Top 5 Advancements in Skin Cleansing

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No matter how much sunscreen you use, the sun will still damage your skin, and environmental hazards like cigarette smoke, pollution, wind and cold will leave their mark. Eventually, wrinkles and lines on your face tell your age.

But it's safe to say that today, we have more opportunities to prevent and undo the appearance of skin damage and the effects of time. A walk down the skin care aisle in any grocery store or pharmacy reveals a wide array of specialized products. As consumers demand better products and cosmetics procedures, research and development departments kick it up a notch, as you'll see in this article.


First up, a welcome advance: skin cleansers that don't hurt you.


Safer Cleansers

The vixen herself
The vixen herself
The Palma Collection/Photodisc/Getty Images

Cleopatra has long had the reputation as one of the great beauties of history. True or not, you'd be wise not to follow her beauty regimen -- unless you like toxic lead-based compounds on your face.

Unfortunately, many modern skin care products used today also contain toxins, allergens and dubious chemical additives.


With public consciousness taking a decidedly healthier and "greener" turn the last decade or so, there has been rising demand -- and alarm -- from consumers who want to take care of their skin, but not at the possible detriment of their overall health.

Even with products marketed as "natural" or "safe," a glance at the ingredients may find otherwise. Chemical additives, such as phthalates, may not break down in the environment (or in your body). There is ongoing debate about the role parabens -- another common skin care ingredient -- in certain forms of cancer and hormonal disruptions.

But a growing market for healthy skin care products -- and growing awareness of product ingredients -- now allows you to have beautiful skin, a healthy body and a cleaner environment. For example, many people with sensitive skin have reactions to perfumed products, so manufacturers have begun offering more mild, hypoallergenic and perfume-free skin cleaners. After all, cleaning your face with a product that makes it break out defeats the very purpose.

Next: Make sure your skin takes its vitamins.


The Skin Care Qualities of Vitamin C

Vitamin C in a cup isn't quite the same.
Vitamin C in a cup isn't quite the same.

Although we've long known about the multiple dietary benefits of vitamin C, we've discovered that it also has benefits for your skin. As an additive to lotions or creams, it can help protect you against environmental damage. It also spurs production of collagen, the protein chains that provide the form and structure of your skin.

There's a catch, though -- when exposed to the air, vitamin C oxidizes and creates free radicals, causing even more problems and greatly reducing the positive effects it can have on your skin.


Although companies are improving their ability to stabilize vitamin C, these stabilized products tend to be very expensive. A possible alternative is two derivative compounds -- ascorbyl palmitate and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate -- that share skin care qualities similar to those of vitamin C. Ascorbyl palmitate helps prevent skin damage from free radicals, but isn't very effective at prompting collagen production. Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate does stimulate collagen growth, but doesn't have the same exfoliating qualities as vitamin C.

Research continues into the use of other vitamin C derivatives, such as tetrasubstituted lipophilic ascorbates. Not only are these more stable than vitamin C, they're also better at stimulating collagen growth. Though relatively new, some cleansers already contain these vitamin C relatives -- and more are sure to follow.

No acne problem? Find out why you may want to use acne cleansers anyway, next.


Acne Ingredients That Aren't Just for Acne

Many of us got our start down the skin care road when first dealing with acne, which will plague some of us throughout most of our lives. While acne-busting products keep unsightly breakouts and blemishes at bay, they have other skin care benefits, too. Even if acne is no longer a problem for you, some of the products designed to prevent it may be worth giving a second go-around to help you achieve fresher, firmer looking skin.

Many acne skin care products contain salicylic acid, glycolic acid, retinol or tretinoin, which, in addition to battling pimples, help fill in wrinkles and age lines, and give skin a more youthful appearance. How do they do it? Glycolic acid and salicylic acid are both exfoliants, and they help get rid of the outermost layer of dead skin cells. This opens up the pores and gives the face a brighter, healthier appearance. Tretinoin prompts cell regeneration and a higher rate of cell turnover. This helps eliminate pimples, but it also reduces fine wrinkles, dark spots and rough patches of skin. Reversals to sun damage usually take about a month, dark spots diminish in about two months, and wrinkles fade after around three months [source: Ogbru]. With repeated use, retinol creams will stimulate collagen production, which reduce wrinkles by firming up the skin's support system.


