For many of us, the search for clear, healthy skin is one that seems challenging at best. We seek advice from experts at the local department store cosmetic counter in hopes that they will point us in the right direction and finally solve our problem. But are they really the experts that we think they are? To answer this question and find out what our friendly sales associates may not be telling us and what we really should know, we queried our national panel of skincare experts and poised this very question. From our engaging interviews, we came up with 20 secrets that your department store cosmetic counter will simply never tell you!
We began by consulting with Paramedical Aesthetician and owner of Exclusively Skin Lisa Haigh. According to Ms. Haigh, Americans spend an average of $12,000 annually on beauty products. But, as she points out, sadly most of these products end up wasted and un-used under the bathroom sink. In many cases, consumers are being sold skin care products they don’t need or that aren’t right for their skin because they either don’t know the right questions to ask or the information they are getting is incorrect.
What are you really paying for?
Her first concern about many over the counter products is that they make the claim to be results-proven and corrective. But, as she points, out, “Many over the counter skin care products do not contain an active ingredient. And because these products are not formulated for deep penetration, they stay on the surface of your skin without penetrating into the deeper layers where they are needed to actually make a difference.” She adds that, “The high priced department store bottle may give you the feel you are buying the best cream when you in fact, you are probably paying for the package and marketing. Also, these products are not regulated, evaluated or verified by any government agency, like the FDA. They are only tested within internal ‘clinical trials’.”
“You are likely being helped by a sales person trained in sales, not skin care.” Lisa Haigh, Paramedical Aesthetician
How knowledgeable is that sales person really?
Her next concern is that you are likely being helped by a sales associate trained in sales and not in skin care. “Don’t let the lab coat fool you. People tend to think a person in a lab coat is an automatic “expert”. But department store sales associates are there to sell and not educate you on skin.” She adds, “Your skin type determines pretty much every aspect of your skin care routine. 86% of people use skincare products that are not suited for their skin type. And while a vast majority of woman believe they have ‘sensitive skin’, their ‘sensitive skin is usually of their own doing. They are using products not suited for their specific skin type. This is why it’s imperative to have a consolation with a skin care professional, not a sales associate, to establish a regime and pick the proper products for you.”
Is “free” really free?
Finally, she warns that, “Yes, a consultation is free. But only if you buy some products.” According to Lisa, “There is an unspoken rule at the make-up counter: if you sit in the chair, you are expected to buy a minimum of two products. Just as anyone in sales, these associates have sales goals, counter goals and commissions to make. Even the counters that don’t pay commissions have sales goals. This leaves customers more vulnerable to being sold things that they don’t need.”
Do they really know your skin?
Board certified Dermatologist and author of “Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist” Dr. Debra Jaliman remarked that “…salespeople working the beauty counter often aren’t aware of the buyer’s skin type.” She went on to add that by not understanding the client’s skin behavior there is no way that a good fit product can be prescribed.
What is really in that product?
She also remarked that many consumers believe that, “…the more expensive the product, the better it will be. Price doesn’t equal quality; ingredients are the most important factor when choosing a product.”
Simplify Your Skincare Routine
Skin Care expert Celeste Hilling and CEO of Skin Authority suggested to, “Simplify your skin care stash.” She went on to suggest that you “Save time and money by simplifying to no more than three to four steps in the morning and at night. In the morning you need a mild gel cleanser, an anti-oxidant such as Vitamin C and a sunscreen moisturizer. Before going to bed, use resurfacing ingredients such as AHA’s and retinols in addition to restorative peptides.”
“Simplify your skin care stash.” Celeste Hilling, CEO, Skin Authority
Exfoliate to Hydrate
Ms. Hilling emphasized that many consumers believe that exfoliating may dry out the skin. But in reality, “…regular exfoliation speeds up the cell turnover process allowing the body to produce moisture-bearing properties like hyaluronic acid. Exfoliation also helps to plump up the skin by churning up elastin and collagen production.” She recommended using a natural resurfacing agent such as glycolic acid to gently dissolve dead surface skin cells that will eventually be replaced with new, healthy plump ones.
Are the department stores really a bargain?
Her next suggestion was to evaluate the cost per ounce of products at the Cosmetic Counter. She emphasized that many products are sold in very small dose quantities and that more effective bargains can often be found at spas and medical offices considering that the pricing includes not only the product but also complimentary consultations with actual licensed medical skin care experts.
Is that cream getting in your skin?
Finally, she encouraged consumers to “Concentrate on Concentrations.” As she pointed out, the active pH of a product determines its ability to actually penetrate into the skin itself and because the normal skin pH ranges from 4.5-5.5, “A product should be below the pH level of the skin for maximum penetration. Otherwise, you might as well be using water.”
Why a medical office or spa may be a better choice?
New York Plastic Surgeon and medical skin care expert, Dr. Adam Schaffner suggests that the value of purchasing medical grade skin care products lies in the fact that the consumer can ”…ask for samples, view before and after photos, speak with customers who have used the product, read testimonials, and then consult with a Plastic Surgeon or Dermatologist.”
And to better choose a skin care product that will best work for you, he recommended asking the following questions of your skin care expert:
What are the active ingredients of the product?
How do you know if the active ingredients are of a concentration which will make a difference in the appearance of my skin (e.g.: clinical efficacy)
How do you know the active ingredients are still stable and active? (check if there is an expiration date)
What side effects may the product cause? How should these side effects be addressed?
