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Are omega-3 fatty acids good for skin?  Or, do these oils actually damage your skin? This week Randy and I explain what omegas, polyunsaturated oils, and Essential Fatty Acids really do for your skin. Plus – Beauty Science News!    

Click below to play Episode 41 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show notes

Beauty Science News – Are you science savvy?

I found an interesting article on the top 10 scientific terms that scientists wish you’d stop using incorrectly.Randy and I banter about a few of them including:

  • “Proof”
  • Theory vs hypothesis
  • Nature vs nurture
  • and more!

Question of the week: Are omega fatty acids good for skin?

Ling asks…I read on Beauty Editor that polyunsaturated oils are the cause of skin aging. They also said that Essential Fatty Acids (like Omega 3s) are not really essential. I’m skeptical but can you tell me if this is all really true?

What are PUFAs?

Way back in 1929, George Burr and his wife Mildred discovered that if rats were fed a fat-free diet, their skin would lose the ability to hold moisture. They’d also develop visible skin abnormalities.

Then the Burrs began reintroducing fats into the rats’ diet one at a time until they determined that oils rich in certain polyunsaturated fatty acids (like corn oil and linseed oil) could completely reverse these skin conditions. Oils containing only saturated fatty acids (coconut oil, butter) did not solve the problem. And that’s how the importance of polyunsaturated fatty acids was discovered. It has since been determined that essential fatty acid deficiency (EFAD) in humans also causes symptoms of dermatitis such as scaling and dryness.

So what are these PolyUnsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs)? They’re a class of chemical characterized by the following:

1. A long carbon chain (that’s a defining characteristic of fats and oils.)
This chain ends with a carboxylic acid group which is H-C=0 (This is where it gets the name “acid.”)

2. Two or more of the carbon-carbon bonds in this long fatty chain are double bonds. Remember every carbon atom likes to make bonds to 4 other atoms. In the case of oils, the carbons are bonded to hydrogen atoms. (That’s why oils are called “hydrocarbons.” If the carbon can’t bond to a hydrogen then it forms an extra bond to the carbon next to it. This is called a double bond or an unsaturated bond because it’s not saturated with hydrogen. Conversely, saturated fats have no double bonds because all the carbons are saturated, or bonded with, hydrogen atoms.

  • When an oil is saturated it tends to be a solid at room temperature (like butter.)
  • When an oil is unsaturated it tends to be a liquid at room temperature (like olive oil.)

What are Essential Fatty Acids?

PUFAs, like other lipids, play a critical role in skin biology. Some PUFAs can be manufactured by the body but some PUFAs can ONLY be obtained through diet – in other words, since your body can’t produce them you have to eat them. These PUFAs that must be eaten in order to maintain health skin called Essential Fatty Acids. So EFAs are a subclass of PUFAs. All EFAs are PUFAs but not all PUFAs are EFAs.

There are only two TRUE EFAs:

  • linoleic acid
  • alpha-linolenic acid

By the way, some other fatty acids are sometimes classified as “conditionally essential,” meaning that they can become essential under some developmental or disease conditions; examples include docosahexaenoic acid gamma-linolenic acid.

These are the ones that are most important in the context of skin care because from these two parent compounds, the body synthesizes longer chain derivatives that also have important functions in healthy skin. Without them you’ll develop skin problems like dermatitis.

These are NOT the same as Essential Oils which are a type of perfume ingredient. It has nothing to do with being essential to your body, it’s just a perfumery phrase.

What does the “omega” in omega fatty acids mean?

We just said that EFAs consist of long chain of carbon and hydrogen atoms with a carboxylic acid group at the end. When naming carbon chains we start by labeling the carbon next to the carboxylate which is known as the α carbon, the next carbon is the β carbon, and so forth. The carbon in the last position is labelled as the “omega” carbon which is abbreviated with the last letter in the Greek alphabet which looks like a “w.”

This is important because the properties of the molecule are different depending on the location of the double bonds (the unsaturated part of the chain) in relation to the end of molecule.

So, an omega-3 fatty acid has a double bond on the 3rd carbon from the end while an omega-6 fatty acid has a double bond on the 6 carbon from the end. These are loosely called Omega-3s or Omega-6s or sometimes just Omega fatty acids.

What do EFAs do for skin?

