If you are wondering how to treat pigmentation on sensitive skin, this tutorial is for you. Part 2 of the Skincare Formulation Series by Skin Masters Academy brings you the delicate art of treating pigmentation while balancing the needs of sensitive skin.
This series is written for advanced skincare practitioners who are interested in the use of cosmeceuticals including non prescription topicals as adjunct therapy for various cosmetic skin concerns.
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Bite Sized Beauty: At-a-Glance FAQ With Dr.TWL
How do you treat pigmentation on sensitive skin?
The needs of both must be balanced. Sensitive skin is caused by a dysfunctional skin barrier, which means that the superficial corneocytes have lost their ability to adhere together. This results in a leaky epidermis. External allergens can trigger immunological reactions resulting in redness, itch, stinging and flaking. Moreover, ingredients used to treat hyperpigmentation can penetrate deeper and quicker if the barrier is breached. It’s key therefore to choose only non-irritating actives that treat hyperpigmentation. This excludes the use of retinol and retinoids for those with sensitive skin. Vitamin C serum formulations should have low acidity—if possible, choose neutral compounds like sodium or magnesium ascorbyl phosphate instead of L-ascorbic acid based vitamin C serums.
Which cream is best for pigmentation skin?
In terms of traditional cosmeceuticals, hydroquinone and retinoid based formulations work best for stubborn pigmentation such as melasma. However, these are particularly tricky to use in sensitive skin types. Hydroquinone is known to breach the skin barrier and also causes a paradoxical rebound phenomenon if used inappropriately. For this reason, dermatologists recommend using hydroquinone based formulations for 6 months maximum—requiring a break in between or there could be a condition known as onchronosis that results. Retinoids are troublesome for those with sensitive skin—they do damage the skin barrier and should be used with care under the supervision of a dermatologist.
Newer non-prescription alternatives have emerged in cosmeceutical research over the years which include melanogenesis blockers like kojic acid, arbutin and novel inhibitors that we will cover at the end of the tutorial.
Which acid is best for hyperpigmentation for sensitive skin?
Traditional chemical peel acids like salicylic, glycolic and retinol peels can adversely affect the skin barrier of sensitive skin types. Lactic acid is a gentler alternative although newer formulations now include plant enzyme peels like pineapple and papaya derived bromelain and papain respectively. Hydrodermabrasionis a form of physical exfoliation which can also improve the surface quality of sensitive skin types. By the infusion of antioxidant serums that contain plant actives, vitamin C—there can be a simultaneous benefit that targets underlying processes responsible for melanin production.
In-Depth Skin Science With Dr.TWL
Physiology of Sensitive Skin
Sensitive skin is a state of hyper reactivity. Key to understanding this is the concept of barrier function. We already know about the brick wall model of skin, which means that once the skin barrier is damaged, the proteins associated with the structure of this wall also changes. Ultimately, this is what stimulates inflammation, leading to tissue damage. This is further exacerbated by what we call the itch scratch cycle. It is helpful to know that neurological factors play a role when it comes to sensitive skin.
How to Treat Pigmentation on Sensitive Skin Tip 1: Patch Test
Understand the physiology involved—skin barrier dysfunction is what triggers sensitive skin reactions like itching, redness, flaking and stinging. Knowing what to look out for is important to monitor for adverse reactions when using a new skincare product. Patch testing before using the product on the affected area is key. Use a small amount on an inconspicuous area such as under the jawline and monitor for any adverse reactions overnight.
The Sensitive Skin Model
In dermatology research, the sensitive skin model is what scientists use for testing—essentially a skin model that mimics actual skin barrier damage.
With this, researchers proceeded to investigate the effect of cosmeceuticals on the damaged skin barrier.
List of Cosmeceuticals Identified in Research for Sensitive Skin Treatment
The following are a list of extracts that have been identified for its efficacy. We have oat extract, olive leaf extract, brown algae, stachycose and erythritol. These extracts are chosen for
their ability to scavenge free radicals
inhibit hyaluronidase, the enzyme responsible for the breakdown of a hyaluronic acid
Hyaluronic acid is an important structural protein in the dermis.
How to Treat Pigmentation on Sensitive Skin Tip 2: Ingredients to Avoid
Avoid acids and retinol/retinoid products. Many skincare products formulated for the treatment of hyperpigmentation include peel acids like AHAs, BHAs as well as retinols. These damage the skin barrier and are not suitable for treatment of pigmentation on sensitive skin types.
How to Treat Pigmentation on Sensitive Skin Tip 3: Go Low & Slow
Apply the product in a gradual, incremental manner. Go slow and low. Non-prescription actives have the potential to cause skin irritation as much as prescription actives in sensitive skin types. If you have sensitive skin and are using a low concentration of glycolic, salicylic or lactic acids for treatment of hyperpigmentation, play safe by starting at a once-a-week frequency.
Remember tip 1–which is always begin with patch test first if you have sensitive skin. After that you can proceed to monitor your skin for up to a week after you use the product on the target area. I would then increase frequency at a weekly interval i.e. from once to twice a week, then three times a week, alternate days before using it on a daily or twice daily basis.
Bacterial Ferment Filtrates in Functional Dermatology
I want to now draw your attention to what I call functional filtrates. These refer to bacterial ferments such as those from galactomyces and lactobacillus.
The Origins of the Discovery
Elderly sake brewers were observed to have a wrinkle free, youthful looking skin on their hands which were in constant contact with the sake fermentation process. This was in contrast to their faces which were wrinkled and filled with pigmented spots.
Research on the Sensitive Skin Model
Clinical studies done by scientists then demonstrated that galactomyces and lactobacillus ferment filtrates were able to improve fluctuations in redness, roughness and pore size. They were also helpfil in alleviating mask-induced skin irritation in the era of mask wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Science behind Bacterial Ferment Filtrates
How exactly do bacterial ferment filtrates work? First of all, they upregulate ceramide production via filaggrin gene expression which is what we know as the key player in healthy skin barrier function. They are also what we consider Tapinarof or TAMA-like. These have been used as alternative therapeutics for inflammatory skin diseases in dermatology like psoriasis and eczema.
Therapeutic Skin Benefits of Ferment Filtrates
Ferment filtrates are nature’s very own TAMAs. Beyond that, bacterial ferments have an inherent antioxidant capacity. This additional antioxidant effect is what neutralises damaging free radicals. One of the ways it does it is by blocking key mechanisms in the process of inflammaging, for instance cell senescence, the process of cells falling asleep. By doing so, we are reducing stress in the skin and enhancing skin cell repair.
Cosmeceuticals containing bacterial ferments also demonstrate increased caspase 14 enzyme expression, which are essentially enzymes that are activated by the phytochemicals present in plant extracts. There is also increased expression of tight junction molecules. These affect the connections between the cells that make up the skin barrier. This ultimately affects the permeability of the barrier and helps to restore healthy skin function.
Are Ferment Filtrates the Answer?
This may be the key to bridging the gap between the needs of hyperpigmentation sufferers and those with coexisting sensitive or reactive skin. Understanding the science behind cosmetic formulations is a start.
In summary, we have discussed the latest research in skin barrier function, the basis for functional dermatology actives that target hyperpigmentation. Ingredients tested on damaged skin models in the laboratory setting can be of significant use to those seeking alternative tyrosinase inhibitors.
Botanicals, phytochemical extracts and bacterial ferment products can target multiple pathways of skin inflammation and reactivity.
