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How can you find a cheaper natural lip balm?

Abby says…I have a question about Bite Beauty’s Agave Lip Mask. It claims its natural formula smoothes, nourishes and moisturizes lips with a bio active combination of organic agave nectar, jojoba oil, vanilla co2 extract, and triple the amount of the antioxidant trans-resveratrol found in red wine. It doesn’t mention anything about it containing lead so I’m wondering if it’s safe and effective to use on dry lips. I’m also wondering if you can tell me if there’s anything else on the market that might be similar to this because this is very expensive.

Bite Beauty, in case you’re not aware, is a Toronto based company that hand crafts lip products using “food-grade, or good-enough-to-eat ingredients.” Their credo is to prove that “there’s no sacrifice in quality for products sourced from nature.”

That sounds quite noble but of course it’s never as simple as that. Mainly because when it comes to cosmetics everyone has a different definition of what “sourced from nature” means. But let’s set that aside for the moment and focus on what this particular lip mask.

Most of the hype is around the ingredients Abby mentioned: the agave, the “CO2”vanilla, and the resveratrol but let’s use our “Rule of 5” to look at the PRIMARY ingredients in the product: lanolin, castor oil, agave, olive oil and beeswax.

Lanolin is the first ingredient and it’s perfectly reasonable for use in a product like this because it’s composed of waxy, cholesterol-like materials and other skin compatible lipids. That means it’s good for sealing moisture into skin and making skin softer and more pliable. The big negative of lanolin is that some percentage of the population is allergic to it. It also gets a lot of criticism because it’s an animal by product. You don’t have to kill the sheep – it just comes from the oil on the wool. But still, it’s animal derived which some people don’t like.

Castor oil is another good emollient. Do you know why it’s called “castor” oil? I always that original it was used to lubricate casters…those rollers used on the bottom of some kinds of furniture. But that’s not it all all. Castor oil was originally used as a replacement for the oil from the perineal glands of beavers. And the latin word for beaver is “castor.” Anyway, when properly mixed with other ingredients it can form a nice film on the lips which make it good for a “lip mask.”

Next is agave which is essentially cactus nectar. It doesn’t have ANY benefits to the skin that I’m aware of. (Maybe it can help bind a little more moisture but the other ingredients really have that covered.) It’s primary used as a sweetener so in this formula it just makes the product taste better. It does have the advantage of having a lower glycemic load which means it doesn’t have much impact on your blood sugar.

That might be a big deal dealing with a product like a sweetened soft drink because you’re consuming a lot of it. If you drink a can of soda with sugar it can mess with your blood sugar levels but a drink sweetened with agave isn’t as bad. Of course, that doesn’t matter very much when you’re talking about a lip balm because you apply such a small amount. Instead of 1 calorie you’re ingesting 0.5 calories. It doesn’t really matter.

Olive oil unsaponifiables, which are also known as hydrogenated olive oil, is the next ingredient. This is a solidified version of olive oil that has some skin moisturizing benefits and also contributes to the heavier feel of the product.

Beeswax rounds out the top 5 ingredients and it’s there simply to give the product a thicker consistency. This product is not in stick form it’s packaged in a small squeeze tube so it’s more fluid. Beeswax helps, to some extent, seal in moisture so it’s a good thickener for a product like this.

So these are the ingredients that provide the form and function of the product. The vanilla, which Abby also asked about, is just there as a flavoring agent. The fact that’s it’s CO2 vanilla just means that it was extracted from the vanilla bean using carbon dioxide and high pressure rather than a solvent like alcohol. Supposedly this means the aroma of the extract is closer to the aroma of the original vanilla bean but it doesn’t necessarily give the vanilla any super powers. It may just make it taste a little bit better.

And that brings us to the resveratrol which is often touted as a miracle anti-aging ingredient. This all started because of a few studies back in the early 2000’s which showed that if you give older mice high doses of resveratrol they are able to more successfully walk across a balance beam. Another study showed it made lazy mice look like they had exercised.

There haven’t been very many studies on the effect of resveratrol on skin. There was a 2005 study that indicated topically applied resveratrol can protect skin from UV damage but again this was an animal study. A couple of studies have been done on humans: a 2012 study showed that people who took the ingredient orally had better quality skin and a 2011 study showed that resveratrol gel improved acne. But overall, the scientific consensus is that the benefits of topically applied resveratrol are not well established.

The fact that this product contains “triple the amount of resveratrol found in red wine” isn’t that relevant because you’re applying such a small amount.

So at best you’re applying a very small amount of a compound that hasn’t really been proven to have much of an effect.

On the plus side it may help you walk better on a balance beam.

So back to Abby’s question about less expensive substitutes for this Bite Beauty product. If the agave is just there for sweetness, the vanilla for flavor and the resveratrol…well probably not much. So let’s say for the sake of argument you don’t need to worry about finding a product with those ingredients. What SHOULD you look for?

Since the majority of the product is lanolin I’d look for another lanolin based product. We can’t tell you how to find a product that will FEEL the same way but we can give you a couple of options that are close enough for you to maybe want to try and they’ll be a hell of a lot cheaper.

First there’s Koru Naturals lip balm. It contains just two ingredients: USP Grade Lanolin and Sunflower Seed Wax. It only costs $2.80 for a 0.15 ounce stick.

And then there’s Lanicare which contains Lanolin, Castor Seed Oil, Olive Oil Unsaponifiables and Beeswax. That’s also about $3.00 per stick. Both of these products are about a tenth of the cost of Bite Beauty so they certainly seem worth a try.

Bite Beauty Agave Lip Mask Ingredient list:
Lanolin* (medical grade), Organic Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil**, Organic Agave Tequilana (blue agave) nectar**, Olea Europaea (Olive) Oil Unsaponifiables*, Organic Cera Alba (Beeswax)**, Flavor, Vanillin, Siraitia Grosvenori (Monk Fruit)*, Vanilla Tahitensis (Vanilla) Fruit Extract*, Organic Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax*, Trans-Resveratrol*, Vitis Vinefera (Grape) oil*, Tocopherol acetate*, Lonicera Caprifolium (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract (And) Lonicera Japonica (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract (and) Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil*.

What’s the deal with K Beauty anti-aging alginate masks?

Kate in our Forum asks…. There is this new beauty trend going on in Japan and South Korea – Alginate Masks. They work by mixing alignate mask with water, then you need to apply it to the face, leave the mask in place for at least 15 minute, then remove by peeling it off in one piece. These masks claim to have lifting effect, reduce wrinkles and hyper pigmentation. Is this something new that can actually work on skin and penetrate it? Or is it another foolish trend created by marketers?

To answer Kate’s question let’s start by explaining what it means for a product to be a “mask.” In her original Forum post Kate asks about two ingredients that she saw popping up in a number of these K Beauty mask products: Calcium sulfate and Sodium alginate. Alginate is a material derived from seaweed and it’s a polysaccharide, sort of a long chain of sugary-starch material. When alginate is combined with a divalent atom like calcium, these long chains of starches are connected together in a process we call cross linking.

So when this cross-linked mixture dries, it forms a film. That’s the basic property of any mask – the ability to form a film on your face. That film serves two purposes. First, it provides a tightening feeling because it’s pulling on your skin. That may give the look and feel of lifting and may temporarily tighten some wrinkles. But these benefits only last until the mask is washed away. The second function of the film is to hold other ingredients, like anti-aging actives, onto your skin.

Remember, that for anti-aging ingredients to be effective a few conditions must be met. First, the ingredient must be efficacious, just because a company CLAIMS an ingredient will do something doesn’t mean it really works.

Second, you need to have that ingredient in the right form, delivered from the right kind of forumula (e.g, pH), third it has to be at the right concentration.

And lastly it has to have enough time to get to it needs to do. Some ingredients don’t need to penetrate into the deeper layers of the stratum corneum to work and they work fairly quickly. Others need to be on skin for a lot longer. And that brings us to the problem with masks.

There are three problems actually.
1. Masks are limited in the types of ingredients they can contain. Unlike a cream or lotion where you can easily combine oil and water soluble ingredients, masks tend to be made with more water soluble ingredients.

2. Masks are not the best delivery vehicle because the ingredients can be trapped in the film which prohibits them from fully contacting the skin .

3. And most important, unlike other product forms masks are only left on the skin a relatively short period of time which limits the kind of anti-aging effects it can have. Specifically Kate asked about reducing wrinkles and hyper pigmentation. Ingredients that are effective against these symptoms of aging need to be in contact with skin for a LONG time. Think hours, not minutes. Anti-aging ingredients work best when left in contact with skin. So whether it’s a cleanser or a toner or a mask, if the product isn’t left on the skin you KNOW it’s not going to work as well.

The bottom line is that masks are fun to use and provide a temporary benefit but they can’t be your main anti-aging weapon.

Is baby shampoo good for adults?

Alessandra asks…Is Johnson’s Baby shampoo a gentle sulfate-free option for fine-haired adults who don’t use many styling products (and an inexpensive alternative to fancy salon “low-poo” products)? Or is it as harsh as stylists say, because in order to make the product non-irritating to the eyes, its pH is really unsuitable to the hair?

First let’s talk about what’s in J&J baby shampoo. We’ll put the complete ingredient list in the show notes for your reference.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the ingredients look different than regular “adult” shampoos. Remember the ingredients most commonly used in adult shampoos are sodium or ammonium lauryl and laureth sulfate (SLS, SLES, etc). These are anionic surfactants meaning they tend to have a negative charge, they are high foaming, good degreasers, and unfortunately, can intereact with skin in such a way that causes irritation for some people.

Now, in typically for a baby shampoo, and certainly in the case of J&J the first ingredient after water is what we call a non-ionic surfactant. In this case it’s PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate. This type of detergent doesn’t foam as much so it doesn’t clean as well but it is milder because of the way it interacts with skin.

You’ll also see Cocamidopropyl Betaine which is a cleanser and foam booster used in both baby and adult shampoos. It can be made from coconut oil so even though it’s chemically processed you’ll see it featured in some natural products.

Next is PEG-150 Distearate. This is another non-ionic compound but this one doesn’t do much cleaning. Rather it’s used as an emulsifier to tie the system together and to add some thickening.

Finally, there’s sodium trideceth sulfate. How can this product be sulfate free if it contains a sulfate? “Sulfate free” really refers to free of SLS, etc. This surfactant is considered more of an non-ionic because of the mildness that the “trideceth” portion of the molecule provides.

So these 4 ingredients provide the backbone of the formula. Of course it contains preservatives, colorants, and fragrance as well. It also contains a touch of polyquarternium-10 which is a polymer that can provide a little bit of conditioning but it won’t give the same kind of feel of silicones or guar that you’ll find in adult conditioning shampoos.

One more thing…it contains sodium hydroxide which is a horrible chemical that can burn through your skin. Do you want to explain how that can be in a baby shampoo?

NaOH is very basic which means it has a high pH. But a very small amount can be used to adjust to the pH. When you adjust the pH the base reacts with the acid and is neutralized. In other words the sodium hydroxide is “used up” and isn’t even really in the product any more. So you don’t need to worry about it.

