Why Just About Everyone Should Think About Using a Ceramide Cream

When I first heard about ceramides, I thought maybe they were a new weird protein or some kind of herbal supplement. Definitely edible, in any case. (They are in many foods, for the record.) But, really, you’ll get the most out of ceramide—which might be a lot—if you put them on your skin in the form of a cream.

They’re touted to have incredible moisturizing benefits and to help reduce signs of aging, like fine lines. And, unlike so many of the ingredients in over-the-counter products, ceramides have a fair amount of research to back up some of those claims.

Here’s what you need to know about ceramides and why you might want to add some to your skin-care regimen.

What actually are ceramides and why would I want them on my skin?

Your skin already makes ceramides and they are a crucial part of the stratum corneum, that outer protective layer of skin, Mary L. Stevenson, M.D., assistant professor in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at NYU Langone Health, tells SELF.

“The analogy we usually use [to describe the stratum corneum] is bricks and mortar,” Rajani Katta, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in Houston who specializes in sensitivity and allergic reactions, tells SELF. Where your skin cells are the bricks, the lipids between them—which include ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids—represent the mortar.

When this structure of the stratum corneum is intact, it keeps hydration in and helps protect against anything that might irritate your skin. When it isn’t working properly, it lets water out (a process called transepidermal water loss, or TEWL) which can cause your skin to dry out and possibly become more reactive to irritants.

Unfortunately, our bodies naturally make less and less of these intercellular compounds as we age. And having too few of them or an incorrect ratio of them contributes to skin disorders like atopic dermatitis (eczema), Dr. Stevenson says. So, if your intercellular lipids are out of whack, you might notice irritation, dryness, or flaking.

But does putting more ceramides on your face actually help the issue? Actually, yes, say both Dr. Stevenson and Dr. Katta.

Here’s what the research says about ceramides.

The science on ceramides is pretty encouraging, especially when it comes to those who have skin issues like atopic dermatitis. For instance, Dr. Katta cites a 2002 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in which researchers gave 24 children with atopic dermatitis a “ceramide-dominant” emollient. The majority of patients (22 out of 24) saw significant improvements in their symptoms and a decrease in TEWL within three weeks of treatment with the emollient.

And according to the results of a meeting of 11 Canadian dermatologists, published in 2014 in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, ceramide-containing moisturizers may have a particularly important role to play in acne treatment. The current acne medications we have—retinoids, for instance—often come with notoriously annoying side effects, like redness, flaking, and irritation, that make it hard if not impossible to stick with treatment. So, the panel argues, treating patients with a ceramide-containing moisturizer at the same time can help counteract those effects and help people stick with their acne medication.

Topical ceramides are so effective (especially when combined with other skin lipids) that there are actually prescription versions of them, Dr. Stevenson explains, which are classified as medical devices because of their innovative formulas.

One prescription medication, Epiceram, is used to treat eczema and contains a mixture of ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids that mimics the ratio found in skin normally. In a study published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, researchers tested Epiceram against fluticasone cream (a standard steroid cream) in 121 patients with moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis. After 14 days, the fluticasone-treated group showed significantly more improvements. But at 28 days, the two groups evened out, suggesting that those who can’t or don’t want to use fluticasone may be able to use just Epiceram.

However, other research has found that over-the-counter petrolatum-based moisturizers (Aquaphor, essentially) are just as effective as prescription creams for mild childhood atopic dermatitis. So, if your eczema is on the milder end, your dermatologist may point you towards a standard OTC moisturizer instead.

Here’s how to add ceramides into your skin-care routine.

If you have a diagnosable skin condition for which a prescription ceramide product might be useful, it’s important to talk to a dermatologist about what products make the most sense for you.

And, sadly, even though over-the-counter products that contain ceramides are piggybacking on some robust research, we simply don’t have studies to back all of them up. Some researchers even argue that the concentration of ceramides present in many over-the-counter products is simply too low to be helpful even though ceramides at much higher concentrations can provide significant results. Because over-the-counter products don’t go through FDA approval, we just don’t have the data to support or disprove their claims.

