Derma E

Derma E At-a-Glance

Strengths: Inexpensive considering the formulas; company provides complete ingredient lists on their Web site; an effective AHA product; tea tree oil–based disinfectants for acne; some good cleansers; well-formulated soothing serum; good mask

Weaknesses: Jar packaging is rampant for many of the antioxidant-rich products; several boring moisturizers; abrasive scrubs; no BHA options; one skin-lightening product with questionable efficacy; products that contain the controversial ingredient DMAE; several products contain natural ingredients that have not been proven effective for their intended purpose; the anti-aging products with peptides make over-the-top claims not supported by what they contain.

"Formulated for results" and "We're serious about skin care" are phrases you'll see throughout the Derma E line—that and a heavy accent on all things natural. In business since 1984, this California-based, family-owned skin-care company's products are often seen in health food stores. We suspect the numerous questions we've been asked about the Derma E line are tied not only to their use of natural ingredients, but also to their emphasis on antioxidants, which they include in almost every product. In many cases, there are antioxidants aplenty; however, more often than not, the choice of jar packaging spoils the benefit the antioxidants Derma E chose could provide (air-tight packaging is critical because antioxidants deteriorate in the presence of air).

More so than any other line weve reviewed so far, where packaging is critical to ingredient efficacy and stability, Derma E has seemingly turned a blind eye to this glaring error. Because of that, there are very few products to extol or recommend, even though the line is priced fairly and some of the products have good formulations. But, just as you shouldn't eat food that no longer has any nutritional properties, the same goes for skin care, why bother if your skin isn't getting what it needs to be healthy?

The company's founders talk openly about their commitment to formulating quality products, often using proprietary ingredients (meaning ingredients unique to Derma E). Yet a quick look at the ingredients on the label shows that isn't true. Even if it were true, the notion that you would be getting something better for skin is sheer nonsense. There are lots of brilliant ingredients for skin available in the cosmetics world, and there is no single company that has a secret lurking in its laboratory that is a must for skin. It can be a very compelling story unless you know better, and if you don't already know better, you will after reading the reviews. Product after product either disappoints or comes in below average based on packaging issues or on problematic natural ingredients, the claims for which are based on folklore and anecdotal experience, not on solid science.

It all gets rather muddled where Derma E is concerned because several of their anti-aging products do contain some interesting peptides and impressive amounts of antioxidants. In many respects, the antioxidants chosen have reliable track records when it comes to their skin-care benefits. But again, jar packaging sabotages these performance-based ingredients to the point that it's difficult to take anything else the company does seriously. After all, if they can't get this fundamental right, what's the point of continually talking up their commitment to results-oriented products?

It doesn't seem that sun protection is very high on Derma E's priority list either. You'll find moisturizers and eye creams galore, including many with antiwrinkle and skin-firming claims—but only one sunscreen. One. In the entire line. And, surprise, it doesn’t contain natural sunscreen agents, at least not entirely. It never ceases to amaze me when "natural" product companies choose synthetic sunscreen actives when there are natural alternatives such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Synthetic sunscreens are perfectly fine, but if you're going to shout natural from the rooftops, why are you using synthetic sunscreen actives? Plus, any line that touts their anti-aging, antiwrinkle prowess should have more than one sunscreen. Walking away from the store after buying products only from this line is a guarantee you will be cheating your skin.

A common falsehood, perpetuated by Derma E and by many other cosmetics companies, is that their products are all natural and organic. The "organic" buzzword appears on most of the Derma E containers, but their products are not certified organic by any third party, so you just have to take their word for it. Until organic standards exist, any company can wear that badge (or pay to get an organization's approval) regardless of the amount of organic content in their products. As is, Derma E appears to be capitalizing on the lack of standards associated with organic.

As for "all-natural," rest assured that that's about as probable as sandy, warm beaches in Antarctica (or a snowball in Hades). Derma E products contain many natural ingredients, but plenty of synthetic ingredients have been cast in major or supporting formulary roles. For example, Linda Miles, one of Derma E's founders, has stated that the company won't use the natural version of alpha lipoic acid because it is "a butcher house by-product," meaning it's derived from animals. She admits the company uses synthetic alpha lipoic acid, however, and she must be unaware that alpha lipoic acid need not be derived from meat; it also can be derived from spinach, carrots, broccoli, potatoes, yams, and yeast, all of which are very natural and, of course, not derived from animal flesh (Sources: www.naturaldatabase.com; and The Rose Sheet, May 26, 2008, page 4).

Miles also admitted that Derma E has struggled to find a good preservative system to replace the synthetic ones they currently use. That's not surprising, as it's an issue that any line that wants to go natural must deal with; the reality is that there are no natural preservatives that work as well in low amounts as the synthetic options.

We could go on about Derma E's claims in terms of what they do and don't use and will and won't do, but you've heard it all before from other natural lines. As is usually the case, there are some standout products to consider from Derma E. If the company overhauled its packaging to improve antioxidant stability, the handful of products would become a basket's worth, but there is no word on whether such a change is happening or even in the works.

For more information about Derma E, call (800) 521-3342 or visit www.dermae.com.

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