Best Skin Care: What's in That Cream You're Putting on Your Face?

Most facial creams contain similar basic ingredients, no matter how expensive. Be smart and read the label and find a product that has the ingredients that fit your needs and your budget!
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Whether you are living in the northern part of the country where the winter has been cold and fierce, or in warmer southern climates, the necessity of identifying a good skin care regimen is vital to the health of your largest organ -- your skin. The choice of products is enormous and can be confusing. The price range for these skin creams vary significantly, and more often than not, the more expensive item may not necessarily be better!

The following is a primer about the numerous and perplexing world of skin care products.

The majority of over-the-counter products available are moisturizers with added ingredients to support marketing claims. The merchandise offered, includes moisturizers alone (to be used day and night), anti-aging night creams, sunscreens, anti-wrinkle/antioxidant creams, facial foundations or skin lightening serums. The common denominator is that the formulation is basically a moisturizer. Let's examine the basic ingredients in the majority of moisturizers and other facial creams.

The most commonly used active agent in many skin care products, after water, is the occlusive substance petrolatum or petrolatum by-products! That's right, good old Vaseline! It is the most effective moisturizing ingredient on the market today because it reduces water loss through the skin by 99 percent by producing an oily barrier. This barrier prevents water from evaporating from the skin allowing the skin's water content to rise. It actually decreases the appearance of fine lines on the face and body caused by dehydration. While petrolatum has received some bad press recently, the bottom line is that it is hypoallergenic, noncomedogenic (does not clog pores) and nonacnegenic (does not cause acne). Its major drawback is its inherent greasiness. Other options do exist, however, and some manufacturers have substituted other ingredients to replace it.

Another basic ingredient is something called Dimethicone. It is from the silicone family, which originates from silica, which is found in granite, quartz and sand. Different types of silicones are used in many skin care and household products and to date, there is no report of toxicity from the use of topical silicone. This ingredient is an astringent/moisturizer and is used to decrease or dilute the concentration of petrolatum and thus cut down the greasy nature of the product. It also adds glide and smooth properties to the mixture. It is the second most common active ingredient in moisturizers today, as it dilutes petrolatum and is also hypoallergenic, noncomedogenic and nonacnegenic.

The next most common ingredient is something called Glycerin. It is also a moisturizer and acts as a humectant, which means that it attracts water from the upper layers of the skin down into the deeper layers to restore the water levels to your skin.

In summary, Petrolatum, Dimethicone and Glycerin, or similar closely related ingredients, form the primary foundation of most skin care products to which other compatible agents are added to perform different functions. Think of them as a vehicle to deliver other products to the skin. For example, almost all sunscreens contain these same three basic ingredients.

This "skin care vehicle" also carries other products used in the battle against aging and wrinkling skin. "Antioxidants" have been proven to protect skin against photo damage and premature aging. They neutralize "free radicals" which are found in the atmosphere and cause skin damage. Think of free radicals as disruptive invaders, which are known to cause premature aging and wrinkling of the skin. Antioxidants are the weapons of defense.

Certain Botanicals are used for their antioxidant properties. Botanical antioxidants include Rutin, found in apples and blueberries, Lutein, found in tomatoes and Carotenoids, which are chemically related to vitamin A. There are many other botanical antioxidants or combinations thereof, found in different facial creams, which are also effective.

Soybeans are a rich source of another antioxidant family, Flavonoids. Some of the cutaneous effects of soy have been linked to its estrogenic effect in postmenopausal women. Topical estrogens have been shown to increase skin thickness and promote collagen synthesis and skin elasticity. However, there is no solid scientific evidence that topical use of soybean products will correct hormone imbalances of a woman's body and will not combat mood swings and hot flashes!

Other ingredients which contain antioxidant capabilities include Silymarin, an extract from the milk thistle plant, green tea, a very popular ingredient in many skin care creams, and Retinol. Retinol, found in many fruits and vegetables, contains high concentrations of vitamin A.

Remember, most facial creams and skin care products contain many similar basic ingredients, no matter how expensive the item. Be smart and read the label and find a product that has the ingredients that fit your needs and more importantly fit your budget! Do not be impressed by elaborate bottles or famous and beautiful celebrities who tout their product for a very high fee! Choose a moisturizer, for example, that complements your skin type, and use it religiously to combat dry skin and premature aging. Do not be seduced by a product that is advertised to contain a sexy antioxidant not found in any other cream. Practically speaking, all antioxidants act the same way, to the same degree of effectiveness. Apply moisturizers right after bathing for maximum effectiveness and improve your skin care regimen immensely by simply drinking lots of water daily.

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