A doctor explains: Why the beauty industry needs to focus on underlying skin health rather than just cosmetic symptoms

To maintain skin health, brands need to treat causes instead of symptoms.

Skincare has become a buzzword, with beauty routines as prevalent as they are varied. The fact is that the skin is the body’s largest protective organ—and we should be caring for it accordingly. Skincare regimens are often undertaken to address cosmetic concerns like wrinkles and dark spots, with many brands playing directly to those symptoms. But the skincare industry is largely focused on—and marketing to—cosmetic results, rather than the loss of skin health which is responsible for them. The truth is that we can’t achieve lasting cosmetic outcomes without first addressing the skin’s health. Treating for symptoms alone, like dryness, leaves underlying causes unaddressed.

As an industry, skincare professionals and brands need to shift their focus to caring for skin health with ingredients that treat the cause—those that will result in better cosmetic outcomes while also restoring and preserving healthy skin. Here’s how we can do it.

Key Components of Skin Health for Brands to Focus On

Healthy skin starts with the skin’s natural barrier. Composed of the sebum barrier, stratum corneum, and epidermal cells, this barrier locks in moisture and protects us from things like allergens and viruses. When damaged, this barrier allows healthy moisture to escape and toxins to pass through.

Free radicals are molecules produced by our metabolism, pollutants, and UV radiation from the sun. They can cause the skin barrier to break down, resulting in dryness, discoloration, and changes in texture. This damage is cumulative, adding on to previous damage, culminating in what we call aging.

Aging is associated with a decrease in vitamins, minerals, hormones, peptides, and loss of function. Peptides are active molecules that trigger cellular activity, cell growth, and the skin’s resilience to toxins. These molecules, composed of amino acids linked by peptide bonds, are incredibly important medically. As we age, our supply of peptides diminishes, which can lead to increased inflammation, loss of hydration, and wrinkling.

Ultimately, free radical damage produces inflammation that causes skin damage and breaks down our skin’s vital protective layers. The body’s defenses include naturally occurring antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that neutralize free radicals and bring inflammation under control—but as we age, our skin needs help maintaining these functions and fighting inflammation.

Ingredients Skincare Brands Should Use to Treat Skin Health Instead of Symptoms

According to the 500 Dalton Rule, molecules applied to the skin won’t penetrate (or, in turn, have any effect) if they weigh more than 500 Daltons. Because of this, any skincare brand claiming to improve skin health needs to be mindful of its ingredients: if they don’t conform to the Dalton Rule, they’ll be ineffective. Heavier molecules merely rest on the skin’s surface without causing any meaningful benefit.

To actually aid the cells’ natural self-repair process and boost skin health, brands should consider these Dalton Rule–conforming ingredients:

  • Sea kelp: Full of iodine, minerals, and antioxidants, sea kelp helps to soften and hydrate the skin by promoting moisture retention.
  • Sodium hyaluronate: By helping your body preserve water, hyaluronic acid keeps skin cells hydrated and healthy.
  • Hydrolyzed collagen: A vital structural component of healthy skin, hydrolyzed collagen improves skin cells’ natural production process.
  • Collagen peptides: Products instilled with peptides can trigger healthy cellular functions like detoxification, cell renewal, and collagen production. Adding them to a skincare routine can help preserve the skin’s youthful appearance.
  • Bio-identical growth factors: Growth factors are a key power-player in promoting skin health. They stimulate skin cells to multiply, firm up, and improve their overall performance.

Growth Factors that Skincare Brands Should Use to Promote Skin Health

Let’s take a deeper dive into growth factors, which have huge potential to boost skin health if added to skincare products correctly. Since our naturally occurring growth factors decline with age, we can supplement them through topical products. Here are five key growth factors:

  • Oligopeptide-1: Aids in the growth and healing of the skin by activating collagen formation
  • Polypeptides: Protect cells from oxidative stress resulting from free radical damage and encourage healthy skin cell growth
  • Palmitoyl tetrapeptide-3: Helps repair visible skin damage
  • Acetyl hexapeptides: Defend the skin against injury and promote cellular repair
  • Acetyl tetrapeptide-5: Boosts skin’s firmness and smoothness

Responsible skincare brands should be using these health-promoting ingredients to treat the underlying causes of skin symptoms—the skin’s true health—rather than just addressing symptoms presenting visually. Much damage to the skin can’t be seen by the naked eye.

Treating underlying skin health is the future of effective skincare. We have the scientific knowledge of what our skin needs to be healthy. It’s simply a matter of applying it responsibly and industry wide.

About the author:

George Sadowski, MD, is the founder of Nourishing Biologicals, an innovative bioscience skincare brand.