How to Treat Pigmentation on Sensitive Skin Tip 4: Use Moisturiser Liberally
The problem with sensitive skin is that it never seems to break out of the vicious cycle of barrier dysfunction-environmental trigger-immune reaction—all of which result in perpetuation of the itch scratch cycle. Pigmentation is most often at the superficial layers of skin, though in conditions such as melasma it can go deeper in the second layer known as the dermis. Skincare actives that treat pigmentation can penetrate deeper if the skin barrier is breached—though by the same reasoning we can expect an elevated risk of skin irritation. Liberal, frequent use of a ceramide-dominant moisturiser can mitigate this risk.
How to Treat Pigmentation on Sensitive Skin Tip 5: Dedicate Time to Masking Properly
Masking is truly an underrated skincare step. It might sound simple enough, but it works via the basis of wet occlusion therapy—a well founded dermatological principle. In dermatological therapeutics, wet occlusion is an applied technique that helps treat eczema by enhancing absorption of skincare actives. When a wet layer of textile is applied on skin, this improves the permeability of the skin barrier. However, one caveat is that you should use purely hydrating actives in your face mask and avoid retinols, salicylic acids and glycolic acids.
Case Study: Sensitive Skin & Hyperpigmentation
This case study involving an ideal cosmeceutical regimen for those with eczema and coexisting hyperpigmentation can direct of future research in this field.
There are a few keys that form the foundation of such a product. The ideal skincare formula targeting sensitive skin and hyperpigmentation includes ceramides, natural moisturising factors and bacterial ferments which addresses hyperpigmentation. Critically, sensitive skin users ought to go retinol and retinoid free— as these are well known to cause skin irritation.
Beyond that, I am excited to share with you the exciting world of functional dermatology—one that shows the way to alternative tyrosinase inhibitors and novel melanogenesis blockers—each playing a key role in the future of cosmeceuticals.
Skincare courses by Dr.TWL Skin Masters Academy offer an in-depth study into the science of skincare and practice of basic dermatology taught by board-certified dermatologist Dr Teo Wan Lin. As an international beauty KOL, Dr Teo has collaborated with leading skincare brands such as Eucerin, Skinceuticals, L’Oreal Paris to name a few on her podcast Dermatologist Talks Science of Beauty.
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Dr.TWL Pharmaceuticals Corp. is a dermatologist-formulated private label skincare manufacturer with a presence in Singapore and home of K-beauty, Korea—it is the parent company and manufacturer of prominent clinical skincare brand Dr.TWL Dermaceuticals, established since 2016. Jointly led by board-certified dermatologist Dr Teo Wan Lin and pharmaceutical engineer Mr Teo Zhi Liang, Dr.TWL Pharmaceuticals provides a one-stop OEM/ODM service for skincare brands, with expertise in dermatologist-formulated cosmeceuticals/dermocosmetics as well as skincare/haircare devices.
With existing EURO ISO22716 manufacturing facilities & R&D headquarters in the Asia-Pacific region—Seoul, the hub of K-beauty and the luxury skincare market in Singapore since 2016. The corporation draws on its wealth of expertise to provide premium private label skincare and haircare services in the highly competitive luxury skincare market.
Businesses only with valid business registration. For enquiries and a quote: please fill up the following form. We will get back to you within 3 working days. UPDATE:Enrolment for OEM/ODM 2024-25 is full. To apply for distributorship of our in house Dr.TWL Dermaceuticals brand, fill up the form here.
Who we serve
We are the skincare manufacturer behind prominent clinical skincare brand Dr.TWL Dermaceuticals, an in-house cosmeceutical brand tied with one of Singapore’s top dermatology practices. Our B2B services are set to launch in Q4 2023—offering private label OEM and ODM services for skincare, haircare and device manufacturing.
As the manufacturer of one of Asia’s most prominent clinical skincare brands, Dr.TWL Pharmaceuticals offers dermatologist formulated private label skincare manufacturing for aesthetic and dermatology clinics.
Skincare, haircare, devices and makeup manufacturing with international doorstep fulfilment
Choose us as your one-stop skincare manufacturer—our in-house team will be able to advise you on private label home devices engineered under our Biomaterials arm.
For those who are interested in lower MOQ/trial basis, find out more about our B2B custom makeup and medi-essence service at +65 97286734 (Mobile/WhatsApp).
Hypoallergenic sensorial skincare
We specialise in the creation of dermatologist-approved, minimally allergenic sensorial skincare in keeping with top-of-line cosmeceuticals with enhanced cosmetic accceptability. Our hypoallergenic fragrances have been extensively studied and tested to be safe on universal skin types, including problem skin.
Cosmetics made to pharmaceutical standards
As a private label skincare manufacturer, we provide established aesthetic, skincare and dermatology practices access to dermatologist-formulated cosmeceuticals. Our dermocosmetic formulations have been tested extensively as adjunct treatment for dermatological conditions such as acne, rosacea and sensitive skin.
Enhanced co-operation: OEM/ODM services with flexible MOQ
Unlike traditional private label skincare manufacturers, our model allows for rapid turnaround time for dermocosmetic/product design to keep up with the highly competitive skincare industry—clients will be able to draw on our highly evolved R&D capabilities for product design.
Leader in cost-efficient ODM: MOQ 1000 and above
The industry standard for ODM starts at 10000 MOQ which is a significant barrier to entry for aesthetic clinics. Dr.TWL Pharmaceuticals is able to draw on our existing facilities, raw materials, in-house specialists—as the premier dermatologist-formulated private label skincare manufacturer in the APAC region with stringent pharmaceutical controls.
Our streamlined approach allows for maximum cost-efficiency and rapid turnaround for skincare, dermatology and aesthetic practices
What to expect when you work with us
Private-label skincare manufacturer with an established streamlined process
In-house team with extensive supply-chain and logistical support serving the international/APAC region
Quick turnaround time with low MOQ
Dermatologist-formulated private label dermocosmetics to complement your aesthetic practice
Quality audits and dermatologist testing
Our capabilities range from dermocosmetic formulation to clinical testing and quality audits.
Development of private label skincare, haircare, makeup and home-use devices
Choose us as your one-stop private label skincare manufacturer and get access to our haircare, makeup and device manufacturing services.
EUROISO22716 manufacturing facilities
Our biotechnology facilities encompass pharmaceutical-grade raw material extraction, cosmeceutical design and device manufacturing.
Dermocosmetic compliance checks by private label skincare manufacturer
Leverage on our in-house expertise for FDA/HSA ASEAN COSMETIC DIRECTIVES compliance checks.
5-STEP Private label skincare manufacturing process
The initial consultation maps out client requirements/needs (ODM packaging/blank bottle options)
In-house research and development for ODM
Development of samples and clinical testing
Client receives samples for final testing and approval
Mr Teo Zhi Liang, a chemical engineer by training with over a decade of experience working in the pharmaceutical and petrochemicals industry is the director and head of Dr.TWL Pharmaceuticals. Mr Teo graduated with first class honours from Nanyang Technological University and was accorded the gold medal in pharmaceutical engineering.
Dr Teo Wan Lin is a board-certified dermatologist and author of published research on the skin microbiome in top journals like the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology and the International Journal of Dermatology. As an internationally renowned beauty KOL, she is sought after for her expertise in Asian skincare markets. Dr Teo has collaborated with leading skincare brands such the AMORE-PACIFIC group, Beiersdorf, L’Oréal Paris and LVMH. She serves on the board on a consultancy basis for R&D and ODM.
The brother-and-sister duo are responsible for taking Dr.TWL Dermaceuticals, one of Singapore’s leading clinical skincare brands from its inception in 2016 as a startup to a 7-figure beauty empire.
