By Jen O’Brien
Skincare science is evolving at a break-neck pace – so much so that it feels like you need a science degree to figure out which products are worth purchasing. We appealed to some skincare professionals for advice on which ingredients deliver the best results and which ones may leave you red in the face.
For busting fine lines
Instead of tretinoin
Also known as retin-A, tretinoin is a prescription-only product that’s used to treat acne and deep wrinkles. Toronto-based dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellett of DLK on Avenue says this ingredient can cause redness and flaking if you have sensitive skin.
Look for one percent retinol
Dr. Kellett recommends using one percent retinol to fight the signs of aging. “Retinol is a type of vitamin A and it tends not to be very irritating,” she explains. “It also comes in a liquid. I often get patients to mix this with their moisturizer so that it’s not as drying.”
FLARE pick: Clear Clinical Vitamin A Booster, $230. Available at DLK on Avenue
Instead of petrolatum or lanolin
Dr. Francine Gerstein of True MediSpa in Toronto advises against using products containing petrolatum, a mineral oil jelly, on your face. “It’s the stuff that Vaseline is made from—a heavy moisturizer, which can end up clogging pores,” she explains. Another pore blocker is lanolin, a wax that comes from sheep. Both are fine for dry feet and elbows.
Look for hyaluronic acid
“Hyaluronic acid is great because it brings moisture to the skin,” says Dr. Gerstein. “It’s actually what dermal fillers like Restylane and Juvéderm are made of and because hyaluronic acid is non-irritating, it can benefit everyone, regardless of their skin type.”
FLARE pick: Nivea Q10 Plus Skin-Refining Concentrate, $19.50. At drugstores and mass market retailers
For staying sun-protected
Instead of chemical UV filters
If you experience irritation or allergic reactions to sunscreens, try switching from chemical filters such as avobenzone and oxybenzone, Dr. Gerstein suggests.
Look for titanium dioxide and zinc oxide
“I like the physical blocks,” says Gerstein. Physical filters protect your skin by deflecting the sun’s rays, and since they sit on top of skin (instead of absorbing into it) they’re less likely to irritate. “The first couple of ingredients listed should be titanium dioxide and zinc oxide,” she explains. “Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are minerals and just like with mineral makeup (many of which contain zinc oxide) sunscreens containing these ingredients are more natural, non-irritating, and offer both UVA and UVB protection.”
FLARE pick: Josie Maran Argan Oil Daily Moisturizer with SPF 40+ $34. sephora.com
Instead of salicylic acid, almond grains and apricot kernel powder
“For some people salicylic acid can be quite irritating,” says Kellett. This particular ingredient is often used to treat acne, but has also been known to over-dry some sensitive skin types. Kellett also recommends avoiding almond grains because they are quite large and overly abrasive. “The finer the crystals, the better,” says Dr. Gerstein. She advises steering clear of products containing apricot crystals as well. “Use those on your heels instead,” she says.
Look for glycolic acid or walnut powder
Products containing an alpha hydroxy acid, such as glycolic acid, are best according to Gerstein. “Some people can only tolerate products containing four percent glycolic acid, while others can use products with eight percent everyday. It depends on the sensitivity of your skin – you want to use the maximum exfoliating properties possible without irritating your skin. Everyone has a different threshold for what’s going to cause them irritation.” Gerstein also recommends retinol, which helps increase cell turnover. Test any new chemical exfoliating product on a small patch of skin first to avoid disaster.
If you’d rather use a scrub than a chemical exfoliator, Kellett says to look for a product with smaller particles like walnut powder (as long as you’re not allergic to nuts) or bamboo.
FLARE picks: Ole Henriksen Walnut Complexion Scrub $30, at beautymark.ca and sephora.com; Alyria Exfoliating Cream Level 1, $36, alyria-med.com