What products should not be used with the product you are selling (e.g.: potential interactions)
What is my skin type and which products are actually appropriate for it (e.g.: oily vs. dry skin, rosacea, acne, eczema, psoriasis)
Do they really know what they are selling?
“Keep in mind that this is a multi-billion dollar industry with literally thousands of different products,” commented Board Certified Facial Plastic Surgeon Dr. Houtan Chaboki. He added, “The people selling these products in department stores generally have little to no medical expertise or knowledge of the biochemistry or pharmacology of the products which they sell.”
“Product manufacturers do not spend a lot of time or money in educating and training retail sales associates on why their products actually work.” Jacqueline Bernardi, Paramedical Aesthetician
How well do they know you or your skin?
Remember that department store cosmetic counter salespeople are there to do just that…to sell their products. And while aestheticians and physicians also make a profit on skin care product sales, the difference lies in the breadth and depth of their training. Paramedical Aesthetician Jacqueline Bernardi of OC Skin Solutions commented that many sales counter people will not admit that, “I have no idea why this is good for your skin.” She went on to echo an earlier statement that, “Product manufacturers do not spend a lot of time or money in educating and training retail sales associates on why their products actually work. Instead, they spend their money on packaging and traditional advertising. This is an important issue particularly where skin care is concerned because our skin is an organ—its purpose is to be the first line of defense against disease and environmental harm. Ultimately, as consumers we rely on minimally educated sales associates to make recommendations that can affect our skin health.”
When is science not science?
Beverly Hills Facial Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Alexander Rivkin had strong feelings about products sold over the counter. He told us that, “Cosmetic counters are full of false promises, junk science, and opportunistic preying on vulnerable and insecure women.” He added, “Many of these products being peddled have never been shown to be effective in the slightest and these companies are making millions off of the placebo effect.”
Always read the label
To identify a skin care product effective for your skin type, he recommended that, “It is time to get smart about how we read our skin care labels.” To do so, he suggested carefully reviewing the label itself and the actual ingredients. “The first way to read a label is to see what the first 5 ingredients are. Within these first few listings should have the ingredient that you want to see that is actually making the skin correction. In other words, if you want a Vitamin C product then make sure that Vitamin C (or more clinically know as ascorbic acid) is listed towards the top of the ingredients list and not at the bottom. This will tell you how effective a product can be. There are countless companies that say their product is the best because it includes peptides or copper, but the majority of these products barely contain that product at all. They included just enough of the product to legally say that it is actually in the product.”
“The first way to read a label is to see what the first 5 ingredients are.” Alexander Rivkin, M.D.
Are you helping or hurting your skin?
In addition to making sure that your skin care product contains enough of some ingredients, he also cautioned to make sure they do not contain others. “Another step to take when reading labels is to see if the ingredients include:
These are very common to find in most retail outlets and are considered to be very toxic to the skin.” He added, “The longer and weirder the word, the more likely it’s not good for your skin. There are very common ingredients within major skin care products that have even been proven to increase chances of cancer to the stomach, bladder, and intestines to name a few. The next time you spend your hard earned money on a facial cream or serum, make sure the product is healthy for your skin and will not cause more harm than good.
Do they know we are all different?
Focus on the details
Dr. Richard Baxter is a well-recognized name in the Anti-Aging movement. As medical director of a full-service medical spa and a Plastic Surgeon in the Pacific Northwest, he had a few recommendations for separating fact from fallacy. His first suggestion was to, “Bring your magnifying glass to the beauty counter; the fine print is what is important. Cosmetic companies are pros at finding the right phrases to imply anti-aging benefits without crossing the line and risking action by the FDA. This is where the fine print becomes important and so phrases like ‘reduces the appearance of fine wrinkles’ do not mean the same thing as ‘reduces wrinkles’”. He added that, “Medical grade products are subject to a higher degree of scrutiny so be wary of any OTC product making claims that imply they do the same thing.”
“Inexpensive moisturizers work as well as expensive ones.” Dr. Richard Baxter
Don’t be afraid to spend money; but spend it wisely
Next, he cautioned, “ Don’t be fooled by the price. For the most part inexpensive moisturizers work as well as expensive ones. Spend your money where it will actually make a difference.”
Finally, he suggested scrutiny when it comes to products claiming to be all-natural. “Don’t put too much faith in the ‘all-natural’ claim. It may be a healthy philosophy but there are a lot of highly toxic all natural compounds in nature.”
In the end, the responsibility for choosing what works best for our skin rests firmly on the shoulders of we, the consumers. To make educated decisions on what will benefit us individually, we need to know what to ask and whom to ask and we need to know what to watch out for. The more information we bring to the table, the more likely we are to make decisions that will positively benefit our skin in the long run. And as we all know, the better our skin looks, the better we look overall.
Dr. Gregory A. Buford is a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon, published author, national speaker and co-founder of beforliving.com. Early on, he recognized that medicine was evolving and in response he sought to develop a practice pattern for his clients incorporating a more whole-body approach to the aging process. His practice is limited exclusively to Aesthetic Medicine with an emphasis on Breast Enhancement, Body Contouring, and Minimally Invasive Facial Rejuvenation. He has devoted his practice and career to women’s health and wellness issues. You can learn more about Dr. Buford here.