• Antioxidants: Past, Present & Future

    In this recent Q&A, Dr. Claudia Aguirre met with American Spa Magazine to discuss the latest in antioxidants and skin care. Get the scoop on these famed ingredients and find out what trends in antioxidant research we can expect to see next!

    Q. “Antioxidant” is an overused buzzword in the beauty industry. What should people look out for when choosing skincare products? Are there any common marketing claims that are particularly misleading?
    A. Antioxidants are so widely varied, with a multitude of functions, that they can appear to be as ubiquitous as moisturizers themselves. In fact, there are over 600 known carotenoids and over 8,000 sources of polyphenols found in nature. And those are just the ones we know. The activity and effectiveness behind a product’s antioxidant power comes from its unique formulation. It all depends on the formula when it comes to antioxidants, and since the formulas are not always disclosed, the best thing for a spa owner or consumer to do is to look for products coming from reputable brands which spend heavily on research and development.

    Much of the marketing claims that are in fact misleading are typically confined to the food industry. For example, the word ‘superfood’ is not recognized as a true category of food in the scientific community although many people believe the antioxidant power behind goji berry is better than blueberry (or other food not currently in the spotlight). These trendy foods of course then get translated into skin care formulations that highlight the ‘superfoods.’

    Q. What are some common misconceptions about antioxidants?
    A. Probably that they’re quick acting. We are always looking for a quick fix, and compared to sunscreens and retinoids, antioxidants are more preventative and protective rather than corrective. However, over time these can correct some signs of photodamage, as vitamin C has been shown to lighten up sun-induced pigmentation.

    Another is that a vitamin is a single compound. A ‘vitamin’ is typically a family of compounds. For example, Vitamin A can be sourced from animals (retinoids) or plants (carotenoids) in our diet. So they’re not as simple as we think.

    Q. What are some of the most promising emerging antioxidant ingredients on the market and why?
    A. Vitamins are tried and true and many people may not realize that these also have a number of derivatives which can produce the same effects on the skin as the original vitamin compound. For instance, vitamin C has an active form of L-Ascorbic Acid but has a long list of derivative compounds (MAP, Ascorbyl Glucoside, etc) that can also provide benefits to the skin such as lightening up photodamage and promoting collagen production.

    The plant based antioxidants – polyphenols – are also great at scavenging free radicals in the skin. However, these likely have benefits that extend beyond preventing oxidative damage. Recent studies suggest these compounds can also promote oxidation (prooxidant) and trigger cell death, which may prevent tumor cells from growing and proliferating. Some may even mimic our own chemical messengers like hormones, as in the case of soy isoflavones1. Others like the catechins found in green tea can also impart anti-inflammatory benefits to sensitized or irritated skin.

    Q. What is your company doing to increase the antioxidant power in your skin care products?
    A. The biggest issue when it comes to antioxidants in skin care is how to deliver it efficaciously to the skin. We at Dermalogica not only use a wide variety of antioxidant compounds from botanical, marine and synthetic sources, but we also employ the latest technology to ensure delivery and penetration of the product. Since these are highly sensitive compounds, they easily ‘rust’ or oxidize, turning the product brown and rendering it useless. We encapsulate derivatives of stabilized vitamins in an advanced liposomal delivery system to optimize results on the skin. This ensures we don’t get adverse effects like irritation, and allows the ingredient to penetrate without being oxidized by the environment. Some packaging options such as airless tubes can also help with the delivery.

    Q. Are there any other trends that you’re seeing in antioxidant research?
    A. Combinations of antioxidants have been shown to work better than when used individually. So you’re likely to see products with a cocktail of vitamins and antioxidants rather than a product based on a single ingredient.

    Some of the current research is focused on marine algae, a large and diverse group of species that include kelp and seaweed. These have shown to include a large variety of antioxidant compounds such as carotenoids, polyphenols, vitamins and polysaccharides2. It won’t be surprising to see products crop up with marine antioxidants as the next trend in anti-aging cosmetics.

    Other carotenoids besides β-carotene are also being closely investigated. Powerful antioxidants found in tomatoes, peppers and even microalgae include lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin, among many other compounds.

    And just as combinations of antioxidants are proving to be better than using them separately, combination treatments are also becoming more popular. A recent study concluded that ‘the addition of polyphenolic antioxidants to an IPL regimen improved the clinical, biochemical, and histological changes seen following IPL treatment alone3,’ suggesting that topical antioxidants are not only great protective elements in skin care, but they can even impact the efficacy and results of other treatments.


