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A look at active ingredients in skincare products


Dear Beauty Store Junkie,

Skin care products confuse me. Just when I think I have the lowdown on all the goods that will keep my skin in tip-top shape, something new, or better or even better comes out on the market. This conundrum is one of the leading questions our aesthetician Ashley gets at least once a day, so the staff at OAI took it to task and compared three of the most popular products sold in a doctor’s offices and at beauty stores under the same name.

Retinol, bleaching agents, and Vitamin C serums are the go-to face products in the anti-aging category. The name of the game is to reduce the signs of aging and sun exposure by improving skin texture and skin pigmentation.

Many factors affect how patients choose products, especially in a store environment. For example, consider how pretty packaging, price, and fragrance influence you. I ‘m a sucker for hints of orange blossom and citrus, and I also love to see “rated #1 by Elle Beauty magazine” prominently displayed on or around my favorite product line.

But the question that we should be asking is: What are the active ingredients that make this product work? Let’s break it down.

Retinoids are the gold standard for reversing the signs of aging and the damage from sun exposure. Retin-A and Retinol increase skin turnover, dermal thickness, and collagen production. Skin turnover usually occurs every six weeks but adding Retin-A or Retinol to your skin care regimen can speed up the process.

Retin-A requires a medical prescription. Retinol does not. Retinol is readily available at beauty stores and is often the product patients buy without considering the options available in their physician’s office. Usually, the reason comes down to cost. Physician-based retinol ranges from $50 to $75 compared to beauty store brands that sell, on average, for $25. The big difference: ingredients and prescription strength. Most over-the-counter retinol will not disclose the percentage of retinol because it is more than likely less than 0.5%.

What this means to me and you is that we can buy the $25 version all day long and still not reap the benefits as we would from a product that contains at least 0.05% or up to 0.1% of the active ingredient. Neostrata’s Skin Active Retinol + NAG Complex is one of the most recent products on the market available for patients who have a difficult time tolerating Retin-A in its purest form.

The key ingredients of the Neostrata brand are 0.5% retinol and NeoGlucosamine® (NAG). This formula delivers a stable and well-tolerated product. NAG enhances its effectiveness, ensuring skin turnover, collagen production, and increased dermal thickness.

Skin lightening products, also known as bleaching creams, work by reducing the effects of pigment changes from melanin production. Skin discoloration on the face and neck happens with the use of birth control, during or after pregnancy, and during menopause. Exposure to heat and light further aggravates the melanin in your skin, creating splotchy brown patches. Most often, these skin changes fade away, but with age and sun exposure, they may last longer.

Standard topical creams include:

  • Arbutin acid
  • Kojic acid
  • Azelaic acid
  • Hydroquinone or skin brightening cream

The most common one is hydroquinone. Store bought hydroquinone contains 2% or less of the active ingredient. Medical-based versions have anywhere from 4% to 6%, enhancing the efficacy and likelihood that product application will meet with success. Many of the beauty store options advertise all-natural components, but buyers beware. Natural ingredients are not the same as prescription strength bleaching agents.

Vitamin C serums are everywhere. I love a good serum, and I bet you do too! Who doesn’t want to neutralize free radicals, reduce damage from sun exposure, and improve fine lines and wrinkles? But not all serums are created equal. Being an educated consumer in the beauty market is essential to achieving your desired results within a budget that works for you. Vitamin C serums may include an entire list of great sounding ingredients, but if L-ascorbic acid isn’t one of them think twice before making your purchase.

And one last thing to consider is the cost per ounce. Most medical product lines are meant to last anywhere from two to three months, compared to beauty store brands that usually last two to four weeks. Before you balk at the price tag of in-office products, know your facts: cost per application, active ingredients, and strength.

The staff at OAI takes pride in being able to offer a variety of medical-grade skin care products that honor your budget and lifestyle. Take advantage of our expertise and find out how your products compare to what we have to offer. You’ll be happy that you did. I promise!

Love, Libby


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