Taking a 'less is more' attitude toward cosmeceuticals

February 3, 2010

Patients have innumerable opportunities to mix and match anti-aging therapies, which may create more problems than they solve.

Key Points

Patients have innumerable opportunities to mix and match anti-aging therapies, which may create more problems than they solve.

Ellen Marmur, M.D., chief of dermatologic and cosmetic surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York, says, "The No. 1 problem occurs when a patient layers three, four or five products on their face, exposing themselves not just to 20 products, but up to 120 chemicals all at the same time."

"When a patient comes in with eczematous reaction around their eyes or nose, the first question I ask is what they use on their skin," Dr. Marmur says. "Too often they pull out a large Baggie filled with products. Then they'll say, 'I don't know which product is causing this.'"

Overdoing it

Often, it's not a reaction to one product that a patient is experiencing, but to the combination of formulations, Dr. Marmur says.

"Each of these products has been meticulously designed to work by itself, but when they are mixed, what was originally a thin serum can end up being a thicker ointment which is more occlusive," she says. "By changing the properties - making the products more occlusive - it can make the application more irritating and at a higher risk of causing dermatitis."

According to Dr. Marmur, contributing to the confusion is the fact some substances may cause an immediate irritating reaction, but others may be used for months before the body learns to have an allergic reaction.

In addition to the issue of polycosmeceutical use, Dr. Marmur says certain ingredients are more likely to cause dermatitis than others.

Allergens abound

"The typical issues are the classic allergens; they include the fragrance or preservative components. But in addition to those, I've noticed that many of the newer cosmeceuticals contain botanical oils. It's very misleading to think that something that sounds natural is better, or more compatible, with your skin, i.e., sandalwood oil, or the essence of exotic things like coriander extract or pomegranate," Dr. Marmur says.

"If a person is allergic to those natural essences, like pomegranate, tomatoes, citrus - some people are using pumpkin enzymes - all of those things can actually form acids that can eat through the stratum corneum and penetrate more, causing more of a dermatitis," she explains.

Depending on skin type, Dr. Marmur says there are ingredients a person would do well to avoid.

Dr. Marmur recommends dermatologists take a good look at product ingredients to check for known irritants, and to advise patients that less can be more when it comes to fighting off signs of advancing years.

Disclosure: Dr. Marmur reports no relevant financial interests.

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