But for those of us who just want to experiment with ceramides, there are a ton of products out there for both your face and body (eczema can occur pretty much anywhere, after all) to choose from. For instance, ceramides are a fixture among CeraVe products (ceramide…CeraVe…get it?). The classic CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion ($13) and Moisturizing Cream, $17, both contain ceramides and Dr. Stevenson says she always keeps some on hand. Because these are so affordable and easy to find, they’re also a go-to recommendation for Dr. Katta.

For another drugstore pick, Dr. Stevenson directs us to Aveeno’s moisture repair line, including the Active Naturals Skin Relief Moisture Repair Cream ($13), which contains ceramides in addition to the colloidal oatmeal the brand is known for. Ceramides are also present in Aveeno’s (SELF Healthy Beauty Award-winning) Ultra-Calming Daily Moisturizer with 30 SPF ($14).

Ceramides are also the star ingredient in Dr. Jart’s Ceramidin Cream, ($48), and Elizabeth Arden’s nifty Ceramide Capsules ($80). And skin-care connoisseurs and probably already acquainted with SkinCeuticals’s Triple Lipid Restore cream ($128), which contains a specific ratio of ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids.

Some products specifically call out which ceramides (such as ceramide 1 or ceramide 3) are in their products and there are a few that are unique to human skin, Dr. Stevenson says. But ultimately it’s not worth paying a ton of attention to the exact ceramides you’re putting on your skin, Dr. Katta says. Just getting something with ceramides in general should be helpful.

Is there anyone who shouldn’t use ceramides? Basically no, Dr. Stevenson and Dr. Katta say. Even—or especially—those with sensitive skin may see benefits with a product like this. That said, it’s still important to keep your expectations in check and an eye on the other ingredients in the product that may cause a reaction in sensitive or irritated skin.

And, as always, if you have any questions about using ceramides or want guidance in finding the right product for your skin, talk to your dermatologist.

Related:

Hydrated Skin: Does Drinking Water Help?

Does drinking water cause hydrated skin?

Answers From Lawrence E. Gibson, M.D.

Although proper hydration is important for your overall health, it’s not clear whether drinking extra water affects skin hydration in healthy people.

Skin is made up of three layers—the outer layer (epidermis), the underlying skin (dermis), and the subcutaneous tissue. If the outermost layer of the epidermis doesn’t contain enough water, skin will lose elasticity and feel rough. Despite this connection, however, there’s a lack of research showing that drinking extra water has any impact on skin hydration or appearance.

If you’re looking to maintain hydrated skin, there are steps you can take:

  • Avoid exposure to dry air.
  • Avoid prolonged contact with hot or chlorinated water.
  • Use a gentle cleanser instead of soap.
  • Avoid using skin care products that contain alcohol.
  • Moisturize immediately after a bath, shower, or washing your hands and regularly throughout the day.
  • Use a humidifier.
  • Wear a scarf and gloves when going out in cold weather.

If you’re concerned about dry skin, contact your health care provider or a dermatologist.

Updated: 2015-11-07

Publication Date: 2015-11-07

Please, I Beg of You, Stop Asking Your Fitness Instructor for Nutrition Advice

If there is one thing that I am most often asked by clients in my classes, direct messages on Instagram, or by friends and family who know what I do, it’s almost always some form of, “What should I eat?” Sometimes, it’s “What diet should I follow?” or “What do you think about the __ diet?” My go-to response is to duck and dodge the questions entirely. I’m kidding. Well, kind of kidding.

I’ve been a group fitness instructor for 23 years, a yoga instructor for 8 years, and I went to 7.5 years of graduate school to get two masters degrees and a Ph.D. in public health. But if you ask me for nutrition advice, I won’t give it to you. (And you’ll never find me giving it unsolicited, either.) Sounds mean, right? It’s not, I promise. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: It’s the responsible thing to do.

