Saturday, 18 November 2017

Is resveratrol the magic bullet against ageing?

The search for the mythical fountain of youth may have ended with Ponce de Leon, but millions of us hold out hope that science will discover the secret to beat ageing, the special formula that will keep our skin, and our insides, from displaying the wear and tear of our years. Found in red wine, red or purple grapes, some berries, and dark chocolate, resveratrol is a naturally-occurring polyphenol compound that has been touted as a potential remedy for a range of age-related conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease.

Said to contribute to the "French paradox"—the observation that people living in France tend to eat a lot of cheese, butter, and other fatty foods yet have a low incidence of heart disease—resveratrol consumption has been found to mimic a calorie-restricted diet (which studies have shown can play a role in longevity) and decrease chronic inflammation in the body.

The Benefits of Resveratrol: Can It Really Help?
Much of the research pointing to the benefits have been laboratory or animal-based studies. So far, research on resveratrol's effectiveness in humans has yielded mixed results. Here's a look at some key study findings:

Heart Health
For a review published in Clinical Nutrition in 2015, researchers analysed six previously published studies on the effects of resveratrol on blood pressure, and concluded that resveratrol didn't significantly reduce blood pressure. Higher doses of resveratrol (over 150 mg per day), however, were found to significantly decrease systolic blood pressure (the top number on a blood pressure reading). 

Another review, published in the International Journal of Cardiology in 2015, examined the effectiveness of resveratrol on cardiovascular risk factors. After analysing 10 previously published studies, researchers concluded that the analysis did not suggest any benefit of resveratrol supplementation on heart disease risk factors, including levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and C-reactive protein or CRP (a blood protein that is raised when there is inflammation, including in heart disease).

There's some evidence that resveratrol may not prolong life, according to research on people living in Tuscany who consume a diet rich in resveratrol from food sources like red wine. In a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014, 783 men and women 65 years or older were followed from 1998 to 2009.

During that time, intake of red wine (as measured by urine levels of resveratrol metabolites), didn't change the likelihood of dying from any cause, the incidence of heart disease or cancer, or markers of inflammation.

A number of preliminary studies suggest that resveratrol may have anti-cancer effects. In a 2016 animal study, for instance, resveratrol suppressed ovarian tumor regrowth after chemotherapy. Published in Cancer, the study found that resveratrol inhibited the uptake of glucose by cancer cells (many cancer cells depend on glucose as their energy supply).

Despite these findings, the data from the limited human clinical trials have shown inconsistent outcomes and the American Cancer Society cautions that randomised clinical trials are needed to confirm the cancer-fighting effects of resveratrol. (There is also some concern that resveratrol may influence levels of oestrogen and other hormones.)

Sources of resveratrol
Trans-resveratrol is a form of resveratrol commonly found in supplements. Proponents often claim that trans-resveratrol is the most stable form of resveratrol.

In addition to food sources, resveratrol is also found in Japanese knotweed (Polypodium cuspidatum), grape seed extract, cissus quadrangularis, and white mulberry (Morus alba). Pterostilbene is a compound related to resveratrol.

Possible Side Effects
Little is known about the safety of long-term or high dose use of resveratrol. Since resveratrol may possess oestrogen-like properties, some medical experts recommend that people with hormone-sensitive cancers (including cancers of the breast, ovary, or uterus), pregnant women, and children avoid taking resveratrol.

In addition, resveratrol could interact with blood thinners like warfarin, aspirin, and ibuprofen, which may raise your risk of bleeding. According to one study, high-dose resveratrol supplementation was associated with fever, reduced blood cells, and decreased blood pressure.

There is some concern that high doses of resveratrol supplements could lead to kidney problems in some people. Supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. You can get tips on using supplements here.

Since the compound was first described in 1992, resveratrol has been studied for its much-touted benefits on the brain, heart, and lifespan, but recent research casts doubt on the notion that resveratrol supplements can help you live longer or lower your risk of heart disease or cancer.

If you're wondering whether a daily glass of red wine or piece of dark chocolate will improve your health, some researchers note that consumption of red wine, dark chocolate, and some berries has been found to decrease inflammation and have heart-healthy benefits, and suggest that other compounds in these foods may contribute to these benefits.

It's impossible, however, to get anywhere near the doses used in studies from food sources. Many of the studies have used a dose of about 100 mg or more of resveratrol, while a 5-ounce glass of red wine only has about 1 mg of resveratrol.

It's important to note that increasing your intake of red wine comes with a trade-off. Consuming too much may raise your risk of high blood pressure, liver damage, obesity, and some forms of cancer.