Dior Beauty X Dr.TWL as seen in Elle China, Elle Netherlands, L’Officiel Malaysia, Marie Claire Brazil, Harper’s Bazaar Germany
Dr.TWL’s Skincare Ingredients Checker is a series covering a dermatologist’s top picks for common skincare actives found in skincare. Get the brand new release Skincare and Cosmetic Ingredients Dictionary by board certified dermatologist Dr. Teo Wan Lin, a never-before skin expert’s handbook for mastery of skincare ingredients.
Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice Powder (Aloe Vera)
What is it?
Aloe vera has been used for various medicinal purposes from ancient times. It is prominently featured in traditional eastern medicine, with ethnobotanical roots in China, India, the West Indies, and Japan. In the west, aloe vera has been grown mainly to supply the latex component of the leaf to the pharmaceutical industry.
Where is aloe vera derived from?
Powder form of the aloe plant
Obtained from dried leaves of the aloe plant and functions as a skin-conditioning agent
Several anti-inflammatory components (among others, it contains salicylates, polysaccharides, magnesium lactate and C-glucosyl chromone)
Aloe-derived ingredients enhance the appearance of dry or damaged skin by reducing flaking and restoring suppleness
Aloe vera is a medicinal and perennial plant that belongs to the Liliaceae family. Aloe stems store water, creating a clear, gel-like substance in the leaves, which contains vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and amino acids.
The main feature of the Aloe vera plant is its high water content, ranging from 99–99.5%. The remaining 0.5–1.0% solid material contains over 75 different potentially active compounds including water- and fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, enzymes. The bioactivity of aloe can be attributed to the inner gel of its leaves.
Aloe vera promotes wound healing
Aloe vera can be used to retain skin moisture, integrity and prevent ulcers. Its regenerative properties have been studied in the context of radiation damage—the gel form has been reported to exhibit a protective effect against radiation damage. Research has also shown that aloe vera can inhibit thromboxane (an inhibitor of wound healing), reducing inflammation and improving the wound healing process.
Aloe’s regenerative properties are due to the compound glucomannan, which is especially rich in polysaccharides like mannose.
Glucomannan stimulates collagen production
In addition, glucomannan affects fibroblast growth factor receptors and stimulates their activity and proliferation, which in turn increases the production of collagen. It can also change the composition of collagen, increase collagen cross-linking and thereby promote wound healing. Aloe stimulates fibroblast which produces the collagen and elastin fibers making the skin more elastic and less wrinkled.
Aloe vera has anti-wrinkle effects
Aloe stimulates fibroblast which produces the collagen and elastin fibers making the skin more elastic and less wrinkled.
Aloe vera softens skin
Skin-softening is another cosmetic effect of aloe when used regularly. Aloe vera has cohesive effects on the superficial flaking epidermal cells by sticking them together, which softens the skin.
Aloe vera helps tighten enlarged pores
The amino acids present in aloe soften hardened skin cells. It is also particularly rich in minerals such as zinc, which acts as an astringent to tighten pores.
Aloe’s moisturizing effects has also been studied in treatment of dry skin associated with occupational exposure where aloe vera gel gloves improved the skin integrity, decreased appearance of fine wrinkle and decreased erythema.
Aloe vera’s antimicrobial properties for infections andacne treatment
Aloe vera is known for its anti-inflammatory, skin protection, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, antiseptic, and wound healing properties. It can be incorporated into skincare products to exert an anti-acne effect.
Aloe vera is generally a very well tolerated active that is dermatologist recommended for calming sensitive skin. However, rarely, contact allergy may occur in those who are prone to allergies. Allergic reactions are mostly due to the anthraquinones present in aloe vera, such as aloin and barbaloin. In this case contact allergy may manifest as localised skin irritation such as redness and burning or stinging sensations.
My research includes that in the field of quasi-drugs and ethnobotany, which is the modern day scientific study of how traditionally cultivated herbs and plants impact human health. The field of functional dermatology encompasses the use of plant bioactives in skincare for treatment of skin diseases such as acne, rosacea, sensitive skin and photoaging. In this edition of Skincyclopedia, we unveil how resveratrol is a must-have ingredient in your skincare routine.
Resveratrol was isolated from white hellebore in 1940, and from polygonum cuspidatum roots in 1963. The latter, a commonly used herb in eastern medicine with anti-inflammatory properties. It is found in over 70 plant species and especially concentrated in grapes. In plants, resveratrol acts as a phytoalexin that is synthesised in response to physical injury, UV-radiation and fungal attacks. Synthetic resveratrol is engineered from yeast species known as saccharomyces cerevisiae. It is a phytochemically rich compound with over 92 new resveratrol derived compounds identified to date. In this article, we cover some of the most frequently asked questions about resveratrol.
Resveratrol and Aging: FAQ
Is resveratrol anti-aging? Can resveratrol reverse aging?
Yes. Resveratrol increases the lifespan of cells. Aging involves a process known as cell senescence, which is a key contributing factor to cell death and age-related diseases. Many people relate aging merely to physical changes such as the development of lines, wrinkles and spots. The truth is, the aging process is far more complex and involves damage to DNA, proteins and cell parts such as the mitochondria, also known as the energy factory of cells. In this sense, resveratrol can be considered truly anti-aging.
How does resveratrol reverse aging?
In lab models, resveratrol has been shown to increase the lifespan of organisms
Protects against age-related heart and brain degeneration
Reduces chronic inflammation, hence directly affects inflammaging processes which are key to aging cells
Does resveratrol make you look younger?
A youthful appearance is usually attributed to the following
Plump, elastic skin
Absence of photoaging signs such as wrinkles, spots and sagging
Via the above molecular pathways described, application of resveratrol-based serums can reverse aging cellular processes. However, as photo damage and biological aging is an ongoing process, medium to long term use as part of a dermatologist-recommended cosmeceutical regimen is necessary before results are seen.
Does resveratrol increase collagen production?
Yes. Resveratrol contains many phytochemicals that
Stimulate skin cells known as fibroblasts to produce collagen
Prevents breakdown of collagen by enzymes known as collagenases
Overall, it exerts a positive effect on aging skin by improving skin texture and appearance by enhancing collagen synthesis in the deeper layers of skin. This results in a plump and elastic appearance associated with youthfulness.
Trans-resveratrol vs Resveratrol
Trans-resveratrol is an active form of resveratrolwhich is naturally occurring in polygonum cuspidatum and the skin of red grapes. There are two forms found in nature, the cis- and the trans- resveratrol versions. It is the trans-resveratrol form that is considered bioactive as the cis-form is highly unstable and is converted to its trans-reseveratrol counterpart when exposed to standard environmental conditions such as UV light. Trans-resveratrol also shows estrogenic activity which is beneficial for improving the softness and smoothness of skin.
Resveratrol: Application in Dermatological Settings
Does resveratrol get rid of wrinkles?
Wrinkles are a result of collagen loss that occurs with aging. When we smile, frown or laugh, our facial expressions are formed when muscles contract. These muscles are connected to surface skin tissues known as the epidermis, dermis and subcutis (fatty layer). Aging causes the skin tissues to thin, a process known as atrophy. As a result, the same muscle movements involved in facial expressions are more visible—eventually leaving a “mark” on skin, known as wrinkles. Resveratrol works on multiple cellular pathways which actively blocks skin atrophy while promoting collagen growth. Including resveratrol in your cosmeceutical skincare regimen can slow down the development of wrinkles.
Sirtuin, the youth protein
The sirtuin family of proteins are an important target of antiaging and skin cancer research. Specifically, sirtuin 1 (SIRT1) is a NAD+ dependant acetylase which regulates multiple biological pathways involved in aging cells. By modifying SIRT1 activity, the lifespan of organisms can be prolonged. This is where the study of botanicals such as resveratrol becomes relevant—several plant compounds have been proven to directly impact SIRT1 expression.
