≡ Menu

Can skin lotions interfere with sunscreen?

Phil asks…Does using facial oils, from certain brands or in general, under a sunscreen affect how good it works? My skin loves certain oils and in spring/summer I use them during the day underneath my sunscreen. I was wondering if it affected the spf, how good it protects, does the oil dissolve some of the protection of it’s a chemical one?

The Beauty Brains respond:Use_Sunscreen_Spray?_Avoid_Open_Flame_(9196637400)

There is cause for concern because it is well documented that certain ingredients can interact with sunscreens. Sometimes this interaction is good, sometimes it’s not so good. For example, a chemical known as Mexoryl SX can improve SPF by reducing the photo degradation of certain UV absorbers like Parsol 1789. Iron chelators like vitamin C and E can also slow the breakdown of sunscreens. On the other hand, care must be taken when mixing sunscreens with insect repellants because of interaction with DEET (the stuff that repels the bugs) because skin penetration is increased.

So, it’s best not to mix sunscreens and other products. As SkinDoc pointed out in our earlier post on the right way to apply sunscreen, the best thing approach is to wait 10 or 15 minutes between application of prodcuts. If you apply an oil to the skin at the same time as the sunscreen you are essentially diluting the sunscreen and it won’t be as effective. Of course no matter what technique you use, the key message here is to wear sunscreen!

Image credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons
{ 1 comment }

What’s the deal with topical Botox?

CosmeticChem is curious…What is a topical Botox(tm)? Does it work the same way as injectable Botox(tm)? So far how many “In-vivo” studies have been done to check the efficacy?

The Beauty Brains respond:cute_easter_bigfoot_sticker-rd656125a4b544110841bdc1f3d4cc6cc_v9waf_8byvr_324

Topical Botox? Yeah, right. That’s right up there with anti-wrinkle lotions that work like lasers, hair growth products, Bigfoot, and the Easter Bunny. Wait a minute…what’s that? There’s a peer reviewed, placebo-controlled study that says this might actually work?!? What the hell?!?

Promising test results for topical Botox

A 2010 study conducted by Dermatology Research Institute, LLC, Coral Gables, Florida , sponsored by Revance Therapeutics, Inc., Newark, California, found botulinum toxin type A (also known as Botox(tm)) significantly decreased lateral canthal lines (LCLs also commonly known as crow’s feet) when applied from a topical gel.

It’s a small study (n=36 adults) but it certainly looks promising: the results, which were statistically significant at the 99% confidence interval, 50% of the panelists showed a decrease in LCLs by 2 units or more compared to a placebo control (after 8 weeks). What does all that mean? Unlike so many studies on cosmetic products, this one was done with in vivo (on real people, not just in a test tube in the lab); it was done with a proper control (tested against a gel that did NOT contain the toxin); and the results where statistically significant (which is indicative that the results will be repeatable.)

Stylist.com interviews a dermatologist who comments on the study and raises concerns such as the fact that the effect is much less than you will see from injectable Botox(tm) and that it’s likely to only work on crow’s feet because it’s easier for the toxin to penetrate the thin skin around the eyes.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Topical Botox is apparently more reliable than Bigfoot or the Easter Bunny, which is more than you can say for a lot of anti-aging products. It will be interesting to see if further testing leads to a commercially viable product.

Reference: Dermatologic Surgery

Image credit: http://rlv.zcache.com/cute_easter_bigfoot_sticker

Is hyaluronic acid a good anti-aging ingredient? Episode 75

Do you wonder which anti-aging ingredients really work? Today we’re reviewing the evidence for hyaluronic acid.

Which anti-aging ingredients really work?

When it comes to anti-aging products it’s easy to be tricked into spending a lot of money on products that aren’t worth it. That’s because there’s so much pseudoscientific misinformation out there about anti-aging cosmetic ingredients. Also, once you buy an anti-aging product, it takes you a long time to determine if it’s really working for you or not. That’s why we’re going to focus some of our podcast episodes on specific anti-aging ingredients, Today we’re talking about hyaluronic acid.

What is hyaluronic acid?



Think of it as a large sugar molecule, what chemists would call a polysaccharide. But it’s a BIG sugar. Regular table sugar has a molecular weight of about 340 units (Daltons). HA has a MW of anywhere from 600,000 to 1,000,000 units. Its structure and this large weight give it the ability to hold between 500 and 1000 times its own weight in water. That’s why our bodies use it to hydrate tissues and lubricate joints.

The many names of hyaluronic acid

First let’s talk about the name…This ingredient is most commonly referred to as hyaluronic acid which obviously is the acid form. Another version is the sodium salt which is officially known as sodium hyaluronate. These two terms are used interchangeably. The official INCI Name is Sodium hyaluronic acid. Just to make things more confusing, it’s sometimes referred to as “Hyaluronan” which is the generic name that covers all forms of HA. Finally there are 2 alternate versions which we’re aware of.

  • Sodium acetyl hyaluronate
  • Hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid

Where does hyaluronic acid come from?

The quick answer is it comes from animals. At least it’s found in mammals I’m not sure if it’s present in reptiles or fish. It might give you a little perspective if we went through a quick timeline starting from when hyaluronic acid was discovered.

1934 – Hyaluronic acid was first isolated from cow eyes in 1934 and it was given its name from the term “hyaloid” which means glassy. (Because hyaluronic acid gel is so clear and glass like.)

1930-40s – Hyaluronic acid was isolated from other sources including umbilical cords and rooster combs.

1951 – Chemists first determined the structure of hyaluronic acid.

1970s – We began to understand how hyaluronic acid interacts with cartilage which is why its such a good joint lubricant.

1980s- The 1980s saw the first cosmetic application of hyaluronic acid. When the stuff first burst on the antiaging scene I was working for a small high end cosmetics company that used it. At the time it was very expensive because it was sourced from rooster combs. As I recall it was about $500 a kilo maybe more.

1999- Researchers figured out how to clone hyaluronic acid from bacteria (specifically Group A Streptococcus). The bacterial type was lower molecular weight but it was cheaper and didn’t involve animal sourcing. But there’s some danger of contamination with strep toxins.

2003: The FDA approved hyaluronic acid approved as an injectable for facial lines and wrinkles.