To boost your intake without consuming alcohol, try eating foods like grapes, raspberries, plums, blueberries, cranberries, grape tomatoes, and pomegranate (all of which are rich in resveratrol and a range of antioxidants and nutrients).

If you're still considering using resveratrol supplements, talk to your healthcare provider before starting your supplement regimen to weigh the pros and cons and discuss whether it's appropriate for you.


  1. Liu Y, Ma W, Zhang P, He S, Huang D. Effect of resveratrol on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Clin Nutr. 2015 Feb;34(1):27-34.
  2. Sahebkar A, Serban C, Ursoniu S, et al. Lack of efficacy of resveratrol on C-reactive protein and selected cardiovascular risk factors--Results from a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Int J Cardiol. 2015;189:47-55.
  3. Semba RD, Ferrucci L, Bartali B, et al. Resveratrol levels and all-cause mortality in older community-dwelling adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2014 Jul;174(7):1077-84.
  4. Tan L, Wang W, He G, et al. Resveratrol inhibits ovarian tumour growth in an in vivo mouse model. Cancer. 2016 Mar 1;122(5):722-9.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Worried about Parabens in your Beauty Products?

Most people know, or at least have a vague idea that parabens are potentially dangerous; yet many don’t know what parabens are, what they do, or what the controversy is actually about. So let's start with the basics:

Approximately 85% of Health and Beauty Products Contain Parabens

Parabens are preservatives, used in 90% of typical grocery items and, according to the American Chemical Society, approximately 85% of health, beauty, and personal care products. They extend the shelf life of items containing water, and are one of very few preservatives able to prevent the growth of bacteria, fungi, yeast, and mould–which is why they’re so popular.. You’ll find them in food, drugs, packaging, makeup, moisturiser, sunscreen, hair care, skincare, and shaving products, commonly listed under methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, isopropyl-, butyl-, isobutyl-, and benzylparaben–though that’s not an exhaustive list. And because people ingest parabens orally as well as through the skin, most Americans have them in their bodies at all times. I have previously written about this in an earlier blog:

A 2017 University of California, Berkeley study suggests parabens might be more dangerous than previously thought–even in small amounts.

The controversy surrounding parabens has to do with their chemical structure; it’s similar to that of oestrogens, which are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive problems.

But the furore really took hold in 2004, when a British study showed “traces of five parabens in the breast tumours of 19 out of 20 women studied.” From there, the media ran stories about the possibility parabens, often found in deodorants and anti-perspirants, being linked to breast cancer–even though the study never claimed a causal relationship, and was later found invalid. Even so, many people immediately grew–and have remained–uneasy.

The short answer is no, parabens haven’t been definitively linked to health risks. A 2005 study concluded it’s “biologically implausible that parabens could increase the risk of . . . breast cancer.” But they are known to increase the growth of breast cancer cells, and to mimic oestrogen in the body. And a 2017 study suggests parabens might be more dangerous than previously thought–even in small amounts. It’s no surprise, then, that many consumers would rather leave parabens out of their quests for health and beauty.

Are Parabens Necessary?

Many people aren’t convinced they’re safe: animal studies in vitro have shown certain parabens to be potentially risky, the CDC is continuing long-term studies on their risks, and the European Union has severely restricted their use, citing possible risks to human health—-particularly in products designed for children. It is worth noting that not all products need preservatives for instance, products that don’t contain water won’t need preservatives like parabens, and those that do can be preserved in other ways.

(It’s important to note, however, that certain alternatives for parabens, however, contain allergens, skin irritants, and sensitizing ingredients. Digging deep into this issue means getting skilled at reading labels, to ensure you aren’t replacing a potentially dangerous ingredient with one proven to be risky.)

Do Parabens Cause Cancer?

The official word from the American Cancer Society is: “Although at this time there are no clear health risks from parabens in food, drugs, cosmetics, and skin care products, people concerned about exposure to parabens can avoid products containing them.”

Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, don’t need FDA approval before they go on the market.

The FDA takes a similar “safe until proven unsafe” stance; in partnership with the CDC, it conducted Cosmetic Ingredient Reviews in 2003 and 2005, and stuck with findings from 1984: There isn’t enough evidence to prove parabens dangerous in cosmetics, food, or food packaging, despite studies noting their ability to (weakly) mimic oestrogen in animal studies.

But there is enough information to give many consumers pause. For example, the European Union agrees that the dangers of parabens have NOT been conclusively proven; but over the past five years, it has restricted, further restricted, and banned certain parabens. 

