Skin Care

Skin Care

Your Skin and it’s Inherent Healing and Renewing Capacity

By Ben Fuchs | PharmacistBen

Your Skin and it's Inherent Healing and Renewing Capacity

(PharmacistBen) Everyone wants great skin. We are bombarded daily by advertisements and marketing proclamations that claim to deliver it. The skin care industry is a 10 billion dollar business made up mostly of products containing oils and waxes, solvents, emulsifiers and chemical ingredients that allow for the creation of cosmetic commodities that modify the superficial appearance of the skin, without actually creating real changes.

Yet skin is naturally dynamic and normally regenerates itself on daily, weekly and monthly basis. It is the quintessential renewing organ and this assures a constant supply of youthful, healthy tissue. Within 4-8 weeks old skin cells have been completely replaced. This ultimately means that, with the right products and techniques, the characteristics of less than healthy skin can be transformed and your skin’s naturally beautiful, radiant and healthy appearance can be restored.

To best leverage your skin’s inherent healing and renewing capacity, we need to understand how the skin is constructed. While to the naked eye it appears like a covering that protects the inside of the body, in reality it is a complex organ that is structured in multiple sheets that can be generally classified into two major strata. The upper is referred to as the epidermis, which makes up about 10% or so of the skin, and underneath that, the remaining 90% is called the dermis. The surface of the epidermis is made up of a protective coating called the stratum corneum.

All organs of the body are composed of cells as well as the stuff that cells secrete. The skin is no different. The predominant cell type in the dermis is called the fibr-o-blast, which is responsible for producing tightening and elastic fibers, like collagen and elastin, as well as a water-trapping spongy material that gives the skin its dense and robust appearance. The cellular star of the epidermis is the keratin-o-cyte, which is the source of moisture factors, protective defensive chemicals, and a hard protein called keratin that acts as an impermeable barrier makeing up much of the ultra-thin stratum corneum protective surface. The suffix “-cyte” is derived from the Greek word for container. Scientists use this designation to refer to various types of cells. Thus a “keratin-o-cyte” is quite literally a “keratin making cell”.

Keratin is one of the natural world’s most ubiquitous proteins. In addition to being found in human hair, it comprises a large concentration of the structural components of feathers, hooves, horns and antlers. In humans, it makes up the surface of hair strands as well as finger and toenails. Via its deposition on the skin surface, it’s also responsible for much of the mechanical barrier effects of the body’s largest organ.

Keratin-o-cytes, which are generally referred to as “skin cells”, are born in the bottom layer of the skin and they gradually rise to the top, becoming more and more filled with keratin. By the time a skin cell has made it from the bottom layer to the surface, it is no longer alive but is essentially a cell remnant or a shell almost completely packed with keratin to the point where it is actually a little more than a hardened little speck of protein. At this point, it is no longer called a keratin-o-cyte. It is now known as a corneo-cyte which means “hardened cell”. The coalescence of corne-o-cytes on the cutaneous surface comprises the stratum corneum layer, the technical name for the very tippy top of the skin which is directly exposed to the environment. Stratum corneum is Latin for “hardened layer” and it gets its name from the corne-o-cytes (hard cell) that compose it.

This transformation of keratin-o-cyte into corne-o-cyte is a complicated affair. Defects in this process (known as “differentiation”) are responsible for many skin issues including acne, eczema and psoriasis. These health challenges are generally referred to as differentiation diseases because, while morphing into a corne-o-cyte, the keratin-o-cyte takes on different shapes. The movement of cells from the lower layer of the skin to the upper layer is tightly regulated. If there are any defects in the structure or chemistry of skin cells (i.e. keratin-o-cyte) this process can go awry and disease can result.

For example, if skin chemistry is somehow not proceeding correctly (usually subsequent to inflammation, nutritional deficiencies, and lack of oxygen as well as toxicity) cells may produce way too much keratin, and the end result can be little hard bumps called milea or keratosis. This type of biochemical dysfunction is also associated with acne lesions and pimples. Because all illness is cell illness, all disease is cell disease and all physical dysfunction is cell dysfunction, if you think you are dealing with milea or zits or any other skin issue, in reality you have a skin cell (keratin-o-cyte) issue.

Skin cells, like all cells, make chemicals. The production of these chemicals is dependent on fats and fatty vitamins, none of which are more important than Vitamin A, which I call Vitamin A-nabolic (anabolic = building) because it is so fundamental for the construction of biological structures, i.e. cells. While most vitamins are helpers, supporting the work of other biochemicals, Vitamin A is no mere assistant. It represents nothing less than a molecular “on- switch” for activating chemical synthesis in keratin-o-cytes, and this makes it the quintessential skin health nutrient. When it comes to addressing bumpy skin or milea, or any other skin health issue, making sure you’re getting enough Vitamin A from foods and supplementation is very important

Vitamin A deficiencies can be approached from two angles. The first angle involves the intake side of things, which means supplementing. A daily 10-20,000 i.u. dose is a good place to start. If your keratosis is really bad you may want to take 30,000 i.u. for a couple of days. Because Vitamin A and the sunshine nutrient Vitamin D act as partners, you want to be using both; make sure you’re getting some sun exposure or, if that’s not possible, supplement with Vitamin D3 (maybe 5000 IU). Keep in mind the kind of Vitamin D that our skin cells make in response to the sun is more effective than food or supplemental Vitamin D.

There’s a second approach to take when it comes to milea and the little bumps and that is to use topical Vitamin A. The best form is retinoic acid, which requires a doctor’s prescription. Retinoic acid comes in various strengths of which 0.1% is the strongest, and that’s what I’d be using for treating skin on the body. For little bumps on the more delicate skin, like on the face or underneath the eyes, or if you simply can’t handle a 0.1% strength, try one of the other strengths of retinoic acid, either a 0.05% or 0.025% strength. You can also use a gentler and more accessible Vitamin A substance called retinol which can be just as helpful and doesn’t require a prescription. However, because retinol is not as potent as retinoic acid, you’re going to need a 2.0 to 5.0 % concentration for best skin smoothing effects.

