UPDATE: My moisture barrier creation is now for sale as Liquid Gold in the Stratia store!
Back to the original post:
I was one class away from a chemistry minor in college and, as has been established, I’m a big old nerd, so I’ve gotten very, very into DIY skincare. My version of skincare is less of the Pinterest, make-a-scrub-out-of-things-in-your-fridge variety, and more of the latex-gloves-and-borosilicate-beakers, my-living-room-looks-like-a-meth-lab variety.
I’ve recently been working on a serum geared toward moisture barrier repair. Quick refresher: the outermost layer of your skin, the stratum corneum, has a bricks and mortar structure. The bricks are skin cells called corneocytes, and the mortar is a fatty matrix that seals your skin, keeping the bad guys out and the good guys in. That fatty matrix is crucial to the health of your moisture barrier. It’s mostly made up of ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids.
Skin with a damaged moisture barrier (also known as dehydrated skin) is prone to acne, redness, and irritation, and looks sallow and lax. Severely dehydrated skin will sting when any product is applied, and it will turn red with just light contact. It’s bad news all around.
This paper was a total lightbulb moment for me. It’s a study on the proportions in topical applications of ceramides, cholesterol, and various types of fatty acids, and which proportions, when applied to the skin, stimulate the most healing of the moisture barrier. Here’s your SCIENCE IS SO FUCKING WEIRD AND COOL fact of the day: the ideal proportion for ceramides, cholesterol, linoleic acid, and palmitic acid is 3:1:1:1 – but it doesn’t matter which one is the 3. As long as there’s 3 parts of one ingredient to 1 part of each of the other three, moisture barrier repair goes through the damn roof.
So, with that in mind, I created a recipe for a serum (emulsion? Essence oil? Not sure what to call it) that has 1 part ceramides to 1 part cholesterol to 1 part palmitic acid to 3 parts linoleic acid.
(Full disclosure: I have no way of knowing what percent of my oils are free fatty acids, so I had to estimate. Based on my testing, it’s working really, really well.)
This will make about 1 ounce.
|1% HA stock||35.00%||9.91||Water|
|Evening primrose oil||6.00%||1.70||Oil|
|Sea buckthorn berry oil||2.00%||0.57||Oil|
|Green tea extract||2.00%||0.57||Final|
There are three main components to this recipe.
The barrier repairers: as I mentioned, the stars of this recipe are the ceramides (in the form of ceramide complex, which are about 2.5% ceramides by volume), the cholesterol, and the fatty acids – palmitic acid from sea buckthorn berry oil, and linoleic acid from evening primrose oil.
The other good stuff: this recipe has 4% niacinamide and 2.5% n-acetyl glucosamine, which work synergistically to increase cell turnover, fade PIH, and increase epidermal thickness. Green tea extract is antioxidant rich and can prevent collagen degradation. Tocopherol, or vitamin E, is another antioxidant that also extends the shelf life of the product. Jojoba oil is a non-comedogenic oil that’s most similar to our skin’s natural sebum out of any oil. Hyaluronic acid (1% HA stock) is an incredible, skin-identical humectant that plumps and hydrates skin like crazy. Honey has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, soothing properties and I put it in everything.
The backstage players: If I didn’t include these, I’d be left with a disgusting, un-mixable, bacteria-ridden sludge. They’re not sexy, but we need them. Polysorbate 80 and sorbitan oleate are emulsifiers – we’re combining oil and water, and those two things don’t want to be combined, so our emulsifiers talk them into it. Propylene glycol helps it penetrate our skin and keeps it from feeling too thick and gluggy. Xanthan gum gives it a nice, thick, gel-like texture (although I’m still on the fence about whether I want to keep this in there). Optiphen is our preservative and it is non-negotiable.
Cooking with the Acid Queen
- At least 6 hours before you make this, make up a 1% hyaluronic acid stock. Combine 1% regular molecular weight hyaluronic acid in a sealable bottle with 98% distilled water; mix it up a little bit and then add 1% Optiphen. It won’t mix very well, because hyaluronic acid is really slow to hydrate. Just seal the bottle and leave it to absorb for a few hours. When you come back, you should have a nice, even gel.
- Disinfect your working station, two beakers, the beater for your electric mixer, and any other supplies you’ll be using. I just use 70% alcohol wipes to disinfect most things, and 70% alcohol liquid for the beakers (I let them soak in alcohol for a while then rinse them with distilled water).
- Get your supplies all together. To measure, I have a bunch of disposable plastic pipettes and boats that I got off Amazon, plus a scale that measures to 0.01 grams. I also use a regular kitchen hand mixer with only one beater, a hot plate, a borosilicate tub wide enough to hold 2 beakers at once, a clay triangle, and an electric meat thermometer.
- Combine the entire oil phase in one beaker. I carefully measure, drop by drop, directly into the beaker; I run the risk of going over, but I never have by more than a drop, and I’d lose a ton of product if I put it in a plastic boat first and then scraped it into the beaker. Mix the oil phase for a minute or two.
- Combine the ceramide complex, honey, 1% hyaluronic acid stock, propylene glycol, and distilled water (your water phase) into a beaker big enough to fit your one-beater hand mixer. Mix it up.
- While you’re mixing, sprinkle in your xanthan gum. It’ll gel up real nice. Keep mixing for another minute or so.
- Put your clay triangle and some water in your larger glass tub and heat it on the hot plate. You want to heat and hold your two phases separately at 70C for 20 minutes; this kills off any pathogens that might be in there, plus makes their eventual emulsification much, much easier. My hot plate sucks and can’t hold a constant temp, so I heat it to about 75 and then unplug it; it cools to around 65 over the next 20 minutes, and that’s good enough for me. (The clay triangle keeps your beakers from sitting directly on the hot plate.)
- After you’ve heated and held your phases separately, pour your oil phase into your water phase and beat the shit out of it. I mean it. Keep the beater in there on medium-low for about 5 minutes. Bonus side effect of this intense emulsification process: it’s now cool enough to add the heat-sensitive ingredients!
- Add the niacinamide, n-acetyl glucosamine, and green tea extract. Beat it for another minute.
- Add your optiphen and give it a final mix. You’re done! Pour it into a sealable dropper bottle, label and date it, and then crack yourself a victory beer.
So how is it?
It’s either a thick serum or a runny cream; it’s a little heavy going on and takes a few minutes to absorb, but once it does, holy crap. My skin is firm, glowing, and has been much less flaky. Plus, since I have so much of it, I’ve been using it on my much-neglected neck, and it is night and day. In a couple of weeks, my neck went from dry, red, itchy, and irritated all the time to firm, soft, and glowing. I am a big big fan of this recipe.
A call for volunteers
There’s only one thing I don’t like about DIY: I only have one face and I can’t use up my creations on it fast enough. I often want to tweak my recipes or try new ones, but I don’t want to throw away 7/8 of a bottle of perfectly good DIY.
If you’re interested in trying out my DIY, fill out this form. As I create more things, I’ll send out previous creations to people who have expressed interest (at this point, I’ll probably send out 1-2 a week, max). It’s completely free, but in exchange, I ask that you tell me how you like it! What you liked, didn’t like, how it made your skin feel, anything you’d change, how you prefer to use it.
Can anyone think of a good name for this? I’ve been calling it Palisade Serum, because a palisade is a defensive wall, and this serum helps your defensive moisture barrier. I dunno. I’m sure there’s something way better out there.