Skincare Knowledge

skincare-knowledgeEssays by The Founder

1. Founders’ Statement (Why am I here)

2. Skin Aging Basics

3. Separating truth from hype

4. Anti-aging skin care

5. Skin Exfoliation Techniques

6.  Antioxidant-Alpha Lipoic Acid

7.  Vitamin C in Skin Care- The Good and the Tricky

8. How often to exfoliate

9. Photo-aging and Sun Protection

10. Reading the Cosmetic Label

11. Acne and Exfoliation


1. Founders' Statement (Why am I here?)
I want to share my journey of skincare, especially anti-aging skincare with you.  If you happen to have very sensitive skin, like myself, then this page is especially for you.

I started paying attention to skincare when I turned 25, and it ended miserably a few months later.  The skin irritation got so bad that even the previous “good” moisturizers started to cause bad reactions. 

I tried again 3 years later, when a friend sold me a whole set of Mary Key skincare products.  It caused serious skin breakout in two days, and I had to return the whole set. I am in my late-forties now.  Until a few years ago, the only skincare product I dared to use was a bottle of Pevonia’s sensitive skin cream.  Almost everything else I tried up to that point (Oil of Olay, Clinique, MaryKay, to name a few) had ended in various degree of skin irritation.

Not wanting to be permanently shut out of skincare and anti-aging technologies, I set out to find a safe and scientific way to take care of my skin.  It has been fun navigating the skincare maze, trying to separate the truth from hype along the way.  Not able to find a safe skin exfoliation product for myself, I invented one, SafePeel Beauty Strips, vigorously tested bio-compatible skin exfoliation strips.  I founded InaMei in 2008, so I can share SafePeel Beauty Strips with anybody who is also searching for safe and non-irritating anti-aging skincare products.
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2. Skin Aging Basics
“If I’d known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” — Eubie Blake, Jazz musician, who lived to be 96 (1887-1983)

We get older, sun shines on us (causing photo aging), dry wind blows on us, pollution in air assaults our skin and our body, gravity pulls on us, stressful lifestyle dulls our body and our skin.  It appears to be only a matter of time before our skin gets rough, dull, and aged.

To slow down the skin aging process or even to reverse some of the aging effects, we first have to understand what caused skin-aging.  The natural aging process of our skin starts in our mid twenties, even though the sign of aging is not visible for quite a few more years to come.  The collagen and elastin productions in our skin slow down, and the skin cell renewal cycle slows down.  Skin cells are generated in the bottom layer of epidermis through cell division.  The new cells move through layers of the skin while changing its shape and chemical composition.  They eventually move to the top of the epidermis, stratum corneum, die and shed off.  The skin cell renewal cycle takes approximately 28 days in people’s 20’s and slows down as a person ages.  As the skin renewal rate decreases, the dead skin cells do not shed as easily.  The skin becomes thinner and therefore, more susceptible to UV damaging and damaging by environmental pollutions.  This leads to a rough and dull looking in skin’s texture.

Skin exfoliation, a way to remove the oldest dead skin cells that cling to the skin’s outmost surface, helps increase the cell renewal rate of aged skin.  Exfoliation would not only leave the skin smoother and fresher, it also makes it easier for skin care products such as antioxidants to penetrate through the epidermis layer into the underneath dermis layer.  Two main types of skin exfoliation methods have been used so far: chemical and mechanical methods.  Chemical exfoliation utilizes a weak acid such as alphahydroxy acids or betahydroxy acids to burn away the dead cells.  Mechanical exfoliation utilizes an abrasive to physically rub off the dead skin cells.

Two major drawbacks exist with the above exfoliation methods.  First, people who have sensitive skin are largely excluded from these treatments since their skin cannot withstand the harsh treatment without blistering, stinging, and other inflammatory symptoms.  Second, even with non-sensitive skin type, it is difficult to determine the right level of treatment.  Over exfoliation, where the skin cells in the dermis layers are removed, is common with the existing method.  As a result, most people end up going to beauty salons, spas, or dermatologist’s office to get skin analyzed and try to get the proper level of skin exfoliation. On top of being a cost and time consuming process, a trip to a beauty salon does not in any way preventing your skin from irritation and/or over-exfoliation. Studies show that as high as 80% people break out after a facial. The most important principle of skincare and anti-aging is: do no harm.  This is particularly true for people with sensitive skin.
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3. Skin Care and Anti-aging: Separating Truth form Hype
There were times when I could not turn on the internet without seeing the “impressive” commercial of another new miracle cream which can turn back the clock on people’s face almost overnight.  I also had friends who told me that they splurge on some impressive brand skincare cream and looked years younger.  All of these look so exciting and it seems to be only a matter of time before every middle-aged woman starts to look young and beautiful.

