Introducing Wave 2.0
Nerd out with us on how we developed Wave 2.0. Ready your coffee with extra shots as this will be a heck of a ride.
Dear Skincare Nerds,
I am ecstatic to introduce you all to Wave 2.0. This article will walk you through the events that precipitated the update and also on the formulation process itself. Although our formulation approach for each product varies, this article still provides a window on how we approach things. So grab your popcorn and get ready to nerd out with us.
Current Status of Hydration Serums
In December 2021, we tested 10 Holy Grail Hydration serums on the market. Our goal was to see how each one performed against the other. To refresh, here's the graph of how they performed.
Results were surprising that only serum number 6 led to a significant change in hydration. Quite a few shockers in this graph:
- Number 6 was the cheapest product.
- Some hydration serums didn’t do anything or worse; one even dehydrated the skin.
- In the grand scheme of hydration, a change of 6 au isn’t a lot. For reference here’s an interpretation table for corneometer values:
One thing to note is that this is a stress test as we measured hydration in a really low humidity environment (aka Canadian Winter Indoors).
We told you that we didn't include Wave because we wanted to focus on science, not marketing. Well, we lied. We tested Wave together with those serums, and here's how it fared. It’s too juicy to keep mum about, so here it is.
What prompted the update?
After a micro celebration in the lab, we were curious how each humectant performs against the other. We keep hearing marketing terms like "it holds a bajillion times more water than Hyaluronic acid" or "it hydrates you forever and ever." However, the idea that humectants work by holding water is outdated. Recent articles have shed some light on how humectants work in the skin, and there is more to it than just water-binding. Case in point, Sodium PCA has a higher water-binding capacity than Sodium Lactate. Nevertheless, Sodium Lactate hydrates the skin better than Sodium PCA. We couldn’t find a study comparing the most common humectants in the market, so we did the study ourselves.
We were not prepared for the results. It’s like disappointment after disappointment. Humectants we believed to be great skin hydrators didn’t perform well at all. Here’s the summary of the results:
- Glycerin is like that overachiever. We already know it’s smart, but it is a bit old news. We’ve stopped paying attention to it, so it didn’t hold back in this test.
- Acetamidoethoxyethanol is the new kid. It is a new ingredient that was sitting unopened on our shelves for about a year. We had very low expectations. Result: We were all speechless and dubious. We thought it was a mistake that it surpassed Glycerin. Quadruple-checked even the controls. It definitely is the new Gold Standard.
- Some backup singers: Betaine, Lactic acid, Hydrovance, Propanediol, D-Panthenol. Two extracts performed well, but they are solubilized in 80-90% Glycerin so its just glycerin’s effect.
- Disappointment of the year: Hyaluronic acid. This one was hard to swallow. Wave 1.0’s main selling point was multi-molecular weight Hyaluronic acid. All HA’s dehydrated the skin. The one with the least negative effect was 1M Da HA, which is the most commonly used HA.
When we finished analyzing the results, I specifically remember screaming AAAAAARGHHH because this means we have to update Wave. At that time, we were working on another update and product. Since we can't just sit knowing that Wave has to be updated, we had to pause the other stuff and focus on Wave.
There's this running joke here at Regimenlabs that the products will never be perfect for me. Back when we were starting, I used to answer questions directly, and when people told us that one of our products was amazing and it saved their skin, I used to respond, "Oh no, it's not perfect yet; the next version is even better (even though that version is still a concept in my head)." Marketing would then hit me in the head with admonishment.
Skincare Science is constantly evolving, and so should skincare products. I know how hard it is to find a Holy Grail only to know that it would be reformulated. However, we can promise you that we will only update if we can surpass the current product's performance. When you buy our products, you are not just buying a product. Instead, you are buying into a brand that delivers the best possible solution, as you deserve nothing but the best.
Challenges with Wave 1.0
We went back to the drawing board and had to rethink Wave given the humectant issue. We combed through the feedback from all of you and summarized everything into four points:
As you know by now, the main reason for our update is the Humectant Comparison Study. We now know which humectants work and which do not. Even though Wave 1.0 performed really well in the hydration study, we’ve received feedback that Wave 1.0 feels a little dehydrating. Now we know why.
Wave 1.0 is a very concentrated serum packed with humectants. It deviates from the normal hydration serum that's usually thinner. A disadvantage of this is that the serum leaves some tackiness/stickiness. After hundreds of iterations, we successfully reduced the tackiness, but it still doesn't feel like those luxurious hydration serums that you gently pat on your face. We didn't want to compromise the humectant concentration, and we didn't want to add anything just for the feel. Hence we decided to position it as a concentrated serum that you can dilute.
