Beware the ingredients that age your skin

In this article I’ll examine the basic important principles of keeping your skin looking and feeling youthful, soft and healthy. I’ll also review valuable emollient ingredients, as well as some ingredients that are probably doing you more harm than good.

We all want to keep our skin youthful and healthy, and there are some basic principles for doing just that.

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Variations of facial skin

When doing a skin analysis, an aesthetician will look for the following in order to determine what product ingredients and treatments you deserve:

  • Skin type: normal, dry, oily, combination, sensitive.
  • Pigmentation (fair type 1 to dark type 6).
  • Lipid levels, hydration and elasticity.
  • Wrinkles.
  • Sun damage or disease states (acne, rosacea).

You can do much of this discovery on your own or under the direction of an aesthetician.

Caring for your skin

After a skin analysis, you’ll need to choose some emollients (topical products) to be your basic routine of skin care. This routine should look something like the following:

  • Cleanse: Each day, your face accumulates natural oil, dirt and bacteria. Add makeup to these and you have a recipe for skin irritation, clogged pores and acne, if you don’t wash your face daily. Touching your face during the day encourages this process, too. Therefore, cleanse your face each morning before applying makeup. And wash your face with warm water nightly before going to bed. Hot water causes skin to lose more moisture. Be careful not to overclean with harsh soaps, because they contain unnatural chemicals that pull out your natural oils and dry your skin. Be aware that swimming pools and hot tubs contain chlorine and bromine that can be very drying to skin. Also, drying or rubbing your skin vigorously after a bath incites an unhealthy inflammatory response. Maybe once or twice weekly, use an exfoliating facial wash instead of your usual cleanser for deeper cleaning of pores and dead skin.
  • Tone: After each cleansing, apply a toner with a cotton pad. Do not rinse off the toner. Toner makes your skin more resistant to bacteria, restores your natural pH and decreases inflammation.
  • Moisturize: After cleansing and toning, apply your moisturizer of choice. Be careful to choose moisturizers according to your skin type, as mentioned earlier. Moisturizers come as sprays (which have the most water content), lotions, creams, gels and ointments (which have the least water content). The water in moisturizers evaporates quickly after application, causing a drying effect to your skin. Therefore, ointments are the most moisturizing, especially when applied right after bathing in order to trap water in the epidermis.
  • Topical nutrients daily or as a mask: If you can, get a skin analysis to determine the best nutrients and moisturizers for your particular facial-skin type. A mask can moisturize dry skin, soothe inflamed skin, draw out impurities of oily skin, slow the aging of skin or heal diseased skin. Masks can be applied safely every week or two. In general, the more you apply healing nutrients, the healthier your skin will be. Here are common mask ingredients: clay, aloe vera, seaweed, herbs, vitamins, minerals, essential oils and massage oils.
  • Sauna treatments: What’s all the hype about sauna treatments? The steam is moisturizing, plus it opens the pores so they can be cleansed and emollient nutrients can fully penetrate for healing.
  • Skin-product ingredients: Skin products now on the market for youthful skin are numerous and can be very confusing. Do you know what is in your emollient (cream, cleanser, etc.)? There are active ingredients (the healing ones), excipients (preservatives and emulsifiers added to make the product usable), and fats (coconut oil, sunflower oil, mineral oil or other synthetic oils). Any one of these excipients can be sensitizing to your skin. Or, worse, they could be contributing to wrinkles or even a systemic disease over time. As a general rule, any sensitivity will be from man-made (synthetic) ingredients, not from natural ingredients. If you understand how chronic diseases work, you’ll agree with me when I sanction the phrase: “If you wouldn’t eat it, why would you put it on your skin?”

Frankly, I trust my liver to detoxify chemicals more than I trust cosmetic agents to prove its safety for skin application. That’s because chemicals absorbed through the skin pass directly into the bloodstream unchanged. But ingested foods and chemicals go through many phases of protection such as digestion (stomach acid breaks it down) and detoxification (in the liver) before it goes into systemic circulation.

Coconut Oil For Natural, Luxurious Skin And Hair CareYou may ask, “How much of what we breathe or put on our skin or scalp goes into me?” First of all, you can watch your moisturizer disappear within a few minutes after you put it on your skin. Where do you think the non-water portion went? Obviously, it went into you. The good news is that not all ingredients absorb at the same rate or amount. For example, caffeine gets 48 percent absorbed but DDT gets only 10 percent absorbed into the skin. Body area absorption differs, too. Lipid-soluble molecules get absorbed nearly 100 percent into genitourinary skin. That’s followed by absorption into the skin in the following order: the face, the armpits and inside the arms and upper thighs, the scalp, the back, the abdomen, and the palms and plantar feet.

