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Welcome to The Triple Helixian!

This is a very new blog that I, John Su started on October 9th, 2011. This site is designed to provide succinct, unbiased, and meaningful information about skin care products, the ingredients that they contain, and which ones you should and should not use as you, the reader, attempts to formulate a truly rewarding skin care routine. There are so many problems that we have to worry about on a day-to-day basis. Let’s make taking care of our skin NOT be one of them!

Please read the Disclaimer because it discusses the common themes and mentality needed to maximally comprehend and benefit from this blog. Don’t worry, it’s not too long-winded or technical.

Because this is a brand-new blog, please be patient and give me some time to write the PAGES, which is what you see on the top starting with “Shopping for Skin Care,” that will establish a solid foundation of knowledge. I will do my absolute best to finish as soon as possible so that we can begin developing an unequivocally interactive relationship. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want you to comment. On the contrary, because this is a new blog, your feedback is absolutely essential because I need to know if I’m going towards the right direction or if I’m doing something wrong. I highly, HIGHLY encourage that you leave a comment just telling me what is on your mind. I literally mean anything that has to do with this blog, whether it be format, content, design, whatever!

Feel free to comment, rate, subscribe, or email me at john@thetriplehelixian.com. You can also contact me through Facebook or Twitter. Any and all responses will be greatly appreciated! I’m going to be doing a few GIVEAWAYS soon just to kick things off, and also as a way of thanking you guys!

I look forward to reading your responses and answering any questions that you have.

Oh, in case you were wondering where I got the name “The Triple Helixian” from, speculate no further because I’m gonna lay it all out for you. I named the blog so because collagen, one of the most abundant proteins present in the body and arguably the most important component in healthy skin, has a triple helix structure. Therefore, metaphorically speaking all of us are Triple Helixians.

About John

The Triple Helixian is an unbiased science and research-based site that attempts to clarify and elucidate questions about skin care, while aspiring to be the most thorough and complete source of information.


26 thoughts on “Welcome!

  1. Hi John,
    How do you feel about face oils? Ie Maracuja and Argan? Thanks!

    Posted by Madeline | October 6, 2013, 12:12 am
  2. Hi John! I’ve seen you mention a number of times that you can’t afford a doctor’s visit for a prescription retinol or the actual rx cream. I just want you to know that shouldnt be true! I’m a nurse practitioner and I prescribe Retin-A to many patients. I only require that I see them once a year for a physicial (which you should be doing anyway!). You only need to see your primary care provider–not a dermatologist (Accutane is a different story). My personal physician who prescribes ME Retin-A does the same thing. One tube lasts me about 5 months and costs $15. And if you’re not going in for a check-up once a year–please do! It’s the most important thing you can do for yourself.

    Posted by Madeline | September 10, 2013, 5:56 pm
    • Thanks for the advice! I’m actually extremely content with my retinol product right now. But I’ve been looking into using 0.3% adapalene (generic Differin) to further improve my routine.

      Posted by John | April 21, 2014, 3:45 pm
  3. hello!i’m your new reader..i am amazed with your skin on temptalia photo!! i’m from indonesia but next month i’m going to live at San Fransisco and i am looking for the perfect acne treatment for me, because u know as a student i have to save my money on everything else :).
    i’ve been struggling with acne since i was teenager, i am 23 now..i have minor acne maybe 1-2 a months.but it sucks whenever they form into a cystic acne!it clearly shows and i cannot do anything about it. cannot squished,inject the cysts too because it will leave a scar not hyperpigmentation.
    for now, i have many hyperpigmentation because of the acne scar…i really dislike themmm!!they take monthss to fade..and i don’t like using concealer or foundation because i’m too afraid that make up will give me acnes..
    I’ve been contacting with PC from USA, he suggested me to use the PC acne treatment series (regular), but i really like to hear from a person that have been struggling with acne too and recover completely!
    I’ve considered to buy the acne treatment regular and AHA to minimize my acne spot..which is the best AHA from PC?
    thanks for your help!

    Posted by Gabriella | July 28, 2013, 9:45 am
    • Haha Gabriella! You’re so funny!

      My skin is nowhere near perfect, but thank you. Keep in mind I was wearing makeup in the photos that were shot oh so long ago.

