Archive for the ‘Skin Care Facts, Hints and Tips’ Category


Vitamin E – The Antioxidant

Posted by Luca Willington

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant crucially important for our skin’s health. Is also has a proven anti-inflmmatory effect, independent of its antioxidant action.

Vitamin E is a generic name for eight chemical compounds – four tocopherols (alpha-, beta-, gamma- and delta-) and four tocotrienols (alpha-, beta-, gamma- and delta-). Of these, the form most often found on cosmetic labels is alpha-tocopherol. It is also the most common form of Vitamin E naturally found in the human body.

Vitamin E’s Antioxidant Function

Antioxidants can inhibit the oxidative damage in our bodies neutralising free radicals or preventing their formation. Free radicals are unstable atoms or molecules – they need an electron to become stable, and they will “steal” it from the nearest available molecule. When the “attacked” molecule loses its electron, it can become a free radical itself. This can be the beginning of a free radical chain reaction. When out of control, free radical chain reactions cause cell damage or death.

The body has the ability to keep free radicals in check. To that end, it need antioxidants. Antioxidant molecules are able to donate an electron and yet remain stable, so they don’t become free radicals themselves. Since antioxidants are stable with or without the extra electron, they can act as free radical scavengers. Vitamin E is the primary defender against lipid peroxidation i.e. it prevents the oxidation of fats and oils in our bodies. (Research Info) Read the rest of this entry »


Vitamin C – An Essential Skin Nutrient

Posted by Luca Willington

It has been know for decades that vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is essential to our health. Since its discovery in the 1930s, it has been know that its deficiency in humans leads to break down in skin and connective tissue – a condition known as scurvy, so serious that it could be lethal. Over the following decades, scientific research has shed more light on the many roles Vitamin C has in maintaining our skin’s integrity and function:

1. Vitamin C is necessary for collagen synthesis

Collagen is a generic name for a group of filament-shaped proteins found mostly in animals’ flesh and connective tissue. Its role is to provide a structural framework for the body’s various organs. Most collagen  is synthesised in a specialist cells called fibroblasts.

Collagen synthesis is a complex process by which aminoacids are assembled into peptides, which are then linked in the triple helix structure of collagen. This linking process requires two co-factors: vitamin C and iron. If vitamin C is deficient, the three strands of the collagen molecule are not properly linked together and the molecule is weak and easily destroyed. During collagen synthesis, vitamin C is oxidised and becomes useless, so the supply must be continuously renewed.

The role of Vitamin C in collagen production doesn’t stop here. Research has uncovered several other mechanisms through which vitamin C promotes collagen syntheses: Read the rest of this entry »


Breathe Your Way to Better Skin

Posted by Luca Willington

Your skin reflects the general state of health of your body. It will react to factors like diet and stress. Nutrition is a well know line of treatment for conditions like rosacea, acne and eczema. Perhaps less known is the fact that stress levels can be very effectively controlled using some simple breathing techniques.

The underlying principle is that deep, regular breathing sends a signal to each part of your body to relax. And good breathing habits can learnt. That is why disciplines like yoga and chi gung teach breathing techniques. You may not have the time to practice yoga or chi gung, but dedicating five to ten minutes a day to practising a breathing exercise can give you very rewarding results.

The first – and perhaps the greatest – barrier to practising correct breathing is our belief that we know how to breath. After all, we have done it uninterruptedly from the minute were were born. No one will dare argue with that. It is equally true however, that from an early age stress and postural constraints have interfered with our breathing, leading to shallow, less than efficient breathing. So it makes a lot of sense to re-learn how to breath well. Would you care to give it a try? Here are a few simple instructions. Read the rest of this entry »

A couple of weeks back I had an exchange of comments with a fellow blogger about preservatives. She was optimistic that developments in science will soon produce safer preservatives for the cosmetic industry. This started me thinking about preserving methods currently in use and where new developments may come from.

