People incorporate skincare routines into their lives because they want to maintain healthy and beautiful looking skin. For most, this is just a matter of protecting skin to stave off natural signs of aging, such as wrinkles. For others, however, healthy, beautiful skin is harder to come by and requires more care due to specific skin conditions or sensitivities. Serious problems will require a visit to the dermatologist and prescribed creams, but for many, problematic skin may simply be a nuisance that is not worth a trip to the doctor. These people may need help finding the right products for their needs.

Skin TypesDry and Sensitive Skin.Dryness is typically due to environmental factors. For example, dry skin frequently occurs during the winter in dry and cold climates. Some people’s skin is more susceptible than others’. “Sensitive skin tends to flush for various reasons and can be made even more irritated by conditions like eczema, rosacea and commonly contact dermatitis,” explains Catie Wiggy, director of product development & brand management for MyChelle Dermaceuticals, Louisville, CO. “Excessive exposure to damaging environmental factors such as sun, wind, and extreme heat or cold are also significant triggers. These conditions can cause severe dryness and, as a result, inadequate protection for nerve endings in the skin.” For tackling dryness, a frequently recommended ingredient for hydration is hyaluronic acid. This can be taken orally as a nutricosmetic, but it is also incorporated into topical applications. One study of 33 women with an average age of 45 showed that skin hydration improved by 90% compared to baseline measures, after using a nano-hyaluronic acid in a full product range of creams, serums and lotions for eight weeks (1).

Jenna Thomas, brand manager for Aubrey Organics, based in Tampa, FL, recommends rose hip seed oil, specifically branded Organic Rosa Mosqueta, which the firm uses in its products. “Rich in antioxidants and essential fatty acids, Rosa Mosqueta rose hip seed oil not only helps restore softness and skin elasticity, but also smooths the complexion and helps even out skin tones,” she explains.

Rose hips are the fruit left behind after a rose has flowered and dropped its petals (2). They can be harvested from a variety of rose species such as Rosa aff. rubiginosa, Rosa moschata and Rosa canina L. Rose hip seed oil has an abundance of unsaturated fatty acids in the form of linoleic acid, alpha-linolenic acid and oleic acid, and its antioxidant content is rich in tocopherols and carotenoids, which is what makes the oil protective against inflammation and oxidative stress (3). This is important for skin health because oxidative stress is involved in both intrinsic and extrinsic aging of the skin. Extrinsic aging is particularly relevant in this context, because it is typically driven by oxidative stress as a result of irradiation from UV rays as well as other environmental factors, particularly for those with sensitive skin (4).

For this reason, various cosmetic products, from makeup to creams have an SPF number, giving its users protection from the sun, a major component of skin health and aging. Unfortunately, complete protection isn’t always possible or some people are negligent. Inevitably, sunburns will occur requiring a soothing product for the pain while also repairing the skin and alleviating the eventual dryness and flaking of the skin. Aloe vera has become an important product in this area. It has a soothing and cooling effect on burns, whether solar or thermal and has demonstrated a prophylactic effect before, during or after skin-damaging events (5). A review of skin protecting herbs attributes aloe vera’s benefits to the synergy of polysaccharides, mannose-6-phosphate, and complex anthraquinones (5). It also states that aloe vera has been shown to not only improve fibroblast cell structure but also accelerate collagen production.

While aging is a natural process, oxidative stress can exacerbate signs of aging such as wrinkles and fine lines from a lack of hydration. This reflects a disruption of the extracellular matrix in the dermis — a layer of the skin beneath the epidermis, the outer layer — because of a reduction in collagen, elastic fibers and hyaluronic acid (4). Enzymes in the extracellular matrix process elastic fibers, collagens and proteoglycans. Elastic fibers are made up of, among other things, glycoproteins called fibrillins and fibrillary collagen which are connected to one another with hyaluronic acid. Interwoven to form an intra-dermal net are long chain fibrils derived from collagen I and III and this net is anchored to the dermal-epidermal junction by collagen VII (4). During extrinsic aging there is a dramatic loss of collagen type I, III and VII in the skin compromising the structure of this network. Overexposure to UVA and UVB rays further exacerbates this degradation. By using products rich in antioxidants, one mitigates oxidative stress and the process by which signs of aging are accelerated.