When you ingest these fats they’re absorbed across the intestines and are then processed by the liver for delivery to skin. It’s assumed that they accumulate in the sebaceous glands which then deliver them to the skin’s surface. To some extent you can “bypass” the digestive system by applying EFAs directly to skin. That’s because they provide some benefits when applied directly to the stratum corneum but it’s also because they are absorbed through the skin into the blood stream where they can be redistributed.

Once they reach the epidermis they become part of the extracellular lipid matrix that provides the barrier function of skin. How do they do this? Well, you’ve heard of ceramides, right? EFAs, specifically Linoleic acid (LA),is combined with other molecules to create these ceramides that help control the permeability barrier function of the skin. So they are critical to skin health.

PUFA’s gone bad – the free radical hypothesis

So back to Ling’s question, do PUFAs cause skin aging. As we said a minute ago, PUFAs are some what of a controversy in nutritionist circles. In particular, there is one researcher, Ray Peat who claims they do all sort of horrible things to your metabolism when you ingest them. For example, he says PUFAs are responsible for…

“cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, obesity, stress-induced immunodeficiency, epilepsy, brain swelling, retardation, hardening of the arteries, cataracts, and so on. He says they are “They are possibly the most important toxin for animals.”

We’re not nutritionists so we won’t debate that point but Peat also claims that PUFAs are bad for skin which is relevant to Ling’s question. Peat claims (and we quote) that “Free radicals are reactive molecular fragments that occur even in healthy cells, and can damage the cell. When unsaturated oils are exposed to free radicals, they can create chain reactions of free radicals that spread the damage in the cell, and contribute to the cell’s aging.”

So according to Peat, adding PUFAs to your skin is sort of like pouring gasoline on a fire. You’re adding fuel that can make the UV damage worse. That’s a serious accusation and it is counter to what science has been telling us for years. Is it legit?

Are PUFAs really bad for skin or not?

It is true that these oils oxidize. No question about that. But I couldn’t find any evidence that they are harmful to skin. Peat seems to be the ONLY researcher raising this concern. At least the only one I could find. EVERYTIME I came across an article stating that PUFAs are dangerous to skin the source of their information was one of Peat’s articles. And by the way, as far as I could tell, he hasn’t been published in any peer reviewed scientific journal.

These articles are well referenced – at least regarding nutrition. His articles include dozens of citations for scientific studies going back 70 years or more. But in all his references I could not find a single study that corroborated his claim that polyunsaturated oils are bad for skin. I may have missed it – but I couldn’t find it. In fact, when I reviewed the technical literature all I could were studies that confirmed what we have always been told about these oils which is that they are essential for skin health.

These oils do oxidize and I did find some research addressing this problem. Not from a “ it’s bad for skin” perspective but just a “don’t let the oil go rancid.” I’ll put a link to that study in the show notes but essentially what it says by mixing the polyunsaturates with other types of oils (canola) and with antioxidants you can greatly reduce the amount that the polyunsaturate is oxidized. Here’s one data point in that regard: they measured PUFAs to determine how long it took before the oil showed significant oxidation. They did this at elevated temperature and with exposure to UV and found it only takes about eight hours. But with antioxidants and other oils it lasts hundred hours.

So if oxidation of PUFAs leading to more free radicals really is a problem, the simple solution is to blend them with other oils and antioxidants. Specifically look for tocopherol, which is Vitamin E.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

The current scientific consensus is that certain polyunsaturated fatty acids (the ones we call Essential Fatty Acids) play an important role in maintaining healthy skin. Your body can’t make these EFAs so you have to get them through your diet or by applying them directly to your skin. These oils are prone to oxidation but despite the claims or Mr Peat, there seems to be no credible evidence that they are bad for your skin. But, as always, we love to be proved wrong so if anyone has proof that EFAs are bad for skin, we’d love to see it.




LIL buy it now button

Buy your copy of It’s OK to Have Lead in Your Lipstick to learn more about:

  • Clever lies that the beauty companies tell you.
  • The straight scoop of which beauty myths are true and which are just urban legends.
  • Which ingredients are really scary and which ones are just scaremongering by the media to incite an irrational fear of chemicals.
  • How to tell the difference between the products that are really green and the ones that are just trying to get more of your hard earned money by labeling them “natural” or “organic.

Click here for all the The Beauty Brains podcasts.