There are three broad methods of preservation in use by the cosmetic industry today:

1.      Going water free

This is the most straightforward preservation method – where there is no water there is no life. Simple.

This is how granny used to make her ointments. Today we are benefiting from a much wider choice of vegetal oils and butters than granny ever had, so it is possible to make combinations that feel lighter and quicker to absorb into the skin.

There is no guarantee that a water-free product will be also free from preservatives. Some manufacturers add preservatives anyway, in case the product gets mixed with water during use. But if you check the labels you will be able to find oils, balms and ointments with no added preservatives.

Over the last few years, consumers have been gradually getting more used to water-free, oil-based cleansers and moisturisers and it possible these products may continue to increase in popularity. Read the rest of this entry »


Mineral Make-up – What’s in a Name?

Posted by Luca Willington

When “mineral make-up” first appeared on the market, that phrase meant 100%  mineral and water-free foundation, blusher or eye-shadow. Mineral make-up products were innovative in leaving out potentially harmful conventional ingredients like preservatives, mineral oils, chemical dyes and perfumes, thus offering consumers a genuine healthy alternative.

Sadly, as the term “mineral make-up” has become more popular, manufacturers have started to apply it to more conventional products, many of them containing the less-desirable ingredients that mineral make-up originally left out.  These days, simply buying an item labelled “mineral make-up” doesn’t guarantee you will get the kind of new generation product you might expect. The good news is  that there are ways to tell a genuine new generation product from a re-labelled old one. Here’s what to look out for:

  • 100% mineral make up is a a loose powder, not a liquid or a compact powder.
  • The ingredient list of 100% mineral make-up tends to be short. For example: “Mica, Titanium Dioxide, Zinc Oxide, Iron Oxides, Ultramarine Blue” might be the full ingredient list of a 100% mineral foundation. When the ingredient list runs into ten or more items, then you’re probably looking at a re-labelled conventional product.

You can also look for particular tell-tale words in the ingredient list:

  • If you see “Aqua” or “Aloe Barbadensis” (i.e. Aloe Vera, which has a high water content), this means the product contains water, and therefore also preservatives
  • If you find words ending in “paraben” (like methylparaben or propylparaben) – these are all names of preservatives
  • You might see ”Mineral Oil” listed as an ingredient, or you might also see the same additive listed as ”Paraffinum Liquidum”
  • You may see perfume additives listed as “Fragrance” or “Parfum”

You friends may tell you how well they get on with this face cream or the other, but if you have sensitive skin, you may find that most water-based moisturisers you’ve tried are causing more problems that they solve.

Here’s why: in order to create a water based-cream, cosmetic manufacturers have to use two categories of substances that are not exactly skin-friendly: emulsifiers and preservatives. They often add a third type of additive called penetration enhancer  – a solvent that makes the product penetrate the skin faster.

  1. EmulsifiersFats and water don’t naturally mix, so an emulsifier is needed to create a smooth emulsion. Emulsifiers are designed to change the properties and behaviour of the fats and oils in the moisturiser, but there is a problem – our skin also uses an orderly structure of fats to maintain its integrity. It is called the intracellular matrix – if exposed to a lot of emulsifier, it will break down, causing a variety of problems from dryness to irritation and, in the long run, to more serious conditions like eczema.
  2. PreservativesThese are added to keep micro-organism off your face cream, which otherwise would really be a tasty snack to scores of bacteria, moulds and fungi. These are pretty resilient creatures – defeating them is quite a challenge and  it takes a pretty aggressive additive to keep them out. No wonder these additives often melt plastic, as described in this post:
  3. Penetration enhancersUnlike the two additives above, penetration enhancers are not a must, but cosmetic manufacturers often add them – if the skin doesn’t care to take in the product, then it must be made to. Penetration enhancers are solvents that react with fats and - like emulsifiers – they don’t discriminate between the fats in the moisturiser and the structural fats of our skin.

