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Cosmetic chemist Ni'Kita Wilson stopped by our Facebook page to answer your questions about the ingredients in your beauty products. The discussion was so informative that we couldn't bear to see it disappear into our timeline. Here, your top 20 questions and her responses! (Catch up on the full chat here.)
Question: What is a cosmetic chemist?
Ni'Kita: A cosmetic chemist is someone who develops or formulates personal care products, hair care and color cosmetics. Every product you use, a cosmetic chemist sat down and put the recipe together to manufacture that product.
Question: How can I prevent my oily skin from looking shiny all the time?
Ni'Kita: I have that problem so I can relate! I use a primer with wonderful oil-absorbing ingredients like vinyl dimethicone crosspolymer, polymethylmethacrylate, nylon-12 and boron nitride!
Question: My skin is really tight, dry and even gets visibly flaky sometimes. What can I do about it?
Ni'Kita: The best approach to really dry skin is to find a moisturizer with a multi-prong approach, which means it should have humectants in it as well as occlusive moisturizers. The occlusive moisturizers form a barrier on the top of the skin to prevent any moisture in the skin from escaping, and the humectants will draw water into the skin from the atmosphere, so if you're in a highly humid climate it creates what I call a "hydra-shield," a shield of moisture. If you're in a dryer climate, they draw moisture up from the lower levels of the skin to the higher levels of the skin, but because we have the occlusive barrier it won't escape. It's almost like creating an irrigation in that its hydrating the cells as they move up but it has a seal to keep it in. Examples of humectants are glycerin, hyaluronic acid, trumella (a mushroom extract), and lactic acid. As for occlusives, you can look for dimethicone, petrolatum, or beeswax. You want to try a heavier cream, because lotions do not have enough fatty substance within the base to quench your dry skin. As for the flakes, take the same approach as you would with regular dry skin, and add an exfoliator like lactic acid. You want to remove that dead skin and then allow the moisture barrier to soothe it and make it feel supple and hydrated.
Question: Is it possible to make products without sodium laureth sulfate? What function does it serve?
Ni'Kita: Yes, it is possible to make a product without sodium laureth sulfate. It has many different uses, but primarily, it's a cleansing agent, which is why you see it in shampoos and body washes. But it can also help oil and water stay together and is used in creams and lotions for that purpose. If it's irritating for you, look for a sulfate-free product.
Question: What's the best alternative to silicone to look for in a makeup primer? Silicone makes me break out.
Ni'Kita: Silicone actually has not been proven to clog pores and cause breakouts, but you can buy silicone-free primers if you'd prefer. Look for ingredients like silica, magnesium silicate, polymethylmethacrylate and nylon-12, which are all non-silicone ingredients that can prevent oil.
Question: Is there any evidence that copper peptides are effective for wrinkle reduction?
Ni'Kita: About 10-15 years ago, there were studies done that did show that copper peptides were effective for wrinkle reduction. The person who ran the study actually patented the use, which is why it's not widely used in other products.
Question: I sometimes notice that my frizz serum leaves a buildup if I use it every day. Is that bad for my hair?
Ni'Kita: Buildup of any kind of product in your hair is not a good thing, because it actually weakens the strands. If you find that you do have buildup, strip your hair down to the minimum with a clarifying shampoo that doesn't have a lot of ingredients. All you need is water, surfactant, and preservatives. Stay away from a hydrating formula with a lot of conditioning ingredients‚ those are meant to stay on the hair and will most likely create more buildup. This will allow you to start with a clean slate. (You don't want to use a clarifying shampoo more than once a week, depending on your hair type, otherwise, it might dry your hair out.)
Question: I am in search of something that successfully treats cystic acne but isn't full of ingredients that are harmful... any suggestions?
Ni'Kita: You won't find a truly effective treatment for cystic acne that's made with natural ingredients. Have you tried Coral Actives? It's a two-step system‚ a cleanser and a serum‚ it's 6% benzoyl peroxide and a very potent anti-inflammatory. I've seen a lot of clinical trials with amazing results for cystic acne. I gave it to my niece and it's made such a huge difference in the texture and feel of her skin.
Question: What are the top three chemicals we should be looking for in a good face product? Which ones should we avoid?
Ni'Kita: Hydration is important regardless of skin type. Look for glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and natural oils and butters‚ they give amazing hydration. What you should avoid depends on your skin type. So, for example, if you are sensitive then you should probably avoid Retinol. But it's very specific to your skin type
Question: I'm gluten-free. Should I be worried about my skincare?
