This is an exclusive extract from Rescu Me: The makeover guide for a life more fabulous by Bahar Etminan.
Hope in a jar? Joe Lewis believes there is, and when a skincare scientist of his calibre talks, I listen. This is an extract from my book where I interviewed Joe for an expert insight into what you should be shopping for and using on your face for the best possible results.
Let’s start with the line between cosmetics and skincare ‘cosmeceuticals’ …
Traditional cosmetics are things that fill in or cover up your skin, but when you wash them off you’ll look like you did before you put them on. Drugs are, by regulation, products that change the function and structure of an organ of the body. That line started to blur when ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) and vitamin A (retinoids) were developed and put in creams that weren’t considered drugs but made a lasting, visible difference to the skin. That’s a cosmeceutical–a cosmetic product with a benefit that could take weeks to disappear after you stop using it.
The bottles, potions, lotions and serums from all the brands out there are both our blessing and our curse. What’s the trick to cherry-picking the regime that’s right for you?
I’m a total advocate of sticking to a line. If you’re not a chemist and you’re just picking up this cream and that lotion without the insider knowledge about how ingredients work best together–and which might even cancel each other out–it’s a lot more difficult to get the most effective routine going. A clinical brand will have that and let you know in which order you should apply them for maximum effect.
Are in-clinic facials and treatments upselling us, or really upsizing faster, better results?
Treatments jumpstart and speed up the actions of skincare. A home regimen might get you there eventually, but in-clinic sessions of laser, peels, microdermabrasion and light therapy can get you to that end point earlier. It’s almost-instant gratification.
If I’m building a super-serviceable skin regimen, one that makes me look younger tomorrow (and the day after that) than I do today, what should it look like?
The range of technology used to develop the products in your routine is far more important than the number of products you’ve got in it. At the bottom line, you’ve got the non-negotiable protection and repair you need before anything else can happen. When we’re talking about ageing–lines or wrinkles or pigmentation, whatever it is–we’re talking about dysfunctional, unhealthy skin and damage is accumulating faster than our built-in repair mechanisms can handle. You’ve got to take the pedal off the accelerator first. So you need high level sun protection (SPF) because we know that most of the free radical damage that ages our skin comes from UV radiation. But no sunscreen is 100 per cent effective, so you need the antioxidant shield to deal with the free radicals that get through. Then because there’s no antioxidant powerful enough to get every free radical, there’ll be some damage to your DNA, so you need DNA-repair enzymes.
SPF and antioxidants are easy to spot in skincare, what DNA enzymes are effective?
Generally they come from natural, botanical sources. DNA is DNA–what works to repair it in a plant will also work for a human. Mustard seed and extract of blue-green algae, which floats on the surface of the ocean and needs incredible DNA repair because it’s bombarded by UV constantly, have powerful DNA-repair enzymes.
What’s the next level up? What fixes lines and the telltale signs we’ve already got?
Essential for serious skin change are AHAs and retinoids. They are the superheroes of skin transformation. AHAs are hydrating because they increase water-binding hyaluronic acid within the skin and plump out lines. They smooth and brighten because they exfoliate old, dead, photo-damaged skin and allow supple, fresh, bright skin cells to come to the surface. Retinoids jumpstart the production of collagen and elastin and control the quality of skin cells from the base of your skin to the surface.
Where do we put all the buzz ingredients?
They’re the optimisers that are nice to have, but won’t do much without the more important restructuring work. Peptides and growth factors really are the next frontier of anti-ageing. Science has mapped the human genome (so we know what genes do). The next step is to figure out the exact codes that signal our genes to stop doing what we don’t want (i.e. slowing down and ageing) and start doing what we do want so skin can be supple, clear, healthy and young.
Is that where stem cells come in?
There’s a huge misconception about what stem cell skincare is and what it can actually do. Stem cells are primordial cells–they can make new skin, new muscle, any kind of tissue. Activate them and you can make new everything. But when skin cream tells you it’s putting the stem cells from apples or any other source into your skin, it’s not. Stem cells can’t live in a product. But what they can do is grow in a petri dish in a lab, where they produce all the peptides and growth factors that tell the skin to change. We can then scoop them up and put them into skincare to promote more collagen, elastin and the good stuff. That’s where the breakthroughs are happening.
THE EXPERT CALL–WHAT YOU REALLY NEED IN YOUR KIT
Must-haves versus marketing
Active cleanser: A smart cleanser does more than take the day and your make-up off. Trade up to one that protects and treats: foamy cleansers are geared to oilier complexions that like to feel super-fresh; oils are great at blitzing make-up; lotion and cream cleansers feel more nourishing to dry skin. You just need to look for one with AHAs or barrier-protective ceramides to give your daily cleansing sessions a double action.
