pdf of this article

For more information about the practice, contact:

Cynthia Gregg, MD, FACS
Cindy Wu, MD, FACS

3550 NW Cary Parkway, #100
Cary, NC 27513
Telephone: (919) 297-0097

Hidden Toxins That Threaten Skin Health

“All skin needs anti-aging care.” asserts Dr. Cynthia Gregg of Cynthia Gregg Face and Body Specialists, “because healthy skin plays such an important role in maintaining our overall health. And our skin changes, inevitably, as we age. It becomes thinner, more fragile, more susceptible to injury, and gradually loses its protective qualities.

Many options are available for rejuvenating the skin as we age. This 54-year-old patient was treated with Ultherapy® to her lower face. Note the slimming effect and elevation of her cheeks and jawline. Like Sofwave™, Ultherapy® uses ultrasound energy to lift, tighten, and build collagen. The primary difference between the two is the depth at which the energy is delivered.

“It’s not just time that ages our skin,” she adds. “Personal choices about sun exposure, smoking, diet, and other lifestyle factors can accelerate the aging process, as do external factors such as pollution and stress.”

Further, she says, “the modern world poses another—serious and increasing— threat to our skin health: hidden toxins. These are the chemicals present in many personal care products—which we take into our bodies on a routine basis without realizing it.”

Some of these chemicals—especially fragrances—are merely irritants, causing mild allergic reactions, notes Dr. Gregg. “But of greater concern are the ingre-dients known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). These may mimic or interfere with the body’s hormones and are linked to a variety of serious developmental, reproductive, brain, immune, and other problems. Further, these chemicals are more easily absorbed through the skin, so it is especially concerning that so many skin care products contain them.”

Parabens, phthalates, and chemical-based UV Filters are among the EDCs commonly found in personal care products.

The good news, says Dr. Gregg, “is that your skin can actually stay healthy with age—especially when you understand how your skin ages and how it regenerates. Happily, for every decade and every issue, there’s something we can do to fight the aging process.”

In a conversation with Health&Healing, Dr. Gregg and esthetician Lisa Florence discuss their team’s approach to anti-aging skin care.

Health&Healing: What major toxins contribute to the aging process?

DR. GREGG: We begin aging around 30, when we being losing collagen, as well as elastin and hyaluronic acid. In our forties, we start losing facial muscle mass and volume; hormonal changes as we age will further accelerate the aging process.

That said, for most of us, 90 percent of all aging is from the sun, which breaks down the elastin and the collagen in the skin and causes wrinkles, creases, and lines.

MS. FLORENCE: For that reason, the primary anti-aging tool is to make sunscreen part of your daily routine. The trick is to find one that feels wonderful on your skin.

But there’s an important caution: as with all skin care products, you want to be sure there are no problem ingredients—especially EDCs, which are found in some sunscreens.

H&H: How do you evaluate skin care products?

DR. GREGG: Science has come a long way in developing products that mitigate and even reverse the aging process. That is why we use medical-grade skin care products for all our clients. But not all products are equal.

MS. FLORENCE: And that’s the challenge! Problem chemicals, including EDCs, are to be found in many, if not most, over-the-counter skin care products.

Further, products change. And your favorite moisturizer that you may have been using for decades? The ingredients have probably changed greatly. So, with all my patients, I’ll say “if you love something, great! But let’s evaluate it and make sure it’s not an irritant.”

Sofwave™: New Technology for Restoring Skin

“Few things contribute more significantly to skin aging than loss of collagen—a process that naturally begins around age 30,” observes Dr. Gregg. “So, restoring collagen is a critically important anti-aging tool.

“While many of the non-surgical options we offer patients—such as microneedling, fillers, and laser treatments—are effective in increasing collagen production, perhaps the most impressive are the technological advances using ultrasound therapy. The newest of these—Sofwave—is an exciting addition to what I like to call our ‘buffet’ of options.”

Sofwave, explains Dr. Gregg, is a non-invasive method for building collagen, treating facial fine lines and wrinkles, and lifting brow, jaw, and neck. “What’s exciting about Sofwave,” she explains, “is that it is the first non-surgical method of lifting tissue. It uses ultrasound technology to pass safely through the skin’s surface and heat the mid-dermal tissue at the precise depth and temperature required to rejuvenate collagen fibers.”

Treatments take up to an hour for the lower face, full neck, and above the brow. After Sofwave, there are no restrictions and patients may immediately return to normal activities.

“Sofwave,” notes Dr. Gregg, “is also an effective prejuvenation treatment for younger patients who want to add to their collagen ‘bank,’ as well as for patients who want to put off or avoid surgical procedures.”

That’s especially important for acne patients and for women who are of reproductive age, because some of those chemicals affect hormone balance. For those patients or for patients with cancer or other illnesses, we guide them to avoid products that could be detrimental.

I should add: if I had one rule of thumb it would be to avoid skin care products with fragrances. Things with essential oils may smell lovely, but they’re irritants.

H&H: What skin care services do you offer to help repair skin that’s been damaged by sun, chemicals, and pollution?

MS. FLORENCE: All skin care begins with a cleanser. But all cleansers aren’t equal, and too often I’ll see patients with red bumps or severe dehydration—evidence of a cleanser that is too strong and stripping the skin.

I describe my facials as a series of balancing treatments. We offer a basic facial, which begins with a conversation evaluating what is going on with your skin. First, I cleanse your skin. If it’s dry, I rehydrate it; if it’s too oily, I remove excess sebum without stripping the skin or causing irritation. Then I soften the surface to deep clean it. Removing dead skin cells can be done by either a chemical peel or manual exfoliation.

Manual exfoliation could be a microdermabrasion facial like a Diamond Glow. The next level after that would be a micro peel, which is a facial with a chemical exfoliation. This gets rid of clogged pores or debris in the follicles, which can promote inflammation or acne.

Microneedling is another treatment option using the body’s own natural healing process. It’s therapeutic, great for people who have fine lines and wrinkles, acne scars, or hyperpigmentation and melasma.

It is also among a number of tools we have to restore collagen. And we have just added Sofwave—an exciting new ultrasound treatment for collagen restoration (see box).

Although everyone needs skin care tailored to their specific needs, the basic recipe for healthy skin is not that different. One of the main differences is that skin that has more melanin in it is more delicate. You need to treat darker skin very gently.

We also see patients every day with a large accumulation of sun damage or with residual melasma from pregnancies. Peels and microneedling are among the tools we can use to repair the damage.

People with particularly sensitive skin or conditions such as rosacea require special, gentle care—from cleanser to sunscreen to repairs. That’s where an esthetician comes in— we balance the different products and treatments that facilitate healthy skin renewal.