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My Story & Routine in Detail

My Story & Routine in Detail: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


  • Q. Why do you use so many products?
    • A. I like to use more emollient product during the nighttime, and I like to make sure that my skin gets as many different well-documented antioxidants as possible. Our skin is a complex organ system that needs a cocktail of various nutrients. It’s true that retinoids and vitamin C are two of the biggest heavy hitters, but what’s a star without its teammates? Can a stellar quarterback ever win games without equally good teammates? I think not.
  • Q. How do you apply these products?
    • A. Like most people, I apply all my skin care products with my fingers. However, I’d like to note that I do this even for my toners and all three of my liquid chemical exfoliants. Manual application minimizes the amount of product wasted. Truly, this makes a huge difference, and you get so much more product onto your skin! What you want to do is cup your hand, and carefully pour the liquid into the sinkhole you’ve made with your palm. Then, lean forward and gently transfer the product onto your face. After the initial contact, it should be simple to distribute the product evenly without having the liquid drip everywhere. Cotton rounds or square are unnecessary because they waste product, and your skin should be makeup free from cleansing. If that’s a problem for you after cleansing, go over your face with a makeup remover-soaked pad to remove any leftover makeup.
  • Q. How long do you typically wait before applying each product?
    • I typically apply everything within a few minutes of each other. The only exceptions are the products that require a certain pH value or range to function. For example, I do wait longer (anywhere between 15-45 minutes) after applying my salicylic and glycolic acid treatments.
  • Q. When it comes to skin care, are there positive correlations between price and quality/quantity?
    • A.  Yes and no… and maybe. Haha, that doesn’t help does it? Before discussing each answer, remember that these speculations demonstrate correlative not causative relationships.
      • Yes, in the sense that many beneficial ingredients like ascorbic acid and retinol, are hard to stabilize, which therefore require additional research into enhancing that aspect. In addition, the raw ingredients necessary to formulate a product require funding to buy from various suppliers. You didn’t actually think that these cosmetic companies harvest their own “natural” extract and minerals right? And if more of these ingredients are present within a product, logically the overall price would raise.
      • No, in the sense that for many companies, the prices of products are often exaggerated as the result of excessive marketing, quasi-scientific studies, and/or the targeted group of consumers. I mean, you’d never see a Chanel face cream for $30, despite the fact that most of them are only adequate at best. Furthermore, companies have to factor in the average amount of returned products if they have a return policy, which most moderately and highly priced lines do.
      • Now unfortunately, the most important aspects of these positive correlations fall under the “maybe” category. This is because, wth the exception of active sunscreen components, hydroquinone, prescription retinoids, and a few others, most ingredients, whether biologically altering or not, found in skin care are not governed by the FDA or any regulatory organization. Furthermore, concentrations of the ingredients present are not available for viewing because they are considered proprietary information that companies can legally choose to keep private. Therefore, the average consumer can only rely on what a company says about the concentrations present, and what reaction he or she has after using said product. Since companies can say whatever they want about a product and skin care takes time to manifest meaningful changes, these two methods aren’t very reliable, ironically.
        • An example of price versus quality/quantity, which are not mutually exclusive when it comes to skin care since certain ingredients require specific concentrations to be effective, would be the comparison of a cheap product with good ingredients and an expensive product with the same good ingredients. The expensive product probably has listed the alleged concentrations of some of the ingredients. They could be true or false. There’s no way to know for sure. Looking at the ingredients for both products, we see that the “good” ones are placed at similar positions on the ingredient list. Typically, ingredients are listed from highest to lowest concentration present, but companies don’t have to follow this guideline. But we can’t know how much is actually present. For all we know, the cheap product has 90% inactive ingredients, 10% good ingredients and the expensive product has 75% inactive ingredients, 25% good ingredients, or vice versa. But because they’re present in correspondingly decreasing concentrations, they appear very similar on the ingredient lists. Once again, we can’t know the amounts present. Also, we don’t know how the inactive ingredients alter the penetration, stability, and functionality of the active ones.
        • As the last option available, we can try both products split-face over a period of time. If there’s no improvement, that doesn’t actually mean anything concrete. For all we know, both products could be good or bad. Or one is good and one is bad, but they don’t manifest results that can be seen with the naked eye. Or maybe some of the “good” ingredients function to prevent damage, rather than treat damage, which in many cases is true. If there is an improvement, that could mean that one of the skin care products is better than the other. Or it could be the placebo effect manifesting itself because you so strongly believe that one product is better for whatever the reason. Or it could be a combination of anything mentioned so far.
        • It’s all one giant slippery slope that unfortunately, has no simple solution.
  • Q. If you had unlimited amounts of money, what would you change in your routine?
    • A. I would like to switch out the retinol product for a prescription retinoid like tretinoin or tazarotene. I’d also like to add a retinol body product such as the Hydroshield Body Serum by Dr. Denese. Following the discussions about price versus quality and quantity above, as much as I love Paula’s Choice product, there are a few things that perturbe me. One being that Paula doesn’t state the concentrations of certain ingredients in any of her products. For example, the polyphenol content of the green tea that’s present in many of the products is not stated. I’m also questioning why she doesn’t include the necessary lipid components of the epidermal barrier (ceramides, fatty acids, and cholesterol) in the correct ratios, since incorrect ones or the inclusion/exclusion of any one of the three components have actually been demonstrated to retard epidermal barrier repair. And so forth. But ultimately, given the plentitude of pros versus the smattering of cons characterized by the PC line, I’m pretty satisfied with my current routine. But hey, there’s always room for improvement right?
  • Q. Are you sponsored by or affiliated with Paula’s Choice?
    • A. I can see why this question would come up, as two-thirds of my products are from Paula’s Choice. I can irrevocably assure you that I have zero ties to her company. I don’t own any of the company’s stock options. I’ve never even posted on the official site. I have sent a couple of emails asking a few questions, but that’s the extent of our relationship. I use her products because they’re excellent formulations that contain (hopefully) good amounts of well-documented ingredients.

