Like it or loathe it, all of us recognize a skin ideal. Fresh, firm, clear and evenly toned, this archetypal image permeates our culture, regardless of age or skin color. What it represents is perfect harmony—skin that is well-nourished, well-protected and balanced inside and out. This is skin that’s never seen a blemish, is uniformly pigmented from head to toe and ages little past its late thirties/early forties. While it seems a blessed few do flirt with this flawless form naturally (usually with the help of clever makeup artists and significant airbrushing), for the majority of us, the pursuit of skin perfection is a lifelong struggle. From genetically predetermined conditions to unfriendly lifestyle choices to unseen environmental threats, the burden of skin care and protection, it seems, falls squarely on our shoulders.
Fortunately, we are not alone. Honing in on the trademarks of naturally healthy skin, modern science has managed to identify and isolate many of the skin’s core needs. Those very attributes of firmness, clarity and consistency that we hold so dear have been distilled to their physiological roots, where they have inspired new methods of clinical intervention. No longer does the majority have to settle for skin as-is. With the help of advanced technology and well-equipped skin care professionals, individual concerns can be targeted and treated at their most elemental level.
According to CosMedix co-founder Bettylou McIntosh, beautiful skin is readily achieved by focusing on the skin’s most basic needs. Recognizing four skin-specific requirements—fats, proteins, antioxidants and stimulants—McIntosh emphasizes the importance of internal and external nourishment. “As its largest organ, the skin naturally needs many of the same nutrients as the rest of the body,” she says.
Fats, essential fatty acids in particular, are especially beneficial for the skin. Critical for a number of biological processes, essential fatty acids aid the skin specifically in promoting dermal integrity and reducing inflammation. Since the body does not produce these nutrients naturally, they must be obtained from outside sources. Foods rich in essential fatty acids include fish, leafy vegetables, certain nuts, soy and grape seed oils and flax, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Skin-specific fatty acids are also available via dietary supplements. Balance, Restore and SKINamins by CosMedix all contain active concentrations of these and other skin nutrients to help combat inflammation and realize healthier skin from within.
While fatty acids are obtainable only through dietary sources, other skin needs are easily met topically. Proteins, antioxidants and stimulants can be directly applied to the skin, where they bind with specific skin cell receptors to carry out their particular functions. Depending on the ingredient, that function could be protecting, supporting or stimulating the skin—all necessary tasks in maintaining balance and maximizing skin health.
“CosMedix takes a six A approach to fulfilling the skin’s needs,” says McIntosh, referring to the six categories of active ingredients used to treat common skin problems. “We use pharmacological concentrations of actives from every cosmeceutical category to address every skin concern.”
The six “A”s are: acids (hydroxy and antimicrobial), vitamin A, amino acids, antioxidants, arbutin and ascorbic acid. Ingredients in each category are designated according to their principle action. For example, acids act as exfoliants while amino acids assist in cell repair. Applied in varying, condition-specific concentrations, ingredients from each group work synergistically with one another to correct the problem at hand, with the ultimate goal of restoring a healthy, natural balance to the skin.
“The six “A”s are part of a chemical strategy for healthy skin,” McIntosh explains. “Products containing these active ingredients are applied sequentially to address every stage of the skin cycle, from fibroblast formation to desquamation (shedding dead surface cells).”
Acids’ primary role is exfoliation. Comprised of alpha, beta and poly hydroxy acids and microbials, common examples include salicylic, lactic and trichloroacetic (TCA) acids. These ingredients help the skin shed its outer layer of dead cells, known as the stratum corneum, at a more accelerated rate by dissolving the adhesive links, known as desmosomes, between surface cells called corneocytes. By sloughing away corneocytes, acids reveal the fresher, younger looking skin directly beneath the surface.2. Vitamin A
The principle function of vitamin A is stimulating cell turnover. CosMedix combines retinol—a form of vitamin A and the industry standard for skin renewal—with arabino-galactan-protein conjugates from wine to enhance the rate of turnover while eliminating the ingredient's trademark irritation. As healthy, new skin cells appear, unsightly lines, wrinkles and surface roughness fade from sight. The result is a smoother, suppler, noticeably younger looking complexion.3. Amino Acids
Ingredients such as peptides and growth factors usually come to mind when discussing amino acids. As the building blocks of these and other proteins, amino acids primarily aid in cell repair and support. Assisting in wound healing, surface remodeling and collagen production, these ingredients help sustain the skin’s extracellular structure. While the body produces its own supply of these key substances, its output dwindles with age. As a result, the skin starts to sag and lose form. By reintroducing such ingredients topically, we can supplement our internal deficiency and help restore firmness and elasticity to the skin.4. Antioxidants
Antioxidants are the skin’s protectors. Known as “free radical scavengers,” antioxidants scour the body in search of volatile, cell-crippling agents. Spawned from UV rays, urban pollution, domestic products and other sources, free radicals are highly reactive molecules with unpaired electrons that steal electrons from cellular material, causing the degeneration often associated with sun damage and premature aging. Antioxidants, however, intervene in the process, sacrificing themselves to neutralize the free radical threat and, literally, save face.5. Arbutin
Arbutin performs a specific function in skin care. A potent skin brightener, arbutin inhibits the tyrosinase enzyme, a copper-containing enzyme responsible for changes in pigmentation. Acting on melanocytes—pigment-producing cells in the skin—tyrosinase influences melanin production and is a key player in hyperpigmented conditions when in excess. Arbutin blocks the catalyzing enzyme, suppressing excess melanin production and curtailing the effects of hyperpigmentation.6. Ascorbic Acid
Commonly known as vitamin C, ascorbic acid is among nature’s most potent antioxidants. Offering powerful protection against UV-induced free radicals, it encourages healthy wound healing and helps suppress cutaneous pigmentation. It is also a necessary enzyme cofactor for the manufacture of collagen, stimulating the structural protein to improve skin elasticity and reduce the look of lines and wrinkles.
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