How cosmetics fool your brain

I wrote this piece to help other cosmetic chemists but I thought everyone might benefit from a better understanding of how cosmetic products fool your brain. 

What is the Halo Effect?

The Halo Effect is a psychological phenomena in which people come to erroneous conclusions about product features based on non-related factors. For example, if a consumer likes the way a product smells, they might rate something like foam quality higher than if they didn’t like how it smells. It doesn’t matter that the fragrance has no measurable impact on foam quality.

To demonstrate the Halo Effect for yourself, make a batch of body wash and split it into two separate batches. To one add a nice smelling fragrance. To the other add a foul smelling fragrance. Give the products to a panelist and ask them which one is better. Then ask them to rate the foam quality on a scale of 1 to 10. Invariably, the product with the more preferred fragrance will score higher in foam quality.

Factors that impact Halo Effect

We’ve mentioned fragrance as a significant factor in the Halo Effect, but there are others. These include…

a. Color — If people like the color of the formula, they’ll rate other factors higher

b. Clarity — A pearlized or translucent formula will perform different than a clear one.

c. Packaging — If two products are identical except for packaging, the one in the better package will be rated higher.

d. Story — If you present a story about the formula and people like it, they will be more inclined to like the performance.

Unfortunately, these factors rarely have an actual impact on how well the overall formula performs. This means, as a cosmetic formulator, you could be wasting your time improving formulas if you don’t consider the Halo Effect factors.

It should also be pointed out that the Halo Effect is not limited to consumers. You can be fooled by the Halo Effect too. For example, you may add a new technology to your formula and you want so badly for it to make an improvement that you might notice one that is not there. As Richard Feynman said about science

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.

How to deal with the Halo Effect

The Halo Effect does not mean that you should stop trying to improve your formulas. What it does mean is that you have to take it into consideration when you send your formula out for salon, panelist, or consumer testing. The further you get away from lab testing, the more impact you find from the Halo Effect.

Here are some key steps to take to control for the Halo Effect in your formulating work.

1. Control the Fragrance — In your lab work, you should use a standard fragrance that is the same no matter what test you are running. Using a standard fragrance is better than having unfragranced samples because even unfragranced formulas have an odor. In consumer testing, you should use as near-identical fragrances as possible.

2. Control the Color / Appearance — While it doesn’t matter as much in the lab, it is important to control the color when conducting consumer tests. It doesn’t have to be an exact match but they should be relatively similar in color and appearance. This also means you generally shouldn’t test a pearlized formula versus a clear formula. You can do it but understand that the results may be highly skewed by the Halo Effect.

3. Control the packaging — If you are going to test formulas with panelists or consumers, always give them the product in identical packaging. This may mean you’ll have to transfer a competitive product from the standard packaging to an opaque, white package. The more generic you make the package, the better.

The Halo Effect can be troubling, especially when your Market Research studies show differences in things like thickness even though you know the products had the same measurement viscosities. All you can do is to control as many factors as you can and don’t put too much faith in what consumers tell you about specific aspects of the formula. If your consumer panelists tell you the product is too moisturizing but your Trans Epidermal Water Loss (TEWL) measurements say otherwise, don’t automatically improve your formula. First check to see if there is a Halo Effect that you didn’t consider.


Beauty Science News – July 27

July is almost over but there are still plenty of beauty science news stories to discuss with your friends, loved ones and pets…

Sunscreen pills really work? (Sorta, kinda.)

Don’t by a DIY dope, making your own sunscreen is dangerous.

Do natural cosmetic ingredients cause food allergies?

Which food ingredients are really good for skin?


Thinkbaby SPF 50 Sunscreen – look at the label

Thinkbaby sunscreen is a beauty best seller on Amazon this week. Let’s look at the label to learn why. 

For a zinc oxide only sunscreen it’s hard to find fault with this formula. There is, however, one important point to note about the rest of the ingredients – they’re not in the traditional order that you might expect!

If you read ingredient lists you’re probably accustomed to the standard practice of listing ingredients in descending order of concentration. (At until you get below the 1% level, then they can be listed in any order.)  But this product takes advantage of a “loophole” that allows the manufacturer to list the ingredients in alphabetical order for Over the Counter drugs (such as sunscreen.) That’s why aloe barbadensis leaf juice is the first ingredient when it’s certainly not used at the highest concentration. I think this listing might lead people to think that the product is more natural than it really is.

