By Marissa DeSantis
Valued at an estimated $532 billion, the beauty industry has never been bigger. But skincare, in particular, is having a moment. When The NPD Group reported that prestige beauty brought in $18.8 billion in sales in 2019, skincare accounted for $5.9 billion of that total, seeing a five percent increase even as makeup sales declined.
Even without the data, the constant product and brand launches we see in-stores, online, and across every social media platform are pretty good indicators that skincare products are in demand. And all of those choices bring new “It” ingredients that promise to better treat age-old concerns like hyperpigmentation or solve entirely new issues (hi, maskne).
“I think 2021 will be about really improving skin in meaningful ways…”
In addition with thoughtfully formulated products and ingredients instead of the frenetic trial-and-error, we experienced as the skincare industry and its offerings exploded. From buzzy ingredients like CBD and probiotics to more overarching trends like customizable routines, Dr. Rhee walks us through the latest skincare breakthroughs you need to know.
As long as we’re wearing masks, maskne treatment and prevention will continue to be a hot topic. But Dr. Rhee does note that she’s finding her patients have figured out what works for them—from general advice that applies to everyone like wearing a clean mask and using a non-comedogenic moisturizer to more individualized approaches like topical creams and pimple patches. “We’ve been in it for such a long time now, that I feel like most people that are experiencing maskne have figured out how to play around with their products and what to change,” she explains. Even so, we’ll continue to see a demand for our topical maskne-fighting essentials, new innovations like Franz Skincare’s antimicrobial mask liner, and more aggressive in-office treatments like lasers and light therapy.
Over the past decade, we’ve heard more about the link between a healthy gut and good skin. And as more research continues to go into understanding that connection, Dr. Rhee believes we’ll be seeing a bigger emphasis on probiotics (and prebiotics, the types of dietary fiber that help feed the good bacteria in the gut). “That saying, ‘You are what you eat,’ probiotics are kind of the literal translation of that,” Dr. Rhee explains. “Probiotics are the healthy bacteria and the flora in the gut that your GI system essentially keeps around so that you can absorb nutrients appropriately, effectively, and optimally,” she says, adding, “Your gut flora is helping your skin function at its best.”
While the exact links between the gut and skin’s filtration systems haven’t been identified yet, Dr. Rhee says that taking probiotics orally can help improve the skin while we wait for advancements to be made in probiotic skincare products. “We know, for example, that lactobacillus is a healthy probiotic, but we don’t have delivery molecules that are effective enough to say, ‘Oh, we’re putting lactobacillus bacteria on our skin and it’s helping us,'” she says of probiotic skincare.
New products focusing on protecting the skin from daily blue light exposure were already emerging before the pandemic. But as we spend more time than ever before in front of blue light-emitting screens while we’re stuck at home, a need for these products is sure to increase. “The damaging effects are a result of oxidative stress and subsequent free radical formation caused by exposure to blue light,” Dr. Rhee says. “The oxidative damage leads to accelerated skin aging (including elastin and collagen breakdown), hyperpigmentation, and less robust skin barrier function which results in transepidermal water loss, dry, easily irritated, and inflamed skin,” she goes on to explain, noting that blue light also has negative effects on our sleep cycle and vision.
The good news is your daily SPF is already helping to combat the harmful effects of blue light when it comes to your skin. And Dr. Rhee adds that an antioxidant-rich diet and skincare routine will keep you protected, too. “Look for ingredients such as niacinamide, green tea, vitamin C, vitamin E, or grape seed extract to include as part of your daily skincare regimen both at night and in the morning along with your SPF,” she suggests, naming the Rory Weightless Face Moisturizer SPF 28 as one of her AM picks.
With more choices in skincare than ever before and more time on our hands than ever before to put in the research, Dr. Rhee notes there’s more focus on the ingredients in our products and what exactly they do. “I really believe that we’re all paying more attention to ingredients—quality over quantity,” she says, noting that old favorites like vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and retinoids/retinol aren’t going anywhere. “The pandemic is bringing people around to this thoughtfulness of what they’re putting on their skin and what works for them.”
Dr. Rhee’s favorite antioxidant, grape seed extract helps to scavenge free radicals to repair and prevent damage. Extracted from the seed of the grape (as opposed to resveratrol, which comes from the grape skin), grape seed extract is rich in proanthocyanidin. “Proanthocyanidin’s antioxidant effect in the body is 20 times more than vitamin C and 50 times more than vitamin E,” Dr. Rhee explains.
You can find it on your ingredient label listed as Vitis Vinifera, and Dr. Rhee notes that you can use it topically or orally. “I use it in a topical form and a supplement that I like to have people use when they’re battling melasma or if a patient is an endurance athlete—I like them to really beef up on their oral antioxidants to help them prevent UV damage,” she says of the benefits of combining a grape seed extract supplement with your regular SPF.
We’ve already seen an influx in CBD-infused skincare (and all kinds of products from candles to chocolates). But Dr. Rhee explains that its efficacy in skincare is still being researched. “The skin is so intricate and it’s a very sophisticated filtration system, so just putting something on your skin isn’t always going to promise an effect. I don’t know how the CBD molecule penetrates the epidermis,” she says of cannabidiol. “If it’s affecting, for example, melanin or the follicular unit or the sebaceous glands, these are things that would affect dark spots, or acne, or oil production. If we can figure out a way that it’s actually delivered and effective, it could be our next miracle topical.”
Tranexamic acid is another ingredient that has become a staple for Dr. Rhee. “It has an anti-inflammatory effect and also inhibits the production of melanin, or pigment, in the skin,” she says, noting that tranexamic acid gives you a healthier, brighter, and more even skin tone.
“It’s available over-the-counter and through prescription, and it’s really an alternative for hydroquinone, which was the mainstay for hyperpigmentation treatment for a long time,” she says. “The reason I don’t love hydroquinone is that I find that it has a plateau effect,” she further explains. “I only use it for one-month maximum—after about four to six weeks, there’s definitely a diminish in return and then a much higher risk of hyperpigmentation, which is the exact thing you’re trying to treat,” Dr. Rhee says, noting that tranexamic acid doesn’t pose this risk.
Working hand-in-hand with a focus on ingredients, customized skincare will take priority over just using what a friend recommends or something that you see on social media, as consumers learn what works for their skin type and concerns. “Our skincare needs to be tailored to our specific needs to be as effective as possible,” Dr. Rhee says. “That doesn’t mean every single person needs something different; it just means we are more thoughtful about our choices for ourselves because we’re doing it for ourselves,” she says, listing Rory’s Nightly Defense (and teledermatology services in general) as a prime example. “After completing an online consultation, a healthcare provider recommends a customized treatment option based on your skincare goals, so two friends can both use Nightly Defense, but they might be treated with different powerhouse ingredients.”