Skincare Decoded

Phew. I finished. Not for the faint of heart about this subject. This is a texbook to be continually reviewed. Not really for beginnings. It’s like learning a language where every rule has 5 exceptions. Plan to read this once, take a lot of notes, not understand a lot, and then to read it again when you’re ready to go out and make a purchase. There’s just too much information for a beginner to process even 10% on the first go. I hope this combination guide and summary and review of Skincare Decoded helps on your journey!

In one of the Q&A sessions throughout the book, when the authors advise you to put on sunscreen for the 10-minutes you are in the sun during your daily commute to work, I knew I was in over my head with this book.

It’s like trying to teach someone to write for the first time and being overly concerned about where they cross the ‘t’! Unnecessary and definitely doesn’t matter to a beginner.

Did you know I’m an author? I wrote four books on real estate investing, travel, and language learning.

While I can appreciate how the authors focus on individual ingredients (it’s tremendously important to know how to read the ingredient labels of food), I think it’s a bit much for a book aimed at beginners.

This is my review and summary of Skincare Decoded by Victoria Fu and Gloria Lu.

Here’s a good summary of this book: “Remember layer order: If you end up lost and confused in your layers, just remember: humectant, emollient, occlusive.”

Confusing, eh? Yes. In my estimation, the authors’ attempt to simplify the skincare industry is a work-in-progress. There are rules upon rules, exceptions to every rule, and categories upon categories with their own set of tangential rules and exceptions.

So, so confusing. The biggest problem I had was not knowing what my skin type is. Not knowing this affects a lot of skincare needs apparently. And, even if you’re able to figure out what skin type you have, which seems to be mostly an art anyways, the authors inform you that your skin will change over time, can be different across your face, will need a slightly different routine for different climates and vacations.

Yikes! So much for beginners. Start here is what I was hoping for…

Big disappointment on the Kindle due to the tiny, unreadable but seemingly important photo summaries.

If you’ve gotten this far, you’ll be shocked to know that I do recommend this read if you have an interest in skincare. It’s just that it’s most definitely not for beginners, which I am. There’s simply too much information.

With that said, they start the book with this. Here are the common layers and lingo for skin:

  • Stratum Corneum (SC) – slightly acidic pH, it’s the visible top layer of skin (outermost layer of epidermis) mostly consisting of dead keratinocytes (called corneocytes).
  • Epidermis – consists of keratinocytes which constantly regenerate and move up
    • Lipid Matrix is a barrier that keeps the bad guys out and the good guys in
    • Hyaluronic Acid is a popular skincare ingredient and found in your skin in the Epidermis and Dermis as structural support
    • Acid Mantle + Microbiome, the pH of your skin may irritate skin and cause acne
    • Natural Moisturizing Factors (NMFs) watter grabbers
    • Melanocytes are responsible for the pigmet color of your skin. Can cause dark spots or frekles if too active (ie too much sun). Anti dark spot serums target these guys.
  • Dermis – The second main layer of the skin, this is the structural part holding eveything in form.
  • Hair follicle
  • Sebaceous Gland – secrets sebum which help protect the skin from outside aggresors (UV rays, pollutants, etc.), keeps it pliable and not dehadrated

Now here comes the best part of the book and the thing I’d ace on the pop quiz..

All skincare products fall into these categories:

  • Cleanser
    • a skin-friendly pH is anything under 6
    • cleanser brushes can be a great alternative: sonic brushes are the best option (always gentle bristles)
This is a list of surfactants, essentially the active ingredient you can look for on the label.
  • Moisturizer (always in this order: humectant, emollient, occlusive)
    • Humectants help the skin hold moisture (hyaluronic acid, lactic acid, Urea, glycols, glycerin, panthenol, Collagen)
      • humectant-centric products: cosmetic waters, essences, ampoules, hydrating serums, mists, gels, most gel creams
    • Emollients help smooth skin (jojoba oil, caprylic/capric triglyceride, squalane – most basic and least likely to cause reaction, coconut alkanes)
      • emollient-centric: facial oils
    • Occlusives, seal in the moisture and help protect the skin from aggresors (see definition above) like petrolatum/Vaseline, mineral oil, (shea) butters, (bees)waxes, heavier silicones like dimethicone (crosspolymer) for oily skin, lanolin
      • Occlusive-centric: balms, salves (for spot-treating ultradry spots), butters
  • Sunscreen
  • Treatments: target and correct skin concerns like lines, tone, tecture, wrinkles, pigmentation

That is even less than the tip of the iceberg on skincare. But that is a summary of the entire book. There is SO much you need to know to choose the correct ones for your skin type, best quality ingredients, when to put them on, what not to buy, how often, proper concentrations, etc.