Here’s why most fitness professionals shouldn’t be giving you nutrition advice.

Simply put, I’m just not qualified to give nutrition advice. Period. I may have decades of experience in fitness, have studied nutrition as it pertains to public health throughout all of my graduate programs, and have personally dealt with my fair share of nutritional issues, but I am not qualified to advise you on your personal, individual dietary needs. As group fitness instructors/trainers, part of our certification courses usually include basics about nutrition, and the exams contain questions about how to advise a client. The answers are always some form of: Direct people to the USDA dietary guidelines or encourage them to seek a registered dietitian (R.D.) who can help them.

Registered dietitians go through very specific schooling, including an experiential component (like internships), have to pass a test and get licensed, and also take continuing education to stay certified. I did not dedicate years to learning how to test, diagnose, and treat nutritional imbalances the way they have, and I certainly have not been assessed on my ability to properly execute any of the above. This is not my lane.

To be clear, I am not saying there are absolutely no trainers or fitness instructors out there who are qualified in this realm. Of course there are and they are gems. But just because someone is a great trainer or strength coach doesn’t automatically mean they are qualified to give nutritional advice. (And vice versa!)

Also, I don’t know your body. Even if I were qualified to read them, I have not seen your diagnostic tests of any sort—blood, stool, or urine—to be able to understand what is happening inside your body. There’s just no way that I (or the vast majority of other fitness professionals) could consult you on your dietary needs based solely on your performance in class or on your Instagram feed.

There are a myriad of issues that can be going on in your body that warrant specific attention and a corresponding protocol. I would be very wary of anyone advising you on anything without at least a solid understanding of what is going on systematically with your body. Your body has different needs than my body, than her body, than his body, than any other body. Just because I recently read a new headline that popped into my feed or a new article that was published on the supposed benefits of a certain type of diet, does not mean it is safe or effective for you. I cannot assume it will be and, to be honest, neither should you.

If it’s nutrition advice you’re after, here are a few things to remember.

While there are a few universal nutrition truths out there (like that limiting added sugar intake is generally a good idea, and that eating mostly whole foods is great if you can swing it), most of the time when people are asking for nutrition advice, they’re wondering if there’s something specific they should be eating or avoiding. And, in most cases, that kind of advice is highly individual and based on factors that only your health care provider or registered dietitian would know about. Still, I understand that we all have questions about the foods we eat and all the conflicting nutrition headlines we see every day. So, here are a few general rules to keep in mind:

Nutrition studies are notoriously bad at giving us one-size-fits-most nutrition advice. This is something I know from my background in public health, and I think it’s something many people don’t realize. Those nutrition studies you hear about on the radio or read in a magazine usually have a lot of limitations, and it seems that the limitations are particularly relevant when it comes to studies looking to link a particular nutrient with chronic disease outcomes. (Like that any one food is horrible for people with X condition or that having a ton of this other food will cure people with Y condition.) The issue is that many studies are done on one specific population and meant to be a generality for similar populations. Many are also based on observational research in which people are asked to report on their own behaviors. Food reporting is often problematic and underreporting seems to be a huge issue (meaning people leave out important details or self-report skewed info).

All of this is to say that there are often issues with the data that comes from this type of research. What “studies show” may not always be accurate and generalizations do not always translate to personal recommendations. I cannot underscore that enough.

Please also remember that nutrition isn’t only about losing weight. I say this because I find that culturally and collectively it seems that our default inquiry about nutrition is still focused on weight loss. I would love for us to go deeper than this. There are tons of diets and programs and protocols that are currently circulating (and that have circulated over the years) that people constantly ask about in terms of which one is going to “work” best.

I want to push you to first define what you mean by “work.” Work in terms of weight loss? Work in terms of lowering your cholesterol? In terms of improving your cardiovascular health? Improving your digestion? Improving your performance on a given task? Prolonging your life span?

