Question: How Can Good Products Produce Bad Results?

Question on PeelsQuestion:   I’ve been using  a 1% retinol serum, 15% vitamin C serum for my face and another 5% vitamin c serum for my eyes for two weeks and now my skin  is a mess!  It’s red, peeling, super dry and  wrinkled.  It even hurts   when I wash my face and put on sunscreen.   I’m so scared and don’t know what to do.

Answer:   These are  strong and genuinely  effective  formulations, but you overdid it a bit.  According to the wizard of Park Avenue, Dr Albert Lefkovits, stop using all  current products.  He recommends soothing the skin  with a milk compress.  Soak a  man’s hankerchief  in a mixture of   1/4 cup milk and 1/4 room temperature  cup water, wring it out  a bit and apply it to  face and neck.  Wash your face with a  super gentle cleanser like Cetaphil or Dove  soap.

At night try  a mild moisturizer like Ponds cold cream or Aquaphor.  If redness persists  apply .05% cortisone cream available at a pharmacy without a prescription.   In the daytime, use  a  mineral based sunscreen like SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion.  If the skin does not calm down within a week, you should  check in  with a doctor.  There  might  be something  besides  an irritation reaction going on.

When your skin recovers, you can start slowly  resuming the  same products .  Use the retinol every other day and the vitamin c eye  serum only at night.   In the daytime, use the vitamin C serum every other day  and top it with a mineral based  sunscreen.   Gradually work up to using retinol every night and vitamin C serum every  day, but never  at the same time.  At the first sign of irritation, cut back to  using  products several times a week rather than  every day.

I  suspect that some   manufacturers formulate weak  products because they want to avoid this type  of situation.  I can totally  understand that approach , but I believe that  better consumer information would  prevent this type of skin melt down.  If the sales literature gave more extensive info, these episodes could be avoided.  Better  information will allow us to  use effective products to get maximum results– very much the fundamental mission statement   of No-Nonsense Beauty Blog.

Scared of Vitamins by Deborah Chase

Vitamin pills This has not been a  good  time for the vitamin industry. A recent story  in the New York Times  reported  that vitamin supplements were not what they seemed.  Some were  contaminated by rodent poop while others had 200X recommended levels of selenium.  And then there were those Ayurvedic  supplements which contained  potentially harmful levels  of lead, mercury and arsenic.

Now in December no less than three studies showed that multivitamin supplements  had no health benefits.  Research out of Harvard  Medical School gave 6000 men over 65 a daily multivitamin pill and measured their brain function.  At the end of 12 years, the multi vitamin made  no difference  in cognitive ability. The much  larger US Preventive Service Task Force followed 300,000 men and women who took multi vitamins.  The result?  No change in heart and cancer rates.  Finally researchers at  Division of Cardiology at Columbia University  gave high dose multi vitamins ( 200-6000X RDA) to 1700 men  who  had suffered a heart attack.  Again, there was no difference in any type of cardiac problems.

These large, comprehensive and well-done studies  were all  published in a top ranked medical journal. In addition to more than a dozen major  studies that showed an increased risk of cancers, heart disease and  early death from  high doses of beta carotene and vitamin E supplements, these are not  findings that can be ignored.  But before  we throw out all  our vitamins,  we need  to  put these studies into context.

Vitamin Deficiencies Are Real

I think that we have all forgotten just how devastating vitamin deficiency  diseases  can be.  Three once  common and fatal diseases– scurvy, pellagra and beri-beri were due to lack of vitamin C and B vitamins.  Providing vitamin supplements and/or fortifying  everyday foods with missing nutrients  virtually erased these  terrible  diseases from the entire planet.   The stuggle to identify the causes and treatment  of these illnesses  is  one of the great narratives of public health for the common good. Its also a story that doesn’t get  much attention these days.

When researchers  today look at large populations there are  no longer wide spread deficiency  problems.  But if you drill down to look at individuals, I think different nutritional ptterns  can emerge.  For example  wheat is a major source of thiamin and niacin– and the  now  very popular  gluten-free diets  can be woefully  low in essential nutrients if supplemets are  not used.  Meat is our other  great source of  niacin and  without  supplements vegans can be at high risk for genuine defiencies.  And lets not forget low carb Atkins style diets that avoid  fruits and most vegetables virtually eliminating vitamin C from the diet. Since vitamin C is the  top beauty vitamin, supplementing  a low carb diet is essential for  smooth, firm skin.