2010 and beyond – In the last few years a new method has been developed that makes hyaluronic acid from a safe bacterial strain called Bacillus subtilis. So today state of the art hyaluronic acid is free from contamination, not made from animals, and is made without the use of organic solvents.

What does hyaluronic acid do?

We mentioned that hyaluronic acid is found in places like the fluid filled area of the eye and in joints. That’s because its ability to retain high levels of water. It’s also very viscous, very thick, yet it thins out during shear stress so hyaluronic acid is said to be “ideal as a biological lubricant.”  The average person has about 15 grams of hyaluronic acid in their body at any given time and about one third of that is turned over every day. There are enzymes that produce hyaluronic acid and other enzymes that break it down so it’s constantly being recycled.

Restoring lost hyaluronic acid can be an effective treatment for a number of conditions. For example, it’s injected into joints to treat osteoarthritis. (It can be taken orally as well but it’s not as effective.) It’s also used in eye surgeries like cataract removal and cornea transplants where it is injected directly into the eye. And of course, it’s also found in skin, where it helps keep it plump and wrinkle free.

Over time our bodies produce less hyaluronic acid and that’s another contributing cause of wrinkles. And that brings us to the key question…is hyaluronic acid a good skin care ingredient? There are 3 or 4 different levels to that question because you can restore hyaluronic acid different ways. (Much like our discussion of collagen back in Episode 73)

It’s used as an injectable filler, a topical moisturizer, a cell communicating ingredient, and as a dietary supplement. Let’s look at each of these to see what hyaluronic acid really does for skin. Once again we’ll be using the three Kligman questions which as if science has a mechanism to explain HOW it works, if the ingredient PENETRATES skin, and if there are any credible studies proving that it works on real people. Let’s start by talking about hyaluronic acid as an injectable filler.

Hyaluronic acid as an injectable filler

It’s always easier to talk about a treatment that’s been approved by the FDA because you know there’s plenty of research behind it. In this case, we know that injectable hyaluronic acid really works to plump up wrinkles. The mechanism is simply the physical force of the high MW polymer. It penetrates because a needle is used to bypass the outer layers of skin, and we know it really works for for filling wrinkles and that it typically lasts for six months.

Of course, just as with collagen or any other filler, you have to visit a professional to have the treatment done, it can be rather expensive, HOW MUCH, and it has to be redone every several months. Even though it works this approach isn’t for everyone.

Hyaluronic acid as a moisturizer

Is there a mechanism?
The mechanism of moisturization is the way that hyaluronic acid can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water. It’s very unusual for a polymer to hold on to THAT much water.

Does it penetrate?
Since this kind of moisturization works at the surface of skin, hyaluronic acid doesn’t really need to penetrate in order to be able to work. It just has to be deposited on the surface of skin. That means it needs to be applied from a substantial, leave on product. Don’t waste your money on expensive hyaluronic acid products that are rinsed off (like cleansers) or ones that don’t apply a significant amount to your face (like a toner.)

Are there studies to prove it works?
Yes. For example, here’s one study from a 1999 Shiseido research paper that measured the moisturizing effect of hyaluronic acid the Sodium Acetyl version) on Guinea pig skin. It’s not difficult to prove this using a number of different techniques.

There is one interesting concern that has been raised about hyaluronic acid and other ingredients like glycerin that bind water to the skin: In dry climates, where there’s little moisture in the air, these ingredients may actually pull water OUT of the skin, and bring it to the surface where it can evaporate. In other words, these ingredients may actually make your skin drier. The best defense against that is to not rely on serums that are based ONLY on hyaluronic acid or glycerin. Instead, use a cream or lotion that also contains occlusive ingredients that can lock water into the skin.

So at the end of the day, hyaluronic acid is a good topical moisturizing ingredient but there are LOTS of good moisturizing ingredients out there. If you are going to spend a lot of money on an hyaluronic acid product at least make sure it contains a good level of hyaluronic acid. You’ll have to read the label carefully. Let’s look at a couple of examples:

Sephora sells Peter Thomas Roth’s “VIZ-1000™ 75 percent Hyaluronic Acid Complex.” When I saw this I thought wow, that’s a high concentration HA. I don’t even know if you can make it that concentrated. But when I looked at the ingredient list I saw a bunch of extracts listed first and hyaluronic acid was listed as the 25th or 26th ingredient. It was almost last. If this is truly a 75% hyaluronic acid product then it would have to be the first or second ingredient. What’s going on here? Read the name carefully – It’s the 75% hyaluronic acid COMPLEX. So what they’ve done is taken hyaluronic acid, mixed it with a bunch of extracts that don’t do anything, and used 75% of this mixture. That doesn’t mean it contains a useful level of hyaluronic acid! This may be a perfectly fine product but that’s a very shady way of approaching the marketing.

By comparison, look at this Skinceuticals Hydrating B5 Gel. It doesn’t even have hyaluronic acid in the name, yet its the second ingredient. Of course it could still be used at a low level but you have to appreciate the difference in marketing approach.

Hyaluronic acid as a “cell communicating” ingredient

Is there a mechanism?
Cell communicating ingredients are active ingredients that aren’t just superficial moisturizers. They may actually have an effect on underlying skin biology. I say “may” because the data on these ingredients is still sketchy and depending on the effect they have they could considered to be drugs. Still, there seems to be a growing body of evidence that some ingredients work this way. Surprisingly, hyaluronic acid may be in this category.

One study, performed at the University of Regensburg in Germany, measured the effect of hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid on gene expression. They used DNA-chip technology and reconstructed human skin to find that hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid changed the regulation of more than 40 genes including those responsible for cell to cell adhesion. Their conclusion was that this model could explain how hyaluronic acid improves skin tautness.

Another in vitro study found that supplemental hyaluronic acid may help stimulate collagen production. But this one was just done on cells in a lab and is not very definitive. Besides, hyaluronic acid is way too big to penetrate the skin. Right?