It didn't catch on, so we'll need to revisit this and make the serum thinner and less tacky. We still prioritize performance, but we have to pay extra attention to texture/ feel this time around.
One of the common complaints about Wave 1.0 is that it stings when first using the product. There could be a couple of reasons for this:
- Urea: is the most likely culprit. It is known to cause "smarting," which is described as a short but intense stinging that goes away after subsequent usage.
- Phenoxyethanol + penetration enhancers. Phenoxyethanol is considered a mild preservative, especially at low concentrations. However, it is also a Transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) agonist, a receptor that regulates pain in the skin. Activating TRPV1 leads to itching, burning and stinging. In typical formulations, Phenoxyethanol is usually okay but paired with penetration enhancers; it can penetrate more and trigger TRPV1 causing stinging.
- Low MW Hyaluronic acid. Wave 1.0 has HA molecules from 200,000 Da to greater than 5M Da. Research shows that most barrier alterations and inflammatory activation happen below 100,000 Da, but this limit could potentially be different in the presence of penetration enhancers.
- Combination of everything. All these barrier looseners and penetration enhancers allowed the penetration of Urea and Phenoxyethanol, which caused more stinging.
Wave 1.0 has the longest INCI among our products; it deviated a little bit from our philosophy of minimalism. You probably know by now: more ingredients: more chances of reacting to one. Let's look at the Current INCI and dissect it:
Aqua, Cassia Angustifolia Seed Polysaccharide, Propanediol, Butylene Glycol, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Pseudoalteromonas Exopolysaccharides, Betaine, Glycerin, Urea, Hydroxyethyl Urea, Pentylene Glycol, Saccharide Isomerate, Sodium Lactate, PPG-20 Methyl Glucose Ether, Sodium PCA, Sorbitol, Lactic Acid, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Hyaluronate, Panthenol, Asiaticoside, Madecassic Acid, Asiatic Acid, Citric Acid, Sodium Chloride, PCA, Arginine, Aspartic Acid, Glycine, Alanine, Serine, Valine, Proline, Threonine, Isoleucine, Histidine, Phenylalanine, Disodium EDTA, Xanthan Gum, Lecithin, Sclerotium Gum, Pullulan, Caprylyl Glycol, Chlorphenesin, Phenoxyethanol, Ethylhexylglycerin
Let the Culling begin.
Cassia Angustofolia Seed Polysaccharide
This is a polysaccharide-based humectant that works similarly to Hyaluronic acid. In Wave 1.0, we used it as a water replacement at 20-30% to dilute the other humectants. It showed dismal results in our humectant testing, so we'll scrap it. Buh Bye.
This glycol from Sugar cane acts as a solvent, humectant, and preservative booster. In Wave 2.0, it mainly acts as a solvent for the Titrated Extract of Centella Asiatica (TECA). It showed good results in our humectant study, so we'll keep using it as one of the solvents for TECA.
This is another glycol that we use as a solvent for TECA. It is thicker than Propanediol and gives a formulation more substantiveness. There are some anecdotal observations on its comedogenicity and acnegenicity. However, it's not inherently crucial to the formulation, so we'll look for an alternative.
Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer
This is a cross-linked HA. It didn't show a significant difference, but it doesn't decrease hydration as well. One redeeming feature is that it feels so lovely on the skin after it dries. However, since it doesn’t do anything, we’ll remove it as well.
Marine Hyaluronate. I swear, these ingredient manufacturers are just looking for whatever is slimy and make it into an ingredient. Again, another polysaccharide-based humectant with disappointing hydration results. Culled.
Betaine is an osmolyte with a unique way of hydrating the skin. Compared to other humectants, it has a lower hold on water molecules, increasing the free water needed for enzymes to work. It also acts as a buffer to prevent pH changes in your skin. (Learn more about layering by pH here)
Such an underappreciated ingredient that many consider a "filler." I consider Glycerin a True Active as it helps with hydration and Barrier Repair, Inflammation, and Texture. It's one of the most studied ingredients in skincare, and its prowess has been proven repeatedly.
I have a love and hate relationship with Urea. On the one hand, it has shown great promise in hydration. However, its ability to irritate the skin is well documented. There's some evidence that it only works if the formulation is a water-in-oil emulsion as it is a bit unstable. Most importantly, it showed disappointing results in our humectant study. We know that a lot of people specifically look for Urea in products. However, we can't add something in good conscience, knowing it doesn't work. We're sorry to disappoint, but Science has spoken, and we are removing it. Farewell dead friend.