    1. Scalbert, et al. Polyphenols: antioxidants and beyond Am J Clin Nutr January 2005 vol. 81 no. 1 215S-217S
    2. Cornish, M.L. and Garbary, D.J. Algae 2010, 25(4): 155-171
    3. Freedman, B. M. (2009), Topical antioxidant application augments the effects of intense pulsed light therapy. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 8: 254–259

  • The Details on TCA

    The Science
    By Dr. Claudia Aguirre

    While our skin naturally sheds (desquamates) its outer layer on a regular basis, this process slows with age. Chemical peels are a powerful tool to resurface and rejuvenate skin with instant results. Other skin issues like photodamage and acne can also greatly benefit from chemical peels.

    You might be surprised to know that many of today’s chemical peeling agents originated from household kitchen items. Take the hydroxy acids: Tartaric Acid comes from grapes, Malic Acid from apples, Glycolic Acid from sugar cane and Lactic Acid from sour milk, to name a few. Similarly, the more potent peeling agent TCA (trichloroacetic acid), is a modified synthetic chemical based on common vinegar, or acetic acid. However it’s a powerful solution that effectively desquamates the outer layers of the skin without posing serious risk for toxicity.

    TCA is considered a keratocoagulant, meaning it coagulates the skin’s proteins together. This process is a lot like cooking egg whites – the raw egg white is slightly clear and goopy and cooking it turns it white and hardens it. On the skin, once keratin proteins are coagulated, they too turn a whitish color. This whitening is called “frosting” on the skin. Once frosting occurs, the TCA chemical self-neutralizes and is no longer active. Since the frosting is visible, it serves as a good marker for the professional skin therapist to know when to end treatment with the acid. In the treatment room, you’ll find that it’s a fantastic peeling agent that can tackle concerns of pigmentation, aging and even acne.

    TCA and the Skin Therapist
    By Whitney Johnson

    TCA is a great acid that any skin therapist can incorporate into her or his treatment arsenal to focus on pigmentation and aging. If combined with other chemical agents (like Salicylic Acid), it can also show marked changes on acneic breakouts and the common side effects that acne leaves behind, such as post-inflammatory pigmentation.

    While similar to Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs), TCA is a much stronger acid that causes a denaturing of skin proteins. As Dr. Claudia specified, the effect will produce a white “frost” on the skin or cause the tissue to turn white. This characteristic of TCA is a great tool for skin therapists as it helps us to monitor the progress of the peel. If frosting has occurred during the treatment, it is a signal that the peeling step of the treatment is done; progressing further will only inflict serious damage to the skin as frosting is a sign of cell death. Achieving a frost on the skin will give great results, however frosting may not always occur and should not be forced. Remember: peeling is about controlled inflammation – triggering excess inflammation would encourage premature skin aging, and that defeats the whole purpose of a peel!

    Another unique characteristic of TCA is that it has the ability to self-neutralize. Therefore, TCA does not depend on timing to trigger a frost or change, unlike AHAs. This feature makes the ingredient an especially unfailing chemical agent for skin therapists to use.

    Sometimes a manufacturer may offer TCA as a stand-alone formulation. While it is effective when used alone, research has shown that when combined with other ingredients like Lactic Acid or Salicylic Acid, it will enhance the effects of these ingredients and provide a more effective skin resurfacing result. Look for concentrations under 20% as it is an excellent acid for use in superficial chemical peels. Note that higher concentrations lead to medium depth peeling, which should only be done by a medical professional.

    *Be sure to double check your manufacturer’s directions when using a formulation with TCA, as some may require a neutralizer of some sort.

  • Tackle Teen Acne!

    What is a pimple? Is it dirty skin? A reaction to cosmetics? A disease? Well in a way, it’s all of that and much more. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne affects about 40 to 50 million Americans at any one time. The acneic condition presents itself in four grades (I – IV), with increasing levels of severity. But even healthy skin can even experience pimples, since the hormonal signals that trigger oil production and inflammation are easily stimulated by changes in diet, psychological stress and puberty. And since puberty means a time of growth and changes, the skin is also growing and maturing and may not be able to handle the extra oil produced that leads to clogged follicles. A clogged follicle is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria to thrive and cause inflammation, which is compounded by the elevated sebum produced during puberty.

