Is soft skin enough? That’s ultimately the big question here. I often have patients come in to the office wanting to look refreshed and more youthful. They want to age well and naturally. Since I’m a surgeon, they are primarily looking for surgical ways to improve this or other perhaps less-invasive treatments. To their surprise, I always ask them about their skin care. They give me a quick look of surprise and then within the same breath tell me they are good on that front. They use retinol and sunscreen and give me the “let’s move on” look. Of course, me being the skin-care obsessed plastic surgeon that I am, I dive a bit more into it. The majority of these patients use products purchased at a drugstore or splurge on the fancy department store products. They say they are happy with the products and their skin but feels exceptionally soft with their chosen regimen. This is where I come in.
Let’s break this down. Our skin is the biggest organ in our bodies. Yes, it is an organ. So just as our heart is necessary for life, so is our skin. It acts as a barrier to the external world, it regulates the temperature of our bodies, and protects us from bacteria, chemicals, and everything else you might think of. We have to change the way we think about skin and take care of it as we would the rest of our bodies. While makeup is fun to play with, our skin care shouldn’t be thought of in the same manner. Skin care should be aimed at treating our skin and providing it with the nutrients it needs to stay healthy. This is where the difference between medical and non-medical grade skin care is important.
Skin care bought at a drugstore or department store are made for the masses. They smell great, they look pretty, and they have an abundance of ingredients that act as moisturizers. The majority of these products sit on the surface of your skin which is why your skin feels amazingly soft. Products that contain retinol or other “medications” have such low concentrations of it (so that they are safe for everyone and do not need to be monitored by a doctor) that they are essentially ineffective. Additionally, have you ever noticed the pretty packaging these high-end products come in? Oftentimes, the retinols come in jars, clear containers, or bottles that need to be opened. Well this further decreases the efficacy of retinol because it oxidizes when exposed to air, so every time you open the container, the retinol becomes less effective. So, while you think you are getting retinol in your skin care, you actually aren’t.
Medical-grade skin care is different. First, these formulations and products are studied and the data is published in medical literature. The products are tested in patients with different skin types and compared to a placebo to ensure they do what they are advertised to do. This ensures that the skin is actually seeing the retinol and other ingredients in concentrations that make a difference. These products don’t sit on the skin surface and just moisturize, they absorb and treat the skin. They make the skin healthier, rebuild and strengthen collagen, decrease melanin production, decrease (extra) oil production, shed old skin cells, unclog pores, help with DNA repair, protect our skin from UV rays, and so much more. They make our skin healthy from within so it starts producing its own natural oils so your skin won’t feel so dry. Since concentrations are higher, there tends to be an acclimation period where you skin gets irritated or problem areas get worse. This occurs because all those impurities come to the surface rather than be buried under layers of old skin. As you continue to use these products, the healthier underlying skin eventually comes to the surface while the impurities are pushed out. This is why medical-grade products are primarily only sold in doctors’ offices so we can monitor your skin and make sure you are on the appropriate regimen.
Ready to be surprised? Medical-grade skin care costs just as much as those luxury department store products, if not less! So, let’s get back to our first question. Is soft skin enough? The answer is no. Invest in the appropriate skin care to keep the biggest organ in your body healthy so it can continue to protect you the best it can for the rest of your life and look great doing so.