Does it penetrate?
I have to say that it was quite surprising for us to find out that hyaluronic acid may actually penetrate the skin! Why is this so surprising? Two reasons. First, hyaluronic acid molecules are too big. They’re about 3,000 nm in diameter and the space between skin cells is only about 15 to 50 nm. Theoretically there’s no way a molecule that large should be able to make its way through the skin. Second, hyaluronic acid is very hydrophilic, or water loving, and we know that to penetrate skin substances have to be more oleophillic, or oil loving. That’s why water soluble AHA’s are good on the surface of skin but oil soluble BHAs are better to penetrate pores to treat acne. So hyaluronic acid has two strikes against it.

But it turns out there are actually two ways hyaluronic acid may be penetrating. First, recent research in hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid shows that it can be made small enough to slip between these intercellular space. This hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid is chopped up into pieces with a molecular weight of about about 50 kDaltons. The researchers found that this could penetrate pigs ears. (Evonik study)

And second, the big shock was that even the full size molecules may be able to penetrate because the configuration of the molecule may over come the electric charge issue that comes from being hydrophilic. This was a 1999 study from the Journal of Investigative Dermatology titled Absorption of Hyaluronan Applied to the Surface of Intact Skin. The researchers radioactively tagged hyaluronic acid and applied it to both hairless mice and human forearm skin. Results showed that in both mice and humans, hyaluronic acid penetrated deep into the epidermis, the dermis and the lymphatic endothelium. They also found hyaluronic acid metabolites in blood and urine in the mice. This is the first and only study we’re aware of to show that full size hyaluronic acid penetrates deep into the dermis where it accumulates briefly before being degraded by enzymes. The researchers also said that not a lot ends up in the dermis and that it doesn’t stay there very long. But it really may penetrate!

Are there studies to prove it works?
The cell communicating properties of hyaluronic acid don’t seem to be very well studied yet but we did find a couple of relevant papers. One long term, placebo controlled in vivo study assessed the effect of hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid on skin elasticity and roughness. They found the formula with hyaluronic acid significantly increased elasticity (by about 14%) and significantly reduced roughness (by about 10%). That’s not a huge effect but it’s interesting.

Another study, from the The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology looked promising because it found that Hyaluronic acid can “boost skin’s moisture content, reduce inflammation, have cell-communicating abilities, and help prevent moisture loss.”

Finally, for what it’s worth, we found another study on “nano” hyaluronic acid which was reduced to 5nm so it could penetrate. But the study was NOT blind or placebo controlled. They just applied an HA cream for several weeks and the results are compared to untreated skin. http://jcadonline.epubxp.com/i/282497/17.

So, while we’d like to see more definitive research, it does appear that hyaluronic acid may be a cell communicating ingredient.

Hyaluronic acid as an ingestible dietary supplement

Is there a mechanism?
Finally let’s talk about hyaluronic acid as a dietary supplement. Mechanistically speaking this could work. We found a study titled “Dietary hyaluronic acid migrates into the skin of rats” which showed that when rats orally ingest radio-tagged hyaluronic acid, it shows up in their skin. About 90% of it was broken down in the digestive track but some did make its way to the dermis.

Does it penetrate?
Since it appears in blood and skin after ingestion, it appears to be “penetrating” via the digestive system.

Are there studies to prove it works?
Besides this study on rats we couldn’t find any studies on the benefits of ingested hyaluronic acid for skin in humans. The best thing we could find was a 2015 meta analysis of the studies using hyaluronic acid to treat osteoarthritis. According to the researchers, and I quote “Despite the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ recommendation against the use of hyaluronic acid in OA, some systematic reviews found some benefits in the knee.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25633815. So that’s not very encouraging but the area is also not very well studied.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Hyaluronic acid certainly works as an injectable but that’s not for everyone.

Hyaluronic acid is a good moisturizer but expensive compared to other options.

Hyaluronic acid MAY, repeat MAY have unexpected anti-aging properties but not fully understood.

There’s a mechanism to explain how it may benefit the skin when ingested but we couldn’t find any reliable studies confirming this on real people.

Please review us on iTunes!

We’d really appreciate it if you could review us on iTunes, here’s the link the Beauty Brains on iTunes.

Here’s a shout out to listeners who wrote awesome reviews for us. Thanks you guys!!

  • Citizen Viv
  • Beautybrainiac
  • ChemGuru

Steven says…What are your thoughts on perfluorocarbons in skin care? I’ve noticed the use of Perfluorodecalin and Perfluoromethyl-cyclopentane as a slip agent in some formulations. As well they are purported to deliver oxygen to the skin. Perfluorodecalin has been used in this way to enhance wound healing…However I know that perfluorocarbons in general can be environmental pollutants and can also bioaccumulate. Is their any justification in their use in skin care products?

The Beauty Brains responddiving-378214_1280

Perfluorodecalin is a fluorocarbon which, as Steven pointed out, is used skin moisturizers.

What does perfluorodecalin do?

It is notable for its ability to dissolve up to 49% of its volume in oxygen. This property makes it valuable in wound healing products because application of oxygen can “activate the inflammatory cells of the immune system that help healing.” (Reference: ScienceDaily.) For example we found this interesting paper on the use of perfluorodecalin enemas to treat irritable bowels. (You can write your own joke for that punchline.)

Is it good for skin?

Do I think use of this ingredient is “justified” in moisturizers? Well, while it’s ability to solubilize oxygen is impressive for medical applications, I can’t think of any reason why it would help fight wrinkles. Oxygen, by definition, oxidizes. Anti-aging products contain antioxidants to fight oxidation (from free radicals that can prematurely age skin.) Oxygen is the Anti-antioxidant! (The Un-antioxidant? De-antioxidant?) If there’s a rationale for why this is good for skin, I’d love to hear it.

What about perfluorodecalin’s ability to moisturize? Some of the brands we looked at referred to clinical studies showing an increase in skin moisturization and a decrease in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. But any decent anti-aging product will provide these benefits, you don’t need such a high-tech (and expensive) ingredient for that.

Is it bad for the environment?

Then there are the health and environmental issues that Steven raised. While we couldn’t find any data on bioaccumulation we did find this study that indicates perfluorodecalin can has a high GWP (Global Warming Potential.) That, and the fact that it so it will hang around in the atmosphere for along time because it doesn’t degrade easily, does seem concerning.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

While perfluorodecalin appears to be valuable for medical applications I could find no evidence suggesting it provides any differentiated skin care benefits compared to conventional moisturizing agents.

