Dr. Hannah Sivak: The science behind skin care

When you ask Dr. Hannah Sivak what brought her to Arizona, her answer is as endearing as it is honest. “My son fell in love with a girl from Arizona. I am a Jewish mother, so I followed. My daughter is a Jewish daughter, so she followed me. So all the family is here.”

She admitted when she came to Arizona; she just assumed she would get a job in academia and stay there. “I was too old (and expensive) to be employed by Arizona State University or a community college, so I had to do something else, so I got a job as an advisor to a skin care company,” says Dr. Sivak.

But she was unhappy working there and her son, Jonatan Funtowicz, convinced her to start her own skin care company. “I was reluctant because I have been an employee at a university since I can remember,” says Dr. Sivak. It was a difficult decision, but she made it and in 2005 launched Skin Active Scientifics.

A native of Argentina, Dr. Sivak earned her Ph.D. at the Institute for Biochemical Research in Buenos Aires. She was a research fellow at the University of York and the University of Sheffield in England and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Michigan State University before moving to Arizona. Dr. Sivak has authored more than 60 papers in biology, biochemistry molecular biology and biotechnology and has also written a book entitled The Scientific Revolution in Skin Care.

“Everything I learned in my academic life, helps me in my company making skin care products,” admits Dr. Sivak. “I knew botany, and I knew microbiology, and I knew biochemistry. I knew how to look at the whole picture.” She also has discovered that most of the skin care business works on the basis of advertising instead of on science. “Even when they use science it’s mostly for advertising,” she says.

Hannah acknowledges that although there are a few good products out there, some even have the potential of hurting your skin. For example, one ingredient many skin care products contain is benzoyl peroxide. “There are a lot of products out there with benzoyl peroxide, and it ages skin, and we know that,” explains Hannah. “But people keep selling it – and people keep buying it – because it’s what they know.”

Dr. Sivak says that the products they create work because there is a lot of scientific evidence behind them. “There is so much scientific literature about skin care,” she states. “We use special proteins and anti-oxidant enzymes. We also use common sense.”

Skin Active Scientifics products are also very affordable because they don’t spend any money on advertising. “There is a placebo effect that has to do with pricing. If someone goes and buys an expensive cream in a specialty store, they will say that it works better,” explains Dr. Sivak. “Most companies try to find the latest miracle ingredient, and when they do, quite often they end up cheating you because that miracle chemical is nothing useful for you.”

They started their business selling kits with “actives” – which are chemicals that can help with everything from acne and blemishes to uneven texture – and a base cream. Although some people like to experiment and mix their own formulas, more people are comfortable with the pre-mixed products, so they offer both options. Dr. Sivak says people intimidated by using the kits shouldn’t be, stating, “Anyone who can make a salad, can make the cream.”

They never use any fragrances in their skin care products. They sell tubes with fragrances that people can add if they want to. “It doesn’t make any difference to your skin, and it can make it worse if you are allergic,” Dr. Sivak explains.

Their products are never tested on animals, using their family and neighbors instead. They also ask lots of questions of medical professionals and are constantly updating and changing, providing the best product.

The Skin Actives Scientific website (skinactives.com) has a community forum when you can ask Dr. Sivak questions, videos, a blog and a newsletter you can sign up to receive.

Dr. Sivak spends her days in a lab organized very similarly to the biochemistry lab she started her career in many years ago, with centrifuges and a filtration system. “Every day I look at botany that I learned when I was 18, and it’s lovely to look at it again,” she says. “It’s really beautiful, because I love science.”

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