David Gan: Dive Skin Deep To Understand Beauty


David Gan: Dive Skin Deep To Understand Beauty

The quest for healthy skin is complicated by modern challenges posed by mobile phone and computer screen emissions. Who better to explain this than Mary Kay skin scientist David Gan, who shares deep insights into skin care with AWANI Review’s Dania Zainuddin.

David Gan is a Senior Principal Scientist with Mary Kay’s Research & Development.

Passionate about skin biology, he studied Biochemistry and Psychology at Beloit College and later, pursued Cell Biology in graduate school in St John University New York.

Today, he leads the Skin and Clinical Research team and identifies innovative technologies in a quest for better skin.

Previously with Estee Lauder, David has 21 years of experience in skin science research. Today, he has over 50 patented inventions which support different skin care products.

David himself is a testimony and the perfect advertisement of his innovations. The 44-year-old attributes his flawless skin for having access to his own creations and inventions in the lab. 

What are the innovations and technology used to come up with skin care products?

We look at the enzymes, skin cells and the tissues and we try to understand what happens to your skin as you age or when it gets exposed to pollution and the sunlight. We want to find out why do we get dark spots, uneven skin tone and we try and come up with a strategy to address these conditions. For example, wrinkles. We know what happens to our skin before it wrinkles, so we come up with technology and we put it into our products.

What kind of technology are you talking about?

I think the biggest thing right now is the wrong perception that the sun is causing skin damage. For many years, dermatologists will say that 20 percent of the causes of aging is natural aging. The other 80 percent are external factors.

I think the biggest thing right now is the wrong perception that the sun is causing skin damage

For the longest time, everyone attributed all the external factors to the UV rays from the sun. What we are learning now in the scientific community is that it’s not just the sun. Air pollution is actually one of the key factors, contributing to the signs of aging. There has been a lot of work in the lab for the last few years to show the connection between air pollution and skin damage.

So, we start to develop technology to see if we can combat the damage from air pollution. We do collaborative research with a professor at Columbia University, Dr. Liew Lang, We have conducted more than 200 consumers, clinical and safety studies while evaluating over 150 formulas. This was actually presented at an International Investigative Dermatology meeting last year, to show that the science that we do, actually has application in our products.

So, are you saying that using sunblock is not enough?

Well, I’m not saying that sunblock is not enough, but I believe we need more than just a physical barrier, that sunblock will protect you from the sun, but will not necessarily protect you from air pollution. If your skin is damaged because you have been exposed to the sun or bad air pollution in the last 10-20 years, how you improve and help your skin is a little different than if you didn’t have any damage yet.

To be fair, a lot of skin damage is a product of many years of accumulated damage. If you go into the sun and you get tanned, you don’t see the damage right away. But if you continue doing that for many years, that’s when you start to see the skin damage. So I think we need to look at both angles, you need to prevent damage by using the right products and avoid situations that put yourself in a bad situation for your skin. If it’s damaged, you find a way to repair some of the damage.

What are other factors in skin damage besides UV Ray and air pollution?

There have been other possibilities, and they are still being researched. Lately, people are talking about the actual visible light or high-energy blue light from using the phone or being in front of the computer screen. I’m not sure how much it contributes to skin damage, but I know that it is being studied right now.

So there a lot of emerging fields that people are studying to see if there are other factors that are involved in skin damage. I do know that for example; stress will also cause issues with your skin. So, we talk about how you should always keep hydrated, drink a lot of water, you should try not to have too much psychological stress or to have too much anxiety. Because things that you experience in life can change the way your body works and can then have a negative impact on your skin as well. So that’s why I think that, in addition to just skin care products, it’s also a lifestyle change; getting enough sleep, making sure that you get enough relaxation, use skin care products that protect you. In order to truly look at a holistic form of skincare, it’s not just about using products, but it’s a lifestyle, diet and a lot of different factors. I think that a lot of work that’s been done is starting to show that all these pieces do contribute to aging, aging of skin. 

The Koreans are known to have a superior skincare regime. What are your thoughts? 

We’re very aware of the Korean beauty regime and I think there’s some wisdom to having nine to ten steps of skin care. However, it’s very hard to find one product that can do everything, so we try and create a product that is relevant to the modern day women, who might not have that much time to spend hours putting on products for the skin needs. We have done our consumer research and realize most women want fewer steps because they are always on the go.

The trend now is leaning towards natural and organic products for their skin. 

I think there is a lot of truth when people say natural products are good for you. But that is a one-sided story. We know there

I think there is a lot of truth when people say natural products are good for you. But that is a one-sided story

are things in nature that are not good for you. One of the advantages of using products that have been used for thousands of years is that it has a history and has shown to be safe. But, when you use something that is natural, it may not be preserved, so the product may not last very long. You might have to put it in the fridge, but that will last only a week or two.

So when we’re talking about natural product versus a product that has been varied, I think it’s all about safety, quality, and benefits for the skin. So for us, how we approach developing our product is, we do our testing to ensure that each ingredient that goes into the formula is safe

So, not all chemicals are unsafe?

It’s really tricky when you say that because, in reality, everything is a chemical. Salt is a chemical, it’s sodium chloride, and that’s what we eat daily without question. So I think this is a battle of perception because even natural extracts are made up of a chemical. If you grind coffee bean, it’s natural but the caffeine is a chemical found in the coffee bean.

It’s a marketing lingo when people say all chemicals are bad for you. Yes, there are some chemicals that are bad, but there are some that are not. For me, it’s not about the chemical or natural product. It’s about whether it’s safe, whether it’s high quality and whether it is good for the skin. We do our testing and obviously, it’s not safe, we’re not gonna use that extract. Even though it’s natural, it doesn’t mean it’s safe. So I think safety is the most important criteria for us in selecting the best ingredient for our products.

What is the difference between Asian skincare from European skincare? Why do we have special products for different groups?

Some people say there is a difference because of genetics, but there is very little in the sciences to show that the skin is different because of that. However, there is information that shows the skin is different because of behavior. In some culture, the use of harsh cleansers are recommended and overtime we remove a lot of layer of the skin and it becomes more sensitive compared to other cultures that do not practice that. If you look at some research, our environment like the humidity can impact how our skin behaves. 

What are some common mistakes people do when it comes to skincare?

I think the common mistakes that people do is that they don’t always follow instructions. Compliance is an issue. People want to be too fast and they use products very quickly on top of each other, they use more than they need to or they don’t use enough. I also think that sometimes people don’t use products the way they are intended.

The best example I can give is sunscreens, so I can tell you if you look at different dermatology publications, everyone will tell you that people don’t use enough sunscreen to get the SPF protection that’s advertised. When it’s tested, you have to use a specific amount, so that you get that protection from the sun. That’s how the SPF 35, 25 that number, is derived from that.

Most people will just use a little bit and have some kinda coverage and assume that they get the full protection and that may not be the case. And that’s why I think that one of the biggest mistakes or biggest oversights that people have is not necessarily reading the instructions and then using the product as instructed.

What is your advice on skincare?

The main thing is skin protection. Use the right skin care product for you. Don’t go out in the sun for many hours. Don’t sunbathe or be around a polluted area. Stay hydrated and get enough sleep.