      Now, there isn’t a one-size-fit-all acne routine that is “perfect.” But if you’re just starting off with skin care, the PC CLEAR routine is a pretty good and balanced routine. You can start off with that and see how you respond, then decide whether or not adding an AHA product is even necessary.

      Let me know if you have any other questions, and welcome! We’re happy to have you join us. 🙂

      Posted by John | July 28, 2013, 10:13 pm
  4. I came here right after you announced that you’ll no longer write for FutureDerm. However, your Subscribe function is not working! Please fix it and let us know when it’s operable again. Thanks.

    Posted by Sarah | April 26, 2013, 9:50 pm
    • Hi Sarah,

      I’m thrilled and flattered to have you here! Hmm, can you explain exactly what the problem is for you? Because I just signed out as the admin and tried to subscribe with my personal email addess, and it went through fine.

      Here’s what I did. Hopefully it’ll help you out:

      1. Click “Better skin here I come!” on the bottom right hand corner of the homepage, after you enter your email address.
      2. Then a notification should pop up right above it, saying something like, “An email has been sent to that address. Please go there and confirm the subscription.”
      3. Then go to your email and open that email, which should be from The Triple Helixian (from donotreply@wordpress.com), asking you to confirm the subscription.
      4. Open the email and click “Confirm Follow.”
      5. That should open a new tab/window where you can select when you’d like to receive a notification when a new post is published.

      Let me know if that helps, and thank you for subscribing!

      Posted by John | April 26, 2013, 10:44 pm
  5. Hi John

    Your blog is truly amazing. I am not an avid blog reader though I blog (low profile) in your same domain ( http://blog.gulfdoctor.net ). Just landed here from futurederm. Just followed you on twitter and subscribed to your feed. Thanks a lot and keep up the good work.


    Posted by Bell Eapen | April 9, 2013, 5:29 am
  6. Also, you have spoken about the limitations of topical products relative to the benefits which can be gained from more invasive things like laser treatments. Would it be best to stick to a bare bones regime of cleanser salicylic acid absolutely basic drugstore moisturizer and prescription tretinoin and abstain from any expensive antioxidant serums, masks, weekly treatments, etc. etc. and instead simply use the hundreds, potentially thousands that would have been spent on those products over the years and simply getting a course of laser treatments every few years?

    ill add that sunscreen would also be included in this proposed hypothetical basic regime. but again some kind of basic situation

    Posted by benjaminbeaumont. | February 22, 2013, 9:57 am
    • This is a very good question, which I plan to address in the “Ideal Routine” page that is in the works. There are 30 parts!

      But anyways, that can certainly be something to do. But my counter-argument is: why not do both? The lasers can only do so much; they have to have something to work off of.

      And you may be right that using just a basic routine vs a more complicated one, might only make a small difference. Who knows? It might be 10% or 50%. You can imagine how hard long-term studies attempting to document this, would be to execute. There are just too many factors that can influence and skew the results.

      My philsophy is basically to do the best that you can in whatever you can, whether it’s via skin care, exercise, diet, etc… Do what brings you the most happiness.

      I hope that answers your question sufficiently. If not, let me know!

      Posted by John | February 24, 2013, 12:13 pm
  7. Hi John,
    I love your blog, it’s just amazing. And I die every time I read it. I have a few questions that I was hoping you would be able to answer.

    1) Both yourself and Nicki from futurederm have posted your skincare regimes and neither of them include and prescription tretinoin products, why is this the case. The general message I get from you guys is that retinol isn’t able to produce effects that are comparable to tretinoin. So I don’t understand why would not use the superior product, I feel like I am missing something here.

    2) Is there any known reason not to use tretinoin on your nostrils and fold of skin in-between the nostrils and face?

    3) I am of Indian descent and have a fairly dark complexion and my biggest issue skin care by far is trying to find zinc or titanium dioxide based sun care product that provides SPF 30+ protection which doesn’t leave a white cast so obvious that both children and their parents stop and stare. I refuse to wear chemical sun products as I doubt their reliability and have sensitive skin which is often irritated by them. Knowing how damaging the sun is for skin, this is a major problem. The best product I’ve managed to find is the invisible zinc range of tinted sunscreens, they give the impression that I’m wearing some kind of stage makeup, but at least it appears to be somewhat colour matched stage makeup rather than the ‘French mime’ look that non tinted zinc products provide. But this isn’t sustainable, nor is it really acceptable at work to look like I fell into a puddle of clown foundation on the way to work. Do you know of any products for darker complexions that keep both the UV damage and the horrified looks of strangers away from my face?