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.


44 thoughts on “My Story & Routine in Detail: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. Hi John, I love your site! I’ve been reading some articles about niacinamide and vitamin c and negative complexation (something like that, sorry I don’t have a mind for science^^) and I’ve been worried now about whether or not I can use my Clinique Turnaround Concentrate (which I thought had vitamin c but I’m not sure now) and Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Pore Reducing Toner which has both niacinide and vitamin c. Actually, there are a lot of Paula’s Choice products that incorporate niacinamide and vitamin c in the same formula like the skin balancing toner, the ultra light antioxidant serum, and the skin brightening treatment. Is that okay? If some forms of vitamin c are okay in moderate amounts, does that mean we have to be careful about using a niacinamide product and multiple products with vitamin c?

    Posted by Jane | August 25, 2014, 7:23 pm
    • When I mean Vitamin C, I’m referring to just its natural form (L-ascorbic acid), not any of its derivatives. So you’re definitely fine using those products you mentioned in conjunction with each other.

      Welcome to our community btw!

      Posted by John | September 17, 2014, 4:08 pm
  2. Hi John! I’ve been following you for quite some time and I think you might be the best person who might be able to help me with my skincare woes 😦 I used to only get the occassional whiteheads and blackheads and my skin was pretty much almost acne free throughout my first 18 years of life (granted I only used the cheap olay clothed cleanser from costco and sunscreen-no moisturizer whatsover). Then, college hit and my face started breaking out when I started using the aveeno spf without removing it properly. I started breaking out on top of my cheeks in cystic acne, which luckily stopped when I stopped using it. Then, I bought tons of stuff for my face, which in return resulted in my skin clogging with many whiteheads/blackheads and occasional painful cysts! Because of this, I got into proper skincare and started to research a tons of brand, which got me to the paula choice brand, which I know you recommend also!

    The thing is that although I’m using paula choice right now, I’m not sure if the BHA 2% liquid is breaking me out (for the worse). After using the liquid version in the white bottle, I started to get painful inflammatory acne lesions all along my jawline, chin, and cheeks for more than 3 months (which left scars that are still healing right now). Amazingly though, my T-zone (forehead/nose) loves this stuff and my pores are so much smaller! My skin is oily in the T-zone and normal or dry during the winter month. The clinique moisturizing gel is not moisturizing enough and I get flakes/dry patches all along my mouth/chin. My chin and cheeks also clogged by cetearyl alochol (maybe?) because I found that the neutrogena anti-wrinkle night cream with retinol caused new clogged pores that are extremely unslightly.

    My routine is:

    Morning: Paula choice normalizing cleanser, paula choice benzoyl peroxide 2.5%, clinique moisturizing gel all over and clinique extended thirst relief moisturizer for all skin types on my cheeks, then a physical sunscreen like resist spf 30 (i just changed to burnout spf 30 because I ran out of the resist)

    Night: clinique take the day off cleansing balm for sunscreen, paula choice normalizing cleanser, paula choice regular strength 2% on T-zone daily and cheeks/jawline every 1-2 days (hope that the weaker strength bha will not break me out as much), 2.5% benzoyl peroxide, and same moisturizers routine. PHEW! 🙂

    I was looking at the paula choice boosting cream to replace the 2 moisturizers as well as an aha (lactic/glycolic) for my cheeks and jawline…

    At this point, I am just so confused because I feel like no matter what I do, I still get the 3-4 painful small acne lesions on my left cheek and jawline as well as some clogged pores on my jawline/cheeks from the neutrogena cream encounter. Can you help me? 😦

    Posted by linh nguyen | December 4, 2013, 8:42 pm
    • I meant to say 3-4 on the left cheek alone and 2-3 on my jawline/chin. 😦

      Posted by linh nguyen | December 4, 2013, 8:46 pm
    • I know it’ been a while! And I apologize dearly. If you’d like to update me on your situation, I’d be happy to help!