Image credit: Pixabay


Which hair products are good for working out?

Kenya’s question…I was just discussing with a good friend of mine on how to get women active and workout more when they’re constantly worrying about their hair. We determined that it has to be the types of products and not knowing how to properly style or care for their hair which often discourages them from working out. Crazy, right?! But, my question is–are there any products out there that can help women maintain their hair so they can’t use the excuse to not work out is because it ruins their hair? Good luck answering this one. I really struggled to find the right way to word this question…lol!!! I know the answer really depends on many factors, like hair type, possibly length, and others, but there has to be something out there (product wise) that can help, so there’s not anymore excuses to get healthy!

The Beauty Brains respondbicycle-bike-foot-1009

There is no definitive technical answer but we thought this was such a good question that we wanted to share it in the hopes that the Beauty Brains community can provide some good suggestions. Having said all that, if you don’t want to work out because you have to shampoo your hair, here are a few product ideas that could help erase your excuse.

Dry Shampoo

Don’t have time to wash your hair after a sweaty workout? A spray of dry shampoo can refresh your style without all the hassle of actually washing your hair.


You would work out but you don’t want to have to wash your hair again because it’s damaging? Try a co-wash product like Salon Grafix Conditioning Cleanser. It’s less stressful on your hair than regular shampoo and conditioner.

Conditioning stylers

You don’t work out because re-styling hair takes too much time? You can reduce the time it takes to style your hair (and the time it takes to wash styling products out of your hair) if you use cream-based stylers instead of traditional gels and hairsprays.

Do YOU have any suggestions for Kenya and all the other would-be worker outers? Leave a comment and share your thoughts with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.

{ 1 comment }

A guide to cosmetic ingredients for the perplexed

Do you ever wonder about all those cosmetic ingredients you slather on your body everyday? Here’s a resource that you’ll find very helpful.


Fellow cosmetic scientist and friend of the Brains, Colin Sanders, has just released “A Guide to Cosmetic Ingredients for the Perplexed.” Colin calls this a “mini-book” but it covers nearly 50 different ingredients in as many pages so it’s packed with useful information. Vitamins, oils, waxes, anti-aging ingredients are all touched on here.

If you want to be more educated about the beauty products you buy check it out!

If you’re in the U.S., buy A Guide To Cosmetic Ingredients For The Perplexed here.

If you’re one of those U.K. blokes (is that the right term?) you should go here.


How can Listerine claim to make your mouth “dentist clean?” Perry and I break it down for you in this week’s show. And…more beauty science news!

Take our St. Patrick’s Day Beauty Science Quiz!

Are these statements about Irish Spring soap true or false? Listen to the show for the answers.

1. The first Irish Spring commercial in 1972 featured the same voice actor who did the Leprechaun from Lucky Charms cereal.
2. “Manly but I like it too” is arguably Irish Spring’s most famous slogan. One of its lesser known slogans was “You smell like you’re worth exploring.”
3. When Irish Spring launched in 1970, the first country it launched in was not Ireland but Germany.
4. The original Irish Spring soap bar contained Irish Moss Extract.
5. Irish Spring’s late 1990s “Up your kilt” campaign was dropped in the EU because it was too perceived to be too Anti-Scottish.

Claim to Fame: Can mouthwash really make your mouth “dentist clean?”

This is the segment where we look at the claims of popular beauty products and explain what the claim really means, how the company might support the claim, and most importantly, if the claim really makes enough of a difference for you to buy the product. Today we’re talking about Listerne Ultra Clean mouthwash.

Here’s the claim:

“Powerful DENTIST CLEAN feeling up to 3x longer*”
*vs brushing alone.


What does the claim mean?

What do you think when you first see the claim in this picture?  When I saw it, the words “DENTIST CLEAN” jumped out at me because they’re in a much larger, bold font. So I thought this product makes your mouth as clean as a visit to the dentist. That’s impressive.

The second thing that struck me was the numerical part of the claim because it says it lasts three times longer. Wow that is a powerful claim. How the heck do they do that?

Finally the first part of the claim caught my eye which says “feeling.” Then I realized what they had done. They’re not claiming your mouth is as clean as a dentist makes it or that that cleanliness last longer than a dental visit. They’re saying it makes your mouth feel as clean as a dentist visit. That’s much different! It also makes it clear that they’re just comparing the mouthwash performance to to brushing alone. Now that we understand the entire claim in its entirety, let’s talk about how they could support this.

How could they support this claim?

It’s really deceptively simple. Since they have defined the claim as a feeling they don’t have to do any instrumental analysis or chemical analysis. They can simply use a consumer panel. They could ask panelists something like… “on a 1 to 5 scale rate how clean your mouth feels after a dentist visit’ and then on that same scale rate “how clean your mouth feels after using this product.” Or they could say something like “Compared to a trip to the dentist rate how clean this product makes your mouth feel.”

Another set of questions could be crafted to support the 3x longer claim. Again one question could be “how long does your mouth feel clean after brushing alone” and another could be “How long does your mouth feel clean after using Listerine.” The difference doesn’t even have to be that great. For example if brushing alone makes your mouth feel fresh for 20 minutes and this product makes it feel fresh for an hour you have data to support three times longer.

Once again this is our guess of how they support the claim – they could be doing something much more rigorous and involved but I don’t think you would really need to. What we’ve just described is enough to establish basic clean support.

Should this claim persuade you to buy the product?

There’s nothing here that indicates this product is better than any other mouthwash. If they said “Listerine keeps your mouth feeling fresh three times longer than Scope” then that might be a compelling reason to buy one over the other. Without that kind of relevant comparison this claim isn’t very compelling and certainly shouldn’t be the thing to make you buy the product. (That doesn’t mean this is a bad product – it just means don’t be tricked into buying a product just based on the claims.)

Review us on iTunes!

We’d really appreciate it if you could review us on iTunes, here’s the link the Beauty Brains on iTunes.

And here’s what some of our international fans have said…

Cayetana from Mexico says “You will learn, laugh and save a buck or two next time you buy cosmetics.”

HalfPintPete from Sweden likes how we “tackle controversial aspects , such as natural greenwashing, animal testing, and the lies that some companies use to make us buy their products.” He recommends the show to “everyone who would like to know more about the secrets behind the makeup.”