Exfoliation can also help reduce the formation of milea bumps. You can use a loofa pad or even a washcloth to unclog pores and eliminate bumps, or you can use alpha or beta hydroxy acids. Look for cleansers and toners that contain ingredients like lactic acid, glycolic acid or salicylic acid. Don’t overuse, lest the skin becomes irritated. For most folks, applying these types of products 2-4 times a week is enough to change the quality and texture of the skin and permanently eliminate milea. Applying retinol or retinoic acid after exfoliation can create a synergistic effect that can produce more significant results than you’ll get from using the two ingredients separately.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health, Skin Care

Eczema Has Been a Recognized Skin Disease for Millennia

By Ben Fuchs | PharmacistBen

Eczema Has Been a Recognized Skin Disease for Millennia

Eczema or Dermatitis of the hand. Image credit: James Heilman, MD (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL ], via Wikimedia

(PharmacistBen) One of the most interesting aspects of the cells that make up the surface of the skin is their multi-functionality. While mostly known for their protective barrier properties, the living beings colloquially known as “skin cells” (and more technically as “keratinocytes” in honor of their most prolific extrusion, the fingernail like protein called keratin) are much more than a cellular shield. “Skin cells” are biochemical dynamos, each one producing, secreting and becoming ultimately a wide range of very functional chemicals.

“Skin cells” make vitamin D, they produce prodigious quantities of skin fats (lipids), and they are also the source of many hormone chemicals. Some, like cortisol, are involved in obvious skin functions like protection. Others, like the nervous system’s serotonin and dopamine, make the skin a type of brain appendage. Not to forget pheromones, which are involved in less obvious skin functions, like signaling, sexual attraction and fertility.

One of the less apparent roles of keratinocytes (“skin cells”) involves the production of inflammatory chemicals known as prostaglandins and cytokines. Although these chemicals are supposed help keep local invaders sequestered, they also can be produced and activated in a less specific way by systemic immune responses to foods or other ingested substances. When this occurs, regulation and control of skin cell production and development can be impaired. They can cause cells to grow in a messed up, chaotic, out-of-control fashion. This is at least partially the genesis of many skin health issues, including acne and psoriasis.

One of the more troubling inflammatory skin health issues is eczema, an itchy, unpleasant condition that affects tens of millions of people worldwide. Here in the USA, a substantial proportion of the population suffers from the uncomfortable and sometimes unattractive symptoms of eczema. According to the American Eczema Association, one out of ten (nearly 32 million people) have the disease, which is characterized by defects in the development of the skin surface barrier. It’s most notably caused by the inflammation associated with the secretion of defensive prostaglandins and cytokines, stimulated by perceived threats, whether introduced to the skin internally from the food toxicity and digestive difficulties via the blood or occasionally by topical contact.

Although eczema has been a recognized skin disease for millennia, (ancient Egyptian recommendations recorded on papyrus suggest honey salves as a treatment), the medical model remains so mystified by how to address it, that most modern treatments available today (typically steroid creams) haven’t substantially changed in decades.

The inflammatory aspect of eczema makes it a classic type defensive skin disease. Inflammation is the calling card of the immune system, and eczematous skin is a sign that the body is protecting itself. This protective response is what we call inflammation, and it affects how skin cells grow and ultimately how surface barrier is formed. The end result is the raw, rashy symptomology of eczema.

While the dermatologist strategy for dealing with this distress and discomfort involves suppression of the defenses with steroid creams and ointments, at best this can only give temporary and symptomatic relief. The most effective, intelligent and non-medical way to address eczema is to eliminate the stimulus of the defensive response by first asking the logical question: what is the offending agent? Food and digestion are almost always involved, and yes, gluten is a possible suspect. But there’s no way of knowing what you are reacting to without linking skin flare-ups and digestive symptoms (like gas, constipation or heartburn) to specific foods.

Nutritional supplements can be helpful too. Essential fatty acids, fatty vitamins, especially A, (20, 000 iu daily), D (5000 iu daily), lots of sunshine exposure are important. While minerals like zinc picolinate (50mg daily) and selenium Monomethionine or chelate (400 mcg daily) can be helpful too. I hope that helps. Also, it’s important to keep in mind: It’s not just what you “take”, it’s also what you absorb. Digestive distress and malabsorbtion (especially fat mal-absorption) often accompany eczema as well as other skin conditions.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Skin Care

Stem Cells and Skin Care

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

The latest skin care “must have” ingredient is plant stem cells. Now if you’re asking yourself why exactly you need, or want to be using, these substances which are technically called meristem cells on your skin, this article is written for you.

So first of all what exactly are “stem cells”? Well, the simple answer is stem cells are precursor cells. They are essentially blank cells that can be turned into any other type of cell. They stay dormant until they are triggered to become specialized. Scientists refer to them as “pluripotent”. That means they are potent in many different ways. Stem cells in other words are like magical raw material “master” cells that may be transformed into bone cells, OR skin cells, OR brain cells, OR any other of the 220 different types of biological cells. That’s pretty cool. This pluripotent property makes stem cells the ideal raw material for the body to use to repair various organs and tissues in the case of injury, damage, or simply wear and tear. And it makes them potentially very useful for medical treatments that can restore and regenerate the health of bodily systems that contain cells damaged from disease.

Plant Stem Cells

SuperManu – Own work, by Clematis 1) Meristem; 2) Columelle 3) Lateral part of the tip; 4) Dead Cells; 5) Elongation zone

The skin which is turning over and subject to more damage than most other systems in the body understandably contains large concentrations of stem cells. Thus manufacturers of skin care products have become intrigued with the use of these elements for their potential use in skin care products.

Can topically applied human stem cell-containing products really have an effect on the skin? Well, that an interesting question that is unfortunately impossible to answer. That’s because human stem cells are tightly regulated by the FDA. As of April 2014, the FDA has not approved any stem cell-based products for consumer or patient use, other than blood forming stem cells designed for the treatment of certain blood cancers and some inherited metabolic and immune system disorders. And the FDA takes the illegal marketing of these kinds of products very seriously. In December 2011, three men were arrested and charged with 15 counts of criminal activity related to manufacturing, selling and using stem cells without FDA approval.