    At the onset of puberty, hormones from the hypothalamic region of the brain and the pituitary gland trigger the production of testosterone in boys and estrogen in girls to initiate sexual maturation. An unfortunate side effect is the surge in sebum production in many. For girls, this cyclic pattern may even progress into adulthood. However, teenage acne is different than adult acne. While adult acne affects mostly women, and it is characterized by larger, more inflammatory papules with no comedones, teenage acne can present comedones, papules, pustules, cysts, nodules and is not typically cyclical. In addition, hygiene can play a major role, as proper skin care may be lacking or underdeveloped.

    This is why it’s imperative to teach young teens about proper daily skin care, introducing cleansing, hydrating and treating as part of their regimen. Another aspect of educating is reversing some of the misconceptions about acne that adolescents tend to have – whether it’s scrubbing away all oils with harsh scrubs, tanning to ‘clear’ acne, picking at their skin, and a host of other skin sins.

    In your treatment room, look for multitasking products that minimize breakouts without irritating or drying out the skin as many acne-controlling products in the market tend to do. By reducing hyperkeratinization, minimizing bacterial infection, controlling inflammation, and most importantly hydrating, you’ll provide a service not only for the short-term pubertal acne woes, but also for the long-term skin health goals of your future return client.

  • Breakout Freakout

    Ah summer. The home stretch, the ninth inning, a time for preparation and relaxation and… final exams! This may stir up terrifying memories, or if you’re in the midst of it, elicit a reminder of what’s to come. This crunch time is key to passing exams with flying colors or not passing at all, and it can feel like a literal squeeze or crunch, with your mind racing at 100mph. What you may not even realize during this hectic time is how it can also affect your body and even your skin.

    Psychological stress is not just “in your mind,” although it does begin there. When we experience stress, a region in the brain called the hypothalamus releases signals to specific glands to produce even more signals, or hormones, which then circulate around the body and elicit the “stress response.” The stress hormones released by the glands sitting atop the kidneys are epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol.

    Cortisol is a stress hormone that can also impact skin health. When cortisol is released, it can trigger the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum as well as increase inflammation. In the skin, this increased inflammation and sebum is the perfect environment for P. acnes to thrive inside the follicle. The result? A breakout.

    We may not be able to avoid those finals, but we can try to avoid that stress-induced pimple by practicing relaxation techniques. Or at the very least, treat it with efficacious ingredients to help the skin heal. If you have teenage clients in the treatment room, remember this is a high-stress time so combine stress-relieving techniques with these ingredients:

    Benzoyl Peroxide: Stops breakout-causing bacteria in the follicle and helps clear skin.
    Salicylic Acid: A hydroxy acid that exfoliates surface skin cells and reduces inflammation.
    Bentonite and Kaolin Clays: Purifying clays pull oil from skin, deep cleaning and helping to control shine.
    Niacinamide: Assists in regulating sebaceous gland secretions while scavenging free radicals.
    Meadowsweet: protects against the production and secretion of excess sebum.
    African Whitewood: The bark extract of this tree has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and sebum-regulating properties.

    To learn more about stress and breakouts, check out this video that I shared for Ted Education:

  • Easy on the Eyes

    The skin around the eyes is some of the thinnest on the human body – about 0.5mm thick – or roughly the width of 5 sheets of paper. With every furrow, blink, and squint the delicate skin tissue around the eye area is constantly changing. Add to that the stretching and rubbing we induce, and it’s no wonder that the very first signs of aging, stress and sensitivity show up in this delicate eye area first. And this looks like puffiness, lines, sagging and dehydration.

    It’s no surprise that treatments targeting aging around the eye area represent one of the fastest-growing market segments in the skin care industry. Unfortunately, these advances have failed to meet the needs of one important segment of our clientele – those who have highly sensitive skin, yet wish to treat the signs of aging around the eye area. Many of the highly-active formulations are just too aggressive for individuals with heightened sensitivity and can actually trigger an inflammatory response. Ironically, chronic inflammation can lead to premature aging and these anti-aging products can actually cause more harm than good for those with sensitive skin.

    Look out for these ingredients to help reduce eye puffiness and firm skin without the irritating drawbacks.

    Hexapeptide-11: A peptide derived from Yeast, to help firm the skin, improve skin elasticity and improve fine lines.

    Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (MAP): A stable form of Vitamin C preferred for sensitized skin clients, as the pH of the delivery system does not have to be low or acidic, which can be irritating.

    Carrot Oil: Oil enriched with antioxidant carotenoids and provitamin A, which can be converted into Vitamin A or Retinol in our skin. Vitamin A helps to boost cell renewal and reverse the signs of extrinsically aged skin.