There are many different potential outcomes and weight loss, especially for aesthetic purposes, isn’t always the most salient marker to choose. How do you want to feel? How do you want to live? How do you want to function? All of these are important questions that don’t necessarily have anything to do with getting shredded abs.

And last but certainly not least, there is no magic bullet. There are no (healthy) shortcuts. No matter what your goal is, there will be a certain amount of behavioral change, adjustment, continuous decision-making, struggles, wins, losses, mess-ups, and constant work to achieve and maintain your desired health outcomes. I find that people are often asking how to make this easier and faster and require less work. That is just not how it works.

So, can you ever talk nutrition with your fitness instructor?

Of course! Just be aware of the limitations of the advice they can give you as someone who isn’t an R.D. and isn’t intimately familiar with your overall health. Now, I’m not totally useless here. There are some nutrition-related things I can help you with.

If you’re wondering about your personal nutrition, I can direct you to the people who are more than qualified to help you assess your needs. I can talk to you about taking their guidance and implementing it into your life and making it work with your training.

I can talk to you about health behaviors (what my Ph.D. actually focused on!) and creating habits and taking small steps. I can talk to you about thinking critically about the research that is released in the headlines, in your social media feeds, and in scientific journals.

I can teach you how to pay attention to cues in your body that happen during training that may give you additional information to make better decisions about how you fuel yourself. I can tell you that eating vegetables and drinking water is fairly standard advice across the board from most dietitians, nutritional scientists, and health practitioners, so that’s probably a good place to start.

I am not opposed to helping you in any of the ways in which I am qualified to do so, but I have no problem admitting where I feel the need to let the experts take the reigns. I respect you and your individual needs and I want you to learn to do the same.

Related:

Deciphering how the brain encodes color and shape

There are hundreds of thousands of distinct colors and shapes that a person can distinguish visually, but how does the brain process all of this information? Scientists previously believed that the visual system initially encodes shape and color with different sets of neurons and then combines them much later. But a new study from Salk researchers, published in Science on June 27, 2019, shows that there are neurons that respond selectively to particular combinations of color and shape.

“New genetic sensors and imaging technologies have allowed us to more thoroughly test the link between visual circuits that process color and shape,” says Edward Callaway, senior author and professor in Salk’s Systems Neurobiology Laboratory. “These findings provide valuable insight about how visual circuits are connected and organized in the brain.”

Similar to a digital camera sensor, light-sensitive cells in the eye (photoreceptors) detect wavelengths of light within specific ranges and at particular locations. This information then travels through the optic nerve to neurons in the visual cortex that interpret the information and begin to decipher the contents of the picture. Scientists long thought that color and shape were extracted separately and then combined only at the highest brain centers, but the new Salk research shows that they are combined much earlier.

“The goal of our study was to better understand how the visual system processes colors and shapes of visual stimuli,” says co-first author Anupam Garg, who is a University of California San Diego MD/PhD student in the Callaway lab. “We wanted to apply new imaging techniques to answer these longstanding questions about visual processing.”

The researchers used imaging technology combined with genetically expressed sensors to study the function of thousands of individual neurons involved in processing color and shape in the primary visual cortex. During long recording periods, roughly 500 possible combinations of color and shape were tested to find the stimulus that best activated each visually-responsive neuron.

The team found that visual neurons selectively responded to color and shape along a continuum — while some neurons were only activated by either a specific color or shape, many other neurons were responsive to a particular color and shape simultaneously, contrary to long-held notions about how visual processing works.

“Our brain encodes visual information efficiently using circuits that are smartly designed. Contrary to what is taught in the classroom — that color and form are processed separately in the early visual cortex and then integrated later by unknown mechanisms — the brain encodes color and form together in a systematic way,” says Peichao Li, co-first author and postdoctoral fellow in the Callaway lab.