Thus the entrance of plant stem cells (technically called “meristem” cells) onto the skincare product stage. Cosmetic companies always looking for something new to market and sell, but legally prevented for exploiting the possible benefits of human stem cells in the creams and lotions have turned to the use of plant-derived stem cells which suffer no limitation from government intervention.

Meristem cells, like their human counterparts, are unspecialized and pluripotent. Like our stem cells they are chameleon-like and can become any other cell. Except, obviously they can only become any other plant cell. They can become root cells, or leaf cells, or pistol or stamen cells. They are, after all, the precursor masters cells for PLANTS.

What’s more, it’s really not possible to include active plant stem cells in a skin care products. Plant stem cell like all cells requires a growth medium; the right kinds of chemical and pH conditions. In addition to that, the anti-microbial and anti-oxidant systems required for preservation of most cosmetic products are toxic to stem cells (and really all cells).

What most manufacturers are able to do is include extracts of plant stem cells in their wares. Plants are cut to trigger the production of chemicals that form a healing tissue called a callous which contains undifferentiated meristem cells. The cells from this callous are then fed and grown in the lab where the callouses concentration of active substances is increased by up to a thousand times. The callous is then added to a liquid, typically water, glycerin or glycol, which serves to dissolve the actives that have been nurtured in the laboratory. This active material containing liquid which is essentially a type of tea is then used as a raw material for the production of supposed stem cell containing skin care products. What is important to recognize is this extract contains no meristem cells but simply the contents of these cells which have been dissolved in the liquid medium

This is not to say however, that there isn’t any upside using these kinds of ingredients. Even though it is not possible to get any actual stem cell benefits from meristem cells, there is a lot of nutritional value. That’s because stem cells, and the liquids they are extracted into, are absolutely packed with vital growth inducing environmental protecting and anti-aging active materials that can be exploited by human skin. Amino acids, trace minerals and bioflavonoids. In addition complex sugars and growth factors can help improve cell-to-cell communication, therefore helping maintain an overall healthy skin environment.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Skin Care

Natural Moisture Factor for Skin

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

Mother Nature is nothing if not abundant. Just think of how many birds and bees and blades of grass exist in the natural world. Yet while Lady Gaia epitomizes generosity at the same time she doesn’t waste her wealth. That’s why plants grown with artificial fertilizers and pesticides produce less anti-oxidant and other medicinal and nutritional compounds than those grown organically, free of artificial growth inducing and protective chemicals. They simply don’t need to. Because they’re being protected artificially, they produce less of their own defensive molecules, which form the bulk of what we call phyto-nutrients.

Natural Moisture Factor for SkinLikewise with the skin. Under ordinary conditions, the skin, when healthy, makes its own moisturizing chemicals. Elements including fats (especially something called squalane, which is has many structural similarities to Vitamin A), fatty acids and vitamins as well as water trapping sugars and proteins form a biochemical complex scientists call the Natural Moisture Factor (NMF) which keeps water trapped in the skin. But if you use a typical standard issue moisturizing cream or lotion, which is composed of wax and oils that function to seal in moisture, the less NMF your skin will need to produce. That means, the more moisturizer you use on your skin, the less natural moisture factors your skin will need to produce and ultimately the drier your skin will be. In other words, the best way to assure yourself of needing a moisturizing product, is to use one!

The best strategy for keeping skin moist and hydrated is to make sure that you’re ingesting nutrients and raw materials that help the skin make the Natural Moisture Factor. Your diet should include plenty of fatty foods including olives, sardines, salmon and coconut oil. One of the quickest ways to create “xerodermia” (dry skin) is to go on a low-fat or fat free diet. Essential fatty acids, so-called Omega-6s and Omega-3s can help too. 10 to 20 grams of Omega-6 and 3 to 6 grams of Omega-3 are probably enough. You can get what you need with a daily dose of 6-12 capsules of a quality EFA product like Youngevity’s Ultimate EFAs or 2-3 tablespoonsful of a nutritional EFA oil such as Udo’s Blend. And don’t forget about Vitamin A. As anyone who has used Accutane (which works by suppressing Vitamin A activity) can tell you, depriving the body of this key vitamin will guarantee skin dryness. Use 20,000 international units a day. Make sure you’re getting quality protein too, especially from whey and egg both of which contain the amino acids that form a critical part of the NMF.

Topically, your best bet is to use substances that are already in the skin. These are more likely to be absorbed and utilized and at the same they are less likely to cause a suppressant effect on the NMF. Topical squalane which is typically derived from shark liver or olives is wonderful, although it may be a bit heavy for some. Vitamin A and a special form of Vitamin C with a fatty consistency can be very effective as well. Hyaluronic acid has potent water-trapping properties and can be an effective hydrating substance, and likewise for long-chain sugar molecules that are found in seaweed, aloe and noni. You can purchase dried seaweed products like Nori or Kelp or Kombu and hydrate them with some aloe or noni juice and make your own moisture restoring mask.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Skin Care

Skin Care and the Cosmaceutical

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

The skin care business is, like many other businesses, steeped in and dependent on consumerism and marketing. Rather than having real effects, products have come to rely much more on sizzle. Many purchases are the result of nothing more than hype, and buying decisions are often functions of ignorance and advertising. The world of cosmetic products, as we know it today, was birthed in the late 19th and early 20th century. At the same time business enterprises were beginning to understand Freudian psychological theories of human motivations and buying behaviors, and how to use them to exploit and manipulate consumer minds and emotions. No business has leveraged human desires and vulnerabilities via sales and advertising more than the business of beauty. We are endlessly manipulated and contorted into spending our hard earned cash via celebrity sales pitches and the recommendations of dubious department store “advisors”.

Skin Care and the CosmaceuticalBut that all changed with the active ingredients dubbed “cosma-ceuticals” which worked as powerfully as prescriptions but were only regulated as cosmetics. The father of the cosmaceutical, Dr. Albert Kligman coined the term to distinguish inactive and superficial ingredients from those that went “…beyond mere camouflage…” and could achieve real and often long-term results. While it’s true that everything including water will inevitably alter the skin in some way, only true cosmaceuticals can provide the kind of performance most consumers expect, and are (mis-)led to believe, they’ll get when they purchase and apply their cream, lotion, toner and treatment skin care preparations and products.