Groups like the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners) second that thought. Their main concern is that “parabens are known to disrupt hormone function, an effect that is linked to increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive toxicity.” They’ll tell you parabens have been linked to reproductive, immunological, neurological and skin irritation problems (which is true, in animal studies). And, if parabens are eventually linked to cancer in humans, women will primarily be affected: they use significantly more personal care products than men do, meaning they’re exposed to far more parabens.

The FDA’s website states that no studies have proven a link between parabens and cancer in humans; but many–based on a number of animal and laboratory studies–believe it’s just a matter of time. They aren’t comforted by the FDA’s insistence that, “Studies have shown . . . that parabens have significantly less estrogenic activity than the body’s naturally occurring estrogen. Parabens have not been shown to be harmful as used in cosmetics, where they are present only in very small amounts.”

What The Experts Say

Experts in the beauty industry also disagree about parabens, but some of their concerns have to do with skin sensitivity. In short, those in the industry are likely to remain divided–at least until a conclusive body of research rolls in. But one thing virtually every skincare expert does agree on is that fragrance-free products are best for your skin–a hidden perk, given how many parabens are used in fragrances. And the fact that manufacturers aren’t required to disclose fragrance formulas; labels that don’t list parabens may still contain them under Fragrance/Parfum. Going fragrance free will also help you avoid parabens.

If you are worried about preservatives or indeed parabens in your skincare product, take a look at the full article at:

Friday, 1 September 2017

Autumn Skincare Tips

Autumn is a time of spectacular natural beauty with the fields and trees so rich in texture and colour. Vibrant reds, orange, and yellow dominate and inspire the landscape.

Unlike the fast pace and excitement of Summer, Autumn is a time of winding-down, taking stock, and preparing for the long winter months ahead.

Fresh grains, nuts, fruits such as apples and pears and berries such as cranberries are typical of the Autumn season, and they all offer wonderful natural properties that nourish, protect and nurture our skin and bodies.

Quite often, major skincare companies attempt to reflect natural ingredients that are typical of each season, and to use those natural ingredients accordingly in customers' skin care routine.

Autumn is the perfect time to look after your skin after the intense, and often damaging and dehydrating, effects of the summer months and over exposure to UV.  Wearing and SPF of 30+ is just as important now as it was in the Summer, and I truly believe that protection and prevention are key in effective skin care.

Below are some of my favourite Autumn natural ingredients and their use in skincare:

Marigold (Calendula officinalis)
Marigolds are flowers typical of Autumn, though grown all year, as they don’t tolerate extreme cold or heat well. Their yellow and orange hues really remind me of Autumn, and as a plant remedy, well you don’t get more traditional than that! The plant extract or Calendula extract has many pharmacological uses and has long been proven to contain a variety of compounds that are anti-oxidant, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory. Calendula is often found in natural skincare balms, lotions, gels, and salves because of its wound healing and skin regenerating properties. The petals are classed as edible and some incorporate them in salads and dishes, and the petals can also be infused at home to make a healing oil (though I must admit I have never tried this!).

Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
This plant flowers in late Autumn and its bark and leaves are made into a well-known and multipurpose skin freshener and toner. Witchhazel has been used as a staple in the medicine chest for at least 300 years, and was even used by Native Americans to heal wounds.

Cranberries (Oxycoccus palustris)
Cranberries are typical of the northern hemisphere, and are vastly grown in the US and Canada, where they form a special part of their Autumn traditional foods such as for Thanksgiving. Cranberry botanical extract is rich in essential fatty acids that are essential for skin nourishment and health.

As autumn fast approaches, here are seven tips on how to keep your skin beautiful in cool weather. When temperatures plummet, a seasonal wardrobe change helps protect most of your body from the elements. However, your face and hands will still be exposed, and even areas protected by clothing can be affected by a harsh climate. An autumn skin-care regime can help ensure your delicate features fare well even as blustery winds blow.

Sunscreen smarts
Most people know that slathering on the sunscreen is a must when heading to the pool or beach, but your skin can actually take a hit from the sun’s damaging rays all year round. Apply a sunscreen lotion or moisturiser containing SPF daily to reduce the risk and minimise your chances of sun spots and wrinkles.

Healthy hydration
When it’s hot, you’re more likely to feel thirsty and drink more, but staying well hydrated is important in colder weather, too. Proper hydration affects numerous body functions, such as ensuring your muscles and joints are well-lubricated and helping your body to regulate its temperature. Water is the solution most experts recommend, but non-sugary options like tea can also help.

Food factors
Although limiting the amount of fat you consume is generally recommended for a nutritious eating plan, in the autumn and winter it’s especially important to be sure you’re consuming enough healthy fats and Omega-3s to promote moisture from the inside out. Good sources include eggs, nuts, avocados and lean proteins like fish, turkey, chicken and beef.