      Posted by John | April 21, 2014, 3:59 pm
      • Sorry if this seems repetitive! I didn’t directly reply to your post but made a new post on this topic instead! Feel free to delete the other one 🙂

        When I saw your message in my email inbox, I was so excited!!! Ever since this post, I have slightly changed my routine now. In the morning, I wash my face with the paula choice clear normalizing cleanser, clinique gel, resist spf 30 for oily/combo skin, and slightly foundation. At night, I take off my makeup/sunscreen with albolene cleanser + jojoba and take off this oil cleanser with some pads. Then I go in with the clinique gel (no extended thirst relief unless really, really needed bc I find that it slight clog both sides of my cheeks and jaws with skin colored bumps). I realize that any BHA/AHA products will break my skin out (the PC regular strength 2%, PC BHA 2% liquid, or alpha hydrox 10%). Just using any chemical exfoliant (even gentle ones like those) will break me out the next day in painful pumps. I realize that my skin is so easily reactive that if I just stick to gentle products without cetereal/cetyl alcohol (coconut derivatives) then my skin will be relatively happy. Last but not least, if I break out from bad food consumption, then I just apply a bit of PC benzoyl peroxide and it will go away slowly (not every single day because after a week, I will break out from dry skin accumulation on those parts). Now, I’m on a quest to find an exfoliant that won’t break my skin out. Maybe a new moisturizer because the clinique gel can be too mattifying on my skin but other than that, I’m in a better spot than before! 🙂

        Posted by lpnguyen3 | April 22, 2014, 4:05 pm
        • I’m glad to hear that your skin is in a better place! I’m also sorry to hear that hydroxy acids don’t agree with your skin. Have you tried retinoids before? What types of food make you break out? Do you have access to azelaic acid? What issues would you like to improve right now?

          And… that’s the last question haha. Let me know so we can proceed forwards. Thanks for the continued support!

          Posted by John | April 29, 2014, 4:30 pm
          • I haven’t tried retinoids or azelaic acid before (not entirely sure what azelaic acid is). I’m just so hesitant of chemical exfoliants because I suspect that I might have slight rosacea. D: If I eat spicy food, drink any alcohol, too much milk (dairy+soy), I can start getting bumps on my face. Right now, my cheeks and chin just seem so normal/dry..Foundations that are meant for normal/dry combination skin can collect in patches on my cheeks and chin. But I know that if I use a moisturizer that is meant for dry skin, I will more likely than not break out. I know that I need to exfoliate in order to prevent dry patches from happening but am just not sure on what kind of exfoliant I need to use. 🙂

            Posted by lpnguyen3 | April 30, 2014, 7:28 pm
            • If you have relatively easy access to azelaic acid, give that a try. Retinoids will typically make your skin flake a bit more, but that’s always a future option. Just curious but what foundation are you using now? What’s your foundation routine? I may be more of a skin care “expert,” (or so I claim haha), but my experience with base makeup is quite good as well. 😉

              Posted by John | May 4, 2014, 5:21 pm
              • I seriously get so excited whenever I see your comments in my inbox!!! 😀 I will definitely give azelaic acid a try ^_^ Right now, I’m using nars sheer glow (matte finish/kinda cling to my dry patches on my jawline though, so gotta be careful with that) or tarte amazonian clay full coverage airbrush foundation (more like a sheer mineral powder really). If my acne is really bad, I would also use the maybelline age rewind dark spot concealer as well. 🙂

                Posted by lpnguyen3 | May 5, 2014, 11:15 am
                • Yay for more excitement! You know, I’m not really sure why I asked which foundation you’re using because how you’re prepping the skin, the rest of your routine, how you apply the foundation, etc… can all affect the overall result. And you’re probably not interested in writing ALL of that LOL. Ack, sorry to have wasted your time haha. Plus, you probably could get some helpful times just by going into your local department store.

                  Posted by John | May 16, 2014, 3:38 pm
  3. Hi John,

    I love your blog and am eagerly waiting to see what pearls you’ll be casting before us plebs before the countdown is up.

    Anyway, brace yourself, because in the meantime I have another one of the ever-popular product combination questions. 😉

    There is a widespread belief on the internet that combining acids and metal is harmful. Is using l-ascorbic acid and derivatives under ZnO sunscreen potentially pro-aging?

    Also, acids apparently convert zinc particles to soluble ions, which don’t block UV. Does using vitamin C products under ZnO sunscreens make them less effective?

    Would using a coated ZnO sunscreen circumvent this, especially as vitamin C remains active on the skin for days at a time?

    Posted by Pippi | April 2, 2013, 9:27 pm
    • Haha yay more questions!

      As for your question, there are several reasons why you don’t have to worry about this. As you noted, ZnO particles are coated to reduce reactivity. This fact alone, would be sufficient to answer your question. You basically just answered your own question. Good job!

      But to put your mind at ease, know that L-ascorbic acid must penetrate into your viable skin cells (past the stratum corneum) in order to have any effect. ZnO on the other hand (nanosized or not), does not penetrate past the stratum corneum. So there’s no chance of having them interact and then to exert a negative effect on your skin.

      There are many other reasons such as differences in solubility, amphoteric tendencies, etc… But the most important reason is the one described above. So rest assured. 😉

      Does that all make sense?

      Posted by John | April 3, 2013, 4:21 pm
      • Thanks for explaining everything so clearly.

        As luck would have it, I’m actually using probably one of the only uncoated ZnO suncreens on the market. Still, if I wait 5 minutes between applying L-AA serum and ZnO, the L-AA will fully absorb and no degradation or unwanted reactions should occur? Or should I leave it longer?