The pH of this product is about 7 which is close to the pH of tears which is one of the reasons it doesn’t hurt babies’ eyes.

But to answer Alessandra’s question, is this stuff too harsh as she said? I’ve even heard it said that I baby shampoo is harsh because it’s loaded with detergents to help get rid of cradle cap. That’s not true. You don’t need a lot of detergent for that more just mechanical washing. What you might need is a keralytic agent that would help speed up skin cells sloughing off but those are not used in regular baby shampoo.

So baby shampoo is NOT harsh but that doesn’t mean it’ll leave your hair feeling smooth. Some people think baby shampoo feels rough because of what it DOESN’T contain: there aren’t really any major moisturizers or silicones in it to coat the hair and counter balance all the surfactants.

The bottom line is that you may not like the way baby shampoo makes your hair feel but it’s not harsh and irritating.

Ingredients: Water, PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Trideceth Sulfate, PEG-150 Distearate, Phenoxyethanol, Glycerin, Citric Acid, Fragrance, Sodium Benzoate, Tetrasodium EDTA, Polyquaternium-10, Ethylhexylglycerin, Sodium Hydroxide, Potassium Acrylates Copolymer, Yellow 6, Yellow 10.

Beauty Science News

Daily Consumption of a Fruit and Vegetable Smoothie Alters Facial Skin Color.


Remember that time I ate 3 pounds of carrots in one night in an attempt to turn my skin orange?

Well, it turns out that that experiment wasn’t so crazy after all.  In an article published in the journal PLOS One researchers found that daily consumption of fruit and vegetables produced a measurable skin color change. Here’s what they did. They took a group of 81 university students both male and female and measured their skin color using a chronometer. I should mention these were all from an Asian population.  They were able to get a LAB value for yellowness, redness & luminance.  Remember we used to do measurements like that.

Anyway, they gave half the group a fruit smoothie to drink daily and the control group got mineral water. Over the course of 6 weeks they did skin measurements to see what would happen.

It turns out there was a large increase in skin yellowness in the test group and a slight increase in skin redness after 4 weeks of testing.  This effect remained for even 2 weeks after they stopped the test.

So, if you have Asian skin and you are interested in changing the color, perhaps a daily fruit smoothie rich in carotenoids is the way to go. Ya know, I’ve always been skeptical of this “beauty from within” trend but this is at least some evidence that it could work.

Why is Homeland Security interested in cosmetic products?


Normally we say you shouldn’t believe all the hype about dangerous cosmetic ingredients. But it turns out that some cosmetic ingredients are so hazardous that Homeland security has gotten involved.

The danger is not from using cosmetic products, those are safe, but certain raw materials in high concentrations can be weaponized. For example, here are 3 common cosmetic ingredients that can be used in explosive devices: If there are any terrorists listening please cover your ears:

triethanolamine which is used as a pH control agent, hydrogen peroxide which is used in hair lighters and a bunch of other products, and powdered aluminum which is used in color cosmetics.

So, Homeland Security is working with cosmetic companies that have large stock piles of these ingredients to help them ensure the materials remain secure.

The only time I’ve seen cosmetic chemistry threaten homeland security was that time you were doing some testing in the lab and and you set a comb on fire. Remember that?

iTunes reviews

Abky25 says…5 stars. This podcast is a must for anyone who wants to be informed about the products they’re using. Since I started listening to this i’ve really reduced the amount of money I spend on skin products. I will say the podcast can get a bit boring after a while. Overall, these guys are easy to listen to and just so knowledgeable!!

Disparate Housewife from Ireland says…Beauty is an industry and this podcast holds them to standards while guiding listeners to be savvy consumers. I love that the hosts are intelligent and have a fun sense of humour.

Monika from Sweden says…You’ve saved me so much money and I love to listen to you on my morning commute.

Um, please says…I never write reviews but this podcast is just so awesome I had to share the love! These guys address all your cosmetic questions in a fun, quick, and educational way.



Can hair straighteners stop your hair from being naturally curly?

Sarah asks…Can straightening your hair for a long time change it from being very curly to being naturally straight?

That’s like saying bleaching your brown hair for a long time will make you naturally blonde. It doesn’t work that way because you’re only treating the hair that’s already grown out of the scalp. The chemistry and biology that determines if your hair is curly or straight happens BELOW the scalp.

Yes, there are two main factors that control hair shape. One is the shape of the follicle. We’ve used this analogy before but you can think of hair as little tubes of Play Doh that are squeezed out of holes in your scalp. If the scalp hole is perfectly round the hair is round and very straight. If the hold is a little more oval, the hair has an elliptical shape which causes it to twist and turn into a curl. And if the hole is sort of kidney-bean shaped, the hair grows out to be kinky (like African-American hair.) There’s nothing you can do about this although it may change as you age and experience hormone changes.

The other factor is the protein composition of the cortex of the hair. That’s the core of hair that gives it its strength and it’s made up of protein bundles that are grouped into two different regions: one is called the Ortho Cortex and the other is the Para Cortex. These regions absorb water differently and this differential absorption causes one protein region to swell more than the other. That causes hair to twist and turn as it absorbs moisture. That’s why hair gets curlier in high humidity.

The chemistry and biology involved with these factors take place deep in the follicle which is buried beneath the scalp. Once the hair is extruded from the follicle and it pokes out through the scalp, its shape is set. Nothing that straightening products do to the dead hair on top of your head affects the living, growing cells under the skin.

These straightening products work by modifying the molecular bonds inside hair to change the shape from curly to straight. Temporary straightening products modify the hydrogen bonds which are very weak. As soon as your hair gets wet the hydrogen bonds reset and your hair reverts to being curly. Temporary treatments include heat processing like flat ironing. Most styling products work this way as well.

On the other hand, semi-permanent and permanent straightening products modify the disulfide bonds in hair. These are sulfur-sulfur bonds which are very strong. You have to break these bonds so the hair loses its curly shape, then you pull the hair straight and then create new bonds that hold this new shape. These disulfide bonds are hard to break and reform but once you’ve straightened the hair this way it’ll stay straight for a long time.

These long lasting straighteners use similar technology to permanent waves and relaxers. Some products use formaldehyde or formaldehyde-like chemicals because they are good at forming cross linked bonds in the hair which keeps it straight.

You should be aware of the tradeoff involved in using these products though: the longer lasting the straightening effect, the more damaging it is. That’s because not all the bonds are reformed once their broken. That means your hair is weaker after permanent straightening so it will break more easily.

I just learned something about curly hair that I think is interesting. Mechanical engineers at Purdue University used an infrared microscope to study how hair reacts to heat and they found that curly hair loses heat faster than straight hair. That’s because the shape and surface area of hair determine how fast heat dissipates – and straight hair holds on to heat for a longer period to time.

This research is important because it can help consumers predict how much damage they’re doing to their hair during heat styling. It could lead to the development of new styling products that are designed to work better on curly hair. Better living through chemistry!

Can you believe this anti-aging ingredient list?

PMA asks…Can I believe Skinceuticals A.G.E Interupter when it says it contains 4% of blueberry and 30% of proxylane?

I think the more urgent question is…what the hell is proxylane? That’s how it’s spelled on the Skinceuticals website: p-r-o-x-y-l-a-n-e. One word. Proxylane. But there is no such thing. There is however, an ingredient called Pro-Xylane. Pro – dash- Xylane (which is a type of sugar.) (Pro-xylane, by the way, is a trade name for hydroxypropyl tetrahydropyrantriol.) The fact that they couldn’t even spell the name of one of their key ingredients correctly is the first strike against them in terms of believability. But there’s more.

Let’s look at the claims.

  • Reduces the appearance of skin creping and thinning
Visibly improves the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and skin texture
Restores water and nutrients to improve the look of skin firmness
Comforts dry, aging skin
Paraben-, alcohol-, and dye-free.
  • These are pretty generic claims…note the use of weasel words like “reduces the appearance of” and “improve the look of.”

If you do the right kind of test you can usually get enough data to support these kinds of claims. But the last claim…the one about paraben free. That should be a no brainer right? All you have to do is not use parabens. BUT if you look at the ingredient list on their website you’ll see that the product contains both ethylparaben and methylparaben! In terms of believability, that’s strike two!

Now let’s get back to the core of PMA’s question which was about the concentration of 2 key ingredients. The only way we can tell FOR SURE is to look at the actual formula. We don’t have access to that but we do know that by law ingredients must be listed in order of descending concentration until you get to ingredients that are used at 1% or less. Below that level you can list them in any order.

The first four ingredients are: Water, Propylene glycol, dimethicone, and Pro-xylane. Skinceuticals is telling us that the Pro-xylane is present at 30%. Given the ingredient label law we just mentioned we know what the first three ingredients must be present at HIGHER levels that 30%. But if that were true the first 4 ingredients would total up to at least 120% of the formula which can’t be right either. Something is screwed up!

Ok but what about 4% Blueberry? The INCI name for blueberry extract is vaccinium myrtillus fruit extract. It appears on the ingredient list almost at the end, AFTER EDTA and parabens which are used at much less than 1%. If blueberry was present at 4% it would HAVE to appear much higher on the ingredient list. So this seems very sketchy too.

So what’s gong on here? The wording on their website says that key ingredients are “4% Blueberry extract and 30% Proxylane.™” I wonder if it’s possible that they’re referring to the concentration at which the ingredients are supplied to them. In other words, if Pro-xylane is sold as a 30% solution, then they could be saying, “hey, we’re using 30% Pro-xylane in our product” In other words, they’re referring to the concentration of the ingredient itself as purchased, not the concentration used in their final product. But that still sounds very sketchy to me too. That’s strike 3.

Yeah, in terms of ingredient list credibility, this product is just a hot mess. What makes even less sense to me is when you look at who owns Skinceuticals. It’s L’Oreal who typically is very careful and accurate with claims like these. Maybe the parent company is letting this brand play a little fast and loose the the facts. But the important thing is that if you want to try this technology, it’s expensive. ($160 for a 1.7 ounce jar.) Wouldn’t it be nice if L’Oreal made a cheaper product?

Well, they do! Here’s a L’Oreal’s Triple PowerTM Deep-Acting Moisturizer has the same active ingredient with a similar formulation that’s only $25 for the exact same amount.



Aqua / water / eau, propylene glycol, dimethicone, hydroxypropyl tetrahydropyrantriol, cyclohexasiloxane, isohexadecane, glycerin, synthetic wax, dimethicone/peg-10/15 crosspolymer, aluminum starch octenylsuccinate, ci 77163 / bismuth oxychloride, phenoxyethanol, magnesium sulfate, ethylhexyl hydroxystearate, salicyloyl phytosphingosine, acrylates copolymer, methylparaben, ethylparaben, disodium edta, vaccinium myrtillus extract / vaccinium myrtillus fruit extract, parfum / fragrance, butylphenyl methylpropional, coumarin

Is this makeup ingredient ALWAYS a sunscreen?