Clothing concerns
Even if you don’t feel the chill, cold wind can do a number on your skin. Be sure to cover up adequately when outdoors to prevent the chapping and irritation that can come from sustained exposure. Also be wary of precipitation; be sure your outer layers repel water and that you can change into dry clothing promptly if you do get wet.

Ample exercise
Getting your heart rate up helps get your blood circulating, which is not only good for burning calories and beefing up your muscles, it also promotes healthy skin. Sweating helps push impurities out of your pores, and the increased circulation helps distribute nutrients throughout your body, including the skin.

Avoid irritants
Especially if you have sensitive skin, cool wind can be brutal. Take care to avoid potential problems by sticking to softly textured fabrics that won’t get itchy. Take it easy on the exfoliating and be mindful of skin care products, soaps and detergents that may be particularly drying to already parched skin. Also skip the temptation to warm up in a hot shower, which can dry your skin even further.

Manage moisture
Even oilier skin types may need extra moisture when dry, cold conditions prevail. Oil-free options let you add moisture without over-stimulating oil glands, while natural oils such as coconut or jojoba are ideal for dryer skin. Apply a lotion after every shower to trap in moisture and as needed throughout the day to prevent chapping and cracking, and give special attention to areas that are prone to damage, such as your lips and hands. Find more ways to weather through this winter at

Ways to perfect a carefree style
A carefree style may appear effortless, but creating a look that stands up to a busy day still requires some simple work. Keep your skin in top condition and your hair and makeup on point with these tips from the beauty experts at US department store Macy’s to help you look and feel your best.

Protect your skin
If there’s only one skin care product you use, it has to be sunscreen. Not only is daily SPF important for avoiding sunburn, it also helps prevent wrinkles and spots caused by sun damage. Apply early and often, and don’t be fooled by a cloudy day. Even when skies are overcast, those UV rays can inflict plenty of harm. If you’ll be out for an extended period, consider a stylish hat to lend extra protection to your scalp, ears and face. Also remember to cover or apply sunscreen to often-overlooked places, such as the tops of your feet.

Go for all-day eyes
When you’re embracing a laid-back look, a fully done eye can be overkill. A basic tint and some mascara is a simple way to achieve a put-together but fuss-free style. Using a waterproof formula can give you the confidence that your lashes are in perfect condition and ready for whatever the day may bring. If you have a favourite formula, check to see whether a waterproof version is available.

Make it matte
For lip colour that lasts from sunrise to moonlight, matte lipstick is the real deal. In addition to being long-lasting, matte lipsticks pack an intense punch of colour perfect for a bright and cheerful lip. If a little sparkle or shine is more your thing, go ahead and add a light layer of clear gloss and give yourself bonus points if one layer or both include SPF.

Explore new ideas
Pamper yourself with products you already love but explore new ideas and discover all-new cleansers, serums, moisturisers and a mask that will help .... Face oils can also do wonders on your skin.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Lavender for health and home

Related imageLavender is more than just a pretty plant. This fragrant perennial has been revered throughout the ages for its ability to breathe a sense of clarity and calm into every cupboard, room or beauty product in which it dwells. It has long been used as a remedy for a range of ailments from insomnia and anxiety to depression and fatigue.

Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, being one of the several known species, is a shrub-like herb that can be found in gardens countrywide where it is adored for its lovely little blue flower buds that grow in whorls. It is famous worldwide for its popular and pleasing floral fragrance.  Further, research has confirmed that lavender produces slight calming, soothing, and sedative effects when its scent is inhaled so don’t leave your lavender outdoors solely to grace the garden, bring it indoors to grace you and your home with some of its healing properties.

Lavender promotes a good night's sleep
Related image
For centuries bedding and pillows have been stuffed with scented herbs, grasses and petals for utility sake as well as to aid in sleep. Ladies in the Victorian era favoured lavender in their pillows for its sweet scent and often inhaled it to calm their nerves. Using lavender as a sleep aid is as old as time and the current research is now beginning to support what has long been known. According to one study at Wesleyan University, smelling lavender before sleep  increased the percentage of deep or slow-wave sleep in both men and women and all of the subjects reported higher vigour the morning after lavender exposure. So, how to infuse the sleepy scent into our nighttime routine?

  • Add dried flower buds into pillows either directly or by placing a sachet or pad into the pillowcase.
  • Spritz your pillows and linens with an essential oil spritzer consisting of water, lavender essential oil and either witch hazel or alcohol.
  • Massage the scent (mixed with a carrier oil such as sweet almond oil) into temples, behind the ears and under the nose.
  • Dab a few drops of lavender essential oil onto tissue paper and place under pillow.
  • Brew a before bed cup of lavender tea for sweet dreams.

