Skincare: finding pearls amongst garbage

Stage 1: Problems. Less is more

Identifying The Problem

I used to have very bad skin, and I kept visiting doctors, talking to various consultants, and reading the advice in books and on the Internet. All of them would advise buying new exciting products that would make my skin look better. And I was buying and using them. And my skin was not improving.

Then, in one review, I read about how the process of elimination could be applied to identify the cosmetics component that causes the problem. I knew about the method, of course. But before that, I only blamed my body and never thought that skincare products (or any external cause) could possibly be blamed…

I have worked out that my skin does not tolerate glycerin. It is supposed to be safe if

  1. it is high grade,
  2. its manufacturing process (especially its purification) is rigorous.

Judging by the reaction of my skin, and by how much it has improved after I have eliminated all products containing glycerin from my skin regimen, it was not! So indeed, less is more.

More About Glycerin

Glycerin, a.k.a. glycerol and glycerine, is a colourless, odourless, viscous liquid that is sweet-tasting and non-toxic, with antimicrobial and antiviral properties (if pure). As a skincare component, it is used to improve smoothness, provide lubrication, and as a humectant (to help retain moisture).

Glycerin is generally obtained from plant and animal sources, typically soybeans or palm. It is very cheap: the bulk price of purified glycerin in 2020 is roughly between $0.4/kg and $1.1/kg, depending on its purification grade and delivery point. One of the reasons for its cheapness is that these days, a lot of glycerin is obtained as a byproduct of biodiesel production (the technical term is “glycerol waste”). Later on, it is purified, but probably not as well as it could be.

By the way, glycerin is the main active component of many cheaper moisturizing creams. If you compare their price with the cost of glycerin, you might be surprised that it’s under 1%. Presumably, the rest is commercial margin, the cost of advertising, packaging, etc.

Stage 2: Getting Educated. Oils And Little Else

From that point on, I was avoiding glycerin, started to read ingredient lists very carefully, and tried to educate myself. The main discoveries I have made at that stage are below. Please note that I am not an expert, please do your own research (and the patch tests!)

Carrier Oils For Skincare

Carrier Oils are used for massage. They can be incorporated into skincare. If so, they are often advertised as the main active ingredient despite being very low on the list of the ingredients (this means that their concentration in the products is tiny). So I have figured out why not use them in the undiluted form.
Most carrier oils are food-grade (made out of edible products). Always look for cold-pressed, preferably organic, oils from reputable suppliers. The U.K.-based suppliers I have tried and was happy with (from the cheapest to the most expensive) are Essential Oils Direct (online only), Baldwin’s (online and a brick and mortar shop in London) and Neal’s Yard Natural Remedies (online and a brick and mortar shops in the U.K., available in 6 other countries).
The following oils worked well for me (but please do the patch tests if you are interested in trying them out!)

  • Rose hip seed oil is the most expensive oil on this list, from £22/100g (same as most basic facial creams!) The organic version is a bit more expensive. It is really good, contains omega oils, is very nourishing, very restorative, anti-aging, moisturizing, and even helps to heal scars and wounds (honestly, it does!) Allegedly the Duchess of Cambridge uses it daily. I use it on my forehead and eye area.
  • Jojoba oil is great for balancing very dry and very oily skin. The price is from £13/100ml. After using it for about a week, my nose stopped shining – this was the only product I have tried that made a difference! Otherwise, it contains vitamins, it is moisturizing, it is anti-aging, and it soothes the screen. I use it on my nose and sometimes on the rest of the “lower face” (below the eyes). It is very good for the hair, too (apply it before washing your hair).
  • Tea Tree oil is purifying and antibacterial, very good if you have acne! Prices from £15/100ml. Meghan Markle has revealed that she doesn’t leave home without.
    It is supposed to be diluted for skincare purposes, but it can be used neat for medical purposes. I use it undiluted for skincare purposes, on my chin and neck! As always, do the patch test first.
  • Coconut oil is packed with vitamins A, B, D and E, can be applied anywhere and the price is unbeatable: from £4/100ml.

Paula Begoun’s Tips

Paula Begoun is the Cosmetics Cop, an expert in skincare and cosmetics. Her advice, ingredients dictionary, and skincare and make-up reviews are among the best you can find (but, as always, cross-check and do patch tests!)

What to Avoid

  • Being ignorant. There is a lot of accessible scientific information available, use it. If something bothers you it is your responsibility to educate yourself and get yourself better…
  • Taking any strong medicines until you have exhausted all other options, or they are absolutely necessary. Without going into details, some medicines, including presumably safe ones, can do much more harm than good…
  • Thinking inside the box. Try good quality products even if they are not supposed to be for you. I have learned about oils in my massage class, we were explained what’s good for the skin; turned out, they were also very good for the facial skin… Another example is Dudu-Osun, Nigerian soap, which works very well for me, despite being marketed for afro-american skin only.
  • Being guided by sensations during application of the product. For instance, products containing alcohols with low molecular weights can be drying and sensitizing in long term, even if they feel very nice when you apply them.
  • Believing in cosmetics advertising. Just one example: creams that claim to contain vitamins A and E usually contain a few drops of almond oil (and other ingredients are just cheap fillers). And almond oil, even cold-pressed and organic, tend to be cheaper than these creams… And their claims of efficiency is usually backed by the tests that consist of personal opinions of 20 to 30 people, without any information about their skin condition, their normal skincare routine, their ages, … – this type of “research” can be safely ignored.
  • Using products with SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate). Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is a detergent cleansing agent. It is harsh, can cause sensitizing reactions for many people. It is not detrimental to health though. You can find it in shampoos, toothpaste and cleansers. Not to be confused with Sodium LaurETH Sulfate, which is much milder.
  • Using products packaged in a jar. It is bad for two reasons. Firstly, it’s not hygienic unless you thoroughly wash your hands before you use any of jar-packed products, every time. Secondly, increased exposure to light and oxygen is detrimental to the active ingredients. Details can be found here.
  • Using mineral oil and grape seed oil. Mineral oil does not penetrate the skin, so no benefits. Grapeseed oil is very cheap, often not cold-pressed, very few benefits compared to other oils.

Stage 3: Deceim Offers Green Shots Of Hope

I was using my oils and was dispairing about the world ruled by skincare capitalists who put rubbish in the pretty jars and mis-sell it to the general public. Paula’s Choice, some (only some) products made by Clinique, Estée Lauder, Clarins and other expensive bands being an exception.

Then an acquaintance told me about Deceim and its products. And it was what everything skincare needs to be.

Deceim was launched by Brandon Truaxe, a Toronto-based Iranian (1978 – 2019). He was an odd person, a rebel, and a genius. The company he has founded has got everything right – few effective ingredients, a very informative website, A+ packaging, and extremely reasonable prices (many are around £6, almost all under £20, for a very decent amount of product). The founder was actually fighting with the world and the rest of his company to keep the prices low.

And, without much publicity, only through friend-to-friend recommendations, Deceim has become very successful. So there are enough educated customers out who understand that a good product is better than pretty jars and commercials with celebrities. Faith in the world was restored. Or almost, would be better if the founder was still with us. Unfortunately, Brandon Truaxe died in apparent suicide months after he was forced to leave the company he founded because of his erratic behavior (some were blaming his use of psychedelic mushrooms and crystal meth for his demise). But his brand is here, still what he wanted it to be, so he persists…

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