The Importance of Good Skincare.
Updated: Feb 23
Using the right products at home, is fundamentally important for maintaining healthy skin. Clinical treatments are an incredible way to treat specific concerns, but your baseline skin condition really comes down to what you do every day - your skincare at home.
It’s important to understand though, not all skincare is created equal - quite the opposite in fact...
Over-The-Counter (OTC) Skincare vs Medical Grade Skincare
A lot of our clients have spent hundreds of dollars on popular OTC skincare products - only to find that their skin problems persist. This, is due to the significant differences in formulation between over-the-counter skincare, and cosmeceutical or "medical grade" skincare.
You won’t find medical-grade skin care on the shelves of Mecca, or Sephora, or even in the beauty section of Smith and Caughey’s. These products are dispensed by certified aestheticians, dermatologists, and doctors only.
Don’t let marketing fool you - popular brands such as Khiels, Clinique, Clarins, Dr Dennis Gross, Mario Badescu, are not medical grade. They are packaged, marketed, and priced similarly to medical-grade skincare, but they are still over-the-counter products and are formulated differently.
The difference between the two classes of skincare comes down to several key factors: irritants, concentrations of active ingredients, delivery systems, chirality of ingredients, and quality of formulation. Let's get into the details:
The most common irritants to avoid in skincare are sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), and fragrance. These two ingredients are common in over-the-counter skincare.
Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) is a cheap detergent used in a lot of facial cleansers. It emulsifies oil, but in most cases is far too drying and actually depletes the skins natural lipids. This process results in:
- chronic dehydration of the skin: your skins natural lipids prevent water loss from the skins surface. Without them, the skin loses water rapidly and becomes dehydrated, or "water-dry".
- excess sebum (oil) production: when your skins natural lipids are stripped away, it will often respond by over-producing oil to try to restore balance.
- congestion/blackheads: dehydration can result in hardening of oil within pores, increasing formation of blackheads. The excess oil production of the skin can also increase congestion/formation of blackheads.
- barrier impairment and sensitivity: when depleted of lipids, the skins protective lipid barrier becomes impaired and cannot function properly. This leads to increased inflammation, sensitivity, redness, and vulnerability to bacteria.
- disrupted microbiome: sodium lauryl sulphate creates an alkaline environment on the surface of the skin (the skin is usually slightly acidic). This alkaline environment provides the perfect breeding ground for harmful bacteria, and this often leads to inflammation and breakouts.
The effects of synthetic fragrance on the skin are much the same as the effects of SLS - resulting in irritation, dehydration, inflammation, and microbiome disruption.
Ingredients that can affect the skin on a cellular level are called active ingredients, or "actives". Some examples include: vitamins A, B, and C, AHAs, and BHAs. These ingredients need to be used in significant concentrations to create real changes in the skin.
Because of their potency, when used in high concentrations active ingredients have the potential to cause temporary irritation and reactivity if not used correctly. For this reason, its important to seek professional guidance when choosing medical-grade skincare, to make sure you are using the right product for your specific skin.
You might see active ingredients listed on over-the-counter products - but often in concentrations that simply are not high enough for these ingredients to be effective.
It's not enough to apply nutrients to the skin and hope that they absorb - your skin is a very effective barrier against the outside world, and is not so easy to get into. In order for active ingredients to reach the deepest layers of the skin, delivery systems are usually necessary.
An example of a delivery system used in medical-grade skincare lines is a liposome - a lipid-coating encapsulating the molecules of active ingredients that allows them to penetrate deep into the skin. These advanced delivery systems are expensive to develop and to use, and are virtually non-existent in over-the-counter skincare ranges - meaning that even if your OTC serum claims to contain a myriad of nutrients, they probably won’t make it very far into your skin, rendering them ineffective.
The discovery of chiral correction was an important development in skincare formulation. Essentially, some ingredients used in skincare have "chiral" molecules - meaning that they have a left and a right "side". They mirror each other, but the two sides are not exactly the same - think of your left hand and your right hand.
The process of chiral correction involves isolating the side of a molecule that has more desirable qualities and using only that side. Chirally correct ingredients will be more bio-available, more effective, and less irritating. Chiral correction is used in drug manufacturing, but more recently has been used in skincare too.
Chiral correction is an expensive process, and for this reason is not often used in OTC skincare brands. Most medical-grade ranges though, do use chiral correction to enhance the efficacy and reduce the irritancy of their products.
Quality Of Formulation
Creating good skincare is complicated. It's not enough to have good delivery systems, chirally-corrected active ingredients in the right concentrations, and no irritants involved. A formulator THEN has to consider the pH of the product, and how that is going to affect the activity of the numerous active ingredients in the product. Interactions between ingredients must be considered, stability must be considered, and of course product packaging must be supportive to ingredient stability.
All of this requires research and development. Time and money. And this, is really what makes the difference between a product from The Ordinary, and a product from Aspect Dr. Yes, the price tag is different - but so are the results.
Using the wrong products is a frustrating and ultimately expensive exercise. Keeping up your skincare routine is an investment of time and money - using inactive, over-the-counter products, can detriment your results, and often harm more than they help your skin. Don’t waste your money on nice packaging and great marketing - invest in fewer, high-quality products that will actually make a difference.