This question comes from our Forum… Hi all – just wondering if all skin care or make up products that contain titanium dioxide provide some amount of sun protection even though an SPF is not listed on the bottle? I see it listed in some of my moisturizers, serums, etc. for example: Olay Eyes Lifting Serum.

Titanium dioxide is not just a sunscreen. It’s also used to whiten a formula or to make it more opaque. I think that’s the case in the Olay product you mentioned. Based on where it appears on the ingredient list there’s not enough there to be a functional sunscreen.  In this case its at the bottom so its less than 1% so its not a sunscreen which is up to 20%.

Water, Dimethicone, Glycerin, Niacinamide, Sdimidetheicone Crosspolymer, Polymethylsilsesquioxane, Polyethylene, Panthenol, Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Tocopheryl Acetate, Allantoin, Polyacrylamide, Caprylyl Glycol, 1,2-Hexanediol, Phenoxyethanol, C13-14 Isoparaffin, Laureth-4, Dimethiconol, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Laureth-7, Sodium Peg-7 Olive Oil Carboxylate, Disodium Edta, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Titanium Dioxide, Mica, Iron Oxides.

Do lip plumpers have long term effects?

Angela C asks…Just wondering if there are any long term effects to using lip plumping glosses? My favorite is by Soap and Glory, a product called “Sexy Mother Pucker.”  About a minute after application the tingly stops and its a nice long wearing gloss that isn’t overly goopy.   My question is – is there a downside to such products? Will using this daily prematurely age the skin on my lips or cause fine lines to appear sooner?

RS: Lip plumping products work by using an irritant to stimulate the nerves in your lips which causes that tingly feeling. They MAY stimulate histidine release which could give you some temporary swelling. As long as the product doesn’t over-irritate and/or your lips and you don’t develop an allergic reaction to any of the ingredients it’s probably fine.  The thing to watch out for is that if you’re applying this kind of product to very dry/chapped lips that puckery tingling sensation can become too intense.

Polybutene, Paraffinum Liquidum (Mineral Oil/Huile Minérale), Silica Dimethyl Silylate, Glycerin, VP/Hexadecene Copolymer, Hydroxystearic Acid, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Silica, Calcium Aluminum Borosilicate, Mica, Parfum (Fragrance), Spilanthes Acmella Flower Extract, Propylene Glycol, Alumina, Stevioside, Butylene Glycol, Pentylene Glycol, BHT, Tin Oxide, Sodium Hyaluronate, Hexyl Cinnamal, Limonene, Linalool, Eugenol, Geraniol, Citronellol, Benzyl Alcohol, Coumarin, CI 77891 (Titanium Dioxide), CI 15850 (Red 6), CI 77491 (Iron Oxides), CI 77499 (Iron Oxides)

Beauty Science News

Skin lotions can cause you to catch on fire


Do you really want beauty products that smell like this?

I saw three different news stories but they all had something in common – new products that with a rather odd fragrance profile.

The first one is a Japanese spa treatment that is pancake-scented with notes of vanilla and maple syrup. I know that different cultures embrace different scents but the idea of “hot cake hot tub” seems sickly sweet to me.

Next, there’s a new fragrance from Demeter (De-meter? Dem-etter?) Anyway, it’s called Kitten Fur and it smells like the back of a kitten’s neck.
Personally I’m waiting for them to develop a “wet dog” cologne.


Finally there’s a pizza flavored lip balm. This comes to us from Etsy seller is Regina Panzeca. She says it’s not a bland pizza flavor because it has notes of Italian herbs, tomato, garlic. In other words, this lip gloss makes your mouth taste like all the things you brush your teeth to get rid of.


So there you have it – 3 products with questionable aroma-ti-city.

iTunes reviews

Robert from the UK says…Informative for Chemist Listeners as well! The episodes always bring a smile to the end of my day, when I get to enjoy Randy & Perry rip into false claims, cheeky company practices and pseudoscientific blog posts.

Wenabar says… Makes my life easier. I used to spend so much time researching and reading articles, blogs, magazines, etc. Now if I want to know something, I can count on TBB’s to fill me in. I love their rapport which is a hilarious mix of nerdy-cool.

Yeoldegoldie says… Do you scour cosmetic ingredient labels with the avidity of a Lululemon-clad Yogini dissecting the food product labels at Whole Foods? Are you a critical thinker who understands that the difference between marketing hype and solid, tested, and effective anti- aging ingredients?? If so, this podcast is for you!

ChoirGeek from United Kingdom says…Super fascinating, listen asap &educate yourself on what you’re putting on your skin.

Cwfjluwgjj says…I’m a guy who wears “natural” makeup to cover my blemishes, etc and I’ve slowly been sucked into the world of makeup and skincare. As much as I love Fat Mascara, it’s so refreshing and awesome to hear guys discuss the world of makeup and beauty. Pleeeease keep this podcast going forever!

Abbielove says…Humor, Wit & hardcore cosmetic science!  I’m an Esthetician and I just love filling my beauty brain with all the scientific information from behind the cosmetic industry scenes! Do you ever want a showgram guest?


Why isn’t everyone exfoliating with AHAs?

Melissa says…I’ve been using an night cream with glycolic acid and I noticed that my skin is actually brighter, clearer, and softer. I’ve been using this product for years and I still love it but I worry that it may be too good to be true. Are there any risks associated with alpha hydroxy acid products? Why aren’t we are using them?

Thanks Melissa. Long time fans of the show will remember that I love getting questions about Alpha Hydroxy Acids because it gives me an excuse to retell the story of the marketing director for St. Ives didn’t quite get the acronym and would instead of calling them AHAs would call them “Ah-Ha’s.” That always amused me during meetings because it sounded like she was speaking with exclamation marks. “We need to launch a new AHA!”

Before we can answer Melissa’s questions, let’s quickly recap what AHAs are and how they work. Alpha Hydroxy Acids are a class of chemical that is used to loosen dead skin cells.They 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. So in this case the carboxylate is on that first carbon so this is an ALPHA hydroxy acid. Salicylic acid has the group on the second carbon so it’s a BETA hydroxy acid.

They work by softening the “glue” that holds skin cells together so the dead ones fall off more easily. When this happens, the basal layer is triggered to produce fresh skin cells. This is also referred to as “increasing cell turnover.”

There are several types of AHAs. The two most common are Glycolic and Lactic. Glycolic acid is the smallest, it can be derived from sugar cane or produced synthetically. Lactic is also known as “milk acid” because it can be derived from soured dairy products, as well as fermented vegetables and fruit.

One less popular AHA is actually Perry’s favorite to pronounce: Tartaric Acid. Other runners up include citric and malic acid. There’s another that’s technically a PHA or polyhydroxy acid and that’s lactobionic acid. Interestingly, According to research published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, Lactobionic acid is not only more effective than glycolic acid at improving cell turn over but it’s also less irritating. An international team from London, Serbia and Slovenia tested both AHAs in a cream and a gel. 26 volunteers used the products twice a day for two weeks. The researchers found that Lactobionic acid scored better in both forms even though their data indicated the gel base worked a bit better than the cream form.

But Melissa asked if there are risks associated with AHAs. Yes, there are. Some people can’t tolerate their effects and they experience redness and irritation (especially if they have rosacea prone skin.) Using products too frequently or using products that have too high of a concentration can exacerbate this problem. A potentially bigger problem is that if you misuse AHAs they can increase the danger of UV exposure. This was determined by the European Commission on Scientific Affairs. This is problematic is you’re using them improperly or too often but for most people, AHAs are perfectly fine.

So if they work so good and they’re safe for most people, why isn’t everybody using them? Great question! First of all, everyone’s skin is different and not everyone responds to AHAs to the same degree. Some people (especially if they’re prone to conditions like rosacea) are likely to see redness and irritation to an extent that can over whelm the benefits. Other people may have dabbled with AHA products but perhaps they didn’t choose one with a high level of actives and were so disappointed in the results that they just gave up. But there are a lot of people like yourself who have picked a good product to which they respond to well. Good for you!!

The other factor, in my opinion, is that the beauty industry wants to sell more products (and more expensive products) by enticing you with the latest and greatest technology. We’re so bombarded with information on all these new product launches that sound so amazing, that sometimes it’s hard to focus on the basics that really work. Companies may think it’s harder to sell “old” technologies like AHAs when they can hype the latest and greatest algae extract or whatever.

ALS vs. SLS vs. SLES vs. ALES

Long time fan Alessandra asks…Which is more harsh SLS vs ALS vs SLES vs ALES?

First, let’s decode that alphabet soup: Most people know that SLS is sodium lauryl sulfate. They may not know that ALS is Ammonium lauryl sulfate. When you see an “E” added to the name that means it’s Sodium or Ammonium “LAURETH” sulfate.

Yes, the “eth” stands for ethoxylation which essentially means that you’re extending the molecule by inserting some oxygen atoms. Why would we do this? Because the ethoxylation process makes the detergent milder (and a little less powerful as a cleanser.) Essentially that’s because it’s more water soluble. So that means that sodium lauryl and ammonium lauryl are harsher than sodium laureth and ammonium laureth? Got it?

Now what about the sodium vs ammonium versions? There’s really not much difference. It’s the lauryl sulfate part of the molecule that’s the issue not the counter ion.

Alessandra pointed out that several brands like Organix and Leonor Greyl, advertise their shampoos as SLES-free but they have ammonium lauryl sulfate as the first ingredient. Now you know how misleading that is!

Are silkworm cocoons good for skin?

Becky says…I’ve read a few articles about the collagen-promoting qualities of silkworm cocoons – apparently rubbing them on your face improves the texture of your skin, improves signs of UV damage and all those other impossibly amazing things. It sounds like another crazy gimmick but I noticed in this article http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2837024/Rub-face-silkworm-cocoons-wipe-away-wrinkles-sounds-bizarre-works.html they back it up with some pretty convincing words from a dermatologist. 

Becky’s right, the dermatologist quoted in the article says some very convincing things. For the most part the woman rubbed her face with cocoons every day for about a month and at the end of that time her skin looked better. Of course this can’t be considered scientific evidence because the test involved one person and there was no control.

But there ARE some studies showing sericin (silk protein) may have anti-aging properties under certain conditions. For example, one study showed that silk sericin can “stimulate collagen type I synthesis, suppress the regulation of nitrite, which nitrite may induces oxidative stress.” This test was done by applying pure sericin directly to cultures of cells in the lab which does NOT prove that rubbing cocoons are your face will do anything. http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/jas/article/view/22487/15481

I’m still skeptical, however, because rubbing a cocoon on your face is not a very efficient way of delivering sericin to the skin and the amount of the protein that can be delivered that way seems like it would be very low. Stick with the anti-aging products that are proven to help.

Should you worry about counterfeit hairspray?

Redheaded 4 Trouble says… I’ve seen this picture floating around Facebook. It shows a hairspray can with the label torn off to reveal a different brand underneath. The caption says: “This is why you do NOT buy product from TJ MAXX, ROSS or MARSHALS!!! Only buy from your stylists, that’s it.” I’m thinking this is probably just something salons are spreading so people will buy these products from them at a higher price. What do you think?

