Formulations + Facts + Father’s Day

There it was.

Staring at me like a bad pimple on my face before a hot date.

A text message from a dear, longtime friend, who is smart, well-educated, and a loyal Alchimie Forever fan from the start, asking me about the nitty gritty of cosmetic ingredients and formulations.

I couldn’t blame her for her questions – our customers are peppered daily with falsehoods, misinformation, over-marketed wellness hype, and urban myths about cosmetic ingredients and formulations.

Sunscreen in your blood. Hand-made products. Home-made SPF. Not enough regulation. Natural. Clean. Organic. US FDA versus European regulatory standards… the list goes on and on and on. 

Our industry is overwhelmed by perspectives, opinions, truths, facts, half-facts, non-facts, and confusing verbiage. 

Her questions – which admittedly, sounded a bit like accusations to me – inspired me to pull back the curtain and post a deep-dive blog.

So, here it goes: My professional thoughts as an executive and as a consumer on the subject of cosmetic ingredients, formulations, and being environmentally mindful…

As many of you know, Alchimie Forever is the brainchild of a world-class dermatologist based in Switzerland who also happens to be my father. He is a Western-trained medical doctor with 40+ years of experience. He believes that both (some) lab-made synthetics and (some) botanicals are safe and effective for use in skin care. This harmony between the best synthetics and the best botanicals is at the core of our formulation strategy.

From the start, Alchimie Forever has been about safety and efficacy over source.

We position our brand as clean and clinical, which I understand are over-used words and may mean different things to different people. Same with “natural,” “organic,” “active,” “cosmeceutical,” “biodynamic,” “non-toxic,” and most words brands are using to market their positioning for consumers. 

Still, Alchimie Forever is transparent, authentic, and accountable to science. 

In an attempt to clarify how we develop our products, and how our formulations have evolved over the years, here are some facts:

We strive to make our products as efficacious and as pure as possible – recognizing that the body of knowledge in our industry evolves and changes. 

We manufacture most of our products in the US, with a couple products still being made in Switzerland, because of the complexity of those formulae.

We sell in European countries, and as such abide by the European and Swiss FDA-equivalents, and REACH regulation (meaning we do not use the 1,000+ ingredients prohibited by European cosmetics regulatory bodies).

We are vegan.

We are cruelty-free, certified by PETA and Leaping Bunny. (As a side note, animal testing in cosmetics is prohibited by European regulatory bodies – on both ingredients and finished products).

We are paraben-free. Our formulations contained parabens initially, so we decided to reformulate our products without these molecules. It took us over five years to remove parabens from all of our formulas. We replaced parabens with Benzyl Alcohol, Benzoic Acid, Sorbic Acid, Chlorephenesin, or Phenoxyethanol, which are effective preservatives that are overall not as controversial.

We strongly believe that an effective preservative system is key to safe cosmetics formulations.

We are gluten-free.

We are soy-free.

We are free of any genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

We are dye-free.

We are nut-free.

Some other ingredients we do not use include iron oxides, aluminum, kojic acid, triclosan, hydroquinone, mineral oil, propylene glycol, formaldehyde or formaldehyde-releasers, anything in nano-particles.

Four of our products are rated by Think Dirty, with a score of “Clean” (0-3), with more to come.

We are working with EWG to update our ingredient listings on their website. Much of the Alchimie Forever information listed is outdated (for example, some of our formulations are still listed as containing parabens, which is no longer the case).

We are working to remove Polyethylene Glycols (PEGs) from our formulations. These ingredients are used as emulsifiers and have started to be controversial in cosmetics as they may contain harmful impurities such as 1,4-Dioxane, a carcinogen. Our PEGs are certified as pure and free of such impurities, yet we are committed to replacing them with cleaner alternatives.

We use sulfates in our Purifying gel cleanser, specifically Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Sodium Laureth-8 Sulfate (we do not use Sodium Lauryl Sulfate). We are working on this formulation to remove sulfates while maintaining the lovely sudsy texture our customers love. For consumers who prefer a sulfate-free cleanser, we currently offer our Gentle cream cleanser which is sulfate-free.

Our Protective day cream SPF 23 uses a blend of chemical screens. We do not use (and have never used) oxybenzone or octinoxate, which are the chemicals seen as being harmful to reefs. Our Protective day cream SPF 23 is approved in Hawaii and Florida and considered reef-safe. We also hear consumers’ request for a mineral / physical block, and are researching the most current science to fill that need with an elegant, non-greasy, formula adequate for all skin tones.

We use lab-made fragrances, in concentrations below 0.2%. All of our fragrances are certified phtalate-free. We also list any of the 26 fragrance allergens potentially contained in our fragrance formulations (per European regulatory standards).

We, however, do not believe essential oils are an adequate alternative to lab-made fragrances as they are often irritating to the skin.

We work on our carbon footprint and on our packaging.