    4) At what point does the irritation from a product outweigh any potential benefit there is to be theoretically gained from a product? Specifically l ascorbic acid, which I have tried multiple times to introduce into my regime, each time ending with a bout of irritation so severe that I’m forced to abstain from any and all skin care products for a few days just so that I can put something back on my face without it burning. Are the potential benefits to be gained from l ascorbic acid worth the irritation I will endure if I reattempt to incorporate it into my regime and persevere through it all or should I just accept that my skin doesn’t like it and focus on products that I can actually tolerate?

    Posted by benjaminbeaumont. | February 22, 2013, 9:00 am
    • 1) The only reason I don’t use prescription retinoids is because I can’t afford going to a dermatologist every time for a refill and paying for his/her fees on top of those for the actual product. As these are non-medical related visits, they would unfortunately not be covered by insurance. 😦 And I’ve gotten fantastic results with the retinoid product that I’m using right now, that I don’t see the need to rush and get the prescription version. Eventually I will switch over. But who knows when?

      As for efficacy, it really depends how much retinol is converted to tretinoin, and that number will vary from person to person. It has been demonstrated to be anywhere around 5-10%. But a portion of retinol WILL convert to tretinoin, so you can certainly get the same results from either retinol or tretinoin, depending on both the concentration (%) of retinol applied, and a person’s skin environment. That’s why when using retinol products, it’s best to know how much % is in any given product. Retinol also tends to be less irritating.

      The “superior” ingredient can be either one depending on a person’s skin type. Please see this post for additional infomation: https://thetriplehelixian.com/2012/09/10/part-ii-retinol-metabolism-contd-retinol-degradation-and-strength-combination-use-of-hydroxy-acids-and-retinol-v-0-03/ In fact, consider reading the entire three-part series for a fuller understanding of everything.

      2) Not that I know of, except that those areas tend to be more sensitive to flaking or dryness from the tretinoin; hence the caution.

      3) I actually answered this exact question very recently. I’ll copy and paste what I wrote to the reader Lewis:

      I understand the whiteness that most inorganic sunscreens give off is undesirable. I too have always struggled with this aspect, and still do. It’s something that I’ve just accepted now; I mean I have to compromise somehow considering how much protection I want from a sunscreen.

      If you read my sunscreen series, you’ll know that I made recommendations in the final part. Furthermore, I wrote additional supplementary posts too. So if you don’t care TOO much about sun protection, three of the recommended products leave virtually ZERO white cast!

      Two of the three are virtually identical to each other and are discussed here: http://www.futurederm.com/2012/10/27/this-or-that-a-brief-look-at-lightweight-sunscreens/ Both are great for oilier skin types; though drier skin types can certainly use them too.

      And if you’ve got a strictly drier skin type, this third product would be perfect: http://www.futurederm.com/2012/11/01/common-misconceptions-of-skin-care-terminology/

      The Josie Maran SPF 40 provides the most protection out of these three products, but they all give good overall protection and are transparent.

      4) It definitely sounds like L-ascorbic acid is too irritating for your skin. It’s not worth incorporating into your routine if you have to go through that every time. Have you considered using something that contains perhaps 5% of it? That may be an option. Something like this would be good: http://www.dermstore.com/product_Active+C+Facial+Skincare+Normal+to+Combination+Skin_675.htm

      If not, consider using a vitamin C derivative or several of them. They may not have as much research behind them, but they theroeticaly should work just as well as L-ascorbic acid if not better, due to their ability to to penetrate into the skin better. Of course being a derivative, it has to be converted once it penetrates, and that conversation rate is unknown and will of course vary. But using them is better than using none at all.

      It’s a good thing that there are multitudes of products that contain these derivatives, though they are not all created equally. Look for Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate AKA ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate, and/or the magnesium and sodium ascorbyl phosphates.

      Does that all make sense?

      Posted by John | February 24, 2013, 11:59 am
    • Hi Benjamin,
      I might be able to shed some light on the sunscreen issue and your concerns. As the developer and owner of a sunscreen line (LUCA), the product that John recommends above are high quality and a perfect fit for you. In my opinion the combination of zinc and octinoxate (OMC) as active ingredients perfect for people with irritation issues.