Marie from Belgium says “Love the show – hate the catchphrase”

Beauty Science News

More on self preserving cosmetics
I want to start with a follow up to our discussion on self preserving products from a few weeks ago.

We talked about Lush products and that self preserving systems may have a shorter shelf life. Therefore if you buy a big jar of a self preserved product you may having to throw it away before you use it up. Obviously that’s not a good value for the consumer.

After that show we were contacted by a start up cosmetic company that has a novel approach that could help solve that problem. The company is Stowaway Cosmetics and they make cosmetics in teeny tiny sizes. The founder of the company, Julie Fredrickson, described their proposition like this: For example…”mascara expires way before you can use it but BIG MAKEUP still sells enormous sizes that no one can finish because we all seem to have bought into the idea that more is better.”

I was intrigued by this – smaller sizes are used up more quickly which MAY make it easier to get by with a self-preserving system. I also found it interesting that they were able to devise smaller sizes of lipsticks and mascaras – that’s easier said than done because it requires custom packaging development.

In the spirit of transparency, I have to say that they were kind enough to send us some free samples to try. And, according to our product evaluator they’re all terrific. So, if you find this approach appealing, you can find them at Stowawaycosmetics.com

A final note of self-preserved systems…I just read that a European company is putting preservatives into the plastic packaging so the product itself can be unpreserved or at least minimally preserved. It’ll be interesting to see if this catches on.

Silicones from cosmetics are unexpectedly found in the Antarctic
Here’s something many of you may have not considered. Your hair shine spray may be contaminating Antarctica. How’s that you say? You’ve never been to Antarctica you say? Well, it comes down to silicones. There is a common ingredient in shine sprays called Cyclomethicone. You’ll also find it in hair conditioners, skin lotions, and any other place where you want to get the benefits of silicone without the negative side effect of it weighing down hair and building up.

Silicones are used in cosmetics because they provide excellent shine, they’re very slippery, and they can feel nice on the surface. Cyclomethicone is particularly useful because it is a volatile ingredient which means that it evaporates. Another silicone called Dimethicone is also commonly used but once you put it on your skin or hair it stays there where it can attract dirt and build up over time.

But cyclomethicone just evaporates away. And this is the problem. Scientists thought that silicone would just evaporate into the atmosphere and get broken down by hydroxyl radical in the atmosphere. The molecules would degrade so there wouldn’t be any significant build up in the environment. But it turns out that cyclomethicone doesn’t degrade as readily as was thought. These researchers found an abundant amount of cycsiloxanes in a couple pristine, remote ecosystems which prompted them to investigate other places on the planet.

They took some soil samples from a variety of locations in Antarctica and were surprised to find the presence of cyclic volatile methylsiloxanes. These are the same ingredients used in cosmetics. Somehow the molecules evaporate into the atmosphere, get spread around the planet, then fall back to Earth (probably trapped in snow flakes or something).

So, your cosmetics could be contaminating Antarctica.

Before you start calling for a ban on cyclomethicone in cosmetics (it’s already been done by a lot of groups actually), you should consider two things. First, this work needs to be repeated. It’s really easy to contaminate the samples and until another lab repeats the investigation we can’t be certain that these results are real. Science always requires duplication.

Second, there is no evidence that the compound has any negative effect on the environment. Just because you find an ingredient in the soil doesn’t mean that it will automatically be a negative thing. It might, or maybe not.

So, if you are super cautious about you impact on the environment you might want to avoid products with cyclomethicone. But in reality, you’re probably not making much difference anyway.

Don’t use crayons as makeup!
 There’s a thread on Reddit called Makeup Addition which has some very interesting discussions. One poster gave an 4 point excellent explanation of why you shouldn’t use crayons as makeup – which I’ll quickly review.

The first point had to do with crayons being “non-toxic.” If crayons are non-toxic why couldn’t they be used in makeup? It’s probably because the lack of toxicity refers to a kid accidentally eating a crayon one time. That doesn’t mean the product is designed to be used on your lips where it can be ingested over a long period of time. It’s the whole “dose makes the poison” discussion.

The second has to do with what happens to a crayon when it is accidentally swallowed. The wax that is typically used in crayons has a higher melting temperature than body temperature and crayons aren’t very soluble in acid so a lot of pigments stay stuck in the wax mixture and just pass through your body. But, when crayons are used to make makeup they may be mixed with a wax or oil with a lower melting point to make it spreadable. That could change the solubility of the pigments and make them more likely to be absorbed by your body, which is not good.

Third, and perhaps the most critical point, is that crayons don’t use colorants that are approved by the FDA for on the lips. These are strictly regulated in cosmetics but in crayons they are not.

And lastly is the practical consideration that crayons dont make very good lipstick. They don’t spread well and they won’t stay on your lips the way a well formulated product will. So, all things considered, this is not a good idea.

More beauty bloggers launching their own cosmetic line
I see that a bunch of beauty bloggers are making a splash by launching their own brands. According to this Yahoo! Beauty article they are giving supermodels and celebrities a run for their money in terms of product endorsements. The most famous beauty blogger turned cosmetic brand is Michelle Phan who made a splash last year or the year before by launch a brand with L’Oreal. Well there are others including Emily Weiss who has a line of moisturizers and lip balms, Cara Brook who has a makeup line, Elizabeth Dehn who has a line of Organic beauty products, and a surprising entry…a guy, Eric Bandholz who has a brand called Beardbrand. He’s got a red beard and a good following so I guess that makes sense. I’ll be curious to see how these brands do. I mean if you can get a following on the Internet you should be able to get enough consumers to buy your stuff.

Hey, why don’t we have our own beauty brand? We’ve got a big audience and we’ve been at this a lot longer than many of these people. Actually, we have thought of it but there are a number of reasons we haven’t launched our own line. Mainly, it’s pretty hard to tell people about the BS claims of the cosmetic world while simultaneously trying to sell them products. You should always be hyper skeptical of anyone who is giving you advice about a product they are selling.

Reverse shampoo to get rid of gunk
After being in the industry for so long I thought I’d seen it all but here’s an interesting shampoo tip that I’ve never heard of.