The retinoids, Vitamin A molecules, were the first cosmaceutical substances and, to this day, are the most effective. These were followed by alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), which are low pH extracts from fruit and plant materials that can achieve dramatic anti-aging and skin re-texturing effects. Then, most recently, a class of actives called peptides which affect the structure of the skin like a “-ceutical”, but that were intended to beautify like a “cosma-“, have become all the rage. The most important and the gold standard of peptides is a substance called “Matrixyl”.

The bottom line is, if you’re looking for skin care that works, look for cosmaceuticals. While the vast majority of products that you put on your skin are ineffective and inactive, using real cosmaceutical actives will allow you to bypass the standard, “extract-from-a-melon-that-grows-of-the-coast-of-France” type ingredients that you hear about on infomercials and promoted by movie stars. Retinoids, (retinol and retinoic acid primarily) and alpha hydroxy acids are cosmaceutical elements that really work. And Vitamin C, in its fat-soluble (the proper term is “lipophilic”) format, is one of the most effective topicals you could ever use. In fact, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and alpha hydroxy acids, (which include glycolic, lactic, citric, malic, and acetic acids), are the most important active ingredients and ones that everyone over the age 40 (or even 30) should be applying on a regular basis. I call them “The Big 3”: lipophilic Vitamin C, Vitamin A and AHAs, and they should be the core ingredients of any anti aging skin care program. And for the consumer who wants everything, consider adding in a peptide containing product, ideally one that contains proven and time-tested ingredient like Matrixyl.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Skin Care

Mind, Emotions and the Skin

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

One of the most underappreciated aspects of skincare involves its relationship to the mind, emotions and the skin. Technically called “psychodermatology” this aspect of cutaneous health is being recognized more and more as a fundamental, if underappreciated cause of dermatological diseases. Psychodermatology recognizes that the skin, the brain, and the body’s defense (immune) system that deals with survival threats (real or imagined), are in reality three parts of one system. That means that if you are dealing with acne, psoriasis, eczema, vitiligo or any other skin heath issue, you should consider looking at it as the result of a real or imagined survival threat. By far the most important sources of these threats are not actual. They are mental and emotional. In other words, in the majority of threatening situations, our survival is not actually at risk, we simply “believe” it is! However, while these threats may only exist as thoughts and feelings they can and do manifest themselves as real physical effects such as itching and rashes (eczema), inflammation (psoriasis), oiliness (acne), and changes in pigmentation (melasma).

Mind, Emotions and the Skin

By Ruth Ellison (Flickr), via Wikimedia Commons

If you go to a doctor, his management options according to the medical journal “American Family Physician” include “…psychotropic medication, stress management courses, and referral to a psychiatrist.” No surprise there. As always, the medical model focuses on symptoms and not the causes. But, not only are these particular interventions not necessary for effectively addressing dermatological reactions associated with mental and emotional health, you don’t need a doctor at all to deal with a skin condition caused by an activated stress management system. Aside from the avoiding of physical stress systems triggers like food allergens and topical irritants, reduction and elimination of psychological triggers is your best skin health strategy for eliminating psychodermatological reactions.
When obsessive troublesome thoughts hit, don’t believe them! And, don’t resist them. After all they’re not truths, they’re not even false! They are in actuality nothing more than a neural flux that forever flows and ebbs. Ultimately, despite the apparent vividness of the stories they tell, thoughts and their associated emotions are the result of sodium and potassium ions flowing across nerve cell membranes. Nothing more, nothing less. Simply watch as they appear, and then disappear. Also, recognize that there is a huge difference between thought ‘watching” and thought “thinking”. Rather than thinking thoughts, watch them as they inevitably and endlessly rise and fall. Just watch. Then notice how feelings immediately follow the thoughts, and watch those as well.

The stress survival response can be neutralized by an equally potent relaxation response. Learning to activate this relaxation system is the most helpful technique for withstanding and overriding the stress response. The body is a system and when it is stresses it is stressed as a system. And, when it relaxes it relaxes as a system. When any one part of the relaxation system is activated the entire body goes into relaxation mode and the stress response is suppressed all over the body. For example, simply by lightly touching an area of the skin, such as the palms of the hand or the soles of the feet, you can activate a bodywide, systemic relaxation response. Closing your eyes and turning them upwards toward the center of your forehead can accomplish the same global effect. Likewise with listening and focusing on the heartbeat.

Watching thoughts and emotions also tends to activate the relaxation nervous system. In fact, any neutral watching will turn on this system. That’s why we like TV and movies so much. We relax when we naturally observe. The same phenomena can be exploited via watching thoughts and feelings. Another one of the most powerful ways to activate the relaxation nervous system is to practice deep breathing techniques. Slow deep into the belly expanding of the abdominal muscles on the inhale and a long powerful exhale (slowly and gently exhaling the lungs out as much as you can, as you pull your belly in). The relaxation response is activated by the exhale, so spend a little more time on the exhale than the inhale.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Skin Care

Skin Cells Making Vitamin D

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

These days anyone with even the slightest interest in nutrition knows that skin cells are capable of making vitamin D. But there’s a lot more to the story than that! The skin and skin cells are the sites for a lot of interesting chemistry. In addition to being just plain fascinating, knowing about it can have practical health benefits.

Skin Cells Making Vitamin D

By Daniel de Souza Telles (File:HumanSkinDiagram.xcf), via Wikimedia Commons

When we think of skin cells making vitamin D, typically we think of the vitamin D that is distributed throughout the body, and for good reason. After skin cells make vitamin D, the blood and the lymphatic system suck much of it away and send it down to the liver for initial activation. Then to the kidney for final activation, and ultimately to the general circulation for use throughout the body. But as it turns out skin cells don’t only make Vitamin D for the rest of the body, they also make it for themselves. They don’t just make it, they listen to it too! In other words, they are sensitive to the presence of the vitamin D they make. In addition to the aforementioned stabilization of their growth and control of their differentiation, Vitamin D can also reduce and stabilize the secretion of inflammatory factors. Skin cells that are not differentiating properly and also dividing, squirt out chemicals that alert the immune system. This causes the inflammation that is associated with the plaques of psoriasis. Vitamin D, via its secretion stabilizing effect on the fast growing immature skin cells can also have anti-inflammatory benefits.