If you are lucky and your skin is not sensitive, the worst thing is just having your money and time wasted.  If your skin happens to be highly sensitive, like mine, then you are likely to have both of your skin and your wallet hurt if you listen to a lot of these hypes.

The truth is far more complicated.  The cosmetic products are not regulated by the food and drug administration (FDA) and therefore, the consumers are at the mercy of supplier’s discretion.  Here the old wisdom applies: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t.

I will share a few of my hard learned truth with you.

Truth #1: The best proven anti-aging ingredient is retinoid, and it requires prescription.  It is also highly irritable and this is not-so-good news to people with sensitive skin.

Truth #2:  Most of antioxidants are not very stable in air.  This includes vitamin E, vitamin C, alpha lipoic acid, and resveratol.  Some of the antioxidants are very irritable.

Truth #3:  Skin exfoliation removes dead skin cells and increases the skin cell turnover rate.  However, both mechanical abrasion and chemical peel can cause skin irritation, the resultant skin inflammation may contribute to skin aging.

Truth #4:  Photoaging, or aging caused by UV light from the sun or tanning beds, is the most damaging to your skin’s appearance.  It is paramount important to use a sunscreen which has SPF greater than 15 (UVB blocking indicator) and blocks more than 90% UVA rays.

Truth #5:  Our skin gets drier as we age; we should drink a lot of water and apply a long-lasting moisturizer.
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4. Anti-aging Skincare: The InaMei Way
InaMei provides a safe and effective two-step anti-aging skincare routine.  Each one of these two steps will improve your skin tone, slow and even partially reverse the aging process.  The combined steps will have a synergistic effect.

Step one: skin exfoliation using Ina-Mei’s SafePeel Beauty Strips to peel off layers of dead skin cells.  This step serves three purposes.  First, you expose a fresher and more even skin tone.  Second, the removal of dead skin cells encourages the turnover of new skin cells and slows down the aging of your skin.  Third, the removal of dead skin cells makes it easier for anti-aging ingredients such as antioxidants to penetrate into your dermis, the layer of skin beneath the topmost epidermis layer.

Step two: After you skin is exfoliated and washed, it can be further helped by applying InaMei’s fresh, made-to-order antioxidant serum.  Research has indicated that skin exfoliation followed immediately by applying antioxidant serum produces much greater benefits than exfoliation or antioxidant application alone.
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5.  Skin Exfoliation Techniques—Which one is for you?
Exfoliation means removal of the outmost layer of dead skin cells.  Done right, it not only gives you more even and radiant skin tone, but also encourages the production of new skin cells. Exfoliation allows better absorption and penetration of active skincare products, and reduces oil production for people with very oily skin.  Skin exfoliation is an important component of anti-aging skincare, along with moisturizing, antioxidants, and sun protection. Skin exfoliation can go wrong, and it frequently does go wrong.  Chronic irritation, and redness are common side effects, and in rare cases damage leading to scaring can occur.

What is skin exfoliation?
Some of us have seen the dramatic exfoliation of snakes when this creature completely sheds its old skin and emerges with a fresh and new skin.  We humans shed our skins also, but in a continuous and much less dramatic fashion.  New epidermal cells are continuously produced at the deep layer of the skin (stratum basale) and these cells move up toward the top and eventually die, and shed themselves.  This natural regeneration and exfoliation process was fast when we were young, when we had beautiful skin and didn’t need exfoliation.  Our epidermal cell turnover starts to slow down in our late twenties and early thirties, and our skin starts to look duller and less radiant as the years go by.  Routine exfoliation removes the accumulated dead skin cells on the top-most layers and encourages the growth of new skin cells.

At-home exfoliation methods
Routine at-home exfoliation methods include alpha and beta hydroxyl acid peel, microdermabrasion, and now InaMei’s gel-based SafePeel.  Alpha hydroxyl acids (AHAs) include glycolic acid and lactic acid. You will see these chemical names on the ingredient labels of some over the counter (OTC) anti-aging creams.  AHAs can benefit a fraction of the population whose skin is resistant and not sensitive.  AHAs create a mild burning sensation on the skin.  It speeds up skin exfoliation, and might also increase collagen production, thus reduce wrinkles.  The challenges for AHAs are that they only start to work when they are more acidic than skin, and they work better when they are a lot more acidic than skin.  Some people, especially people with sensitive skin, find AHAs highly irritating.  Irritation contributes to skin aging.