Does resveratrol lighten skin?
As a potent antioxidant, resveratrol engulfs damaging free radicals which attack the surface of skin, resulting in oxidative stress. This protects skin cells such as the melanocytes from injury, which means it prevents UV-induced hyperpigmentation and photoaging.
Is resveratrol good for dark spots? Does resveratrol lighten dark spots?
Resveratrol can be combined with other potent antioxidants such as ferulic acid, vitamin C, vitamin E for an added advantage. This specifically targets dark spots such as age-related solar lentigenes as well as hormonally induced hyperpigmentation such as melasma.
How long does it take for resveratrol to work?
Cosmeceutical regimens take about 27-28 days for full effects to be seen, which is about the length of 1 skin cycle. However, at-home skin devices utilising technology such as microdermabrasion and microcurrent can significantly increase transdermal delivery, i.e. absorption via the epidermis. This can significantly shorten the time taken for results to be seen.
Is resveratrol good for your face?
Yes. Resveratrol is an excellent cosmeceutical that provides all-round benefits targeting common skin concerns such as
Photoaging (lines, spots, uneven skin tone)
Pigmentation i.e. post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, melasma
In addition, resveratrol is helpful for those suffering from oily, acne-prone skin as well. Excess sebum increases oxidative stress via lipid peroxidation, which worsens skin inflammation. Because of its antioxidant properties, it also helps to prevent and treat acne scars.
Hyperseborrhea-related oxidative stress
Does resveratrol increase estrogen?
Trans-resveratrol is known to have estrogenic properties.
What is the resveratrol lift?
Certain skincare products containing resveratrol have been marketed as a form of face-lifting product. While not exactly a face lift, resveratrol’s skin-lifting effects are attributed to stimulation and growth of proteins in the deeper layers of skin, such as collagen and sirtuin, aka youth proteins.
Does resveratrol tighten skin?
Yes. Skin sagging is due to tissue loss as aging occurs, due to increased breakdown of collagen molecules which form the bulk of the dermis. Resveratrol promotes the growth of new collagen and prevents the breakdown of existing collagen—which has skin tightening effects.
Resveratrol Must-Know Skincare Tip
What is the best way to absorb resveratrol for maximum skin benefits and for skin lifting?
Use a facial massage tool before application of serums. I recommend a mechanical jade roller which is gentle on all skin types including sensitive skin. The massaging action improves local blood circulation for enhanced skincare absorption. When performed correctly, the massaging action also stimulates collagen production which lifts and tightens the facial appearance of aging skin.
Sources (Natural vs Synthetic)
How can I get resveratrol naturally?
Resveratrol was made prominent in 1992 as researchers unraveled the “French Paradox” which associated health benefits with moderate wine consumption. Turns out, grapes contain this key ingredient resveratrol which has potent physiological effects throughout the body. The key actives are known as polyphenols which belong to the stilbenoid group of compounds. Resveratrol exists in 2 forms, as the active trans-isomer and the inactive cis-isomer. Over 70 plant sources of resveratrol exist, the most prominent of which are grapes (found in the seeds/skin), red wine, peanuts and soy.
What foods are highest in resveratrol?
Spanish red grapes are considered the richest source of resveratrol.
Mechanism of Action / How it Works
Resveratrol is a well-rounded skincare active that has holistic effects on skin. The “anti” effects are as follows: as an antioxidant which neutralises cell damaging free radicals, an anti-inflammatory agent that reduces inflammation in various skin diseases, and also as an anti-cancer agent which prevents the growth of abnormal mutant skin cells. There are other specific “pro” effects such as promoting wound healing (minimising scarring), cell repair which slows down photoaging and also promoting cell metabolism for healthy skin functioning.
Wound healing involves a complex interplay of factors that requires sufficient blood vessel formation, antimicrobial activity that prevents skin infection and a balance of inflammatory responses that result in wound closure. Problems arise when the tissue is either too little or too much—leading to improper wound healing.
How it works?
Resveratrol exerts potent effects that contribute towards healthy skin repair and functioning. For instance, it promotes cell stability by protecting collagen, stabilises the deeper structure of skin known as the extracellular matrix and also exerts antibacterial effects superior to topical antibiotic creams when it is used on wounds. Additional skincare benefits include scar lightening, barrier repair and UV-protection.
Crucial to a solid grasp of this aspect of how reseveratrol works is the understanding of UV-related skin damage. You may have heard of oxidative stress, as well as the term antioxidant. These terms are meaningful only when you understand how UV-damage actually occurs.
Here is a step-by-step explanation.
UV rays reach skin
Free radicals are produced
These highly unstable molecules cause oxidative stress at the skin surface
Skin produces antioxidants to neutralize free radicals
The balance of free radicals and antioxidants is what determines if cell damage occurs:
The best-selling Elixir-V Serum contains Japanese Knotweed, also known as polygonum cuspidatum. It is a source of trans-resveratrol which is an active form of the compound. It is lesser known in western pharmacology but is well established in ethnobotanical applications. Biochemical analysis has shown it to be a rich source of proanthocyanidins, a potent antioxidant, specifically found in the roots of the plant.
Native to East Asia, Japanese knotweed is an invasive plant that also has medicinal properties. Chromatographic studies have isolated the following biologically active phytochemicals.
By virtue of proanthocyanidins being a whole plant extract rather than a chemically synthesized copy, there are additional benefits such as holistic effects on skin physiology.
The Skincare & Cosmetic Ingredients Dictionary by Dr. Teo Wan Lin is a must-have skincare reference book created for skin experts. Master skincare actives and learn about the latest updates in bacterial ferment filtrates, aquaporin regulators, granactive retinoids and other cosmetic formulation secrets by the chief scientific officer of leading Asian clinical skincare brand Dr.TWL Dermaceuticals.
Why a dermatologist ditched retinoid skincare products for good…
The retinoidfamily of chemical compounds includes Vitamin A also known as retinol, derivatives of which are — retinaldehyde, retinoid acid and retinyl esters, amongst other synthetic versions of retinoids. Retinoids are essential to various biological processes.
I’m a Dermatologist & I’ve Stopped Prescribing Retinoids
Retinoids ruined my skin 8 years ago. I’ve healed it but….retinoid worshippers, pay attention.
This is a story about how I broke my decade-long addiction to retinoids. At first ashamed, I tell of how I regained my dignity. Seven years ago, the day I decided to banish my tubes of tretinoin to vanity drawer purgatory….
Flaky, An Observation
It was 2015 and I was already out in private practice. One afternoon, a surgeon colleague of mine commented that my (usually pristine) facial skin was flaking.
“Do you mean my sunscreen? Or my…ill-fated BB cream? It does pill sometimes, you know.”
“No. It’s your epidermis.”
He was right. Later that evening, I skipped my usual dose of tretinoin 0.05% (0.1% typically causes a chemical burn like reaction — never met someone who tolerated it), and applied copious amounts of moisturiser before going to bed.
Three days later, my skin did look less angry, less painful but just…slightly flaky. That though, was enough to convince the addict in me that my epidermis was ready again. But the good dermatologist decided to halve the dose of tretinoin this time — just 0.025% will do. Lots of moisturiser too.
By the way, skin cycling was invented the same time retinoids were — over 2 decades ago. So we already knew what to do.
The reason retinoids are recommended by dermatologists are:
Retinoids treat comedonal acne
Retinoids help reduce scarring and post-inflammation hyperpigmentation (PIH) by regulating cell turnover
Retinoids before and after: Retinoids are known to enhance skin glow aka the “retinoid glow” which is due to the multiple actions on the epidermis and dermis. Namely, cell renewal rates, enhancing collagen formation for a tighter and more lifted appearance of skin.