This is why anti-aging products often target hydration. For example, Georgiana Rowley, brand manager for Annemarie Börlind, which is distributed by Bioforce USA, based in Ghent, NY, recommends her firm’s LL Regeneration System. “[This system] uses the proprietary, patent-pending LL-Biocomplex plus organic St. John’s Wort, echinachea, shea butter, sesame oil and eyebright extract,” she explains. “It is an intense treatment for age 30+ dry skin in need of hydration, regeneration, increased vitality and skin elasticity.”

St. John’s Wort, an herb typically utilized to support one’s mood, has beneficial topical properties. It complements the LL Regeneration System because of its “light antimicrobial, soothing, skin protectant effect,” says Rowley. Indeed, a review published in Thieme states that hyperforin, an active constituent of the herb may help reduce transepidermal water loss because of its effect on keratinocyte differentiation (6). Keratinocytes are skin cells and in the epidermis 95% of cells are keratinocytes. Keratinocyte stem cells divide and differentiate as they move upwards in the epidermis, producing compounds and other proteins critical to the integrity of the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the skin (7). Hyperforin can stimulate keratinocyte differentiation to restore impaired epidermal organization.

The review cites a double-blind, randomized, controlled study in which 20 healthy volunteers were administered creams containing 15% St. John’s Wort extract, in three different vegetable oils, for seven days after being exposed to a sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) test to induce irritation. The SLS created a significant decrease in skin hydration compared to baseline and treatment with the creams demonstrated a significant improvement in irritated skin hydration levels compared to baseline measures after seven days (8). The best results were observed in the creams with olive and sunflower oil, while the cream with palm oil did not demonstrate a significant difference, but a difference nonetheless.

This is significant because the way chemical irritants like SLS affect skin relates to the mechanism by which St. John’s Wort can improve. “It is accepted that chemical irritants may cause skin irritation via two distinct pathways i.e., via impairment of the barrier function of the stratum corneum and/or by direct effects on the cells of the keratinocytes of all epidermal layers,” write Arsi, et al. (8).

Typically used to support immune health, echinacea’s anti-bacterial activity can also benefit people’s skin, says Rowley. Research has shown that the herb can inhibit the growth of certain bacteria such as Candida albicans, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Streptococcus pyogenes, Haemophilus influenzae, and Legionella pneumophila which can cause diseases in humans, including skin diseases (9). Some research also shows that the herb can improve the appearance of skin as well. One small study evaluated skin irritation, hydration level and wrinkle reduction of 10 healthy volunteers between 25 and 40 years of age who were given echinacea prepared as a cream or a gel (10). Results showed that both preparations caused no skin irritation and were effective in increasing skin hydration and decreasing the appearance of wrinkles.

Keep an eye out for ingredients like shea butter in your skin care products as well. This popular ingredient is often used on its own as a reliable emollient and moisturizer, though many manufacturers now incorporate it into their products to take advantage of its benefits as well as name recognition. Shea butter works well because it melts at skin temperature, absorbs quickly and acts as a “refatting” agent to give skin the fat it requires, reducing evaporation and improving the moisture content in the skin (11). Studies have shown that shea butter is highly effective at preventing transepidermal water loss. One study tested it on the arms of participants whose arms were washed in ethanol (to cause drying) and it was observed that shea butter helped their skin recover from transepidermal water loss within two hours (11).

Coconut oil is another popular topical ingredient used on its own or incorporated into products that works similarly to shea butter. For example, a randomized, double-blind, controlled study on subjects with atopic dermatitis, found that in the group treated with topical virgin coconut oil 47% experienced moderate improvement to their skin while 46% experience an “excellent response” (12). Atopic dermatitis is a chronic skin condition characterized by defects in the epidermal barrier function as well as cutaneous inflammation which causes an increase in transepidermal water loss and an impairment in the stratum corneum to retain water (12).

