SCIENCE and SKINCARE
The science behind some of the world’s best skincare is often misconstrued. There is an exponential growth of the Clean Beauty Movement, as well as questions regarding the over-simplification of ingredients lists or the growing roster of nasty actives. I know the beauty industry well - I have been working in it for 15 years. I’ve come to learn that not all beauty products are created equal but like everything, they should be handled with care.
Chloe Smith is the brilliant National Education and Scientific relationships manager at SkinCeuticals. SkinCeuticals is a science-based skincare brand and is often prescribed by physicians. Their products are rooted in sound formulae that are complete, advanced and provide ultra-high performance. My fave dermatologist, Dr. Joëlle Sebaoun, prescribed me the Resveratrol on one of those mundane Parisian afternoons. I instantly loved the technology, the approach, and the scientific discourse of it all, it all felt very lab-like to me. It’s like every application warrants a pair of latex gloves!
In my interview, Smith dishes on sunscreen, clean beauty and ingredients, technique and practices... all the fundamentals. Enjoy!
ON SUNSCREEN FILTERS AND ENVIRONMENTAL FILTERS
If you’ve forgotten, skin protection is the quintessential anti-aging practice, it is key. Check out my article on how to best protect yourself against UVA, UVB, Blue Light and Infrared.
---> FZ: Your sunscreens are 100% mineral filters, could you explain?
CS: Immediately following chemical esthetic procedures like laser, micro-needling, and chemical peels, it is best to use mineral filters because they are the safest. Physicians in Canada will refuse to apply sunscreen post-procedure if it has chemical filters inside of it because of the risk of irritation and sensitization. It was therefore was a choice for the brand in Canada to go strictly with mineral.
If you didn’t get much of that, don’t fret, it’s a bit more on the technical side... I will explain - you can thank me in the comments later ;). There are two types of sun filters: Physical/Mineral ones and Chemical ones. The mineral filter acts as a barrier by reflecting the UV rays and lights away, much like a mirror. Chemical filters penetrate the epidermis and form a filtering layer that neutralizes UV rays before they transform into heat. Unfortunately, these chemical filters end up our oceans and destroy our precious coral reefs. Mineral filters, while they once rendered us a ghostly shade of pale, are now better formulated to be quasi invisible.
---> FZ: Let’s talk blue light and infrared light... your sunscreen provides protection against UVA and UVB, but not blue light and infrared right?
CS: In actuality, there is NO filter that exists for blue light or infrared light. How sunscreens claim this type of protection is through antioxidant scientific formulations. But this is a bit of a trick... When you combine antioxidants with a sunscreen formulation, it's questionable if those antioxidants are actually getting inside of the skin. This is very hard to prove. We believe that applying your antioxidant in a separate product that is proven to penetrate the skin followed by a separate sunscreen provides the best possible protection against all wavelengths.
---> FZ: So in terms of an antioxidant, you would use vitamin C or green tea or something of this nature?
CS: We primarily focus on the BEST antioxidant supporting photo protection and this is vitamin C.
---> FZ: Okay, so if I go to Paris and I buy another sunscreen, do you think I would have a better protection because it's a mix of chemical and minerals or not necessarily?
CS: Not necessarily. It would just depend on what texture preference you're going to want to use every single day. So for instance, at SkinCeuticals in Canada, our mineral filters are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide and the zinc oxide that we utilize is a micro fine zinc oxide and it's one of the only filters that's proven to protect into the UVA long- wave spectrum and without the risk of breaking down every 2 hours. What breaks down a mineral filter is water, sweat and oil so it is still recommended to reapply your mineral sunscreens. But only if you've been excessively sweating if you've gone swimming or if you have a lot of oil production.
If I’ve lost you again, it’s normal. Thanks for staying with me! The two mineral filters in this product are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide and they protect against UVA and UVB. Therefore, you obtain 100% coverage by applying an antioxidant beforehand!
---> FZ: But otherwise you don’t have to apply it every two hours like dermatologists say?
CS: Not necessarily every two hours but we still follow that recommendation just to be aligned with what the physicians say. But theoretically, when you look at how a mineral filter works, the sun cannot deactivate a mineral filter. A chemical filter, on the other hand, absorbs the UV radiation and once it absorbs a specific quantity of UV radiation, it becomes inactive and that’s when the two hour reapplication needs to really be reinforced to consumers.
ON CLEAN BEAUTY FORMULATIONS
If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard of ‘clean beauty’, let me debrief. Products are considered ‘clean’ and good for your health if their formulations are clean and contain non-toxic ingredients. All known toxic actives like parabens, sulfates, or preservatives are therefore eliminated from these formulations. The list of toxins varies from brand to brand and country to country so it’s imperative to be scrupulously informed when choosing what to buy. An offshoot of this clean beauty movement is the natural/organic movement. Products are considered ‘natural’ if they are plant-based, natural, and with limited transformation. Organic products are composed of non-GMO plant-based ingredients that have been cultivated, treated and preserved without the use of herbicides, pesticides, chemical fungicides, or antibiotics, so as to ensure that the products are contaminant free. All of these measures generates the need for there to be classifications in place, which explains why organic products are so costly.