“For the last 20 years, I have wanted to know how the visual system processes color, so this finding is truly exciting for me,” says Callaway, who holds the Vincent J. Coates Chair in Molecular Neurobiology. “This discovery lays a foundation for understanding how neural circuits make the computations that lead to color vision. We look forward to building on these findings to determine how the neurons in the visual cortex work together to extract colors and shapes.”

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Higher salt intake can cause gastrointestinal bloating

A study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that individuals reported more gastrointestinal bloating when they ate a diet high in salt.

The scientists re-analyzed data from a large clinical trial — the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension-Sodium trial (DASH-Sodium) — conducted two decades ago, and found that high sodium intake increased bloating among trial participants. The researchers also found that the high-fiber DASH diet increased bloating among trial participants compared to a low-fiber control diet.

The study was published June 17 in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

“Bloating is one of the leading gastrointestinal complaints in the U.S. and can be exacerbated in some people by a high-fiber diet; our results suggest that they might be able to reduce that bloating, without compromising on healthy fiber, by lowering their sodium intake,” says study senior author Noel Mueller, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Bloomberg School.

Bloating is estimated to affect up to a third of U.S. adults overall, and more than 90 percent of those with irritable bowel syndrome. Bloating features a buildup of excess gas in the gut. The production of gas can be attributed to gas-producing gut bacteria breaking down fiber. There is also some evidence that sodium can stimulate bloating. The study by Mueller and colleagues is the first to examine sodium as a cause of bloating in the context of low- and high-fiber diets.

The study analyzed data from the DASH-Sodium trial, which was co-led by Bloomberg School researcher Lawrence Appel, MD, MPH, and sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Conducted at four clinical centers during 1998-99, it tested the DASH diet, a high-fiber diet which is relatively low in fat and high in fruits, nuts, and vegetables, against a low-fiber control diet. Each of the two diets was tested at three levels of sodium, and the 412 participants all had high blood pressure at the trial start. The trial was set up chiefly to determine the effect of dietary sodium and other factors on blood pressure, but included data on participants’ reports of bloating — data that Mueller and colleagues analyzed for the new study.

The team found that prior to the trial, 36.7 percent of the participants reported bloating, which is more or less in line with national surveys of bloating prevalence. They found too that the high-fiber DASH diet increased the risk of bloating by about 41 percent, compared to the low-fiber control diet — and men were more susceptible to this effect, compared to women. But the scientists also determined that sodium was a factor in bloating. When they combined data from the DASH and control diets, and compared the highest level of sodium intake to the lowest, they found that the high-sodium versions of those diets collectively increased the risk of bloating by about 27 percent compared to the low-sodium versions.

The key implication is that reducing sodium can be an effective way to reduce bloating — and in particular may be able to help people maintain a healthy, high-fiber diet.

How sodium causes bloating is still being studied. Salt causes water retention, and that may be one factor. “We hypothesize that sodium intake also alters the gut microbiome in a manner that modifies bacterial sulfide production,” Mueller says.

He and his team are now researching how bloating is affected by the major dietary macronutrients: protein, carbs and fat.

Funding for the study was provided by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (K01HL141589, K23HL135273, R21HL144876).

People’s motivations bias how they gather information

A new study suggests people stop gathering evidence earlier when the data supports their desired conclusion than when it supports the conclusion they wish was false. Filip Gesiarz, Donal Cahill and Tali Sharot of University College London, U.K. report in PLOS Computational Biology.

Previous studies had already provided some clues that people gather less information before reaching desirable beliefs. For example, people are more likely to seek a second medical opinion when the first diagnosis is grave. However, certain design limitations of those studies prevented a definitive conclusion and the reasons behind this bias was previously unknown. By fitting people’s behavior to a mathematical model Gesiarz and colleagues were able to identify the reasons for this bias.

“Our research suggests that people start with an assumption that their favored conclusion is more likely true and weight each piece of evidence supporting it more than evidence opposing it. Because of that, people will find no need to gather additional information that could have revealed their conclusion to be false. They will stop the investigation as soon as the jury tilts in their favor” said Gesiarz.