For sensitive skin, consumers need something that is soothing, protective, healing and hydrating. Skin care manufacturers utilize a variety of formulas to fit this bill. For example, Wiggy recommends MyChelle products that contain the firm’s exclusive DermaCalm Complex, which she says is “an exceptionally mild combination of gentle and calming Blue Daisy and French Oak Extract to fortify skin’s natural barriers, aid in controlling discomfort, and effectively moisturize and soften skin.”

Blue daisy, latin name Globularia alypum, is a perennial from the Mediterranean basin that when applied topically is said to inhibit the release of inflammatory mediators to soothe skin (13). Beyond traditional medicine there isn’t a great deal of research on its effects topically, but one animal study did find that blue daisy demonstrated significant healing effects on second-degree burns in rats which researchers attributed to the anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antioxidant activity in the herb (14).

French oak extract is an antioxidant ingredient derived from either Quercus robur or Quercus petraea species of tree. Research confirms the antioxidant capacity of the French oak, finding it is rich in phenols, tannins, flavenoid, proanthocyanids and pigment such as carotenoids (15). In human studies, when taken orally, French oak was demonstrated to decrease markers of oxidative stress and increase the activity of antioxidant enzymes (16).

Similarly, Barbara Roll, senior VP of marketing for Derma E, based in Simi Valley, CA, recommends for sensitive skins products that contain aloe and another antioxidant ingredient called Pycnogenol, a branded French maritime bark extract. Used topically, the extract is nourishing and nonirritating to skin, improving microcirculation in the skin for better hydration and oxygenation (17). In animal studies, French maritime bark has been shown to greatly improve burn wound healing time in rats. A gel formulation containing 1% of the extract shortened healing by 1.6 days and a formulation with 2% decreased healing time by nearly 3 days (18). Gels with the extract also reduced the diameter of scars in a concentration dependent manner.

Another approach to sensitive skin is confronting the skin’s flora with topical probiotic ingredients. Resident bacteria on the skin controls the colonization of transient bacteria from the surrounding environment that can be pathogenic, modulating immune response and skin barrier function (19). For sensitive skin, Streptococcus thermophiles, a bacterial strain high in sphingomyelinase, which upregulates ceramide production has been shown to significantly increase ceramide levels in the stratum corneum in women applying a cream with the strain, improving skin hydration. In clinical studies, another strain, Bifidobacterium longum significantly improved sensitive skin in subjects after two months compared to control (19). Combining beneficial bacteria with herbs provides added support. For its part, Annemarie Börlind has a line called ZZ Sensitive which utilizes a Lactobacillus ferment and herbs. “ZZ Sensitive System, combines a Pre- and Pro-Biotic Complex, White Lupine and Golden Orchid (traditionally used in Chinese medicine) to create the optimal pH level on the skin, transforming red, itchy skin, into a healthy complexion,” says Rowley. The primary actions of the system are “to soothe, hydrate and promote growth of beneficial bacteria through pre- and pro-biotics that balance skin flora and pH and to strengthen skin’s natural protective function.”

While these specialized formulations are desirable, others may prefer something more simple. “Tea Tree Therapy Vegetable based soap with Tea Tree Oil is suitable for all skin types and is very mild,” says Suzanne Dean, VP of Tea Tree Therapy, based in Ventura, CA. “It has 2% tea tree oil, especially helpful for problem skin, and can be used as a face and body bar.” They also provide an antiseptic solution with 2% tea tree oil and 2% lavender that can be used as an astringent and toner to remove grime and transient bacteria, as well as relieving skin irritation. Tea tree oil may also be effective for mild to moderate acne, with a therapeutic dose of 5% tea tree oil being as effective as 5% benzoyl peroxide with less irritation (20). This, however, is a claim that tea tree oil cannot legally make. “For acne prone skin, using products that contain 0.5-2.0% salicylic acid helps to treat acne,” says Roll. She suggests alternative and complementary products for those with sensitive skin. “Ingredients such as tea tree, neem, burdock and bearberry extracts help to relieve scaly, flaky and itchy dry skin associated with psoriasis and eczema.”