Our  uber rapid digital lifestyles  can also contribute  to  low levels of essential nutrients. For example  soda and black coffee decrease aborption of vitamins while stress increases our needs  for  B vitamins and vitamin C.   Finally accelerated agricultural methods and  extensive  food processing dramatically lower the nuritional contents of seemingly healthy foods.

The Bottom Line On Vitamins

I definately  think there is enough evidence to avoid using high doses of vitamins as medication to reduce risk of heart disease and cancer.  However given the real time difficulties  of  meeting even minimal  recommended daily levels, I am  going to continue to use a single  multi-vitamin each morning.  It meets  no more than 100% of RDA for  the most essential  vitamins and micro minerals.  Its those  mega doses I’m going  to leave on the stores shelves.  .

What vitamins  do you take?  Will these widely repored studies  change the way  you take supplements?


Best Skin Care Ingredients – The Top Ten

ingredientsI recently  got an email which chided me for being too negative about too many cosmetic ingredients.   ” If you  don’t  like vitamin E, peptides,  and seaweed, what do you think is worthwhile” she challenged me.

Fair enough.   Truth is  there are  ten ingredients that I love because they truely deliver as promised.  Some are for acne, others for anti-aging and a few for sun proection.  Best of al,l only one needs a perscription.  I also relish the fact that in many of  them, the FDA requires that their concentration by percentage must be listed on the label– so you can see  at a glance  if  it has  what your skin needs.

1.  Glycolic Acid

Derived from sugarcane, glycolic acid is considered the  most effective  form of alpha hydroxy acid.  In a cleanser, toner,moisturizer or mask, glycolic acid takes off dead dry  skin cells, increases cell renewal and stimulates  collagen production.  Its useful for oily skin,  acne prone skin and as an anti-aging tool.  But to be effective most glycolic acid  products need  to have at least 8%  glycolic acid in the formulation.

2. Ceramides

The cells of the top layer of the skin are held together by ceramides, a kind of fatty substance that acts like glue to keep cells in a healthy ordered pattern.   Even better, ceramides are equally important at holding  water molecules in the skin.  Ceramides like so many factors, decline in the body as we get older.  A ceramide moisturizer  definately levels the  playing field.

3. Vitamin C

Anti-aging properties have been attached to  many vitamins, but vitamin C is the one that has the science to back up  the claims.  Vitamin C ( AKA ascorbic acid) is essential for the growth of  healthy collagen.  In fact  the National Health and Nutrition study of 17,000 Americans found that  those with diets highest in vitamin C had the youngest looking skin and fewest wrinkles.  Even better, vitamin C is one of the few ingredients  that is truely helpful inside and out.  But and its a big but, vitamin C is extremely fragile and not effective in many formulations.  Exposure to light, heat, and moisture quickly  degrade  vitamin C   and steal its anti-aging properties.   When you buy vitamin C serum, make sure its packaged in a dark brown or green glass vial  with at least 5% concentration.

4. Benzoyl Peroxide

This skin care work horse is a tried and true acne buster that packs a one-two punch. It  can take off the top layer of dead dry  skin cells that are clogging pores and stale oil that is blocking the pores and  kills the bacterria in the skin that trigger breakouts.  Until recently the FDA alllowed a maximum of 2.5% in over the counter acne preparations.  Now this limit has been lifted and its possible to purchase formulations the have up to 10% benzoyl peroxide.

But benzoyl peroxide  can be very irritating and its best to start with lower  concentrations, and if well tolorated work  up to stronger formulas.  Like Retin A,  you should wait 10-30 minutes  after washing  your face before applying benzoyl peroxide.  Limit use of alcohol  based toners and glycolic acid products when starting with benzoyl peroxide.   Because it can increase sun sensitivity, always top benzoyl peroxide treated skin with at least a 30SPF  sunscreen.

5.  Zinc Oxide

Zince oxide is a white mineral that has been used for skin care since the time of the Greeks.  Over the centuries, it has been useful for ointments, baby powder, dandruff shampoos and  is  the primary ingredient in calamine lotion.   Currently, zinc oxide ( and its  cousin titanium dioxide) are  the dermatologists favorite sunscreen ingredient.  They are called physical sunscreens because they literally physically  block the rays of the sun.  Zinc oxide  sits on the  skin surface and shields the skin from both UV A and UVB says.  Because they are not absorbed by the skin, physical sunscreens are less irritating and less likely to provoke breakouts.   This means that zinc oxide sunscreens are the best option for sensitive and acne prone  skin.   Look for products that contain  at least 5% zinc oxide ot titanium oxide.

