ASK A COSMETIC SCIENTIST

We got Ee Ting, a Cosmetic Scientist and lady behind skincare brand hop & cotton to answer some of your questions through Instagram. You can learn so much from a professional so get reading…

What tips do you have for hormonal skin?

Hormones directly increase sebum production, which is the primary cause of hormonal blemishes. While topical products cannot correct or affect hormone levels, the right products and habits can help reduce frequency/severity of breakouts and speed up the lifespan of hormonal/cystic blemishes.

My top tips are:

1. Make sure your cleanser is right for you i.e. removes unwanted oils but not too stripping/drying.

2. Stick to lightweight and oil-free formulas to minimise your chances of product-related congestion. Plant oils are naturally high in triglycerides and free fatty acids, which acne-causing bacteria feed on, encouraging them to grow and multiply. Triglycerides and free fatty acids are also present in our sebum, why is why those with oily skin are more prone to breakouts.

3. Keep your routine simple. The more layers/products we use, the more we subject skin to irritation and congestion.

4. Drink plenty of water, get as much sleep as possible every night.

5. The more stressed or worried you are of it, the more your hormones will work against you. So as difficult as it can be, be kind to yourself and relax.

How bad are parabens, silicones, etc for us?

The overt rationale for avoiding these ingredients is to prevent harm to us, such as irritation or even ‘causing cancer’. But in truth, not every ingredient that have been commonly made taboo are actually harmful.

Parabens, despite their track record of safety in their long history in cosmetics and even being naturally present in many healthy foods (berries, carrots), have been maligned due to misinterpretation from studies. Although the industry knows that these fears are unfounded, many cosmetic manufacturers have chosen to leave parabens out to give consumers the peace of mind. Incidentally, some ‘paraben alternatives’ have a high propensity for causing allergies and some have been banned for leave-on products in the EU (more on that below).

Silicones are a very large group of emollients with the same structural backbone that generally serve to improve skin (and hair) moisture levels by reducing evaporation. They exist in widely different forms, from cyclomethicone which is light and volatile to highly viscous and occlusive dimethicones with paste-like consistency with no liquidity. Different silicones are used in different products. For example, cyclomethicone in a very light facial oil, a moderately viscous/occlusive dimethicone in a concealer to a very heavy dimethicone in an intense hair conditioner. Not all silicones are ‘bad’; it really depends if the type and amountused in the product agrees with your skin.

The ‘free from’ marketing tactic/claim is now subject to stricter regulation in the EU. Brands are no longer legally allowed to claim they are ‘free from’ an ingredient group that is legaland safe to use, as such statements are not only subjective, but misleading and denigrating to other brands. 

At the end of the day, cosmetic manufacturers do not want to be risking their reputation nor investment on developing products that are fatal or toxic. There are many ‘bad’ ingredients, just ‘wrong’ formulas that are not right for the person using it.

Should i wear SPF everyday?

Yes.

Even if most of your typical day is spent indoors shielded away from UVB, you are still subject to UVA which passes through glass windows and deep into our dermal skin layers, responsible for premature ageing. If you are concerned with any form of hyperpigmentation or fine lines/wrinkles, give your skin broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection daily.

 

How often should we really do chemical exfoliation?

There is no hard and fast rules as it depends on the strength of your chemical exfoliant and your skin.

As a guide for someone not exceptionally sensitive, mild exfoliants (under 8% acid) can be used three to four times weekly; while strong exfoliants (from 15 to 20% acids) is best used once a week or every two weeks.

If you are not sure or new to chemical exfoliants, start slow (once every 2 nights) and low (< 8% acids). Observe how your skin is responding and decrease/increase the frequency as necessary. When chemical exfoliation is done right, your skin looks glowy, hydrated, radiant and fresh. Over-exfoliated skin is red, feels tight, sensitive and often breaking out more than usual.

Microbiome. Whats its link to skincare?

Our skin, like our gut, supports the growth of a multitude of microorganisms. The important thing to know is that when the population of each of these microbes are balanced, our skin is happy and healthy. However, if the conditions are disturbed such that it favours the growth of a particular kind  or group of microbes, then yeast or bacterial infections can occur on the skin.

It might seem logical to replenish the ‘good’ microbes using skincare, but keep in mind it is not so much a matter of having ‘good’ or ‘bad’ microbes, but rather being ‘balanced’ or ‘unbalanced’ - too much of any ‘good’ micro-organism can be bad. My recommendation is to stick with products that protect and promote a healthy skin barrier and function, then your skin microbes will follow to co-exist in a state of balance.

What are the best chemicals for dehydrated skin?

Humectants are dehydrated skins’ best friends. These are a group of ingredients that draw water to the skin. 

Examples of humectants are glycerin, hyaluronic acid, amino acids, sorbitol and urea. The water-drawing ability depends on the overall formula; so no single humectant is the best of the lot. Which one used depends on their compatibility in the formula with other ingredients.

I need to shrink my pores- help!

Our actual pore size cannot change as that is genetically determined. However, we can minimise their appearance by keeping pores clear of any debris by thorough daily cleansing and regular exfoliation using acids (AHA or BHA). Daily sun protection is also critical to prevent UV from breaking down collagen and elastin, which diminishes skin structure/firmness, making pores that sit on the skin surface more apparent.

If your pores are naturally big, they might still be visible despite good skincare habits. In these instances, pore-minimising silicones, usually those of higher viscosity that literally 'fill in your pores' (commonly found in products such as pore-minimising primers, moisturisers, powders), can be used to instantly reduce their appearance. However, this is a temporary cosmetic effect that does not reduce your actual pore size.

 

Is there any chemicals we should be avoiding?

Our skin’s most important function is to act as a protective physical barrier, so avoid ingredients that have a high potential to cause irritation or compromise barrier function. 

Certain strong preservatives commonly used as ‘paraben alternatives’ are potent allergens, such as isothiazolinones (e.g methylisothiazolinone, methylchloroisothiazolinone) and formaldehyde-releasers (e.g. DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea).

It’s always a good idea to avoid fragrance (including essential oils), dyes and astringents that are extremely efficient in removing skin lipids such as products with a high alcohol or witch hazel content and soap-based cleansers.

It is worthwhile to mention that not every theoretically good ingredient is universally great for everyone. Examples of ingredients that some skins cannot tolerate are vitamin C (and derivatives), vitamin A (and derivatives), aloe vera and shea butter. If you have particularly reactive or difficult skin, stick to products with simple formulations (i.e. a short ingredient list) and keep your routine minimal.

Recommendations for anti-ageing.

Daily use of broad spectrum sun protection is the most important anti-ageing measure.

A good mix of antioxidants (such as Vitamin C, E and CoQ 10,) are the skin’s next line of defence to protect cells against environmental free radical damage and collagen/elastin breakdown. Peptides are another group of ingredients that can be fantastic for protection and rejuvenation.

To date, retinoids (Vitamin A and its derivatives) still maintain the gold standard for anti-ageing, but there is often fear of it being too harsh. Start with the mildest derivative with a low concentration and slowly work your way upwards to get optimum benefit to minimise discomfort or irritation.

Last but not the least, preserving moisture levels dailyby using a cleanser that cleans properly without removing excessive natural skin oils and an appropriate moisturiser.

Do we need to wash our face in the morning?

This is probably a matter of personal preference, though I do recommend washing your face in the morning. During sleep we sweat and produce sebum; oils on our hair (natural or from hair products) inadvertently get transferred to our face. If you are prone to congestion, I would encourage cleansing properly but gently in the morning, before you wear makeup for the day.

 

Interview with Ee Ting

Cover image- @hopandcotton

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