This isn’t nearly as sinister as it appears and it is NOT proof that TJ Maxx is selling counterfeit hairspray. My guess is that the company had too many cans decorated of the blue product so rather than destroy them and lose the value, they decided to have them relabeled and then used them for another product.

Yeah, If it were TJ Maxx or any other third party labeling over one product with the label from another then the ingredient list would be wrong (as well as other information) which would be illegal.

How would this even work? They buy a cheaper, inferior product and then relabel it? But the product underneath is Egyptian vs Chi – prove that this is the same brand. Why wouldn’t they buy Suave hairspray and relabel it? IT MAKES NO SENSE!

After I wrote this, I found a Snopes article that gives the same answer: http://www.snopes.com/chi-products-tj-maxx-marshalls/

Beauty Science News

Lifestyle matters more than genetics for looking young

New makeup trend


We’re routinely criticized for not being in touch with the latest beauty trends – but not today! Here’s a story from Refinery29 about the newest, most exciting thing in cosmetics: ear makeup. Apparently some trendy Instagrammers are posting pictures where they have applied a dab of glitter or a spot of color to their ear lobes. Violette is one of the most popular.

It’s interesting because this isn’t an area of the body that’s been used for cosmetics much but apparently now it’s quite the rage. Right now these women are just repurposing other make up and applying to their ears but it’s only a matter of time before some savvy cosmetic manufacturer catches on and starts to create make up specifically designed for the ears.

I predict we’ll see MAC launch a line of Ear Shadow and Ear Gloss to light up your lobes! Now, this creates a new problem: which is makeup residue on ear jewelry. Inevitably your earrings will get gunked up so you’ll need a special product to to clean makeup from earrings. Well, I’ve created that product and I call it – wait for it…”Earring Aid.” Get it?

iTunes reviews – it’s an All International edition of iTunes reviews!

Twiddly dee from Canada says…As an Esthetician I can appreciate all the science behind products. Keep up the great work!

Hrwlondon from UK says…Both informative and soothing listening. Lots of interesting facts and anecdotes. Would like a top ten greatest ingredients show soon!

MeginMunich from Germany….Excellent Beauty Advice! I really appreciate the scientific basis behind these beauty tips. Most of the information available these days is distributed by marketing teams and can be totally confusing.

Livdane from Latvia says…Funny, evidence based and informative. I used to think that I was an informed and skeptical consumer. Now in hindsight I can appreciate the Dunning-Kruger effect on me at its best. The podcast revealed me the whole new world of the cosmetic chemistry in the amazingly geeky and entertaining way Randy and Perry delivers it. Now I can make the claim: “listening to The Beauty Brains minimizes the perceived feeling and appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.”


How does color changing makeup work?url-6

Julia asks…I’m a make up artist and my question is how does color adjusting makeup work? I’ve tried a few and they didn’t adjust very well. Also, what are both of your favorite ingredients to use on your own skin?

Thanks for bringing this up Julia! Color changing makeup has never come up on the podcast before but we’ve written about it a couple of times. On our website someone once asked “People have called self-adjusting makeup the mood ring of makeup, does it actually change with your mood?” Great way to rephrase Julia’s question…So, Perry, what say you?

The idea is great! But this is one of those amazing beauty products that don’t really exist.

Right. in fact, back in Episode 51 we talked about 10 amazing beauty products that don’t exist and true mood ring lipstick was one of them.

Yeah, the notion that these products change color with mood is a myth. But color changing makeup, or self-adjusting makeup as some people call it, does change a LITTLE bit.

Yes, in fact, there are two different ways that these products can work.

Color change by pH

The first way involves color that changes with pH and solubility. Most of the products that we see that make these claims use this approach. The main ingredient that provides the effect is a colorant known as “Red 27,” a red dye which is colorless when dissolved in a waterless base. When it comes in contact with moisture, the change in solubility and pH causes the dye to turn bright pink.

The product appears to change with your personal chemistry because the color changes when it comes in contact with moisture in your skin or even just the humidity in the air. Red 27 can be used in powdered cosmetics, waxy sticks, and gels.

We’ll list a couple of examples in the show notes including Smashbox O-Glow Blush, Stila Custom Color Blush, and DuWop Personal Color Changing Lipstick.

Color change by encapsulation

The second way to make a product change color is to use pigments which are encapsulated. In this case the colorant is coated with a waxy or gel-like ingredient and suspended in an uncolored base. When the product is rubbed into your skin the friction breaks open the dye capsules releasing the color.

The product appears to change with your personal chemistry because the more your rub in the color, the more is released.

Encapsulated colors work best in cream and powder based products, although they can be used in water-based lotions with the right kind of encapsulating agent. Some examples of products that uses encapsulated colors include Wet n’ Wild’s Intuitive Blend Shade Adjusting Foundation , The Body Shop’s All in One BB Cream, and Carmindy and Company’s Diamond Fusion Powder.

I want to quickly mention a third type of color changing product. It’s not quite the same thing but consider products that provide a “natural tan glow.” These may use a different name but they’re just self-tanners and they work by using an ingredient called “dihydroxyacetone” or DHA. This chemical reacts with the keratin protein in the upper layers of your skin, staining them a light orangish-brown color. The product appears to change with your personal chemistry because it uses low levels of DHA that provides a very gradual change in skin color. The more you use, the more pronounced the “glow” effect is. Jergen’s Natural Glow is an example.

Finally, here are a few tips if you’re planning on using any self-adjusting makeup. If you’re using the pressure sensitive type you may have to play around with it a bit to find out how much you need to rub it in to match your particular skin tone. (Or at least to get it as close as possible.)

You should also keep in mind that color change has little to do with you individual skin chemistry. However, the color of your skin will have a significant effect on the appearance of the cosmetic color. As your skin color changes (either with age or sun exposure) the color of these cosmetics could look different. This is not an issue for lip products since the skin on your lips doesn’t change color much because it doesn’t tan.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

While it’s true that cosmetics can change color, the idea that they can match your mood is a myth. If you find a product that gives you the color you like, then fine. But don’t be fooled into buying these products because you expect them to magically adjust to your skin tone.

Does lipstick make bubbly drinks go flat?

Jessica asks…I heard an interview on NPR that said if you have lipstick and you drink something out of the glass the lipstick interacts with the champaign and makes it go flat. Is that correct?

Very interesting question. I had never heard this before but we tracked down the interview which was with a chemist by the name of “Richard Zane” who said that “any greasy thing like chips, fries, or lipstick will actually break up the bubbles. So will leaving too much soap in the glass.”

This makes sense – at least for the part of the liquid that actually touches the lipstick. especially if you’ve just put on a fresh coat of lipstick and you leave a large smear of it on the inside of the glass then there may be enough left over to continue to break up the bubbles. It most cases it doesn’t sound like wearing lipstick will make the entire glass of champagne (or beer or soda or whatever) go flat.

The ingredients that are causing the problems are the primarily the oils and the silicones in the lipstick. Certain silicones are actually used as anti-foaming agents which are specifically designed to break up bubbles. You could certainly avoid silicone containing the lip products to maximize bubbles. You could also look for lipsticks that are higher in wax content since those are less likely to transfer to the glass.

Do high ph shaving creams work better?

Christopher asks… Many shaving creams seem to have very high pH’s. Some assert that alkaline shaving cream opens up the cuticle of the hair, which makes the oils and conditioners enter the strands more effectively and therefore making cutting it easier. This seems like a well-marketed excuse. Is there merit to the idea that opening the cuticle of the hair with a pH cream better accepts the conditioning agents and makes it easier to cut? If so, is it worth the high pH trade-off?

Shaving creams traditionally are formulated from true soaps which mean they inherently have a high pH. It is true that very high pH can swell the hair shaft which would soften and weaken the hair. (This is one of the tricks used in hair coloring products and to some degree relaxers.) It’s not really about opening the cuticle but about swelling the hair shaft.

However, I’ve never seen any data showing that shaving cream works that way, possibly because the pH isn’t as high as the other products we mentioned and it’s not left on the hair/skin for very long. But at least it’s theoretically possible.

The “trade off” that Christopher mentioned is that high pH soaps can deplete the natural acid mantle of your skin which protects your skin. If any slight improvement in the ease of hair cutting worth a potential compromise of your skin barrier? I guess that depends on how hard it is for you to shave…

Will salt ruin your hair straightening treatment?

Liz says…”After using a hair straightening treatment, I’ve heard that it’s not only sulfates one should avoid but also (and perhaps more importantly) sodium chloride. Is it true that sodium chloride is the so-called Kryptonite of these treatments?”

We’ve never seen any evidence that the level of salt that one would encounter during normal shampooing would have any impact what so ever on the longevity of hair straightening treatments. I can’t even think of a plausible mechanism for this effect, can you?

Nope. Of course it depends on what kind of straightening treatment you’re talking about. Some straighteners do actually modify the chemical bonds in hair. I can’t think of anyway that those would be effected by quick contact with salt. Others products straighten temporarily by coating the hair with silicone or something – but any shampoo will reverse that effect, not just ones that contain sodium chloride. I think the whole “salt is bad for your hair” thing is highly exaggerated.

I can see how people would think this, though. They’ve seen their hair be damaged by swimming in the ocean, so they assume salt water is bad for hair. But being in the ocean (or even the pool) exposes you to multiple sources of damage: extra UV radiation, multiple wet and dry cycles of your hair, chlorine, etc. The exposure time to the saltwater is also a lot greater.

Yeah, there’s a big difference between salt exposure from being in the ocean or in a pool and simply washing and conditioning your hair. And besides, just about every shampoo has salt in it anyway even if it’s not listed on the label. That’s because sodium chloride is a byproduct in the production of many surfactants.

Beauty science news

Alarm clock wakes you up with scents


During the holiday season I was in the market for a new alarm clock. Mostly, I wanted to get one in which I could plug in my phone and listen to podcasts while I go to sleep. Anyway, while looking for one I stumble on this product called the Sensorwake alarm clock. It’s an alarm clock that wakes you up by diffusing a burst scent in the room. You can wake yourself up to the smell of coffee, bacon, the forest, waves, grass and 10 other scents. Each scent blasts last about 30 uses and it costs $5 for each cartridge. I suppose if it takes off famous fragrance companies might get onboard. This product seems a bit ridiculous to me. Who would wake up just from a strong odor? Does that happen? Well, they also have a backup traditional alarm just in case the odor isn’t enough to wake you up. Anyway, if you’re curious about the product you can go to their website https://sensorwake.com/ to learn more.

St Ives face scrub may be dangerous


Remember when the company we worked for bought the St. Ives brand? When was that…late 90s? At the time St. Ives had shampoo and conditioner as well as skin care. Do you remember one of the most popular skin products? 
St. Ives Apricot Scrub! In fact, at one point it was the number one facial scrub in the country. Well, it’s back in the news but not for a good reason – the current owner of the brand is being sued because the product is “”unfit to be sold or used as a facial scrub”.