Here is something else interesting about the skin and Vitamin D. For the most part, the liver and the kidneys are the two main sites of vitamin D activation. However, recently it has come to the attention of researchers that skin cells can activate vitamin D, too! The exact same chemistry that activates Vitamin D in the liver, and then super activates it in the kidney, occurs in the skin as well. In fact, there is more activation chemistry in skin cells than there is in any other cells of the body. All of this means that skin cells are the only cells in the entire body, where every single thing can happen, that can happen to Vitamin D. Skin cells can make Vitamin D, they can process Vitamin D, they can use Vitamin D, and they can activate vitamin D. What’s more, the skin will make more vitamin D as it needs more Vitamin D, as long as it’s in the presence of the sun. And it makes less when it needs less. The presence of vitamin D acts as a negative feedback stimulus that slows down further production. And conversely, the absence of Vitamin D acts as a trigger to increase production. Just another example of the incredible, built in, intelligence of the cells that comprise the human body. All of this is to say the skin route, i.e; activation of the skin cells’ Vitamin D manufacturing “machinery” by the sun, is ALWAYS going to be the best way to make sure you have enough of this critical biochemical . This is extra especially true if you have liver or kidney issues, digestive issues, your gall bladder removed, have diabetes or any kind of blood sugar issues; all of which can affect the liver and kidneys.

Here is something else interesting. The vitamin D made by the skin cells, turns around and stimulates the cells that made it to make anti-cancer compounds like something called Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF). Necrosis is a medical term for death, and that’s what TNF is to cancer cells. TNF kills cancer! Skin cell produced Vitamin D also stimulates the production of interferon, a second potent anti-cancer chemical. That means the more sun exposure you get the more Vitamin D your skin cells make, and the more Vitamin D your skin cells make, the more anti-cancer skin protective compounds your skin cells produce. And as if that weren’t enough, Vitamin D is actually a natural sunscreen that not only screens the body from UV radiation better than any sunscreen you can put in a pharmacy, but unlike store bought sunscreens, it has no toxicity. It is especially protective against DNA and RNA damage, it permits solar induced Vitamin D production to continue, and it provides the body with immune enhancing anti-cancer benefits too!

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Skin Care

For Your Skin

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

The gold standard topical skin lightening ingredient is called Hydroquinone (HQ). It’ rally toxic stuff, but in small concentrations it can be an effective skin bleaching agent. If you really want to get some good effects you’re probably going to have to use 6 or 8 or even 10 percent strengths. If you want to know how effective this stuff is, just look at a picture of Michael Jackson after 2001 or so. From what I heard along the medical/dermatological grapevine, was that he was a using a super strong version of hydroquinone that was not available in the United States, and that’s where he got that white pasty look that was so striking. If you really want to lighten your skin you can probably get some good results with 4 or maybe 5 percent strength which a compounding pharmacist can prepare for you as long as you have you have a prescription Caution however, hydroquinone is toxic to the cells that make pigment, so-called melanocytes and you can actually permanently disable these very important skin components (the pigment that they make has anti aging and sun protection properties) in your attempt to lighten dark spots.

SkinAnother less toxic skin lightening choice is retinoic acid (RA) which is a form of Vitamin A. I like using retinoic acid because not only will it lighten dark spots in a more benign fashion than HQ, but you can also use it to improve the appearance and formation of wrinkles and sun damage. It does, however, like the higher strengths of hydroquinone, require a prescription. In my pharmacy we actually make several compounded products that feature RA that are available by prescription. One particularly effective product is a combination of hydroquinone at 8 per cent with retinoic acid at 0.05 per cent. We also add hydrocortisone to reduce some of the irritation that the hydroquinone can cause.

Then there’s a third topical skin lightener that is pretty effective and I have to say that it’s one of my favorite skin lightener. It’s effective for lightening the skin and it helps protect the skin from environmental assaults from the sun and it’s important for helping stimulate the production of anti-aging fibers like collagen. I’m talking about topical Vitamin C. And, if you use the fat soluble form of Vitamin C which is called ascorbyl palmitate you can also get some nice skin moisturizing properties as well. There’s another form of fat soluble Vitamin C that is super effective for skin lightening and it’s a great moisturizer too. It’s called ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate and it’s really nice. The only problem with this form of Vitamin C is that it’s really expensive and you do need pretty high concentrations for it to work as a skin lightener, at least 10 percent and there are not a lot of companies that can afford to put that much in their product. Then there’s a new form of Vitamin C called ethyl ascorbate. This stuff is expensive too, but you only need around 1 percent or so to get some good skin lightening.

So the best topical skin lightening ingredients are basically going to be Vitamins A and C but you have to make sure they are in the correct forms if you want effective skin lightening. Retinoic acid or retinol for Vitamin A and ethyl ascorbate or ascorbyl palmitate or ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate for Vitamin C. If course, hydroquinone is effective too, but its toxicity really makes it a less viable alternative than Vitamins A and C.

Then there are the other skin lightening ingredients that only have moderate effects. I’m only mentioning these because you will see them in many over-the counter products. Probably the best of these is niacin, Vitamin B3 which is a nice skin care ingredient for a lot of things, especially acne. One of the signs of niacin deficiency is skin rashes so clearly the skin is using niacin to maintain it’s health. And recently it was discovered that you can get some of these benefits by applying niacin topically. As mentioned, topical niacin has been shown to be effective for treating acne , and you may want to dissolve a niacin tablet in water and use it as an acne mist. There are several skin care lines that are featuring niacin, and if you have blotchy skin or dark spots associated with acne this is something you might want to try.