In this new study 84 volunteers played an online categorization game in which they could gather as much evidence as they wanted to help them make judgements and were paid according to how accurate they were. In addition, if the evidence pointed to a certain category they would get bonus points and if it pointed to another category they would lose points. So while there was reason to wish the evidence pointed to a specific judgement, the only way for volunteers to maximize rewards was to provide accurate responses. Despite this, they found that the volunteers stopped gathering data earlier when it supported the conclusion they wished was true than when it supported the undesirable conclusion.

“Today, a limitless amount of information is available at the click of a mouse,” Sharot says. “However, because people are likely to conduct less through searches when the first few hits provide desirable information, this wealth of data will not necessarily translate to more accurate beliefs.”

Next, the authors hope to determine what factors make certain individuals more likely to have a bias in how they gather information than others. For instance, they are curious whether children might show the same bias revealed in this study, or whether people with depression, which is associated with motivation problems, have different data-gathering patterns.

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12 Wellness Products That Made Our Lives Better This Month

Here at SELF, we’re always testing wellness products. Whether it’s cult-favorite makeup, skin-care products, fitness gear, or a new snack, we’re always trying out something. We’re fortunate that this is part of our job—getting to play with free stuff is a pretty awesome perk. But not everything lives up to the hype, so when something stands out from the pack, we’re excited to share it with our readers. Here, SELF staffers gush about 12 products they tried and legitimately loved this month.

(Note: This list includes a mix of stuff sent to us for free for testing and stuff we purchased recently, but everything is here just because we actually really like it.)

All products featured on SELF are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Brain structure determines individual differences regarding music sensitivity

The white matter structure in the brain reflects music sensitivity, according to a study by the research group on Cognition and Brain Plasticity of the Institute of Neurosciences of the University of Barcelona (UB) and the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (UB-IDIBELL).

The study, published in Journal of Neuroscience, shows that white matter connectivity, the tissue through which the different areas in the central nervous system communicate, is essential to understand why we like or dislike music. Also, it shows that brain reward structures have to work with perception structures so that people enjoy music.

UB researcher Josep Marco-Pallarés leads a study in which Antoni Rodríguez-Fornells (UB-IDIBELL-ICREA), Noelia Martínez-Molina, from the University of Helsinki (Finland), and Ernest Mas-Herrero and Robert Zatorre, from the McGill University (Canada)- have taken part.

People who do not feel any pleasure with music

Listening to music is regarded as a satisfying activity, but previous studies by this group showed there is an individual unevenness: there are people who could not live without music, and others who do not enjoy it at all, a condition that has been called specific musical anhedonia. According to Josep Marco-Pallarés, “this phenomenon occurs to healthy people, without any pathology. Therefore, people with specific musical anhedonia enjoy other stimuli (such as food, or money rewards), but they are not sensitive to a musical reward.”

The study of the specific musical anhedonia determined that individual differences regarding musical rewards were related to the functional connectivity (different patterns of neuronal activation in different brain regions) in the auditory cortex, specifically the supratemporal auditory cortex, and a key area in the rewarding process, the ventral striatum. Thus, musical sensitivity depended on the work of these two areas together.

The objective of the new study was to find out whether musical sensitivity was defined by how perception process areas and reward system areas were connected. The experiment was conducted with thirty-eight healthy volunteers using imaging-functional magnetic resonance, which enables the reconstruction of the structure of the brain white matter, the white matter bundles that connect different brain regions.

Participants’ musical sensitivity was determined through the obtained score in a questionnaire created by the same research group, the Barcelona Music Reward Questionnaire (BMRQ), which defined their musical sensitivity. After that, during the magnetic resonance session, participants had to listen to extracts from classical music songs and provide pleasure values ranging from 1 to 4 in real time. To control their brain response in other types of rewards, participants had to play in a money bet activity in which they could win or lose real money. None of the participants showed a low score in the general reward scale, showing that individual differences in the reward process are limited to music and not other stimuli.

