Skin care savants, prepare to be shocked: You don’t have to shun the sun. Parabens aren’t actually poison. Says who? Says veteran dermatologist Dr. Tiina Meder, founder of Meder Beauty Science and author of the book, The Urban Myths of the Beauty Industry. I got to chat with Dr. Meder about these--and more--hot button beauty beliefs, as well as some old beauty chestnuts that you should heed.
What inspired you to write The Urban Myths of the Beauty Industry?
In my 20 plus years as an aesthetic therapist, patients would ask me all sorts of questions every single day. Just when it seemed nothing could surprise me anymore, someone would ask a question that sounded completely out of left field, but turned out to be a commonly-held misconception. You’d be surprised how many people believe that they need sunscreen to work in front of a computer; that running makes one’s face sag; that without lip balm lips will lose volume and dry up. There was no end to these “myths”.
Renowned Russian beauty blogger (and Myths co-author) Yana Zubtsova had the idea to post some of these myths online, with my comments debunking them. The posts were very popular, and so The Urban Myths of the Beauty Industry was born. It became a bestseller in Russia, and was translated into three more languages this year.
What debunked myth has been met with the most resistance and/or is the hardest for people to give up?
The hardest myths to debunk are ones about “bad ingredients” and sunscreen’s ‘round the clock necessity. I am not afraid to say out loud that parabens have, in fact, been proven to be safe, highly effective and low allergenic, while their cost has next to no effect on the price of cosmetics. New preservatives are often more expensive than active ingredients, so when you buy a paraben-free cream, chances are you’re paying half the price for your cream’s long shelf life instead of its beneficial effect on your skin. A real eye-opener for many people is the fact that parabens are used as pharmaceutical preservatives, or that a few fresh organic strawberries, which take only a minute to consume, contain more parabens than the face cream you apply every day.
As for sunscreen, previous recklessness towards UV rays has turned into a proper panic and even heliophobia (morbid fear of sunlight), making people afraid to step into open sun even for a few minutes without sunscreen. It’s as if everyone suddenly got in their heads that humanity came from Saturn and will crumble to dust if a ray of sunlight hits their skin. In reality, we are all descended from people who were able to survive (and thrive) while spending hours in the sun.
Sure, it is necessary to protect skin from UV radiation, but it is just as necessary to remember that a certain amount of sunlight is vital for one’s health. Many countries today are faced with a growing number of vitamin D deficiencies, which leads to some serious health problems. I don’t subscribe to the popular point of view that one should never be exposed to open sun, and I always advise using sunscreens when necessary, but certainly not at night and not during a northern winter's night, as some overly-zealous people do. I talk a lot in my book about how to choose the right SPF for the city, the beach, country walks, etc., as well as how to measure the sun’s activity at the moment.
My views come as a shock to many. A British journalist once called me “the sun-loving dermatologist”, which is, apparently, ground-shattering these days.
What timeless piece of beauty wisdom actually is true?
There are a few very important rules; the real cornerstones of skin care.
- The most important thing is to make a habit of cleansing the skin properly twice a day. Never go to bed without washing your face; there is no excuse for that.
- To prevent ageing, use cosmetics that support active microcirculation in the skin—they’re often referred to as “capillary reviving”. Capillary health is key to great looking skin. Blood vessels are the first to succumb to ageing, and if you don’t strengthen them, the rest of your skin care will be much less effective.
- Even healthy skin needs protection, not just from sun but also from other damaging factors, especially if you live in a big city. The skin needs a protective mantle to stop heavy metals, toxins, tars and other harmful substances from getting to live cells. It is very important to choose the right protective cream for your lifestyle, and to apply it correctly.
What is, in your opinion, the most important ingredient or product that every woman should be using? Why?
Off all the components I use in Meder Beauty Science products, my all-time favourite ingredient is vitamin B3 or, as it is often referred to on cosmetic labels, Niacin, Niacinamide or Methyl Nicotinate (it’s in our SN3 Serum). Niacin affects the vascular wall of the skin’s capillaries, restoring healthy circulation (even in rosacea patients!), has antioxidant properties and re-establishes cell oxygenation. Studies show that regular use of products with sufficient concentrations of vitamin B3 (1% and up) enhances the synthesis of collagen and elastin by more than 30% in the first two weeks of application, improves moisture retention and decreases the intensity of melanin production, especially in pigment spots. Additionally, vitamin B3 shows anti-acne action, more intense than that of antibiotics, and accelerates the epidermis’ renewal.
In my opinion, vitamin B3 is the king of cosmetic ingredients: with all its amazing qualities, it does not irritate skin and almost never causes allergic reactions. Niacinamide is good for young skin, great for ageing skin and perfect for mature skin.
Regrettably, Niacin is not used in cosmetics as much and/or as concentrated as it should be. A common reaction to Niacinamide is skin reddening—a sign that it’s working its magic on dermal capillaries. Afraid that customers won’t like this, many cosmetic manufacturers won’t use it.
I, on the other hand, believe that, given enough explanation, anyone can fully understand how a cosmetic product works and why the skin reacts to it in a certain way.