      After trying for years we were not able to make a organic sunscreen that could sweat into the eyes without irritation. We switched to a OMC/zinc active ingredient profile for a sport sunscreen and were able to create a product that you can put on your eyelids without irritation. I have seen quite a few zinc/OMC combinations out there that are great…I think John has a link to some of the best.

      I would disagree however on avoiding organic sunscreens. True they are more complex and involve stabilization of the UVA filter avobenzone, but with the use of avobenzone one is able to get a higher level of UVA protection and as a general rule, in a lighter formulation.

      In the past there were real and pervasive problems with avobenzone breaking down in sunlight, and as such some of these poorly designed products were likely dangerous free radical generators. However now the FDA has put some teeth behind anyone making a “broad spectrum” claim. Any product making such a claim now has to achieve a critical wavelength value of 370 nm and be demonstrated to be photostable.

      I would give some of the organic sunscreens anouther look. They have come a long way in the last five years. there really are some great products out there.


      Posted by karl gruber | February 25, 2013, 3:51 pm
      • I agree that using an oganic sunscreen is better than using none at all. The advantages of using an inorganic sunscreen over an organic one however, are both numerous and significant in terms of photostability and a variety of other factors that were covered in the series comparing inorganic sunscreens to organic ones.

        And while it’s true that 3% avobenzone (the maximum allowed in US sunscreens) gives excellent protection for most UVA rays, it is ineffective against the longest ones in the 380-400 nm range. Furthermore, as it is highly unstable, except when used in combination with high amounts of octocrylene or oxybenzone (somewhat), unless a sunscreen contains just those UV filters, all others will reduce both the effectiveness of avobenzone and the photostabilizing characteristics of octocrylene and oxybenzone, with octinoxate (the most common UVB filter) being the most aggressive. And even then, photostability is not 100%, unlike with inorganic UV filters. There are just so many formulary, practical, and theoretical unknowns with sunscreens that derive their protective capabilities completely from organic UV filters. That’s why I’d prefer if people used inorganic ones. I’m not saying there aren’t good organic sunscreens out there (because there certainly are), I’m just saying that on a general note, it’s best to use inorganic ones.

        Finally, while I also agree that the critical wavelength (CW) value of 370 nm is a step in the right direction, that method of UVA determination is not valid alone, since the CW method is just an integral summation of the relative absorbance profile of a UV filter; it isn’t absolute. You also have to consider something like the PPD method, which is a measure of the absolute absorbance curve. While it hasn’t been widely used yet, it’s one of the best model we have so far.

        So yeah, of course Benjamin can use an organic sunscreen, but unless he chooses one that is actually photostable, he will be getting less protection over time than if he were to use one of the three recommended products, which leave no white cast.

        Posted by John | February 26, 2013, 6:10 pm
        • Avobenzone has an interesting history. L’Oreal was one of the first to notice that it was photounstable unless it was combined with octocrylene. They patented this stabilizing ratio. In 2000, a very good group of sunscreen chemists now with the HallStar company developed diethylhexyl 2,6 naphythalate or DEHN as a way to stabilize avobenzone. They worked with J&J to bring this to market. It is now marketed by Neutrogena in their sunscreens under the tradename Helioplex.
          Helioplex works well, but in my experience there are some irritation issues and it allows for a critical wavelength in the low 370nm range, sort of low. The HallStar guys subsequently introduced Polyester-8 in 2005 as an improvement on helioplex. It has no irritation issues, allows for critical wavelength values in the mid-380nm range, and is a great stabilizer. This is used in a lot of products and is something to look for in the list of inactive ingredients.
          The HallStar guys have recently introduced a followup to polyester-8, undercrylene dimethecone and an even more advanced stabilizer that will allow for the usage of avobenzone together with octinoxate which otherwise is a big no no for formulators.
          As far as critical wavelength you are correct, by itself it is meaningless. It only desscribes the shape of a product’s “protective umbrella” but provides no information about how effectve that umbrella is. The FDA decided to use Critical Wavelength in combination with SPF to address this problem. In other words to put “Broad Spectrum” on a label a product must achieve a Critical Wavelenth of 370 nm and have a SPF of at least 15 or higher. Any product labeled as “broad spectrum” must now demonstrate that it is photostable.
          For comparison of inorganic versus organic sunscreens and critical wavelength, I am unaware of any inorganic sunscreen achieving a Critical Wavelength value over 380nm. I have seen companies claim “protection to 400nm” but have not seen a Critical Wavelength value to back it up.
          Probably the best company that does solely inorganics and is well versed in Critical Wavelength and long wavelength UVA protection is Badger. Whatever they are achieving is likely the limit for inorganics. They chose to produce a robust inorganic product that sought after by the all-natural, afraid of nano-particle segment of the market.
          Hope this helps