Retinoids stimulate collagen production and targets aging skin processes
Flaky Mind, Flaky Skin
Except that I never expected that it wouldn’t go away. One month later. Even with 0.01%.
I had but gone through 4 cycles of stop/start-moisturise-stop/start — the vicious cycle of a dermatologist going insane with practising what she preached. That didn’t work. So you see, whenever the addict did see that her skin was less angry, she couldn’t resist her fix.
That evening, I put away the tube. Stuffed it into the recesses of vanity drawer abyss — praying to God for strength…to never touch it again. It worked. Flaky, red, painful skin never came back. And my repentance was for good.
Why I’ve Stopped Prescribing Retinoids
I was what you might call a retinoid worshipper. From my early twenties, I religiously slathered on tretinoin nightly after a bout of teenage acne — also when its merits were preached to me by my dermatologist.
When I entered dermatology residency, I too began chanting the mantra.
“Retinoids are good. Retinoids fight acne. And when acne is gone, you’ll find retinoids also keep you young.”
Also for credibility, you know? Since every dermatologist I apprenticed under said that. Congnitive dissonance is….
An uncomfortable experience. So the next 6 months I continued prescribing and preaching while my stockpile of 0.025% tretinoin languished in vanity purgatory. I wasn’t prepared for what came next.
The Revenge of Retinoids
“You can cut down on the dose when your skin gets irritated. Use the 0.01% instead of the 0.025%.”
“You shouldn’t stop using it. Your acne will come back.”
“All dermatologists have that…retinoid glow. Where’s yours?” I imagined.
So like a heretic I searched for retinoid alternatives on PubMed. The search threw up OLIGOPEPTIDES (never heard that mentioned throughout my entire residency program!). Must be fake news…except…that I was now desperate. For a panacea….My conscience. It did quiet a little bit.
At that time, the international dermatology community wasn’t quite into K-beauty yet. So I was careful never to talk about my private meanderings into the dark side. By then I had also tried a K-beauty product formulated with a bunch of botanicals plus oligopeptides (no retinols/retinoids).
Retinoids ruined my skin and I’m never going back again
Retinoid Side Effects #1
Retinol purging, retinoid purging (they are one and the same thing)
The theory is that while retinols and retinoids work by targeting comedone formation, it also triggers off inflammation. This is why dermatologists don’t recommend applying retinoids or retinols when you have active inflamed acne bumps. Ditto for acne cysts.
What happens if you do so? Well your angry pimple gets even angrier. I.e redder, bigger, more painful…and may even develop into a cyst.
Six months later.
“Hey, flaky’s been gone for a while now.” Surgeon mocked.
“Your skin…is glowing…what did you use?”
I wasn’t ready to give up my secret yet — I labelled my ventures as experimental. Almost…homeopathic (utter at your own risk).
My Obsession With Skin Barrier Repair After Retinoids Ruined My Skin
When you hear something repeated often enough, it starts getting stale. When you find yourself repeating something that isn’t true…it soon nauseates you.
In 2016, I left the private hospital I was working for and started my own practice. I stockpiled just enough tretinoin to soothe my outer dermatologist, but not so much that it would irk the inner medicine woman.
Getting Out of the Retinoids Cult
My dabbling soon turned into dipping. And dipping — into an uncontrollable urge. By the end of 2017 I was fully submerged. As dermatologist-homeopathic-in-private-practice, I found little reason to justify my recommendations beyond — it’s safe in pregnancy/breast-feeding. AND it doesn’t cause flaky skin. Why of course, my skin was glowing! Retinoid-free for 2 years!
Retinoid Side Effects #2 Retinoid dermatitis
Retinoid dermatitis is an eczema-like reaction caused by retinol side effects. The skin barrier is disrupted in cases of retinoid dermatitis. Retinoids improve the quality of skin by exfoliating dead skin cells. But that also means it breaks down the joints between the superficial skin cells, known as corneocytes. This can cause skin to become sensitive, meaning that it reacts easily to allergens and changes in the environment.
This is also the rationale for skin cycling with retinols and retinoids — popularised by Tik Tok in 2022. Essentially, allowing your skin to break from irritating actives such as retinoids, retinoids, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and salicylic acids. Skin cycling refers to alternating retinoids with moisturisers in between usage and reducing frequency of use.
The Dignity of an Iceberg
From my research in eastern ethnobotany, I found that selected botanicals were synergistic — targetting the skin microbiome in ways traditional pharmacology was unable to. The disrupted flora in dermatological conditions like acne, eczema and rosacea were responsible for chronic inflammation — and medical therapy like antibiotics, steroids and retinoids did more than just worsen it. Retinoid dermatitis, steroid induced-tachyphylaxis and antibiotic resistance were just the tip…
How does a retinol face serum compare with alternatives? If you have sensitive skin, you may want to consider these retinol alternatives.
Retinol is traditionally regarded as the holy grail of OTC cosmeceuticals. As a derivative of vitamin A, retinol works by stimulating collagen production and targeting skin receptors known as nuclei acid receptors. It’s also associated with the coveted retinoid glow which refers to a lifted, plumped and tightened skin appearance. However, one major downside is that certain skin types do not tolerate it well, i.e. sensitive skin, skin of color. Those living in sunny climates also experience much higher rates of photosensitivity.
In this edition of skincare encyclopedia, we discuss 7 categories of retinol face serum alternatives that are suited for sensitive skin types.
1. Naturally occurring sources of retinol
The best retinol face serum is found in nature’s actives
The brassica oleracea genus includes crucifierous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. These are natural sources of Vitamin A found in food. Applied on skin, the body possesses the ability to convert it via a two step process to reach its active retinoic acid stage.
The reason why naturally occurring sources are well tolerated and non-sensitising is because as a whole plant extract, it contains a myriad of other compounds that mitigate skin irritation. For instance, polyphenols with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and barrier repair effects. In addition, these protect the skin from UV damage, which further reduces the skin-sensitising potential of retinol.
2. Retinyl Palmitate
Retinol face serum for acne treatment (without skin purging side effects)
Retinyl palmitate undergoes 3 steps of conversion before it becomes retinoic acid, which means it is the least potent of all OTC retinoids. This is my top pick for sensitive skin, especially when it comes to active inflamed acne. Retinoids are helpful in the treatment of comedonal acne but is often blamed as the culprit for acne purging—it induces a pro-inflammatory response. Retinyl palmitate is the best retinol face serum active for acne prone individuals. Here’s why:
Exfoliates skin cells to reduce pore clogging and comedone formation
Examples of key peptides that can be found in face serums:
3. Acetyl Hexapeptide
Acetyl hexapeptide is also known as topical botox— it works directly on the nerve junctions. Specifically, it blocks the release of acetylcholine. This means it reduces the muscle contractions involved in our facial expressions. It also has a remarkable safety profile, as it does not penetrate beyond the uppermost layers of skin. However, acetyl hexapeptide containing creams have been shown to improve wrinkles by up to 48% within 4 weeks of twice daily treatment.
The case for peptide serums: anti wrinkle effects
One major limitation of retinol use is around the eyes and lips. These are what dermatologists refer to as mucosal areas which means the skin is thinner and also more prone to irritation. This is why many who use retinol containing eye creams develop sensitivity with time.
Peptides are considered well rounded actives which mimic what is naturally found in skin. It’s also known as nature’s very own anti-wrinkle ingredient—for good reasons too. The best part about peptide serums is that they act holistically. Apart from anti-wrinkle effects, peptides are retinol alternatives that also help stabilise the skin microbiome. This is because they function as anti-microbial peptides (AMPs) which are small, naturally occurring molecules on skin that kill harmful germs that cause skin infections.
