Face Creams

          How do you know what your face needs? The cosmetics department is full of products touting the benefits of exotic berries and super-chemicals, and the list of bottles you ‘need’ in your arsenal grows ever longer. Here are the basic facts you should know:

• Save your benjamins: Price is not correlated to results, dermatologists say. What matters is choosing products with ingredients that work. 

• Cosmeceuti-what? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), recognizes two categories of products: cosmetics—for cleansing or beautifying—and drugs—for preventing and treating disease. ‘Cosmeceutical’ is not a category the FDA recognizes, but products can have properties that make them both cosmetics and drugs. Any product with the properties of a drug must be approved by the FDA before it can be sold, whereas purely cosmetic products may go straight to the shelves.

• Active ingredients: These are ingredients the FDA considers to have the properties of a drug, and these must be listed first on the label. Research has shown that retinoids (sometimes listed as retinol, retinyl or retinoic acid), alpha hydroxy acids, hydroquinone and salicylic acid can treat the effects of aging.

• All natural or not? Most plant extracts can’t be added to skin products in their natural form, so they must undergo processing before they can be used effectively on the skin.

• Here comes the sun: You’ve heard it a million times, but that doesn’t make it any less true: doctors and those in the beauty industry alike say the best way to protect your health and your skin’s appearance is to wear sunscreen and limit sun exposure. Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

• The buzz about retinoids: Derived from vitamin A, retinoids—also used to treat acne—are the only medication approved by the FDA as safe and effective for reversing some of the effects of sun damage. They improve skin texture, reduce irregular pigmentation and, if applied daily over several months, can increase collagen, the protein that makes up our skin and is essential to a healthy look.

• AHA! Alpha hydroxy acids: Including lactic, malic, citric, glycolic and pyruvic acid, these are naturally occurring substances found in sugar cane and citrus fruit. They are used to remove and loosen surface cells, making skin smoother and wrinkles less noticeable. So they’re good—look for them in your skin care products.

• Oxygen fighters: Antioxidants are chemicals that counteract oxygen’s damaging effects on tissues, and include vitamin C, beta-carotene, lycopene and vitamin E. Here again, they’re good.

• To tone or not to tone? Toners were originally designed as a final step in the cleansing process to remove debris and soap scum left by heavy cleansers used in the ’70s and ’80s. Typically alcohol or acetone, these astringents created a cool feeling as the alcohol evaporated. But many dermatologists say they are an unnecessary step that is too drying for most skin types. That ‘tingle’ is actually the feeling of moisture leaving your skin.

• Bye-bye, dry skin: Moisturizer can plump fine lines and make a complexion look brighter. Choose ointments and creams rather than lotions for maximum effectiveness, according to the American Academy of Dermatologists. To combat severe dryness, look for lactic acid or urea on the label. Hyaluronic acid, which occurs naturally in the skin, can also help hold water. Other good moisturizers include dimethicone, glycerine, lanolin, mineral oil and petrolatum.

• Like day and night: There is a difference, dermatologists say. Night creams are typically thicker and may include anti-aging ingredients, like retinol, that might break down in the UV rays of daylight. Day creams often contain sunscreen—which may cause irritation if worn overnight.

• Sensitive souls: If you have sensitive skin, dermatologists advise avoiding products that contain fragrances, soap or alcohol. And as a rule, the fewer ingredients in a product the better. Acids such as lipoic acid, glycolic acid and salicylic acid may also be irritating.