Hydroxyethyl Urea (HU)
On the brighter side, we are upping the concentration of Hydroxyethyl Urea to compensate for the removal of Urea. HU is a more stable version of Urea without the stinging and irritation. It has a good hydration profile but where it stands out is in its skin-plumping ability. Any formulation that has 10% of this makes your skin plumper.
This is another cane-derived glycol that comes with another ingredient. It showed similar results with Butylene Glycol, so it can be considered a BG replacement in solubilizing TECA. Aside from its solubilization property, it also serves as a preservative booster, so we can afford to add less preservatives to the formulation.
SI is a polysaccharide resulting from the processing of Ceramides. It was a real heartbreak to see SI underperform. It had huge riding on it as it is touted both to increase hydration and reduce TEWL. However, it did neither. We're sad to part ways with it.
Sodium Lactate + Lactic acid
These Natural Moisturizing Factors (NMF) showed excellent results in the Humectant study. They both increase Ceramide content in the skin. In Wave 1.0, these two were used as a buffer to prevent pH drift. However, we're pulling them out of Wave 2.0 as we plan to use them in another product ;) See you soon bb.
PPG-20 Methyl Glucose Ether
Propoxylated or Alkoxylated Glycerins are modified Glycerins that are less tacky, more hydrating and possess some anti-irritant ability. The 20-mole ethoxylated ones are used as anti-sting humectants in skincare products and fragrance fixatives in perfumes. The lower the number of the propoxylate or ethoxylate, the closer it is to the feel of Glycerin. The higher molar ethoxylates impart slip to water-based products, especially in Korean skincare. Other examples of these are Methyl Gluceth-20 and Methyl Gluceth-10. (Side note: these are still very tacky)
Sodium PCA + PCA
Sodium PCA is another NMF found in the skin. It can hold a lot more water than its weight, but its humectant ability cannot compete with Glycerin. This shows that holding water is not the whole picture in hydrating the skin. It also showed disappointing results in the humectant study, so we are removing it. :(
Sorbitol is the second most common Glycerin alternative in skincare and Oral products. It imparts more slip to the product, and it is more cost-effective than Glycerin. In Wave 1.0, it was a part of an ingredient complex that was touted for intense hydration. However, it didn't perform as well as Glycerin in our humectant study at low Relative Humidity (RH). Needless to say, we are removing it in Wave 2.0.
Sodium Citrate and Citric acid
This buffer combination was used in Wave 1.0 to stabilize the pH. We found a better buffer suitable for our new formulation, so we will not use this combination in Wave 2.0.
Here's our major disappointment. This is a real heartbreak as we love hyaluronic acid. Sadly, HA performed poorly in all of our hydration tests, and it even decreased the hydration capacity of our humectant combo. As much as we love it, we have to part ways. Sometimes, you have to let go of things you love. Cheesy much.
Panthenol is pro-Vitamin B5. It is a barrier repair ingredient that shows great anti-inflammatory ability. The pure substance is super sticky, and it didn't affect hydration in the short term. The good thing is it also didn't decrease it. Hence, we are betting on its long-term effects.
Asiaticoside, Madecassic Acid, Asiatic Acid (TECA)
These Pentacyclic Triterpenes are what make Centella asiatica an all-in-one active. They have been proven to help with wound repair, anti-inflammation, anti-aging and even stretch-mark reduction. This doesn’t increase hydration immediately, but it helps with long-term hydration. Centella forever.
Amino acids (Arginine, Aspartic Acid, Glycine, Alanine, Serine, Valine, Proline, Threonine, Isoleucine, Histidine, Phenylalanine) belong to the list of controversial actives. Although our cells utilize them for many skin processes, the Science of topical amino acids is still murky. We added them in Wave 1.0 because they can work as humectants and buffering agents. One downside is that bacteria in the skin can use them for growth, which may or may not be a good thing. To add to that, they can't penetrate the skin because they are highly charged species. In Wave 2.0, they didn't add any hydration property, and we have a better buffer system, so we didn't find a need to add them.
EDTA is the main chelator used in skincare. It is excellent at sequestering divalent cations that microbes need to grow. Hence, it is an essential component of a preservation system. However, recent studies have noted its potential to affect marine life and the environment due to its low biodegradability. Health Canada deemed it to have a minimal impact on human and environmental health as the amounts released are minimal. On the other hand, the European Chemicals Bureau noted a need to reduce the risk to the environment as more and more industries are utilizing EDTA. We've found an amino acid-based EDTA alternative that readily biodegrades. It is less effective than EDTA, but it could be worth the shot.
Xanthan Gum, Lecithin, Sclerotium Gum, Pullulan
These are the composition of our thickening agent. We tried a lot of thickening agents, but this is the only one that works well with high amounts of humectants.