        Also, some people on internet forums (that great fount of unattributed wisdom of our time), claim that green tea is an acid and would react badly with metals. My uncoated ZnO sunscreen contains both green tea and copper gluconate, so I’m curious to find out whether this is a scientific possibility or whether it should be banished to the wilds of Yahoo Answers, to forever drift though the margins of cyberspace, accompanied only by the heart-felt pleas of 13 year olds desperate to know whether eating green M&Ms will make you pregnant. But I digress…

        I’m actually struggling with acne-induced hyper-pigmentation and am basically trying to work out how to get as much goodness onto my face as possible, without accidentally causing unwanted reactions on my skin. I have tretinoin gel, niacinamide gel, LA-A serum, moisturiser with vitamin e, c, licorice and glucosamine.

        What do you think of using L-AA, moisturiser, and sunscreen in the morning, and in the evening niacinamide gel, then 1 hour later tretinoin gel? How many hours should I ideally leave between L-AA and niacinamide?

        If you had my arsenal, how would you apply it General Su?*

        Also, yay for amphoteric tendencies; despite what my spell-checker thinks I’ve learned a new word! Now to casually slip it into conversation…

        *I’m unilaterally awarding you a generalship for services rendered towards beautiful skin in the fight against acne and hyperpigmentation. 😉

        Posted by Pippi | April 4, 2013, 9:28 pm
        • Thanks for the kind words!

          Even if the ZnO and the L-AA were to have some type of interaction, it wouldn’t affect your skin because the ZnO doesn’t penetrate down into the viable (living) epidermis. And again, the amount of interaction is minimal in the worst case scenario. However, you do still need to wait for a whole other reason (I’d recommend at least 15 minutes): the penetration and stabilization of L-AA is highly dependent on pH. If you apply the two products too quickly together, the pH of the sunscreen will increase the pH of the L-AA product, making it minimally or drastically less effective, depending on the pH and amount of application of both products. And even if your sunscreen is non-aqueous (meaning it contains no water, which is a rare thing), if you don’t allow the L-AA product to properly set, the two products may mix together, which again, will reduce efficacy. That’s the thing about L-AA. It’s hugely beneficial, but notoriously difficult with which to work.

          And you don’t have to worry about green tea’s mild acidity and it interacting with metals. Again, there have to be free metal ions and other conditions present before this will happen. Besides, almost all good non-coated ZnO sunscreens will contain chelating agents such as Disodium EDTA, that will bind to any free metal ions in solution anyways. So don’t worry about this.

          As for your routine, it looks fine. In the context of L-AA and niacinamide, you can definitely use them on the same day. Just don’t use them together, as in the same morning or evening routine. Also, I would personally recommend applying tretinoin before the niacinamide gel to increase efficacy. But if that’s too irritating, then stick with what you’re doing now. And you don’t have to wait an hour between applications, though again, that depends on the level of irritation experienced.

          Does that all make sense? 🙂

          Posted by John | April 7, 2013, 11:07 pm
          • Aye, aye Captain Su! (I don’t know how to properly address a general, so we’re at sea now, which is rather apropros all things considered).

            Apparently I really have a knack for picking sunscreens. My uncoated ZnO contains magnesium ascorbyl phosphate and copper gluconate, but doesn’t contain any chelators that I can identify. Would this come under the heading of “other conditions” conducive to free metal ions?

            ACTIVE INGREDIENT: Zinc oxide 19% INACTIVE INGREDIENTS: Aloe barbadensis (certified organic aloe vera gel), Water (purified), Camellia sinensis (Japanese green tea) leaf extract, Capric/caprylic triglycerides (derived from coconut oil), Glycerin (vegetable), Butyrospermum parkii (shea butter), Olea europaea (olive) oil, Lecithin phospholipid, Hyaluronic acid (vegan source), Simmondsia chinensis* (jojoba) seed oil, Squalane (olive), Panthenol (vitamin B5), Tocopherol (vitamin E), NaPCA, Rosa moschata (rose hips) oil, Centella asiatica (goto kola), Copper gluconate, Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, Fucus vesiculosis (seaweed) extract, Allantoin, Sodium riboflavin phosphate, Chondrus crispus (Irish moss), Lavandula officinalis* (lavender) essential oil, Anthemis nobilis (chamomile) flower essential oil, Vitis vinifera* (grape) seed extract. Ingredient labeling adheres to international INCI standards.

            Would you switch sunscreens? Not least because Paula Begoun might have me defenestrated for using a product with lavender essential oil. 😉

            I did notice that citric acid is on the ingredient list (albeit at the bottom) for the niacinamide gel and the moisturiser.

            Would applying either one of them under the sunscreen have a significant chelating effect?

            Also, will the superoxide dismutase in the moisturiser be affected by the acidity of the L-AA if I apply the serum 15 minutes beforehand?

            Will a non-greasy formulation like entirely aqueous ( 😉 !) L-AA serum buffer the retinoid if I apply it ½ hour beforehand?

            The more I learn, the more questions I seem to have.

            Posted by Pippi | April 8, 2013, 9:01 pm
            • Haha, you can just call me John.