Bonus note: oddly enough the formula contains methyl abietate (a pine resin derivative) whose only purpose, as far as I know, is to help make fragrance last longer. I wonder if it’s used here to help cover the base odor or if there’s another use for this ingredient that I’ve never heard of.

Thinkbaby SPF sunscreen ingredients

Active Ingredient: Zinc oxide 20% (non-nano) (Sunscreen). Inactive Ingredients: aloe barbadensis leaf juice, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), capric caprylic triglycerides, cranberry seed oil, dimethicone, hyaluronic acid (made from vegetables), hydrogenated castor oil, jojoba oil, magnesium sulfate (epsom salt), methyl abietate (pine wood resin), papaya, olive oil, polyglycerol-10 laurate (vegetable glycerin), raspberry seed oil, sorbitan stearate (coconut based), sunflower oil, tocopherols …

If you want to buy Thinkbaby sunscreen, please use our link and you’ll be helping to support the Beauty Brains. Thank you!


The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons Baby Shampoo

Oh, Vintage J&J Baby Shampoo Commercial. How I do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

1. First there’s the idea that the product gives gives you younger, baby-like hair. No, the ad doesn’t actually say that but the imagery of the model regressing back to babyhood certainly implies it. And that brings me to the second thing I like about this commercial.

2. The quaint special effect imagery from the early ’70s. The transitions are well done and the models are well chosen. (Except for the final baby image whose jet black eyes creep me out and make me wonder if we really have been invaded by alien”Black-Eyed Kids” who knock…knock…knock…on our doors late at night and who want to suck our souls.)

3. Finally, there’s the claim that J&J baby shampoo “brings out the baby soft shine born in your hair.” I love this claim because it sounds great and it’s almost impossible to prove or disprove. I mean how the heck can shine be “soft” in the first place? A brilliant piece of marketing copy!

(By the way, the ironic scientific side note here is that J&J recently announced they reformulated this classic product to remove Quaternium-15, a common formaldehyde-releasing anti-microbial even though the best science to date says it’s perfectly safe.)




What’s the deal with dilo oil?

Michelle asks (via Facebook)…I saw your recent Facebook post about a product containing “dilo oil” and loved your comment about it being a typo for something more…salacious (LMFAO BTW). But now I’m seriously curious. What is dilo oil and is it good for skin?

The Beauty Brains respond:

That’s what we get for letting Sarah Bellum manage our social media – somehow she manages to make EVERYTHING sound dirty! Actually, Dilo oil is quite innocent.

The dirt on Dilo oil

Dilo oil (aka Pinnay oil, Tamanu oil and calophyllum inophyllum) comes the sacred Dilo tree (also known as the “Tree of a Thousand Virtues”) which is native to Fiji. This ingredient came to our attention because it’s used in Kate Somerville’s Restorative treatment which costs about $60 for one ounce. According to Kate, Dilo oil contains calophylloids which have been proven to be helpful in the restoration and regeneration of skin tissue.

Does it really work? There’s an abundance of anecdotal information regarding folkloric uses for Dilo oil. These range from the mundane (it makes a good moisturizer) to the medically ambitious:

  • Used for gonorrea and gleet in Fiji
  • Used for leprosy in India
  • Used for sciatica and rheumatism in the South Sea Islands

In the US its primary use appears to be to drain your bank account because despite all the folklore, I could only find one modern study on Dilo oil and that only evaluated it as a scar reduction treatment. The good news is that the treatment reduced both the length and width of scars. The bad news is that the assessment in scar improvement was self-rated (which introduces a lot of bias) and there was no control (it wasn’t tested against any other product so we don’t know if, let’s say, cocoa butter or Vaseline lotion may work just as well.)

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Despite what Sarah Bellum would have you think, Dilo oil is NOT a sex toy lubricant. It’s a natural oil with some unique chemical properties that may be beneficial for skin. However, there’s nothing in the scientific literature that indicates it provides any benefits that would make it worth $60 an ounce. (Kate – if you’re reading this and you have any additional data on Dilo oil  please let us know and we’ll share that with our readers.)

