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Miseducation of Popular Consumer Skin Care Brands’ Ingredients

Miseducation of Popular Consumer Skin Care Brands’ Ingredients

With modern consumers using the internet to research everything, it’s no surprise that our clients are savvy when it comes to the latest skincare ingredients and trends. As a practicing esthetician, I constantly hear clients ask for a treatment they saw on Instagram or ask about a product with a specific ingredient they heard about from a friend. With a mass of information circulating online, including blogs written by skincare enthusiasts without much schooling, there is no doubt some of the “facts” are being distorted in the process. 

Hyaluronic Acid

Aside from all the incorrect variations of spelling and pronouncing it (i.e., hydrochloric acid, hydraulic acid) there are many misconceptions about the popular hydrating ingredient. For the majority of unaware consumers, any “acid” defines a corrosive, sour liquid – which, of course HA is not. The name itself is a combination of “hyaloid” and “uronic acid”, and is a polysaccharide molecule produced by our bodies, and present in our eye’s vitreous humor, umbilical cord, synovial fluid, and connective tissue. Its incredible ability to hold up to 1,000 times its molecular weight in water is what makes it so hydrating for our skin. In present day, manufacturers rarely use HA from rooster combs, and primarily use vegan hyaluronic acid produced in a lab by molecular bio fermentation. There is also a going debate about which hyaluronic acid is best – low or high molecular weight. Low molecular weight HA is typically under 1,000kDa, and high molecular weight is considered that above 1,000kDa. Years ago, there were theories of low molecular weight HA being most beneficial, since it was presumed to be able to penetrate the skin down to the dermis, and possibly stimulate the regeneration of collagen and elastin.  A 2017 study by Antonella D'Agostino looked at the effect of HA fragments, ranging from 1800kDa to 6kDa on wound dermal reparation based on human keratinocytes. All high and low molecular weight HA used in this study allowed for faster wound closure compared to the un-treated cells, except for 6kDa that, on the contrary, prevented repair. Recently, the scientific community has agreed that low molecular weight hyaluronic acid is inflammatory and prevents wound healing.

Stem Cells

I’m sure you have heard of stem cells as an ingredient in skin care, they have been a hot topic for the last several years. Stem cells can improve the appearance of skin, even out skin texture, reduce wrinkles and increase skin’s elasticity. There are a number of products on the market with stem cells, but the confusion surrounding their origin has consumers holding back -  it’s no secret that stem cells can come from fetal tissue, uterine tissue and adipose tissue.  For example, adipose-derived stem cells are obtained from a small fat sample collected from patient’s adipose tissue and are injected into her skin or added into a custom topical formulation. This treatment is advertised as a way to increase subcutaneous collagen thickness and reduce wrinkles however many stem cell cosmetic treatments reside in a legal gray area. The most concerning issues regarding human embryonic stem cells are that its consequence involves the destruction of human embryos. So, what type of stem cells are acceptable in skin care, and don’t pose any ethical dilemmas or health risks? Plant stem cells are regarded as the safest and most accepted type of ingredient for home use, with no ethical issues or concerns of allergens. Although plant stem cells are not directly bio-identical to our own, meaning they cannot mimic the activity of our stem cells in the human body, they provide nutrients that stimulate human epidermal stem cell production. In fact, plant stem cells have stronger antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties than our own cells. One of the most widely used plant stem cell ingredients of recent years is Swiss apple stem cell which is derived from an apple cultivar called Uttwiler Spätlauber. This rare variety is known for its excellent storability, as it can stay fresh for up to four months after being harvested, long after other varieties have become wrinkled. Edelweiss stem cells contain a high number of antioxidants and Vitamin C, they also help increase the production of hyaluronic acid, and prevent collagen degradation. Most plant stem cells boast high antioxidant protection, and among the newest on the market are stem cells from acai, oak bark, basil, argan, grape and many more.


It seems as if cannabidiol (CBD) is everywhere in the recent years – infused into sleep aids, pain balms, patches, and of course skincare. According to Million Insights, the global CBD skin care market is expected to reach $1.7 billion by 2025, and it looks like the trend is here to stay. Although hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are legal in all states, there is confusion around this controversial ingredient. The most frequent question is – will CBD make me high? No, CBD skincare products are non-psychoactive and will not get you high. CBD is one of over 120 cannabinoids unique to the cannabis plant, it’s shown to be anti-inflammatory, sedative and anticonvulsive and pain-relieving. With its anti-inflammatory properties, CBD-infused skincare products may help to relieve redness, acne, dermatitis, and psoriasis. As with any new ingredient, there will be more research on proper dosage and any long-term side effects in the coming years – this is paramount to conclude its safety and effectivity.