Skinterview with Beauty Blogger & FutureDerm Founder, Nicki Zevola Benvenuti

Discussing science-backed information on skin care

Credits: Anna Sulencka at

Nicki Zevola Benvenuti is a beauty and skin care entrepreneur, author, blogger, and speaker. With her beauty blog, FutureDerm, Nicki helps people discover hard-to-find scientific information on skin care, make sense of marketing claims, and find awesome products for their skin. We asked Nicki to join us for a Skinterview to discuss her experience in the beauty industry and her perspective on skin care products and ingredients. We hope you skinjoy!

Skintegrative: Please tell us about your background and how you got started with FutureDerm.

Nicki: I was a medical student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. I ultimately wanted to be a dermatologist, and I spent a lot of time studying in the classroom or library, as well as working in laboratories. I realized that a lot of the science I was learning in the classroom was directly applicable to over-the-counter skin care (particularly Dr. Leslie Baumann’s Cosmetic Dermatology textbook), and I couldn’t believe that people weren’t talking about this in the mass media. So I started to teach people.

FutureDerm is now one of the top beauty blogs in the world -- in fact, we were named the #1 beauty blog by SHAPE magazine readers a few years ago, and we have only continued to grow. We now get about half a million viewers per month, and we continue to grow leaps and bounds each year.

Skintegrative: From the age of 7 when you started mixing your grandmother’s skin care creams to developing your own skin care line in your twenties, what are some of your favorite skin care ingredients?

Nicki: I swear by zinc oxide-based sunscreen, vitamins C and E, retinoids, AHAs (but not together with retinoids), niacinamide, peptides, and antioxidants in general. These ingredients all have substantial amounts of peer-reviewed, published research in reputable dermatological and scientific research journals. These ingredients are also prevalent enough in skin care where you can find formulations that are stabilized, slow-release, and/or combined with other beneficial ingredients in synergistic ways.

I also know from experience -- I still get carded regularly in my thirties!

Skintegrative: In your book, Skincare + Spirit, you cover skin care facts, guides, and tips. What is your rule of thumb when trying to decide which product would fit best for your skin needs?

Nicki: Three things: First, it has to have ingredients proven in peer-reviewed, scientific studies. The more, the better. Second, it has to have these ingredients in high concentration. And third, it has to have a delivery system and/or combinations of ingredients that are beneficial and synergistic and allow the ingredient to do its work.

The concentrations of ingredients I look for varies by the ingredient. With vitamin C for instance, there is vitamin C as L-ascorbic acid, which should be formulated in at least 10% concentrations, but no higher than 25%. But with vitamin C as 3-0-ethyl ascorbyl palmitate, the new ultra-potent ester version that is popping up everywhere, suddenly you need to adjust concentration from 1.5%-5%, since 3-0-ethyl ascorbyl palmitate is about 5-7 times more potent than L-ascorbic acid.

Try to stick with skin care brands that are open about concentration, first and foremost. Although the FDA does not allow for you to put ingredient percentages right on the label, you can often find information about the ingredient concentrations right on their websites, package inserts, or elsewhere on the product box or label.

If you want to try brands that aren’t forthright about ingredient concentration, you should make sure that the actives are listed in the top six ingredients (if a long ingredients list) or in the top half of ingredients (if a short ingredient list). All ingredients in concentrations higher than 2% need to be listed in order from highest concentration to lowest concentration, whereas any ingredients in concentrations less than 2% can be listed in any order.

Skintegrative: Do you use any DIY skin care recipes? What are some advantage and disadvantages to natural ingredients?

Nicki: I don’t do DIY skincare. I believe in leaving the skin care formulations to the pros, like cosmetic chemists. I’ve had far too many readers write to me after using DIY formulations like citrus extracts and baking soda that were far too strong and caused irritation that was significant.

Natural ingredients are an easy sell to those who adopt vegetarian, vegan, lacto-vegetarian lifestyles, those who are particularly health-conscious, or those who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or nursing. Most of this is simply because there are a few unhealthy chemical ingredients out there and a ton of fearmongering around all chemical ingredients resulted. Nonetheless, if you are interested in natural ingredients, there is a lot of research behind green tea, white tea, black tea, oatmeal extract, cucumber extract, grape seed extract, resveratrol, coffee berry, licorice extract, turmeric (MUST be standardized without color, or you will dye your skin), and honey (MUST be cosmetic grade). 

Some disadvantages to natural ingredients are that natural ingredients are not standardized well. Whole natural ingredients often contain extracts that cannot be obtained by the skin through topical application, and natural ingredients are not necessarily good for the environment. 

With regards to standardization, the natural ingredient you obtain from one source is not necessarily equivalent to the same natural ingredient you obtain from another source. There is a dearth of regulation on natural ingredients, and particularly topicals. 

With regards to obtaining trace ingredients from a natural extract, keep in mind that the skin is not the digestive tract. If a plant extract like apple contains quercetin (a potent antioxidant), vitamin C, and stem cells, and is consumed, it is fully broken down into these components and absorbed within the digestive tract. But if the same apple extract is applied to the skin, if it is not 500 Daltons or less in size, your skin sees it only as "unabsorbable protein" and you get none of the benefits from the component parts.

Natural ingredients that are not sourced from "sustainable" conditions means that you're actually contributing to the problem by consuming these products. So many trees, plants, flowers, and fruits are being damaged and harming the environment because best practices are not being adopted by many skin care and cosmetic companies. 

Skintegrative: What advice do you have for others who are considering the beauty industry as their profession?

Nicki: It’s like anything else. Be disciplined. Work hard. You have to try a lot of things, make a lot of mistakes, and learn from those mistakes in order to find your way.

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