Vegan retinol that’s suited for sensitive skin
Bakuchiol is derived from the seeds and leaves of psoralea corylifolia. It’s also described as a functional analog of retinol—which means it activates the same nucleic acid receptors as synthetic retinol. This has been validated in studies which show similar gene expression profiles. Remarkably, the side effects associated with traditional retinols are also absent, as it is with other plant sources of retinol. The whole plant extracts include antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that mitigate signs of skin irritation such as redness, stinging and flaking.
Remember adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the molecule you learnt about school? Adenosine is the amino acid present in ATP itself. When it comes to skincare, adenosine was first observed for its ability to penetrate the human stratum corneum. Later scientists realised that it was also an effective anti wrinkle ingredient in skincare. Specifically, it was tested in clinical studies which showed that it significantly improved frown lines between the brows and also crows feet.
DERM’S PRO TIP: When describing wrinkles on the face, the correct terms would be
Between the brows : corrugators
Around the eyes: crows feet
Around the mouth: nasolabial
7. Sea buckthorn oil
A blend of fatty acids, micronutrients and vitamins with skin regenerative properties that targets all signs of photoaging
This is a lesser known active that deserves its spot on our list of retinol face serum alternatives. The secret to this anti-aging skincare active is in the balanced composition of fatty acids that mimic the natural lipid ratio of the skin barrier. Specifically, the ratio of linoleic to oleic acids that make up the ideal composition for barrier repair. Sea buckthorn oil has a high linoleic to oleic acid ratio and is particularly rich in unsaturated fatty acids such as omega 6 and omega 7.
The second key feature that makes it an excellent retinol face serum alternative is its proanthocyanidin content. These are highly bioactive compounds which target the key source of aging—free radical damage. Free radicals are highly unstable molecules that are formed by environmental stress such as UV radiation and pollution. They are well established in the photoaging process as molecules which actively reduce skin integrity leading to collagen loss, wrinkle formation and skin discolouration. Proanthocyanidins effectively scavenge free radicals, improving skin resilience.
SKIN EXPERT FAQ
What is the best alternative for retinol face serum?
@booksbydr.twl Retinol is traditionally regarded as the holy grail of OTC cosmeceuticals. As a derivative of vitamin A, it works by stimulating collagen production and targeting skin receptors known as nucleic acid receptors. It’s also associated with the coveted retinoid glow which refers to a lifted, plumped and tightened skin appearance. However, one major downside is that certain skin types do not tolerate it well, i.e. sensitive skin, skin of color. Those living in sunny climates also experience much higher rates of photosensitivity. In this edition of skincare encyclopedia, we discuss 7 categories of retinol alternatives that are suited for sensitive skin types. 🏷What is the best alternative for retinol Is there a natural alternative to retinol Are retinol alternatives as good as retinol Which is safer than retinol? Do retinol alternatives work Natural retinol home made #beautytips#sgbeauty#tiktokshopsingapore#selfcare#tiktokshopsg#sgtoktok#sgdoctor#dermatologist#tiktoksg🇸🇬#skincareroutine#skincaretips#skincare101#skincareproduct♬ original sound – Beauty Books By Dr.TWL
If you have suffered retinol allergies before, you may find yourself searching for alternatives. Here’s my list of retinol alternatives:
Also consider actives with retinol-like effects on skin aging such as
Sea buckthorn oil
Adenosine (amino acid)
Is there a natural alternative to retinol face serum?
Plants can be a source of natural retinol. For instance, the cruciferous vegetables are sources of natural retinol which do not irritate skin because these are whole plant extracts which also have anti-inflammatory effects unlike synthetic derivatives.
Are retinol face serum alternatives as good as retinol?
The truth is retinol is only as effective as…how well you tolerate it. It simply isn’t true that as long as the dose is low, as long as you skin cycle—that you won’t get side effects. What you can do instead to to switch out of retinol to other alternatives. Retinaldehyde for example is well tolerated even by those with sensitive skin because it requires a 3 step conversion process, which is gentler on skin.
Which is safer than retinol?
Peptides are recommended especially for those with sensitive skin and or a known history of retinol sensitivity/allergy. For areas such as around the eyes or the mouth area, the skin is thinner and may be more vulnerable to irritation. Look for eye creams that contain natural sources of retinol such as brassica or retinol alternatives such as peptides.
Do retinol face serum alternatives work?
Yes. Studies have shown that oligopeptides have equivalent effects as retinol does, sans skin irritation risks.
Is natural retinol home made?
No. Natural retinol refers to plant-based or botanical sources of retinol. Examples are bakuchiol, rose hip seed oil, carrot seed oil and sea buckthorn oil. Proper distillation processes are essential to ensure purity of the product and efficacy.
What does retinol face serum do for the face?
Retinols belong to the family of retinoids which stimulate cell renewal and collagen production. Retinol face serums are over-the-counter cosmeceuticals, distinct from prescription retinoids. The key differences are that retinols are less potent than retinoids and require a longer period of use before results are seen.
Is it good to use retinol face serum everyday?
It depends on how well you tolerate it. If you are using a retinol face serym product for the first time, it is advisable to start at a lower frequency i.e. 2-3 times a week or as directed by the manufacturer. Different formulations of retinol also confer different tolerability levels, so it is best to do a patch test before you apply to the entire face. For example, under the jawline, left on overnight is good practice. Check for signs of irritation such as redness, flaking, stinging or burning.
Remember to only use retinols at night because of its sunsensitising potential. Application of sunscreen and sun avoidance is also advisable.
Which retinol is good for beginners?
The dose of retinol affects how effective it is but the benefits are also limited by its tolerability.
The lowest doses of retinol begin at 0.01-0.03%. It is good practice to start at the lowest doses if you have never used retinols before. Moderate-strength retinol ranges from 0.03% to 0.3% which gives faster and more dramatic results. The highest doses range from 0.3-1% which should be reserved only for those who have tolerated lower doses.
What are the side effects of retinol face serum?
Most commonly, local skin irritation such as redness, burning, stinging and flaking. Some individuals have true retinol allergy which results in a more exaggerated response. Care must be taken not to apply retinol formulations close to the eye area unless specifically formulated for that region.
Should I use retinol or retinoids?
If you already use retinol, prescription retinoids may be an option for highest efficacy. However, bear in mind that sensitisation can still occur. This is why at the pharmacy, our formulations are all retinol-free. Instead, we focus on non-sensitising retinol alternatives such as bakuchiol, sea buckthorn oil and oligopeptides.
Firstly, skin cells actually “exfoliate” naturally—at its own time. The movement of skin cells from bottom layers to the surface, is also known as cell differentiation, which occurs during the skin cycle. The trouble is with aging, the skin cycle lengthens. The layer known as the stratum corneum accumulates dead skin cells—that’s when skin looks dull.
The Wrong Way to Exfoliate
So beauty brands came up with ways to get rid of dead skin—literally by scrubbing it off.
Sadly, that’s not how skin works. By scrubbing skin down like sandpapering wood, skin actually gets irritated. It turns red, before it starts to flake and finally. It becomes angry.
Skin’s revenge dress (if the scrubbing goes on long enough)
That’s not the end of the story. When the dust settles (just call it dead skin)—she actually decides to grow new skin cells. But it’s not what we wanted. Instead of fresh, baby soft skin, you get layers of thickened, dark skin. What dermatologists term at first as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH for short) becomes lichenification—the development of a tree bark-like skin texture.