Caprylyl Glycol, Chlorphenesin, Phenoxyethanol, Ethylhexylglycerin
These preservatives were in Wave 1.0. Phenoxyethanol and Ethylhexylglycerin were the main preservatives, and the other two were just present in other ingredients. Phenoxyethanol is an excellent preservative. Of course, it may irritate the skin at high concentrations, but it is not much of a concern at the concentration we use. However, we recently found out that Phenoxyethanol is a TRPV agonist. This can be both good and bad because TRPV activation leads to pain and stinging, but it also triggers barrier repair. However, when applying a hydrating serum, you want it to be soothing AF. So we decided to look for a milder preservative system.
Perceived Effect: make it feel hydrating with visible effect
Texture: remove tackiness and make it slip and slide
Irritation: remove possible sources of irritation and pack it with soothing ingredients
Minimalism: remove all unnecessary ingredients
Wave 2.0 is a massive leap from Wave 1.0 with significantly improved hydration and feel. It is rid of unnecessary ingredients and potentially irritating ingredients making it very soothing.
Peek Inside Wave 2.0 Development
- Humectant Combo
- Buffer + Preservative
The Tidal Wave Complex
The Ultimate Humectant Comparison study was a trial by fire as we tested in low RH of 15-20%. It eliminated a lot of ineffective humectants, leaving us with only the excellent ones. The ones left are:
- Hydroxyethyl Urea
- Xylitol, Xylitylglucoside and Anhydroxylitol
- Sodium Lactate
- Lactic acid
We placed Sodium Lactate and Lactic acid on the side as they are being developed for another exciting product. We took this list and tested how they performed when combined with other humectants. What results from the study is an optimized humectant combination that maxes out hydration both long term and short term. We call this “The Tidal Wave Complex”:
- 10% Acetamidoethoxyethanol
- 10% Glycerin
- 10% Hydroxyethyl Urea
- 3.5% Betaine
- 1% Xylitol, Xylitylglucoside and Anhydroxylitol
- 1% D-Panthenol
Now that we finalized our humectant combination, we need to add our TECA. TECA (Asiaticoside, Madecassic Acid, Asiatic Acid) is an excellent all-around ingredient that actually works. One disadvantage of it is that it needs to be solubilized in Glycols. In Wave 1.0, TECA was solubilized by Propanediol and Butylene Glycol. Butylene Glycol only functions here as a solubilizer and a feel enhancer. There’s also some anecdotal comments on its comedogenicity so we can try looking for another solvent. We tested a bunch of Glycol combinations and found that X + X works the best.
This part is where most of the hard work was done. The Tidal Wave Complex is super packed with humectants at high concentrations. It feels a little tacky on its own but it is bearable. It is thin in texture and it needs more slip and slide. After adding the TECA solution to the Tidal Wave Complex, the texture became less tacky and added some slip. The downside is that it feels a little heavy and oily.
We can’t touch Tidal Wave Complex as it is already optimized for maximum hydration. Our goal is to create a serum with the Tidal Wave Complex but with a great skin feel. Let’s look at what can we change to improve the texture:
- Concentration of Glycols
- Gelling agent
- Feel Ingredients
We did three rounds of testing for this update. By this time, we already know the main formula we are working with but we needed help nailing down the texture.
In round 1, we sent out two versions of the formulation. One with Silicone and the othe without. Interestingly, in both instances, people preferred the non-silicone one, which is surprising. When we sent out samples for our first and second round of testing, we received lots of feedback from our testers. Most commonly, people stated that they enjoyed the silicone over the non-silicone sample, however, we never specified which sample was which. While reading these comments we would giggle as in almost all cases the sample which testers thought contained silicone was actually the non-silicone one. At this point, we decided that our final formulation was not going to contain silicones as we were able to achieve the silicone-like feel without adding them, which is INSANE!
One of the major comments we got was that the serum was a bit oily for daily use. So we toned that down for Round 2
In Round 2 people are quite happy with the change in the oiliness and are now focused on the tackiness and texture of it. At this point we are still testing Silicone vs Non-silicone but the majority preferred the Non-Silicone one.
At this point we tried changing everything except for the Tidal Wave Complex because we don’t want to affect our main active. We also tried Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, but it didn’t change the texture that much either. We exhausted every possible combination until we looked at the final ingredient which is the gelling agent. Surprisingly, the gelling agent changed the texture a lot. In fact, it single-handedly led to the silicone-feel that you get in Wave 2.0
Needless to say, everyone was happy and the comments for Round 3 were through the moon.