This comes from Herbal Essences celebrity stylist Charles Baker Strahan who says that styling products are hard to wash out because when water comes in contact with styling gunk “it congeals and acts as a barrier, so your shampoo can’t get in and break it up.” His solution is to apply shampoo directly to dry hair and THEN get in the shower to rinse it out. This way the styling gunk doesn’t have a chance to congeal and create that blockage. Therefore, your shampoo cleans your hair better. Isn’t that interesting?

It’s true that styling resins can swell up and form an outer layer that is hydrated which then slows the penetration of water to the inner layer. That’s especially true for some old school styling agents like PVP. It’s also true that modern styling polymers are very water resistant which is why you can’t wash them out very well with water alone.

I think this tip MAY help. The advantage is that it does put a higher relative concentration of surfactant in contact with the gunk that you want to wash away. But, there are there are two potential downsides. One is that some styling agents are more cationic and shampoos tend to be anionic which means they could form an insoluble complex.

The other issue is one of potential irritation. You’re putting a higher concentration of surfactant in direct contact with your skin which could make it more irritating. I don’t think this is a huge risk but it’s worth mentioning.

But the best thing is we don’t have to just speculate on this. You could easily do one of our half head tests to get to the bottom of it. Assuming you’ve styled your hair such that you have equal amounts of styling gunk on both sides you could just sort of split your hair down the middle and to one half apply shampoo first and on the other half don’t apply anything. Then get in the shower and wet your hair and apply shampoo to the other side. After washing and rinsing if you can’t tell a difference between the two sides then this method probably isn’t providing any benefit.

Beauty beverages are the fastest growing segment in beauty products
Here’s a story I saw about the drinkable beauty market. We’ve talked a bit about the ‘beauty from within’ trend in the past and I’m always intrigued to see where this is going. In truth, there isn’t a lot of science to support the notion that you can drink your way to better skin but I do believe that eventually this could be the future of cosmetics. Wouldn’t it be a lot easier just to drink your beauty products rather than having to smear them on your skin?

According to market analysts the nutricosmetics market will reach $7.4 billion in worldwide says. That’s a lot! To give you an idea of comparison the natural cosmetic market is about $30 billion. The total cosmetic market is about $450 billion. But they say the nutricosmetics, or ingestible cosmetics as I like to say is the strongest growing segment. It also represents the intersection between the cosmetic industry and the beverage industry.

I think cosmetic companies are in a better spot to take advantage of this trend but companies like Coke and Pepsi might also try their hand at these types of products. After all, it will likely be food scientists formulating these products. This is a good reason for cosmetic scientists to brush up on their food product formulating. The ingredients are a bit different.

They say that there is a bunch of research that documents the links between beauty, health and supplements but the reality is there isn’t much good research. In fact, like I said there is scant evidence that any supplement can be taken to specifically improve your skin condition.

I guess it doesn’t matter much though because we live in a world where people want to believe. People want to believe that taking vitamins or other supplements will improve their health and now apparently, their appearance too.

It’s also an area that is much less regulated than cosmetics so these companies can make much stronger claims without as much data to back up what they are saying. And consumers keep buying…sigh.

Anyway, look for more of these beauty products to be launched in the future. Just don’t look for them to actually work at least any time soon. The science just isn’t there.


A Super Duper way to save money on nail polish

One of the core themes we talk about here on the Beauty Brains  is how to save money by finding less expensive versions of premium products. So when we were contacted by Lizzy, the inventor of the Super Duper nail polish app, you can imagine our how intrigued we were.

What is Super Duper?

The idea behind Lizzy’s app is simple. You enter your favorite premium nail polish product and the app will spit out a comparable nail polish color from a much cheaper brand.  Super Duper is smartly designed, it seems to work quite well, and best of all it’s free.

(Note: Smart phone beauty apps are not always that great. For example there’s the “Think Dirty” app that claims it can help spot products with dangerous ingredients. Unfortunately, as we talked about before, determining the safety of a cosmetic product is not nearly that simple!)

Kudos to Lizzy for putting “beauty before brands” and we wish her luck with future efforts to save consumers money. You can get Super Duper here.

Do you have any favorite beauty themed smart phone apps that you like? Leave a comment and share your favorites with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.


How can I tell the percentage of ingredients in cosmetics?

Rae really wants to know…Hi, in your blog you talked about the 1% line. I’m not a cosmetic chemist and I kind of always wondered how to guestimate where the 1% line is. So my question is, if you’re not a cosmetic chemist, what’s a good guide to know more or less the ratio of an ingredient to the whole product?

The Beauty Brains respond

This is a really tricky question because there is no single answer that covers all products. But we can give you a very rough, general rule of thumb to follow.

Ingredients in cosmeticsRainbow_of_food_natural_food_colors

The vast majority of cosmetic products are water based. These include emulsion products (oils mixed with water) like skin lotions and hair conditioners as well as surfactant products (detergents mixed with water) like body washes, shampoos and facial washes. In these product water, of course, will almost always be the first ingredient in the list. After that, the next 4 or 5 ingredients are usually the ones responsible for the primary functional properties of the product – in other words they are the cleansers that make it foam or the conditioners that make your hair and skin feel soft. The same principle applies to powder based products (like eyeshadow, foundation, and baby powder) as well as solvent based products (like water-free hairsprays and silicone shine sprays.) So the magic rule of thumb is the first 5 ingredients are the ones that matter the most. After the fifth ingredient everything else is probably below the 1% line. This is where a lot of “snake oil” ingredients hide.

The 1%

Now, before you start an “Occupy Cosmetics” movement to complain about the 1%, let me point out that this doesn’t mean that none of the ingredients below the 1% line matter. For example, certain active ingredients (like retinol for skin) are used at levels below 1%. Pigments are always used at very low levels yet they are critically important to color cosmetics. And preservatives are only used at a few tenths of percent, yet I wouldn’t want to buy a product without them! There are many exceptions to this “First Five” rule.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

This rule of thumb is about the best guideline we can give to help you guestimate the level of ingredients in cosmetics. But that’s just our humble opinion: If there are any other cosmetic scientists reading this post we’d love to hear if you have a different perspective. And if anyone has a question about a specific ingredient in a particular product, we’d be glad to help answer any questions. Just leave a comment on this post or start a thread our Forum.