    Red and Brown Seaweed: Soothing extracts that hydrate while protecting skin from collagen degrading enzymes.

    Golden Chamomile: An African plant rich in antioxidant polyphenols that also helps soothe irritated skin and strengthen capillaries.

  • You Are What you Eat

    This age-old adage may have been dismissed over the generations as somewhat of an old wives’ tale, but in fact it is deeply rooted in a real biological connection between our bodies and the food we eat. With technological advances, we are better able to understand how micro- and macro-nutrients really affect our health on a cellular level. This notion has even spurred the formation of a Center of Excellence for Nutritional Genomics (CENG) at the University of California, Davis. Nutritional genomics takes advantage of our knowledge of the human genome to better understand the diet-health relationship. In essence, nutritional genomics is the study of how foods affect our genes and how our genes affect our response to nutrients in our diet – an offshoot of the emerging epigenetics field (which is the study of how our overall environment can change our genes).

    So then, if we really are what we eat…what should we be eating for healthy skin? Macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and lipids) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) work together to ensure a properly functioning epidermal barrier against environmental assaults. The skin’s typical ailments range from dehydration, dryness, photodamage, inflammation and aging. Many scientific studies support the role nutrition plays in these key areas.

    A lack of either lipid content or water content means rough, flaky and vulnerable skin. A diet rich in essential fatty acids can help skin retain its organized brick-and-mortar model. Dietary fats are processed by the liver for delivery to skin and other tissues. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are essential for skin function and can even modulate the skin’s inflammatory response. Chronically dry skin, as in Eczema, will benefit from a diet rich in EFAs from oils and whole foods. In particular, Omega-3 fatty acids can help protect skin from photodamage and photoaging, while Omega-6 can alleviate symptoms associated with skin sensitivity and inflammatory skin disorders.

    Stock your grocery basket with:
    • Wild-caught salmon
    • Flaxseeds
    • Walnuts
    • Evening Primrose Oil
    • Borage Oil

    As we know, the sun is a powerful star. UV rays penetrate through clouds, windows and our own skin layers. UV rays deplete antioxidant levels in the skin, including ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E). A diet rich in these antioxidant vitamins can be part of a well-rounded approach to limiting photodamage. An added bonus to vitamin C? It is also a necessary component of building collagen in the skin, which decreases with age and even more so with sun damage. Like many nutrients, some are even better when combined. Supplementing the diet with Vitamin C and E combined can increase the photoprotective effect of our skin better than with either of these alone.

    Stock your grocery basket with:
    • Bell peppers
    • Broccoli
    • Strawberries
    • Wheat germ
    • Avocados

    Our skin is a unique organ in that we can actually rub nutrients on top of it! So even though the upper epidermal layers of the skin do not contain blood vessels that supply the cells with nutrients, we can ‘feed’ the skin from the outside, with topical antioxidants and vitamins. Combining topical nutrients with a more conscious effort to eat whole, healthy foods will keep our skin shining for all the years to come!

    For more information on how nutrition plays a role in skin health, be sure to attend our IDI guest lecture with Dr. Claudia on Monday, April 22 at IDI New York.

  • IDI Congress: Hormones and the Skin

    A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting some of our European markets to present lectures on how hormones affect our skin, how they age our skin and what some of the latest anti-aging treatment options are available to the professional skin therapist.

    First, I was off to Poland, where they celebrated their 5th year anniversary with Dermalogica. They even had their first snow while I was there! Certainly a change of pace from the 75 and sunny weather of Southern California. Their training facility is neatly tucked in the outskirts of Warsaw, where they even provide accommodation to students wishing to stay overnight without spending much on neighboring hotels. Definitely worth a visit. The PSTs here are well educated, using much of the advanced techonology (laser, LED, chemical exfoliation) that we use here in the U.S.

    Next I hopped over to Russia. What a treat! I presented the IDI congress on hormones and skin in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. I had a day to explore the beautiful city of St.Pete and had the opportunity to meet many skin therapists. They’re a sophisticated bunch, eager for getting the latest and greatest skin info. Some even flew in from Kazakhstan for the lecture and we had a good chat on how to have a holistic approach to skin care. I can see great things coming out of that country. Imagine that just a few decades ago, it was nearly impossible to have your own business as a woman in soviet countries – and now I see many empowered women owning their businesses and importing goods from all over the world. Big strides there.

