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Cosmetic Chemistry and the Esthetician

Ivana Veljkovic, PhD October 2010 issue of Skin Inc. magazine
jar of professional skin care cream from a spa

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The ever-evolving esthetic industry is consistently being introduced to new and exciting ideas for improving the skin. With all that is available, it can often be difficult to determine which products will be effective. Superior formulations are out there; however, many of the industry’s most popular and beneficial ingredients are unstable and sensitive to breakdown. Although laboratory testing is needed to truly evaluate a formula’s efficacy, a basic understanding of cosmetic chemistry assists the esthetician in identifying the product components that contribute to its stability, penetration and activity.

One common misconception regarding topical products is that the results come from one ingredient. In actuality, the formulation as a whole leads to a product’s ability to deliver results. Cosmetic products consist of several components, including the following.

Active ingredients. These determine a product’s greatest topical benefit. Examples include retinoids, vitamin C, peptides, antioxidants and sunscreen agents.

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Retail Tips: Cosmetic Chemistry and the Esthetician

The spa professional should be familiar with the following information in order to explain to a client that a retail product will be effective, resulting in the ability to make retail product recommendations with confidence.

  • Determine which ingredient or ingredients provide the product’s greatest benefit.
  • Be familiar with the proven benefits of said ingredient and have support information available in the event a client challenges you, such as before-and-after photos and scientific studies. Consider creating a portfolio with all compiled data as a way to set yourself apart as a spa professional focused on creating real change in the skin.
  • If the active ingredient in the formulation is known to be unstable, such as L-ascorbic acid or retinol, be familiar with the product’s delivery system. Encapsulation in lipids and microcapsules can significantly increase stability and can immediately set one product apart from another.
  • For all other products, be sure that the vehicle is appropriate for the formulation. Emulsions (creams and lotions) are best for moisturizing products with active ingredients that do not need to penetrate deep into the skin, because they act by hydrating the upper layers of the skin. Gels (serums) are typically best for corrective products. The thin consistency allows for deeper penetration of active ingredients. Suspensions are best suited for cleansing products with ingredients that work well together but do not mix well.

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