The results of the experiment show there is a relation between the white matter structures connecting the musical cortex and the activity in the reward system. According to Josep Marc-Pallarés, “the study shows musical sensitivity is related to white matter structures that connect, on the one hand, the supratemporal auditory cortex with the orbitofrontal cortex, and on the other, the orbitofrontal cortex with the ventral striatum.”

Why there is only musical anhedonia?

These results highlight the need to widen the study focus to understand the functioning of the brain reward systems. “We cannot study only the reward network, we need to know how stimuli access the reward system. This could be the key to understand why there are specific anhedonia for a specific stimulus like music but not for other stimuli like games or food, which could have other applications for the understanding of several pathologies that are related to specific addictions or specific anhedonia for a certain stimulus,” concludes Josep Marco-Pallarés.

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What Do I Need to Look for in a Vitamin C Serum?

Welcome to Ask a Beauty Editor, our new column in which Sarah Jacoby, SELF’s senior health and beauty editor, goes on the hunt to find the science-backed answers to all of your skin-care questions. You can ask Sarah a question at askabeautyeditor@self.com.

Hi! Here’s my question:

I love a good vitamin C serum and for a while have been using Cosrx Triple C Lightning Liquid which has 20.5 percent ascorbic acid, and 72 percent chokeberry “to help stabilize” it (side note: wtf is “chokeberry”?). I was checking out the new Vitamin C serum from Glossier, but it only has 5 percent of a vitamin C derivative, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, again, it says “for stabilizing.” Drunk Elephant’s vitamin C serum (which I’ve also used and like) has 15 percent L-ascorbic acid, plus a pumpkin ferment extract… whatever that is.

My questions are these: Should one care about the percentages of these ingredients at all? Is 20 percent going to be more effective than 5 percent? Or am I just comparing apples to oranges because they’re all these random/different derivatives? And on that note, is one derivative better than another?

Thank you!

—Orange You Glad I Asked

Hi friend, this is an excellent question—and one I have secretly wished someone would ask me here because the vitamin C world is super confusing! Indeed, now that we’re all paying more attention to what’s on our skin-care labels, we’re realizing how many of layers of stuff we have to get through to understand what all that really means.

Vitamin C is “really important as an antioxidant” for your skin, Shari Lipner, M.D., Ph.D., dermatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian, tells SELF. That means it can help protect our skin from free radicals in the environment that could otherwise damage the skin, which makes it a great thing to look for in sunscreens, she says. It’s also useful as a brightening agent against dark spots because it inhibits the production of the pigment melanin.

When you’re picking out a vitamin C product, there are a few things to keep in mind, Dr. Lipner says. The first thing to know is that, when present in something like a serum, it should be colorless—and it should be stored in a dark place in a dark bottle. “When it’s exposed to light, it becomes unstable,” she explains, which you can actually see take place because the product will turn yellow. At that point, it may actually darken your skin rather than lightening any pigmentation issues. (That’s also why it’s important to let the product absorb into your skin before you go out into the sun.)

So, if your vitamin C product comes in a clear bottle or in a type of packaging that regularly exposes it to light (like a bottle that you have to fully open rather than an airless pump), it’s more likely to become unstable and, therefore, less usable.

The second thing to keep in mind is the concentration of all these different products, Dr. Lipner says. As you rightly pointed out, Orange, products can vary widely in the concentration (percentage amount) of vitamin C they actually contain and may go from less than a percent all the way up to 20 percent.

If you have sensitive skin you may find that higher concentrations may be irritating, so Dr. Lipner recommends sticking to the lower end of the spectrum around 5 percent. And, for those looking for a heavier dose, you will likely see better results more quickly the higher you go. But she notes that after 20 percent, there’s sort of a plateau, meaning that, say, 30 percent isn’t going to give you any greater benefits than 20 percent so there’s no reason to pay for the extra.