Ni'Kita: There's a lot of research being done about gluten sensitivity. Most of the issues point to gluten being a problem when it's ingested, and not much research that shows a negative effect when it's on the skin. There have been cases, but a full study has not been conclusive to this point. In my professional opinion, stay away from it if it's something you're concerned about. There's always a possibility that if it's in your skincare that you could somehow ingest it. For example, if you've applied a hand cream with a gluten ingredient in it and you're eating, or if you lick your lips and a face cream or other product gets on your tongue. I'm not sure how much of it would take to cause a reaction, but if you're highly sensitive to gluten, then avoid it completely and look for products that claim to be gluten-free.
Question: What is the best treatment for dark spots and the best sunscreen to use?
Ni'Kita: There's one from Specific Beauty, which is a skin-brightening serum. As for the best sunscreen, there's a product from 3LAB, one is an SPF 30 and it's called Perfect Sunscreen. And then if you are transitioning into sunscreen and you really want a moisturizer AND a sunscreen, then they have one called Hydra-Day, SPF 20. Love it, love it, love it!
Question: What's a treatment that actually works on my neck?
Ni'Kita: You can use any cream geared towards firming and tightening. But don't forget to sunscreen on your neck as well! If you like to show a little cleavage, make sure to cover that up, too!
Question: I am a medium skin toned African-American, how can I cover my dark under eye circles?
Ni'Kita: Makeup is the only way to get rid of dark circles instantly. As for long-term treatment, look for eye creams that contain more than just caffeine‚ you should try ingredients like licorice root extract and vitamin C (both reduce melanin production). You might benefit from layering more than one formula‚ very few creams have everything you need in one.
Question: What's the most effective ingredient for anti-aging?
Ni'Kita: Retinol and vitamin C are most effective. When we chemists want to guarantee efficacy, no matter what the hottest ingredient of the moment is, if it has retinol or vitamin C, we know it will work! You can use them together, people like to use retinol more at night since it tends to make the skin a little more sensitive, and then vitamin C in the morning because it makes your skin glow and encourages microcirculation.
Question: Is long-term use of Retin-A bad for your skin?
Ni'Kita: The data shows the opposite‚ that it's really good for your skin. It's one of the few proven ingredients that actually rebuild collagen, the structural support for your skin, which protects against wrinkle formation. If you are on it and want to switch, or if your doctor takes you off of it, I would recommend switching to a skincare routine that contains Retinol.
Question: My dark circles won't go away. Help!
Ni'Kita: Depending on what type of dark circles you have, treatment will differ. If you have bluish rings, this means they're the result of slow micro-circulation. To fix, find skincare with an ingredient to increase micro-circulation, like caffeine or even sometimes vitamin C.
If they're more blackish brown, thats hyperpigmentation, which could be caused by anything from irritation and rubbing to an iron build up or swollen capillaries in the skin from any bruising that may have taken place.
Violet rings signify a capillary issue underneath the skin. that means there's blood leakage. Sometimes violet will turn to blackish brown, which will always be there because the capillaries are weak.
For blackish blue or violet, you still want to increase circulation, but you'll need something extra like licorice to help with the melanin. Look for something like chrysin, an ingredient that helps flush out the pigments left behind from leaky capillaries.
Question: Will Retin-A or retinol help with dark under eye circles?
Ni'Kita: Retinol will. But, you have to really examine your rings first. If it's an issue of micro-circulation (bluish rings) it may not help. But it will thicken the skin up there, so if it's more red or violet or you can see veins, then retinol will help. Just be sure to buy a product that's specifically for the under eye area!
Question: I have moderate/severe plaque psoriasis from head to toe. What recommendations for hair and skin products would you have that would be least likely to irritate my plaques?
Ni'kita: Opt for products geared towards sensitive skin. There's a new brand actually from Ireland called Elave, available on Dermstore, that's for treating a variety of skin issues, including psoriasis.
Question: I have acne. What are the best products to use?
Ni'Kita: In terms of ingredients, look for sulfur, salicylic acid and benzyl peroxide. With any acne product you use, make sure it contains an anti-inflammatory ingredient to reduce redness and swelling. My favorite ingredients for this are bisabolol and allantoin, DO NOT rely on aloe, as most brands are not using a concentration high enough to see the anti-inflammatory effects.
Question: Any recommendations for itchy scalp? Perhaps a natural remedy?
Ni'Kita: There are a few products I could recommend, but one is from Carol's Daughter. It has rosemary oil and camphor, which cool the scalp to help relieve itching. What you want to do is look for ingredients with camphor, menthol or peppermint oil, which will basically provide a cooling on the scalp. It's not permanent relief (if itching persists, you should really visit your dermatologist), but this is good for temporary relief.
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