Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Awareness and education are keys to proper skin and beauty products 

Have you ever tried to figure out the difference between beauty products you can purchase at places like Walgreen’s, Sephora, Macy’s, Avon, Mary Kay or Merle Norman, the product lines you would find at a spa or wellness center and what a doctor might prescribe?

Here at The Healing Station, we often explain the differences between over-the-counter (OTC) products, cosmeceuticals and pharmaceuticals so that our clients know what they are using from the moment they (or we) apply something to the largest organ on their bodies – their skin. 

OTC beauty and skin products are those found at supermarkets, drug stores, department stores, brick-and-mortar cosmetics outlets and through multi-level marketing companies.  Many of these product lines are owned by parent companies whose focus may be food or cleaning supplies – not necessarily specializing in what’s best for your skin.

With anything you buy OTC no prescription is necessary, no training is required by the sales personnel (well, perhaps a department store clerk may have had some training on the “glories-only” of a particular manufacturer’s product…), so if there were any possible drug interactions or allergies that could occur, you would not be told.  OTC is definitely a “buyers beware” proposition, since product manufacturers are not required to disclose all the ingredients contained within them – just the major ones. In the end, you can check out this website from the State of California for a list to make sure they do not contain any of the eight hundred potentially harmful ingredients.

Cosmeceuticals are those product lines predominantly dispensed by licensed estheticians and cosmetologists, often experienced for the first time while having a facial or another spa-type procedure performed.  These products are much more concentrated in nature, meaning less quantity is required to make a difference to your skin.  Even here, however, it’s wise to ask questions. Again, American standards do not require disclosure of every ingredient. For products developed and sold worldwide, the labeling requirements are much more robust.  Most European and all Australian product lines list every ingredient (even traces) on its packaging. So if you were allergic to, say, peanuts or fragrances, you would know precisely what products to avoid.

You’ll want to beware of buying cosmeceuticals online as well.  Some of the best Internet deals you get may not reveal that the products are either counterfeit or already expired, meaning that if you bought last year’s sunscreen and relied on it for this year’s sun, you would be putting yourself at risk.  And because these products are so concentrated, without a licensed practitioner guiding you on the proper use and quantities after evaluating whether the product is appropriate for your skin type, you may be risking the unknown. California estheticians, who have completed a minimum of 600 hours of instruction, will have determined the appropriate products by having evaluated your eating habits, talked to you about your allergies or having learned about potential hormonal imbalances.

Dermatologists and other physicians also dispense corrective skin and anti-aging pharmaceuticals, which are even stronger than the two we've just discussed.  And even though the medical community usually has its patients best interests at heart, they may spend little time counseling you.

A personal story:  I can remember having taken my son to a dermatologist for an acne condition. As the doctor entered the examination room, he stopped dead in his tracks just inside the door, looked at Josh, then looked at me.

“Are you his mom?” he asked.  I acknowledged that I was. “All I can do is prescribe Accutane,” he said. And with that, he left the room without even examining my son’s condition. 

Then a nurse came in gave me something to sign.  I began looking it over.  “Where is the booklet it talks about here?” I asked her.  “Oh, I gave it to your son. Why haven’t you signed?”  Duh. I told her the form said I was to read it and understand it before signing. She looked a little exasperated.

Once I had the booklet in my hands, my eyes fell upon an intimidating list of possible side effects of this powerful drug. Females were advised to be on birth control because of the possibility of birth defects of future offspring. Blood tests were required every 30 days to check for liver damage, and the list went on and on.  In retrospect, back in those days they hadn't yet determined that the drug could also cause depression and even lead to thoughts of suicide.  I grabbed my son and left in a hurry.

This is not to say that physicians can’t be trusted for many kinds of skin problems.  But with the Internet at your fingertips, there is no reason not to perform due diligence on the drugs being prescribed and discuss them in detail with your physician.

The bottom line? Whether you opt for OTC, cosmeceuticals or pharmaceuticals, you won’t regret being the sticky wicket, doing your homework and asking lots of questions. After all, the products you apply to your skin are just as important as the drug you take orally!   For more information about this topic, give The Healing Station a call at (916) 294-9980.

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