This is a 4-part series focused on understanding the science behind skincare products so that parents of eczema children and eczema sufferers can better understand what goes into the bottle. For this series, I have Dr. Elisabeth Briand, R&D manager at Skintifique. Elisabeth holds an Engineering Master’s degree in food industry and a PhD in chemistry. Before working for Skintifique, she had 10 years experience in academic research as a physico-chemist, in France at Paris VI and Paris XI faculty of Pharmacy and in Sweden, at Chalmers University of Technology. In this interview, Dr. Elisabeth is helping us to understand the science of laboratory-tested skincare products.
MarcieMom: Thank you Elisabeth for joining me again for this last part of our skincare products. I’ve covered in this blog that moisturizer has preventive effect on eczema and for those with eczema, moisturizing frequently is able to reduce the use of corticosteroid cream. What I would like to focus in this interview is whether the type of cream, how we apply and when we apply will make a difference in the functions of the moisturizer.
MarcieMom: We are aware that the more liquid a moisturizer is, the shorter time it will last but it is more comfortable to apply than an ointment (which has little to no water content), especially in hot and humid weather like Singapore or during summer. Does the nature of whether it is lotion, cream or ointment affects the efficacy of the skincare product? For instance, does being lotion meant it is more easily absorbed and being ointment meant it will be longer-lasting?
Dr Elisabeth: Many kinds of products are indeed available to help and promote skin health. The same principles as those described earlier work for all of them: products with few ingredients and safe ones will be better for sensitive and fragile skins.
Various kinds of products will, as you said, give different kind of feel and the aim may (or may not) be different as well. The purpose of the two products is different, while ointment is often used to bring a lot of fatty acids the skin and add an occlusive layer to reduce the TEWL (Transepidermal Water Loss or water that is lost through the skin), cream is more used to bring water to the epidermis, as well as other hydrophilic compounds that could be of interest. Creams bring also hydrophobic compounds (fatty acids, hydrophobic active ingredients, …) but to a lesser extent.
The long-term efficiency of a product will depend on how it is structured and how quickly the compounds are delivered to the skin and absorbed. For ointment, they generally have an occlusive layer that will remains on top of the skin, which is the purpose of these ingredients so that it can prevent water to evaporate from skin. So the feel it gives and that specific function will last for a rather long time. On the contrary, water and active compounds are delivered quickly and evaporate or absorbed quickly by skin. As a consequence, the moisturizing feel disappears rather quickly
One of the achievements that may be reached by using innovative structure is to make cream that have a feel comparable to a classical cream, but will display a long-lasting delivery of the active ingredients, and then combined some of the advantages from an ointment (long-lasting relief and effect) and from a classical cream (pleasant feel, bringing water to the skin).
MarcieMom: The other ‘big’ question that all parents have is each skincare company claims that their product is able to hydrate, build the skin structure better. These typically belong to the group of moisturizers that contain ceramides or have the ability to restore the skin lipids. In your view Elisabeth, is there certain characteristic (such as ingredients or process) that will differentiate a category of moisturizer as being better at restoring skin functions than others?
Dr Elisabeth: Efficiency is claimed by all companies, of course, because all products will bring the element that will help skin moisturizing, at least in the short term. It is clear however that some products will be more efficient than others; just like some products will have better feel than others etc. As mentioned in our previous discussion, this is why scientific innovation and knowhow comes into play: in our view, they are the key to make better, more efficient and safer products
Ceramides are indeed one of the components that enter in the composition of skin membranes and seems to play a role in its restoration. There are however several types of ceramides and all of them do not seem to display the same efficiency according to various recent publications. What will help skin to be restored is to protect it from threats, and nourish it with proper ingredients. A general appellation of Natural Moisturizing Factor has been created to describe these ingredients that can play a positive role in skin restoration. Ceramides are only one of them. For example, vegetal oils are mainly made of fatty acids that interact with skin cell membrane and help it to be “nourished”. Some of these oils also have additional compounds that will play a positive role. Glycerin, urea, aminoacids, cholesterol, and many other ingredients can play a role in restoring skin functions. What is important is to determine which ingredients will be helpful in a specific situation, and how you can maximize the efficiency of this ingredient in the molecular structure that you create inside the product.
MarcieMom: Readers of this blog are familiar with basic skincare, such as moisturizing right after shower and making sure to moisturize enough. Either due to cost or belief of effectiveness of certain way of moisturizing, some parents may
- apply brand A moisturizer in the day, and brand B at night; or
- apply brand A on certain days of the week and brand B on others (or alternate by weeks);
- apply brand A (a lotion) and brand B (an ointment) over it.
In your view, which is the skincare moisturizing method that make sense? For instance, with constraints that many families have, such as budget and time to moisturize (e.g. child in school or simply to reduce the number of times moisturizing is needed).
Dr Elisabeth: A daily moisturizing routine is indeed driven by various factors, lifestyle included. A product can be efficient, but if it is a hassle to use it, it won’t be used properly and will become inefficient. I would say there is no “you have to” routine, just find one that is working for you. If you keep in mind the principles I already described: using efficient products with few and safe ingredients, you can find what works the best for you. And it may be completely different from what works for another person. And it can be the same product or products for a very long period of time. Regularly changing skincare products from time to time can be a good idea when you are using products that contain a lot of ingredients. or that contain an ingredient you are slightly sensitized to. So you will give a rest to your skin that would otherwise be exposed to some ingredients that could become unhealthy with time and regular use.
MarcieMom: Many eczema sufferers feel that rotating the emollient seems to make it more effective than always using the same emollient. Is there some basis for that?
Dr Elisabeth: The efficiency of a product is determined by its ability to bring what is needed by the skin to be protected to help restore its functions. Rotating products can be a way to bring various efficient ingredients that are not found in only one products. But as I just mentioned before, there can be other reasons that can make an emollient less efficient, so you have to switch from it for a while. Some ingredients can lead to some sensitization of the skin. Not strong enough to give a rash, but strong enough to lead to some irritation if used over long periods of time, that would explain why a product would become less efficient. Reducing the number of ingredients can decrease this risk and in that case, your emollient will work for a longer time.
Thank you Elisabeth of being ever so patient in this series of interviews on skincare products, tackling specifically the science behind it. It is truly enlightening and practical!
For all interviews under this Science of Skincare Products series:
p.s. Declaration of no self-interest – is that what it’s called? lol Just want to let you know that Dr Elisabeth left a comment on my blog and I felt she was very helpful. When I realized her area of expertise, I suggested that we collaborate on a ‘science-y’ series as I’ve always been intrigued by it. No money has changed hands, only time invested to bring this series to you all!