Is collagen a good anti-aging ingredient? Episode 73

Do you wonder which anti-aging ingredients really work? Today we’re starting a new series where we review the evidence to find out. We begin with a look at collagen. 

Which anti-aging ingredients really work?

When it comes to anti-aging products it’s easy to be tricked into spending a lot of money on products that aren’t worth it.  That’s because there’s so much pseudoscientific misinformation out there about anti-aging cosmetic ingredients. Also, once you buy an anti-aging product, it takes you a long time to determine if it’s really working for you or not.  That’s why we’re going to focus some of our podcast episodes on specific anti-aging ingredients, starting with collagen.

What is collagen?


The word collagen comes from two Greek terms: kolla meaning “glue” and gen meaning “producing.” That’s because glue was originally made by boiling horse skin. It makes sense that collagen has glue-like properties considering the role it plays in biology – it’s a type of connective tissue that helps other structures “stick” together. In skin, collagen is part of the matrix that keeps it firm and plump and most people know that when skin loses collagen you develop wrinkles. The beauty industry has done a pretty good job of educating consumers on that much but there’s a lot of misunderstanding of what collagen is as a cosmetic ingredient and what it can do for your skin. Let’s start with a brief explanation of the types of collagen and the different forms that it takes.

Types of collagen

Collagen is a protein (which means it’s made of long strings of amino acids) and it’s very rich in two amino acids in particular: proline and hydroxyproline. Its structure is rather complicated, to say the least, but here’s a quick breakdown: The amino acids link together to form long chains called peptides. Peptides form even longer chains called polypeptides. Three polypeptides wrap around each other to form a bundle that is called pro-collagen. Pro-collagen then turns into tropocollagen which is a single collagen fiber. A bunch of tropocollagen fibers bundle together to form fibrils. And a bunch of fibrils form a macro-fiber.

Depending on which amino acids are hooked together and how they form these sub structures you can generate 28 or 29 different types of collagen. Not all of these are relevant to a discussion of skin. For example Collagen XXII is present only at tissue junctions like those found in skeletal and heart muscle. We’ll just mention the 5 or 6 types that are important components of skin.

  • Collagen I: This is the common form of collagen in the human body and it’s the end product when tissue repair. It’s a very tough and strong version.
  • Collagen III: Is found in fast growing tissue especially in early stages of wound repair. It’s typically replaced later by Type I.
  • Collagen V and VI: Both are typically found alongside type I.
  • Collagen VII: Is crucial for skin integrity even though it’s present at very low amounts (about 0.001% of total collagens.) Collagen VII acts as an anchor between the layers of the dermal-epidermal junction.
  • Collagen XII: Is found with types I and III.

Just in case this isn’t confusing enough, in addition to the different TYPES of collagen, there are also different FORMS of each type of collagen.

Forms of collagen

Soluble collagen
Let’s start with soluble collagen. Remember the process by which collagen is formed? If you extract collagen early in that process when it’s not fully formed you get soluble collagen. This usually comes from younger animals. Soluble collagen is thought to penetrate skin better but we’ll get to that in a minute. This form is used in cosmetics but not as often as the third type we’ll get to that.

Then there’s native collagen. This is essentially the fully formed, mature version. It’s has a very high molecular weight and its a very large molecule.

Finally there’s hydrolyzed collagen which is type most commonly used in cosmetics. It’s formed by taking mature collagen and chemically chopping it up into tiny bits.

Collagen bonus fact: If you heat collagen you can cause its three tropocollagen strands to partially or completely separate. The resulting mixture of these randomized protein coils is what we call gelatin.

Is collagen good for your skin?

Next we’re going to talk about the different approaches to restoring collagen in your skin. Here are a couple of things to understand for this discussion.

First, we’re talking about collagen as an ingredient and not other agents that can boost collagen production. That’s for another day.

Second, keep in mind that the only place you can get collagen is from animals. There are marine sources so you can get it from fish but there are no vegetable sources or synthetic sources of true collagen. So if any of our listeners are into vegan-only products you may want to excuse yourself from the rest of the show.

Third, and most important, the effectiveness collagen totally depends on how you’re introducing it into your body: You can rub it on your skin from a lotion, you can swallow it as a dietary supplement, or you can have it injected directly into your skin. The benefits of these approaches are dramatically different and we’ll be reviewing the evidence for each using the Kligman questions as a framework.

As a reminder, the Kligman questions were established by famous cosmetic dermatologist Albert Kligman to establish the validity of any anti aging treatment. The questions are: is there a mechanism for how the ingredients works? Does it penetrate skin? Are there proper studies on real people which show it works? Let’s start by answering these three questions for topical collagen – collagen that’s applied from a cream or lotion.

Topical collagen

Kligman question 1 is there a mechanism?
Sort of. We know that if you can jam more collagen in the appropriate location with in the skin, the skin will appear plumper and more youthful. However here’s the problem: you can’t “jam” collagen deep into the skin just by applying it from a cream or lotion. That’s the essence of the second question. does it penetrate.

Kligman question 2: does it penetrate?


I found an article titled “Studies of the penetration of native collagen,collagen alpha chains,and collagen cyanogen bromide peptides through hairless mouse skin in vitro.” Surprisingly, this hasn’t been thoroughly studied. It appears that skin scientists just assume that collagen won’t penetrate because it’s so big. But in this 1988 study they did look at it and found that there is some penetration surprisingly. Not sure why, but there may have just been fragments of larger molecules that penetrated. The bottom line is that it doesn’t really mater because according to the researchers…

“Even if native collagen could penetrate to the dermis, it is inconceivable that the molecules could form fibers or integrate with existing collagen fibers because the precursors for fiber assembly are soluble procollagen molecules.”

So, all this means that there is no evidence that applying large collagen molecules actually penetrate to where they need to be to work.

We’ve seen this conclusion echoed by other beauty science bloggers such such as the Cosmetic Cop who says that…

“Collagen and elastin in skin-care products can serve as good water-binding agents, but they cannot fuse with your skin’s natural supply of these supportive elements. In most cases, the collagen molecule is too large to penetrate into the skin. But even when it is made small enough to be absorbed it cannot bind with the collagen existing in skin, and there isn’t a shred of research indicating otherwise.”

