Are Clay Masks Safe? Can Melasma be Treated? Can Hyaluronic Acid Injections Age My Skin?

Ask A Skin Care Biologist

Ask a Skin Care Biologist is a recurring Bioluminescence post where OUMERE's CEO and CSO, Wendy Ouriel, M.S., answers your skin care questions. Wendy is a cellular biologist with expertise in cellular aging, extracellular matrix biology and the biology of skin care.

Question: Is clay for use in skin care safe or healthy? Do you recommend its use?

-Carolina C.

Clay in skin care is nothing new, and it has been a popular skin care ingredient for hundreds of years. Despite its veteran status, I do not recommend the use of clay because clay will pull water and oil from the skin. When water is pulled from the skin, this leads to dryness and pre-mature aging. When oil is pulled from the skin, this disrupts the body’s homeostatic balance. When that balance is disrupted you will have the body make more oil in haste to replace what has been lost, and this oil will be high in oleic acid, which contributes to inflammation and acne.

Organic matter such as sand, silt, loam and clay have a specific property called ‘water-holding capacity.’ The water-holding capacity of these materials is an indication of their ability to absorb and retain water in their surrounding environment. Sand has a low water-holding capacity, as sand does not act very ‘sponge-like.’ Clay, on the other hand, has a water-holding capacity several magnitudes higher than sand, and acts much more sponge-like due to its high affinity for water. It also reasons that when put in an environment with oil, it will soak this up too.

Clay-water interactions can be easily observed. If you have ever held a dry block of clay (such as in arts and crafts) and then rolled it around in your hand for a few minutes, what happens? It softens because it absorbed the oil and water from your hand.

In skin care, the health of skin depends on keeping the skin moisturized. To keep skin moisturized we need to protect the water and oil content of the skin. And that means avoiding contact with materials that soak up oil and water from the skin. In conclusion, I say avoid clay and any skin care containing clay.

Question: Hello, I am 48 yrs old and of Italian genetics. After chemo induced temporary menopause in my early 30s and back to back pregnancies in my late 30s I developed melasma all along the perimeter of my face that continues to get worse. I understand laser treatments are not the answer for melasma and I don’t want to use something topical that is carcinogenic. Do you have a recommendation? And yes, I understand sunscreen is important but it isn't resolving the issue. Just slowing the progression.

-Aimee D.

Melasma is among the most common skin concerns I encounter, and it is something that I want to address because it is something a lot of people who have it are self-conscious about, and it seems to drastically impact their quality of life.

Melasma is characterized by dark patches or spots on the skin caused by an increase in pigment to the affected area. Its causes are many: unprotected sun exposure, pregnancy, hormone therapy and genetics. Those with darker skin tones will also be more affected by melasma than those with lighter skin tones.

The challenge with improving the appearance of melasma is that the darkened patches will often exist for years (or decades) after the triggering event. For example, melasma from pregnancy may last decades. Melasma for prolonged sun exposure could be permanent.

I believe that the steps to improve darkened spots requires 3 steps:

  1. Renewal
  2. Treatment
  3. Prevention


In order to get rid of the dark patches, we need to renew the skin. Renewal of the skin requires replacing the affected skin with new skin made from skin stem cells. To renew the skin, exfoliation must be performed every day using a chemical exfoliant containing alpha and poly hydroxy acids. The chemical exfoliant will slough off the dead skin, and allow new skin cells to be made from stem cells.


After exfoliation, we need to focus on further brightening and treating the affected area. Brightening is done by reducing the amount of melanin (skin pigment) produced by melanocytes (pigment-producing cells). And this can be done with the proper skin care. I agree that lasers are not the way to go because they will likely do more harm than good, and do not effectively address the root cause of the issue. Lasers may address the symptoms of melasma, but there is no cure merely addressing symptoms. if we are interested in finding true improvement to the skin, we need to do something more effective, and do it every day.

Serums containing tyrosinase inhibitors are going to be a good bet for us. Tyrosinase is an enzyme that plays a key role in melanin synthesis, so if we can reduce the amount of tyrosinase, we may be able to brighten the skin. There are many tyrosinase inhibitors, one of the most well known is hydroquinone. I don’t recommend the use of hydroquinone due to an abundance of research that has found it to have carcinogenic effects. Natural tyrosinase inhibitors that I recommend include: arbutin, Kojic acid, azelaic acid, lactic acid, Glabrene and Isoliquiritigenin (found in licorice), and mulberry . For those who use OUMERE skin care, I recommend using the Eye Serum to spot treat your melasma, as this product has a high concentration of arbutin and licorice root extract.


The final step in improving melasma is to prevent it from getting worse. Melasma will worsen with unprotected exposure to the sun, as UV rays will darken the skin. Therefore be sure to wear an adequate SPF between 15-50, with broad spectrum coverage.

Question: Are hyaluronic acid injections (such as Juvederm) safe for skin or will they damage one's skin - especially over the long term? Can this "stretch" your skin where it is injected?

-Melissa H.

Hyaluronic acid injections have been around for a while. One of the first applications of HA injections was in the 1960s to treat skin lesions, and in the 1980s was further developed to assist with the pain associated with knee osteoarthritis. Cosmetic usage of the HA injections as cosmetic filler occurred in 2003 when the FDA approved the use of Restylane, an HA filler for cosmetic purposes.

Before the approval of Restylane as an injectable filler, the most common filler substance was collagen (usually from bovine sources). Most who remember the 90s will recall the in-vogue collagen lip fillers.

I am not concerned about the safety of HA fillers as long as they are performed by a trained medical professional in a medical office. What I am concerned with is how these may stretch out the skin when done in certain areas over a prolonged period of time.

The effects of HA injections aren’t permanent because the body will digest the HA after 4-6 months, necessitating more injections to prolong their cosmetic effect. The constant plumping of the lips, under eye areas, and areas that where the skin is thin or require a lot of the product to be injected will cause the skin to stretch out. Once skin stretches out, you need more and more filler to achieve the same prior plumping effect. This will cause skin sagging that will require surgical intervention to remove.

Please submit your Ask a Skin Care Biologist questions to


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