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How many actives can the skin take at once?

October 10, 2012

Hello people,

I do hope that you are well and enjoying this lovely month of October!  I have been really busy of late and have struggled to update the blog as often as I’d like but hopefully the archives are keeping you happy.  Anyway, the business that I have been busy with will turn into blog posts soon as I am learning new things all of the time especially now that I have my lab and office at home. Check out the hubbies handy work:

Still needs a bit of tidying up but looking good and reducing my carbon footprint – no more motorway bashing 🙂

Today I wanted to post some thoughts on a question that keeps cropping up in my consulting circles:  Just how many actives can the skin take at once?  OR  How many actives should I put into my skin care?

Good questions and worthy of much research which I will assemble over the coming weeks.  For now I will share my thoughts with you and open up for comment.

So, what do we know about skingestion (not that there is such a word but I thought it sounded good and apt)?

There are several groups of people who would be able to answer this question and I’m not one of them.  I’d be tracking down a few dermatologists, pharmacists, product test houses and beauty therapists in the first instance but before that I’d have a bit of a think…..

One of the main functions of the skin is to keep stuff out. However, we all know that not everything that we put onto the skin stays on the surface and if you believe much of cosmetic marketing you would believe that pretty much everything gets through meaning that the skin does a lousy job.  The truth (of which there isn’t just one) is far more complex and depends on a number of factors:

  • Your natural metabolism
  • Your state of health
  • Your skin condition – dry, wet, eczema prone, damaged, young, old etc.
  • The location of the skin
  • The weather
  • The concentration of the product
  • The concentration of the active in the product
  • The form of the active in the product
  • The contact time for the active/ product combo
  • The active site (how much of your body will you spread it onto)
  • The age of the product/ active combo
  • Other stuff.

So, before we even get into the nitty gritty science stuff there are already so many variables that this is looking like an experiment from hell.

Right now is a good time to point out that the above is why, when/ if you track down any scientific reports on skingestion they will generally only look at one/ two at the most ingredients in a simple base on a specific site for a specific time.

People who worry about the toxicity of cosmetics (and there are many) have been trying and sometimes succeeding in analysing mixtures of chemicals and their passage through the body via the skin. However, the sheer number of ingredients and combinations make this task near-on impossible especially when you add in the ‘people factor’ (people in skin care trials can do weird things and then lie (unconsciously) in the questionnaires giving the answers that please you rather than what actually happened).  It is tricky but what we do know is that some chemical travel into the skin and do something good, some go into the skin and get metabolised and pee’d out pretty quickly and others can end up in fatty tissue and may cause long-term damage.  What is harder to know in any depth is what happens in blends of actives in fancy bases.

My gut feeling (and that’s all it is) is to limit a product to three or less actives that work (at least theoretically) in a synergistic way on a specific skin issue – dryness, redness, irritation etc.  I view it in the same way as you would a meal – you want just enough flavour and type of food without it being overwhelming and you losing something in the ‘noise’.  Also choosing complimentary actives that work via different pathways or modes of action avoids overwhelming the skin which sounds like a good plan to me.

Three-ish actives also gives the formulator/ product creator a reasonable chance of noticing and correcting for incompatibilities, synergies or improvements.  If there are too many actives it’s harder to know which one broke the camels back so to speak!

Three-ish actives is usually do-able from a price perspective and it will give the marketing team enough to write about without them getting overwhelmed or bored.

Finally three-ish actives should still leave you with enough formula space to play with the texture – too many actives may leave things sticky or dry.

So, while we still have a long way to go to address the hard science that undoubtedly exists around this question the logical solution seems to make enough sense for now.

Eat little, eat often, eat healthy. Skin too.

Oh, and here’s another picture of my lab.

I spend many happy hours working in here.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 11, 2012 12:59 am

    Great looking lab 🙂

  2. Lisa permalink
    December 6, 2013 10:12 am

    Interesting post. Thanks for sharing!



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