Beta hydroxyl acids such as sylicylic acid are stronger, more oil-soluble, and more irritating than alpha hydroxyl acids.  They are used at a lower concentration and are used more often in anti-acne washes for young people than in anti-aging skin exfoliation treatments.

Scuffing is another way of exfoliation.  This is done using a rough cloth or a luffa sponge to mechanically rub off the topmost dead skin cells.  In recent years, microdermabrasion has become popular.  Microdermabrasion applies abrasive powders in a cream to rub off the dead skin layer.  The abrasive powders include alumina, crushed plastic beads, and crushed plants or nut shells.  The creams sometimes contain alpha hydroxyl acid, so a combined mechanical dermabrasion and chemical burn can happen at the same time.  For some people, pure mechanical scuffing is less irritating than the alpha and beta hydroxyl acids treatment, but also less effective.  For most people with sensitive skin, scuffing treatments, with or without alpha hydroxyl acid, is still too irritating.  Irritation causes skin aging.

A new, gentle skin exfoliation technique, SafePeel, has just become available.  One way of describing this technique is its nothingness: no chemical left on the skin, no abrasive, no irritation.  You put a medical grade gel strip on your skin and peel it off right away and you get a clean and safe exfoliation.  You can see what you just removed, as in the picture below. The gel strip is only strong enough to take off the dead skin cell layers, but won’t pull our hair, and it won’t take any living cells, and thus it won’t irritate your skin.  This technique can be used by anybody, and it is especially good for people with sensitive skin who have been unable to tolerate conventional skin exfoliation treatments.


Routine exfoliation performed at home should not be confused with professional and invasive wrinkle treatment methods conducted in a dermatologist’s office.  These invasive treatments include deep acid peel, phenol chemical peel, and laser peel.  These aggressive deep peel techniques burn skin down to its collagen layer, and the wound-healing process afterwards helps to eliminate some wrinkles.  Details of deep peel techniques are not covered in this article since these treatments more closely resemble surgery than home skincare.
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6. Alpha Lipoic Acid—The Universal Antioxidant
Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is a potent and versatile antioxidant.  What makes ALA unique is that it is soluble in both water and fat (lipid).  This means that ALA can neutralize both water and oil-soluble free radicals.  ALA can penetrate skin cells through the lipid rich cell membrane and continue to be effective once inside the cell due to its water solubility [Dr. Farris].  ALA improves cellular energy production and reduces inflammation.  It also neutralizes and removes a variety of toxic metals from the body.  Due to its long list of beneficial effects, ALA is used both as a food supplement and used in topical creams for anti aging purpose.

A few clinical studies have been completed regarding the benefit of ALA towards skin care.  In one of these studies, high potency ALA erased almost all the fine wrinkles, and reduced mild-to-moderate wrinkles by up to 50%.  In another study, ALA was found to improve the appearance of certain types of scars.

As an effective wrinkle reducing ingredient, ALA also has a good safety profile.  It is much less irritating than some other popular wrinkle fighters such as tretinoin (Retin A, Renova), vitamin C, and hydroxyl acids such as glycolic acid.  The good safety feature allows ALA be used in delicate and wrinkle prone areas around the eyes.

The concentration of ALA in a topical anti aging cream is usually in the range of 0.2-2%.
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7. Vitamin C in Skincare – The Good and the Tricky
We consume vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid), a water-soluble vitamin, by eating fruits and vegetables.  A topical lotion or serum contains high concentration of vitamin C can potentially benefit our skin, similar to it benefits our body through oral consumption.

The Good
Vitamin C can fight skin aging in at least two ways.  First, vitamin C can stimulate the synthesis of collagen when its added to a culture of skin cells or fibrolasts.  This will give us younger looking skin since collagen is a key protein of the skin.  Second, vitamin is a potent antioxidant and therefore, can protect skin from free radical damages.  Scientific studies have shown that high concentration of vitamin C can improve skin texture and reduce fine lines and wrinkles.

The Tricky
Getting skin benefit out of vitamin C can be tricky, and adverse effects can occur due to the following reasons.

First, vitamin C is highly acidic, and this means that it might irritate your skin.  To make matters worse, high concentration (10%) of vitamin C is needed for it to be effective. 

Second, vitamin C is easily oxidized in air, losing it effectiveness.  The first by-product of its oxidation (dehydroascorbic acid) is colorless.  A more advanced stage of oxidation product has a yellow tint. Some of the vitamin C lotions on the market are stabilized versions of vitamin C.  While the stabilized versions are more stable, they still degrade significantly within a month of opening.  The stabilized versions are usually quite expensive. 

Some other suppliers try to reduce the skin irritation by buffering the acidity in their vitamin C products.  Unfortunately, the buffered vitamin C lotions tend to be less effective.

