Hi, guys! I want to do something a little less structured today. A big part of the reason I love keeping this blog is seeing and participating in the discussions that it can spark, so I thought I’d make an open post and invite you all to talk about whatever you want or ask me whatever you want, whether it’s about skincare or something else entirely! I’m a pretty open person, and I’ll be happy to answer questions about pretty much anything I can speak on.
I have only one rule. 99% of you don’t even need to hear it because you are already awesome people that I’m privileged to have as readers. In case any of the other 1% are reading this, though: You may have noticed that any hostile, derogatory, or harassing comments you attempt to post here don’t show up. That’s because I refuse to host hateful speech on Fifty Shades of Snail. Play nice or get out of my house.
(Respectful, civil disagreement and debate is of course totally fine and welcomed. Those are things that the 99% of you who are grown-ups know how to do without losing your shit.)
Anyway! I’ll start things off with what I want to talk about, which is the intersection between cosmetic skincare and ¡¡SCIENCE!!, and how far I think we should go in using ¡¡SCIENCE!! to make our purchasing decisions.
¡¡SCIENCE!!I promise I’ll stop doing that is awesome. Science is what determined that ingredients like retinoids, AHAs, BHAs, vitamin C, niacinamide, and fatty acids (post by one of my new favorite bloggers, The Acid Queen) really do what they’re claimed to do. Science develops products optimally formulated to let those ingredients do their best for our skin. Science is critical to coming up with better and better sunscreen formulations, and science is what determined that we need sunscreens in the first place–not only to prevent wrinkles and other visible signs of aging, but also to decrease our risks of sometimes lethal cancers. You won’t get any anti-science or anti-“chemicals” synthetic ingredient bashing from me. Some of the best skincare blogs, like Hoojoo Beauty, Skin and Tonics, and Holy Snails, are very educational and science-oriented. I’m not sure about Sher from Hoojoo Beauty or Kerry from Skin and Tonics (though I wouldn’t be surprised about either of them), but I know that Holy Snails DIY queen Chel has an actual science degree(s), background, and occupation(s). These make her pretty much always the first person I pester when I have an ingredient question. The guys at The Beauty Brains speak, of course, from a scientific perspective–the perspective of actual professional cosmetic chemists, to be precise.
But I think the reliance on ¡¡SCIENCE!! becomes problematic when people only want to use ¡¡SCIENCE!!-proven ingredients on their skin. Not because this is an ineffective strategy (it isn’t and is totally valid!) but because, in my opinion and according to my skincare philosophy, it’s really restricting.
Here’s the thing: there is only so much research money going around to support really credible, objective, long-term, large-scale scientific research, and research costs a lot of money. I’m going to bet that for most universities and research institutions, cosmetic skincare ingredients and how they affect the superficial appearance of otherwise healthy skin are much farther down the research priority list than, say, combating deadly diseases through vaccine and drug development or figuring out how to reverse the scary trend of global warming. Cosmetics corporations, meanwhile, do conduct some research, and sometimes that research really does have a lasting impact (Procter & Gamble’s niacinamide research is pretty legendary, for example). Even there, however, budgets are limited. Those corporations may not go the extra mile to discover new ingredients if they decide that it wouldn’t greatly increase their bottom line. And those are completely understandable realities.
So if we take limited research funding and an understandable lack of urgency into account, it’s easy to see that there could be dozens or maybe even hundreds or thousands of possible skincare ingredients (both natural and synthetic) that do produce a real effect on skin, but haven’t been rigorously studied or scientifically proven. In fact, some of the ingredients that ¡¡SCIENCE!! currently considers gimmicky and worthless (among them lots of the ingredients that star in K-beauty products) probably fall into that category. And people who depend entirely on serious scientific research to make their skincare choices aren’t giving themselves the opportunity to discover that for themselves.
On the other hand, you obviously don’t want to put all your skincare eggs into a single unresearched basket, especially if you have serious or urgent skincare goals. That way leads to disappointment and disillusionment (and a lot of wasted money).
In my opinion, the ideal road lies somewhere in the middle. Do your ingredient research and make sure that you’re using the actives that have been proven to address your particular skin issues–but also keep an open mind about other ingredients that don’t (yet) have reams of peer-reviewed research articles to back them up. That way, you can have the best of both worlds.
I love the crap out of pretty much all marine-derived ingredients, for example, from seaweed to starfish and everything in between (including the abalone and sea cucumber sheet masks a friend sent and that I’m planning to review soon). I’m even partial to sea water now, despite what The Beauty Brains says about the use of special water in cosmetics. Some marine-based products have done really good things for my skin. But I’m not going to build an entire routine around the ocean and not take into account the actives that I know are capable of doing the anti-aging, UV damage-repairing heavy lifting I want. My solution is to keep my proven actives (tretinoin, AHA, BHA, vitamin C) but give myself the freedom to play with so-called “gimmick” ingredients in the other steps of my skincare routine. My nightly sheet mask is one of my favorite ways to do so.
My philosophy on unproven skincare ingredients is very close to my opinion on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and hanbang (Korean herbal medicine) in general. I know modern medicine and science haven’t substantiated many of the claims that TCM and hanbang practitioners make about their stinky herbal concoctions. It’s tempting to dismiss herbal folk medicine as snake oil or, at best, inferior to the compounds studied and sometimes even created in a lab.
The thing is, those traditional remedies have been in use for thousands of years. That’s thousands of years of opportunity for the really smart people throughout the dynasties to observe and experiment and improve upon their recipes–and I don’t believe that modern scientists are the only humans ever to have that impulse or the intelligence to follow through effectively and come up with something solid. No, I’m not going to stop going to the doctor for antibiotics, antivirals, and other medications if I get really sick. But I’m not going to turn down a nice hot bowl of black chicken soup with goji berries and red dates in it, either. Why would I, when I can do both and potentially enjoy more benefits than if I were to pick just one?
(Although I really can’t stand the way black chicken tastes, and I’m not a superfan of dried goji berries or red dates, either. I am a bad East Asian.)
Edit: (And speaking of TCM, I literally just stumbled across this article, “How the woman who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine saved millions of lives using ancient Chinese lore.” How’s that for perfect timing?)
What do you guys think about using the wackier or less proven ingredients in skincare? And what else do you want to talk about or ask me? The comments section is yours!
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