          Posted by Karl Gruber M.D. | February 27, 2013, 6:16 am
          • Mhm, I agree that avobenzone-based sunscreens have come a long way. However, the newest advancements are rarely seen in organic sunscreens available on the present market. And even if those do allow for avobenzone to be used with octinoxate, those two will still cause destabilization on some degree. It still wouldn’t be the best option to add those two ingredients together.

            You are right that even the best inorganic sunscreeens have a CW in the upper 370s. However, like I said, they provide better protection overall, especially against the 380-400 nm UVA rays. I still believe that the best inorganic sunscreens are better than the best avobenzone-based ones in terms of all the factors discussed in the series.

            However, I do think that if people can get their hands on sunscrens with the Tinsorbs (S & M) in addition to inoganic UV filters, that would be the optimal solution. However, as I’m basing most of my recommendations on products that people in the USA can access, those aren’t available to us. Boo! Therefore, I still prefer inorganics over organics. But that’s not to say I don’t recommend some organic sunscreens time-to-time (as I have in the past), when I encounter a fomulation that’s worthwhile.

            Anyways, thanks for the input. I really appreciate your contribution, because it makes me examine the relevant issues a bit more closely!

            Posted by John | February 28, 2013, 4:44 pm
  8. John your information on sunscreens is some of the best I have seen anywhere.

    In the vein of suggesting some future topics, there is now an emerging concensus concerning the role of long wavelength UVA exposure and melanoma (at least BRAF+ melanoma). We have some good background information on our website, however there is a lot more information that can be provided if you want send an e-mail.

    thanks for your excellent work…it is great to finally see someone standing up to the junk science out there.
    K Gruber M.D.

    Posted by Karl Gruber M.D. | February 20, 2013, 11:53 am
    • Wow thank you very much. That is some high praise and I hope to never dissapoint!

      And good topic suggestions; I have already included related topics on my to-do list. The problem is that have so many of them and not enough time, as you can probably tell, there are a lot of blank areas on the site to complete.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Posted by John | February 21, 2013, 5:42 pm
  9. Hi John. Randy Schueller from the Beauty Brains here. We’ve worked with Nicki/FutureDerm on several occasions and I noticed that you’ve written posts with her but I had no idea you had your own blog. I LOVE it. If you’d like to get a little more exposure for your site I would love to have you write a guest post for us. One of our readers just asked a question about salicylic acid that kind of blew my mind and I’d love to get your take on it. Drop me an email if you’re interested.

    Posted by Randy Schueller | December 6, 2012, 2:35 pm
  10. Hi, John. Promise you’ll make me a version of this http://www.drugstore.com/dermalogica-pure-light-spf-30/qxp371082?catid=182896 but at about a quarter of the price.

    Posted by amy | October 2, 2012, 6:01 pm
    • Haha I’ll do my best! But in the meantime, I don’t know if you say my sunscreen series on FutureDerm (you can’t see it now because the site is going through server upgrades), but I made sunscreen recommendations for those with normal to oily skin types. One of them is quite similar to this Dermalogica product. Try the EltaMD Spf 47 sunscreen! http://www.dermstore.com/product_UV+Pure+Broad-Spectrum+SPF+47+_35773.htm

      The ingredients are quite similar, though the EltaMD one is more water-resistant. But it’s over 6 times cheaper! I really like it compared to my old Shiseido SPF 55. Maybe you could give this a try?

      Posted by John | October 2, 2012, 6:44 pm
  11. Came over from Temptalia because your thoughtful comments impressed me. I’m in social science research (on the quantitative side) and a skeptic by nature, but don’t always have the hard science background to evaluate product claims that seem suspect. Love your choice of topic and can’t wait to learn more!

    Posted by Lisbeth | April 9, 2012, 8:10 am

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