    Finally I traveled to the Netherlands and Belgium to wrap up my tour. There, I presented the IDI congress: Through the Ages, which focused more on hormonal aging and available solutions. We also launched the new concept space in Antwerp to the local press – we had almost 60 journalists from a few different towns! If you’re traveling near Antwerp, Belgium, definitely check out this space – it’s in a great location and of course they do great skin treatments! The PSTs in Benelux are simply wonderful. They really put health above all else and strive to make themselves more successful by continuing their education however they can.

    It has been really rewarding to see so many diverse members of the “tribe” that share a common passion for skin health. We had such a wonderful congress in all of these markets and I hope to return soon to continue to help IDI provide the best education a skin therapist could ask for. Thanks to everyone involved!

  • Hormones and the Skin Q & A

    As seen in CLEO Magazine, Australia, July 2012

    Do hormones affect our skin? How?
    Absolutely! There are dozens of hormones that have major effects on the body, including our skin. Scientists are still discovering new hormones and new actions of known ones when it comes to effects on skin. The major hormones that affect skin are the sex steroid hormones, thyroid hormones, and growth hormones. The key is balance when it comes to hormones. When there is an imbalance, effects are seen on skin, hair and nails. For example, too much thyroid hormone and you get moist, smooth skin. Too little and you get rough, dry skin. Too much or too little and you can get alopecia. Too much of the androgen (male) hormones increase skin oiliness and face/body hair. This can lead to acne in both men and women. Too little of the female hormones (estrogens and progestogens) and you get thin, dry skin with reduced collagen and elastin, something that is seen in menopausal women.

    Why do we sometimes get pimples in the same spot around the time of our periods?
    Many adult women get a pimple around the time of ovulation, typically a couple weeks before the start of their period. This is most likely due to the surge in luteinizing hormone (LH) that is seen at this time. This hormone can trigger sebaceous gland activity, leading to increased oil production and the perfect environment for an invading bacteria to cause inflammation. Hormonal breakouts are quite common and can be controlled.

    What can be done to stop this kind of skin problem?

    Some methods of birth control can help regulate the hormones that lead to oil production and breakouts. But a good skin care regimen will do wonders for breakout-prone skin. Using mild cleansers that don’t strip skin oils is a good first step, since many people believe that the more squeaky-clean they are the better. Using harsh soaps to remove all oils can actually cause skin to produce even more oil, in an attempt to self-regulate. Next you want to moisturize with oil-free moisturizers to maintain hydration without clogging pores. And using spot treatments with Sulfur and Salicylic Acid are great ways to control breakouts without causing unwanted inflammation, which can worsen the problem. Retinoids (Vitamin A derivatives) are also good ways to manage adult acne and skin aging at the same time.

  • Building a Foundation for Healthy Skin

    Have you ever ruined a diet with a night on the town? Maybe it wasn’t just a little indulgence, but a full blown episode with dinner, dessert and cocktails. If this sounds familiar then you understand what ‘undoing your hard work’ really means. Although food is more tempting than cosmetics (unless you’re a product junkie!), choosing the wrong cosmetics can undo all your skin care efforts – and that can be a pricey routine. Color cosmetics are formulated to cover up imperfections and enhance the appearance with just about all the colors of the rainbow. Unfortunately, many of these formulations have synthetic fragrance, colorants and ingredients that can be comedogenic or even irritating. The important thing is to maintain a healthy barrier so these ingredients don’t penetrate skin and produce adverse effects.

    Luckily, you can also provide an extra barrier of hydration that includes mineral colorants, which can prep your skin for additional cosmetics like blush, eye shadow, lipstick, etc. This is where makeup and skin care meet – a formulation that serves as a foundation for makeup but that falls in line with your skin health treatment products. Typically, these are known as foundations, tinted moisturizers, BB creams, and whatever new terms may crop up. The point is that choosing the right base for makeup should be as important as the other products in your skin care routine.

    Many foundations are formulated with the single goal of hiding your imperfections. Unfortunately, they do not treat skin concerns like oiliness or dehydration, and they often leave skin parched, with a cakey look after a few hours. Some minerals may even absorb water from your skin, leaving you drier than if you didn’t use the product. Because you spend your hard-earned money on your skin care products, you should also expect a foundation or base to put up a good fight and enhance, not just hide, your appearance. The key for long-lasting makeup and a smooth appearance is hydration. Ingredients like Hyaluronic Acid, Polysaccharides, Urea and even Lactic Acid are humectants that impart their hydrating effects onto skin upon application, and often for some time after.

