Skincare’s Great Eight: Navigating Product Ingredients

good-skincareLet me clue you in on a little secret: most over the counter skincare products are about 95 percent marketing fluff and 5 percent efficient. What most people use on their skin is largely based on how well it’s advertised. If I asked you to name five skincare companies, more than likely you’re going to recall names of lines found in drug and department stores. The reason being is that these products are advertised everywhere: so you recognize them and ultimately purchase them.

Unfortunately, mass marketed skincare does not always correlate with quality products that have the most benefit to your skin. As an aesthetician, I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had that didn’t have acne yet consistently used Proactive. Why? Proactive has one of the best sales campaigns in skincare. For those suffering from acne, Proactive isn’t bad; let’s just say there are better options for prevention and treatment of acne breakouts. The reality is that some products are packed with effective ingredients that are excellent for achieving or maintaining healthy glowing skin; while others are just water and mineral oil derivatives wrapped in pretty packaging. Ingredients are all that matter- not the celebrity endorser, and not the designer label. Let Chanel stick to making suits and handbags; leave the skincare products in the hands of dermatologists and chemists.

So what ingredients give you the most bang for your buck? Essentially you want products that are going to a) increase cell turn over, b) maintain/ boost collagen and elastin production and c) protect from free radical damage caused by environmental exposure (air pollutants and sun). As with food labels, read skincare product ingredient labels and purchase the products packed with the best ingredients.

Here are the ingredients you want in products, that will support healthy beautiful skin; I call them The Great Eight.

1) Vitamin A: The retinols. If you’re over 30 and use anything on your face at night, it should contain retinol. Retinols increase cell turn over and are a first line defense for maintaining skin’s collagen and elastin for firmness and elasticity. Retinols are deactivated by UV light, so they are only efficient in your evening routine. It’s important to remember, if you’re using retinols at night you must use sunscreen during the day, as these products increase photosensitivity.

2) Hyaluronic Acid: A polymer that occurs naturally in skin cells. Hyaluronic acid is a humectant capable of drawing moisture from the environment to the skin. Not only does HA draw moisture to the skin, it capable of holding one thousand times its weight in water providing hydration without the use of heavy creams or oils. HA serums are great for all skin types but especially beneficial for oily or acne prone types that don’t benefit from occlusive moisturizing methods (methods that block water from evaporating off the skin such as cold cream).

3) Panthanol: A derivative of vitamin B5, panthanol is used to help with hydration, reducing inflammation and promoting healing. Vitamin B5 is often found in topical serums to help boost skin’s moisture levels improving texture, elasticity and reducing redness.

4) Vitamin C: If retinols are the foundation of your night routine, antioxidants like vitamin C should be the basis of your daytime routine. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps boost collagen production and fights free radical damage all while brightening and evening skin tone.

5) Vitamin E: Also known as Tocopherol, vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin that like vitamin C, has powerful antioxidant properties. Vitamin E helps boost the antioxidant properties of vitamin C when paired together. Vitamin E applied topically has been known to help reduce hyperpigmentation from scarring.

6) Ferulic Acid: Aother small molecule antioxidant that is found in plant cells, Ferulic Acid helps boost vitamin C and vitamin E’s protective benefits. The trifecta of vitamin C and E with ferulic acid is the money shot for your daytime skincare routine. Look for serums that contain all three.

7) Alpha Hydroxy Acids: Alpha hydroxy acids are chemical exfoliates that help slough off dead keratinized skin of the epidermal layer to reveal younger skin cells underneath. Despite the title of ‘chemical’ AHA’s are derived from natural plant sources. The most commonly known AHA’s are glycolic and lactic acid. Alpha hydroxy acids are great for treating hyperpigmentation (dark spots), evening texture, and preparing skin to better receive other skincare products. Like retinols these products increase photosensitivity, so always pair with sunscreen. Because AHA’s can cause skin irritation at higher efficacy levels, see your skincare professional for more information on how to best incorporate these products into your skincare routine.

8) Coenzyme Q 10: Coenzyme Q 10 is an enzyme naturally occurring in body cells that help fight free radical damage. Coenzyme levels decrease with age, making it a reliable biomarker for aging. A small molecule antioxidant, Coenzyme Q 10 easily penetrates the epidermal layer (the top layer of skin exposed to the environment).

