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Clean Skin 2.0

by Valerie Latona

All-natural, organic skincare and clean beauty is being forced to evolve as spa-goers demand healthy skin—with visible results.

It used to be enough that a skincare product contained all the good stuff from nature—without all the bad chemicals. All-natural beauty was good for you, and good for the environment, so naturally it was good for the skin. “All natural,” “clean ingredients,” “straight from nature,” became buzz phrases used to market plant-based products and ingredients like antioxidant-rich green tea and rose, vitamin-C-laden camu camu, and herbs like rosemary, chamomile, and lavender, along with all the aromatic essences and essential oils derived from them. Spas, with their very core being about health and beauty, have—from their onset—naturally incorporated these ingredients into facials and body treatments. While demand for natural, clean beauty isn’t going away anytime soon, there’s a subtle change happening and it’s affecting the products spas are using and selling and the treatments being offered. “Organic, natural products are not enough anymore because they alone cannot deliver the results that people want,” explains international skincare expert Pietro Simone, founder and creator of Pietro Simone Skincare, a skincare line used at luxury spas around the country including Meadowood in Napa Valley, Four Seasons Nashville, and Mohonk Mountain House. “So many things about clean, natural beauty are great but because of the composition of natural ingredients, you can’t get the results needed to transform the skin.”

The new goal is skin health—that is, clear, even-toned, smooth, radiant, and youthful skin with no redness, flaking, irritation, and inflammation—a true inner and outer beauty. There’s no question that the recent COVID-19 pandemic, which challenged the spa industry as visitors and revenue dropped dramatically, spurred this new focus on skin health and health overall. In fact, 62 percent of Americans said that their health, after the pandemic, was more important than ever before. “Skincare has become more synonymous with overall health than with a beauty ritual,” explains Manhattan-based Dennis Gross, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and dermatological surgeon and founder of Dr Dennis Gross Skincare, a line used and carried in more than 400 spas around the country. “We were seeing this trend pre-2020, but it really took hold and accelerated during the pandemic.”

Shane Upson, director of spa and wellness at the Lapis, the Spa at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, agrees. “People are not just thinking about ‘glowing skin,’ ‘smooth skin,’ or ‘hydrated skin,’ they are focusing on what it takes to achieve these results,” explains Upson. “The world changed over the pandemic, when we had time to think about what was truly important to each of us. That pivot changed the way we look at wellness and self-care. This translates to skincare and the detailed results we want for our skin. People’s self-care and wellness are focused on fixing the underlying concern.”

Simone, like many other skincare experts, brands, consumers and spa- goers, is still committed to clean beauty. This means drawing on the benefits of natural ingredients while removing “bad” stuff from products like artificial colorants, synthetic fragrances, genetically modified ingredients (GMOs), parabens, phthalates, and formaldehyde. But Simone and other skincare experts do this with the help of biotechnology; that is, reformulating natural ingredients in a lab to get the results that people demand and adding in powerful additional ingredients that can achieve the healthy skin consumers are after.

Biotechnology: Enhancing Clean Products to Deliver Results

The idea of formulating products in a lab began to carry negative connotations in the ’80s and ’90s, as a backlash to years of using chemical-based ingredients and products, explains Simone. If it’s made in a lab, the thinking went, it must be synthetic and bad for you. But today, biotechnology is heralded as the future of skincare, and consumers are embracing it. Scientists can enhance the good stuff from nature with the latest skincare technology. They can also remove any harmful, ineffective, and non-sustainable elements. “Biotechnology marries the precisions of chemistry with the all-natural needs of biology,” explains skincare engineer Lindsay Wray, PhD, who works for Bolt Threads, a raw ingredients supply company based in Berkeley, California. “We’re able to take naturally inspired ingredients and raw materials and make them in a more precise way.”

Simone’s clean, result-driven products are a good example. In the lab, he tweaks plant-based ingredients to remove potential allergy-triggering aspects, then mixes in the latest delivery systems to get the ingredients deep into the skin where they can have the most impact. The result of clean biotechnology is results: healthier, more radiant and youthful skin that consumers can visibly see. “The skin doesn’t want to allow anything to be absorbed,” he explains. This is how the skin’s barrier works: it’s a biological protective mechanism designed to not let anything harmful enter the skin, and by extension the body. With biotechnology, harmful materials can be removed and the latest technology can be introduced to allow powerful, skin-changing ingredients to bypass the skin’s barrier without harming the skin in the process.

“Biotechnological ingredients can be designed and engineered to have specific properties, making them highly effective for addressing specific skincare needs,” explains Manon Pilon, international spa educator and consultant and director of research and development for Derme&Co, which delivers organic skincare and spa and medical equipment to spas. “For example, biotechnological-derived ingredients can target signs of aging, improve hydration, reduce inflammation, or enhance the skin’s barrier function. While natural and organic ingredients have long been popular in skincare, biotechnology can complement them rather than replace them.”

