Whether chemical or physical, sunscreen is universally considered the most effective way to ward off both cancer and premature signs of aging. But that's about where the industry-wide agreement begins and ends. In L.A., a few skin-care professionals are taking photodamage one step further, weaning their clients off any products that could increase photosensitivity as an additional step towards a more youthful-looking complexion. In a nutshell, that means giving up acids like AHAs and retinols. Luckily, quitting acids is very easy to do — said no skin-care junkie, ever.
One of Hollywood's top celeb aestheticians has a challenge she'd like us all to try: Give up topical acids — from your anti-blemish face wash with salicylic acid to your brightening serum with glycolic acid and your skin-smoothing nightly retinol — and prepare for better skin because of it. (And yes, if you're asking...retinol is an acid, too.)
You think you're exfoliating, but you're really making your skin more photosensitive by creating a low-grade burn...
Still with us? Great, because Radu's reasoning is simple: She believes exfoliating with acids makes skin more sensitive to the sun (this is indeed a fact, but more on that in a second) which can cause brown spots, melasma, and hyperpigmentation. Plus, she says her clients have noticed less breakouts, dryness, irritation, and sensitivity, as well as better product absorption and a more youthful-looking glow.
In Defense Of Acids
As convincing as Radu's reasoning may be, it's important to remember that other experts are taking a less extreme and more measured approach to the very same issue. According to American Academy of Dermatology member and board-certified dermatologist Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, "You can become slightly more photosensitive with alpha and beta hydroxy acids and retinols, because they help to exfoliate the top layer of skin. Healthy skin is nicely exfoliated, but it turns out the dead skin on the top layer does give you a bit of sun protection."
Luckily, quitting acids is very easy to do — said no skin-care junkie, ever.
So, it's not that acids are evil, point blank. It's just bad when people overdo it, she says. "I see tons of people overdoing retinols, overdoing glycolic, and then, they're going to have trouble, like dermatitis and other issues," she says. Luckily, her Rx is pretty simple for those who want to use acids safely and effectively. She instructs her patients to stick to one acid-packed product per day — ideally alternating a nightly glycolic and retinol — and to keep everything else gentle. Before vacations or extended periods of sun exposure, take yourself off all acids a full week before you hit the beach, which allows your skin to better protect itself. Oh, and always reapply your SPF. Have we said that already?
Skin Rehab, Radu Style
Radu isn't alone in her messaging — but she has been dubbed "the no-acid facialist" (her words, not ours) — which means she's leading the charge in perpetually sunny Southern California. However, she also understands that moving to a more holistic skin-care approach takes some compromise. Translation: Many of her clients have arrived kicking and screaming.
I see tons of people overdoing retinols, overdoing glycolic, and then, they're going to have trouble...
Her success levels? "All my clients see the light," Radu says. "It just takes a while to see, but they always come to understand because they can feel the wellness of their skin — it feels smooth, glowing, and hydrated."
Of course, you still need to exfoliate for a variety of reasons — declogging pores at the top of that list. Radu's suggested routine? As needed, a very gentle physical exfoliator like a gommage or scrub (be sure the granules are no bigger or sharper than a grain of sugar) used after cleansing and before a targeted, acid-free serum. Plus, a good moisturizer for night and strong SPF for day.
Fret Not: Recreational Users Are Permitted
Radu knows that this will not work for everyone or every situation. In fact, she has some tips to implement if you fall somewhere in the middle of the issue. The most useful being her tip for breakouts. Blemishes happen — and many OTC topical treatments are acid-based — so Radu suggests applying them only to the area to be treated and mixed 50/50 with a simple everyday lotion, which will aid in the exfoliation without over-drying your entire complexion.
When it comes to acid-based prescription products or those recommended by your derm — like those for brown sports, melasma, or acne — she instructs her clients be very precise by applying with a Q-tip. "It takes extra time, but it's the only way you won't affect the surrounding skin," she explains.