Therefore, I recommend products made by nature as much as possible. The moisturizing ointment [1] I use daily and love contains only herbs that are nutritional and anti-inflammatory: calendula, marshmallow root, comfrey, beeswax and olive oil. My 4-ounce container costs less than $40 and lasts me nearly one full year. Or try what one blogger raved about for a healing moisturizer: shea butter (organically farmed), almond oil and coconut oil. Another blogger raved about hers, containing almond oil, peppermint oil, coconut oil and aloe vera gel. For a toner she used organic witch hazel with rose petals from her garden.

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Hyaluronic acid is the component of skin that makes it soft and elastic (basically, young and healthy). You may know it as the popular filler used along with Botox injections for cosmetic wrinkle elimination. Other healing natural agents to look for are healing herbs and organic minerals. One commercial product I trust to be least allergenic, fragrance-free and contain valuable healing agents is Cetaphil. [2] Read what’s in the moisturizing lotion here. Coconut oil is great, too, when used for dry skin and even for more serious problems such as acne, eczema and psoriasis. You can buy coconut oil at a health food store and mix up your own facial emollient ointment, using 1 cup coconut oil along with 1 teaspoon vitamin E oil and an essential oil (for fragrance). (You can eat coconut oil, too.)

Avoid these ingredients

Be aware that your cosmetics and hair products are probably loaded with chemicals that have not been determined safe for long-term use. There are thousands of these in commercially sold products, including facial cleanser, toner, moisturizer, anti-aging cream, makeup (foundation, shadow and liner), sunscreen, fragrance, shampoo, hair coloring and other hair products. Here is just a small sampling:

  • Petroleum products (propylene glycol, mineral oil, baby oils, many fragrances, etc): These clog pores and encourage acne; may inflame skin. Lead to fine lines and wrinkles being more visible.
  • Parabens (benzoic acids, butyl ester, methylparabe, ethyl ester, etc.): These are the xenoestrogens I’ve written about extensively. They mimic estrogen, contributing to estrogen dominance, or block estrogen receptors, which causes estrogen deficiency. They contribute to skin and breast cancer, low testosterone, and DNA damage.
  • Formaldehyde (formalin, formic aldehyde, methyl aldehyde, etc.) and formaldehyde releasers (DMDM hydantoin, Dimethylol-5,5-dimethylhydantoin, etc.): These are basically very irritating, causing allergic reactions in 57 percent of subjects in one study.
  • Sulfates (sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate): These are strong cleansers. But for your skin and scalp, they are likely to be irritating and drying, which means more signs of aging.
  • Alcohols (SD alcohol, ethanol, methanol, benzyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, etc.): These can be drying, depending on content in the product.
  • Artificial colors and dyes: Anyone may have obvious or subtle sensitivity reactions to these.
  • Ethanolamines (DEA, MEA, TEA): These cause allergic reactions, irritation to eyes, and drying of hair and skin. Worse, the European Commission prohibits DEA in cosmetics to reduce carcinogenic nitrosamines. [3]
  • Triclosan: This is an antibacterial and antifungal agent. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, [4] it alters hormonal regulation in animals and contributes to bacterial resistance to antibiotics. According to a 2008 study (as per the Mayo Clinic [5] ), triclosan was detected in the urine of nearly 75 percent of the U.S. children and adults sampled.
  • Phthalates (dibutyl phthalate, dioctyl 2,6-naphthalate, dibutyl 1,2-benzenedicarboxylate, etc.): This is a solvent found in nail products, blush and bath oils. It’s shown to cause birth defects in animals, and it damages male reproduction. In a 2002 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every participant tested positive for phthalates.

In my next skin article, I’ll examine foods and oral supplements for healthy skin. To feeling good and looking great,

Michael Cutler, M.D.

Easy Health Options

[1] I use the Dr. Christopher’s Complete Tissue and Bone ointment or the Rash Formula ointment


[3] Dodson, R. E., Nishioka, M., Standley, L. J., Perovich, L. J., Brody, J. G., & Rudel, R. A. (2012). Endocrine disruptors and asthma-associated chemicals in consumer products. Environmental health perspectives, 120(7), 935.



Dr. Michael Cutler

By Dr. Michael Cutler

Dr. Michael Cutler is a graduate of Tulane University School of Medicine and is a board-certified family physician with more than 20 years of experience. He serves as a medical liaison to alternative and traditional practicing physicians. His practice focuses on an integrative solution to health problems. Dr. Cutler is a sought-after speaker and lecturer on experiencing optimum health through natural medicines and founder of the original Easy Health Options™ newsletter — an advisory on natural healing therapies and nutrients. His current practice is San Diego Integrative Medicine, near San Diego, California.