@drteowanlin How To Glow Up in 1 Day Dermatologist Edit- Let’s get to the root cause of dull skin, So we all desire skin radiance translucency elasticity clarity by the way. That’s me too. You must first understand one thing- dull skin is caused by a combination of factors. First, external factors like PM2.5 pollutants, UV damage all cause free radical stress also known as surface aging. At the epidermis,the first layer of skin, dead skin cells also accumulate, known as retention hyperkeratosis, lack of moisture can also cause dull skin. At the second layer, collagen loss and antioxidant depletion occurs with age, worsening the problem. The all-in-1 copper peel comprises of 3 stages Stage one: hydrodermabrasion with antioxidant essences, which essentially is using the power of vacuum to gently physically exfoliate and infuse antioxidants into the skin. Stage 2: You apply the peptide based gel mask included in the kit and microcrystalline copper ions begin to stimulate collagen production while resurfacing skin. The peptides also have a wrinkle-smoothing effect, as they relax the facial muscles and also act as natural Antimicrobial peptides, known as AMPS—that help build a healthy skin microbiome. Actives like vitamin C and propolis further creates the ideal skin healing microclimate for optimal results. Get my free newsletter Skincare Blueprint: Glow Up From Within & skincare routine checklists customised to your skin type 👆🏻 How to glow up in 1 day How to glow up in 1 week #instantglowingskin#sgdoctor#dermatologist#sgtiktok#instantglowing#instantglowup#homefacial♬ original sound – Dermatologist Dr.TWL – Dr.TWL Dermatologist
Enter Chemical Peels
Glycolic, lactic and salicylic acids are must-haves in a dermatologist’s office. For a good reason—these actually do exfoliate in a way that doesn’t damage skin barrier the way physical scrubs do. Chemical peel acids work at a microscopic level, which means it specifically dissolves the bonds between the surface skin cells known as corneocytes. The result? Renewed, baby soft, smooth skin that will make you glow and others too—with envy.
The downsides to chemical peels: side effects are real
Sun sensitivity occurs commonly with chemical peels. As does skin irritation i.e. redness, flaking—as a result of a disrupted skin barrier. The concentration of the peel acid, the duration it’s left on skin affects how intense the effects are. Hence, higher concentration peels (the most effective) must be performed under medical supervision.
The microdermabrasion facial miracle
So when microdermabrasion came on the scene, it was celebrated as a gentler alternative to medium/deep chemical peels, sans side effects. A technology based on crystal/diamond resurfacing, microdermabrasion facial combined the benefits of vacuum assisted topical delivery with skin resurfacing to enhance absorption. But boy, was it messy. It wasn’t as straightforward as the inventors had made it out to be—crystals flying around…even in the crystal-free systems aka diamond microdermabrasion, it still required skill operators in-office and took 30-60 minutes.
Enter new gen microdermabrasion facial systems
In the mid 2010s, Korean medi-facials took off with vacuum only skin resurfacing techniques which focused on minimal epidermal disruption and maximum antioxidant delivery.
Home Face Peel that Works:
A microdermabrasion facial system for sensitive skin types
Dr.TWL Biomaterials Copper Peel System was launched in 2020 as a revolutionary copper oxide based microcrystalline handpiece with the ability to exfoliate, infuse and repair the skin barrier all at once. Designed for use with the 360 Amino Acid Gel Mask, it delivers a suite of benefits in a single application
Peptides for anti-wrinkle effects
AMPs as a natural microbiome stabiliser
Propolis for anti-inflammatory, antioxidant shield
Adaptogens for skin resilience
Want radiant skin? Remember to exfoliate—correctly.
Bite-Sized Beauty features visuals, skincare hacks and skin science in short form. Written by Dr Teo Wan Lin, author of Skincare Bible: Dermatologist’s Tips on Cosmeceutical Skincare, a complete beauty bible in an easy-to-read FAQ style. Subscribe to Skincare Blueprint: Glow Up From Within for insider tips on skincare routines. Discover skincare courses by Dr.Teo Wan Lin.
What sensitive skin teaches one about skin intelligence
As a complete ecosystem, the skin plays host to diverse microorganisms collectively known as the microbiome. Barrier function is a critical component of skin health that ensures the survival of good germs, effective cell communication and self-regulation. Healthy skin barrier function in turn requires ceramides which are key constituents of the skin barrier and which we explore in this article.
Sensitive skin isn’t really all that allergic, it all boils down to an impaired skin barrier
Decades ago, atopic dermatitis was interpreted as a predominantly allergic type skin condition—it’s true. Sufferers tend to be allergic to house dust mite, pollen and VOCs. They also have associated conditions under the umbrella term of the “atopic triad”—asthma, allergic rhinitis/hay fever.
Then, studies emerged which showed that eczema was really due to a deficiency in filaggrin gene expression—a fact already established in conditions such as icthyosis vulgaris. This led to impaired ceramide production, which meant that the epidermis became “leaky”. Out of this emerged the brick and mortar model of the skin barrier— the bricks are superficial skin cells known as corneocytes, and the fatty lipids which join the corneocytes together, the cement. This lipids known as ceramides could be replenished with ceramide-dominant moisturisers which fill the “gaps” between the bricks.
When sensitive skin is treated with barrier repairing moisturisers, it becomes less reactive to environmental triggers.
The Art of Replacing Like for Like
Over 340 types of ceramides exist within the human stratum corneum alone. The composition of which is varied. From the 12 classes identified researchers conclude the following:
The basic ceramide structure is composed of:
Sphingoid base joined to a fatty acid via an amide bond
Beginning at the bottom most layer of the epidermis, the stratum basale
Ceramides are made within the endoplasmic reticulum
Golgi apparatus: sphingomyelin
Converted to sphingomyelin in the Golgi apparatus
Packed into secretory vesicles (bubble-like)
Multiply & differentiate
These vesicles multiply as skin cells (keratinocytes) differentiate and move towards the surface of skin
The bubbles burst and release sphingomyelins
Sphingomyelins converted back to ceramides
Packed into secretory vesicles (bubble-like)
These vesicles multiply as skin cells (keratinocytes) differentiate and move towards the surface of skin
The bubbles burst and release sphingomyelins
Sphingomyelins converted back to ceramides
Ceramides, free fatty acids & cholesterol are compacted into layers in the stratum corneum to form the skin barrier
Bite-Sized Beauty is a short-form feature emphasising visuals that impart skincare hacks and skin science in a digestible format.
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Are you searching for the best vitamin C serum formulation for your skin type? Which vitamin C serum do dermatologists recommend? The ideal formulation follows certain criteria which we will go through in this article.
We will begin with the science behind how a vitamin C serum works.
The Science Behind The Best Vitamin C Serum Formulation
L-ascorbic acid is the active molecule from raw vitamin C which works on skin. It is also highly unstable, meaning it gets oxidised rapidly upon exposure to environmental oxygen. Once it is oxidised, it is rendered useless. By default, all vitamin C serums are packaged in an amber glass bottle to minimise oxidation by light as well. The best vitamin C serum formulations get around this problem by:
Increasing the concentration of L-ascorbic acid to ensure there is still a sufficient amount that works on skin taking into account the oxidation process
Ensuring the companion ingredients have anti-oxidant properties i.e. green tea extracts can synergise and boost the effectiveness of L-ascorbic acid
Instead of L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C can be formulated as a salt known as sodium ascorbyl phosphate (SAP) which is highly stable and resistant to oxidation
In the case of sodium ascorbyl phosphate (SAP), its functional form is still L-ascorbic acid. It is absorbed via the epidermis and when it reaches the dermis, the enzyme phosphatase transforms it to L-ascorbic acid in a one-step conversion. There is hence no atmospheric related oxidation and the effectiveness is preserved. Clever, isn’t it?
