One of the biggest misconceptions in the beauty industry is that if a product doesn’t tingle, make your skin turn red and peel it isn’t working. There is this idea that in order to have smooth, glowy skin, we must slough off the dull, dead stuff, or cause “injury” to our skin to trigger a “healing” response. In addition to hurting our skin, we block out nature and shield our faces from the sun like it’s the plague for aging blaming it for our skin problems. We apply chemicals, acids, enzymes, and scrubs that polish off the outer layer, but is all this really good for our skin? The top layer of our skin is where the most protection exits, our skin barrier or stratum corneum is composed of sebum and dead skin cells which feeds the beneficial flora in our skin. It helps to shield us from the sun and the harsh environment we are exposed to. When the stratum corneum is removed too quickly, it exposes new skin cells not ready to face the world, causing premature cell death and a feeding ground for bad bacteria. This is the primary cause of redness, inflammation and aging. It’s like scraping all the shingles off your roof and expecting your home to be protected from the external elements. More than likely, the integrity of your roof will become challenged at some point! Our skin acts the same way. If we remove the stratum corneum, we allow in toxins to seep in and jeopardize our skin.
Below are a few common treatments that are widely used that cause more harm than benefits.
Retinol is the most sought after ingredient for treating aging skin, but side effects of retinol also place it on list after list of ingredients we should avoid. So why the disconnect?
First, there’s a lot of pressure on women to look perfect at all times. Even those who shrug off the scrutiny can face a media storm. Take Alicia Keys‘ decision to forego makeup on the red carpet in 2016. The fact that this simple act got so much attention highlights the problem. It’s newsworthy when a woman—in the U.S., in 2016— is considered brave for showing her bare face. How’s that for pressure?
People are desperate, and desperate times call for desperate measures. Enter retinol. Retinol, or retinoids, is one of the technical names for vitamin A. Some of its other derivatives and common names include Retin-A, retinyl palmitate, retinoic acid, retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate, retinaldehyde, tretinoin, isotretinoin and alitretinoin. Retinol is used for its ability to diminish the look of fine lines, wrinkles, roughness and in some cases, acne. Many people go to much further extremes, like plastic surgery, so for some, retinol is a wonder ingredient. To others, it just makes you wonder.
What’s wrong with retinol?
You know the phrase if something seems too good to be true, it probably is? Retinol may appear to diminish fine lines and wrinkles, but there’s a cost. This quote from a blog post on the side effects of retinol sums it up:
“You, too, can avoid the flaky, gross shiz that appears on your face when you first start using a retinoid product.” -Lauren Sherman
Side effects of retinol are so pronounced, these little knowledge nuggets on the “retinol uglies” are commonplace. There’s even a term for conditions associated with using retinol: retinoid dermatitis. Symptoms include excessive inflammation, redness, flaking skin, burning, itching and increased sensitivity to the sun.[ii]
Why is retinol in sunscreen and spf products?
Retin-A, the prescription-strength version of retinol, even comes with an FDA-mandated warning to avoid sunlight. That’s because vitamin A could trigger the growth of cancerous tumors when exposed to sunlight.[iii] Despite this, according to the EWG’s database, vitamin A shows up in nearly 16-percent of beach and sport sunscreens! Retinol has also made its way into 14-percent of all moisturizers with SPF and 10-percent of all SPF lip products.[iv] This is where we’re left wondering… why?
Side effects of retinol and long-term damage
The skin’s protective inflammatory response produces red, irritated skin. With sunburns or damaged skin cells, this response eliminates the risk of cells becoming cancerous, and triggers the healing process. On healthy skin, inducing inflammation though skincare products like retinol could simply lead to more damage and even cell death.
Facial Scrubs / Exfoliators / Chemical Peels
“It turns out washing your face twice a day with an oscillating face brush — which uses sound waves to dislodge bacteria, dirt and dead skin cells from your pores — is not as good for the skin as doctors once thought it was.”
In 2004, L’Oréal introduced the Clarisonic, an ultrasonic oscillating facial brush that was advertised to give skin a daily exfoliation and deep clean. Soon after, a myriad of copycat exfoliation brushes flooded the market, joining jars of DIY chemical peels and gritty masks that promise to rid the skin of dead cells, dullness, and dry flakes for perfectly glowing skin. Yet, in August of 2020, The New York Times reported that the Clarisonic has been discontinued because it is now comprehensively clear that the daily scrubbing of the skin is a less than healthy practice.
For years, the beauty industry has promoted the feckless fable that our skin needs exfoliating to be healthy and smooth. Yet, this simply isn’t true. Given wholesome conditions, our skin knows exactly what to do.
An Inside Job: Skin knows best
Our skin is a self-renewing system. Left to its own elegant devices, our amazing skin naturally sheds 40,000 cells every minute of our lives. Desquamation, the scientific name for this dynamic daily process of skin cell shedding, is an inside job prompted by chemical signals from within the body. When that system is in synch, external exfoliation is unnecessary for smooth skin.
Our skin is only a few millimeters thick, yet its multilayered, microbial design provides us with perfect protection. The top layer of the skin is made of dead cells stacked together like bricks that are held together by a lipid mixture. These dead skin cells, which naturally desquamate every two weeks, have given rise to the use of oscillating brushes, chemical peels, and over scrubbing. Yet, cell loss is designed to precisely match cell production, and exfoliation removes skin cells before they would normally desquamate, tipping the balance so that cell loss exceeds cell production. This signals stress in the skin.