Next week– The final five ingredients  and  a list of  the affordable products that feature them.

The Beauty of Bok Choy

bok choyI love to buy fruits and vegetables at Farmer’s Markets.  I think the food  is fresher, tastes better  and I can pick up  new varieties   not found in supermarkets.  Last week I  scored   what I thought was a gorgeous head of sparkling fresh spinach.   It was 15″ inches across, weighed about 3 pounds and was only $3.  What a buy!  But when I got  home and nibbled on a leaf, I discovered it was bok choy not spinach.  Bok choy is a popular form of  chinese cabbage that is used in soups, stir fried combo’s and  as  side vegetable dish. But from a nutitional  stand point, how does it compare to  the nutrient packed spinach?

Turns out, not too bad.  Bok choy clocks in at just 13 calories in a four ounce serving.  And those 13 calories also deliver 30% of RDA vitamin A and 50% of RDA of Vitamin C.  Since vitamin C is the vitamin  most closely linked to youthful skin, bok choy  can genuinely be considered a beauty food.   Add that to some fiber, iron, and calcium and bok choy  earns  its spot on healthy eating plans.  I love  to serve a double portion of sauteed bok choy with an order of steamed  chicken dumplings– a low fat dinner  plate of flavor and nutrition.

Stir-Fried Bok Choy ( adapted form

Ingredients:  one  tablespoon corn oil, 2 cloves of garlic, slivered, 1 tablespoon of  chopped  fresh ginger, 8 cups of chopped bok choy ( cut into one inch pieces), 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce 

Directions:  Heat the oil in a  large non-stick saute pan.  Toss in garlic and ginger and cook about a minute.  Add bok choy and soy sauce and cook  over medium heat for  5 minutes until leaves are wilted and stalks are crisp but tender. 

You can also serve these over rice  or in a soup.

One last word:  Raw bok choy  can  be difficult to digest and  cause   cramps and bloating– so make certain that the vegetables  are throughly cooked  before serving.

Budget Beauty- Part 2

Costs seem to explode when daily skin care meets anti-aging.    Brand name tretinoin ( eg Retin A) clocks in  at $300 for a tube that lasts  six months.   Generic Retin A drops to about $200.  Upscale anti-aging  brands with  effective levels of retinol are lower at about $100, but still a  significant bit of change.  And then there are the luxury department store brands  like La Mer and Perricone  that will cost more than $300 a  jar– and thats   just for one product in the recommended routinue.

There are  anti-aging products  that don’t   cost much, but they  don’t do much either.  The challenge is to find affordable   anti-aging  forumlations that  deliver  real results.   I believe that   when a  low cost  cream or mask  doesn’t  deliver,  you are still wasting your  money, albeit less of it.

Glycolic Acid– cheap and effective

The search for  acessible anti-aging skin care starts with  deciding what you want from them.  As the  years go by skin growth slows down, dark spots pop-up  and   our  healthy glow  is replaced with  a sallow, dull skin tone and textrue.  That’s the bad news.  The good news?  Glycolic acid and vitamin C, either singly or in combination  were born to deal with skin aging.  These  two super age busters  are also among the most inexpensive ingredients used in  skin care  products.

Glycolic acid will remove the top layer of dead skin cells and stale  oil and encourage  the growth of healthy hew collagen.   Within a  month of use,  pores will shrink and  rough dull  surface  will be replaced  with a fresh healthy glow.  Think of glycolic acid as “Retin A  light”.   It will  produce real results without irritation– and at about 80% lower cost. Two of my favorite glycolic acid rejuvenation  products are:

Alpha Hydrox Enhanced Lotion ( 10% glycolic) $12- for dry skin

It contains active levels of glycolic acid but forumlated for thin,  dry skin.  Available in pharmacy chains like Duane Reade and online.

Alpha Hydrox AHA wipes ( 14%) $17 for  normal and oily skin

These wipes are super easy to use  and can be added to  almost any cleansing routinue.   They will  help control breakouts  while stimulating  healthy skin formation.