Healthy, strong skin has mechanisms to cope with these additives – after all, our skin is a barrier organ, designed to keep out substances that would harm us. In sensitive and  problem skin the barrier function is impaired, the offending substances have more of a chance to get into the living tissue of the epidermis and cause damage.

For all these reasons, a water-free face cream that nourishes your skin without exposing it to harmful additives is a lot more likely to  help your skin get back on its feet.


These buzz words have been around for years now, but market research after market research shows many of us are not all that clear about their meaning. So here are some clues for the curious.

Natural” seems to be the easiest to define, as most people would agree that it applies to a substance taken from nature i.e. not-man-made. We trust natural because the human species had plenty of time to figure out what is safe and what is not in the natural world, what is edible and what is poisonous, what is good for us and what harms us. Not the sort of thing somebody creates in a lab, puts on the market with great advertising fuss and then years later we may find out it has undesirable side effects. Plant extracts and naturally occurring minerals are substances most of use would consider natural.
But what do cosmetic manufacturers mean by “natural”? Well, the answer to that question is a lot less straightforward. “Natural“ being so popular a concept with consumers, cosmetic companies often take liberties with the word. In marketing jargon, natural can mean “natural-derived-processed”, “partly natural” or “almost natural”.

Natural-derived-processed” – a bit of a mouthful, so  it’s understandable that the word “processed” is often left behind. It means a substance originating in nature has been modified in a chemical process. One example most of us are familiar with is hydrogenated oil. Liquid natural oils – e.g. olive oil – go through a chemical process that adds a few hydrogen atoms to their molecules, thus turning the oils into solid, butter-like substances. At the end of the process you have a different substance, with a different chemical formula than what you had at the beginning. Is the end substance still natural?

Organic” can be more than “natural”, but interestingly, it can be less.
The Soil Association’s criteria for organic skin care products are rather lengthy – not the kind of information you can summarise on a product’s package. Neither are they the sort of pleasant reading you would want to have with your cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon. That is why I will venture to say that – of all the natural-related buzz-words, “organic “is the least likely to be understood by the general public.
In the context of “100% natural and organic”, the organic certification is a step towards safe and healthy. But if you compare a product that is 100% natural with a product that is certified organic you will often find the  100% natural one is the closest to nature. Because the organic standards allow a number of preservatives and emulsifies, even though they are synthetic, on the grounds that there are no natural alternatives to them.

At the end of the day, there’s nothing like reading the ingredient list for yourself. The rule of thumb is: If every single ingredient in the list sounds natural, then chances are the product is natural. But if the end tail of the ingredient list reminds you of the chemistry book, then the natural claims of that brand would be better taken with a pinch of salt.


The 100% Natural Personal Care Routine

Posted by Luca Willington

Many of us like our skin care and personal care product to contain natural ingredients. For some people, using natural products is not a matter of choice, but a necessity. There are an umber of skin conditions that impair the skin’s barrier function and this is when the additives and harmful chemicals in personal care products become an immediate problem.

A 100% natural personal care routine is achievable and, what’s more, it isn’t difficult. Here are some replacement products for shampoo, shower gel and soap. Read the rest of this entry »


Fatty Acids and Their Skin Care Benefits

Posted by Luca Willington

The type of fatty acids we eat and put on our skin seem to make a huge difference to the way our skin looks and feels. A few years ago, after a lot of research on the subject, I drastically reduced the proportion of unsaturated fats in my diet. (A decision my GP might have well frowned on!) The results were spectacular. Only five days into the new diet my skin returned to being normal after years of being dry. It was like getting back the skin I used to have in my twenties – a little miracle! A couple of months later I noticed my sun spots were fading – I used to have a serious skin pigmentation problem that make-up could no longer hide and no cream (however expensive) seemed to alleviate. A year later the sunspots faded to the point they became unnoticeable. These days I am comfortable going out without wearing foundation at all. And it gets even better: my skin has regain suppleness and my wrinkles have diminished – I really did turn back the clock and it all comes down to the fats I eat.

Read the rest of this entry »