              Okay, before we go any further. I need to ask: How do you know the version of ZnO you’re using is uncoated?

              Also, while I don’t recommend lavender oil, it’s not as awful as Paula claims it to be. But that’s a whole other subject.

              Okay get back to me, and then we can proceed.

              Posted by John | April 8, 2013, 11:58 pm
              • Ok, cut and paste, from the company’s website:

                In our solar products, we use cutting-edge, Non-Nano, uncoated, nearly transparent Micronized Zinc Oxide. It is the most advanced ZnO available. If you are reading old articles on how micronized zinc oxide cannot be nearly transparent etc, you are not up to speed on what is available now. That is our job, to do the research and stay ahead of the curve so that we can provide you the safest and best of what technology has to offer. Not all science is bad, and not all nature is good (think arsenic and deadly nightshade etc). Our ZnO has an average particle size of 250 nm (nano is considered under 100 nm, the difference between Micronized and Nanosized is like the difference between a Million= micro and a Billion= nano). Test studies show that our ZnO can be used to create formulations of greater than 30 SPF and PA greater than 10. It has a critical wavelength of 380 nm, which is further evidence of its ability to perform as a broad, full spectrum sunscreen (UVA/UVB).

                Posted by Pippi | April 9, 2013, 6:44 am
                • Oh okay, I see.

                  Well unfortunately, you don’t even have to worry about all the other aspects that you brought up because ultimately, I cannot recommend this product. Based on the data I’ve seen, it is impossible for ZnO alone to achieve such a high SPF rating. Even more so, uncoated ZnO has a lower SPF protective capacity than coated ZnO, which only substantiates my recommendation. Even at 25%, the SPF rating wouldn’t exceed an SPF of about 15, and that’s with coated ZnO.

                  So unfortunately, I’d recommend that you switch sunscreens.

                  Posted by John | April 9, 2013, 11:26 am
                  • Wow, I had no idea. I was under the impression that ZnO offered the best photo-stable, broad-spectrum protection.

                    So many purely ZnO sunscreens market themselves as SPF 30. The sunscreen I’m using even claims on their website that the formulas are tested using the USFDA Monograph Sun Protection Factor Determination test.

                    Could the added antioxidants have boosted the SPF during testing?

                    I’m indoors mainly, so my big concern is UVA protection rather than SPF. Can ZnO alone provide sufficient UVA protection?

                    Posted by Pippi | April 9, 2013, 12:25 pm
                    • Well, ZnO provides the best overall protection, as in it provides protection against most UVA and UVB rays equally. However, when looking at just UVB rays (which is what SPF represents), ZnO pales in comparison to TiO2 and most UVB organic UV filters in terms of maximum potential.

                      As for the SPF testing, the antioxidants do boost the SPF rating. However, therein lies the deception. I’ll be doing a post on this soon, but antioxidants don’t actually act as sunscreens; they skew the test results by altering the skin’s natural erythema response. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s not as good as a sunscreen.

                      Anyways, ZnO provides pretty great UVA protection. Only completely stabilized avobenzone with octocrylene (3%; 10%), and the Tinosorbs (S & M) provide greater protection than ZnO.

                      Posted by John | April 9, 2013, 4:28 pm
                    • Thanks for clearing that up for me. 🙂

                      Did you mean that Tinosorb M and S should be used together, or that they work well as standalone agents?

                      I’m wary of potential free-radical damage from organic sunscreens, but I’ll look for something with better UVB coverage for outdoor days and keep the ZnO for indoor days.

                      Which leads me back to my earlier questions…

                      Posted by Pippi | April 10, 2013, 2:40 pm
                    • Well, I just was referring to how the Tinsorbs perform in the UVA range. But yes, they will work better together with each other and/or other UV filters. But even alone, they provide better protection than avobenzone mostly due to their stability and % allowed in products.

                      As for the free radical issue, that IS something of which to be aware. However, if you read my inorganic VS organic sunscreen series, you’ll see that the free radical damage that occurs on the very surface of your skin (the stratum corneum), doesn’t damage the skin itself. It’s only the avobenzone that penetrates into the viable epidermis AND generates free radicals, that’s the problem. And that’s where antioxidants come in. And note that very little penetrates into the epidermis (a mostly irrelevant amount), but check out the sunscreen series for more information on that subject.

                      Finally, as for your earlier questions, can you please copy and paste the ones that you still wish for me to answer, since some of them are no longer a cause for concern?

                      Posted by John | April 11, 2013, 12:27 am
                    • Thank you so much John!

                      I presume that free radical generation would be restricted to the stratum corneum even if it has been thinned through retinoid use?

                      Back to the ZnO sunscreen questions:

                      My uncoated ZnO contains magnesium ascorbyl phosphate and copper gluconate, but doesn’t contain any chelators that I can identify. Would this come under the heading of “other conditions” conducive to free zinc ions, especially if used over L-AA?

                      Unrelated to other factors except this issue, would you keep using this sunscreen?

                      Citric acid is on the ingredient list (albeit at the bottom) for the niacinamide gel and the moisturiser. Would applying either one of them under the sunscreen have a significant chelating effect?

