When I went to a luncheon for Perricone MD last month, hosted by Dr. Nicholas Perricone himself, I wasn’t sure what to expect. After all, I had tried some of their products over the years — and by tried, I mean I applied a few serums on my face a grand total of, like, three times each — and sort of gave up on them and moved on to other beauty samples needing my attention. It’s hard when you’re a beauty editor, and there are shelves and shelves full of product, calling out your name and promising to become your next holy grail item.
The problem wasn’t Perricone MD’s efficacy. I mean, barring a hideous reaction, three tries of a product is hardly enough to know what it’s going to do for your skin. The problem really was — to paraphrase Marie Kondo — that they didn’t spark joy in me. I didn’t love the packaging, swoon over the texture, wonder at the glorious finish on my skin. Yes, the press materials were impressive in their science-driven argument that this serum/treatment/moisturizer would change my skin for good. But a lot of skin care brands make that claim. And I kept getting distracted by all the sparkle and gold and minimalist packaging of other, perhaps more marketing-savvy tubs and jars and bottles.
But Dr. Nicholas Perricone himself would be at this luncheon, and I knew Perricone MD was a legit, science-backed, substantive skin care line. So I wanted to learn more (and frankly, to be convinced), firsthand. After all, Perricone MD is the number 11 brand in prestige skin care, as well as the fastest growing brand in the top 15.
Well, consider me a convert. Dr. Perricone’s backstory is fascinating. As a resident, he realized that every time he looked at a disease process under a microscope, whether it was Alzheimer’s or heart disease or diabetes, there was inflammation. So he asked his professor at the time whether inflammation was the driving process in all these diverse diseases. “The answer was a roll of the eyes,” Dr. Perricone recalled.
Then he went on to his pediatric residency, and while studying asthma, an inflammatory response condition, he did a study where he found that relatively high doses of vitamin C reduced asthma attacks by 50%. Armed with real clinical proof that antioxidants were anti-inflammatories, he continued his study of inflammation during his dermatology residency. (I know, talk about an overachiever, seriously.) He found that under a microscope, not only did diseased skin exhibit inflammation, so did clinically aging skin. Young skin didn’t exhibit inflammation, confirming his supposition that inflammation was the bad guy. But where did the inflammation come from? Sure, external causes included the sun, the environment. But what about the inflammation coming from inside the body? Dr. Perricone suspected that diet had an effect, so he started researching that. He found that when his patients cut out sugars from their diet, they looked better.
Of course, back then, the medical field laughed at him. They didn’t believe that what you eat can affect your skin. Of course, today, we all know that diet is intimately tied to how our skin looks.
“Skin is a perfect barometer of what’s going on inside of us,” says Dr. Perricone. “I never saw beautiful skin on an unhealthy patient.” So he developed his three-day diet, full of anti-inflammatory omega-3 and phytochemicals. He even went on Good Morning America to prove that his three-day diet resulted in “increased radiance in skin, decreased dark circles, pores seem to get tighter, you get more muscle tone.” (Diane Sawyer was apparently convinced.)
Today, Dr. Perricone, who is also a nutritionist, is a proponent of a three tier program that encompasses 1) an anti-inflammatory diet, 2) nutritional supplements with anti-inflammatory activity, like alpha lipoic acid, vitamin c, coenzyme Q10, and 3) topicals with anti-inflammatory activity. It’s actually refreshing to have a skin care founder tell you that what you eat is just as important as what you apply on your skin. (While experts differ on whether nutritional supplements actually have an effect on your skin, Dr. Perricone is a believer. “There’s reams of information that nutritional supplements can change the course of a disease, and so I’m a fan,” he says.)
At the luncheon, we were treated to a typical anti-inflammatory meal: grilled salmon, roasted artichoke, kidney beans, a green salad with olive oil and lemon, mixed berries with Greek yogurt, and an oversized beaker full of yummy green juice. Salmon is a cold water fish with lots of omega 3 and protein, which we need to to repair ourselves. (Women not getting enough protein, says Dr. Perricone.)
A green salad with olive oil and lemon satisfied our phytochemical requirement, which Dr. Perricone was effusive about. Why are phytochemicals so powerful in reducing inflammation? “Because the levels you’re getting in the blood are not powerful enough to have a therapeutic effect,” says Dr. Perricone. The old way of thinking was just feed yourself antioxidants. But one molecule of antioxidants eats a free radical, and then they cancel each other out, so eventually your antioxidant pool is depleted even if you take a lot of it. The same thing when you go in the sun — you take vitamin c and coenzyme Q10, you get a benefit in the skin, but then after 45 minutes, your antioxidant levels are completely depleted.
When you take in phytochemicals, on the other hand, whether in the form of blueberries, dark cocoa, or cinnamon, “your body actually sees this and sends a messenger to the DNA, something called the antioxidant response element. That regulates the production of proteins that have antioxidant activity. That explains why phytochemicals are so powerful.” So rather than one one molecule of antioxidant eating a free radical and then being eradicated, resulting in the depletion of the total pool of available antioxidants, phytochemicals help your body “produce its own little factory of antioxidant enzymes that you can’t get from eating. It’s constantly being renewed.”
As for my favorite of the three, topical skin care, Dr. Perricone focuses his line on topicals with anti-inflammatory activity. He actually didn’t want to start his own line at first and shopped his anti-inflammatory research around to different skin care brands for a while. He finally changed his mind when one scientist told him, “Let me enlighten you, son. We’re putting oil and water into a pretty little jar. And we’re making a ton of money. Why would you want active ingredients that would cut profits?”
Cue the record needle scratch. “How about honesty?” was Dr. Perricone’s response. “I wanted to turn this industry upside down and make it a science-based industry.”
So in 1997, Perricone MD started with a stable form of vitamin C, alpha lipoic acid, and their signature firming ingredient DMAE, all of which had one thing in common: reduce inflammation in the skin so skin can repair itself.
Today, Dr. Perricone has taken his love of phytochemicals to the next step by putting them in a new topical skincare line. To enhance penetration in the skin, he came up with a matrix that can carry large molecules into the skin. This resulted in his most recent discovery, a line of prevention-oriented products called Pre:Empt. Made for the 20- to 30-something, this line boosts antioxidant activity using phytochemicals to fight the first signs of aging.
Pre:Empt may not be for me, as a 40-something, but trust me, I’m a lot more excited about other Perricone MD products than I ever have been. As I spoke to Chris, the brand’s chief innovation officer, I learned that Perricone MD may not have the prettiest packaging, but that’s because they spend their money on active ingredients, not expensive jars and marketing. (In truth, I’ve found that some of their treatments smell … well … less than great, and I guess that’s because they try not to use artificial fragrance in their products.) For them, it’s all about the ingredients, efficacy, and what really works. As soon as I got back from the luncheon, I pulled out the OVM Serum and Re:Firm Surface Recovery Treatment from the beauty closet, determined to give them another chance.
And yet, perhaps my personal favorite takeaway from the luncheon, as an exercise-phobe? This bit of advice from Dr. Perricone:
“Some people believe you have to exercise vigorously for an hour and a half to get any benefits. You deplete your endogenous antioxidants in about 30, 45 minutes. So don’t exercise more than that because you’re accelerating the aging process.”
Now if only I can get myself to exercise at all. I’m sure my skin would look uh-may-zing.