In Wave 1.0, the buffer that we used was Lactic acid and Sodium Lactate. Lactic acid can contribute to the sting that some people experience so we set out to find another buffering agent that can stabilize the pH without causing irritation. We had a few options but the one that performed the best was Pantolactone.
We were able to find an alternative to EDTA: Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate. This chelator isn’t as effective as EDTA but it is biodegradable, has a good tox profile, and it doesn’t contribute to eutrophication.
This is a very interesting part of the formulation, if I may say. We were looking for formulations that don’t have any sting factor and ended up with one used in baby formulations where stinging is avoided. The blend is the INCI of : Benzyl Alcohol (and) Benzoic Acid (and) Dehydroacetic Acid (and) Tocopherol. The ingredients look quite nefarious because they are considered irritants but because they can be used at such low concentrations, that is avoided.
Another multifunctional preservative that we found was Hydroxyacetophenone. It is a nature-based antioxidant that is not really a preservative but more of a preservative booster with some antioxidant and soothing properties.
We know that the formulation itself might have some anti-bacterial properties because of the high amounts of humectants in the formulation. We decided to send out multiple formulations for testing, ranging from the lowest possible preservatives to the highest. Before we sent it out, I had a hunch of including one without preservatives just to see how it performs. In this test, they purposely add bacteria and fungi to the sample to see if the sample can withstand the assault. After incubating it for periods of time, they check if there are any microbes present. If nothing grows then your preservative system passes.The results are (again) shocking as even the one without preservatives passed the USP 51 Preservative Challenge Testing.
But how is it able to pass the challenge test without preservatives? This is the interesting part, the humectants and other actives in Wave 2.0 have some anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties in them. They’re not really considered preservatives but if they all act together, then there is a slim chance that it is enough to kill bacteria yeast and fungi. In this case it is.
We were set to launch the version with the lowest preservative system of Hydroxyacetophenone plus the Benzyl Alcohol blend, but given the great news of the preservative free formulation passing, we pulled back and decided on removing the preservative blend. Although it is not needed for preservation, we decided to keep Hydroxyacetophenone because it does have soothing properties and Wave 2.0 can use more of it.
Introducing Wave 2.0
Aqua, Acetamidoethoxyethanol, Glycerin, Hydroxyethyl Urea, Pentylene Glycol, Betaine, Propanediol, Methyl Gluceth-20, Panthenol, Asiaticoside, Madecassic Acid, Asiatic Acid, Pantolactone, Hydroxyacetophenone, Xanthan Gum, Lecithin, Sclerotium Gum, Pullulan, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate, Lactic Acid
The hydration that you can get from Wave 2.0 is unbeatable, as measured by Corneometry. It has:
- 10% Acetamidoethoxyethanol which has a higher hydration profile than Glycerin. This is now the new gold standard for skin hydration.
- 10% Glycerin for hydration, barrier repair and soothing
- 10% Hydroxyethyl Urea gives that supple look
- Pentylene Glycol and Propanediol are natural solvents that add hydration while solubilizing TECA
- 3.5% Betaine increases hydration and helps with Barrier Repair
- Methyl Gluceth-20 is an ethoxylated Glycerin for a less tackier hydration
- D-Panthenol helps in soothing the skin
- 0.5% TECA (Asiaticoside, Madecassic acid, Asiatic acid) for a longer term hydration and some anti-aging properties
- 1% Aquaxyl (Xylitylglucoside, Anhydroxylitol, Xylitol) activates and supercharges the barrier by boosting key barrier components: Ceramides, Loricrin, Transglutaminase, NMF, Tight Junctions
- Pantolactone (Panthenol’s precursor) contributes great buffering properties
- Hydroxyacetophenone for some antibacterial and anti-fungal properties with some soothing ability
- Xanthan Gum, Lecithin, Sclerotium Gum, Pullulan gells the formulation while giving it that silicone slip
- Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate the EDTA alternative
- Lactic acid as a pH adjuster
After the final steps, we tested it out against Wave 1.0, and other leading brands. Here's what we got.
The Corneometry results for Wave 2.0 are double of Wave 1.0. This is definitely a huge upgrade from Wave 1.0. This newer version drenches you in hydration that lasts longer. We made it more suitable for people with sensitive skin and packed it with actives that help the barrier. You have to see it for yourselves to believe.
We are very proud and happy of what all of us accomplished for Wave 2.0. It was a lot of challenging work (Especially for Mikayla as Wave 2.0 is her baby) but it was definitely worth it. It is a labour of love, dedication and perseverance as we are all too stubborn to give up.
I’d like to thank the hundreds of Testers (we need a better name for you guys) that participated in this update. We have lots in store for you but I hope you guys enjoyed the adventure and the thank you gift we have for you.