There’s a class action lawsuit that argues the particles in the scrub can cause the skin to tear. Interesting sidenote contrary to what you might think the scrubbing particles are not Africa pieces but actually walnut pieces. 
the article mentions a couple of dermatologists who say that this kind of product can be too abrasive. Unilever, naturally, says their product is safe.

So what’s the truth? I expect both sides are right to some extent. I’ve personally use this product and I know there are tens of thousands hundreds of thousands of consumers with used it with no problem. If you miss use for either use a product like this I wouldn’t be surprised if you could cause some skin abrasion. I don’t expect this problem will go away but I wouldn’t be surprised if you leave her and some extra warning statements to their label.

On an ironic endnote there is an ingredient that they could substitute for the walnut shells that would completely solve this problem. That’s right – plastic microbeads. Unfortunately they’re being banned world wide because they contribute to pollution.

iTunes reviews

Oznuck from Austraila says…Mansplaining — 1 star. I’ve tried to like this podcast because I love science and skincare. But this is the epitome of mansplaining. I’m tired of the condescension and the sexual comments. I’m tired of hearing the hosts’ mocking comments about what their listeners must be watching on tv (the Bachelor? Really?). I’m tired of their “humor” and the snide remarks made to put others down, including the other host. It could be so much better.

Smelliness says…5 stars
 “As a science student I quickly developed an interest in the chemistry of beauty products. Imagine my disappointment in trying to find podcasts to further my understanding, I found a veritable drought of science focused cosmetic podcasts. Then lo and behold, beauty brains popped up on my phone and at last I had the scientifically backed podcasts of my makeup dreams.”


Are lotions with water actually bad for your skin?pool-519453_640

Veronica asks…I heard that using lotions with water is actually bad for your skin because as the water evaporates it removes the skin’s natural moisture and oil. Is this true?

Veronica’s question is an interesting twist on a theme that we have discussed a couple of times – and that is how moisturizers actually work.

There are two fundamental ways that lotions can moisturizer your skin: one way is to provide an occlusive barrier that prevents the moisture that’s already in your skin from evaporating. That’s what ingredients like, petrolatum, mineral oil, silicones and so forth do. The technical term for this is reducing TEWL or Transepidermal Water Loss.

The second way lotions work is to attract moisture to you skin using an ingredient that has an affinity for water. We call these ingredients “humectants” and they are things like glycerin, sorbitol, and hyaluronic acid. They essentially bind water to the surface of your skin.

The best skin moisturizers use both mechanisms to moisturize skin. And the best way to do that is through an emulsion that’s a combination of oil and water.

This brings us back to Veronica’s question – what about the water that’s contained in the cream or lotion? What does it do?

There’s enough water in a lotion or cream to give your skin a little quick moisture boost which the oils and other occlusive agents can lock in your skin. Let’s be clear – most of the moisturizing effect comes from preventing the loss of what’s already in your skin, but it doesn’t hurt to add that extra little topical boost of moisture.

Right, some of that extra water will be absorbed by your skin and some of it will evaporate but that process of evaporation doesn’t cause any harm to your skin. It’s not going to cause the loss of skin’s natural moisturizing capacity in any way. So what Veronica has heard about lotions is just a myth. BUT I can see where this myth may have got its start.

It could have come from the fact that soaking your skin in water is not good for it. That swells the skin cells and does allow leaching out of some water soluble moisturizing components like urea and sodium PCA. But that only happens when your skin is submerged in water for a considerable period of time.

So I could see some clever marketer taking this little half truth and then saying that skin care products that contain water are bad for skin so they can sell you their special oil based product that doesn’t contain water. But it just doesn’t work that way. So, Veronica there’s nothing to worry about from using skin lotions that contain water.

Is air drying hair more damaging than blow drying?

DaniD in our Forum says…I recently came across this article claiming that air drying is actually bad for your hair. “The reason? When hair comes into contact with water, it swells which damages the protein. The longer your hair is wet, the longer it swells and the greater the chance for damage.” Is this true? I also wonder if all the extra tugging from brushing during blow drying could add additional damage as well.

We wrote about this a couple of years ago. I think the post was lost when our server crashed. I can’t remember if we ever talked about it on the show before or not. But, yes, there is showing that air drying your hair does cause some damage. The mechanisms is exactly as you explained.

That swelling and shrinking process she described is actually called “Hygral Fatigue.”

Exactly. But the study that we found didn’t compare this damage to the damage caused by blow drying, so we don’t have data to say which is worse. If I had to choose, I’d say that blow drying is more damaging for 3 reasons:

1. You still get some fiber swelling whether your blow drying or air drying.

2. The additional heat from blow drying can be damaging by itself.

3. The tugging that she described does cause additional damage.

I think it’s really interesting, and kind of counter-intuitive, that air drying causes any damage at all but it’s probably still better than blow drying. But you know what doesn’t blow…the fans who review us on iTunes.

Can tomatoes really shrink your pores?

Renee asks…According to Easyhacker.com, rubbing tomatoes on your face is a good way to shrink your pores, is that true?

Let’s take a look and see exactly what Easyhacker says about using tomatoes on your face. According to the video on their website: “Tomatoes are rich in vitamin C and acids, both of which are effective at reducing the appearance of pore size.” http://easyhacker.com/how-to-reduce-large-pores-naturally/

There is a kernel of truth to this: In the video the author mentions that the acid in tomatoes is salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is a keralytic agent which means it can loosen dead skin cells. This is one way to keep pores clear of debris and keep them from appearing larger. So yes, sal acid is good for minimizing pores. But do tomatoes contain enough of it?

Tomatoes contain about 1mg of sal acid per 100 gr which about 0.01%. http://www.food-info.net/uk/qa/qa-fi27.htm
Salicylic acid products that are effective against acne need to contain about 3% sal acid. So tomatoes are about 300 times weaker than a product that you can buy over the counter. I really can’t see how that small of an amount of sal acid would have much effect.

You can do the same kind of calculation for vitamin C. Tomatoes contain about 23 mg of ascorbic acid per 100 gr of the fresh fruit. That’s about 0.23%. We know from previous research that the most effective level of vitamin C is somewhere between 15% and 20%. That’s almost 100 times too low. http://ucanr.edu/datastoreFiles/608-1086.pdf

The bottom line: Tomatoes do contain natural chemicals that can help keep your pores clean. However, they contain FAR less than products that are optimized for this purpose.

Beauty science news

FDA Recommends Limiting Lead In Cosmetics


Lead is NOT a cosmetic ingredient that is added to the product for any reason whatsoever. Rather it is a contaminant that occurs naturally in the environment that comes in in trace amounts with certain ingredients.

It’s difficult if not impossible to remove all lead from any given product depending of course on what ingredients you’re using.

This hit the news pretty hard a few years ago when I believe there were two studies showing that many brands of lipstick, especially those with red colors, do contain small amounts of lead.

The amount of lead ranges from a couple of parts per million two up to about 9 ppm.
We’ve also said before that such small amounts don’t seem to really present much of a risk because your body can process these. Now for very young children or pregnant women even smaller amounts do raise some concerns but remember that small amounts of lead are approved even in drinking water and candy. So limiting lead to very low levels is a prudent thing to do and it should be done but getting to absolute zero doesn’t always seem to be necessary or feasible.

So the new news is the FDA has said they want to limit the amount of lead in cosmetics to 10 ppm. What does this mean?

Since the highest amount of lead that was found in the study a lipsticks was 9 ppm the FDA is really just saying make sure you don’t go any higher than what we’re already finding in your products.

The bottom line is that’s a good safeguard but it really doesn’t change much in terms of what’s already in the products you’re using.

Dumpster diving for luxury makeup


Have you heard about the latest strategy for getting beauty products? It’s dumpster diving. According to a story in Marie Claire, Beauty bloggers, and other motivated people I suppose, are heading out to the dumpsters behind stores like Sephora and Ulta and finding discarded beauty products. These stores probably have to throw away old product and testers to make way for the new stuff and some less-than-squeamish beauty aficionados are diving into those dumpsters to retrieve what they see as perfectly fine products.

One beauty vlogger posted a video in which she found nearly $2000 worth of product in an Ulta dumpster. And since the video has over a million views no doubt this will inspire some other people to take the dive.

In the story they also got quotes from a guy in New Jersey who has been reselling found make-up since the 1970’s. He says he makes 100 percent of his income from beauty product dumpster diving. So, if you’re buying things on eBay or Craigslist, well…sometimes a good deal might not be such a good deal.

So you might be wondering whether this is safe. It really depends on the product and the risk you’re willing to take.

Aloe free aloe


I just talked about lead, a contaminant you don’t want to have in your products but it’s there. Here’s a story about an ingredient that you DO want in your products but it seems to have gone missing.

Bloomberg News reported that some private label brands of aloe vera skin care lotions that are sold by Walmart, Target, and CVS didn’t actually contain any aloe vera. Bloomberg commissioned a lab to test samples of these products and low and behold, they couldn’t find any traces of aloe. Which makes me think…Bloomberg has got a LOT of time on its hands.

If you go back to episode 156 you’ll find out why this is kind of much ado about nothing because except in a few rare cases aloe doesn’t really do anything in the skin lotion anyway so if you’re missing it you’re not missing much.

Still, no one likes to be deceived. Companies should be held responsible for deceptive advertising. If they’re selling you an aloe lotion you should expect to find aloe in it. (Unless it’s just aloe scented which we’ll get to in a second.)

But here’s the piece that makes no sense to me. It’s very common in the beauty industry to sell a product with a featured ingredient in this case aloe and that product only contains a very small amount of aloe or maybe it only smells like a aloe. There is no law on how much you have to put in your product so you put in a small dusting of aloe you call it an aloe product and you’re done. That’s perfectly legal. Why would you risk a lawsuit and even action by the government by lying on your label and saying it contains aloe and it doesn’t. You’re not saving any time or money. It makes no sense!

Now I should point out that the test method used by the lab to measure aloe is a bit controversial it’s not 100% accurate so it’s possible these results could just be a fluke.

Taking more selfies makes you happier


According to a study published by researchers at the University of California-Irvine, they tested forty-one students who were instructed to take selfies for four weeks straight. They also had to share the selfies with others. They then reported their moods over that time. Researchers found that this group of people were happier and more confident over the course of the study. Just smiling (even fake smiling) made people feel better.

Now, I had to dig a little deeper because the report on this study was pretty weak and left open a lot of questions. Like did it have to be selfies or could just any picture do? Also, was there a control group.

Well, it turns out that there were actually three groups. One group took selfies, another group took pictures of things that made them happy, and the third took pictures of things that thought would make other people happy. Only the selfie takers reported feeling more confident and comfortable.

