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Book Review: Transform Your Skin Naturally: Groundbreaking Alternatives by Ben Johnson, MD

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If you are a person who is into skin care and anti-aging in general, you have most likely gone to a salon or spa and had a facial. Or “skin care treatment” if you are male. During your facial, you most likely experienced some form of exfoliation. If it was a basic facial, you may have had a scrub, or an enzyme mask, or a pass with the spinning brush machine.

Your aesthetician might have suggested more aggressive exfoliation procedures such as series of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) peels,  microdermabrasion treatments, or even laser resurfacing. The intention of these procedures is to cause the skin to generate more collagen. Collagen is the protein that gives our skin a youthful plump and smooth look. Collagen synthesis decreases with age, and as a result of excessive sun exposure, improper skin care, poor nutrition, dehydration, and inflammation among other reasons.

These exfoliation procedures speed up the skin’s cell turnover rate (which also slows as we age), and promote collagen synthesis by removing several layers of the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin, containing “dead” skin cells). This creates an inflammatory response that is intended to send a message to the cells in the dermis (inner “live” layer of the skin where the proteins of youth, collagen and elastin, are generated) to produce and send new collagen to the injured area. This gives the skin an immediate plumped, tightened, smoother, and more youthful appearance. However, the results are temporary so repeated treatments are necessary to maintain the look.

Most likely, your aesthetician also recommended a home care product regimen that will help maintain the results of the treatments you just had. At least one of the products probably contains ingredients (AHAs, salicylic acid, retinol, etc.) that exfoliate the skin on a daily basis. The purpose of this is to continue to speed up the skin’s process of sloughing off dead skin cells so the skin is smoother, looks more youthful, and other skin care product ingredients can penetrate deeper.

This is the “gold standard” of the skin care industry today.

Exfoliation does not just occur in salons and spas. There are many over-the-counter products containing exfoliating ingredients, as well as popular at-home microdermabrasion kits and spinning brushes that are widely available to the general public.

The short term effects of these treatments are very pleasing to clients, which is why so many people pay lots of money for them. But are these procedures actually doing anything to slow down aging in the dermis, where aging of the skin actually occurs? Do they actually benefit the skin’s health? Or are they actually doing to the skin what we are all trying so hard to prevent: speeding up the aging process, instead of slowing it down.

Dr. Ben Johnson, MD believes that the skin care industry’s current obsession with exfoliation is doing just that: exacerbating the aging process by destroying the skin’s natural barrier, the epidermis. His book, Transform Your Skin Naturally: Groundbreaking Alternatives to Exfoliation and Other Damaging Antiaging Strategies, discusses how these current skin care practices are doing more harm to the skin than good in the long term.

The epidermis must be repaired, not removed.

Dr. Johnson has a very accurate understanding of how the skin actually functions. Most skin care professionals and cosmetic dermatologists believe that the accumulation of the dead cells in the stratum corneum (top layer of the epidermis) are what give people a dull, aged appearance and worsen the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. They believe that these cells must be removed in order to reveal the new, youthful cells underneath.

The build-up of dead cells is not a flaw in the design of the skin; is absolutely essential to its protective barrier function. What these professionals neglect to realize, is that the stratum corneum serves a very important role in protecting the skin (and the entire body) from UV radiation and other environmental aggressors, preventing infection, and serving as a barrier to prevent fluid and blood loss. Over-cleansing and exfoliating the skin also strips the skin of the protective lipids and enzymes that make up the barrier.

The lower layers of the epidermis are very important to protect and preserve, because they house many of the skin’s most important protective features. The basal layer, which is the lowest layer, is where melanocytes are located. These are the cells that create melanin, which is the pigment that gives our skin and hair their color. Melanin does not merely exist for aesthetic reasons; it protects our body from free radical damage caused by the sun and other environmental invaders. Exfoliation can cause the melanocytes to overproduce melanin pigment if they believe the skin’s barrier is compromised. This causes hyperpigmentation, otherwise known as age or sun spots. Exfoliation can also cause irreparable damage to the melanocytes, and make them cease to function. This causes hypopigmentation, or areas of lightness on the skin.

The skin places priority on delivering nutrients to the epidermis to constantly repair it and maintain its strength, unfortunately at the cost of the dermis, which thins as we age. If we exfoliate most of the epidermis, it must then draw even more nutrients from the dermis to try to rebuild itself. This will cause the dermis to thin even faster, and will further reduce collagen and elastin. Keeping the epidermis intact is the best way to protect the dermis, and the collagen and elastin it contains. It will eventually shed itself anyway, when the new cells are ready to rise to the surface and perform their protective functions. Premature removal of these cells also “reduces the lipids in our skin, triggers water loss, and increases free radicals for several hours—if not days—until the skin recovers from the loss.”