We, however, do not believe there is a silver bullet in terms of packaging.

Our formulations are concentrated so a little bit goes a long way – meaning you don’t have to repurchase products every few weeks, but rather every couple of months. This helps cut down packaging waste.

We use outer boxes for many of our products, because boxes protect our more delicate formulations from light and heat.

We love glass, yet glass is heavier than plastic, hence requires more energy to ship; it is also a challenge to travel with.

All of our boxes are recyclable, as are all of our inner jars and tubes (except for the pumps of our body product bottles – and we are working on that).

At the end of the day, if none of this has convinced you that our products are, if nothing else, safe for you to use, please know that all four of Dr. Polla’s daughters use Alchimie Forever daily – and have for 10+ years. 

Do you really think our Dad would let us use products that are unhealthy or unsafe in any way? 

I don’t think so. 

Also, Dad, happy Father’s Day. Thanks for your integrity in product formulation. Thanks for your accountability to science and facts. Thanks for your level-headed approach to trends and fads. Thanks for your commitment to wellness and beauty, which keeps me feeling and looking my best.  

Our Newest Product is Almost Here…

New product development may be the most fun part of my job. It is scientific, creative, challenging, satisfying. There is research, there are prototypes. There are misses and bad skin reactions. And then one day, everything comes together and a new member of the Alchimie Forever family is born.  

Our newest product will be on shelves mid-July, and I can’t wait. Ask and you shall receive! It is a calming, soothing, hydrating, anti-aging body lotion, its name will be (very literally) Soothing body lotion – because it soothes the skin, and soothes the soul. This all-over body cream will complement our existing body product assortment, comprised primarily of targeted problem solvers (Firming gel for neck and bust, Optimizing body contour gel, Dry skin balm).

Much of the new product development process involves looking at products from other brands that fall in the same category. I have been testing body lotions for months… and here are some of my favorites.

Goe (for Garden of Eden) Oil by Jao. This semi-solid oil transforms into liquid oil as you massage it into your skin. It is composed of 28 fruit and flower oils and butters, and the medicinal aroma reduces my blood pressure. The directions say to use sparingly, that less is more – but I can’t help myself and slather it generously over my entire body.

Body Salve (Geranium Cedarwood aroma) by Spa Rituals. I adore Shel Pink, the woman behind this brand, and I love the texture of this product, which is not quite a cream, not quite a balm.

Stress-fix Body Lotion by Aveda. The best part of this lotion is its lavender aroma, formulated to reduce feelings of stress. (Side note, I also love the Stress-fix Soaking Salts in a hot bath before bed.)

Stress Relief Moisturizing Lotion by Aveeno. Can you see the theme here? A competitive product test has to include at least one drugstore product, and I must admit I like this lotion, although I know I shouldn’t because the ingredients aren’t great (did anyone say petrolatum?). Once again, the lavender aroma is a big part of it. I also love the pump packaging.

Herbalderm Sensitive Body Lotion by Rausch. Of course, I had to test a brand from Switzerland. This product is based on Swiss plant extracts and leaves my skin hydrated no matter the climate or dryness.

What’s your favorite body lotion? And are you as excited as I am for the arrival of our Soothing body lotion? July is almost here…

What Does Kantic Mean, and Why Do We Use That Word?

If you have been using our products for more than five or six years, you probably remember words such as Nd:YAG, Superpulse, Alexandrite, Q-switch, and one of the most complicated to spell and pronounce, Yttrium. These words are all related to the field of lasers. We loved the idea of highlighting my father’s pioneering role in the field of laser technology (remember, he was the first to introduce lasers for use in dermatology in Europe back in the mid-1980s) by having laser-related words on the packaging.

Feedback from the field suggested that while our idea might have been brilliant and made complete sense to us, our customers were confused. They could not pronounce many of the names. They asked if the Alexandrite product was named such because it was meant to be used after an Alexandrite laser treatment (that would have made sense… but was not the case). So, after many family dinners, internal debates, and a couple of arguments, we made the decision to remove these product names from our packaging and brand verbiage.

We made an exception for the word “Kantic” however. My father was attached to the laser names, and to the idea behind using them, and loved Kantic the most. So, we compromised, and three products still have this laser name – forming the Kantic collection of products:

So what does Kantic mean? Kantic is a “misspelling” of the French word Quantique (we liked the K and the C), which translates as quantum. It comes from quantum physics, which studies how atoms and particles behave, including in the field of lasers. It is true to our heritage and to the pioneering role my father played in the field of laser technology. You can find out more here.

Luckily, Kantic is one of the laser terms that is most easily pronounced (in both French and English).

Luckily, the three products that form the Kantic collection share benefits and appeal to a similar skin type:

  • Anti-aging and antioxidant
  • Nourishing and hydrating
  • Calming and soothing
  • Anti-redness and anti-irritation

And luckily, every year, my father and I get better at debating and compromising.