Tamanu (Calophyllum inophyllum ) – the African, Asian, Polynesian and Pacific Panacea Dweck, A. C.1; Meadows, T.2 International Journal of Cosmetic Science, Volume 24, issue 6 (December 1, 2002), p. 341-348.


How much sunscreen should you put on your face?

Ben is bewildered…I recently came across this new article published on Allure Magazine and it got me a little confused. In an article published on Futurederm, it’s explicated that 2.0 mg/cm2 is about 1/4 teaspoon of sunscreen for the average person. However, in the Allure article, author Jenny Bailly wrote this: “For your face alone, you’re looking at about half a teaspoon.” I thought 1/4 was too much, but 1/2? I’ll never be perfect with sunscreen application then. Can you please address this on your blog?

The Beauty Brains respond:

The answer is there is no single answer that’s right for everyone. But let me walk you through the different numbers that are out there and how they came to be.

Who decided the right sunscreen dose?

The first thing you need to know is where this value of “2.0mg of sunscreen for every square centimeter of skin” came from. The answer is the FDA. Sort of. In the 2007 proposed sunscreen monograph the FDA declared that the “2.0 mg/cm2 with single-phase spreading” is the amount for “application of sunscreen drug product to plate.” The plate they are referring to is part of the device that is used to measure the efficacy of sunscreens. So the 2.0 mg number is designated as part of the testing protocol.

To ensure that the SPF delivered during actual product usage matches (as closely possible) the SPF value derived from testing, the FDA roughly extrapolates the 2.0 number to figure out how much to apply to your total body. That’s where the “use one ounce or a shot glass full for your entire body” notion came from.   But, the FDA opted NOT to specify exact amounts to apply because they feel that is is misleading since it can change from product to product and person to person. Rather than specify exact numbers the FDA-required directions are to apply ‘‘generously’’ and ‘’liberally.”

To make things even MORE confusing in the 2011 final monograph the FDA changed the “Application of sunscreen drug product to plate” from 2.0 mg/cm2 with single-phase spreading” to 0.75m/cm2 with two-phase spreading.” In other words, for the purposes of testing they have decided that using a smaller amount applied in two coats gives better results. I haven’t seen anyone reflect this change in actual skin application, however.

Okay, having said all that, which is better for your face – 1/4 tsp or 1/2 tsp?

The case for 1/2 teaspoon

The “original” teaspoon rule by Schneider uses the “Rule of 9’s” which says that your head, face and neck (presumably including the ears but that’s not explicitly stated) comprise approximately 1/9 of the surface area of your body.  Schneider then applies this calculation to the “one ounce/shot glass” dose and arrives at an application amount of 1/2 tsp for the face and neck but without explicit mention of head and ears.

Lim’s modified version (the one cited in the paper that Ben asked about from the Allure article) once again uses the rule of 9′s to calculate that the head, face and neck (presumably including the ears but that’s not explicitly stated) are 1/9 of the body’s surface area.  That approach gives “One teaspoon to face, head, and neck takes into account that face and head is the most exposed site for most individuals and that for most head is totally or partially covered by hair.” Again, this presumably means 1/2 tsp for the face alone.

The case for 1/4 teaspoon

Rather than cite the “Rule of 9’s” FutureDerm’s approach is to measure the surface area of the face ONLY (no ears, neck and head) which yields a value of 1/4 tsp for the face only (I like that FutureDerm also breaks down ALL the calculations for you.)

The Beauty Brains bottom line

I’m not sure these two numbers are all that different because it’s ambiguous if the proponents of the 1/2 teaspoon dose are including the ears in their calculation. I think if you’re applying sunscreen to your face ONLY then 1/4 tsp is probably enough (depending, of course, on the size of your face.) If you’re applying sunscreen to your face, ears, and neck then 1/2 tsp will probably be needed to get the job done. The key, as the FDA says, is to apply product generously and liberally.

I hope this helps, Ben. If you want a more specific answer you’ll have to measure your own face and do the calculations.


PHOTODERMATOLOGY, PHOTOIMMUNOLOGY & PHOTOMEDICINE Volume 29, Issue 1, February 2013, Pages: 55–56, Prescilia Isedeh, Uli Osterwalder and Henry W. Lim


Tune in to hear Perry and I bust some more beauty myths. Plus: Can Perry finally win another round of Beauty Science or Bullsh*t?