                      Posted by Pippi | April 11, 2013, 3:50 pm
                    • I presume that free radical generation would be restricted to the stratum corneum even if it has been thinned through retinoid use?

                      Well, while retinoid use thins the total thickness of the stratum cornuem, it does so by compacting the SC (SC); in other words, making it more dense. But the layers of corneocytes remain the same. So the before and after SCs should both exhibit similar permeability characteristics.

                      Back to the ZnO sunscreen questions:

                      My uncoated ZnO contains magnesium ascorbyl phosphate and copper gluconate, but doesn’t contain any chelators that I can identify. Would this come under the heading of “other conditions” conducive to free zinc ions, especially if used over L-AA?

                      Well, like I said before, while uncoated ZnO is more reactive, even in its uncoated form, it still isn’t very reactive. Yes, some free zinc ions can form in solution. It’s likely that some of the antioxidants in the formulation will act as the “chelating” agents and sacrifice themselves to “neutralize” the ions, including the green tea content and the L-AA. But the rates of reactions are low since these antioxidants aren’t the most efficient chelating agents. This shouldn’t worry about this.

                      Unrelated to other factors except this issue, would you keep using this sunscreen?

                      Again, like I said before, I wouldn’t use this sunscreen just because the SPF obtained from uncoated ZnO at 17%, is far lower than the recommended benchmark of 15.

                      Citric acid is on the ingredient list (albeit at the bottom) for the niacinamide gel and the moisturiser. Would applying either one of them under the sunscreen have a significant chelating effect?

                      Yes, citric acid is a pretty great chelating agent. However, it is nowhere as efficient as disodium EDTA. But you can use the products that contain this ingredient under the sunscreen. Oh, and make sure not to use the L-AA and niacinamide products together: https://thetriplehelixian.com/2012/10/26/should-niacinamide-and-l-ascorbic-acid-be-used-together/

                      Posted by John | April 15, 2013, 11:36 pm
  4. Hi John 🙂 – adore your website! LOVE the indepthness of everything and the focus on good ingredients for the skin (so hard to find information on this!). I’d just like to ask you a quick question about bha 😀 – i love this stuff, it clears up my skin really well, but it makes my skin SO flaky, for like a couple of months. Is this normal or is it just my skin type? If it’s normal how long would you reckon this would take to stop or will it likely carry on? Is there anything I can do to stop my skin looking flakey :)? Thank you so much 😀 – K

    Posted by Kay | April 2, 2013, 5:25 am
    • Thanks. 😉

      I’m really glad to have you be part of this niche community! I hope to get out a lot more content for you guys. (I’m currently working on the Ideal Routine Portal (which is currently blank), that will include 30 separate posts!) But anyways, welcome!

      To answer your question, I’d like to know which BHA product you’re using, how often you’re using it, and what other products you use in your routine. Because flaky skin can be caused by a variety of factors, I’d just like to get a sense of your skin before we proceed.

      Posted by John | April 3, 2013, 3:48 pm
  5. I have a question, John. I keep reading that 10% glycol acid combined with 2% kojic acid is great for hyper pigmentation. However, I can’t seem to find any products with GA and Kojic. Do you have any recommendations? Thanks in advance!

    Posted by madeline | October 27, 2012, 12:57 pm
    • Hi madeline,

      That combination is very good. However, kojic acid has a lot of issues with stability and irritation potential. Furthermore, I do not know of any products that contain those two ingredients at those specific concentrations.

      But that’s okay. It’s my opinion that to really treat hyperpigmentation, you need to be diligent, consistent, and aggressive. What I mean is that you have to be very diligent with using a full UVA and UVB sunscreen all the time. Also, be aggressive in the sense that you should use multiple skin lightening ingredients together. For example, think about using something like vitamin C during the day (which will also enhance your sunscreen’s UV protective capacity), and use other skin lightening ingredients like hydroquinone, niacinamide, mulberry, licorice, and/or glycolic acid at nighttime! These ingredients address hyperpigmentation via different pathways: inhibition of the tyrosinase enzyme, inhibition of melanosome transfer, and increasing cellular tunrover. Talk about a 1-2-3 punch to hyperpigmentation. Those, combined with an excellent sunscreen will markedly and dramatically improve your skin!

      I hope that helps. 🙂

      Posted by John | October 27, 2012, 6:49 pm
      • Wow, John! Thank you so much for your prompt, detailed and thoughtful reply! I have a couple follow up questions if you have the time to answer. This is my current regimen: I use Young Pharmaceuticals Multi HA cleanser morning and night. During the day, I follow with a Skinceuticals Vit C + Ferulic serum and then Roche-LaPosay Anthelios moisturizer/sunscreen. At night I use IS Clinical Active Serum followed by either Klingman’s cream or Retin A (when I’m taking a break form the hydroquinone) and then Young Pharmaceuticals NiaRiche moisturizer about an hour after. However, I understand that I can only use the hydroquinone (Klingman’s cream) for 3 months at a time and then I have to stop for a few months. What should I use when I’m not using the hydroquinone. Should I some sort of glycolic serum OVER my Active Serum when I’m not able to use the hydroquinone? Should I use the glycolic WITH the hydroquinone? What glycolic product do you recommend? I have GREAT results with my melasma (on my upper lip) when I’m able to use the hydroquinone but then it comes back on the off months. Thanks again!!!