Sensitive skin: what is it and what can we do about it?

Sensitive skin: myth or reality?

In Europe, the United States and Japan more than half the population reports suffering from sensitive skin. 1 ,2 ,6,9 That fact alone warrants a better understanding of this condition, how to diagnose it, evaluate it, and treat it. Alchimie Forever’s heritage makes this topic particularly near and dear to my heart, as our origin was in post-procedure skin care, meaning the treatment of sensitized skin.

Men or women? 

We women are more sensitive than men overall, that is common knowledge… and as a result, we typically report sensitive skin more often than men do. While this was previously thought to be due to the fact that our epidermis is slightly thinner than that of men, and due to specific hormonal differences,  recent objective testing has found that sensitive skin is just as prevalent for men as it is for women.

What is sensitive skin? 

We can define sensitive skin as a hyper reactive response of the skin to an external source that results in inflammation. The source of irritation can be environmental conditions, cleaning products, personal care products, clothing, or anything that comes in contact with the skin. The symptoms concerned are often one or a combination of the following sensations: itching, burning, erythema (redness), tingling, flaking (scaling), tightness, and dryness.

Causes of Sensitive Skin

So why is sensitive skin… so sensitive?  An exaggerated response to an external source may be caused by a compromise in the skin barrier’s protective function: specifically, a thinner stratum corneum and reduced corneocyte area.A thinner barrier makes it easier for water soluble chemicals to quickly traverse the stratum corneum and cause irritation, making the skin more sensitive than normal to environmental factors.

Neural transmission and structural changes to receptors in the epidermis can also contribute to sensitive skin. A study shows that all sensitive skin, when compared to non-sensitive skin, was found to have more nerve growth factors in the stratum corneum.2 This could explain hypersensitivity even when the skin’s barrier appears intact: sensory neurons are activated and we see an inflammatory response.

Evaluating Sensitive Skin

At times, sensitive skin symptoms are easily detectable, such as in the case of redness or scaling, but sometimes symptoms like burning, tingling and a sensation of tightness can be difficult to evaluate and quantify. Because of the presence of symptoms that are difficult to evaluate, sensitive skin is often a self-diagnosed condition, which does not make it any less serious (indeed, studies show that self-perceived symptoms of hyper-reactivity reliably precede the appearance of clinical signs3). Apart from self perception, clinical assessment of redness, dryness, coloration, transepidermal water loss (TEWL), and hydration, as well as engineering methods of Doppler flowmetry can be used to evaluate skin sensitivity. However, when there are no observable clinical signs, it can be a challenge to quantify and evaluate sensitive skin. This is one of the key reasons why this subject is not yet fully understood.

Sensitive Skin vs. Sensitized Skin

Many people who report having sensitive skin may in fact have sensitized skin. The difference is in genetics. People with sensitive skin have a genetically thinner or compromised stratum corneum barrier, which makes them more sensitive to factors that normal skin is protected from.

Sensitized skin is rather a result of external influences damaging the skin’s protective barrier, or of chronic exposure to damaging conditions wearing down the skin’s natural protection. A sensitized condition is a temporary state of sensitivity that can be reversed by ceasing exposure to the irritant and creating an ideal environment in terms of moisture and temperature so that the skin can restore its protective barrier.

A genetically sensitive condition is permanent and irreversible; exposure to provoking factors should be limited in order to avoid irritation. Extra steps should also be taken to protect sensitive skin.

Sensitive Skin vs. Irritated Skin

Sensitive skin is a condition, irritated skin is the result. Sensitive and sensitized skin can result in irritation. Irritated skin can be caused by any physical or chemical factor damaging the skin.

Sensitive Skin and Age

Children tend to have generally more sensitive skin than adults; their protective skin barrier is thinner and becomes thicker as they age. However, adults are chronically subject to conditions that can lead to sensitization with age.

Factors provoking irritation of Sensitive Skin

There are a variety of factors that have been found to provoke sensitive skin irritation. These factors affect people differently and irritation can result from a chronic or acute exposure.

  • Household or Self Care Products or Treatments: alcohol, soaps, dyes, abrasive and harsh products, aggressive cosmetic treatments and more.
  • Environmental: cold, heat, frequent and significant changes between temperatures, pollution, dryness in the air, indoor heating or air conditioning.
  • Lifestyle: Emotions, stress.

Managing Sensitive Skin

There is no standard treatment for sensitive skin, it is a genetic condition and irritation is due to so many different factors. But there are some ways to protect and avoid irritation.

  • Avoiding exposure to provoking factors.
  • Using anti-irritant products that have a cooling, soothing, anti-inflammatory, or healing effect helps repair the skin barrier to its unique optimal state (my favorite is the Kantic+ intensely nourishing cream).
  • Protecting your sensitive skin year-round with UVA and UVB sunscreen.

(Thank you to my fabulous Geneva intern Rachel for your help researching this blog post; references available upon request.)