The buzzy ingredients and big ideas in skin care this year
From postbiotics to tranexamic acid, unpacking what's promising in beauty
The theme of beauty in 2021 might well be summed up in three letters: DIY. Whether we were managing maskne, soothing stress-related eczema or trying to bring dewy radiance to dull skin for our endless Zoom appearances, many of us tackled our pandemic-induced skin issues with a do-it-yourself — or figure-it-out — spirit. Perhaps thanks to those experiences, we got to know our way around skin care a bit better last year.
It seems we'll have lots of chances to up our knowledge in the year ahead too, with ingredients and products promising to achieve common complexion goals, such as reducing dark spots, plumping fine lines and comforting sensitive skin. With skin-care sales driving the beauty industry throughout the pandemic, you can expect the interest in sought-after ingredients to spill over to other categories. (Psst! We're lookin' at you, hair care.) And on a deeper level, achieving greater diversity in the realm of professional skin care — fundamentally evolving our understanding of skin — is within reach.
To unpack what's to come, we asked two leading dermatologists to share the buzzy ingredients and big ideas that will dominate beauty in 2022.
A form of vitamin B3, niacinamide will likely continue to ride a wave of popularity that built up through 2021. It's helpful for reducing excess sebum and correcting pigmentation, according to Dr. Renée Beach, a dermatologist and the founder of DermAtelier on Avenue in Toronto. "But its efficacy is highly dependent on the concentration [or] strength, which unfortunately is often not listed when it's in products," she said. In the absence of that key detail, the type of product you choose could impact your results. "Formula wouldn't necessarily trump concentration," said Beach. "However, if one were seeking a highly penetrable vehicle, it would be [a] gel."
Diversity in dermatology
When an illustration of a Black fetus in the womb, created by Nigerian medical student Chidiebere Ibe, went viral late last year, it reinforced an omission in medical care that exists across every specialty. Dermatology, with its knowledge gaps around Black and brown skin, is no exception. "Recognizing and understanding the unique characteristics and challenges of skin needs and concerns in [people of colour] is the first step to strengthen and grow knowledge in providing optimal skin care across the skin spectrum," said Dr. Monica Li, a Vancouver-based dermatologist and clinical instructor at the University of British Columbia.
Addressing the issue is a multi-faceted approach, starting with research that can inform future product development. Supporting knowledge and educational tools specific to POC skin care, such as the series developed by the Canadian Dermatology Association (in corporate partnership with Johnson & Johnson), will also play a role, said Dr. Li, who is also a spokesperson for the initiative. "Representation matters," she said. "Skin-care companies, in recent years, are including dermatologists and physicians of different ethnic backgrounds to share their voices and experiences of providing care for POC. This increases the collective knowledge and competency of physicians from all ethnic backgrounds."
From retinol to chemical peels, anything that becomes a bestseller at the beauty counter has likely spent years building cred in dermatology clinics. This year, azelaic acid — found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley — could follow that path, going from an ingredient popular with beauty insiders to a household name. "It's available in Canada in a 15-per-cent concentration.… Derms will use this for a range of conditions from rosacea to mild acne to melasma," said Beach, noting that a component in azelaic acid can block the enzyme tyrosinase, which normally produces extra melanin. "In acne, it decreases bacterial synthesis and slows down the buildup of skin cells." The downside is a potential for irritation. While over-the-counter options carry lower levels of the active ingredient than prescription-only formulas, it's best to introduce it into your routine slowly.
The workhorse antioxidant never left the scene, but as the pandemic pushed skin-care awareness (and spending) to new heights, vitamin C held its place among the most-Googled ingredients of '21. And no wonder. Also referred to as ascorbic acid, it has been heavily studied and offers a multitude of benefits, from helping skin cells repair after environmental damage (think exposure to pollution and UV rays) to supporting collagen production and reducing dark spots. "A serum containing vitamin C is the product of choice compared to cream or toner formulations, with the former delivering a relatively higher-concentrated, potent dose of the active ingredient," said Li. While it can be used by virtually all skin types, it may be irritating if you have sensitive skin, in which case, start with a lower concentration and patch test to determine tolerability, she added.
Dovetailing with the industry's continued focus on the skin microbiome, postbiotics are primed to come forward. Identified as a top trend by WGSN, a global source for trend forecasting, the next evolution of beauty inspiration from Korea and Japan will put fermented ingredients in the spotlight.
"Biotics in skin care include probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics," said Li, adding that they are thought to rebalance the skin's microbiome — "a healthy microbial community." She explained the differences simply: "Probiotics consist of live bacterial cultures; prebiotics consist of compounds consumed by existing skin flora to thrive; and postbiotics consist of fermentation byproducts from the metabolic activities of bacteria."
And in this case, all that bacteria is good for your skin. Along with probiotic and prebiotic ingredients, postbiotics can help out a compromised complexion. "[Postbiotics defend] against unwanted microbes on the skin surface,… support skin immunity and help to reduce inflammation," she said, citing lactic acid, glycerol and the patented Aqua Posae Filiformis as some of the postbiotic ingredients she prefers.
Buzzy beauty comes to scalp care
The stress of the pandemic hit scalps hard, and now beloved skin-care ingredients (like hyaluronic, glycolic and salicylic acid) are moving into the hair-care aisle to help. "Certain additives to hair care make sense based on their properties, for example, salicylic acid in anti-dandruff shampoo … to help dislodge debris and remove scaling," said Beach. If you are considering adding an exfoliating scalp treatment into your routine, keep in mind that active ingredients pose a mild risk of irritation when a scalp is already vulnerable, like after you've just dyed your hair, or if you have chronic eczema, said Beach.
If you follow Instagram skin-care star Charlotte Palermino (and you should), then you might have caught her recent recap of the fascinating history of tranexamic acid. Developed in the early '60s by doctors Utako and Osuke Okamoto in Japan, it was intended to help women who hemorrhage after childbirth. Since then, it has been widely used to treat excessive bleeding. "In recent years, the medication has been shown to improve challenging cases of melasma that have not responded to other conventional therapies," said Li. "However, oral tranexamic acid has potential serious side-effects, such as leg and lung clots."
Luckily, there's a topical version of the ingredient that's not associated with these side-effects, and it's poised to blast any dark spots casting a shadow over your 2022. "Topical tranexamic acid has been found to lighten unwanted pigmentation and brighten the skin," said Li. "It can be particularly helpful for those affected by melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation." It's generally well tolerated too, Li said, but not recommended for anyone pregnant or breastfeeding.
Ingrie Williams is a Toronto-based freelance beauty and style writer, and co-founder of the T-Zone, who lives for a bright lip and big hair. Follow her on Instagram @ingriewilliams