So, the bottom line is that this research suggests a good strategy for becoming more happy. Run every day and at the end take a smiling selfie. Then share it on twitter every day.

iTunes reviews

Breathe Easy 4 Once…Great fun for this med student — 5 stars. I appreciate their easy rapport, nerdball humor, and the SCIENCE. This podcast makes you a better consumer, science nerd, and human being. Okay, that last one might be a bit of a stretch but not by much. Keep it up! The world needs good podcasts like this to balance out the many shows about “Housewives of the Rich and Brainless.”

Cool Maven…5 stars. I realized that I have never before heard two highly intelligent men bicker and it’s very amusing. I’m a podcast freak and am very selective about those that I actually ‘subscribe’ to and they easily made the cut. THANK YOU, Beauty Brains — you ROCK!

Liz says… 5 stars. The Beauty Brains help you see through marketing claims and pseudoscience to make informed decisions and often save you money. Some may not like the banter at the beginning and throughout but I often laugh and enjoy it.

Look says… This is a great podcast to debunk a lot of beauty science myths and get to the truth of what’s in your bathroom. Really big fan though they tend to digress. They have a teensy blindspot about natural ingredients/ethnic hair care so I’d take their advice there with a pinch of salt.


Is aloe lotion good for skin?

Gemma asks…I am a huge fan of Vaseline Intensive Care Aloe Fresh lotion. However, I have found another aloe lotion that is even cheaper: Perfect Purity. So I’m wondering can you tell me if the Perfect Purity will perform as well as my beloved Vaseline? Or should I just bite the bullet and save my dollars for a big bottle of the Vaseline Aloe Fresh?_mg_3478

Thanks to Gemma for taking the time to record her question. We can answer this pretty conclusively just based on reviewing the ingredients and we’ll cover that first. But then we we want to take this opportunity to talk more about aloe vera itself and discuss why it is (or isn’t) so good for your skin. So, let’s break down the differences between Vaseline and Perfect Purity.

The Vaseline product contains 4 key moisturizers let’s look at each one in order of descending concentration. First there’s glycerine. Glycerine is a humectant which means it attract and bind water to skin. That’s one of two basic ways that a moisturizer works.

The other way a moisturizer works is to occlude the skin which means it seals the moisture in by preventing evaporation. That’s how the second ingredient, mineral oil, works.

The 3rd key ingredient is dimethicone which is a silicone that not only helps seal in moisture but it also protects the skin from detergents and other harsh ingredients. Which is why it’s approved by the FDA as a skin protectant.

The 4th ingredient is petrolatum which is one of most effective, if not the most effective, occlusive moisturizing ingredients.

So Vaseline contains a potent cocktail of simple but effective moisturizing agents. Now let’s look at all the effective moisturizers in Perfect Purity. Ready? Here we go:

Mineral oil. That’s it. The rest of the formula is just emulsifiers and control agents. Vaseline is better because a mixture of different occlusive agents blended with a good humectant will moisturize more effectively than just a high level of mineral oil.

In addition, Vaseline has a better balanced emulsion system so I’d expect it to be more stable and more aesthetically pleasing. Finally, for what it’s worth, the amount of aloe in either formula is pretty much irrelevant.

And that brings us to the second part of the discussion – what is aloe and is it or isn’t good for skin?
What is aloe vera?

Aloe vera gel is harvested from the aloe vera plant by cutting open the leaves and collecting what oozes out. This thick, clear “ooze” is known as a mucilage. The term mucilage comes from the work “mucus” or it least it comes from the same Latin root. Talked about pituitous.

The gel is sterilized, through Pasteurization, and filtered. It can be sold that way or it can be spray dried and turned into a powder.

Most of the mucilage is water about 99.5%. The other 0.5% is a combination of mucopolysaccharides, choline and choline salicylate.

The polysaccharides include pectins, some celluloses, and sugars like mannose derivatives. It also contains amino acids, lipids, and sterols like lupeol.

Interestingly, the specifications for aloe allow it to contain 1 ppm arsenic, 2 ppm lead and 0.01 ppm mercury.
What does aloe do for skin? Here’s the good news. This stuff really works.

According to Dr. Zoe Draelos, MD a dermatologist who is frequently quoted on matters of cosmetic science, aloe vera is a good treatment for burns.

Mucopolysaccharides are film formers that create a thin, protective covering over the burn as the aloe dries; this film helps shield exposed nerve endings. Choline salicylate (which is chemically similar to the active ingredient in muscle rub creams) is an anti-inflammatory that soothes burned skin.

WHO agrees that it works for burns. “Aloe Vera Gel has been effectively used in the treatment of first- and second-degree thermal burns and radiation burns. Both thermal and radiation burns healed faster with less necrosis when treated with preparations containing Aloe Vera Gel.” I saw at least one test that compared it to a petroleum jelly coated gauze and it was statistically better. http://apps.who.int/medicinedocs/en/d/Js2200e/6.html

But wait, there’s more! Aloe also has anti-inflammatory properties. There both in vitro and in vivo studies showing aloe is reduces acute inflammation (at least in rats.) The mechanism appears to be based on enzyme active and through inhibition of prostaglandin F2. The sterol components of aloe (specifically lupeol) are thought to be responsible.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But here’s the bad news: aloe is effective only under very specific conditions.
Things to look for in aloe product

A lot of aloe lotions contain aloe powder. But Dr. Draelos points out that reconstituted powdered aloe vera doesn’t contain the same 0.5% of goodies that make the aloe work. That means it won’t have the same activity.

The research summarized by WHO confirms this. They say …”At present no commercial preparation has been proved to be stable. Because many of the active ingredients in the gel appear to deteriorate on storage, the use of fresh gel is recommended.”

In addition, WHO says that concentrations of between 10% and 70% of the fresh gel are required to get the benefits. That’s a lot! (The described dose or posology)

So, it seems unlikely that most of the aloe lotion products on the market will provide all the benefits we described. Don’t have the right posology. It’s a poser!

If you’re still determined to use aloe here are a couple of things to look for. First make sure you’re getting the right kind of aloe.

Actually, the first step is to make sure you’re getting aloe AT ALL. One of the products that Gemma asked about in her email was “Dermasil Aloe Fresh.” But when you look at the ingredient list it doesn’t actually contain any aloe! (Of course this could be a typo on the ingredient list but still…come on!

But back to the right kind…To make sure you’re not getting the reconstituted version look for “juice” in the ingredient name. Allowed names include “aloe barbadensis leaf juice” or just “aloe vera juice.” If it says aloe or aloe extract you not getting the right stuff. (Mention difference between different INCI versions. 2nd edition vs 9th edition.

Second, look for high concentrations. When formulating natural cosmetics, you won’t find 10 to 70% in a typical lotion but there are products on the market that use aloe at this level. One that we found is Jason Natural Cosmetics Aloe Vera Super Gel. It’s not fresh but this kind of product has the best chance of providing aloe benefits – just keep in mind that it won’t replace a conventional moisturizer because it doesn’t contain the type of ingredients we talked about at the top of the show.

Aloe is an effective natural ingredient but only when used fresh and at high concentrations. Most commercial products won’t provide the full benefits you get from the plant itself.

We should mention that Gemma has her own blog which is  visagemaquillage.blogspot.com

Ingredient lists
Vaseline Intensive Care Aloe Fresh lotion ingredients:
Water, glycerin, stearic acid, isopropyl myristate, mineral oil, glycerl stearate, glycol stearate, dimethicone, peg-100 stearate, petrolatum, cetyl alcohol, tapioca starch, phenoxyethanol, magnesium aluminum silicate, methylparaben, acrylates/c10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, fragrance, propylparaben, disodium edta, xanthan gum, stearamide amp, aloe barbadensis leaf juice powder, titanium dioxide (cl77891)

Perfect Purity:
Water, stearic acid, cetyl alcohol, glycerol monostearate, mineral oil, triethanolamine, carbomer, aloe vera, tocopheryl acetate (vitamin e) , propylene glycol, diazolidinyl urea, iodopropynyl, butylcarbamate, DMDM hydantoin, fragrance, Yellow 5 (CI 1940) Blue 1 (CI 42090)

Jason Aloe Vera Super Gel ingredients
Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera) Leaf Gel, Aqua (Purified Water), Vegetable Glycerin, Allantoin, Polysorbate 20, Panthenol (Vitamin B5), Potassium Carbomer, Argnine, Natural Menthol, Benzyl Alcohol, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Chlorophyllin-Copper Complex, Fragrance Oil Blend

Dermasil Aloe Fresh lotion:
Water, glycerin, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Stearic Acid, Dimethicone,, Glycol Stearate, Glyceryl Stearate, Peg-40 stearate, Cetyl alcohol, Cetyl Acetate, sodium hydroxide, fragrance, dimethicone, phenoxyethanol, carbomer, Helianthus Annus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, disodium edta, Acetylated Lanolin, methylisothiazolinone, iodopropynyl butylcarbamate, magnesium aluminum silicate, lecithin, Borago Officinalis Seed Oil, Cholesterol, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Prunus Amygoalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil, Ethylene Brassylate, Santalium Album (Sandalwood) Oil, Rosa Damascena Extract, Vanilla Planifolia Fruit Extract, Stearmide Amp, Disodium Edta, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Dmdm Hydantoin, and other Ingredients. Helianthus Annus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Glycerin

Are serums really necessary?

Sheila asks…Thank you for recommending The Age Fix. I read the book and have throughly enjoyed it. My question is are the use of serums really necessary?

I‘m glad to hear you enjoyed The Age Fix! Remember that’s the book by friends of the Brains Dr Tony Youn who runs the Celebrity Cosmetic Surgery website. Very entertaining! Check it out.

First let’s talk about serums. Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer because the term “serum” is used differently by different companies. 
All it really tells you is the consistency of the product – it’s not a liquid, or a cream or a lotion. I think in most cases the term has just come to mean “a product with a heavy consistency.” Typically clear and applied with a dropper or some other controlled dispensing packaging.

Whether or not a product provides a benefit is not typically dependent on the product form but rather the active ingredients it contains. For example, a serum with retinol? Probably worth the money. Unless you’re using a cream or lotion with retinol in which case you don’t need both. What about a serum with chamomile extract? Probably won’t provide much benefit.

So maybe the question shouldn’t be “are serums necessary?” But rather something like “which active ingredients are necessary to provide the benefit I’m looking for.” Once you’ve decided that you can decide which product form is best for you.

Is this a good nail oil package?

Sonja in our Forum says…. A lot of nail art bloggers and Instagrammers swear by this nail oil pen, but I can’t help but wonder if packaging nail oil this way is safe. The pen has a brush on one end and the oil comes out through the brush, which you can sweep across your cuticles and nails. I can see how it’s =convenient, but I worry that the brush would pick up germs from my hands and then the germs could migrate back into the reservoir of oil and contaminate the product. Is this kind of packaging safe?

I don’t think there’s much to worry about because this kind of product is not very prone to microbial contamination. If you look at the ingredients you’ll see that there’s no water in the product which means bacteria and mold won’t be able to grow very well.