The concentration of L-ascorbic acid does matter. When L-ascorbic acid is chosen as the active vitamin C compound, concentrations generally are at 20% to take into account environmental loss. However, this also means that the formulation becomes acidic and can irritate sensitive skin. For SAP on the other hand, concentrations at 4-5% are sufficient because there is minimal to no risk of oxidation as it is a stable salt. In fact, concentrations of just 1% have been shown to inhibit the acne-causing bacteria, cutibacterium acnes.
Acne purging can be a nightmare—it’s also a myth that acne treatments cause purging. It occurs mainly with retinoid treatment. Microcomedones form under the surface of skin 2-4 weeks before they appear, and retinoid therapy drives the comedones to the surface. The beneficial effects occur when it increases skin cell turnover, so there is less follicular plugging.
But here’s the problem. Retinoids are also pro-inflammatory. Which means it causes acne flare-ups. Before it even gets to work, we see the side effects first. But here’s a secret—certain botanicals can treat acne without the purging side effect. Berberine for example treats acne by suppressing inflammation and comedone formation. It also regulates sebum production and reduces post-inflammation hyperpigmentation which means your scars heal faster.
This refers to the sensitising potential of vitamin C. As an acidic compound, it can irritate skin when concentrations are too high especially when applied to sensitive skin types. This is why vitamin C serums should not be applied to areas of active eczema, raw or broken skin. The exception is with acne bumps and cysts, as vitamin C itself creates a beneficial antioxidant environment that prevents acne bacteria from proliferating.
Vitamin C also prevents the oxidation of sebum, which contributes to comedone formation. However, when sodium ascorbyl phosphate is used, there is minimal to no risk of irritation. This is because it is a stable salt and the concentrations used are lower. Unlike L-ascorbic acid, there is no need to take into account environmental oxidation.
What’s in the ideal vitamin C serum?
It is important to include synergistic actives such as
Certain botanical extracts have an anti-inflammatory effect on skin. For instance our pharmacy’s formulation contains camellia sinesis, sage extract, brassica and belamcanda chinesis root extracts which also create a profound antioxidant environment to enhance the efficacy of the product.
We know the importance of an intact skin barrier—a damaged skin barrier leads to conditions like eczema and dermatitis. But did you know the skin barrier is also a barrier to absorption? This is why dermatologists are concerned with enhancing transdermal absorption, which refers to the ability of cosmeceuticals to cross the skin barrier into the deeper layers of skin such as the dermis where it exerts its effects on target cells.
Humectants i.e. sodium hyaluronate
Occlusives i.e. castor oil
Hyaluronic acid is a well known humectant, which means it traps water under the skin. It is a hygroscopic molecule which means it attracts water and in fact is known to hold 1000 times its own weight in moisture levels. The ideal vitamin C serum formula should contain a humectant which can also be polyglutamic acid or glycerin as this enhances the effects of vitamin C on skin—by creating a moist environment it increases epidermal permeability. This enhances absorption of vitamin C via the skin barrier. Plant-derived oils like castor also facilitate transdermal absorption by increasing the overall occlusivity of the product.
You may have heard of wet wrap therapy which refers to using layers of wet fabric on top of moisturisers to enhance absorption of skincare. Sheet masking is a concept based on this technique as well. But did you know that when formulating skincare, ingredients can also be paired in order to boost its effectiveness? For instance, vitamin C paired with humectants and occlusives can be better absorbed via the epidermis. When paired with botanicals, it can enhance the overall anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on skin. For acne prone skin ingredient pairing can also help regulate sebum production.
Natural moisturising factors i.e. amino acids methionine
How Vitamin C Can Be Used to Treat Acne Purging
Vitamin C serums are underrated, especially when it comes to treatment of acne. I generally don’t recommend application of vitamin C serums on areas of raw or broken skin—but the exception really is with inflamed acne bumps and cysts. Here are the reasons why.
Inflammation Related to Sebum Oxidation
Firstly, the type of inflammation in acne is slightly different from what occurs in eczema or areas of injury. It’s inflammation that’s driven by an oxidative process, namely from oxidation of sebum. Acne prone skin tends to produce excess oil, and this isn’t just uncomfortable. It’s actually driving the inflammation which makes acne flare-ups worse.
Infection/Colonisation with C. Acnes
Acne is also associated with bacteria—in particular Cutibacterium acnes. Vitamin C serums create an anti-oxidant environment which inhibits the growth of this bacteria. This means vitamin C serums can be used for acne prevention and long term maintenance treatment as well.
Speeds Up Wound Healing
Vitamin C is essential for collagen production and wound healing. Acne scars develop as a result of inflammation. The commonest type of scar is known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and fades with time. Using a vitamin C serum can reduce melanin production and this also has a brightening effect on skin.
Deeper acne scars known as ice pick or box car type of scars are due to dermal scarring, for eg due to an acne cyst or an infected acne papule. Since vitamin C stimulates collagen production, it can encourage proper wound healing and reduce the risk of developing acne scars
Ingredient Pairing Notes
Vitamin C paired with EGCG results in a complementary effect via the following mechanisms.
Focus on Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG)
EGCG is a well known polyphenol found in green tea. It is primarily regarded as an anti-oxidant ingredient, but it also enhances skin barrier repair. Specifically, by the following mechanisms:
Enhancing the expression of natural moisturising factor-related genes filaggrin (FLG), transglutaminase 1, HAS-1 and HAS-2
Prevents free-radical damage associated cell death by downregulating caspases
A study by Eunji Kim in 2018 found that EGCG exerted a positive effect on skin moisture levels, wrinkles and hyperpigmentation via the above.
Why are antioxidants important in antiaging?
First understand how and why aging occurs. External causes also known as extrinsic aging refer to environmental factors such as UV, air pollution and particulate matter like PM2.5. Intrinsic aging refers to biological aging which occurs because of cell senescence, essentially, when cells grow older they become sleepier. They lose functions gradually until they stop working altogether which is when cancerous cells develop. Aging also causes skin cells to lose moisture, which is why actives like hyaluronic acid are important. HA increases skin moisture by regulating genes known as hyaluronic acid synthase (HAS). Retinoic acid (vitamin A) also effectively regulate HA in the epidermis
What are natural moisturising factors? How are they affected by UV damage?
NMF are composed of HA and filaggrin, which directly or indirectly affect the skin moisture barrier. NMF themselves are regulated by factors which are not clearly defined. However we know that components of NMF are affected by UV radiation. This is a possible pathway that For example, hyaluronidase which breaks down HA is highly altered by UV radiation. When EGCG is added, it prevents the breakdown of cells caused by UV-damage.
How does pairing vitamin C with EGCG improve overall efficacy?
One of the key ways vitamin C works is by engulfing free radicals generated by UV-damage. It is an antioxidant, which means it fights the oxidative stress. However, L-ascorbic acid itself is also susceptible to UV-damage and when it undergoes oxidation, it will become ineffective. Pairing vitamin C with EGCG preserves the integrity of L-ascorbic acid or SAP formulations as it stabilises the vitamin C extract itself.
In the next tutorial, you’ll learn aboutenhancing serum absorption, how to properly apply serums and the correct steps to include in your skincare routine. Learn to maximise the benefits of vitamin C serum in your skincare regimen and make every skincare step count. Do you want more skincare tips like this? Subscribe to Skincare Blueprint to receive detailed tutorials in your inbox weekly. Follow Dr.TWL @drteowanlin on Instagram & TikTok.