        Posted by madeline | October 27, 2012, 7:15 pm
        • Here’s what I understand your routine to be:

          Multi HA cleanser
          CE Ferulic serum
          Anthelios sunscreen

          Multi HA cleanser
          Active serum
          Klingman’s cream or Retin-A
          Wait one hour
          NiaRiche moisturizer

          Okay, I personally don’t think the Klingman’s cream is any good. I didn’t know what it was when I first read your comment. But after doing a quick search, I learned that it’s a hydroquinone, retinoid acid, and L-ascorbic acid DIY cream. These three ingredients are all extremely sensitive to oxidation to air and light. So they’ll all become quickly inactivated after you mix them together. I definitely would not recommend DIY treatments when it comes to these ingredients.

          But to answer your question, yes you should definitely use glycolic acid with hydroquinone. The glycolic acid will increase epidermal cell turnover and thin the stratum cornuem, allowing the hydroquinone to penetrate more deeply and perhaps at a higher concentration. My favorite glycolic acid product is from Paula’s Choice, but I know that the brand is not very cheap if you’re not based in the US.

          Here’s another thing to note about your routine: I’m not a fan of the IS Clinical product. It only contains a bit of the bilberry extract, which has limited research demonstrating any efficacy. But that’s it. For the quite high price, there are so many other better products out there. You might as remove this and use a glycolic acid product in its place.

          Finally, because I can’t find the ingredients list for the NiaRiche product, I would recommend something with high concentrations of niacinamide to be used as the final step in your even routine. If the NiaRIche product already contains niacinamide, then that’s fine.

          I hope that all makes sense!

          Posted by John | October 28, 2012, 11:57 am
          • Ok, I have one more question then. Can I use hydroquinone all the time or do I have to take a break? The Klingman’s cream is actually not DIY. It’s made form by a compounding pharmacy and is hydroquinone (5%), hydrocortisone and retin-A (0.1%). It’s basically the same thing as Tri-Luma. Thanks for all of the advice! I will check out Paula’s choice.

            Posted by madeline | October 29, 2012, 4:26 pm
            • Phew, that’s good to hear that it’s NOT a DIY. And yes, it’s recommended to take breaks between hydroquinone use. During those times, you can certainly use other skin lighteners.

              As for Paula’s Choice, try the Pure Radiance Treatment for that; it contains high amounts of some truly great ingredients.

              Finally, I would like to note that you may want to switch to another hydroquinone product because regular use with hydrocortisone is NOT recommended. Because corticosteroids interact with many non-inflammatory mechanisms in the skin, it can lead to skin atrophy, eye damage, steroid addiction, and other VERY bad conditions.

              I hope that helps. And since it sounds like you’re getting the Klingman’s cream from a doctor and/or pharmacists, I’d definitely recommend asking if you can switch to a hydrocortisone-free HQ product.

              Good luck!

              Posted by John | October 30, 2012, 11:29 am
              • Thank you so much John!

                You have been incredibly helpful. I have another question, why don’t you like IS Clinical Active Serum? Do you have another one you would recommend that has tons of antioxidants? On futurederm.com, in 2009 Nicki Zevola has 2 conflicting reviews; in 2009 she doesn’t give it a great review but in 2012 she does! And in the most recent review she states that it has significant concentrations of active ingredients, such as Kojic, Glycolic, Lactic acids.

                Here are the two postings:

                2009 http://www.futurederm.com/2009/08/18/product-review-is-clinical-by-innovative-skincare/
                2012 http://www.futurederm.com/2012/06/21/product-review-is-clinical-active-serum/

                What gives? Did the formular change?

                I’m so sorry to keep bugging you but you’ve so incredibly helpful! As a nurse practitioner who’s considering incorporating skin care, I find your blog immensely enlightening and love that you list the sources you use.

                Thank you!

                Posted by madeline | October 31, 2012, 1:39 pm
                • I don’t like the Active Serum because the ingredients that it contains aren’t very great. I absolutely detest that this product attempts to fool readers into thinking that just because something like glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane; if sugar cane were to be used in a product, that you’d be getting the benefits seen with glycolic acid. That’s absolutely not true. It does this for so many of the allegedly included ingredients, including: lactic acid, salicylic acid, and kojic acid. Not only is the pH not sufficiently low to allow for exfoliation, several of the ingredients are quite unstable, which the dropper packaging does not help with at all.

                  So regardless of what Nicki said, I don’t agree with either of her two reviews unfortunately. I’d probably give this product, based on my own personal rubric used to rate every review (https://thetriplehelixian.com/2011/10/15/product-review-rubric/), something closer to an “F”; maybe even an “F-“. Lol! I actually saw your comment while approving everyone else’s, and I didn’t reply because I wanted to give Nicki a chance to address this discrepancy. However, it seems that Nicki (with the new product launch and other business ventures) is far too busy. 😦

                  But yeah, that’s my opinion on this product.

                  Happy Halloween!