Plus, the pen packaging prevents direct exposure to moisture so the product is likely to stay uncontaminated. For anhydrous products that are more exposed to the moisture in the environment (think of a bath oil in an mouth container) there’s still concern but I don’t think there’s much danger here.
Simply Pure Hydrating Oil Pen ingredients: Jojoba Wax Ester, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Grape Seed Oil, Fragrance Oil Blend, Olive Squalane, Vitamin A Oil, Vitamin E Oil, Tea Tree Oil http://www.myblisskiss.com/simply-pure-hydrating-oil-pen/


Can a patch test predict acne?

Janelly asks…I would like to know if patch testing a product for acne can really work. I see this concept mentioned a lot on Reditt as a way to test if a new skincare product will cause acne.14130436354_2488c613eb_b

That’s a great question but patch testing for acne does NOT work. Unlike an allergic reaction (where can occur in minutes or hours) the process of acne genesis takes much longer.

According to Fisher’s Contact Dermatitis, acne can result from topical application of cosmetic products via two mechanisms. The first is referred to as a “true comedone” process and that takes several months to develop. The second is the result of follicular irritation and that takes weeks to occur.

A patch test that involves leaving a product on your skin for only a few hours or even a few days will not accurately predict whether or not you will break out.

Even if you could patch test and leave it on, or reapply it, I’m not sure I’d trust the result because it could be a false negative based on the small area of skin which you applied it to.
She said applying it all over her check for several weeks but at some point that’s not a patch test that’s just using the product.

We shared this response with Janelly via email and she asked this follow up question: “Now that I know that it takes at least several weeks to a few months to know if product is breaking me out, is there a way of isolating which product is breaking you out? Is this even possible?

Trying to isolate which product is breaking you out is not very practical because you can’t really do long term single variable tests on yourself very well. I don’t think anyone is really going to put a single product on their face and leave it there for several weeks/months without washing face, wearing any makeup, putting on sunscreen, etc.

And you have to repeat that process for every product you want to evaluate. Even IF you did all that you still can’t really control for other factors like hormonal changes and changes in diet.

About the best you can do is buy products that are labeled as “non-comedogenic.” Even that is no guarantee because the testing that’s done to evaluate whether or not a product will give you acne is NOT very definitive.

We’re talking about the rabbit ear assay. In fact, there are some people who say that test is not predictive AT all. So at best it can give you some guidance.

The bottom line is that predicting acne is VERY difficult and don’t waste your time on patch testing.


Can shampoo and conditioner be concentrated?

Scott says…I use a shampoo and conditioner by Pureology and on the front of the bottles they claim the products are concentrated formulas. Do you know if this is true or not? Is it possible to formulate shampoos and conditioners in a way that makes them more concentrated?

A claim like that is meaningless because it doesn’t provide a comparison to anything else. More concentrated than what?? And even if it is true, what’s the benefit? Do they claim that it works any better? And again, better than what?

Now, I can think of a couple of applications where this MIGHT make sense. The first is in the case of deep cleansing products where a slightly higher surfactant load is justified. (Although most shampoos have plenty of cleansing power.)

The second is It MIGHT make sense from a sustainability point of view – you make the product more concentrated so you get more uses per bottle which reduces packaging waste. I’ve seen this used successfully in dishwashing soaps and laundry detergents.

But you have to realize that there are some negatives associated with increasing concentration. Hair care products have to have the right aesthetics or they don’t feel right on your hair – it’s tough to make a highly concentrated product that isn’t hard to disperse through your hair.

And some ingredients just don’t work well at have a higher concentration. For example Polyquat 7, which is a great condition agent used in shampoos, can build up on hair if you use to much and it can make the product very stringy and pituitous. “Consisting of, or resembling, mucus.”

In most cases, when a company tells you their shampoo or conditioner is “more concentrated” it’s probably just a marketing gimmick. The bottom line is that the claim could be true but rather pointless.

Is Nugene Worth the money?

Lee asks… I need to know if NuGene Universal Serum is worth the astronomical price of $300 a bottle!! Is there comparable products for less money?

This is a product based on stem cell media. We’ve talked about stem cells before and science says that they don’t work when applied from topical products. (in fact here’s a recent article on that very topic: http://www.miamiherald.com/living/health-fitness/skin-deep/article62053467.html)

The product also contains 4 different peptides. Peptides are promising ingredients that do have some data which indicate they have anti-aging properties including collagen stimulation and slowing the breakdown of the structure of skin. But there are plenty of cheaper peptide products on the market. To be honest, I didn’t have time to track any down but you can Google products that have these ingredients and you’ll find cheaper versions.

Their website includes links to clinical studies in which their product(s) were tested (single blind, half face test) against nothing. The results showed their products moisturize, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, etc, better than no treatment at all.

Most anti-aging products will produce similar results so I don’t see anything compelling that shows this product is worth $300. They did have one study showing gene expression but this was done in vitro (on cells in the lab) so it doesn’t necessarily translate to real life. I say save your money.

Ingredients: Human Adipose Derived Stem Cell Conditioned Media, Palmitoyl Tripeptide-5 / Glycerin, Acetyl Hexapeptide-8, Polysosbate-20, Acetyl Tetrapeptide-5, Aloe barbadensis Leaf Juice , Pentapeptide-18 / Caprylyl Glycol, Nano Chloropsis oculata Extract / Pullulan, Citrus grandis Seed Extract, Sodium Carboxymethyl Cellulose, Phenoxyethanol / Sorbic Acid / Caprylyl Glycol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Fragrance, DL-Panthenol, Niacinamide, Camellia sinensis Leaf Extract, Nanosome Copper Peptides, Human Oligopeptide-1

Beauty Science News

Perfume can influence your dreams


Here’s an interesting article I stumbled on which discusses work that researchers did looking at the influence that smell has on your dreams. According to scientists at the University Hospital Mannheim in Germany, people who were exposed to the scent of rotten eggs during sleep had unpleasant dreams while people exposed to the scent of roses had pleasant dreams.

In this study of 15 women…oh brother, researchers hooked them up with tubes taped to their nostrils and had them go to sleep. They monitored the subjects’ brain activity. When they hit the REM stage they gave them a shot of either rotten egg smell, rose smell, or no smell for 10 seconds.

The scientists then let them sleep for another minute and woke them up. They asked them to describe their dreams at that moment and rate the experience as positive or negative. It turns out that people who had the rotten egg smell dreamed negatively while those with the rose dreamed positively.

They think that this could be a potential treatment for nightmares or other sleep disorders. I’m thinking this might be a whole new product category for fragrance makers.

UPF: The SPF of clothing


We talk a lot about sunscreen products on the program but I hadn’t given much thought to the sun protection factor of clothing. Fortunately, our friend Nikki at FUtureDerm has. She published an interesting article about sun protection from clothing which is called UPF or Ultra Protection Factor. Here are a few key points:

Dark protects better than light fabrics.
Heavier fabrics are better than lighter fabrics
Tighter weaves are better than looser weaves and knits
Synthetic is better than natural fabric (e.g. cotton)

If you’re interested, you can look up the ratings for different fabrics. There’s a rating scale published by ARPANSA which stands for Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency.

Perfumes pollution in the canals of Venice


You ever wonder what happens to the fragrances used in soaps, shampoos and skin lotions? Well, according to this study they end up in our water supplies and can persist for a long time. That is if you live in a place like Venice where there are no sewers.

Between April and December 2015, scientists repeatedly collected water samples from 22 places between the inner canals in the historic center of Venice, the island of Burano and at two points in the far-north lagoon. They were looking for the presence of 17 fragrances among the most used and chemically stable between the thousands available to the cosmetics industry.

Traces of ‘scented’ molecules have been identified in all sampling sites, including those more distant from inhabited areas, though illustrating concentrations up to 500 times higher in the inner city canals. Samples collected during conditions of low tide in Venice and Burano showed concentrations comparable to those of untreated waste water.

Of course, they don’t know the consequences of this build-up of fragrance molecules and they aren’t at levels that would be toxic to marine organisms.

So what does it all mean? I don’t know. It seems like these scientists were looking for some way to convince people that there might be a problem and that they need more money to study it. It seems like there is a lot of research like that.

New mascara will make you more popular


A recent article from Cosmetics Design discusses a Japan based company that is developing what they call “an aesthetic shape-controlling mascara” that will give you “enhanced social impression in Asia.”

I’m not sure I totally understand this but the company, Kosé, says that their studies show that women who wear mascara has higher self esteem and social status and they link that to curve of their eyelashes because it makes the eye appear bigger and more open. So, they developed a mascara specifically to enhance this eyelash curl. It uses water based resins like you’d find in hairsprays to control the lash shape. That’s an interesting trend based on Asian culture, I wonder if it will ever make its way here. (Cheap Trick Big Eyes)

New sunscreen applicator


Putting on sunscreens is a pain in the ass. And this is why people don’t do it more. I know I don’t like to. And the spray sunscreens seem like such a waste to me.

Well, here’s a new packaging design that might change that. It’s called the BlokRok and it reminds me of an antiperspirant stick. You put your sunscreen in the container and then roll it on your skin. No mess and you get the proper amount in the right places. We’ll see if this takes off.

iTunes reviews

Shinobuchin from Australia says…Very informative and brilliant show! — 5 stars. Randy and Perry are like my besties when it comes to beauty, trust them and nothing else any packaging or fancy ad campaign will ever tell you.

Blondenicky says…Educates While Entertains — 5 stars. This show has taught valuable lessons, for example, It’s Ok to Have Lead In Your Lipstick, and has answered Other Beauty Questions I’ve Been Dying to Know 😉 What started out as a way to keep my entertained at work has also given more insight into the cosmetics I use. I’ll never walk into a store the same way again.


Should your cosmetics be biodegradable?

Fabi asks about biodegradable products… I have an outdoor shower and it drains into the ground and everyone tells me I have to have biodegradable shampoo, conditioner, and body wash for the ground. Can you explain biodegradable products? It’s really hard to find them. What they’re all about and why would it be important to use them? What are some pros and cons of these products?old_outhouse_-_the_seats

This is a great question that we’ll try to answer but everyone should recognize that this is not our usual area of expertise. We’re not environmental chemists or water treatment specialists but we’ve tried to sort this out the best we could If we’re not quite right on any of these points please let us know and we’ll make corrections as needed. We’ve included references where ever possible so you guys can check out work. Let’s start by explaining what the term “biodegradable” means.

What is biodegradability and how is it measured?

Biodegradable means that a material can be broken down, or decomposed, by the action of bacteria, fungi, or other biological processes.

Here’s a simply analogy from Biodegradable Product Institute (BPI) that explains it really well: “If you think of a long string of popcorn on a thread as a “plastic polymer” chain, then step one (fragmentation) is when the thread is cut randomly between the popcorn kernels and you have a shorter chains of popcorn. The second step “biodegradation”, occurs when you get short enough for you to eat the popcorn and use it as a food.”

It’s important to break down these ingredients because if they persist in the environment they may have adverse effects like toxicity, effect on ozone, bioaccumulation in the food chain to name a few. But if an ingredient is biodegradable, it’s much less likely to cause any of these other problems because it rapidly breaks down.