Lavender refreshes rooms and drawers
Image result for lavender drawer linersToss the synthetic room fresheners and create a natural room potpourri consisting of dried lavender buds and any other garden flowers or herbs such as geranium, rose petals or rosemary. Not only will it smell amazing but when placed in a decorative bowl it adds a burst of colour and beauty. When scent fades simply revive with a few drops of lavender essential oil.

Sachets or simply old hankies or cotton napkins can be stuffed with dried lavender buds and tied with a ribbon and tossed into drawers and linen cupboards to infuse a wonderful refreshing lavender scent.

Go to the source and infuse your laundry with lavender by stuffing a muslin sachet with the dried buds and topping with a couple of cotton balls. Pull tightly to close and you are good to go. Throw one in with the next load of damp clothes to the dryer and let the scent infuse your laundry.

Let lavender revive your beauty routine 
Image result for lavender first aidThe Latin root for lavender is lavare which means “to wash” and speaks of the cleansing and refreshing qualities of this herb. Lavender can be added into a daily facial cleansing routine to revive and uplift your skin and your spirits. Below is a recipe for a floral vinegar that can be used in the bath or as a general tonic. Simply add 1 cup to bath as a general tonic and to aid in dry skin or dab forehead and temples and behind ears to refresh after being out in the sun.

  • Floral Vinegar
  • 1 1/2c fresh lavender buds
  • 2 cups white wine or cider vinegar

Put lavender buds into a large bottle. Gently warm the vinegar then pour over lavender buds in the bottle. Leave bottle on sunny windowsill for two weeks. Strain.

Lavender as a first-aid relief 
Lavender essential oil has analgesic (pain-relieving) properties and can be helpful for minor burns, scrapes and bites. Mixed with a carrier oil such as sweet almond or jojoba oil it can be used on minor burns and/or bug bites to offer quick relief. Useful to have on hand a roller bottle for when those inevitable kitchen burns arise! Essential oils are potent and it only takes 1-2 drops of essential oil added to 1/4 oz of carrier oil. Certainly for severe burns seek medical advice immediately.

Washing your clothes in the scent of lavender might serve to keep away menacing mosquitoes as well as offering a relaxing scent. However you choose to use it, lavender has much to offer within the home, hearth and heart. 


Friday, 30 June 2017

Soap & Water vs Cleansers

FACT: Using a bar of soap on your face is bad for your skin.
But...... is washing your face with soap really bad for your skin?

Related imageIn the past 25 years, bar soaps have received a lot competition from face washing liquids, gels, creams and foams which are formulated to be gentler on the skin by not disrupting the surface moisture barrier. Despite the popularity of these gentler alternatives, there are still a lot of people who prefer to use a bar of soap–probably due to ease and habit.

However, is washing your face with a bar of soap really that bad for your skin?
Well, it can be quite damaging to the skin to cleanse your face with a bar of facial soap, especially if it is not followed by adequate moisturising afterwards. Although many bar soaps are now better formulated and gentler (due to a lower pH that closely matches the normal skin level), they will still be more drying sulphate-free gels, foams, liquids and creams. (What does sulphate-free mean? Read about sulphate-free cleansers here.) The binders that hold a bar of soap together naturally have a higher pH than products that are formulated specifically for cleansing the face, so they will have a drying effect on the skin. Skin that is dry and parches is bad for the long-term health and look of the skin.

Why is it bad to dry out the skin? 
When you wash with a foaming cleanser or soap that is too drying, it pulls all the water out of the skin and creates dead, dry skin cell buildup. To compensate for the moisture you removed, your moisturiser not have to repair the dehydrated cells caused from cleansing. (not efficient at all!) Every product that  your face should be offering something beneficial and not something harmful or potentially damaging.

Are some bar soaps gentler than others?
Yes, there are bar soaps with moisturising agents to make them gentler, but they are still a no-no in my book. Foaming cleansers are fine, I just don’t suggest ones in a bar form. Here’s the rule when it comes to foaming cleansers: The more lather and larger bubbles a foaming cleansers produces, the more drying it will be. The less lather with smaller bubbles, the less drying it will be.