The potential adverse effects of vitamin C, skin irritation and oxidation, can be partially solved by either using an anhydrous vitamin C lotion or by switching to one of the vitamin C derivatives.  However, the scientific studies on the anti-aging effects of the anhydrous and chemically modified vitamin C are not as extensive as the standard vitamin C yet.
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8. How often should one exfoliate?
The outermost layer of the skin is called stratum corneum (SC).  SC layer is made of 15 to 20 layers of dead flat skin cells that shed over a period of time.  As one ages, the dead skin cells does not shed as easily, and the build-up of dead skin cells can cause dull ashy patches or an all-over lack-luster look.

Skin exfoliation removes the excess dead skin cells that are clinging on, and reveals a fresher and younger skin below.  Exfoliation stimulates the synthesis of key lipids and eventually makes the SC layer a better barrier for holding moisture in and keeping harmful pollutants out.

Clinical research indicates that normal skin younger than 68 years old can achieve 100% recovery of its barrier property in two days following a face stripping with tapes.   120% recovery can be reached after four and half days.  The recovery process is slower in chronologically and photoaged skin.  

Based on the above research results, one to two skin exfoliation per week is recommended with InaMei’s SafePeel Beauty Strips. – back to top


9. Photoaging and Sun Protection
You are my sunshine…You make me happy…

Sunshine is very bad for our skin, even though it is usually good for our mode.  The ultraviolet (UV) component of sun exposure is the dominate cause of wrinkles and sunspots and leads to skin cancer.

The sun on earth contains UVA and UVB lights and their effects are different although they are both bad for our skin.  UVA is most abundant on earth, causes aging by producing free radicals, damages collagen fibers, and damages DNA indirectly.   UVB is more energetic, causes sunburn, and damages DNA directly.    DNA UV Mutation

Chances are, you have already heard that UV light is bad for your skin and you are already using sunscreens and/or hat to protect yourself when you go out on a hot summer day.  Then a little more knowledge in sunscreen and protective clothing can help you even further.

Sunscreens are rated by their sun protection factor (SPF).  Most people think that the SPF number means how much longer you can stay out under the sun without getting sunburn.  This is only true under the “ideal” conditions, and the ideal conditions are almost never met.  Study has indicated that you need one table spoon of sunscreen just for your face in order to get an SPF that matches what’s on the bottle!  To make the matter worse, organic sunscreens take 10 to 30 minutes to start working, and they degrade and become less effective over time in sunlight.  All these mean that you need to apply plenty of sunscreens 10 to 30 minutes before you go out and reapply it every two hours.   If you dislike putting a lot of sunscreen on your face, you can do what I usually do, grab a high SPF (40+) hat with wide brim all around.

The SPF rating of sunscreens only measures UVB protection since UVB causes sunburn.  Some dermatologists believe that UVA contributes more to wrinkles than UVB since UVA penetrates deeper to the lower skin layers and damages more of the collagen and elastin in the lower layers.  Sunscreens absorb both UVA and UVB are called “broad spectrum”, so look for both the “broad spectrum” on the label and look for certain ingredients which offer broad spectrum protection.  Typical broad spectrum ingredients are: avobenzone, zinc oxide, and titanium oxide.

A couple of very effective new UV absorbers worth mentioning are Meroxyl and Tinosorb.  Both of them are very stable (comparing to standard and popular organic UV absorbers such as avobenzone), very effective, and available in most countries outside of US.

Tinosorb is also used in laundry detergents and fabric softeners to increase SPF rating of fabrics, and this usage is FDA approved and available in US, such as in Rit SunGuard.  This can be very helpful since a lightly woven white or pastel T-shirt only has an SPF factor of about 8.  The SPF number can be raised to 15 after washing with Rit SunGuard five times and to 30 after ten washes.

If you are still not convinced how much the UV light can age your skin, compare the skin on your face with the skin on your inner thigh.  Now which one would you rather have?
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10. Reading the Cosmetic Label I – The Basics
It does not have to be rocket science

My ten year old son can walk into a grocery store and pick healthy packaged food and drink easily by quickly looking at calories, sugar, fat, saturated fat, protein, sodium, and fiber content.  He knows very well to avoid any food contains high saturated fat, high sugar, and high sodium.

Labels of the skin-care products are much harder to decipher.

A few months ago, a friend asked me a question of two moisturizing gels she likes.  I listed the ingredients for that gel and she emailed me back: “I am crying in front of your big lists here”.  The laundry list of those hard-to-pronounce ingredients is indeed overwhelming.