Click below to play Episode 40 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show notes

Beauty Science or Bull Sh*t – a special animal-themed episode

Can you guess which one of the following 3 beauty science headlines is fake?

  1. A Gecko-inspired adhesive has been used to make repositionable bandages.
  2. A treatment based on cow antibodies is as effective against acne causing bacteria as benzoyl peroxide.
  3. Hippopotamus sweat can be used as a natural sunscreen and skin protectant.

Beauty Myth Busting

Myth: Silicones suffocate hair

The Truth: Silicones can build up on hair from shampoos and conditioners that contain high levels of high molecular weight, water insoluble silicones. If you over-use products like this everyday, it is possible to end up with hair that feels weighed down and limp. But even this does happen, you’re not really suffocating your hair.

1) Even if you didn’t wash all the silicone out, we’ve never seen any data that indicates that a small amount of silicone residue acts as a “barrier” between hair shaft and moisture. On average, your hair contains about 8 to 14% water by weight but it will equilibrate to the ambient humidity. In other words, it will pick up moisture when it’s very humid and it will lose moisture when it’s very dry. Slight silicone residue won’t substantially change that. Now, if you slather on a heavy layer of a silicone hair treatment product, that’s a different story!

2) Even though your hair absorbs moisture from the environment, its state of dryness isn’t completely controlled by this external water. Dryness is more a function of how damaged your hair is and how much natural lipids it contains.

3) Even if you did block your hair from absorbing moisture, the silicone would act like a moisturizing agent because it would plasticize and lubricate your hair. It would essentially fight the effects of dryness.

Myth: Preparation H cures puffy eyes

The Truth: First you have to understand there are many causes of Puffy Eyes (isn’t that your rapper name?) Can be due bloating, dehydration, fatigue, allergies, hormones, or genetics. Because there are so many causes there is no single treatment. But I can see how this myth got started because redness is common complaint and that can be due to increased blood flow so any treatment that restricts blood vessels could provide some temporary relief.

Since Prep H does restrict blood vessels at least when applied to the butt-u-lar area, some people think it will help around your eyes as well.

This may seem like a good idea but there are two basic issues here:

First, at best, it can only address the redness not the puffiness. And second, if you accidentally get some in your eye, the other ingredients can cause some serious damage in which case puffiness will be the least of your concerns. The Straight Dope has a nice debunking of this myth in their entertaining article on the topic.

You’re better off addressing the underlying causes of the problem. Are you getting enough rest? Seven hours of sleep per night is the recommended minimum. Also, often puffiness is due to allergies. While it may not be pollen season, you can still be allergic to anything from airborn allergens like grass to certain foods . If this is that big of a problem for you, get an allergy test done, or try eliminating foods from your diet to see if any relief occurs. Another big reason for undereye puffiness is bloating or dehydration. This can be hormonal like before menstruation, or because of diet. The best treatment in these cases is to take a diuretic (it will help you eliminate the extra fluids), as well as to drink enough water and consume healthy amounts of salt to stay hydrated but not bloated.

Finally, for some people, having puffy eyes is hereditary. In these cases, there really is not much you can do besides really invasive measures like cosmetic eyelid surgery. But either way, the notion that Prep H is an easy cure for the problem is just a myth.

Myth: Yeast infection cream make your hair grow better

The Truth: Here’s another myth that involves taking a product designed for one part of your body and using it somewhere else – yeast infection creams can grow hair.

The idea that miconazole nitrate (the active ingredient in Monistat) can stimulate hair growth is all over the Long Hair Forum. They make several mentions of medical studies that says miconazole works, but I was unable to find any such studies. (If anyone from the Long Hair Forum reads this, please let me know which reports you’re referring to.)

The only credible research on this topic that I could find comes from a report issued by the Department of Internal Medicine, Naval Hospital, Bethesda, Maryland entitled “Ketoconazole Binds to the Human Androgen Receptor.” Ketoconazole, for those of you not up on your imidazole chemistry, is another antifungal which is a cousin of miconazole. The Bethesda report says that lab tests showed ketoconazole can interact with androgen receptors and therefore can inhibit testosterone levels.

Since androgen and testosterone levels are associated with androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness), it’s THEORETICALLY possible that this chemical could affect hair loss. However, this test did NOT evaluate hair growth, it only showed that this drug MIGHT be involved in PART of the metabolic pathway that leads to baldness.

