In this article, you'll learn:
1. The three skin factors you should pay attention to.
2. How much (or little) you should know about ingredients.
3. What's up with patch tests?
4. It's OK to ignore your grandmother's skincare advice.
5. Why the term "dermatologist-recommended" isn't worth beans.
So you’ve been upping your face-game and you're switching skincare routines. Maybe you've been using your girlfriend's products, or stealing from your wife, and you've realized your skin is just different. Guys have more oil, thicker skin, more hair, that sort of thing.
Congratulations! You’ve come to the right place. We sat down with our founding dermatologist Dr. Steve for some do’s and don’t for starting a new regimen.
Geologie: For those of us who are transitioning to Geologie, are there some rules of the road in terms of matching up the products with our skin's individual characteristics?
Dr. Steve: Well, it’s important to remember that skin is not a monolith, right? But actual skin type is a complex question. It depends on the problems that your skin has in terms of its responsiveness, its oiliness, and its sensitivity, as well as what it looks like. There is this uniqueness to it, just like you are unique as an individual.
So this idea of going to the drugstore and just picking up a cream and hoping for the best is a big problem. Because when you think about skincare — these habits and products you want to adopt — you want to think about your issues and the characteristics of your skin, as well as your behavior, to develop a regimen that's really gonna do the best for your skin.
When we think about skin type, what we need to think about are three things:
- What are the problems — Is it redness? Is it dryness? Is it acne?
- Sensitive versus oily. For example, do you produce a lot of oil? Do things that you put on your face irritate you? Do you feel like everything can be burning or problematic?
- Color tone, especially redness and pigmentation.
Knowing these factors helps us ensure that what you're getting actually works. If you haven't already, you can let us know about any issues by taking a quick diagnostic.
Geologie: Should we be paying attention to the ingredient list when switching up skincare products and routines?
Dr. Steve: Even as a dermatologist, I feel I have to have a PhD in chemistry to understand some of the ingredients in a lot of cosmetic products. Some cosmetics have different chemical names for the same thing. Some of the same things are named or described differently. Some things, like fragrances, are actually a combination of hundreds of different ingredients. And some ingredients are just omitted because they're not present at a certain percentage so they don’t have to say it.
Some labeling is completely false, things like “sensitive skin” or “safe,” “dermatologist-recommended,” and “fragrance-free.” It's all kind of crap, to be honest. So it’s a lot to expect an average consumer to educate themselves, by reading a list to determine what's safe or not. And there could be hundreds of ingredients for a certain product. It's just not practical.
At the end of the day, we're proud of our short ingredient list. That’s super important. We're proud of our active ingredients. Because the ingredients we do pick are based on evidence that they work, their high quality, their basic purity, and their potency. We avoid things that we know are problems because they cause allergies and irritation. It’s something our guys can trust because we’re a brand that stands by our ingredients lists.
Another thing that I want to point out is that change is really kind of an important thing when it comes to cosmetics. We’re really obsessive about quality and consistency, so if we change anything, we will actually tell you. I wish more cosmetic companies would do this because they often change suppliers or ingredients because something is cheaper or not available. And that does affect tolerability and effectiveness.
Having said that, there are some basics when it comes to reading ingredients.
Question: We’re hearing a lot about patch tests, that you should do a patch test before you begin a new routine or switch ingredients. What is a patch test and is it a good idea?
Dr. Steve: I prescribe patch tests on a weekly basis. And I think it's really effective except that it's an arduous test that costs thousands of dollars. What we do is we take little chemicals that we prepare and put little squares of them on your back. You've got to wear it for five days, during which you can't shower or swim. Some of those patches get super itchy because you see the dermatologist three times a week.
So it's not like a simple thing. This is different from what allergists do where they prick your skin and that's a one-hour affair. Patch testing is a legitimate medical diagnostic procedure. It’s not like getting your hair done. It is actually kind of complex and some places do patch testing better than others.
Is it a good idea? Well, if it's medically indicated, yes. And if it's medically indicated, you have something that we suspect is allergic contact dermatitis. What that means is that you have a consistent pattern of skin, itchiness, rash redness that happens a lot on your face that we think is triggered by an external thing. So classically, it's happening more with women. It's usually eyelid dermatitis. She just keeps getting her eyelids itchy and red. That's when we start looking for an ingredient that is being exposed to the eyelid that is causing it and sometimes we find it to be a fragrance or preservative based on patch testing. Then we can tell her to avoid this fragrance or avoid this preservative in all of her products. Then this shouldn't happen again.
So I would say it's medically indicated when appropriate. But for the run-of-the-mill person with eczema or sensitive skin, it's overkill. It's unnecessary. Just as an FYI, you know what, what dermatologists have is a very special database called CAMP (Contact Allergen Management Program) where all the major cosmetic companies actually give us their true ingredient list. They have to update it, but only dermatologists have access to it. So that we can determine exactly which products that someone can use and that is called a safe list. And so they don't disclose that to consumers on labels because those are trade secrets. So that's how patch testing actually works.
Geologie: We’ve heard some people recommend that when you're searching for skincare products, to only add one new product at a time.
Dr. Steve: I think it's more relevant when you have a skin allergy. When you have something that you're not sure about and you’re using six things. I can really stop everything, use my treatment, and then start one at a time adding them back.
But I think for new skin products it's definitely not a required thing. Unless you have really sensitive skin or skin allergies. You want to try one thing to make sure you're tolerating it before you're adding another. Ultimately you know it's not like a really important best practice.
Geologie: Is it a bad idea to use new products before a special occasion?
Dr. Steve: I think that this is sort of like a grandmother warning. It's not based on evidence or facts. Unless you're starting a new aggressive treatment or prescription medicine.
Obviously, I sometimes ask my patients if their wedding day is coming up before I prescribe a key topical chemotherapeutic, or a really aggressive anti-acne thing. But I think overall for a consumer cosmetic product, although there is a theoretical risk you may respond badly to it, I don't think this is that important, and if anything, it's only going to be a day or two.
Geologie: There is a lot of hype around skincare and cosmetics in terms of “organic this,” and “all-natural that.” What should we be on the lookout for, in terms of false claims?
Dr. Steve: I've commented on this in the peer-reviewed literature, but I really dislike “dermatologist-recommended.” I think it's BS. Like, what does that even mean? One dermatologist recommended? The FTC doesn’t regulate it. I think there are even things that are more scientific but also crap such as “fragrance-free.” That's not really true. “Non-Comedogenic” means “non-acne-causing” and that's a little bit more based on evidence, but it's so imperfectly applied.
So I think a lot of these labels on cosmetic products are really not trustworthy. And I think that’s something consumers should know. Just because someone slaps on 17 labels about this and that really doesn't mean that it's actually true. And I think we prove it out in our own research of some of these products. So in terms of not buying into those labels, that's absolutely true.
And these marketing tactics are a big problem in cosmetics and personal care products, like some special ingredients they make claims about are really suspect because they're often not well designed blind clinical trials. So they sound really scientific, but they’re not really. It’s a big problem in this field. So this is a big challenge. It's a really, really big challenge. These marketing tactics are marketing but they masquerade as data science and evidence.
Good luck with the skincare. Remember, any questions you have, we're always here to help. That's what we do.
Here's an idea of what you can expect in the first few weeks.
Here are some tips to help you stick to the routine — the best skincare is the skincare you use consistently.