Everywhere you look, skin care products promise a virtual Fountain of Youth. But how do you know if your facial products can deliver on those promises? Which products are worth the money? Northside Woman recently asked licensed medical esthetician Brandi Morrow to separate fact from fiction when it comes to beauty products. 

“There is lots of snake oil out there,” Morrow said. “Products that claim to reduce wrinkles, for the most part, are ineffective and a waste of money, if they can be purchased over the counter.”

She said the only products strong enough to create a visible change in the skin are professional products that must be purchased from a dermatologist, plastic surgeon or medical spa. 

“The ingredients in over-the-counter products are not strong enough to penetrate the layer of skin where change can happen,” she said. “They may irritate the skin and cause slight inflammation, which in turn looks like it reduces wrinkles since it puffs up your skin a bit, but they do not actually reduce wrinkles.”

When looking at skin care products and ingredients, you first need to determine the results you are trying to achieve, she said.

If you need hydration, Morrow suggests you look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid, which attracts 1,000 times its weight in water, or other humectants like glycerin. Essential oils such as coconut, argan, jojoba, apricot kernel, avocado, macadamia, kukui nut, marula, borage, rosehip and calendula can also be useful. Ceramides, which are skin lipids, help maintain the skin’s natural moisture barrier.

For oily or problematic skin, you need to reduce bacteria on the skin without stripping the moisture out of it, Morrow said. She says to look for ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, alpha hydroxy acid or lactic acid. Those will keep the skin turning over (exfoliating), and prevent a build up of dead skin tissue that can trap bacteria and oils. 

“A false conception with oily or acneic skin is that you have to remove all oils,” she said. “That is incorrect, because if you remove all oil from the skin, then the body will over-compensate and produce more to try to replenish. So you have to keep a good balance.” 

For aging skin, Morrow said it is imperative to have a product with antioxidants like a vitamin C serum or something with retinol in it. Antioxidants protect the skin from free radicals, which are what can cause damage to the tissue. Retinol keeps the skin turning over (which slows as we age). 

Sunscreen is also very important, she said. 

“You want a sunscreen that has protection against UVA and UVB rays — they call that broad spectrum,” Morrow said. “Physical SPF (zinc and titanium oxide) is like applying a shield on top of your skin to block out the sun. Chemical sunscreens like oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone create a chemical reaction to protect the skin. These tend to be easier to spread on the skin and also don’t create that ‘chalky’ appearance on the skin. 

“[But] some of the chemical sunscreens are the ones that are being banned in waters where there are coral reefs, as they can damage the reef,” she said. “So a physical sunscreen is the best choice when you are in those waters.”

Finally, Morrow said there are some basic products every woman over the age of 30 should have in her skin care routine. Those basics include a cleanser appropriate for your skin type, a good moisturizer, facial SPF 50 and a serum like a vitamin C or retinol.

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