HQ Skin Lightening Gel 10 PHA
This gel is medicated with 2% hydroquinone, the gold standard ingredient for fading brown spots. Unfortunately, the base formula is mostly water and alcohol, making this too drying and irritating for all skin types.
The PHA in the name stands for polyhydroxy acid, NeoStrata’s alternative to AHA ingredients like glycolic acid. PHAs (gluconolactone is one included in this product) are said to be gentler than AHAs though research hasn’t shown they’re a much better alternative. Without question adding a PHA, AHA, or BHA (beta hydroxy acid) to this kind of product helps produce better results, but this gel is not recommended due to its alcohol content.
Note that the “other” ingredients are listed in alphabetical rather than descending order. This is permissible because products with hydroquinone are regulated as ove-the-counter drugs. These types of product may list their ingredients alphabetically if desired.
An essential skin lightening gel with Hydroquinone and Polyhydroxy Acids to gently exfoliate and fade dark spots, enhance cell turnover and lighten pigmentation concerns.
Strengths: Huge assortment of AHA and PHA exfoliants; a couple good cleansers; some excellent moisturizers; several fragrance-free products.
Weaknesses: No BHA products (better for blemish-prone skin or for those who can't tolerate AHAs or PHA); use of jar packaging compromises some of the formulas; irritating ingredients make an appearance in several products.
Exfoliation is the name of the game for this line! The original NeoStrata and Exuviance brands were created by Drs. Eugene Van Scott and Ruey Yu, the two researchers who own the original patent (actually, they hold over 80 patents) for the use of glycolic acid (AHA) in relation to its ability to diminish wrinkles, among other capabilities. Few lines offer reliable and effective formulations for exfoliation, so those that do deserve your attention. Well-formulated AHA products are those that have an effective concentration of AHAs and a base with an acidic pH that allows them to have maximum benefit. The exfoliation that AHAs provide reduces the thickness of the skin's outer layer, helping skin to quickly look smoother and feel softer, which in turn can solve many skin problems, including dryness, blemishes, sun damage, and skin discolorations. A good deal of research also shows that AHAs can help increase the thickness of the underlying layers of skin, improve skin structure, increase collagen production, and allow penetration of other skin-care ingredients. Moreover, NeoStrata is one of the only companies to sell a range of reliable sunscreens that also contain effective AHA formulations.
Both the Exuviance (Exuviance products are reviewed separately), NeoCeuticals and NeoStrata lines contain glycolic acid (AHA), but even more of these products contain a polyhydroxy acid (PHA) called gluconolactone (also patented by Scott and Yu), and for which similar claims are made. Gluconolactone is supposed to be gentler and longer acting than glycolic acid, and its delayed penetration is attributed to its larger molecular size. However, according to an article in Cosmetic Dermatology (July 1998), the skin can't tell the difference between the various effective AHAs, and the possibility of gluconolactone staying on the surface of skin longer than other AHAs did not prove out. So in terms of exfoliation and potential side effects, PHA ends up being as good as AHA. Gluconolactone may be slightly less irritating for some skin types, but this isn't quite the magic bullet for exfoliation NeoStrata claims, though it does indeed work when properly formulated (but so do glycolic and lactic acids). Another PHA NeoStrata uses is lactobionic acid. However, there is no definitive, published research establishing it as an effective alternative to (or partner for) other AHAs or BHA.
Beyond the numerous products that exfoliate (which is NeoStrata's main selling point) there's not much to get excited about, especially for what the company is charging. And it's upsetting that a dermatologist-driven, physician-sold line still has weak spots such as the occasional inclusion of irritating ingredients with no established benefit for skin and, believe it or not, a sunscreen that leaves skin vulnerable to UVA damage. NeoStrata has their act together when it comes to AHAs and PHA, but that tunnel vision has, in some respects, kept them from branching out to offer a better assortment of state-of-the-art products.
For more information about NeoStrata, call (800) 225-9411 or visit www.neostrata.com.
Note: NeoStrata's range of products is advertised as being available only through physicians. However, the entire selection is available for purchase online. The Exuviance brand is sold in select department stores and specialty beauty boutiques such as Ulta.
Caution: Keep in mind that skin needs only one reliable exfoliant at a time. NeoStrata sells so many good ones, you may be tempted to double (or triple) up, but doing so can backfire and be more irritating than helpful.
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