    Maintaining skin hydration not only prevents microcracks from forming on skin, which can lead to product penetration and irritation, but it also keeps the formula from drying up on the skin – as some foundations end up enhancing fine lines and wrinkles instead of concealing them. The extra bit of moisture also helps makeup slide on more smoothly and evenly. But hydrated does not mean oily – so avoid excessively oily formulations that can clog pores and slide right off on a warm summer day. Finally, you want to protect skin from future damage. This not only means looking for broad-spectrum sun protection against UVA and UVB rays, but also for ingredients like extracts of Hydrolyzed Pearl, Walnut, and Olive, which can protect skin against free radical formation and glycation. So considering that even cosmetic products can impart skin health effects, a night on the town should leave you guilt-free – even if you go for that slice of chocolate pie!

  • Nanotechnology Q&A

    As seen in American Spa Magazine

    How would you summarize what exactly nanotechnology is, and how it has infiltrated the skincare world?

    Nanotechnology is simply the study and application of very small things. One nanometer is a billionth of a meter, and for comparison’s sake, a sheet of newspaper is about 100,000 nanometers thick. A human hair is about 80,000 nanometers in diameter. This is a relatively new field, implemented about 30 years ago, and has permeated all aspects of modern science since then. From chocolate to computer chips, everyday products including cosmetics include nanotechnology nowadays. In skincare, nanotechnology has infiltrated the areas of anti-aging, sun protection and even make-up. The most widely studied and practiced area is in sun protection, as this technology allowed formulators to transcend the dreaded “white face” effect of 80s sunblock. Nowadays, sunscreen filters are no longer a thick block, but part of a sophisticated formula that allows for ultraviolet A and B (UVA/UVB) protection, along with other skin benefits, to be easily and transparently applied to skin.

    How might nanotechnology change consumer wants and needs in anti-aging? What does it mean for product development in skincare?

    Nanotechnology is not yet the norm, so consumers may not even be aware that some of the products they are familiar with contain nanomaterials. Moreover, manufacturers are not required by US law to tell the US FDA whether they use nanomaterials in their products, so consumers again may not know that these are in their products. The more the technology is enhanced and advertised, the more consumers will be aware and curious about the technology and the products using it. This will mean manufacturers will have to be careful as to the nanomaterials used, as many of these do not have a lot of scientific data backing up their safety.

    Why is nanotechnology important? What are some of the benefits?
    Nanotechnology is very important in many science fields. For example, a transdermal patch vaccine using nanosized particles would be more efficient and perhaps cheaper than a normal vaccine administered with a syringe (especially in third world or remote areas). In terms of technology, this will help with the invention of new materials that may help with space exploration, “smart” fabrics, etc. The possibilities seem to be limitless.

    What are some of the detriments or possible risks of nanotechnology, and why is it controversial?

    Nanotechnology can be detrimental only in that we do not have a lot of scientific data supporting some of the safety of these materials. For instance, a very tiny particle may have different properties than its full-size component. This change in function may not have safety data yet and can pose risks to users. One major controversial nanomaterial in skin care is in the form of buckyballs. These are minute soccer-ball looking particles that are shown to be antioxidants, which we know from vitamins can fight premature aging of the skin. The problem is their size. Concerns around these mini-balls are that these nanoparticles may slip and potentially get into bloodstream, affecting our immune system.

    Are there some uses of nanotechnology that are safer than others (for example, it appears there have been some important advances in suncare)?

    FDA and other global government organizations like EU Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP) have reviewed the safety on some of the sunscreen filters that have been micronized such as Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. As of recent, these have been deemed safe for use as sunscreen filters on human skin. In fact, the European Nanoderm project concluded that “we do not expect any adverse health effects for the topical application of sunscreens containing TiO2
    nanoparticles (especially when coated) on healthy skin which are related to the particulate state.”

    A recent Cosmetics & Toiletries article also summarized that the SCCP in 2009 found “the use of zinc oxide in its non-nano form to be safe. As a consequence, micronized zinc oxide was approved for use as UV filter, e.g. in Germany, with the prerequisite of a yearly renewal of the approval.”

    When making buying decisions, what are good questions to ask to figure out which products/treatments with nanotechnology are safe or beneficial, and which are not?

    It is up to the consumer to do some homework here. Nanosphere technology in cosmetics is not yet regulated in the United States by the FDA, therefore there is no way to determine whether nanospheres in cosmetics deliver toxic substances into the body and bloodstream. There is some good data backing the nano particles in sunscreens, so at the moment these are deemed safe. More research into the safety of these materials will be made by government agencies like the FDA and should hopefully provide more clarification for consumers.