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Blog on science of cosmeceuticals designed to benefit patients

University of British Columbia medical residents Drs. Danny Guo (dermatology) and Yi Ariel Liu (pathology) have developed a blog focusing on the science (or lack of science) behind skin care products and cosmeceuticals. Their website, called Think Skin MD (, is intended to help patients make informed decisions about the purchase of over-the-counter skin products. In addition to the written content, the blog features unique illustrations created by Dr. Liu.

In a post titled “What’s up with Manuka honey?,” Drs. Guo and Liu wrote about the growing popularity of cosmeceuticals containing manuka honey. They identify that there is some research demonstrating that manuka honey might have a role in wound healing because of its antibiotic effects; that it may have potential to degrade existing biofilms and prevent construction of biofilms; and that it might stimulate collagen production and new blood vessel formation.

They noted that while manuka honey has positive effects in certain medical scenarios that does not necessarily mean those benefits are carried to daily life. They concluded, “let’s be honest, manuka honey has some early scientific evidence for wound healing and antimicrobial properties, but if you are basing your choice of cosmetics for those reasons alone, then perhaps you should look elsewhere. . . . We are not trying to discourage you from buying manuka honey based cosmetic products. Instead, as always, we just want consumers to be aware of what’s fact and what’s fiction.”

Other topics they have tackled include “adult vs. baby skin: why adults can not have skin as smooth as a baby’s bum,” “what’s up with moisturizer’s?,” “What’s up with BB, CC, and DD creams?,” “What’s up with acronyms in sunscreens?,” and more. Examples of their approach to answering these questions are illustrated on this page.

THE CHRONICLE'S Emily Innes-Leroux spoke with Drs. Guo and Liu to discuss their Think Skin MD blog.

What was your motivation behind creating the Think Skin MD blog?

Dr. Guo: I initially had the idea when a lot of patients that I was seeing were asking me questions about general skin care and products related to cosmetics and cosmeceuticals as opposed to medicine and actual skin disease.

These are topics that we are not taught so much about as part of residency or in medical school, but I think we kind of go out there and learn. I found it was such a prominent part of what the patient wanted to know that I decided to create this project to act as an unbiased source of reference for patients who are interested in learning more about these things in a reader friendly manner. And I recruited [Dr. Liu], so that we could start this project together. She is the artist and I do the writing and together we make the Think Skin MD website.

Dr. Liu, how did you develop your artistic talent?

Dr. Liu:I have enjoyed drawing since I was very young, but I do not have any formal training. I just did some art classes during high school . . . I find that there is so much I can do with illustrations, [such as using] it for teaching other people like in the illustrations of studies in this project . . . So I continued to draw and developed my style throughout university and I was very happy to hear that [Dr. Guo] had this project and this vision in mind. I thought that I was a good fit.

How do you determine your topics?

Dr. Liu: When we first started the project we obviously did not have too many recommendations from people, just a few, so we made a list of topics based on what we thought was most important and also based on my own experience of what patients wanted to know about. As we went along, we both began doing a bit more reading to determine some [of the] common myths and common misunderstandings out there, and we decided to tackle those. We also look at cosmetic and cosmeceutical products to see what ingredients are hot and popular at this time and we do a scientific review of those products to see if there is actually some benefit in a lot of the claims that are being made.

What has been the response to your blog posts?

Dr. Guo: From my experience, the people who have read this blog are primarily patients that have been recommended by family physician colleagues, as well as my own colleagues, . . . and from hearing from my colleagues they say it is a great source of information [and] they themselves did not know the answers to the questions that we post. So they found it helpful. They also find that their patients seem to like it.

Dr. Liu: A lot of the feedback that I received is from my fellow residents and the residents’ families, and they really appreciated how the overall information is tailored to them as consumers in the products that they see everyday in the grocery stores or other health product stores. And they find that it is a good guide at least for them to start thinking about how these products can impact their own health and how to be smart in choosing the right products.

There are so many health blogs these days, how does Think Skin MD stand out? Dr. Guo: That is something that I really had to think about clearly and I talked to [Dr. Liu] about this in the beginning, ‘what makes us different? Why should people listen to this?.’ So first of all we declared right off the bat that this is not funded by anyone, because a lot of websites that have product reviews, they got the product from the sponsor and even if that person wants to be as neutral as possible there is still some inherent bias.

Secondly, as medical professionals who have trained in the scientific area and also regularly review medical and scientific literature, we have access to a body of knowledge that the general public also has access to, but may [not] be able to interpret as much. Because we do this on a regular basis, I think we can see the takeaway messages from the literature and convey what is important and translate it for the public. What I find is there are not a lot of doctors who take the time to review medical literature and turn it into a consumer friendly product as we have done.

Dr. Liu: I agree that there are lot of blogs out there that are sort of consumer-to-consumer products and reviews. In terms of the medical field, medical professionals-to-medical professionals use a lot of jargon that the lay public would not be able to fully appreciate, nor [would they] be able to interpret the data for themselves.

We found a nice synergy between having the medical knowledge, but also pursuing our passion for health literacy to be able to combine both into something that the lay person can understand.

Originally published in The Chronicle of Skin & Allergy (Oct./Nov. 2017;23(7):page 1, 25)

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