One of the best ways to lighten the skin is to use plain old alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). Now most people have heard of the most famous AHA glycolic acid by now, it’s been around in the over-the-counter skin care world for over 20 years and a lot longer in the medical realm. glycolic acid is the prototype example of the AHA family of chemicals (others include citric acid, malic acid, acetic acid and lactic acid) and all of these substances have some really important, interesting and helpful roles to play in skin health. In fact I would go as far as to say that alpha hydroxy acids are among the three most important ingredients you can ever use on your skin, along with Vitamin A and Vitamin C. The literature and research that is out on these substances is absolutely overwhelming. And these are research articles that have out for decades. Medical professionals have been using glycolic Acid for 50 years. I remember when I first started out in the skin care business, I had a doctor I was working with, who loved this stuff. He had me making all kinds of glycolic acid products on a prescription basis and he swore by the stuff. Then AHA products came out as over the counter in the early 90’s and the cat was out of the bag; they basically revolutionized the skin care business. AHAs are to this day, the gold standard of active anti aging ingredients, the skin care substances that all ingredients are compared to. They basically up-regulate every single marker of skin health that you could name including improving collagen synthesis, hyaluronic acid synthesis, they improve moisture factor production helping skin stay soft and hydrated . They improve fine lines and wrinkles and they are excellent for helping remove pigmented skin.

There’s a couple of different ways you can use alpha hydroxy acids to lighten the skin. The best way is to go to an esthetician and have a skin peel done. In fact if you’re really interested in anti-aging for the skin you should find yourself a good esthetician and have regular skin peel treatments done say every 2 to 4 weeks. You can also go the slower route and get yourself a good alpha hydroxy acid product a cleanser or toner are the best and use them at home. The trick to using good alpha hydroxy acid products is you want to look for a low pH. There are a lot of these things out there, but in my experience, the acidity of most is not very satisfactory. The pH is a measurement of how acid something is and the pH scale runs from 0 to 14 where the lower numbers are acid and the higher numbers are not acid. 7 is considered neutral and skin’s normal pH is slightly acidic around 5 or 6. For an alpha hydroxy acid product to be useful for anti aging or removing pigment, it has to be lower that the skin’s normal pH. Maybe around 3 or 4. Most alpha hydroxy acid products that you buy in the department store are not going to be that low, so you probably want to go to an esthetician that you can trust to but alpha hydroxy acid products that are going to work. In any case, I like using AHA products to lighten the skin topically, because of all the extra benefits that you get. In addition to improving the tone and color of the skin alpha hydroxy acid products can soften and smooth and generally make the skin look a lot better. I personally use an AHA cleanser every day and then I do an AHA peel on my skin once every 7 to 10 days. Another benefit to using alpha hydroxy acid cleansers and toners is that they help improve the penetration of topical vitamins. The two most important topical vitamins for the skin are vitamin C and vitamin A and as we’ve said both of these are also good skin lighteners. They’re also the most effective skin vitamins for general skin health and anti-aging, and between these three ingredients, alpha hydroxy acids, vitamin A and vitamin c you have the three most important skin care ingredients you can ever use. I always tell my patients that if you are stranded on a desert island and you can only bring three ingredients with you, if you bring AHAs Vitamin A and Vitamin C, you’ll be all set!

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Skin Care

The Skin Law of DermoDynamics

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

The movement of the skin follows a regular set of principle or laws. Because the Universe is holofractal, we see these same laws repeated in different manifestations in different systems. A system in this model is defined as a group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole. There are many different kinds of systems. There are molecular systems, religious systems cellular systems, political systems solar systems. There are an almost infinite amount of systems we could think of but they all have certain things in common. One of the most important commonality involves how systems grow and utilize energy. They all do it the same way using the same principles or laws.

Skin Law DermoDynamicsThis is true whether that system is a biological system a botanical system, a political system, a philosophical system whatever. These laws were described from a physics perspective (which studied the movement of large objects like planets as well as smaller objects like billiard balls) as thermodynamics and because the laws of thermodynamics have been regarded as the most accurate and fundamental and precise ever developed, I find it helpful to describe the same principles as they apply to the skin I call these laws of skin movement “DermoDynamics”.

Now the principle of thermodynamics, set down in the 19th century, when science started to get good at making and moving things, are basically about movement and the utilization of energy. The same is true about DermoDynamics except for we apply the principles of movement and energy to the living system we call the skin, whereas thermodynamics applies it mostly non-living inanimate “bodies” (planets and such). We basically want to understand utilization and exploitation of energy; when to take it in when to not take it in and growth; how to maximize it.

While the skin is not only a biological system (it is also a quantum system that utilizes principles other than thermodynamics), it still responds very positively to bio-manipulation at the thermo/dermodynamic level. Thus it is important for anyone who wants to maximize his ability to ‘grow” tissue to understand how this works.

The first law of DermoDynamics tells us that matter and energy are conserved In other words unless a system is open to and receiving new energy, matter will always stay at the same level. There will always be just as much “stuff” as there is now. It may get rearranged, but it will always be the same amount. It’s can’t come and go unless the system somehow opens up and becomes not only receptive to more energy, but actually absorbs it as well. Now remember, ours is a holograph fractal universe, which simply means that the same principles, characteristics and qualities show up across different and diverse fields of interest. Historically this has been called “The Law of Correspondence”. For example, if your mind is closed, the same thoughts will keep circulating round and round. If there are no new ideas, growth and evolution cannot occur. I call this phenomenon “Old Man’s Disease”. I first noticed it in old men although I have subsequently found it’s symptoms in young people and women as well. Old Man’s Disease is marked by a substantially closed mind that manifests in an “I know everything” attitude. This is a classic manifestation of first law conservation at work and is a sign that no new energy is being input (in this case into the brain/mind) and thus no new growth is occurring. The brain remains plastic well into old age if it is open to new energy. This is called neuroplasticity and it essentially shows up as a more facile brain with better cognitive, reading and memory skills. Circulation and oxygen metabolism can be up-regulated as well. All of the markers of good mental facility are can be increased. Growth depends upon new inputs of energy because growth means more organization, coherence, and “stuff”. This means more efficient and more economical use of energy. No growth or evolution or complexity can develop in a closed system because in such a system matter is conserved. As it regards the mind, this connection between energy and growth/complexity/organization can be called “thinkodynamics” .

Evolution does not like genetic inbreeding for the same reason. Evolution requires an opening of the family system. That’s why incest is so taboo. It produces defective offspring because evolution is a type of growth and growth does not occur in a closed system. Where can it grow to? Growth and movement and increases in complexity in response to opening a system also have a correspondence in terms of healthy skin. This is The First Law of DermoDynamics.

