The rise of advanced skincare

A combination of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals is helping to improve skincare, as Claire Coleman reports

Most surgeons now agree that when it comes to facial cosmetic surgery, proper skincare can make the difference between a good result and a great result. But they’re not using off-the-shelf skincare, they’re using a group of products that have been dubbed cosmeceuticals.

“There’s no legal definition of a cosmeceutical in the UK,” explains Stefanie Williams, dermatologist and founder of European Dermatology London. “Generally, they’re considered to lie somewhere between off-the-shelf cosmetics and topical pharmaceutical products for which you’d need a prescription.”

While not prescribed, they’re usually sold through dermatologists, doctors and surgeons- and for good reason. “Unlike the products you can pick up off the shelf, which have to be formulated to be so bland they won’t cause any problems, the levels of active ingredients in cosmeceuticals can provoke an irritant reaction – redness, flaking, dryness – that may be quite normal, but does need to be supervised,” says Dr Williams.

So exactly what ingredients should you be looking for? “The beauty industry is always trying to invent something new because customers get bored. But new isn’t always better. Instead, you should be looking for ingredients that have a proven track record and evidence to show they can do what they promise,” she says.

One of the most established ingredients is vitamin A and its derivatives, such as retinol, retinaldehyde and retinyl palmitate. It helps improve skin texture and pigmentation as it boosts the rate of cell turnover, but it also boosts production of collagen, the protein that makes skin firm.

RADIANCE AND TEXTURE

AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids), such as glycolic acid, which helps break down the glue that keeps dead skin cells stuck to your face, and thus improves radiance and texture, are another firm favourite of many dermatologists. And, if you’re looking at AHAs, poly hydroxy acids and bionic polyhydroxy acids tend to work best.

Antioxidants should also be on your hit list. “Antioxidants have been shown to offer protection against damage caused by UV [ultraviolet] and pollution, and the gold standard is L-ascorbic acid or vitamin C. It works best when combined with other antioxidants, such as vitamin E,” says Dr Williams.

You should be looking for ingredients that have a proven track record and evidence to show they can do what they promise

If you’re concerned about pigmentation, look for products containing kojic acid, which works by reducing the amount of melanin – the stuff that makes skin brown – that is produced. But it’s not just about getting the right ingredients; they also have to be at effective concentrations.

“Retinol can cause irritation so I’d introduce it slowly, on alternate days, starting with 0.3 per cent. If your skin can tolerate it, you can then move up to 0.5 per cent and even 1 per cent. It’s a highly effective ingredient,” says Dr Williams. “Vitamin C has been shown to be most effective when it’s at a concentration of between 10 and 20 per cent, while kojic acid should be at about 1 per cent.”

And, whatever cosmeceuticals you’re using, there’s one product that should always be on your list. “Many of these ingredients will make your skin more sensitive to the sun and, as around 80 per cent of visible ageing is caused by the sun, I always recommend my patients use a high factor – SPF 30-50 – broad spectrum sunscreen. It’s the single, most vital anti-ageing step you can take,” she says.

SKINCARE JARGON

BUSTING THE BUZZWORDS

FREE RADICALS These are unstable compounds that are produced both naturally by the body, and by things such as pollution and sunlight. They’re known to cause damage to the skin, but they can be stabilised and neutralised by antioxidants.

PEPTIDE Thisis basically protein which works as a “messenger”, telling cells to repair damage or make more collagen. It’s thought that synthetic peptides, which mimic those in skin, could have a similar effect when applied topically.

HUMECTANT AND OCCLUSIVE MOISTURISERS  Humectant in a moisturiser helps draw water to the skin, while the occlusive or oily ingredient forms a barrier to retain the moisture.

NIACINAMIDE This is another word for vitamin B3 and it’s a skincare hero. Research has shown that it’s able to tackle pigmentation and fine lines as well as improving skin’s elasticity.

ANTIOXIDANTS Natural antioxidants include vitamins C and E, along with plant extracts, such as chardonnay grape seed extract from white grapes, resveratrol from red grapes, lilac leaf extracts and green tea, which combat harmful free radicals.