Sunday, December 22, 2013

My take on Colloidal Silver

I have been receiving e-mails for a while now asking about colloidal silver; whether it is safe, if it will turn skin blue, and so forth. The natural beauty community seems to have a neutral to negative take on this ingredient based on comments I've read online. So rather than me writing out what I know about colloidal silver, I thought it may be more productive to directly answer or examine some beliefs about this ingredient.

What is it?

Think of colloidal silver as a suspension of tiny silver particles evenly dispersed in water.

What does it do?

Colloidal silver is used for many reasons, however in skincare products, it has an anti-bacterial and anti-viral function that acts as a natural preservative and helps to kill bacteria.

What is the problem with it?

For most people, the problem has more to do with the past than with the product itself. When it first came out, there were all sorts of health claims for colloidal silver including as a dietary supplement, HIV/AIDS cure, herpes vaccine, etc. However much of these claims are unsubstantiated through scientific testing. Furthermore, there were no dosages so people ingested large quantities to cure everything from the common cold to allergies. The build up of large doses of colloidal silver when ingested over time can lead to a condition called Argyria, which gives a blue discoloration to skin, eyes, nails, and other membranes. Argyria doesn't have any real health impacts although the appearance can be extremely disconcerting.

So what happened?

Because of these isolated cases, the FDA realized that there needed to be measures in place as this was being used as a form of oral medication without any tested medical results to back the claims. After testing, they concluded that much of the claims could not be proven true and enacted sweeping measures to restrict all manufacturers of colloidal silver who made these claims.

Why are some skincare brands using it now?

Although colloidal silver has never proven to be a legitimate source of fighting off the claims manufacturers initially suggested, it does have real efficacy as an anti-bacterial that inhibits the growth of bacteria, germs, and viruses. As it is a pure and clean ingredient (using only silver), it is considered a very natural preservative.

Why don't they use other preservatives?

As a preservative, colloidal silver delivers great results and is also fairly beneficial for the skin. This makes them exceptional as they have dual functions to both protect the formula from spoiling and provide benefit for skin. It seems that commonly detractors of any ingredient in natural beauty will make the following claims: 1) The ingredient is cheap 2) It isn't pure/natural 3) It is bad for sensitive skin!

So let's address those claims:

1. Colloidal silver is much more expensive than typical food grade preservatives (which are in turn more expensive than paraben/phenoxyethanol) because of the fact that it is a high quality and effective ingredient that uses actual silver. There I don't believe skincare lines use this ingredient to skirt the issue of cost.

In fact there is nothing budget-friendly about colloidal silver at all, the recently launched La Potion Infinie Argentum is a $245 jar of cream that is said to have anti-aging, hydrating, and anti-bacterial impact on skin. It's key ingredient is colloidal silver. Similarly, Julisis, another expensive line uses colloidal silver across its silver essence line. In this case, they're showing off their access to and use of colloidal silver as an attractive ingredient.

2. Colloidal silver contains nothing but a naturally occurring metal that contains benefits for skin compared to most other preservatives which are synthetically produced. Although I will refrain from making a judgement call on whether synthetic is worse due to the complex biochemistry, I will say from a pure/natural standpoint, colloidal silver is one of the cleanest preservatives available.

3. Unless you have an actual allergy to colloidal silver, then it won't irritate your skin. In fact many food good preservatives have been shown to have the potential to cause irritation, eye allergies, dermatitis in smaller concentrations.

But aren't other preservatives safer?

Much of the safety concern related to colloidal silver applies to extreme cases of regular ingestion. No such results have ever occurred from topical application because it just isn't realistic. This fear is akin to the fear of contracting HIV from mouth-to-mouth contact, it is misguided. Furthermore, if we're going to access safety through regular consumption, food grade preservatives don't fare any better. For instance, sodium benzoate which is used in Kahina products has been shown to have potential carcinogenic effect when combined with Vitamin C, and in large doses can impact nerve health (this was the ingredient that got Skinnygirl Margaritas into trouble a while back). Benzyl Benzoate used in Tata Harper products has been used in insecticides and has been shown to have potentially irritating effects including dermatitis on human skin.

The takeaway is that none of these preservatives are meant to be ingested straight, so when it happens there may very likely be side effects that aren't favorable. The point isn't to say other preservatives are worse, but rather to point out colloidal silver is not more dangerous than any of the other preservatives most consumers including natural green beauties happily use every day.

So why does the FDA go hard after this?