And then we get to the importance of the actual form of vitamin C that’s in the product—something the internet loves to debate. In reality, Dr. Lipner says there aren’t really any forms to stay away from (provided they are stored properly and at the right concentration for you). But it may be beneficial to specifically seek out the vitamin C derivatives magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (present in that Glossier serum you mentioned, $28, this product from The Ordinary, $10, and Juice Beauty’s Antioxidant Serum, $48), ascorbyl 6-palmitate, and ascorbic acid sulfate. These forms, she says, are both the most stable and efficacious.

The ingredient L-ascorbic acid (also referred to simply as ascorbic acid) is one of the most common forms you’ll find in vitamin C products and present in the famed SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic serum ($166). This form is fine and similar to ascorbic acid sulfate, Dr. Lipner says. But really the most important things to watch out for are the way the product is stored and its concentration of vitamin C.

If you’re just starting out with vitamin C, know that the ingredient has a pretty comforting safety profile, meaning that it’s not likely to cause any awful reactions, Dr. Lipner says. However, if you do have sensitive skin or may be allergic to any of the botanical ingredients that vitamin C may be coming from (like oranges, for instance), you should definitely proceed with caution.

And, of course, any questions about finding the right vitamin C product for your individual skin type and concerns—or if there’s something else you should be trying instead—should be directed to your derm. (Oh, and a chokeberry is a little blueberry-looking thing purported to have antioxidant powers and a sour taste.)

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Goat milk formula could benefit infant gut health

The laboratory study by RMIT, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, analysed two types of commercial goat milk formula.

The research looked at oligosaccharides, a type of prebiotic that can boost the growth of beneficial bacteria and protect against harmful bacteria in the gut.

Researchers found 14 naturally-occurring prebiotic oligosaccharides in the goat milk formula. Five of these are also found in human breast milk.

Lead investigator, Professor Harsharn Gill, said the study was believed to be the first to reveal the diversity of oligosaccharides in goat’s milk-based infant formula and their similarity to human milk.

“Our results show goat milk formula may have strong prebiotic and anti-infection properties, that could protect infants against gastrointestinal infections,” Gill said.

“The study indicates the prebiotic oligosaccharides in goat milk formula are effective at selectively promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.

“While these laboratory results are promising, further research including clinical trials will help us to confirm these benefits for infants.”

Human milk contains an abundant supply and diverse array of oligosaccharides that are known to offer significant health benefits to babies, including the establishment and maintenance of a healthy gut microflora, immune development and protection against gastrointestinal infections.

When breastfeeding is not possible or insufficient, infant formulas are commonly used as an alternative but there is limited information available about the oligosaccharides they may contain or their likely health benefits.

The new study examined the presence of naturally occurring oligosaccharides in two goat milk formulas (Oli6 Stage 1 for babies aged 0-6 months and Oli6 Stage 2 for babies aged 6-12 months) and their prebiotic and anti-infection properties.

While cow milk formula is the most widely used alternative to breastfeeding, goat milk is considered to be closer to human milk in some respects, especially oligosaccharides.

The study found the natural prebiotic oligosaccharides in the goat milk formula were effective in promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria (bifidobacteria) and inhibiting the ability of harmful bacteria such as pathogenic E. coli to attach to human intestinal cells.

Almost one third of all cases of diarrhea in children are attributed to pathogenic E. coli bacteria.

The researchers found two types of oligosaccharides — fucosylated and sialylated — were most heavily present in the goat milk formula.

“Fucosylated are the most abundant oligosaccharides in human milk and are the focus of significant commercial and regulatory interest,” Gill said.

“These oligosaccharides have been shown to play a significant role in anti-infection properties of breast milk.”

Researchers in RMIT’s School of Science are now planning to undertake clinical trials to confirm the results of the study.

The research was supported by RMIT and an Entrepreneurs’ Programme: Innovation Connections Grant co-funded by the Australian Government and Nuchev Pty Ltd, manufacturers of Oli6.

Nuchev had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript; and in the decision to publish the results.

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