---> FZ: I would love to ask you about the Clean Beauty movement. I am often asked for recommendations on Clean products that are effective. Do you think that you would have the same level of efficacy with a clean formula as you would a scientific one?
CS: Do you mean what ingredients it would be free of? Or do you mean organic?
---> FZ: I mean free of common ingredients that consumers don’t want to utilize like parabens. Even though some parabens are good, people don't want to hear about them. So if you clean out all these bad ingredients, would you attain the same level of efficacy? Or do you think about creating clean formulas for SkinCeuticals?
CS: We don’t really market ourselves as being a part of the clean movement but what I can tell you is that when you look at the ingredients in a lot of our formulations, the products would be considered clean. We stopped using parabens in 2014 and all of our products have been reformulated to be paraben-free, while retaining the minimal amount of added fillers inside of the products to arrive at a nice texture.
We definitely see our products as being free of those nasty ingredients like paraben-free, fragrance-free. However when it comes to silicones - they are getting a buzz right now - the right ones can actually act as a very good delivery medium for specific actives to penetrate the skin. For instance, one of our best-selling products right now is HA Intensifier; has silicones in it, but that’s in order to deliver the active ingredients inside the skin for better results. A lot of people think silicones are going to clog the pores but it's actually kind of the opposite. Silicones are meant to condition the skin act as the delivery medium and they have very little risk of clogging the pores.
In terms of it being organic or more on the natural side... I think that this needs to be considered with a degree of caution because sometimes natural ingredients or plant derived ingredients where you are actually taking the whole plant and bringing it into the skincare product, renders it unsuitable for human skin. There’s a reason why we would choose to use man-made molecules from a laboratory setting - it’s because they're safe for skin and they have the safety and efficacy studies to prove that the product is suitable for human skin usage. So that’s kind of our stance when it comes to the organic movement.
Because we are more niche in the medically-dispensed channel, we are still always going to have our origins and roots in scientific proof and if we cannot develop a product that causes a real biological change in the skin, that we can actually prove through our testing, then they aren’t a viable option for us. Have you know that we operate with the most rigorous testing in the world when it comes to skincare? This is going to sound super weird because nobody else does it to the extent that we do but we test the final formulations. For instance, the final formulation of the HA Intensifier, we test that on human skin, whereas most companies will test just the isolated active ingredients. They would remove an active from the formula and test just that isolated ingredient but when you put it with silicones or pyroxylin and other things in the final formulation, it behaves very differently when applied to the skin. So we test this and then another step further beyond that testing.
It’s like the idea of a punch biopsy... cutting out a small circle from the skin, like with a cookie cutter, and looking at it under a microscope to see what biologically changed in the skin because of the product. So we don’t rely on false marketing claims like ‘95% claim to have brighter skin’. This is patient perception and we never buy into this kind of testing. We only do things that we can quantify scientifically. Unfortunately , we are the only brand that does this.
Clueless when it comes to this whole biopsy thing? Pause here for some Netflix.
---> FZ: Last question... I am sure you know these new brands like The Ordinary or in France we have Typology... they align themselves more with the concept of simplification and they focus on one or 2 star ingredients. They claim that the formula has fewer ingredients in hopes that they will have better levels of concentration. What do you think about this? Because when I look at your ingredients list, there are many more, some I cannot even pronounce.
CS: I think that when it comes to specific products, you can get away with a very short ingredient list. For instance, at SkinCeuticals we have a product called Hydrating B5 Gel, and it is made up of only few ingredients: hyaluronic acid, water and vitamin B5. That’s it.
Formulas with hyaluronic acid in the formula don’t need a specific delivery mechanism to get that inside the skin. All HA requires is water. When you look at other ingredients, let’s take for instance vitamin C, they would have 9-12 ingredients, depending on the formula you're looking at and I know they're really hard to pronounce, they are not recognizable ingredients. But with vitamin C, it’s a completely different story. From our perspective and also from a physicians’s perspective, when you see brands like the Ordinary, they talk all about vitamin C but they’re not formulating it properly. Their best selling product is vitamin C suspended in silicone. Putting them together renders it impenetrable to human skin. It requires a water-based serum in order to penetrate the skin. There are also other ways to stabilize it but brands like these haven't invested in that quality of a formulation. So what they’re using right now are trendy ingredients like vitamin C or retinol, but when we study their delivery mechanism a little more closely, we come to learn that they aren’t the best at penetrating the skin’s surface.