Useful tips on purchasing skin care products

An ounce of prevention - as the saying goes - is worth a pound of cure. When it comes to skin care, this sage piece of advice takes on a new twist, because for things like wrinkles there is no cure - yet. Finding the right type of "prevention" is not an easy task. Store shelves stacked to the ceiling with creams, gels, and various other concoctions, each product promising to peel back the years - in some cases literally - can pose a daunting prospect to decipher. Often, I find myself staring blankly at the packaging, hoping for a moment of clarity with which to make my decision. All I wanted to do was buy some moisturizer!

Well, the American Academy of Dermatologists have come to the rescue. This year, at their annual meeting in California, they issued some truths they advise consumers to follow when buying skin care products - everything from anti-aging creams to cleansers, moisturizers, and masks.

Their first piece of advice is knowing your skin type so you can buy skin care products best suited to you. For example, people with dry skin should avoid astringents and any product with alcohol because they easily strip away moisture from the skin. People with oily skin do not need the heavy oils found in some moisturizers and should use moisturizers specially designed for oily skin. People with sensitive skin should purchase products designed for sensitive skin, as they tend to be less abrasive, containing gentler ingredients.

If you don't know what skin type you are, a visit to the dermatologist will help, especially if you have problem areas or are allergic to certain ingredients. "Spending money every week on a new product with a 'miracle' ingredient will only irritate your skin and your skin will never reap the benefits of a consistent skin-care regime," said Dr. Marianne O'Donoghue, MD, Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center, Chicago, Ill.

When it comes to anti-aging products that promise to diminish wrinkles and fine lines, the Academy recommends purchasing products with ingredients that have proven, over time, to be most effective at reversing the aging process. No surprise, the number one product that prevents wrinkles and sun damage is sunscreen. A broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects the skin from both UVA and UVB rays, with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, can prevent skin from looking older than it is. Dr. O'Donoghue recommends wearing sunscreen on a daily basis, on your face as well as your body, as it can help prevent the deep wrinkles and dark spots that make a person look older than they actually are.

Products containing tretinoin are also effective in treating fine wrinkles, dark spots, or rough skin on the face caused by the damaging rays of the sun. Tretinoin works by lightening the skin, replacing older skin with newer skin, and by affecting the way the body removes skin cells that may have been harmed by the sun. Retinoid creams are one of the most effective delivery systems of tretinoin.

Alpha-hydroxy acids, which work by making dead cells on the surface of the skin and inside the pores slough off more easily, are also highly effective as anti-wrinkle treatment. Also known as AHA, alpha-hydroxy acids are found in certain plants and fruits, including sugar cane, apples, grapes, and citrus fruit. "By decreasing the thickness of dead cells on the surface, a new layer of skin with a smoother texture and more uniform color can be revealed," said Dr. O'Donoghue. "These compounds also encourage the production of better connective tissue under the epidermis, and retard water loss, lessening fine lines and wrinkles."

Furfuryladenine, a plant-derived compound that acts to retain water in the skin, is a promising new agent, which has also been promoted as being able to reverse the aging process. It is a non-irritating alternative for the 10% to 15% of people who are unable to tolerate tretinoin products.

Skin care ingredients to be avoided, especially for people with sensitive skin, include propylene glycol and sorbitol, which are commonly used in moisturizers as humectants to hold moisture in the skin. Although propylene glycol binds moisture to the skin, it also repels it, so in fact the skin does not receive any benefit at all from the moisturizer.

Another ingredient that can irritate the skin is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) or sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), also known as surfactants. Surfactants lather well and are found in shampoo, toothpaste, shaving cream, laundry detergent, dish soap, and many industrial cleaning products. "Because of the way these are designed to work, surfactant molecules stay on hair and skin long after you think you've rinsed them off," said Dr. O'Donoghue. "As they sit there, they literally strip away fatty acids, moisture, and amino acids from your hair and skin. They increase dryness, increase roughness, and disturb the healthy growth process of new hair and skin."

So, all this taken into consideration, not only does my next trip to the skin care aisle seem less daunting, I may also manage to fend off the inevitable for just a little bit longer!

Claire Sowerbutt, medical writer in association with MediResource

The contents of this health site are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition.

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