Also, our epidermal ecosystem requires a healthy outer layer of dead cells and lipids because it is our most antiaging and anti-infection layer. When we remove this layer prematurely, the young cells underneath are left vulnerable. With this juicy layer jeopardized, irritants and environmental exposures distress the new skin, inducing inflammatory issues. If this layer is disturbed regularly, it creates an ongoing health deficit of missing microbes, inflammation, abnormal cells, and easy entrance for toxins. This is why Christian Surber, a professor of dermatopharmacology, refers to regular exfoliating routines as skin abuse.
Recommendations of exfoliation abound in beauty blogs and magazines, yet we cannot tackle our skin’s imbalances by scrubbing away our stratum corneum. This perfectly protective top layer of skin is mostly composed of dead skin cells. The presence of dead cells has given rise to the practice of plastic-bead cleansers, synthetic scrubs, chemical peels, laser ablation, and excessive exfoliation. Yet this vital layer is like our topsoil and feeds our friendly flora. Exfoliating cells away too quickly tips the balance so that cell loss exceeds cell production. When we remove it prematurely, the young cells underneath are left stressed and vulnerable. With this layer jeopardized, chemicals irritate the new skin, inducing a vicious cycle of inflammation. If this layer is disturbed regularly, and it is, an ongoing health deficit of missing microbes develops, as well as abnormal cells and easy entrance to toxins (especially when skincare involves chemicals).
Steps for Optimal Desquamation
The conditions for optimal desquamation are the same as those for whole-body health. Follow these five simple steps for naturally smooth and fresh skin, and you’ll feel better all over.
Healthy cells float in a sea of saline, and desquamation is more efficient when the body is well hydrated. The specific enzymes that loosen the lipid-bond that hold dead skin cells together require the presence of water to act effectively. Also, the swelling of well-hydrated mature cells at the top of the skin helps to weaken the lipid-bond, allowing cells to shed more easily.
Love your Lymph
Glow with gorgeous skin by simply dry brushing. This is a very gentle brushing of the skin to stimulate the lymphatic system, which is right under the surface of the skin, comprising a vast network of capillaries. A flowing lymphatic system supports healthy skin and circulation. To begin, simply pour 1–2 drops of a lymph-loving essential oil (Laurel, Cypress, Eucalyptus, Rosemary, or a blend of all four) on the palm of your hand, and then glide a dry brush across your palm, coating the bristles. Then lightly brush your body, starting with your toes, brushing in the direction of the heart, all the way up to your head.
Eat for your Microbiome
Healing and sealing the guts is as foundational to skincare as digestion is a direct door to every pore. May your plate celebrate nourishment with a colorful variety of wholefoods, organic fruits and vegetables along with healthy fats and proteins — including essential fatty acids. A diet rich in balanced EFAs keeps the skin lubricated and improve cell hydration.
Savor Some Sun
Slowly, gradually, and gently expose your skin to the sun to quench your cells in vitamin D. Our skin converts sunbeams into the steroid hormone, vitamin D. The sunshine vitamin influences every cell in our body and is easily one of nature’s most potent champions. It is intrinsic and necessary for skin health as it regulates cell synthesis, enzyme activity, peptides, the lipid barrier, and immunity. It also lets cells know when it’s time to die — a key function for desquamation.
Surfactants are used in cosmetic products as wetting and foaming agents, detergents, and emulsifiers, and studies show that they dissolve our skin’s natural ceramides, enzymes, and hydro-lipid barrier. These surfactants found in foaming washes, suds, and scrubs insert themselves into the top layer of the skin and stay there even after rinsing, initiating chronic degradation to this delicate layer. This results in inflammation and microbial elimination, which may manifest as melasma, blemishes, redness, dryness, and irritated skin.
Botanical Oils are Best
Seal, heal, and keep the integrity of the top layer intact by adopting the ancient cleansing method of washing the skin with botanical oils. Fresh pressed plant oils feed our skin from the outside in with a transdermal bouquet that purifies, calms, and clears the skin. Washing with botanicals gently and effectively cleanses and moisturizes the skin while maintaining its precious top layer. It is simple to do, too. Dampen an organic cotton cloth with warm water, put a squirt of jojoba oil or your favorite Best Skin Ever on the cloth, and gently wash your face. No need to rinse! The cloth and oil provide the perfect level of gentle daily exfoliation. Deeper spa-like exfoliation may be done weekly by adding a dash of clay to your oil cleansing or using our Perfect Pearl Powder, Rosemary Reset, or the ravishing Royal Rose Honey Mask.
Replenishing with desquamation-friendly botanicals meet the life of your skin so you can revel in the perfection you were born with.
Pain is not necessarily beauty. There are many organic and natural processes that aid in providing a heathy beautiful glow to your skin, without causing damage. “Beauty is an inside job,” this means feeding your skin on the inside with proper nutrition, hydration and a positive mindset. It is a privilege to age…. who says wrinkles are a bad thing? Make peace with your appearance, and love the skin you are in. The love you have for life and yourself shines brighter than dewy skin!