                  Posted by John | October 31, 2012, 7:25 pm
  6. Hi John,

    Wow, it seems like your routine is very very inclusive and covers all aspects of an ideal skincare routine!
    May I ask how long your morning/evening skin routines take?
    Also – why did you change the name of this blog from “thetriplehelixliaison” to “thetriplehelixian”? Just curious =D


    Posted by Alice | October 9, 2012, 7:47 pm
    • Hi Alice, I wouldn’t say my routine is all-inclusive, but thanks for the comment! I actually plan to change quite a few things in the coming month, so stay tuned. I’m still testing products, but yeah. 🙂

      As to the name change, I thought that “The Triple Helix Liaison” was a bit too long-winded. Furthermore, while liaison is a excellent word, a lot of people don’t really know what it means. So I figured that “The Triple Helixian” just flows more easily and has more “conviction” and “oomph” when you say it. Furthermore, as I briefly stated in the 1st anniversary post, as the site is named THE Triple Helixian, it’s like the site is the parent or leader of our little community. But each of us are just A Triple Helixian. The new name just gives a better sense of belonging in my opinion.

      And of course you’ve noticed that the url change makes this site look much better. Instead of thetriplehelixliaison.wordpress.com, it’s now http://www.thetriplehelixian.com. Doesn’t that look way better than http://www.thetriplehelixliaison.com? I definitely think so!

      But what do you think of the name change? I’d love to hear your opinion!

      Posted by John | October 10, 2012, 10:27 am
      • Hi John, thanks for your quick response! I personally like both names; I’m just really glad I recognized that collagen was a triple helix during one of our first histology lectures – thanks to your blog! I can definitely understand both the “liaison” versus “helixian” thing. In the beginning I just thought the last part of “thetriplehelixian” with the “xian” was something in Chinese – a Pinyin romanization of a character (thank you language classes). It was only when you explained it in your reply that I actually realized what you meant! XD

        Posted by Alice | October 10, 2012, 6:15 pm
  7. Interesting. Haha, you’ve answered a few questions I had when I was reading your routine 🙂 Your routine is definitely extensive and obviously doing good things for your skin!

    Anyway, in reading your answers, they’ve raised a few questions… Hopefully you can help me answer them?

    For this question: “How long do you typically wait before applying each product?”, where did you get the information about it taking 10 minutes for absorption and penetration?

    Also, for this question: “If you had unlimited amounts of money, what would you change in your routine?”, where did you get the information about the “necessary lipid components of the epidermal barrier (ceramides, fatty acids, and cholesterol) in the correct ratios, since incorrect ones or the inclusion/exclusion of any one of the three components have actually been demonstrated to retard epidermal barrier repair.”

    Posted by Victoria | December 1, 2011, 6:32 am
    • Hey Victoria!

      Haha, I’m glad that I was able to anticipate some of your questions regarding my routine. That means that the FAQs… are ACTUALLy FAQs. xD

      As to your questions, the 10 minute rule for me is just something that makes logical sense to me. It’s simply a rule (that I made up) that I follow to ensure adequate penetration and product layering. So no, I didn’t get this from some journal.

      The subject of the other question however, was taken from the Cosmetic Dermatology textbook by Lisa Baumann, and author got that information from a study done in 1993.

      I hope that helped and if you have more questions, let me know.

      Posted by John | December 1, 2011, 11:45 am
  8. Hi John,

    I read your article on Temptalia and was really impressed. You sound like you know your stuff! It was a great read, and really informative. I don’t think I’ve ever used anything with Glycolic Acid, and I think I might need to. I suffer from excess sebum, especially on my nose. However, I can’t see myself spending so much time each day on skin care. My skin isn’t terrible, but my pores are often clogged, I usually have one or two whiteheads on my face at a time, considerable blackheads, and excess sebum. My skin is oily in the t-zone and normal on my cheeks for the most part. Currently I use Cetaphil face wash each night with the Olay cleansing brush, followed by a neutrogena moisturizer that contains .5% salicylic acid, and in the morning I use the Cetaphil wash with my hands. Do you have any recommendations for an abbreviated routine, and do you know of any drugstore products that contain Glycolic Acid?


    Posted by Mallory | November 26, 2011, 10:32 am
    • Thank you Mallory! You are very kind. Since you haven’t used any products with glycolic acid, I’ve recommend that you see my “Shopping for Skin Care” page that will teach you how to search for good intial products. And then of course you can get more involved later. But I’ll list some out for you this time. xD

      Since you have oilier skin, I would recommend something that’s a liquid or lotion texture. Besides the PC products that I named, several of the AHA products from Alpha Hydrox are excellent. For example the Oil-free Formula 10% Glycolic is a good one. The Olay Regenerist Night Resurfacing Elixir, while expensive for a drugstore product, is also very good.

      Use the glycolic in conjunction with the salicylic. So glycolic at night, salicylic during the day. Make sure to wear sunscreen. If you still aren’t getting results, try upping your salicylic concentration from 0.5% to 1.0% then 2.0% to see if those improve your skin.

      And of course, I’m always here, so if you have additional questions, let me know!

      Posted by John | November 26, 2011, 6:40 pm

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