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Personalised Skincare for Acne & Sensitive Skin: Dermatologist Perspective

January 19, 2022
Science of Beauty
Dr. Teo Wan Lin hosts a fortnightly beauty podcast Dermatologist Talks: Science of Beauty. She is also the founder of Dr.TWL Dermaceuticals, a cosmeceutical research and development company. She has collaborated with skincare brands such as DIOR, Clinique, L’Oréal Paris, Amorepacific, Skinceuticals, Eucerin and Amorepacific to create skincare education content relevant for the public. Follow her on Instagram @drteowanlin.

This article is an interview with accredited Singapore dermatologist Dr. Teo Wan Lin, skin specialist at TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre on the topic of personalised skincare for acne and sensitive skin in Singapore. Is personalised skincare merely a successful marketing strategy? Or are there true benefits to having a personalised skincare line? 

Dr. Teo shares why she founded the Custom Mask Bar at Dr.TWL Pharmacy in 2019, the pioneering the development of personalised skincare masks in Singapore. She dissects the science behind using traditional herbal ingredients for dermatological conditions. Read on to learn about her thoughts on the benefits and limitations of personalised skincare in Singapore. We also ask her about her forecast for upcoming skincare trends dominating 2022. She answers these questions and more. 

Personalised cosmetics in Singapore tend to be more expensive than the mass produced counterparts, is there a reason why?

I think what consumers are paying for would essentially be for 

  1. Labor cost of small scale compounding 
  2. Sourcing of “rare” active ingredients with pharmaceutically active properties incorporated in these topicals
  3. Research & Development in the entire concept, including testing and research

Right now in my practice, we are fortunate to have an onsite pharmacy with trained staff that are able to compound these select functional active ingredients in  over the counter prescriptions, in different concentrations, adjusting to the needs of our patients.

Personalised skincare has been marketed for problem skin such as acne and sensitive skin. Is this a benefit of personalised skincare or is this pure marketing hype?

Individuals with acne and sensitive skin often turn to a myriad of over the counter skincare hoping to solve their skin problems. Very often, such DIY methods do not solve their skin sensitivity. In fact, they may observe their sensitive skin getting worse. I emphasise always that acne and sensitive skin while commonly self diagnosed by laypersons, are medical conditions. Depending on severity of the pimples and/or dermatitis, prescription medications may be required. However, skincare is very relevant to all dermatologic conditions. This is because active ingredients applied to skin can either soothe or irritate it.

If you suffer from irritated skin, you may experience redness, stinging and flaking easily. It is also possible to have both acne, oily skin and dry irritated skin at the same time. This happens when the skin barrier function is disrupted. How personalised skincare can help acne and sensitive skin sufferers is via restoration of the skin barrier. This means it contains skincare active ingredients that heal dry irritated skin to reduce symptoms of redness and flaking. This is why dermatologists emphasise topical skincare regimens for all dermatologic conditions. Consequently, personalised skincare is beneficial if it specially emphasises ingredients designed for sensitive skin.

From a skin specialist’s perspective, all dermatologist-recommended skincare should be suitable for sensitive skin. This is a concept we term as skin tolerability. This means that the effective skincare ingredient can be used on both oily, acne prone as well as dry, sensitive skin types. From the layperson’s perspective, it is helpful for mass market skincare to indicate via a personalised skincare option, for those with troubled skin. 

How relevant is personalised skincare for acne as opposed to mass produced pimple creams?  

What is fairly new in the western approach to acne pharmacological treatment, is the increasing awareness that traditional herbal remedies may actually be worth studying. This is due to the potent botanical extracts found in natural plants which have potent effects on skin cells. An example of the personalised skincare for acne prescriptive we developed is the berberine acne cream.

Our bulk production item under the cosmeceutical arm is the Blemish Spot Cream which contains chlorella vulgaris and anti-inflammatory Argan oil. It is used in place of traditional topical acne treatments such as benzoyl peroxide, topical clindamycin gel. Both of these I have phased out in the last 5 years simply because they are not effective and/or cause skin irritation.

Skin irritation is even more relevant now because of maskne. This is because mask-wearing creates a unique microenvironment that increases the occlusive potential of skincare ingredients. Furthermore, what this means is you can get irritated skin more easily. Redness and flaking results. These symptoms do not help acne and prolonged use of such skincare ingredients can cause irritant contact dermatitis.

Our personalised acne cream contains berberine active for acne treatment. The berberine prescriptive for acne is essentially a Traditional Chinese Medicine herb that has shown promise in terms of acne treatment published in recent peer-reviewed dermatology research

As a result, the ingredient should not be dismissed as mere herbal remedies, which unfortunately many have been inclined to do so. Rather in science, we are trained to establish facts only after observation and repeated testing. This means that you have to keep an open mind, even in dermatology research. The rarity of this active ingredient also means it is not cost-effective for us to produce it in bulk. Often, this because we cannot procure enough of the raw material.

Unlike synthetic chemical counterparts, these are natural plant extracts that have to be grown, harvested and processed. Also, compounding for berberine in our lab is in different percentages. Starting at 10% increasing to 20% and then 25%. It is more cost effective for the us to custom compound it, in turn we pass on the savings to consumers.

Personalised skincare for acne and sensitive skin has elevated the place of botanical remedies in the realm of evidence-based medicine. Dermatologists are now paying attention to the herbal active ingredients popularised by personalised skincare brands and performing more research. 

Are there benefits in personalised acne treatments compared to mass produced pimple creams?

In terms of botanicals being qualified for medical treatment is good news. Because off the low/minimal level of skin irritation, botanical cosmeceuticals are not regulated prescription-only drugs. The added benefit is that the concentrations and combinations can be titrated without the requirement for another new product being launched. From a cosmetic manufacturing perspective, this simply adds to more packaging waste and environmental footprint.

On the other hand, our research and development is focussed instead on developing the best carriers and creams suitable for personalised titrations. Berberine has been incorporated into the Custom Mask Bar as an adjunct antibiotic-free treatment option for acne sufferers. This has been trialled in my practice prior to its mass market launch. It has holistic benefits as a topical treatment for acne, simply by virtue of its rich phytochemical makeup. As a result, the custom compounded topical has anti-inflammatory properties, on top of improving post-inflammatory hyperperpigmentation. 

Personalised skincare in a dermatology clinic seems intuitive. However, how and why did you decide to take it to the masses via your online skincare pharmacy space at Dr.TWL Pharmacy?

We have utilised this personalised skincare treatment method as a way to educate the masses on common skin conditions such as acne and eczema. 

The Custom Mask Bar via the virtual pharmacy arm launched in 2019. It is the unique intersection of over the counter active ingredients with actual bioactive, pharmaceutical properties for the adjunct treatment of actual dermatological conditions. Along with the current trend of personalised skincare, consumers understand more about botanical ingredients and how they work. Bringing this to the masses was partly an educational effort, as well as allowing first-time consumers of personalised skincare to safely and effectively incorporate these into their skincare regimen.

Personalised Skincare Acne Prescriptive
Customised skincare as opposed to mass produced for treatment of common dermatological conditions like acne and eczema makes sense because of the manpower and the sourcing of rare  active ingredients involved. At Dr.TWL Pharmacy, a common vehicle is developed for our personalised formulations. This vehicle is rich in skin repairing oligopeptides and also is an effective carrier to ensure proper absorption. 
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