All That Glitters Does Not Glow

The trend for glowing skin this year has surged in popularity this year, driven by a cultural and social media emphasis on youthful, radiant appearances. This trend, however, brings with it several concerns and challenges, both in terms of supporting product claims and addressing some skin issues.

In the ever-evolving world of skincare, the pursuit of radiant, glowing skin stands as a pinnacle of beauty aspirations. The journey to develop products that deliver this luminous quality is fraught with both challenges and opportunities, rooted in science, consumer expectations, and regulatory landscapes.

Achieving a natural, healthy glow involves more than just surface-level improvements; it requires enhancing skin health at a cellular level. Glowing skin is often synonymous with well-hydrated, even-toned, and smooth skin, which is reflective of good overall skin health.

Moreover, there’s no clear definition of what ‘glowing skin’ really means, and the term is often used to describe either “shining or sparkling” or, to refer to what appears to be ‘healthy skin’ i.e. skin that isn’t dull, dehydrated or sallow. This lack of definition can lead to misleading the consumer and the spread of misinformation.

Sparkling skin can be achieved by tricks with formulations — adding mica’s, pearlescent’s, and pigments to achieve a glowing, even dewy effect. In the pursuit of glowing skin, many cosmetic products include ingredients that create an immediate, albeit temporary, visual effect of radiance. These ingredients, often in the form of pigments and glitters, are designed to reflect light and give the appearance of a healthy, luminous complexion.

On the other hand, glowing skin which refers to ‘healthy’ or that old-fashioned ‘english rose’ complexion, ‘peaches and cream’ complexion, Korean ‘glass’ complexion, etc.,  requires some extra effort indeed!

Key Components for Glowing Skin:

  1. Hydration: Essential for maintaining skin’s plumpness and elasticity. Ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin are popular for their hydrating properties.
  2. Exfoliation: Regular removal of dead skin cells to reveal fresh, new skin beneath. Alpha and beta hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs) are commonly used exfoliants.
  3. Antioxidants: Combat oxidative stress and protect against environmental damage. Vitamins C and E, along with botanical extracts, are potent antioxidants.
  4. Brightening Agents: Ingredients like niacinamide and kojic acid help reduce hyperpigmentation and promote an even skin tone.
  5. Diet and Lifestyle: you are never going to get a healthy glowing skin if you drink and smoke and revel in a junk laden diet! Pollution exposure, menopause, and overexposure to the sun also contribute to a skin that does not glow.

Claims Development – Pitfalls and Stumbling Blocks

  1. Overpromising and Under-Delivering – The pressure to stand out in a saturated market can lead to exaggerated claims. Failing to meet these claims can damage brand credibility and consumer trust.
  2. Ignoring Consumer Feedback – Successful skincare products often evolve through continuous feedback and iterations. Ignoring consumer experiences and preferences can lead to product failure.
  3. Neglecting Diverse Skin Types – Formulations that do not consider the needs of various skin types as well as colour tones can alienate large segments of the market. Inclusivity in skincare development is essential.
  4. Cost of Innovation – Research and development, particularly for cutting-edge technologies, can be costly. Balancing innovation with affordability is a significant challenge.
  5. Environmental Impact – As consumers become more eco-conscious, the environmental impact of product formulations and packaging is under scrutiny. Failing to address these concerns can result in backlash.
  6. Skin Sensitivity – Irritation and Allergies – Products designed to enhance skin glow often contain active ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), and retinoids. While effective for some, these can cause irritation, redness, peeling, and allergic reactions, especially in sensitive skin types. This also applies to the addition of ingredients designed to give the skin a ‘sparkling glow’. Over-Exfoliation – Excessive use of exfoliating products to obtain Korean ‘glass’ skin can compromise the skin barrier, leading to increased sensitivity, dryness, and susceptibility to environmental damage.
  7. Acne and Breakouts – Clogged Pores – Some products aimed at providing a glow (e.g., heavy moisturizers, oils) can clog pores, leading to acne and breakouts. This is particularly problematic for individuals with oily or acne-prone skin, especially teenagers who are heavily influenced by social media trends and hacks.
  8. Pigmentation Issues – Uneven Skin Tone – The misuse of products containing strong active ingredients can lead to hyperpigmentation or uneven skin tone. For example, improper use of AHAs or BHAs can exacerbate pigmentation problems if not paired with adequate sun protection. Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH) – Aggressive treatments can cause inflammation, leading to PIH, especially in darker skin tones.
  9. Long-Term Skin Health – Barrier Function and Premature Ageing – While some products may offer immediate glow, they might also contain ingredients that could contribute to long-term skin damage if used incorrectly, such as those causing photosensitivity without proper sun protection.
  10. Temporary vs. Long-Term Benefits – Surface-Level Effects of sparklers – While these ingredients can provide an immediate glow, they do not offer long-term skin benefits and may mask underlying skin issues rather than addressing them. Focusing solely on temporary aesthetic improvements can divert attention from maintaining overall skin health through proper hydration, nutrition, and protection.

Supporting ‘Glowing Skin’ Claims

The journey to develop skincare products that impart a ‘radiant, glowing’ complexion is complex, requiring clear definition, a careful balance of science, innovation, transparency, and consumer-centric healthy-lifestyle strategies.

When it comes to ‘glowing skin’ claims, do you mean glow, radiance, luminosity, glossy, brightness, vibrancy, shiny, smooth, translucent, the absence of skin imperfections, or what? And furthermore, what do you understand by each of these so-called ‘glow’ terms, and does the consumer agree/believe you? By skin imperfections, what parameters do you include/define? All of these terms are subjective terms, and measuring them with an instrument(s) is challenging at best.

There are  a number of bio-instruments to measure ‘glowing’ skin such  as the glossy-meter, etc. Optical-reflection characteristics that create a perception of shine or glow of the skin have received new development focus. Skin surface and subsurface reflection characteristics of the skin show age-dependent changes with younger skin having greater subsurface reflectivity and a more even surface reflectivity. Combined with clinical scoring methods, such characteristics might relate to a consumer perception that younger skin is brighter and more radiant with an internal glow, whereas aged skin is dull. Skin colour radiance can be analysed by standardised image analysis algorithms, and radiance and attractiveness rated from digital photography. Blood flow can be measured using skin imaging perfusion.

Furthermore, truthful, honest and credible consumer insight studies also need to be part of any investigation. Does consumer perception agree? How do you present findings, if there is no set (regulatory) definition of glowing skin? Do we need one?

EURO COSMETICS Magazine • Theresa Callaghan • Theresa Callaghan • Theresa Callaghan
Theresa Callaghan
Skin Care Scientist and Cosmetic Product Claim Specialist

Theresa Callaghan, a PhD biochemist with over 35 years of experience in corporate skin care research, has held key R&D senior roles for companies including LVMH, Unilever, Marks & Spencer, J&J, Evonik, Hill-Top Research, and proDERM. In 2008, she created Callaghan Consulting International, focusing on cosmetic claims development with brands and ingredient suppliers. She is a widely published author, frequent speaker, and contributor to peer-reviewed journals. Her acclaimed book, 'Help! I'm Covered in Adjectives: Cosmetic Claims & The Consumer', has gained popularity. She is a member of the Society of Cosmetic Scientists and British Herbal Medicine Association, and has lectured at the University of Sunderland's School of Pharmacy and Cosmetic Sciences. Theresa serves on the editorial peer review board of the International Journal of Cosmetic Science. She also mentors and has her own Cosmetic Claims Insights Column with EuroCosmetics.

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