The FDA goes hard after those who continue to market colloidal silver as an oral medication that cures those unproven claims, not skincare companies who use colloidal silver as a preservative. In the same way that if the ingestion of the food-grade preservative potassium sorbate took off for unproven claims, the FDA would probably go after that as well.

On the flip side, the FDA has approved MANY products that incorporate colloidal silver for its anti-bacterial properties.

What is your take?

The pictures of people with Argyria are hard to look at, so I get the fear. But all those cases came about from a lack of education, we're more educated now. And we now know that Argyria comes from chronic long term ingestion of colloidal silver, not through topical application of skincare. With the sufficient studies that the FDA has done for the approval of topical usage of colloidal silver, I'm very comfortable with this preservative. Colloidal silver helps to maintain the stability of products and unlike most preservatives, actually seems to have skin benefits. If you're not comfortable with colloidal silver yet, look for formulas where it is listed toward the end of the ingredients listing as those concentrations are incredibly harmless.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Do toners do anything?

"It seems every line is coming out with a toner/spray for face. Can you tell me if this is needed? I've heard that toners are either essential or a total waste of money, and I'd like to hear your thoughts. La Bella Figura and May Lindstrom have both said in the past that these sprays essentially don't do anything, yet they both have sprays now so I'm a little confused. Are they trying to make money or should I expect to see benefits?"
- Jasmine

Hello Jasmine, I get this question a lot. First let's figure out what toners are because the definition is a bit loose. Toners have an umbrella term that represents astringents, make-up removers, and primers for serums. Classical toners tend to have a high alcohol composition which helps as an additional cleanse. This helps remove impurities so serums can better penetrate the skin. Fancier toners will also have extracts that are beneficial to skin to ideally make it more receptive to moisture and treatments. Green beauty toners are often formulated with floral waters which in my opinion excel beyond the classical toners because they're much more nutrient rich which means your skin can receive more benefits.

Now - what do they do? In the way that a cleanser should cleanser, a moisturizer should moisturize, a toner would tone. This means ideally it should help condition your skin which can include any of the following:

  • improving moisture levels and hydration retention
  • enhancing skin texture
  • managing complexion 
  • refreshing dull skin
  • increasing absorption rate of serums
Personally, I believe a well formulated, high quality toner is very helpful for good skin and I use them in my daily regimen. I won't argue with those who say it is a waste of money because toners don't give instant results that cleansers or moisturizers do, where with those products you'll feel cleansed and moisturized, it's hard to quantify the feeling of "toned". I will say this, I consider a good toner essential to giving me my best skin and going without it does indeed hinder the performance of every other product in my regimen. I can see/feel when my skin getting better after regularly using a toner versus when I do not. It's the subtleties. I consider it similar to drinking tea and juices, your skin is not going to show anything right away but stick with it and your skin will get that glow. Juicers and tea drinkers should know what I'm talking about.

As for La Bella Figura and May Lindstrom, I can't tell you what their intents are but if they said that, I'd guess that it's a mix of the two. Perhaps they changed their minds from when they originally had that stance and they now believe that toners are effective products. It sure doesn't hurt that they're selling a product. I do think it's a bad business move for them ti say that and then end up producing a toner, because it makes me wonder how authentic it is when they champion their product when they don't even seem to believe in it. Though keep in mind that neither of these brands have a dermatological or chemistry background so perhaps as they gained more experience in this field and had exposure to more information, their perspective on this changed. I'd respect them more if they didn't disparage this when others were selling toners but are now fully embracing it when they have a toner to sell.

Regardless, some good ingredients to look for in toners depend on your skin type. Firstly, I recommend floral waters because they contain a lot of nutrients including antioxidants and minerals that your skin can absorb. Look for the ingredients that can have anti-inflammation properties because it helps counter all types of problems like aging, redness, and breakouts. I personally don't like for toners to contain any oils because it should be light. In order to use oils (which are mainly used for fragrance) and maintain a light texture, toners often use emulsifiers and my personal philosophy is that there should not be too many chemicals in the toner especially if it is a spray since you will ingest some of it (through your nose). For dry skin, look for hyaluronic acid that is biologically identical to the ones already present in our skin, as a lot of chemical hyaluronic acid is actually not able to be effectively absorbed. Go for smaller particles that will absorb easily into skin, try to stay away from alcohol not only for what it can do to skin but the fact that it also destroys beneficial ingredients. Because this is a very pure product, try to buy products where the first five ingredients are organic or wild grown. 

Beyond this guideline, I'd urge you to give toners a good long test run to help make up your mind.