Q&A with South African Plastic Surgeon Dr Des Fernandes on active ingredients and future developments in cosmeceuticals.

Q. You have dedicated a significant amount of your life’s work to researching the most effective ingredients to maintain healthy skin from an early age and to treat sun-damaged and problem skin. How did you get involved in this?

A. I started off searching for ways to prevent melanoma because of my experience with two charismatic patients who developed melanoma at about 18 years of age and died by age 23. This involved hours and hours of reading through the old Index Medicus and locating relevant papers – they all pointed to the fantastic properties of Vitamin A in normalising the skin. At about the same time in 1980, I realised every time we go out into the daylight we deprive our skin of vitamin A and valuable antioxidants, so topical replacement is a no-brainer.

Q. The introduction of Vitamin A into the formulation of skincare products heralded a new era in the treatment of sun-damaged skin. How does applying Vitamin A affect the skin? Why did it garner such interest in the aesthetic industry?

A. Initially the medical fraternity became aware of Vitamin A acid in about 1985 for skin rejuvenation. Incidentally, I had started using it personally in 1982. Vitamin A manages and often reverses virtually all the signs of sun damaged skin. It does this by activating DNA to normalise skin cell activity, by inhibiting the action of enzymes that destroy collagen, by supporting the immune system of the skin, by controlling the dispersion of melanin through the skin and by restoring the normal skin vasculature. Vitamin A has never had a great following because it was either used in high concentrations in OTC products and so caused retinoid reactions, or was used in such low concentrations that it did not make any changes. Most people thought that only retinoic acid was the topical version that worked.

Q. How does Environ stand apart from other cosmeceutical ranges on the market?

A. Environ does not boast about concentrations of Vitamin A, which are meaningless unless one knows their relative activity. That’s the reason we speak about international units of Vitamin A, which automatically means we can reach the potential of retinoic acid products. We were the pioneers in the introduction of the most active version of Vitamin C, which is still acknowledged as such. Environ has many active ingredients in its products, whereas most other companies concentrate on only one or two. The results are outstanding and most doctors feel one can’t get results like these without using lasers.

Q. What new developments are on the horizon and where do you see the future of cosmeceuticals?

A. Vitamin A and antioxidants will always be part of the future of cosmeceuticals. Without them I believe you cannot call a product ‘Skin CARE’. I believe peptides are going to be a major player in skin thickening, pigment control, increased elasticity, etc. I personally believe that more and more active peptides offer us more than the pursuit of individual or combinations of growth factors.

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