When it comes to skincare rituals, Wiggy explains that exfoliation, while it may seem counterintuitive, is important for taking care of dry skin. “Gentle exfoliating ingredients like sugar, bamboo, and coconut pulp softly slough away the top layer of dead skin or release the intercellular glue hanging onto those dead cells, thus exposing newer and healthier skin cells,” says Wiggy. “Exfoliation also unblocks pores — which in turn leaves them open and more receptive to whatever topical products (serums, lotions, etc.) you choose to apply next.”

Oily Skin.“Caused by an excess of sebum (oil) which is produced by the sebaceous glands,” explains Wiggy, “this problem can be hereditary or due to hormonal changes. Oily skin commonly is dehydrated due to harsh skin care products and the lack of proper moisture.” Oily skin can also make one prone to acne breakouts because impurities accumulate, clogging pores. “Activated Charcoal is go-to for oily skin, which helps to detoxify and lather away impurities,” says Roll. Meaghan Williams, marketing communications manager for Mineral Fusion, based in Denver, CO, agrees, stating, “We recommend using our Charcoal Gel Cleanser to really clean and extract impurities from the skin at the end of every day.”

Not only is this ideal for oil prone skin but can be excellent for washing off makeup, stripping away just enough impurities, dead skin and oil but without excess drying that might be experienced with harsher chemicals. However, overuse of gritty, exfoliating charcoal products isn’t good either because it may dry out skin over time, resulting in overproduction of the oil one is trying to avoid. Many products will incorporate other skin care ingredients to create a more well-rounded solution.

Kaolin clay is another interesting ingredient which absorbs excess sebum from the surface of the skin, reducing shine and giving skin more of a matte look. Mineral Fusion, for example, offers kaolin clay in one of its primers, a layer of product applied to the skin prior to make-up for easier application and longevity.

Routine and RegimenWhile it is important to understand how individual ingredients will benefit skin, you may have noticed that when discussing products above, the word “system” and “formula” came up. This is because one ingredient will not solve your customers’ skin care woes. Manufacturers formulate products with multiple quality ingredients to optimize their benefits and for that matter, a system of products that work together to the same end. Herein lies the potential difficulty of selling skin care products, because you may not be selling one item but an entire system of products that work together. Each component serves a particular purpose and customers need to understand what that is, particularly when one bottle is labeled “serum,” another “tonic” and another still, “cream” with the same label. The fact is, they complement each other just as much as the ingredients complement one another.

“A tonic, also known as a toner, is generally the second step in one’s skin care routine,” explains Thomas. “Many individuals tend to skip this step, however using a toner before a serum and lotion provides more benefits than one may expect. At Aubrey, our toners are not only used to remove any excess oil or dirt after cleansing, but they also help to prepare the skin for better absorption of our moisturizers.”

“These are surface-only products that do very little at a deeper level in the skin,” adds Wiggy. “They can be beneficial for balancing surface impurities and regulating oil control but they are not a one size fits all product.”

Because tonics aren’t easy to reapply throughout the day, companies are releasing them as sprays to mist directly on one’s face in lieu of carrying around swabs.

“Serums are a higher potency liquid/to gel consistency that we suggest applying under your creams day or night,” explains Tracey Settar, VP salon division, Reviva Labs, based in Haddonfield, NJ.

Wiggy calls serums “skin care masters.” “No matter your skin type, these highly concentrated and fast penetrating liquids are designed to saturate your skin with a potent dose of nutrients and bioactive ingredients,” she says. “In fact, serums are absorbed into the skin even deeper than moisturizers.”