While the first law of thermodynamics says that matter is conserved in a closed system (which means growth does not occur in a closed system), The first law of DermoDynamics says skin matter is conserved and unless something is put on the skin that will input energy into it, in other words opening it up, because matter is conserved, growth cannot occur. In other word, the system has to be opened up by inserting energy into it. If energy is put into the system, it grows and that biological fact can be exploited to produce healthier, younger, more attractive skin. For what is attractive in skin? When you boil it down to its fundamentals, what we call healthy beautiful skin is really skin that is in it’s anabolic building stage. That’s what young skin signals, and that’s what signals young skin. “Hi there, I’m thriving and youthful( subtext: let’s make a baby)”.” The fact that this message is being sent through our eyes into our judgment areas (where decisions a with amazing speed, basically for determining mating behavior) on a subconscious level does not make it less powerful or significant. We like youthful skin, because it signals I’m healthy and mateable. That’s pretty much it. So anabolized skin looks good and anabolization can only occur as energy is inputted into the previously closed system. What we perceive as young beautiful skin is a result of the new tissue, connective and circulatory tissue that is being built up. When you put energy into the system called the skin, that energy is transferred, and it is essentially converted into matter The matter shows up as denser, healthier, more robust and vital tissue and support structures. Such as: more cells, especially fibroblasts. Now fibroblasts are truly amazing cells that produce important substances that are the hallmark of youthful anabolic skin. For example, they produce long strands of sugar which are called GAGs (glucose-amino-glycans) Usually these sugar chains are associated with a protein. These are referred to as proteoglycans, and they play an important role in the health of all biological systems including the skin. Because GAGs are usually PGs, we will be using these terms interchangeably. The unique structure of these macromolecules impart some interesting emergent properties. One of the more distinctive features of GAGs an PG, is their repeating units. They have repeating pieces. In other words, the chains are long strands composed of the same piece of molecular matter repeated over and over and over again. This repeating patter is called a polymer, which is simply a word to describe something composed of poly (many) of the same pieces. Substances like hyaluronic acid, which many people have heard of and others like dermatan and helparin, and keratan w(not keratin) which hardly anyone has heard of. These polymerized sugar chains can trap energy , the repeating patterns form a sort of cage that electrons are trapped and stored and released from. This electrical activation in proteoglycans makes them amazingly important signaling molecule that we are only now in the 2011 beginning (yes, beginning) to understand. Anyway they are said to be piezoelectric, which simply means that they release electricity when they are moved in an appropriate fashion. This electrical release acts as a ‘doorbell” to let the cell know that growth is required. This gives them a key role in the anabolic process. A second feature of GAGs is their powerful water-holding capacity. For example 1 gram of hyaluronic acid can hold a thousand grams of water . Or to put in a more relevant way, 1 teaspoonful can hold over a gallon of water. When the GAG swells it produces a gel like, spongy material., This makes them great shock absorbers and spongy support molecules.

The fibroblast also produces structural proteins (which also have polymer based piezoelectrical properties) like elastin, which as the name implies, keeps the skin elastic. Elastin levels drop significantly with age and this major feature of older, non-anabolic skin. Opening up the skin system and energizing it stimulates fibroblastic elastin production. Then there’s everybody’s favorite skin structural protein, collagen. Inputting energy in to previously closed system called the skin activates the production of fibroblastic collagen too. And that means younger, smoother and wrinkle-free skin. In fact, UNLESS you input energy into the skin you can’t get more elatin or collagen. It’s the only way. If you want more fibroblastic fibers, you must open the system by, “energizing” the skin. Then there’s the blood supply which also is built up as energy is inputted in to the skin and more blood means delivery of nutrients and hormones and oxygen to drive the entire anabolic system

Then there’s the keratinocytes which live a bit higher than the more fundamental dermal cells and structure we, have been talking about. Keratinocytes live in the higher ground called the epi-dermis (above the dermis). They are born on the lowest layers of the epi-dermis, called the stratum basale (base layer) and they migrate upward toward the uppermost surface layer, the stratum corneum (hard or horny layer) this upward migration is called turnover or transit time and it typically takes around weeks, when we’re young and vibrant and vital and more like 6-8 weeks as we get older. In fact a slowing down of transit time is one of the hallmark signs of skin aging. Keratinocytes and their movement are an important measure of skin health for several reasons. First of all, their abundance results in a thicker epidermis which is associated with healthy skin. The faster they are being born and moving upward the more robust the epidermis. Second, as the keratinocytes are moving upward they are gradually becoming flatter and “harder”. Ultimately when they end their journey at the stratum corneum they will be very flat and very hard. Thus, the term stratum “corneum”, which means hard (horny) in Latin. At this point they lose the moniker keratinocytes and are referred to as “corneo”-cytes. They accomplish this morphogenic feat by literally dumping their contents overboard. The jettisoned material then becomes functional as moisture factors. In other words, the faster and more vital the transit process, the more moisture factors are available for use as hydration support. The more “moisturized” the skin will be. Third, the movement upwards stimulated by energy input assures a constant turnover and invigoration of the skin. Cells will literally be newer and more youthful at all times when compared against “ non-energized” cells and the epidermis that they compose. Anabolization of keratinocytic tissue therefore means more moisture factors, thicker, healthier and newer, fresher, literally “younger” skin tissue!