I am making an attempt to help you understand the labels of skin care products so you can make a more informed decision before purchasing that jar, bottle, or tube of skincare cream, lotion, or gel.  

  1. The pecking order: ingredients in cosmetic products are listed in descending order of their quantity.  The ingredient presents at the largest concentration, usually water (aqua), is listed first.  The list goes from the highest to the lowest.  If you see the magical ingredient is listed in the last of the list, you can be sure that it is in minuscule quantity.
  2. The active ingredients: some ingredients are classified as drugs, and most of them are over the counter drugs.  These ingredients are required to list separately as “Active ingredients”.  Sunscreens are considered drugs and are listed separately.
  3. The vitamins:  FDA requires vitamins and their derivatives in cosmetics listed y their chemical names.  For example, vitamin A is listed as retinal or retinol; vitamin B3 is niacinamide, vitamin C is ascorbic acid, and vitamin E is tocopherol.
  4. Humectants: water-loving and water-holding ingredients.  Examples: glycerin, colloidal oatmeal, hyaluronic acid, propylene glycol.
  5. Occlusive moisturizers: water-sealing ingredients—forming a water-proof film to prevent water lose.  Examples are petrolatum, mineral oil, siloxanes, dimethicone, cyclomethicone.
  6. Gelling and thickening agents: these are usually very large molecules which hold water.  Examples are polyacrylamide and polyacrylate or other ingredients ends in –acrylate and –amide, xantham gum, carrageenans, hydroxyethyl cellulose.
  7. Preservatives: kills bacteria and prevents spoilage.  Examples are parabens, DMD hydantoin, EDTA, sorbitol.
  8. Fragrances and colorants: these are self-explanatory.  It should be pointed out that fragrances are the most common source for skin irritation.

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11. Acne and Exfoliation
When I talk to people of my age (mid to late forties) about SafePeel Beauty Strips, I was frequently asked whether SafePeel Beauty Strips can help with their teenage children’s acne problems.

The short answer is yes.

Acne, sometimes referred as white heads and/or blackheads, are those inflamed pimples most common with adolescents.  In my native China we called these ubiquitous blemishes “youth beauty peas.”  Acne is caused by increased oil production in the sebaceous glands brought about by surging hormonal levels.  The extra oil mixes with loose, dead skin cells and clogs the pores.  Bacteria called P. acnes then starts to grow in this fetid material.  Whiteheads are simply swollen pores filled with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria.  Blackheads are clogged follicles where a buildup of melanin has darkened the clogging material. 

To prevent acne, one needs to wash facial oil and bacteria off effectively and exfoliate skin to avoid dead skin cells pile up.  An effective acne treatment contains 2% salicylic acid in a strong soap.  Salicylic acid is effective at dissolve oils and somewhat effective at exfoliate skin.  A teenager with acne problems should wash their face twice a day with a salicylic acid containing acne wash or acne cream.  Examples of salicylic acid acne treatment are "Neutrogena Acne Stress Control, 3-in-1 Hydrating Acne Treatment" and Clean & Clear Advantage Mark Treatment (by Johnson & Johnson).

If your skin is not sensitive, you can then apply a benzoyl peroxide-containing cream or gel.  Benzoyl peroxide inhibits growth of bacteria and reduces pore clogging.  Benzoyl peroxide is somewhat irritating to skin, so look for products containing a lower concentration, such as 2.5%.  Examples of benzoyl peroxide containing creams are “Neutrogena On-The-Spot Acne Treatment-Vanishing Formula” and “ 8oz Treatment”.  Studies show the 2.5% strength benzoyl peroxide is as effective as higher concentrations such as 5-10%, but less irritating.  If 2.5% benzoyl peroxide is still too irritating to your skin, or it has no effect, try exfoliating with a gentle exfoliator such as InaMei’s SafePeel Beauty Strips instead.

One acne treatment cream is prescription tretinoin.  It exfoliates the skin and increases skin cell turnover, so it is also used in prescription anti-wrinkle creams.  Commercial names for tretinoin creams include Renova and Retin A.  Tretinoin is irritating to the skin and can cause skin flakiness and dryness, so not everybody can use it.  Among the people whose skin can tolerate tretinoin treatment, some say their acne got a little worse before it got better.

Although less common than with teenagers, women in midlife when the hormone levels change, can also get acne.  A more mature women’s skin is drier and more sensitive than a teenagers, so few can tolerate strong acne treatments designed for teenagers.  InaMei’s SafePeel Beauty Strips are gentle enough for this population.

For most people, it takes a few weeks, or even longer, to see positive results from an acne treatment.  For some others, none of the conventional treatments listed here will work, so a visit to a dermatologist’s office is the next step.  

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