Furthermore, the study also says that “ the dose of ketoconazole required for 50% occupancy of the androgen receptor is not likely to be achieved in vivo…” So even if this reaction can be observed in the laboratory it doesn’t seem very realistic to expect it would work on people.

The researchers said “androgen binding studies performed with other imidazoles, such as clotrimazole, miconazole, and fluconozole, revealed that in this class of compounds only ketoconazole appears to interact with the androgen receptor.” So even in lab tests at high levels, miconazole DOES NOT show any effect.

Myth: Windex cures zits

The Truth: Windex is a mixture of water, rubbing alcohol and some industrial solvents. Yes, it might help degrease your oily skin and it might even kill off a few acne causing bacteria, but it won’t work as well as pimple medications that you buy in the store. And it’s a household product -which means it’s not held to the same high safety testing standards as cosmetics. It’s not meant to be directly applied to your skin and that means it could even irritate your skin and make your pimples worse.

Myth: Your hair “gets used to” your shampoo after a while

The Truth

A lot of people complain that their shampoo “stops working” or that their hair “gets immune” to it and they have to change. Hair care researchers have looked into this question but have never been able to find any solid scientific reason that this should happen. But we have a theory that could explain it:

Many shampoos contain some level of condtioning agents. Back in the day, unless your shampoo was a “2-in-1″, it was not generally capable of depositing any conditioning ingredients on your hair. But today, that the 2 in 1 (shampoo plus conditioner) technology has found its way into moisturizing shampoos, color care shampoos, and even some volumizing shampoos. You might find ingredients like silicones, cationic guar gum, and conditioning polymers in almost any shampoo today.

So, although you may not realize it, you may be using a shampoo that provides as much, or almost as much, conditioning as a 2 in 1. Let’s say that you use this kind of shampoo for a while. You might feel that your hair gets over conditioned after a while. So, you decide to change shampoos.

Maybe you start to use a clarifying or deep cleansing shampoo. For a while everything is fine – your hair feels nice and clean again. All the ingredients that built up on your hair from the 2 in 1 shampoos get removed. But then, after using that stripping shampoo for a while, your hair starts to feel dry like straw.

So, you feel the need to switch shampoos again. You pick up a “balancing” shampoo that contains some conditioning ingredients. And after using this one for a while you start to feel buildup and the whole cycle starts all over again.
This kind of process could be the cause of “shampoo burnout.” Of course, this is only a theory, but it is a theory that makes sense when you consider how modern shampoo formulations work.

Myth: Salon shampoos have better pH than drug store brands 

The Truth: Shampoos tend to be fairly neutral so they fall around the middle of the scale between 5 and 8. Shampoos that contain cationic conditioning agents are generally formulated a little lower and deep cleansing shampoos designed to get rid of styling residue are formulated at slightly higher pH to neutralize styling resins. But overall you should expect your shampoo to have a pH between 5 and 7.

According to one version of this myth ”The pH of grocery store shampoos is too high 99% of the time.” That’s a pretty definitive statement but it’s also a highly testable proposition.  I took samples of ten different shampoos, some from salons and some from grocery stores and then I measured their pH. I found that the average pH of grocery store shampoos is 5.95 and the average pH of salon brand shampoos is 6.14.

As you can see from this data the premise that 99% of all grocery store shampoos have a higher pH is simply not true. In fact in the samples I measured the salon products had the highest pH. The pH will vary by brand and doesn’t depend on where you buy it.

Myth: Fluoride toothpaste causes cancer

The truth:  Fluoride and tooth decay share a long and interesting history. It all started with the discovery that people living in areas with water supplies with naturally occurring fluoride had lower incidence of cavities. This knowledge led to the addition of fluoride not only to toothpastes but to public drinking water. The latter prompted rumors of a Communist conspiracy which, mostly, have faded away.  Health concerns associated with fluoride remain but there seems to be little data to indicate there’s really a problem in regard to cancer. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, adding fluoride to water supplies has been “one of the greatest achievements in public health in the 20th century.” More importantly, multiple animal and human studies have failed to show a link between fluoride and cancer. Researchers reviewed over 2.2 million cancer death records and 125,000 cancer case records from places where fluoridated water is used and found no indication of increased cancer risk. You can read all the details at cancer.gov.