I hope this helps! More posts to come featuring specific product suggestions for your skincare routine.


What’s Beef?


Do you know what beef is? According to the late, great, hip-hop artist, Notorious B.I.G., “beef is when you need two gats to go to sleep”. For American consumers, beef is corn fed and potentially just as dangerous to your health. From USDA Prime, to the crème de la crème, USA Waygu, the best cuts are well “marbleized” showcasing veins of intramuscular fat running throughout the meat. The more marbleized and evenly dispersed the fat is with lean muscle, the higher the grade of beef. Therefore, the more marbling, the more expensive the cut. Chefs and foodies alike can deeply appreciate this marbling for the juiciness and flavor it brings to culinary delights. Beef farmers achieve highly marbleized meat by feeding cows extensively and bringing them to slaughter young. Cows are fed corn, cow fat (tallow), and antibiotics so that within 12-16 months, a cow goes from 80 pounds to over 1,000 pounds; ready to be served up with a bun and fries on your plate.

Corn feeding expedites the fattening process of a cow, insuring that the beef is sufficiently marbleized and the supply of meat in the market is abundant. However, there are many health problems for cows fed a corn-based diet, increasing the dietary health risk of those who consume corn fed beef. In his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan, discusses some of the issues with the American diet beginning with corn. Pollan explains how corn being less expensive and readily available, has become a staple in the Western diet. Corn is hidden in a lot of processed foods. (Just read the labels.) We’re eating corn even when we think we’re having a steak, drinking a soda or eating a piece of bread. Just think of all the foods that have high fructose corn syrup as a primary ingredient. I’ll be sharing more insight from The Omnivore’s Dilemma in future posts. But for now, let’s focus on corn fed beef.

Cows have a second stomach called a rumen. Its function is to extract protein from grass, as grass is the staple of a cow’s natural diet. A corn diet, on the other hand, is not only unnatural, it’s also toxic to a cow’s health. Corn causes extreme bloating within the rumen, expanding the stomach which compresses the cow’s lungs, resulting in potential suffocation. Veterinarians on cattle farm are constantly monitoring cattle herds, identifying sick cows and reliving them from this possibly fatal bloating.

Digestion of corn changes the acidity of a cow’s stomach, by decreasing the PH, and causing the stomach to be more acidic. This high acidity results in a problematic breakdown of the cow’s stomach lining. From here, bacteria are able to seep from the compromised stomach compartment into the cow’s bloodstream. A cow’s liver is now working overtime to clear toxins that normally would be eliminated from the body through the gastrointestinal track. Very quickly, this overworked liver becomes diseased and begins to fail. At this point, you essentially have a sick animal that probably would succumb to death due to health issues if not brought to slaughter within 12-16 months of its life.

As consumers of corn fed beef, this bacteria proves problematic for us as well. American beef cows spend most of their short lives cramped amongst thousands of other cows in a sea of their own manure, which leads to the need be pumped with antibiotics in order to the fight the constant attach of super germs growing and evolving in such unsanitary conditions. The PH of our stomach is higher than that of a cow’s allowing us a natural defense to kill off bacteria found in beef. However, with the acidity of a cow’s rumen being closer to our own due to a corn based diet, super strands of bacteria like e-coli are ever evolving. These strands can withstand the higher acidity of a human stomach leading to higher risk of food poisoning. Makes you think twice about that medium rare rib eye, doesn’t it?

Another issue with corn fed beef is the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential polyunsaturated fats only supplied to the human body through dietary sources. Among several key functions, these essential nutrients support heart and neurological health. Ideally you want your ratio of omega-6 to Omega-3 to be 1:1 but getting and as close to 4:1 or 5:1 have proven health benefits. The American diet is already high in Omega 6 due in part to increased consumption of processed food containing corn derived oils and byproducts. Many individuals are consuming diets with omega ratios as high as 17:1. Not surprisingly, corn fed beef has a ratio of about 14:1. Studies done by institutions like the National Institute of Health, have linked higher ratios of omega-6 to elevated risks for cardiovascular disease, cancer and inflammatory disorders like rheumatoid arthritis. Some researchers link cow’s corn fed diet to the epidemic of heart disease in the United States. On the other hand, cows fed a grass fed diet tend to have a healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 about 1.5:1, very similar to fatty fish like salmon.