They do provide some helpful charts to help you troubleshoot your routine:


Peptides, in the treatments section, are a common ingredient and these are the most common:

  • Matrixyl 300 (palmitoyl tripeptide-1, palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7): can visibly reduce the appearance of wrinkles
  • Haloxyl (hydroxysuccinimide, palmitoyl tripepdie-1, palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7): eye-area concerns
  • sh-Oligopeptide-1: promising, but not yet known

Big Four Active Ingredients (the fancy stuff that’s proven to work)

  • Chemical exfoliants: weak acids acids such as glycolic (5-10%), lactic and mandelic (8%), malic, tartaric, which gently dislodge dead skin cells that have overstayed their welcome. Salicylic acid (0.2-2%) for oily and acne-prone skin. Lactobionic acid and gluconolactone (10%) for dry or sensitive skin. Can make skin sensitive to sunlight/always wear sunscreen.
  • Retinoids/Vitamin A: known for anti-aging/wrinkle prevention/collagene production and pigmentation help. Packaging matters here due to the chemical being unstable. Get an alumimum tube with a small opening. Concentration between 0.1-1% with niacinamide (to reduce irritation), use 2-3x per week. After serum, before mosturizer. Weaker alternatives are Granactive Retinoids, bakuchoil, or adapalene. Pair with moisturizer.
  • Vitamin C/L-Ascorbic acid: long-term age prevention, free radical quencher, collagen booster, and skin brightener. Paired well with Vitamin E and ferulic acid. Start with 5%. Use first thing after cleanser if water-based. Can also use as a serum at night.
  • Niacinamide/Vitamin B3: for brighter, more hydrated skin, reduces oiliness and regulates pigmentation transfer, pore size; already in many skincare products becuase it’s stable; use at 2-5% concentration (or in the top 7 listed ingredients); good option to have it as an incldued ingredient in your moisturizer.

Some other tidbits of useful info from Skincare Decoded:

  • Normal skin is slightly acidic with a pH of 5.5
  • Layer from water-based to oily products
  • Clay masks between 5-10 minutes
  • Lemon juice is not a good vitamin C alternative becuase of a low concentration of asorbic acid (0.7%)
  • Vitamin B5, panthenol, a great mosturizing ingredient
  • Numerous studies show high-sugar diet and tobacco worsen apperance of skin
  • A konjac spong gives a gentler exfoliating experience

In conclusion, Skincare Decoded is the counting cards of casino blackjack. It interests a lot of people, seems simple on the surface, but is actually quite complex and, instead, served as a revenue generator by attracting more customers.

You’ll probably want to read this 2x and refer back to it when you go out to buy each ingredient. Nevertheless, I know it’s useful because I know the people working in these stores, if they’re anything like the employees in supplement shops (something I do know), don’t really know what they’re talking about.

Did you enjoy my summary of Skincare Decoded? What book do you want me to read next?

Danny’s Personal Notes:

  • 8/19/22 bought a facial soap with sodium hydroxide as 5th ingredient (aka hand soap) and felt ok the first week or two but then my beard got very flaky even at short lengths and even itchy which is not common
  • 7/13/22 bought travel size cleanser water (1st), 4th ingredient is coco… betanine of 19 ingredients total…seems like a very light cleaner on my skin, not harsh at all, maybe too light
  • bought skin cleanser in March 2022, water (1st), sodium Laureth sulfate (2nd ingredient) and Cocamidopropyl (4th) of 31 ingredients – skin feels a little dry after use washing for 10-seconds. If I just put it on and wash it off right away better. I’m also in GDL which is very dry air
  • first cleaner says it has ph 5.5
  • December 2023…bought La Roche-Posay bar facial cleaner and it seems light…first few ingredients sodium stearate, sodium palmate, sodium palm kernelate then water…14th ingredient (of 17) is sodium hydroxide
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