Another aspect of the rumor is that “responsible” governments are removing fluoride from water supplies. We could find no evidence to support that notion. It is true that too much fluoride can cause a condition called fluoridosis which can initially cause teeth to turn mottled and brown eventually cause irreversible skeletal and nerve damage.  This condition is a problem in parts of the world which have high exposure to fluoride due eating food grown with fluoride-containing fertilizers, drinking ground water contaminated with excess fluoride, or breathing fumes generated by burning fluoride-containing coal. In those areas where this problem exists UNICEF is working on de-fluoridation programs with local governments. However this has nothing to do with cancer risk and it does NOT mean that governments are eliminating water fluoridation programs in areas that need it (in other words, areas that have low levels of naturally occurring fluoride.) This is still a raging controversy and for a more detailed debunking, you can read this reference.



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Do stem cells work in cosmetics?

We’ve previously touched on the topic of stem cells in our podcast about exfoliation but I still find it annoying when companies talk about plant and human “stem cells” in cosmetics.  That’s completely misleading because there aren’t stem cells in the product no matter what this company claims about their skin cream.   cosmetic stem cells

How can I say that with such confidence?  All you have to do is know a little about the science of stem cells and it becomes clear.  So let’s talk about stem cells.

Stem Cells

Stem cells are living cells that are undifferentiated.  They’re a bit like the cells that start every embryo when the sperm and egg cells fuse.  They contain all the DNA information to make an entire human being (or plant or other animal depending on the species).  When embryos start to grow, most of their cells differentiated into things like skin cells, brain cells, heart cells, and all the other different organs in your body.  While the cells in your skin have all the DNA material of the cells in your liver, the DNA code is expressed differently so you end up getting the different organs.

Stem cells do not differentiate in this way.  They maintain their potential to become any type of organ.  They also have an unlimited ability to divide and live.  Most differentiated human cells can only divide about 50 generations before they die.  They are subject to the Hayflick limit and have a built-in program that kills them off.  Scientists theorize this prevents cancer.

Anti aging stem cells

But Stem cells, are not restricted as such.  That’s why they are so promising for curing diseases or regrowing organs.  Imagine if you could take some of your own skin stem cells and grow new patches of your own skin from them in a lab.  You could use that skin to cover scars or other tissue damage.  You could even get rid of wrinkles or signs of aging skin.  It’s this potential that makes them a promising treatment for antiaging products.

It’s also a misunderstanding of this potential that has duped consumers and inspired marketers to desire stem cells to be put into their skin care formulations.  If a stem cell could reverse aging, why wouldn’t you do it?

I’ll tell you why.

Because stem cells only work if they are living.  And living stem cells are not being put into these skin creams.  If they were, they would have to have a special growth medium and be kept at a specific temperature.  They would need to be refreshed with food too.  Stem cell containing creams are not created as such.  At best you have a cream filled with dead stem cells that have no potential to do anything.

Plant stem cells

Plant stem cells in a skin cream is even more baffling to me.  These are stem cells that come from plants and have the potential to grow stems, leaves, fruits, etc.  Why would anyone think that a plant stem cell is going to be able to help improve the appearance or condition of your skin?  It is nonsensical.

The reason companies put them in formulas however, is because they can claim the product has stem cells (which consumer like I guess) and the ingredients can be obtained inexpensively.  Human stem cells must be pretty pricey, much more so than apple stem cells.  So marketers figure if people like stem cells in their products, it doesn’t matter what type of stem cells they are.

In this, they are right.  But only because the type of stem cell in your cosmetic doesn’t matter.  No type of stem cell added to your skin lotion will do much of anything!

The future of anti-aging stem cells

Stem cells are a promising technology for the future.  And they may even be a great anti-aging treatment when the science catches up with the application.  You will know when it is a real anti-aging treatment when the following things are true.

  1. The stem cells are from humans (preferably yourself)
  2. The stem cells are alive
  3. The product is somehow delivered to your dermis (probably an injection)
  4. The product is applied by a doctor

If stem cells really worked the way they are promised, this treatment would be beyond a cosmetic one and well into the drug category.  It just might happen in the next 20 years but any cream that is advertised to be anti-aging because it contains stem cells now is about as effective as all the skin creams without stem cells.


Beauty Science News – July 20

Another weekly dose of beauty science knowledge…