In addition to having a more balanced ratio of omega polyunsaturated fats, grass fed cows are raised for 3-4 years, before being brought to slaughter, and without the use of antibiotics reducing the risk of growing super strands of bacteria. Grass fed beef does tend to have a different retail cost, taste and texture than that of corn fed beef but essentially you’re eating a food your body is going to use and process differently. This difference extends also to other cow products like milk and butter.

So, the next time you go out to celebrate some special occasion at your favorite high-end steak house, think twice about the corn fed cowboy rib eye, costing upward of $100 sans a la carte side dishes. What are you really paying for?


*If you’re in the Washington D.C. area and interested in trying grass fed beef, check out Elevation Burger for a cost efficient option. For those of you with deep pockets, try Bourbon Steak, at the Four Seasons Hotel. Let me know what you think!

Black Coffee, No Sugar, No Cream: The Extraordinary Benefits of Taking Your Morning Joe O’Natural

I love coffee. One cup every morning is all I need to stay mentally alert through most of my day.  Last year, a good, good, girlfriend of mine gifted me a Nespresso machine. I went from traditional brewed coffee to espresso coffee drinks conveniently made in my own kitchen. I took on a new persona as a barista every morning as I perfectly paired my espresso with my frothed almond milk, a tad of Hershey’s cocoa and a spoonful of gourmet French vanilla syrup. Voila! A mocha latte! If everyone started making lattes so good at home, Starbucks was going to have some trouble. Keeping my coffee drinks as low in sugar as possible sounded like a great idea but it just tastes so good with all the sweet additives. The downside to my wonderful latte was the stomach bloating that followed not having any dairy, it had to be the sugar. Hooked as I was on my morning beverage ritual, I ignored my body trying to tell me something wasn’t quite right.

Coffee alone is a powerful antioxidant, that helps fight free radical damage in the body (think breast and liver cancer prevention).  The caffeine in coffee helps improve mood, and increase metabolism.  In fact, research has shown that coffee can help reduce insulin resistance, reducing risk for Diabetes Type II by 25%.  Studies have also shown that coffee has cardiovascular benefits.  Cardiovascular health and Neurological health are often linked so it’s no wonder that coffee helps to protect against Alzheimer’s  and Parkinson’s disease as well.  Let’s be clear, these wonderful benefits from coffee only hold true with the consumption of black coffee.  The reality is that sugar laden coffee beverages are often no better than drinking a can of soda, thus contributing to body inflammation, weight gain and the domino effect of health issues that come with it.

The problem is that despite negating the natural benefits of a fresh brewed cup, all those flavored syrups and dairy creamers just taste so dang good! That first sip of a caramel Macchiato from Starbucks can feel like heaven.  International Delight coffee creamers come in the most delicious flavors not to mention those convenient little pods for a drink on the go.  Unfortunately now we have undone so much potential good for our bodies, short and long-term.  So how do we go from, delicious confection morning beverage to the distinctly strong (and sometimes bitter) flavor of natural coffee.  Well, you may just have to retrain your taste buds.  Reducing your sugar intake in general is a good idea, but lets take this one step at a time. Below are some suggestions on how to adjust to black coffee.

5 Ways to Adjust to Black Coffee:

  • Add a teaspoon of pure extracts to enhance flavor like almond, or vanilla
  • Try a packet of Stevia, an all natural sugar alternative
  • Drink less.  With your coffee no longer diluted by additives you can have a shot of espresso and be on your way. You will certainly feel the energy boost and one shot of espresso has 3 calories and 0 grams of sugar. No wonder the Italians are so slim!
  • Put it on ice.  It’s cold outside now, but drinking your black coffee cold is a refreshing treat in the warmer months.
  • Find your perfect roast.  Explore different roast flavors to find one that appeals to your taste buds in its natural state.  Might be time to step it up from Folgers!

When you think of all the benefits you are gaining and the calories you are saving, black coffee might begin to sound as good as pumpkin spice latte. Let’s try a  30-day black coffee challenge and compare notes. What are you doing to adjust?