What if I use a bar of soap and it doesn’t dry out my skin? 
Image result for bar of soapThere’s a difference between dry skin and dehydrated skin. People associate dry skin with flaking. Although, people with combination and oily skin types might not ever experience flakiness associated with dryness because the built-in oils in their skin will prevent this from happening. Dehydration, on the other hand, is when there is a tight feeling, which indicates that water has been robbed from the skin. If you have been using bar soap to wash their face for a long time, you might think this tight feeling is normal because you have nothing to compare it to. However, if you use a gentle sulphate-free cleanser, you will definitely notice that your skin doesn’t have that tight, parched feel. Try using soaps that suit your skin type as it won't tend to dry out the skin and it won't make it feel harsh on especially sensitive skin. 

The verdict however is the user and soap and water has been used for centuries; many famous celebrities swear by it as the best cleanser of all time. But not all skin is equal, so choose your skin type here to see which cleanser is right for you.

Benefits of Soapless Skin Cleansers
Image result for liquid soap cleansersBecause soapless cleansers moisturise the skin and strengthen the stratum corneum, they're a good choice for people with sensitive skin. But soapless skin cleansers can also benefit people with dry or oily skin. If your skin is oily, a soapless cleanser with a low pH will clean your skin without drying it out; removing too much oil can actually cause oil glands to go into overdrive. People with dry skin have little oil to protect their skin therefore soapless cleansers are also a good choice; the added moisturisers will help the skin retain water instead of drying it like bar soap.

These cleansers are also less likely to produce soap scum ie the combination of soap and hard water. Water that's high in calcium (hard water supply in some areas) can create a soap scum that leaves a residue on your skin. Soapless cleansers also have a longer shelf life than soap and soap deteriorates easily when it comes in contact with water but soapless cleansers can last for years.

Image result for liquid soap cleansersOne of the greatest benefits of soapless skin cleansers is that they keep your skin moisturised. You can help your body retain that moisture by taking warm, short showers instead of hot, lengthy ones. Too much heat can dry out your skin therefore applying a moisturiser within three minutes of bathing or showering can also help you retain the moisture that the water and cleanser added to your skin.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Protecting the skin from pollution

Move over UV and sunscreen, the next big thing in anti-ageing is pollution and pollution prevention. Many types of pollution are well known to be harmful when inhaled, but there hasn’t been much information about how they interact with skin until quite recently. A handful of newer studies have shown that pollution is linked to skin allergies, ageing and slower recovery from damage.

So how does pollution affect your skin?
Different types of pollution cause different varieties of skin damage, but the two most important ones are:

  1. Oxidative stress: Pollution causes the production of highly reactive free radicals, which cause all sorts of non-specific damage to the biological structures in your skin. They’re like hyperactive bulls in a china shop. The increase in free radicals leads to the activation of matrix metalloproteinase enzymes which break down collagen in the skin. It also sets off inflammatory cascades that can slow down collagen formation and decrease the amount of fat underlying the skin, causing wrinkling. Check out this article for more on oxidative stress and antioxidants.
  2. Activation of arylhydrocarbon receptors (AhR): Activation of AhRs on skin cells is linked to inflammation and pigmentation. There’s also evidence that it causes the activation of MMP-1, a matrix metalloproteinase.

There are different types of pollution which must be factored in and those of most relevance to skin ageing are:

  1. particulate matter
  2. ozone
  3. nitrogen dioxide 

Particulate Matter
The particulate matter (PM) that’s relevant in skin health is small pieces of soot, and is usually produced from combustion of fossil fuels such as the burning of petrol in car engines. Technically though, any small solid particles are included in particulate matter.

Particulate matter is usually classified according to the size of the particles. PM10 includes coarser particles 2.5 to 10 microns in diameter and come from dust and industrial emissions, while smaller PM2.5 particles are less than 2.5 microns across and usually come from fires, power plants and motor vehicle exhaust. (For reference, the thinnest human hair is about 17 microns across.)

Because of their large surface area, particulate matter is good at reacting with skin and causing oxidative stress. Because of their small size, they can penetrate into cells and produce oxidative stress in mitochrondria. One of the other concerns about particulate matter is that other pollutants, like polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), can latch onto them, which means they’re a very efficient means of delivering large amounts of pollutants to your skin. PAHs can activate the AhR pathway, so particulate matter can age skin in that way as well.
Image result for pollution and skin ageing
In a few studies, exposure to particulate matter was linked to formation of wrinkles and pigment spots – in one study, increased exposure to particulate pollution was correlated to a 20% increase in pigmented spots on the cheeks and forehead. There’s also evidence that particulate pollution can exacerbate atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, acne and skin cancers.