Vitamin C– an oldie but goodie

Vitamin C  is  one of the most studied AND effective anti-aging ingredients– and available for literally pennies a day.   Vitamin C  works in three ways– it is essential for  the growth and repair of  healthy collagen, can lighten  dark spots and splotches AND is a powerful antioxidant that protects the skin from UV rays.  But  vitamin A is uber  fragile and takes  careful hadling to avoid oxidation.  When this happens, the vitamin C loses much of its power and potency.

There are a few  wonderful commercial vitamin C  products  ( eg Cellex C and Ski Ceuticals)  that will deliver  full strength benefits.  But they are expensive and if  you want to stretch your beauty dollar, you can make a  truely effective vitamin C serum without  special ingredients or equipment.

DIY Vitamin C Seum

I tried  six different formulas before  adopting  this  one from Gorgeously Green by  Sophie Uliano.  I could find all the ingredients at a local health food store and  had all the tools I needed in my kitchen.  While DIY  products are so tempting, some formulas  can involve ordering special chemicals and tools, eg scales and thermometers.  These add up and the bottom line here is to save money.

Budget Busting Vitamin C Serum

Ingredients:  2 teaspoons, water (  boiled and cooled), 2 teaspooons vitamin C powder in the form of L-ascorbic acid ( $10 for 4 oz.)  , 2 teaspoons vegetable glycerin ( $10 for 4 oz.), dark brown bottle with eye dropper.  These ingredients  will last three months at the cost of  $1.60 a week.  Seriously.

Directions:  In a little bowl, mix the water and vitamin C until the powder is dissolved. Mix in the glycerin.  Using the eye dropper, transfer  the mixture  to the dark brown bottle. It will stay active for a week.  If you have any leftover, discard it and  mix up a fresh batch.

To  use, shake the bottle well and  put two  drops on fingertips.  Rub in a bit on the  hands then apply to the face.  Repeat  for neck and chest.  And that’s it.  You might feel a  sight tingling that will fade in a moment.  Unlike glycolic acid which  show almost  immediate results, vitamin C takes  time to see benefits.  The changes are  internal but in a few months  you should notice  fewer dark patches and  a radiance that only comes from treating your skin correctly.

In the summer I like to use vitamin C serum under my mineral sunscreen.  In other seasons, I alternate glycolic acid wipes with vitamin C serum  as my bedtime routinue.   Let me know  how you  like to use this home made age buster.

Its Fashion Flash Monday!

This week the host of Fashion Flash is Mirabai of  Moving Free With Mirabai.  Hands  down, Mirabai is the best credentialed  exercise guru  you will ever meet.   And wherever you are in life, she has developed an exercise program for you.  She has programs to combat childhood obesity,  get moms back in shape, loose weight, improve  heart function, and restore strength and flexibility to both prevent and manage osteoporosis.  In short there is a reason that  she is one of the most  popular exercise  experts on QVC. I am so thrilled that she is part of Fashion FLash.  And if you  have specific questions on  all things exercise email her at   I do and her  advice  is always just what I need.

I was looking for  new books for  my granddaughters last  week when I spotted a pink polka dot  and gingham book  at Strand Bookstore.  But rather than another princess story, it was a small but  very helpful  skin care book by a Miami- based dermatologist.   Six Weeks to Sensational Skin ( Rodale)  by Loretta Ciraldo, MD.  Packed with helpful  tips and info, it  drills down into the basic tools and  really explains  how to care for  our skin on  a daily basis.  She starts out with two very simple  bits of advice that are new to me.  Use  uber mild detergent for your bed  linens ( she recommends All CLear  detergent) and a 400 thread count  pillowcase.  Dr Ciraldo  points  out that  we mash  our faces in  pillows for 8 hours a night and  rough fabric and  harsh detergent  takes it toll  on  our skin. 

Clearly written, Six Weeks to Sensational Skin kept surprising me.  Her  detailed info includes:

* How cholesterol lowering drugs like Lipitor  can  increase skin dryness

*Why  hydrolyzed  proteins stop the over production of  the enzyme  that destroys collagen

*How soy protein blocks  production of enzymes that destroys elastin

* Vitamin C  increases sunscreen effectiveness

I especially likes the emphasis on  affordable daily  skin  care routines that will   result in healthier  skin.  While she touches on  the office  based techniques, the majority of the book  is focused on the totally affordable basics that  will deliver results over the long term.  Her own  daily routinue uses more than 12  products and is daunting, but in  laying out the details she demonstrates  the order of treatments.  This  book earned a spot on my  crowded  beauty bookshlf.