Kligman question 3: Are there studies that prove it works?
Considering the answer to the second question, it’s not surprising that we couldn’t find any studies which prove topical collagen really will have a lasting effect on wrinkles. It MAY however, have a temporary effect. That’s because collagen is a film former and it can help moisturize skin by reducing water loss or by binding moisture. But while it’s true that collagen can do this its not as effective as the other ingredients such as occlusives and humectants typically used for this purpose. This means it won’t hurt to have collagen in lotion but it also won’t help much. Despite this truth you still see a number of products that market themselves based on collagen.

Here are some examples:

  • St Ives Collagen Elastin Moisturizer
  • Omojo anti-age collagen serum
  • Daggett and Ramsdell collagen serum
  • PCA Skin collagen hydrator
  • Loreal Collagen moisture filler

Injectable collagen

Kligman question 1 is there a mechanism
Next let’s talk about injectable forms of collagen which are well studied. Injectable collagen products have traditionally been made by extracting dermal collagen from cow skin. (Zyderm and Zyplast are two of the most well known.) Since they are made of bovine proteins which can trigger an allergic response, you have to have a test injection a month prior to receiving treatments. There is a newer form called Cosmoderm which is made by purifying human collagen cells and this type doesn’t require the allergy test. Both types work by physically filling in the voids in skin.

Kligman question 2: does it penetrate?
They “penetrate” in the sense that they are injected directly into the dermis and therefore bypass the epidermis.

Kligman question 3: other studies that prove it works?
We know these injectables provide immediate results which last anywhere from three to six months, depending where they’re injected and the type of collagen that is used. After that time, the injected collagen is absorbed by the body and your face returns to its original appearance of the skin surface.

This is a proven method of restoring collagen but since it’s temporary and rather expensive (since it’s done by a dermatologist) this approach isn’t for everyone.

Ingestible collagen

Finally, for every collagen cream or lotion there are dozens of ingestible tablets and powders that claim to improve your skin. Considering how skeptical we are about dietary supplements, you can imagine how doubtful we are that there’s any thing to this. Surprisingly, there may be more to this than we expected.

Kligman question 1 Is there a mechanism?
We did find a couple of studies which appear to establish a mechanism by which ingested collagen could improve the collagen content of skin. One study was done in two parts: The first part was an in vivo test that proved that when you swallow collagen it breaks down into smaller fragments and those fragments, which by the way are di- or tripeptides, can be detected in the blood a few hours after ingestion.

The second part of the study was an in vitro test on human dermal fibroblast cells (the cells responsible for creating new collagen.) The results showed that these peptide fragments DO stimulate the fibroblast cells to proliferate (which means there are more cells producing collagen) and to increase hyaluronic acid synthesis.

The other study was also done in vitro and it showed that ingested hydrolyzed Type I collagen works by changing the balance between production and degradation of collagen. Apparently, digestion breaks the collagen into smaller pieces that can stimulate relevant cells in a way which DOESN’T occur when you rub the stuff on your skin (even if it DID penetrate.) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25342893.

Kligman question 2: does it penetrate?
In this case penetration is achieved by digestion and we know this works because of the presence of collagen fragments in the blood. That leaves the third, and most crucial, question: are there any in vivo studies proving ingested collagen really benefits skin?

Kligman question 3: Are there studies that prove it works?
Again, we found a few studies that look promising. The first one was just a pilot study and it was an open label test which means that it was not blinded or placebo controlled. The researchers had 26 females take a 1 gram of a supplement containing hydrolyzed Type II collagen, hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulfate daily for 6 weeks. They then measured improvement in several factors including the degree of skin dryness and scaling and the degree of lines and wrinkles. Results showed a statistically significant improvement in each of these. Of course this study is not very conclusive because of its small size, the study design (it was not blinded), and the fact that they mixed collagen with other ingredients so you can’t tell what’s really supplying the benefit. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22956862. The second study was a little more robust….

This was a larger study (about 200 people) and it evaluated the effect of daily consumption of a specific type of collagen supplement on facial wrinkles. But it was open label too. Not double blinded. or placebo controlled however. http://www.dovepress.com/daily-consumption-of-the-collagen-supplement-pure-gold-collagenreg-red-peer-reviewed-article-CIA

A third study we found on hydrolyzed collagen was double-blinded and placebo-controlled. It consisted of 69 women who were randomized to receive 2.5 g or 5.0 g of CH or placebo once daily for 8 weeks. The researchers measured changes to skin elasticity, skin moisture, transepidermal water loss and skin roughness. Their results showed a statistically significant increase in skin elasticity at both collagen dosages for the older women in the study. There were directional improvements but no other statistically significant results. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23949208

What does all this mean? I wouldn’t say these studies are conclusive but there are data here to indicate that ingested collagen MAY benefit your skin. So what’s the bottom line on collagen?

The Beauty Brains bottom line

  • Don’t waste your money on expensive collagen creams and lotions as there’s no mechanism and no evidence that they do anything more than moisturize your skin.
  • If you’ve got the money, the time and the tolerance to discomfort, you can have regular injections of collagen.
  • If you have the stomach for it (and the money) you can take a daily does of a collagen supplement but be aware that the evidence is mixed as to whether this really helps much or not.

Improbable Products

Here’s a superhero themed version of the game where Randy challenges me to guess which beauty product is real. I hope you score better than I do!

  1. Batman Aromatherapy Utility Belt
    Next year will see DC comics superman versus Batman movie and if Batman is going to take them Superman he will need to use every trick in the his utility belt. He might even use the new Aromatherapy Utility Belt that allows you to carry scented oils so they’re easily accessible during massage.
  2. Ant Man Hair Growth Cream
    The next big Marvel superhero movie is actually a very tiny one it’s about the crimefighter called Ant-man. He can shrink to the size of an ant and grow back to normal size. And if you want to grow hair you should use this Ant Egg Cream.
  3. Green Lantern wart remover
    In brightest day and blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight. That’s the oath sworn by Green Lantern who fights bad guys with a ring that shoots solid energy constructs made with green light. But did you know that derms are now using a green light laser to kill the virus that causes warts?