Ozone (O3)
Ozone is an oxidant that’s produced when other pollutants (primarily from cars) react in sunlight, in a phenomenon known as photochemical smog. It’s particularly bad around high-traffic areas in summer, and can cause asthma attacks. When ozone interacts with skin, it depletes its natural antioxidant stores (particularly vitamins E and C), which leaves it more susceptible to free radical damage and oxidative stress. It also damages proteins and lipids in your skin.

Ozone exposure has been linked to increased MMP-9, a collagen-degrading enzyme, in animal studies. Ozone can also activate AhR in skin, which could lead to inflammation and pigmentation.

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)
Nitrogen dioxide is a brown, acrid-smelling gas produced by motor vehicles and power plants. There hasn’t been as much research performed on NO2's impact on the skin, but it’s been correlated with increased pigment spots.

What can you do to protect your skin from pollution, aside from run away to a mountaintop and live as a hermit for the rest of your life? Luckily a lot of products you already own will probably protect your skin from pollution, although you’ll see their anti-pollution benefits emphasised more and more.

One way to protect your skin against oxidative stress is to apply antioxidant products. Antioxidants like vitamin C, N-acetylcysteine and green tea polyphenols can decrease the response to ozone in vitro, and a very recent study found that vitamin C serums reduced some of the ageing responses to ozone in human forearm skin.

Barrier Protection 
Many trending skincare ingredients are designed to form a shield between your skin and pollutants. There seems to be a lot of variety with the ingredients that can potentially do this, which is unsurprising, since a lot of ingredients can form sticky gooey films on your skin. Since pollution protection is so new, none of these have peer-reviewed studies to support them yet as far as I know, but some are supported by manufacturer studies. 

Regular and Effective Cleansing Routine
You’ll want to thoroughly clean any accumulated pollution off your skin at the end of the day, but if you clean too thoroughly, you risk impairing your skin’s protective ability. Check out next month's blog post on the verdict on soap & water versus cleanser & toner. 

AHR Antagonists
An interesting new way of protecting against pollution damage is by using molecules that can block AhR activation. A formula containing 0.5% of an AhR antagonist BDDI was found to reduce activation of genes related to ageing in a clinical study.

UV is still the number 1 environmental cause of ageing, so if you haven’t sorted out your sun protection, I wouldn’t even bother thinking about pollution. But if you’re protecting yourself from UV and you want more, and you’re exposed to high pollution urban environments, then anti-pollution is a good place to look next!


  1. SE Mancebo & SQ Wang, Recognizing the impact of ambient air pollution on skin health, J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol 2015, 29, 2326-2332.
  2. A Vierkötter, T Schikowski, U Ranft, D Sugiri, M Matsui, U Krämer & J Krutmann, Airborne particle exposure and extrinsic skin aging (open access), J Invest Dermatol 2010, 130, 2719-2726.
  3. A Vierkötter & J Krutmann, Environmental influences on skin aging and ethnic-specific manifestations (open access), Dermatoendocrinol 2012, 4, 227-231.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Power of Superfoods: Do they work?

Don't over-complicate your diet, because all you need is right here on your doorstep.

Once upon a time we have had food, plain and simple, without a prefix or a hashtag in sight. We ate locally and seasonally and whenever it was available. Sometimes we  got eaten while trying to find food, sometimes we ate something that could have killed us and sometimes we died of starvation. Eating should be more simple now, except that man, in his wisdom, likes to complicate things. 

So we ship food all around the world, we eat things that belong to other creatures and which they rely on for their survival, and we take produce that indigenous people have eaten for centuries, driving up the price and demand and making it impossible for them to afford. We don't have just plain food anymore, we have health food, fast food, clean food (my personal pet hate), good food, bad food, real food, organic food, super food and many more.

Let's take 'superfoods' for instance. Of course, some foods are more nutrient-rich than others. But we must be careful not to be lulled into a false sense of security and believe that by eating large quantities of these superfoods we are protecting ourselves, or treating serious diseases and illnesses. Nutrient-dense superfood powders are the height of fashion, but do we actually need them?

Many of us take superfood powders, whisked into juices, smoothies or simply water. But are they any better for us than popping a supplement or simply eating ordinary foods? And if they're worth their superfood label, which are the best to pick?

We take superfood powders because they're 'nutrient dense', and in particular, dense in the antioxidants that protect our bodies cells from damage by harmful free radical molecules. Nutrient dense foods provide concentrated nutrition with the minimum of calories, potentially harmful fats and sugar. So far, so logical. 

