We know that picking out skin care products can be more confusion than filing taxes. So we enlisted Louise Hidinger, a cosmetic scientist, to help make the task easier by narrowing the list down to the top five ingredients you should look for in your topicals. These are backed by real science, not marketing fluff.
1. Sunscreen and Sunblocks
What they are: Sun protection products contain contain one or both of the following families of compounds: (1) synthetic organic compounds (e.g. avobenzone, octyl methoxycinnamate, and octocrylene) and (2) the inorganic mineral oxides, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
How they work: Sunscreens are primarily synthetic organic compounds that have the ability to absorb and dissipate the energy of UV radiation, thus preventing this UV radiation from damaging skin cells. Sunblocks form an opaque shield on the skin, physically blocking out UV radiation. Some sun protection products contain only sunscreens, others contain only sunblocking mineral oxides, and others contain a combination of both sunscreens and mineral oxides. Besides wearing sun protective clothing, and limiting exposure during peak sun hours of the day, wearing sunscreen is the best way to keep the signs of ageing at bay. In order for it to work, it has be applied liberally and regularly (every 2-3 hours!).
Treats: Signs of ageing (wrinkles, solar lentigines), post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, skin tone and texture.
Years of scientific research: 60+
What they are: Retinol and related compounds, including retinoic acid, isotretinoin, retinal, and retinyl palmitate.
How they work: Retinoids speed up the rate of cell turnover and exfoliation, as well as boosting collagen production. Retinol is available in over-the-counter formulations, while formulations containing retinoic acid and related compounds are available with a doctor’s prescription only. Prescription products containing retinoic acid (tretinoin) are quite powerful and they are not without side effects, including dryness, irritation, and sun sensitivity.
Retinol is much milder as skin cells must convert it to retinoic acid, which is the active form that triggers an increase in cell turnover. This acts as a rate-limiting step that slows down the effect of retinol, but also greatly decreases the negative side effects associated with other retinoids. Retinol degrades readily when exposed to light and oxygen, so look for new formulations that contain microencapsulated retinol and protective packaging that protects the product from light and air exposure.
With regular use, retinoids smooth fine lines, improves skin tone and texture, and lightens brown spots. After sunscreen, this is the next most effective method for slowing down the signs of ageing, but it has to be used in combination with a sun protection method.
Treats: Signs of ageing (wrinkles, solar lentigines), acne, uneven skin tone and texture, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, enlarged pores.
Years of scientific research: 80+
How they work: Free radicals in the body are generated by cellular respiration (the consumption of oxygen to generate energy), and also by exposure to UV radiation and ionizing radiation. As free radicals are powerful oxidizing agents, it is thought that an accumulation of free radical-initiated oxidative damage to the body’s cells contributes to ageing. Antioxidants are molecules that are readily oxidized and serve to protect other molecules from oxidation. It is believed that topical application of antioxidants may slow down the signs of ageing by mopping up free radicals and preventing them from attacking and damaging skin cells via oxidative reactions. In addition, antioxidant molecules and enzymes found naturally in the body are used to keep the metal ions in the catalytic centres of certain enzymes at the correct oxidation state, thus keeping the enzymes active as catalysts
Years of scientific research: 30+
4. Natural Skin Lighteners and Brighteners
What they are: Extracts or purified active compounds from natural sources including plants, fungi and bacteria. Common examples include: arbutin, mulberry extract, bearberry extract, kojic acid, licorice root extract, soy extract.
How they work: Skin brighteners work by inhibiting the formation of melanin, the pigment compound responsible for skin colour. Hydroquinone is widely found in the natural world, and it is also the most effective skin lightening agent. However, it is restricted or banned for use in beauty products in many countries, due to the risk of side effects from long-term use and fears of it being a potential carcinogen. As a result, alternatives that are believed to be safer than hydroquinone are becoming popular. Arbutin is a glycosylated form of hydroquinone, found in a variety of plants such as mulberry and bearberry; it is considered to be much gentler than hydroquinone and with less risk of side effects. Extracts and compounds isolated from other sources, such as soy, licorice root and kojic acid (derived from fungi during rice fermentation), are also known to inhibit melanin production, but at a much lower rate compared to hydroquinone; a minimum of 6-8 weeks usage is typically required to see noticeable changes.
Treats: Uneven skin tone, solar lentigines (age spots), post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, melasma.
Years of scientific research: 25+
5. The B Vitamins
What are they: Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) and panthenol (Provitamin B5)
How they work: Niacinamide acts as an anti-inflammatory as well as an exfoliant, making it effective for treating inflammatory skin conditions, including acne. Niacinamide has also been observed to act as a skin brightener by reducing hyperpigmentation. Meanwhile, panthenol is a highly effective humectant, helping skin to retain moisture.
Treats: Fine lines, acne, skin tone and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Years of scientific research: 20+
Find all of these ingredients within the complete line of Kellett Skincare products.