The Beauty of Butternut Squash

The yellow and rust colors of fall  have  made me hungry  for the sweet, fleshy meat of  winter squash.  Butternut, crook neck, turban and acorn  are shaped differently  but offer very similar  nutritional payloads.  The deep orange color is packed, I mean packed with vitamin A and beta-carotene.   One half cup of  cooked squash   can have 100-200% of  the RDA for  this essential  vitamin as well as 25% of the RDA of vitamin C.  Fat free and salt free, one half cup has 120 calories and 12 grams of carbs.   By comparison, the same amount of a white potato has about 60 calories  and the same amount of carbs.

Given the slightly stringy/gritty texture of winter squash I expected squash to  be a good source of fiber.  I was wrong.  In fact one cup of winter squash  has less than a single gram of fiber.  Squash  also has a Glycemic Index (GI) of 70.  Since   current recommendations are to stay with foods with  a GI below 50, winter squash should not be an everyday  menu item.   To keep the GI from going higher, avoid adding  ingredients like brown sugar,honey or dried fruit to a squash  recipe.

Winter squash is super verrsitile. It  can be roast  in its shell or in peeled cubes, steamed, sauteed, mashed,  or made into soups, ravioli or spreads.  Just keep in mind that it has about twice the calories of a white potato.  Given that squash is not nearly as healthy as it looks, I like to cook it simply to avoid adding calories or carbs.  I’ve found that roasted peeled squash  helps me keep to a healthy portion  size, while a roasted half  has more carbs and calories than an entire meal.  I like  to use  squash to brighten up a meal but serve it only about  twice a month. 

Roast Butternut Squash

Ingredients: 1  whole butternut squash, 1 tablespoon of  olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon,

Steps:  Preheat the oven to 400F.  Peel the squash, take out the seeds and cut the squash into 2 inch cubes.  Toss with cinnamon and oil  and place on a baking sheet. Make sure the cubes are  in a single layer and  not touching.  Roast  for 25 minutes, turning after 10 minutes.

Question and Answer– Retin A and the Eyes

Question:  If I can’t use Retin A ( aka retinoid) on my eyes,  what  can I use?

Answer:  I answer every email  that I get at  No-Nonsense Beauty Blog, but this one  is so relevant for all of us, I wanted to  put it in my Q& A.  While its  true that you can’t use  straight retinoids around the eyes,  a combination product of retinoids, a steroid and hydroquinone  known as Triluma can  deliver anti-aging benefits.   Triluma’s claim to fame is its ability to erase  dark spots and patches, but the retinoids  also  may build collagen and reduce wrinkling.  For reasons that are not clear, Triluma is  no longer available commercially, but a  full-service pharmacy can compound it specially for you.  I  did just that and uploaded up post about the process on March 28, 2012.

Triluma (  branded or custom made)  can only be used for  three  months at a time.  After a three month holiday, you can use it again.  Some people  don’t react well to Triluma  while others are turned off  by the steroids or hydroquinone, but there are other options.  Vitamin C, growth factors  or peptides  like Matrixyl   have shown to  at least reduce  lines around the eyes, but  its not always clear how much of these effective ingrdients are in a commercial product. Home lasers  like Palovia are approved by  the FDA for smoothing  crows feet and their before and after  pix are impressive.   And then there  always is Botox for instant results.

But whatever treatment you  choose,   prevention is not an option.  The first thing I do every  morning is to put on a sunscreen under and  around my eyes.  I smooth on a concealer fortified with sunscreen  that both hides dark circles and protects against sun damage.  THis is one of my favorite products and my current go-to concealers  is  Revlon Age Defying SPF25.  It’s less than $10, comes in a range of colors and  lasts for hours.   In warm sunny weather I keep one in my purse  for touch-ups. 

One last thought:  Wear   full size shades to both block UV rays and avoid squinting in bright light.  Over time, squinting  can etch deep wrinkles  all around the eyes.  In very sunny areas like Texas, doctors report  crows feet in  girls as  young as 15 due o  squinting in the  strong light.