Nanotechnology—reducing skincare ingredients to nanometer sizes (a nanometer is a billionth of a meter; a strand of hair is 2.5 nanometers in diameter)—is helping deliver ingredients deep into the skin. This, along with powerful delivery methods like pH balancing and the use of molecules and compounds like peptides, phospholipids, and plant-based stem cells, are the future of skincare because they give consumers and spa-goers exactly what they want: healthier, more beautiful skin. “The consumer is getting savvy,” explains Wray. “They want it all so they feel like they should be given it all. Skincare has got to be made with the right materials that don’t compromise values, it has to feel great, and it has to deliver results.”

These results, or lack of them, are more visible than ever. The explosion of social media and selfies, along with the post- pandemic growth of video and Zoom calls, has put faces—and any visible skincare problems—front and center. Now skincare technicians are using artificial intelligence (AI) to illuminate results. “AI can now be used to show clients their skin pre and post facial so results are front and center,” explains Pilon, who also helped to create an online skin diagnosis tool, powered by AI, that’s able to illuminate skincare concerns and show exactly how and whether products and treatments are working.

Spa Treatments that Address Skin Health

Also answering the demand for more visible results, spas are offering the latest clinical-based treatments that penetrate the skin’s barrier and deliver clean ingredients more deeply. More powerful but less irritating peels, microneedling, radiofrequency (heat) energy, lasers, LED light therapy, and other clinical-level treatments—once the domain of dermatologist offices—are being embraced by spas around the country. These all work by creating controlled damage to the skin to activate the skin’s own healing mechanisms, which boost production of skin-plumping collagen and elastin. “We need to traumatize the skin in order to get results,” explains Simone, whose skincare clinics in London and New York offer these more powerful treatments. “The typical facial with the most incredible massage is not enough anymore. You may be able to get 20 percent results but not the 80 or 90 percent results that people want.” These clinical-level treatments are often paired with the clean, plant-based ingredients that spa-goers also demand.

Dr. Gross was one of the early adopters of controlled skin injury with no downtime via his Alpha Beta Professional Peel, which is offered at more than 400 spas around the country and is part of the Renew & Restore Facial at Miraval Life in Balance Spa Berkshires, in Lenox, Massachusetts. Gross has also developed an FDA-cleared DRx SpectraLite FaceWare Pro, a red and blue LED light therapy mask that uses these specific wavelengths of light to treat and prevent the signs of aging and acne without side effects.

LED therapy is becoming an increasingly popular part of facial treatments in spas around the country. “LED is one of my favorite things to work with to get into the skin on a deeper level,” explains Emily Jones, lead aesthetician at The Lodge at Woodloch, in Hawley, Pennsylvania, which offers LED light as part of its Hydrafacials and Restore and Repair facial. “Light waves get ingredients to penetrate deeper to repair the skin. Red LED helps to stimulate the production of collagen and elastin, and it gets the circulation going. Blue LED light has an antimicrobial element so it kills acne-causing bacteria. It works on the deeper dermal levels to get the benefits people want without being invasive. There’s no recovery time and it pairs well with many other skin treatments available including microneedling.”

Also to come: look for more CBD, or cannabidiol, in skincare treatments as the hemp industry explodes. As more skincare research on CBD and other cannabinoids (active ingredients in the cannabis plant) like CBN, or cannabinol, is done, more spas will be incorporating cannabinoids into treatments and into post-treatment therapy to calm inflammation and redness and help to heal the skin. “CBD is phenomenal for inflammation,” explains Sarah Mirsini, founder of MASK skincare, a line of clean CBD-based skincare products offered in more than 200 medspas around the country. “It’s being used in spas after lasers, microneedling, microcurrent therapy, and more as a way to soothe inflammation and help to heal the skin with better results.”

Powerful, clean ingredients and treatments that get clinical-level results can only go so far when it comes to healthy skin, however. At-home care and prevention, explains Dr. Gross, is also critical to delivering healthy skin that’s visibly smooth, even-toned, radiant, and youthful. “We will see more and more people visiting spas once or twice a month combined with a consistent at-home regimen to maintain results,” explains Gross, who sees his skincare products expanding in spas over the next three to five years. “When it comes to ‘natural’ ingredients, there is always a place for safe, efficacious, and scientifically proven ingredients, but they need to be combined with clinically backed delivery systems that deliver real results.” 

“CBD is phenomenal for inflammation. It’s being used in spas after lasers, microneedling, microcurrent therapy, and more as a way to soothe inflammation and help to heal the skin with better results.”

–Sarah Mirsini, founder of MASK skincare

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