extracts offer us a promising and earth-friendly anti-aging tool that deserves serious examination.

Sam Dhatt, Skin Inc. magazine, October 2012. “Plant Stem Cells: The Next Generation of Skin Care Technology.”
Ivana Veljkovic, Skin Inc. magazine, January 2012. “The Science Behind Today’s Anti-aging Ingredients.”

Organic, natural, cosmeceutical skin care. What’s the difference?

In recent years the concept of using organic products has really taken off. The word ‘organic’ has sprung up all over the place – on food, clothing and many household goods.

We carry an excellent organic line at SkinSense Wellness Spa called 302 Skincare and it sells really well. And we carry other lines that mix synthetic ingredients, cosmeceuticals with botanicals, natural plant extracts and essential oils. So I thought it might be useful to clarify these variations so that you can decide more easily what to use on your own skin.

The terms ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ are often interpreted as the same thing and this is not the case. A natural ingredient can mean anything from arsenic to digitalis, neither of which would be safe to use on the skin! And safety often depends on how an extract is processed.

A truly organic USDA approved product has gone through stricter regulatory conditions than other organic products which means crops are grown without using most conventional pesticides or fertilizers. There are, in fact three categories of manufacturing levels instituted by the USDA:

  • 100% organic
  • Organic
  • Made with organic ingredients.

Both natural and organic products incorporate botanical and herbal ingredients into their formulations and both are susceptible to quality variations more so than synthetic. Plant growing conditions like weather variations and pest control, harvesting times, transport and storage can drastically affect consistency. Many clients who prefer organic products have sensitive skin and are concerned about consistency as their skins don’t like change. Other client’s are concerned about the environment. Word to the wise. There is such a thing as ‘wildcrafting’ where wild plants are harvested for commercial use. This is unregulated and puts both clients and certain plants at risk. Sustainable practices should be supported and we need as consumers to know the difference.

The term ‘synthetic’ can often imply something artificially derived or chemically produced in a laboratory but in fact all products are produced in a laboratory, synthetic or otherwise. And synthetic ingredients can sometimes offer more consistency. Cosmeceutical ingredients trend towards the newly discovered anti-aging ingredients – like ATP, collagen, retinoids,and stem cell extract, for example. Then we have botanicals and essential oils that offer a myriad of anti-oxidant and restorative benefits.

In my experience the one factor that is most important in skin care is quality. All ingredients should be rigorously tested and of the highest grade. And as well as being great at performing day to day maintenance should offer extensive anti-aging benefits. That is why we choose to offer a wide range of skin care products to suit every skin type.

I often get asked why I carry Guinot, 302 and PCA skin care lines at SkinSense so here is a brief summary of all three. Feel free to call with any questions about these products or any others that you may be using.

GUINOT is a skin care line that has been privately owned and operated for over half a century. With the cache of French luxury and the advantages of time tested formulas and modern science, the Guinot line offers the best possible solution to just about every skin problem. I have always used it because of the great results I have seen continuously on my clients’ skins over the two decades I have owned SkinSense. Each formula takes sensitivity into account which is so vital in today’s stressed world where acne, rosacea and even pigmentation can be triggered by our fast paced lives (see previous post on Melasma).

Essential oils, active botanicals and the latest in hydration and aging formulas are all available in this line which suits our clients interested in anti-aging and optimum skin maintenance.

302 Skincare is a 100% organic line with a wonderful avocado molecule that messages the cell receptors to get busy. Also great for sensitive skins, the formulas are uncomplicated and extremely gentle. Clients love the price point and simplicity of these products.

We use PCA skn care to target very specific issues like acne, rosacea and pigmentation and we find the formulas blend very well with everything else we stock. Once again the price point is extremely favorable and even though the ingredients are tough on acne and break-outs they rebalance and correct without causing any irritation.

It took us a long time to decide on these lines and are very proud and happy to utilise all three.

At this point I really believe from what I have seen on my clients’ skins and on my own, that great skin care requires a continuous and customized plan of action. We need to respect the skin as a fully functional and self regulating organ. Consistent daily care at home, rotating topicals, particularly A and C, combined with spa visits that include deep cleansing facials, lymphatic drainage, micro current and galvanic electrotherapy, can really boost cell production and repair sun and environmental damage.

I have written several times this year about the effectiveness of serums – their ability to penetrate quickly, add concentrated actives to the skin and increase the hydration level of moisturizers. Earlier this year, Guinot launched Longue Vie Serum, a new product that contains all the amino acids and vitamins of the Longue Vie family in a lighter, more concentrated form. During the winter months, we all need a little extra support, both in the hydration and anti-aging department. This new product can supply both.

I have also mentioned the effectiveness of glycolic acid in the past. We use a 30% glycolic acid solution with many of our spa facial treatments but wanted a product that you could use at home both as a spot treatment and also as an all-over radiance boost on a weekly basis. We now have this product. Gloprofessional has just launched Renew Serum – a blend of retinol, glycolic and salicylic acids that is proving to be very effective. It exfoliates the skin and keeps the complexion clear and fresh.

The common trend today seems to be about stimulating collagen and elastin production and making the skin cells work harder and longer. This less invasive approach produces, in plain words, new skin and a more youthful appearance.

Peptides form a very large part of the biological signaling mechanism. They carry information to cells and they are also major regulators of life. A peptide is a chemical compound composed of amino acids. Two or more amino acids linked together form a polypeptide. The amino acids are joined in a specific sequence by peptide bonds. According to how the peptides are joined, specific amino acids and proteins are formed. Peptides respond to cell receptors, are water soluble and cannot enter the cell. Their signal is transmitted to the DNA in the cell through the membrane receptor. Peptides are used in skin care to increase the amount of collagen being produced in the skin, stimulate fibroblast growth, and stimulate the production of keratinocytes. In other words, to minimize wrinkles and relax muscular activity. Matrixyl and Argireline are the most popular peptides currently in use but many more are becoming available. They are most effectively used in specific areas of the face like the eye area and orbicularis oris. The best method to apply them is in serum form and with the use of electrical protocols – for example, microcurrent, galvanism and ultrasound.

To learn more about how we use peptides at SkinSense Wellness Spa contact us.