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Reviewed and Rejected: Ahava Hand Lightening Cream

January 19, 2009 Reviewed by admin 1 Comment

Posted by Copley

Spending my childhood under the fierce rays of the Florida sun, I rarely gave a second thought to applying sunscreen anywhere other than my face. Call it the naive invincibility of youth. Now that I've seen the sheer vulnerability of the skin first-hand (literally), I am regretting my insouciance. After noticing a new constellation of freckles cropping up on my right hand, I decided it was time to take action. I got my (hyperpigmented) hands on a bottle of Ahava Hand Lightening Cream and prayed for a time-reversing miracle.

But first, I wanted to understand the science behind the sudden evidence of my skin's familiarity with the Florida sun. When exposed to sunlight, hyperpigmented skin becomes more pronounced as melanin absorbs the energy of the sun's harmful UV rays to protect the skin from overexposure. Besides staying out of the sun and regularly applying SPF, the only weapons against hyperpigmentation are skin-bleaching medications that slow the production of melanin. I was drawn to Ahava's hand lightening cream because its ingredient list is hydroquinone-free.

In its stead, the first trace of any sort of skin-lightening agent is arbutin, which doesn't make an appearance until number twelve in the ingredients. A naturally-occurring derivative of hydroquinone, arbutin is mainly found in the leaves of cranberry, bearberry, and blueberry shrubs. By inhibiting tyrosinase, it prevents the formation of melanin. Though concentration protocols have not yet been set, formulas with greater than 5% arbutin can be very irritating and can even have a darkening effect on the skin, while a low dosage of arbutin demonstrates no effect whatsoever.

Ahava's hand lightening cream falls into the latter camp. Due to the limited research performed on arbutin, mostly through animal studies or in vitro, it has not yet been established whether the trace amounts of arbutin used in cosmetics can be effective. In the case of Ahava's cream, I can resolve this uncertainty- the concentration of arbutin is decidedlyinadequate to produce results. After a month of applying the cream both at morning and night, I have not observed any dimming of my freckle constellation.

But then, perhaps I wouldn't want a higher concentration of arbutin, since the German Institute of Food Research in Potsdam discovered that arbutin can be converted into hydroquinone in the presence of intestinal bacteria, creating an environment favorable for cancer. Another ingredient that causes some concern is propylene glycol, a cosmetic form of mineral oil found in brake fluid and industrial antifreeze. Because this humectant can easily penetrate the skin, it can weaken protein and cellular structure. The Material Safety Data Sheet advises to avoid skin contact with propylene glycol as it is a strong skin irritant that can cause liver abnormalities and kidney damage. I would be hesitant to raise a red flag about propylene glycol were it not the third most prevalent ingredient in this cream's formula.

Further rogue ingredients run the gamut from disodium EDTA to a lone paraben. Commonly used in cosmetics to adjust the pH, triethanolamine (TEA) can cause allergic reactions including eye problems and dry skin or hair. If absorbed into the body over a long period of time, TEA has the potential to become toxic by producing nitrosamines. Diazolidinyl urea, a formaldehyde releaser, is a preservative frequently tied to contact allergies. Diazolidinyl urea was recently re-classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer to its highest toxic class IARC1 (known human carcinogen). With the additional irritants linalool and dipentene (limonene), both fragrance enhancers, I wonder how Ahava's cream can call itself hypoallergenic.

In spite of its artificial perfume additives, the only aroma that I could identify was sunscreen. Protection from the sun is perhaps the one thing that this cream gets right, though hardly perfect. The chemical sunscreen ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, or octinoxate, not only safeguards the product against deterioration caused by UV rays, but it also helps protect the wearer from sunburn and other skin damage inflicted by UV light. Phenylbenzimidazole sulfonic acid, another chemical sunscreen, is primarily a UVB-protecting agent with only minimal UVA protection.

The rest of the formula's sun defense derives from benzophenone-3, which shields the skin from both UVA and UVB radiation. Benzophenone-3 is known to cause contact eczema and is suspected of other adverse effects. For one, benzophenone-3 appears to mimic the hormone estrogen. In one study, estrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells in test tubes multiplied when exposed to benzophenone-3, suggesting that it has the potential to disrupt the endochrine system of individuals who use it. Especially alarming is that benzophenone, which is readily absorbed by the skin, was discovered in the urine of adults several days after applying this substance in a sunscreen. As a result, preparations with benzophenone-3 are not recommended for use in young children.

I wish I could say that all these risks are worth it because Ahava Hand Lightening Cream performs wonders for the skin. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Its SPF of 12 falls short of delivering full-spectrum protection if you plan on exposing your hands to the sun for long periods of time. Its texture is lightweight and absorbs quickly, but the cream tends to get slippery and melt off at the first sign of sweat.

Just as Sheila noted in Seaderm's Make-up Removing Water, Ahava has built its brand on Dead Sea minerals, but there is very little evidence that topically applying sea water conveys any significant benefits to the skin. Nonetheless, within the Hand Lightening Cream's chemical-laden formula, sea water is one of the most natural and innocuous ingredients that Ahava has going for it.

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Ingredients: Water (aqua), Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, Propylene Glycol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG 40 Stearate, Benzophenone 3, Dimethicone, Phenylbenzimidazole Sulfonic Acid, Triethanolamine, Sorbitan Triestearate, Arbutin, Dead Sea Water (Maris Sal & Aqua), Tocopheryl Acetate, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract (Green Tea), Glycerin, Fragrance, Xanthan Gum, Acrylates/C10 30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Diazolidinyl Urea, Methylparaben, Disodium EDTA, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Linalool, Hydroxyisohexyl 3 Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde, Hexyl Cinnamal, Dipentene, Contains Oxybenzone

  • October 22, 2010

    by Richard

    Hi! I just read your review on this product and I'm amazed on how well-versed you are with sunscreens. May i ask your help on a certain product? I am well aware also of the damage that UVA rays cause to our skin in terms of aging that's why for 2 years now, I've been looking for sunscreens that protect both from UVA and UVB. With Shiseido I'm able to tell because of their PA rating system, but with AHAVA... (Protective Moisturizing Cream SPF15 for Men), I can't tell cos they don't have the PA system. Would you know if they do? Because I really would like to try it. Thanks!

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