Achieving healthy and radiant skin is a common aspiration, and it all begins with understanding the transformative potential of key skincare ingredients. In this blog post, we will explore a curated selection of powerful ingredients that have earned recognition from dermatologists for their remarkable benefits. From maintaining skin hydration and protecting the skin barrier to addressing specific concerns like acne and aging, these ingredients play crucial roles in promoting optimal skin health. Let's explore each of these skincare essentials and discover how they can nourish and revitalize your skin.
1. Petrolatum: Preserving Skin Hydration
Petrolatum acts as an occlusive ingredient that prevents water loss from the skin. The FDA recognizes petrolatum as a skin protectant, making it an OTC (over-the-counter) active, when used at a concentration of 30% or higher. It helps protect and relieve chapped skin and lips, prevents dehydration and drying, and softens the skin. When combined with emollients like dimethicone, its heavy and greasy texture can be minimized, resulting in a more pleasant user experience. USP grade petrolatum, needed for OTC drug products, ensures compliance with FDA standards for processing and purity. This purification process refines the petrolatum, optimizing melting point and color and limiting contaminants.
2. Glycerin: Boosting Hydration
Glycerin's hygroscopic properties enable it to absorb moisture from the air and deliver it to the skin, promoting optimal hydration, supporting the skin barrier, and increasing skin elasticity. As an over-the-counter (OTC) skin protectant, glycerin supports the skin barrier at concentrations of 20-45%. While high glycerin content in products may feel tacky or sticky, complementary ingredients are incorporated to minimize these sensory effects. In a cleanser, glycerin limits irritation and dryness by reducing surfactant-skin interaction. Surfactant molecules form micelles which cleanse the skin but have the potential to solubilize lipids in the skin leading to dryness and to denture skin proteins leading to irritation. Glycerin hinders the ability of surfactant micelles to penetrate thus limiting irritation and dryness.
3. Urea: Hydration and Exfoliation
Urea, an integral part of the natural moisturizing factor (NMF) in our skin, supports the skin barrier function and enhances water binding capacity. Urea can also enhance absorption of skin care ingredients. This versatile ingredient acts as a moisturizer, hydrating the skin and optimizing the skin barrier function at concentrations below 10%. Urea also exhibits mild keratolytic properties, effectively smoothing scaly, dry, and flaky skin. Keratolytics break down the outer layers of skin to smooth and shed dead skin. Urea acts as both a moisturizer as well as keratolytic agent depending on the concentration in a product. For individuals with psoriasis-prone skin, a 10% concentration of urea can provide significant relief. Higher concentrations of 20-30% help reduce itching, break down keratin, and decrease the thickness of the outermost layer of skin. However, products with 40% urea content have a proteolytic nature, breaking down proteins. This level is effective when used on foot callouses to provide more intense exfoliation to smooth rough, thick skin but these formulas are not always aesthetically pleasing. They can be thick, leave a white cast and have an ammonia like odor.
4. Benzoyl Peroxide: Targeting Acne
Benzoyl peroxide is not a cosmetic ingredient but truly an API (active pharmaceutical ingredient) positioning it as a drug ingredient in OTC acne products. In OTC acne products the use level is between 2.5% and 10% while higher levels require a prescription. By acting as an oxidizing agent, it disrupts bacterial cell components and inhibits the growth of Propionibacterium acnes (p. acnes), a major contributor to acne. This ingredient also reduces excess oil production as a sebostatic agent and serves as a keratolytic agent, exfoliating the skin and reducing comedones. There are nuances when formulating benzoyl peroxide products because this material can cause a drop in viscosity or thickness over time as peroxide is released. Micronized forms of benzoyl peroxide enhance penetration into the pores, ensuring greater efficacy.
5. Azelaic Acid: Balancing and Brightening
Azelaic acid, distinct from other hydroxy acids, acts as a "skin balancing ingredient," addressing bioprocesses that are overreacting. It effectively reduces hyperpigmentation without altering normal pigmentation or causing depigmentation. Additionally, azelaic acid exhibits anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, making it highly beneficial for both acne-prone skin and rosacea-prone skin. This versatile ingredient helps improve skin tone, texture, and overall clarity and is suitable for all skin types and tones. Azelaic acid is not soluble in water or oil, limiting the ingredients a formulator can use to solubilize this compound. Old school azelaic products were often heavy or pasty for this reason but improvements have been made to achieve sensorially elegant formulas.
6. Retinaldehyde: Revitalizing and Renewing
Retinaldehyde (aka retinal), a potent derivative of vitamin A, holds immense potential for skin rejuvenation. It is part of the retinoid family also consisting of retinol (vitamin A), retinoic acid, and retinyl esters. In the skin, retinol is converted to retinaldehyde or retinal and then converted to retinoic acid- the biologically active form. Retinoic acid is available by prescription only. Retinaldehyde is the closest to retinoic acid on the conversion scale, making it more potent and bioavailable than retinol. It helps increase epidermal and dermal thickness, increase gene expression for collagen synthesis, and reduce facial wrinkles. It stimulates collagen synthesis, increases the thickness of both the epidermis and dermis, and effectively reduces the appearance of facial wrinkles. Formulating products with retinaldehyde requires careful attention due to its sensitivity to light and air. Proper storage and production steps are essential to maintain its efficacy. Encapsulation and specialized delivery systems can improve stability, bioavailability, and minimize potential skin irritation.
7. L-ascorbic acid: Brightening and Antioxidant Protection
L-ascorbic acid, the biologically active form of vitamin C, is a powerful ingredient in skincare. It combats free radicals generated by UV radiation and environmental pollution, stimulates collagen synthesis, and effectively reduces hyperpigmentation. For optimal penetration into the skin, formulations with L-ascorbic acid should have a pH below 3.5 because above pH 3.5 the molecule is charged which does not favor penetration into the skin. Incorporating sacrificial antioxidants can extend the shelf life and potency of L-ascorbic acid. L-ascorbic acid oxidizes quickly in the presence of light, oxygen, and water. To protect this potent ingredient from degradation, it is crucial to choose products with opaque and airless packaging.
8. Sulfur: Soothing and Therapeutic
Sulfur, a natural therapeutic ingredient, offers multiple benefits for the skin. It effectively reduces sebum production, acne blemishes, and the appearance of scars through its exfoliating properties. Acting as a keratolytic agent, sulfur helps loosen the connections between skin cells, making it an appealing alternative for those with sensitive skin who may not tolerate other acne-fighting ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Sulfur's antimicrobial properties also make it well-received for off-label use in conditions such as rosacea, seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, and eczema. Concentrations of sulfur range from 3-10% in OTC acne products and 2-5% in OTC dandruff products. It's important to note that pure sulfur itself is odorless, but its degradation products, including hydrogen sulfide, can emit an egg-like aroma. Proper formulation techniques, such as maintaining an optimal pH range, can minimize some of the undesirable smell.
Understanding these skincare ingredients is crucial for making informed choices in your skincare routine. Incorporating products enriched with these powerful ingredients can help you achieve healthier, more radiant skin. Remember to consult with a skincare professional or dermatologist to determine the best ingredients and products for your specific skin concerns.
DISCLAIMER: All skin care articles are intended to help educate on specific ingredients and skin care topics. Our articles are written to be informative and informational. Any reference to a specific patient experience is not a medical suggestion for treatment. Please note that any Prequel products with referenced ingredients are formulated for Cosmetic Use Only and NOT intended as replacements for physician advice and/or pharmaceutical product recommendations.