The second law of DermoDynamics tells us that entropy always rules! Systems that are closed, be they sociological, molecular or biological are always in a state of entropy, breakdown, degradation of information and organization (remember the Rules of DermoDynamics hold in a closed system, our mission is to bypass or supersede these laws by opening up the system with energy and substances that guide/regulate energy into the proper chemistry.) In terms of societies, the inevitable degradation of a culture can only be staved off by the input of energy, typically in the form of new ideas or ways of being. Molecular systems that are closed have likewise no hop of regaining strucctue and coherence unless enery is likewiswe inputed thereby opening up the system Then there’s the decohertrence and breaksown that occure in our favorite sytem, US! And that’s what we call “aging”. Aging could be thought of as the biological manifestation of entropy, decay, basically the loss of structure. The body is in a constant state of decay, even when we are young and healthy. This breakdown process is called catabolism, (the opposite of anabolism). The only reason the catabolic process it slips past out awareness is because, for most of us, the anabolic process is predominant. It essentially makes up for the catabolic breakdown by (re-) building and in some cases hyper-rebuilding. However this process typically requires the input of energy and supportive structuring agents. When it comes to the skin, for must of us anyway these are provided from the foods we eat. Under ideal circumstances the foods that comprose our diet will be foods that are rich in substances that provide metabolic energy and provide substances “guide” that energy into the right chemical reactions. That’s why food selection is are so important for anti-aging. the biochemistry of food and nutrition has many implications in connection with the entropy (aging) process. Energy can can also be inputed into the biological system (the body) via stressful and challenging physical activity. As long as the stress is acute 9vs. chronic0 and there is adequate recovery period, this is the most powerful way to reverse or neutralize entropy. Weight lifting, running are physical examples of how acute challenges can stimulate growth and reverse entropy. Crossword puzzles, learnig instruments or languages have been shown to increase brain complexity and angiogenesis (blood vessel growth). Living in low oxygen environment have bigger liungs. As Nitzche said (“what doesn’t kill you, will make you stronger”)

The skin manifestations of entropy include dimunition of structural proteins, a decrease in fibroblastic activity, less GAGs, slower cell turnover, less lipids production all of this shaow up as dry thinning less that robust skin.

Fortunately the skin shows dramatic anti-entropic results when energy is inpuuted into it. Hundreds of studies that have been done over the past 50 yearshave shown that it is possible to demonstrate increases in every known marker of healthy when the skin is challenged appropriately. That means more collagen, elastin, blood supply, GAGs. Etc. In the manner described above in the first law, skin becomes healthier, younger, and anabolized. But once again we see to override the second law of entropy, energy MUST be put into the system.

The 3rd law of thermodynamics tells us that something is always happening. Systems, that are not at temperature of absolute zero, (which is almost all known systems) are always doing something. And there’s only one of two things that can be happening. Either building up, becoming more organized, coherent (anabolic) or breaking down, becoming less organized, decohering. It takes (an input of) energy to “go anabolic”, in other words to make anabolism dominate over catabolism. That’s because of the 2nd law which tells us that entropy, of which catabolism is it’s face always rules unless energy is inputted. Basically once again we see that Systems break down without inputs of energy. The third Law of Dermodynamics says that skin tissue will tend toward break down unless energy is inputted. It should be noted that from birth to roughly the mid twenties, the skin and that body in general are optimized for anabolism. Their biological machinery is operating a n efficiency level that makes great use of energy. Wasted energy is minimized and a great functionality is achieved. That’sa why when you’re young you can do anything and still be anabolic. It’s niot unususual for high anabolic specimins to smioke, drink lots of alcohol get little sleep and still maintain a buildimg up system.make very effeicent This means that they tend so positively toward growth that it take extraordinary circumastance to stop. This situation soon reverses, usually somewhere in the mid-twenties and at this point a catabolic reversal takes place. In other words break down supercedes building up and that’s when the visible signs of aging take place. Unless energy is put into the skin and the biological machine in general the second law will kick in and entropy will ensue. Remember, what we are talking about tis the increase in the markers of youth and a decrease in the markers of aging. Namely softer, more hydrated skin. Smoother tighter skin with less wrinkling. Helahtier more nourished tissue. Better protection from environemtal assault, and fater revery from wounds. Very interestingly most topical skin care stratagies and products prport to do these thing without addressing the energy needs of the skin. Remember, if the skin is energy deficient and/or is not making good use of the energy it has it will not be anabolic. Simply applying a product on the stratum corneum cannot change the quality of the skin unless somehow energy is being inputted.

From a topical perspective energy is inputted into the skin in two main fashions. Mechanical and Chemical. From a mechanical perspective, anabolism can be enhanced by disruption of the ski’s uppermost surface, the stratum corneum. This barrier perturbation initiates growth and repair biochemical processes. These are the same process are acting when the skin is younger and more anabolic. In other words simple carrier disruption reverses the catabolic, entropic, aging process. Instead breakdown you have buildup. Simply disrupting the barrier is anabolic anti-entropic and anti aging. This is much the same thing as when you trim the leaves back on your plants and you’re plants get nic and bushy. The second mechanism is chemical. This involves making the skin more acidic. Tyically the skin rests within a pH range of 4.5-6.5. In order to really have a significant effect on the skin, a product must nbe able to cause a drop in skin pH to 3 or so. Acidity can be likened to electrical stimulation. In fact acidity is literally a measurement of the movement of electrons i.s. electron activity. We call this electron activity “electricity’. Thus putting acids on the skin is like putting electricity ito the system. It’s electrifying the skin in essence and this in turn stimulates growth. The skin responds to the drop in pH (increase in acidity) by become more anabolic. The most common acids that are used topically are the alpha hydroxy acids. These include glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, tartaric acid and acetic acid. Each has it’s own specific characteristics but for the most part they all act in a similar fashion. The effectively drop the skins pH. What make the alpha hydroxy acids so effective is a secondary mechanism. The have a unique solvent effect of the connecting chemicals (glycoproteins) that keep corneocytes on the stratum corneum adhering. Thus they accomplish stimulation, energy input via two separate and distinct mechanisms. The drop in pH and the desmosome dissolving induction of barrier disruption

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Skin Care

Treating Dry Skin From the Inside Out

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

Human skin is not supposed to be dry. Yet despite this biochemical fact, billions of consumer dollars are spent every year on product that are supposed to moisturize the skin.

Treating Dry SkinAs someone who has been formulating skin care products a skin products for over 25 years, I can tell you there is no possible way a topically applied product, which is typically composed of water, oil, wax and some miscellaneous chemicals, can cause any changes in skin moisture content. Miniaturization is strictly the job of nutrients that are found in foods and supplements.

If you have dry skin, you’re better off spending your hard-earned dollars on Essential Fatty Acids, Vitamin A and Vitamin C instead of topical skin care products. You’ll be helping improve your skin’s condition the way nature nature intended you to and you’ll get the additional benefits that come along with strategic nutritional supplementation.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Skin Care