But supplement pills are even more concentrated - so are these pills 'better'? Unfortunately, probably not. While epidemiology (population studies) shows that diets high in antioxidants such as vitamins A, E and a whole host of phytochcmicals are linked with reduced risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, clinical trials using supplements of these individual nutrients (particularly vitamin E and betacarotene) generally fail to show any benefit, and some have even increased the risk of illness and death. 'Real food' has a protective effect not shared by the processed and purified supplement form. It appears that other - as yet unidentified ~ components of nutrient-dense food arc behind those beneficial health effects. Ironically, it could be what we don't know about superfoods that's doing us good!

Superfood powders tend to be rich in minerals such as magnesium, which many people don't eat enough of Taking a powder is a safer, gender way of boosting your intake than popping a pill. Of course, superfoodnpowders aren't substitutes for a healthy diet - they're a
top-up; a safety net for people already eating healthily. Living on junk food with a few superfood powder smoothies to detox the damage is not the way to go!

So, if you decide to add superfood powders to your diet, what should you look for, and how should you take them? Choose a minimally processed powder, organically and sustainably produced by a reputable company. Beware buzzwords and marketing, and look instead for a research-based brand backed up by solid science. Also remember that powders should be taken regularly. Decide what you want and find one that ticks your boxes, rather than flitting between different ones and never noticing the benefit of any.

Green powders are justifiably among the most popular. Studies suggest that vegetables are 'healthier' than fruit, due to their phytochemical profiles combined with a lower sugar content. University College London Research concluded that each daily portion of vegetables reducing overall risk of death by 16%,
while each fruit only lessened risk by 4%.

These powders are green thanks to chlorophyll. Orange beta-carotene (in most green vcg, its colour masked by the green chlorophyll), is probably the best known and researched plant pigment, but chlorophyll is also a powerful antioxidant. Arguably the most potent are the algae, which are rich in protein, iron and B vitamins. The microalga spirulina is probably the champion, but chlorella also has excellent credentials. Some say these powders are an 'acquired taste', but I found they had a pleasantly fresh, green flavour.

  • Everyone's familiar with cocoa, but raw cacao powder is in a different league regarding antioxidant polyphenols, which help protect cells from damage leading to cancer and clogged arteries. It undergoes minimal processing, leaving it far higher in beneficial compounds than ordinary cocoa powder.
  • Acai powder, from a Brazilian berry, has a 'berryish' taste with a hint of chocolate. Berries for powder are picked and dried at peak freshness, so retain more antioxidants than berries destined for eating.
  • Baobab, with its tart, citrus flavour, is generally taken for its vitamin C, but it's also rich in other antioxidants, plus iron and calcium. Research suggests that it could help with blood sugar control.
  • Moringa is good for protein, B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin K and beta-carotene. Thanks to their high nutrient content, the powdered leaves are used to treat malnutrition in developing countries, and a small clinical trial showed a beneficial effect on blood cholesterol. It has a bit of an 'earthy' taste, but works well in smoothies and juices.
  • The adaptogen maca, like ginseng, is taken to boost energy and manage stress. It's used as a medicinal herb in its native South America, and studies suggest that it could actually mimic the effects of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Milled/ground flaxseeds are a useful source of omega-3 essential fatty acids for those who can't get it from fish oil - they're especially high in alpha linoleic acid (ALA). They also contain antioxidant lignans, and phytoestrogens that can help balance hormones. Plus ground flax has a thickening effect when blended
with water and allowed to stand a while - great when making thicker smoothies and smoothie bowls.

While single-ingredient superfood powders provide a targeted boost, blends are popular as they combine the benefits of many. They also allow tastier powders to mask the taste of the less pleasant ones. Just don't be misled by impressively long ingredients lists 'padded out' with cheaper, less beneficial components. This is

where it really pays to be an educated consumer!

People tend to overdose on certain produce to make up for inadequacies elsewhere in their diet and lifestyles. Actually, you are far better off eating a wide range of seasonal foods than relying on one particular type, because that way you are more likely to get a better range of micro nutrients.

Turmeric may kill cancer cells in the petri dish, but that does not mean putting it in a smoothie will treat cancer. I had a patient who smoked 20 cigarettes a day and drank a superfood smoothie every morning to compensate! Sadly it doesn't work like that.

You know the old adage 'less is more'? Well, when it comes to nutrition that is the case. In Chinese medicine we use the term 'overly nutritious'. Yes, you can have too much of a good thing. Eating an excess of one substance, no matter how good it is for us, can throw the body out of balance. This has been demonstrated in 
the case of thyroid function and the consumption of goitrogenic foods including kale, the number one famous superfood. Eating large amounts of these foods increases your intake of thiocyanate and can interfere with iodine uptake. The thyroid needs iodine to produce thyroid hormone and drinking or eating (although it would have to be a huge amount of) these foods can lead to hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).