“A serum is not meant to replace your daily moisturizer,” adds Roll. “It is an optional product that can help address skin concerns and is applied after cleansing but before moisturizing. Moisturizers, on the other hand, are meant to hydrate the skin and help lock in the serum benefits.”

Thomas also suggests that, for some, serums may be too “nourishing” for daily use and therefore it might be better to stagger its application. Users should monitor their skin’s reaction and adjust their routine accordingly. The final step would be applying a cream or lotion which is designed to moisturize the skin and as Roll mentioned, lock in the benefits of the tonic and serum applied beforehand. “Everyone should use a moisturizer of some type — so we recommend shopping by your skin type to find the perfect fit,” suggests Wiggy.

“Ideally, you’d use all three together, especially at night while skin is repairing itself because layering them over each other gives you the best results,” explains Williams. “Our Overnight Renewal Skin Care is a 3-Step System that starts with our Charcoal Gel Cleanser, followed by a Line-Smoothing Treatment and our rich Nighttime Recovery Face Cream.” Ultimately, finding the right product may take some trial and error for your customers, but helping them make educated decisions is what you’re there for.WF

  1. Manjula Jegasothy, et al. “Efficacy of a New Topical Nano-hyaluronic Acid in Humans,” J Clin Aesthet Dermatol., 7(3): 27–29. 2014.
  2. “Rosehip Oil: the Anti-Aging Oil?”, Accessed January 27, 2018.
  3. Tzu-Kai Lin, et al. “Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils,” Int. J. Mol. Sci., 19(1), 70. 2018.
  4. Rinnerthaler, et al. “Oxidative Stress in Aging Human Skin,” Biomolecules. 5(2): 545–589. 2015.
  5. R. Korać, et al. “Potential of herbs in skin protection from ultraviolet radiation,” Pharmacogn Rev. 5(10): 164–173. 2011.
  6. Wölfle, et al. “Topical Application of St. Johnʼs Wort (Hypericum perforatum).” Planta Med. 80(02/03): 109-120. 2014.
  7. “Keratinocytes.”, Accessed January 27, 2018.
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  9. Manayi, et al. “Echinacea purpurea: Pharmacology, phytochemistry and analysis methods.” Pharmacogn Rev. 9(17): 63–72. 2015.
  10. Yotsawimonwat, et al. “Skin improvement and stability of Echinacea purpurea dermatological formulations.” Int J Cosmet Sci. 32(5):340-6. 2010.
  11. M.O. Israel, et al. “Effects of topical and dietary use of shea butter on animals.” American Journal of Life Sciences. 2(5): 303-307. 2014.
  12. T. P. Evangelista, et al. “The effect of topical virgin coconut oil on SCORAD index, transepidermal water loss, and skin capacitance in mild to moderate pediatric atopic dermatitis: a randomized, double-blind, clinical trial.” Int J Dermatol, 53: 100–108. 2014.
  13. “Fight Inflam-aging With These Soothing Ingredients,”, Accessed January 27, 2018.
  14. Ghlissi, et al. “Globularia alypum methanolic extract improves burn wound healing process and inflammation in rats and possesses antibacterial and antioxidant activities.” Biomed Pharmacother. 84:1488-1495. 2016.
  15. BM Popović,  et al. “Antioxidant Characterization of Oak Extracts Combining Spectrophotometric Assays and Chemometrics.” ScientificWorldJournal. 2013. doi:  10.1155/2013/134656
  16. RA Passwater, “Basic Health Publications User’s Guide to Pycnogenol Nature’s Most Versatile Supplement.” Basic Health Publications Inc., Laguna Beach, CA. 2005.
  17. Blazsó, et al. “Pycnogenol accelerates wound healing and reduces scar formation.” Phytother Res. 18(7):579-81. 2004.
  18. PK Farris. “Are skincare products with probiotics worth the hype?”, Accessed January 29, 2018.
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Published in WholeFoods Magazine March 2018