You don't need to school spirit to honor your skin with a peptide rally, next.


Products with Peptides

There's a good reason why your once-youthful skin begins to sag and wrinkle as you age. Your skin gets its taut appearance from its substructure of collagen. Imagine it's wintertime, and you've built a snowman in your yard. Next, you drape a bedsheet over it and smooth the sheet down so it lays directly against the snowman's exterior. Initially, the form of the sheet looks exactly like the snowman you made. After a warm day has caused the snowman to melt a little, the sheet will look a little lumpier and more wrinkled.

If your skin was entirely dried out (don't try this at home), 80 percent of its remaining weight would be collagen [source: Bernstein].


Collagen consists of proteins formed from long chains of amino acids. When you're young, you have lots of collagen, and the links are strong. As you age, these chains break down and turn into peptides.

Peptides are shorter chains of amino acids, and their presence stimulates your skin to make more collagen (a process known as neocollagenesis). Your skin recognizes the externally added peptides as additional broken collagen chains that must be replaced with new collagen. The end result of using products that contain peptides is an effect similar to that of Botox.

Pour yourself a fresh cup of hot, clean skin before reading about the next skin cleansing advancement.


Coffee Outside the Cup?

Perking up your mood and your skin
Perking up your mood and your skin

Millions of Americans join countless others around the world in starting (and sustaining) the day with a hot cup of coffee. But in addition to jump-starting your brain early in the morning, coffee may also yield benefits for your skin as well.

People who pick coffee beans for a living often have hands with skin much smoother than the rest of their bodies. You wouldn't expect a field worker to have soft, smooth hands, so researchers realized there might be something about the coffee beans being picked that's responsible for this phenomenon.


It turns out that coffee beans contain very strong antioxidants that are absorbed when drinking coffee. Coffee that has been roasted for about 10 minutes has the most antioxidant qualities. One good reason to give your coffee business to a local roaster is the fact that more-processed coffee (as is the case with mass-produced, pre-ground coffee) has less antioxidant qualities.

But the caffeine within coffee also benefits our skin. Caffeine draws water out of fat cells, leaving skin with a smoother appearance. It also constricts blood vessels, which tightens the skin. Finally, caffeine that's been added to skin care products and applied topically may offer your skin some extra protection from the sun.

But it's not like you needed another reason to get your daily coffee fix, anyhow. To get your fix for lots more information about skin care, see the next page.


The Best Face Cleansers for Your Skin Type

The Best Face Cleansers for Your Skin Type

The best face cleansers are the ones that benefit your skin, whether it's sensitive, oily or dry. Learn how to choose the best face cleanser for your skin

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Bernstein, Eric F. "Collagen is a Major Skin Protein." The Patient's Guide. (Apr. 15, 2010)
  • Coffee Science Information Center. "Antioxidants in Coffee." (Apr. 15, 2010)
  • Consumer Reports. "Facial cleansers: Choices abound." Sept. 2007.
  • Dakss, Brian. "Perk Up Your Skin With - Caffeine!" The Early Show. July 23, 2007.
  • GreenYour. "Body Cleansers." (Apr. 15, 2010)
  • Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. "Acne treatments: Emerging therapies for clearer skin." Apr. 19, 2008. (Apr. 15, 2010)
  • New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporated. "The Structure of Normal Skin." June 15, 2009. (Apr. 15, 2010)
  • Organic Consumers Association. "Consumer Alert: Cancer-Causing 1,4-Dioxane Found in Personal Care Products Misleadingly Branded as Natural and Organic." 2008.
  • Organic Consumers Association. "EPA Report: Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products as Pollutants." July 12, 2004. (Apr. 15, 2010)
  • Ogbru, Omudhome, PharmD. "Tretinoin." MedicineNet. (Apr. 15, 2010)
  • Ravilious, Kate. "Cleopatra's Eye Makeup Warded Off Infections?" National Geographic News. Jan. 14, 2010.
  • Todorov, G. "Vitamin C derivatives: skin benefits of ascorbic acid without the downside." (Apr. 15, 2010)
  • WebMD. "Looking Younger: Advances in Anti Aging Skin Care." Apr. 15, 2010.