Toner: Toners and post-cleanse tonics balance the skin’s pH. However, Lewis emphasises that a good cleanser should not throw your natural acid mantle off or require soothing. Find a good cleanser and skip the toner. Leave-on treatments and softening lotions need to feature active ingredients such as antioxidants or AHAs and surface-refining acids to be worthy.
Exfoliant: By freeing skin of dead, dull, stained and dry surfaces cells and flakes, exfoliation turns up fresh, glowing new skin and makes it most possible for active treatments to penetrate. Powder, crushed-grain and microbead scrubs mechanically rub off dead cells; chemical (AHA, salicylic, acid-based) products dissolve the bonds that glue dead cells together. Often, acid can be more gentle than a scrub as there’s no risk of over-scrubbing or scratching. If your cleanser is built with an AHA, you might only need to focus on exfoliating once a week rather than every few days.
Hydrator: ‘There are two elements to moisturiser: lifting the water content and increasing the skin’s ability to hold it in,’ says Lewis. Oily skin might like a light, water-based gel or lotion; dry skins soak up richer oils and cream bases. Important ingredients are hyaluronic acid for water count and ceramides, lipids and essential fatty acids to seal your moisture barrier. Multi-task with SPF and DNA enzymes in day creams.
Masks: ‘These are an intense therapy session you can do at home,’ says Lewis. Clay, kaolin and charcoal masks draw excess oil, pollution and toxins out of the skin; pineapple, papaya and exfoliant masks work like mini peels. You should look for antioxidant and moisture treatments
Serums: These are the superchargers. ‘A lighter feel, finer and more concentrated, a serum penetrates better than a lotion or cream,’ says Lewis. Many are targeted at specific issues (pigmentation, lines, dehydration) and spiked with specialist ingredients, so, if layering, working within a brand or under professional advice will help.
Eye cream: Skin around the eye is finer, more delicate, than the rest of your face. An eye cream concentrates ingredients that do the job without irritation. Go for antioxidants and SPF to reduce crow’s feet, vitamin K to fade dark circles and caffeine to deflate puffiness. Massage tips that promote lymphatic drainage and patches/eye masks can increase effects, observes Lewis.
Neck treatments: The blunt truth is: ‘If you have a turkey neck, the scalpel’s the best way to fix it.’ In-clinic treatments are your next best hope for defying gravity. To keep neck in firm, smooth shape, focus on applying your anti-ageing face cream to your neck, massaging upward toward your chin.
Décolletage cream: The forgotten zone, where dark spots and crinkles show up prematurely should be treated with the same love as your face. ‘Just go gentle with peels as this area can tend to scar easily,’ says Lewis.
Night serums: The real pay-off for loading up a night treatment before you hit the pillow is, according to Lewis, less about tapping into skin cycles and circadian rhythms than maximising rejuvenation when the skin’s not under attack. ‘You don’t have on your layer of SPF and make-up, your face is not busy defending itself from UV, so it can catch up on repair and soak up nourishment. Also, antioxidants such as vitamin A can be sun-sensitive so you can get more out of them at night.’
SPF: Go for 30–50+ (Australian SPF rating) broad spectrum. Apply and reapply always and everyday. Without it, all other anti-ageing action is futile.
AGE-DEFYING INGREDIENT DECODER
Antioxidants: These are the free radical fighters.Plants makeincredible antioxidants, such as flavonoids, polyphenols, and phyto antioxidants in order to protect themselves from the sun. Hi tech antioxidants to look for include carnitine and ergothioneine.
Vitamins: ‘They are essential to all body processes, but our bodies can’t make most of them. We need to eat, inject, or, to target them at specific spot, slather vitamins on our skin,’ says Lewis.
A – The gold-star antioxidant, regenerator and corrector. Also called retinol, retinal, retinoic acid, depending on its formulation, potency and intensity. The type of vitamin A you need depends on how fast you want results and levels of irritation you can deal with.
B3/niacinimide – Improves barrier function, fades discolouration and mitigates acne
C – Potent antioxidant. Brightening, promotes healthy collagen, barrier function andrepair.
D – Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory (actually a hormone, though it’s called a vitamin).
E – Preserves healthy moisture barrier, antioxidant action against UV damage.
K – Fades dark circles under eyes.
Targeted brighteners: New plant extracts, from bearberry to mulberry, liquorice and grapeseed control melanin.
Peptides: Portions of proteins/chains of amino acids that function as messengers to tell cells to make collagen, elastin etc.
AHAs – Alpha hydroxyl acids. Most common are glycolic and lactic acid. Hydrating agents and chemical exfoliants for the treatment of texture, pigmentation, lines and over-thickened skin.
EFAs – Essential Fatty Acids. Linked to hydration, barrier function and elasticity.
Joe Lewis is the founding father of AHAs and the man behind bio-engineered skin care brand Priori.