The theory of exfoliation is flawed.

Dr. Johnson believes that the entire premise of “sloughing off the ‘dead skin’ in order to let the healthy, vibrant skin shine through … and speed up our epidermal turnover rate to what it was in our youth” is incorrect. All it does is cause inflammation, which creates free radicals. Free radicals attack healthy cells and alter DNA; this causes most of the visible signs of aging.

One may think that the plump, rosy look achieved by these treatments is a sign of younger, healthier skin. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The skin is flushed and plump because it is inflamed … swollen.

The fact is that the skin needs all the collagen it can get to constantly do its job of repairing its protective barrier. The new collagen produced by the skin after an exfoliation procedure does not go to repair any of the existing damage; instead, it goes to repair the damage that has just been inflicted onto the skin by removing part of its barrier.

Great skin comes from inside out….

Even though Dr. Johnson is an MD, his philosophy is very holistic in nature. His book discusses the importance of proper nutrition in detail. He states: “The ill-conceived Western diet is the main reason for disease in our society—and that includes skin diseases.” He believes that most skin disorders, such as acne, rosacea, psoriasis, and eczema can be traced to poor nutrition and digestive problems.

Dr. Johnson offers information about how the digestive system breaks down different food groups by producing different levels of enzymes and acids. Combining different food groups into a single meal causes the stomach to produce levels of acids that may be inappropriate for the foods being consumed, resulting in improper digestion. This can lead to toxic build-up and inflammation in the body, both of which can cause illnesses and chronic conditions.

The book offers suggestions for how to space out different food groups to maximize efficacy in digestion. Additionally, it discusses the importance of eating diets that are comprised with local, organic, unprocessed whole foods; supplementing with minerals, and hydrating adequately and appropriately.

…And outside in.

Dr. Johnson is a formulator of skin care products, so naturally his book discusses the importance of following a skin care regimen using products containing high quality ingredients that nourish, repair, and do not irritate or inflame the skin. He provides an overview of which ingredients, such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids, and lipids benefit the skin; and also gives a list of ingredients to avoid.

He writes a great deal about sun protection, and points out how with the increased use of high SPF chemical sunscreens, skin cancer rates have actually increased, rather than decreased. This is due to the amount of free radicals created by the chemicals in these sunscreens. Dr. Johnson suggests using lower SPF (no higher than 25 or 30) physical sunblocks such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, with a preference for zinc; and reapplying them as needed throughout the day.

Effective skin care products are hard to find.

It is difficult to find good skin care products that contain a high enough concentration of high quality ingredients to actually improve the condition of the skin. Traditional formulations do not have a rate of penetration into the dermis, which means they do not reach the layer of the skin where aging actually occurs. Instead, they get trapped in the layers of the epidermis where they can actually cause free radical damage to the skin as they oxidize.

Dr. Johnson stresses the significance of liposomal delivery in skin care formulations. Liposomes greatly enhance the penetration of the ingredient through the epidermis into the dermis, so they can actually be effective and improve the skin.

The theories and methods presented by Dr. Johnson in this book are not concurrent with the majority of skin care practice today. However, more and more skin care professionals are finding truth in Dr. Johnson’s work within their own treatment rooms.

This book offers amazing insight into the composition and functions of the skin, and demonstrates the great importance of properly functioning skin in terms of the health of the entire body. It is written scientifically, but ideas are repeated clearly through the pages, so people who are not in the skin care industry should have no problem understanding the author’s point of view. There are helpful diagrams, as well as a glossary of terms in the book; in addition to an appendix containing answers to the top 50 skin questions.

Dr. Johnson is incredibly passionate about his work. That is very clear throughout this book. His ideas and methods are very logical and practical; and everything he states is backed up with years of scientific research and statistics. His work is truly on the cutting edge of skin care formulation technology, yet he takes a very natural and holistic approach. I find this very refreshing.

For more information, articles, and videos about Dr. Ben Johnson and his products, please visit the Osmosis Pur Medical Skin Care website.

*Note to the reader: the first printing of this book had a typographical error in the illustration of the skin on page six. The illustration is erroneously labeled as the dermis being the top layer, the epidermis being the middle layer, and the subcutis being the lowest layer. The correct labeling is the epidermis on top, dermis in the middle, and subcutis at the bottom. This error has been corrected and will be reflected in all future printings.

**Spa images courtesy of the ASCP

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About Rachael Pontillo