Not every ingredient is a candidate for biodegradation. Bacteria can only feast on carbon-based materials. (Mention true meaning of organic.) Silicones and other inorganic materials have to be separated and disposed of in a different way. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Biodegradability can be measured in different ways. One key factor is to measure something known as the “DOC” which is Dissolved Organic Carbon. My favorite biodegradability test is the “Porous Pot” test which sounds like something we used to do back in college. But this is apparently different because it simulates the effect of aerobic microbe activity like you’d find in a waster water treatment plant.

Measuring biodegradability is also complicated because an ingredient can be readily degraded into components but some of these components may or may not degrade further. Dialkyl sulfosuccinate is an example. So you have to consider not only each ingredient but WHAT it degrades TO because an ingredient may be biodegradable but parts of it can still persist in the environment.

It’s also important to note that time is a factor when measuring biodegradability. Some tests look at how much degrades in 28 days others look at degradation in just 10 days.

BTW, You’d think that this would be easier for natural derived ingredients but actually it can be MORE difficult to test them because they frequently consist of mixtures of materials compared to synthetic compounds which are more purified and therefore more singular.

So as we said, this is quite complicated. Frequently testing is done for one ingredient and then various models are used to predict how similar materials will biodegrade. For example, there’s the BIOWIN model that uses peer reviewed literature, government databases, and research done by cosmetic ingredient suppliers to predict biodegradability.

Are biodegradable claims meaningful or just marketing?

So clearly, this can be a confusing subject area. How are consumers supposed to know if a product is really biodegradable and if that’s meaningful or not? The answer is…it’s hard to tell.

Different countries have different requirements for making biodegradable claims. We’ll mention a few but you can find more at the Biodegradable Product Institute http://www.bpiworld.org

In the EU the European Commission has established a voluntary eco label scheme which allows you to label your product with a flower symbol if it meets specific requirements. The regs say that each surfactant in the product must be biodegradable and they establish some very specific parameters for how much non biodegradable materials are allowed in shampoos, liquid soaps and shower products. So, look for the flower.

Canada uses the “Mobius Loop” symbol which I’m sure you’ve seen. It looks like three twisted arrows following one another to form a triangle. Canada does not allow any degradation products to be harmful to the environment, the require substantiation of biodegradability, and they require the conditions for biodegradability to be specified. In other words, you can’t claim that a product is biodegradable if most of time it ends up in a land fill where is won’t degrade.

The U.S. doesn’t have an official symbol, as far as I can tell, although the Biodegradable Product Institute does have symbols. For the most part you’ll have to rely on the company to specifically tell you that the product is biodegradable.

The claims are are governed by the Federal Trade Commission. There are 3 basic guidelines to determine if you can say if your product is biodegradable or not. One, you must have “competent and reliable scientific evidence that the entire item will completely break down into elements found in nature within a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal.” Two, solid waste items must break down in 1 year. Three, “claims must be qualified to the point that they’re not deceptive.” That’s similar to Canada, it also means that you have to be clear whether you’re talking about the only the formula or the formula and the package.

So is it more of a marketing story? The testing is complicated and the requirements are vague/broad enough that if a company wants to make a claim, they can. There’s little context/data to know if one product is more biodegradable than another. (No one is doing competitive product testing that I’ve seen.) Also, testing is expensive and there’s not a lot of benefit unless your positioning is natural so most brands don’t do additional testing. They’ll just look at supplier data or previously tested versions.

Based on what we’ve read it looks like a lot of ingredients used in shampoos, conditioners, and body washes are biodegradable to some extent when properly processed. According to a water quality report by Cornell University which says “most laundry detergents and surfactant-based cleaning products are considered safe for both septic systems and groundwater.” And just in case you’re worried about things like silicones, check out this report from Dow Corning that says silicones used in personal care products degrades into silica and carbon dioxide.

It seems like this is more of a concern for products that can “exist in the wild” like sunscreens. Sunscreen ingredients get rinsed directly into the ocean where they may be creating adverse effects.

Examples of biodegradable products

You do tend to see this claim more from brands positioned as natural and organic. Brands that make biodegradable shampoo include Avalon Organics, Kiss My Face, Dessert Essence, Nature’s Gate, Live Clean and Toms of Maine. Lets look at a few examples:


Even a big brand like Garner is making these claims. For example, for their Pure Clean shampoo, Garnier claims the product is “92% biodegadable” which is great. But if you look at the ingredients you see the product is based on standard surfactants like Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate and Cocamidopropyl Betaine. So at lot of shampoos will have similar biodegradability just by using standard ingredients. 


Ingredients: Aqua/Water/Eau, Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Chloride, Hexylene Glycol, Pyrus Malus Extract/Apple Fruit Extract, Parfum/Fragrance, Sodium Benzoate, Hydroxypropyl Guar Hydroxypropyl-Trimonium Chloride, Citric Acid, Salicylic Acid, Benzoic Acid, Niacinamide, Pyridoxine HCI, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Linalool, Hexyl Cinnamal, Saccharum Officinarum Extract/Sugar Cane Extract/Extrait De Canne A Sucre, Citrus Medica Limonum Peel Extract/Lemon Peel Extract, Camellia Sinesis Extract/Camellia Sinesis Leaf Extract, Malphighiapunicfolia/Acerola Fruit Extract, Sodium Hydroxide.

California Baby

California Baby Shampoo is formulated with glucosides which are less common surfactants derived from corn. They claims the product is “extremely biodegradable” which doesn’t tell us very much.

Ingredients: Water, Decyl Glucoside (Sustainable Palm Fruit Kernel and/or Coconut), Lauryl Glucoside (Sustainable Palm Fruit Kernel and/or Coconut), Quillaja Saponaria Bark Extract (Soap Bark) (Certified Organic), Vegetable Glycerin USP (Sustainable Palm Fruit Kernel and/or Coconut), Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract (Calendula) (Certified Organic), Viola Tricolor Extract (Pansy) (Certified Organic), Yucca Schidigera Root Extract (Yucca), Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice (Aloe Vera) (Certified Organic), Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil (Certified Organic), Hydrolyzed Quinoa, Xanthan Gum USP, Panthenol (Vit. B5), Phytic Acid (Rice Origin), Gluconolactone (Sourced from Corn (Non-GMO)) (and) Sodium Benzoate. No Fragrance or Scent Masking Agents.


Then there’s the brand Method that seems to provide the most information. For their Mickey Mouse body wash and shampoo http://methodhome.com/wp-content/uploads/method_greenskeeping_toolkit_final_complete-100614.pdf They claim the ingredients “degrade into simple and benign components in the environment. Method follows the highest technical standard for defining biodegradability, whereby at least 70% of organic ingredients break down within 28 days.” This particular product uses baby shampoo type surfactants.

Ingredients: Water, Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine, Disodium Lauroamphodiacetate, Sodium Coco-Sulfate, Propanediol, Disodium Oleamido MIPA Sulfosuccinate, Fragrance, Citral, Limonene, Linaool, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Caprylyl Glycol, Glycerin

Do beauty products contaminate the water supply?
With all that background in mind, let’s go back to the first part of Fabi’s question. Essentially she wants to know if she needs to buy special BD products for her outdoor shower.

For indoor plumbing, waste water is pumped to a treatment center. For an outdoor shower it drains into an underground septic system which is a tank buried underground. Either way, it works like this: the oil and fat based materials (most of the surfactants and conditioning agents) float to the top to form what is called the scum layer.

These materials can be treated with bacteria to be broken down. The water layer in the middle can be drained away and the bottom layer, the sludge that doesn’t degrade can be sent to a landfill (in the case of water treatment plants) or it can be pumped out (in the case of home septic systems.) Home septic tanks are supposed to be cleaned out every few years.

So, Fabi, if you have a septic tank it doesn’t really sound like you need any special products. If you don’t have a septic tank and you’re just letting waste water drain into your yard then that’s kind of messed up. Talk to a plumber.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

So the bottom line is that while there are specific ingredients used in shampoos that don’t biodegrade, it appears this isn’t a big problem because the majority of cleansing and conditioning agents (which make up the VAST proportion of the stuff that gets into waste water) are pretty readily degradable.

If Fabi is worried about her outdoor shower, this doesn’t seem to be a huge problem. If you want to make the planet a better place and reduce stuff that ends up in land fills and so forth, then vote with your dollars and buy products that make it clear that they adhere to higher standards. Method is apparently one of these.

It’s tough to tell in the US because there’s no universal standard. If enough people do this it will encourage companies to follow stricter standards (like the EU Flower) because that’s where the money is. As always though, be careful about companies that try to get you to spend a lot more money products just because they have a vague claim of “biodegradble.”

What are Dry Oils?

United States 35 says “Can you please talk about this kinda new, not new anymore, trend of dry oils?”

“Dry oils” seems like such a strange term. Oils certainly aren’t “wet.” I think what they really mean is more like “non-greasy, quick absorbing oils.” That would be in contrast to things like mineral oil and most traditional vegetable oils like olive oil. That “oily” feeling is a function of the long carbon backbone that’s characteristic of these oils.

Since this is a marketing term there’s no universal scientific definition so companies can call just about anything they want a “dry oil.” But typically they fall into two categories. Some are true oils, like squalane, that just have a lighter texture. But most “dry oils” are not really oils at all.

Sometimes they’re silicones like cyclomethicone and sometimes they belong to a class of materials known as esters. Esters are esters are typically derived from a carboxylic acid and an alcohol so they have different properties than just a long chain of carbon atoms with hydrogens attached. They have a lighter texture.

In either case, these materials feel like they sink into skin quickly and don’t leave as much residue. However, the trade off is that these “dry oils” are not as occlusive as traditional oils. So don’t think you can get a great moisturizer that’s formulated exclusively with “dry oils.”

Beauty science news

New scar technology


Here’s a story about some new technology to help prevent scarring on people who are severely injured. A team out of the University of Western Australia are studying compounds that inhibit an enzyme that enables the cross linking of collagen. See when a scar is formed, this enzyme causes collagen molecules to form chemical bonds within themselves which leads to scar formation.

The idea is that if they can prevent that cross link bonding, then they will prevent scar formation. They are working with a pharmaceutical company to find compounds which inhibit an enzyme called lysol oxidase or LOX.

They test new compounds using a “scar in a jar” model which is a lab culture which mimics scar formation in a petri dish. Who knew there was such a thing?

Anyway, they have found a few compounds that have inhibited the LOX enzyme in the petri dish model and will be moving on to mouse and pig models. If that’s successful they’ll move on to human trials in a couple years.

While the technology is being developed for burn victims or others with severe scarring, there is no reason why this couldn’t work for cosmetic applications too.

So maybe there is hope for me to get rid of the scar in the middle of my face caused by the chainsaw accident.

Facial hair transplants are growing


Remember last week or the week before we talked about the breakthrough scientific study showing that bald guys are less attractive? Well while we’re waiting for the hate mail from that story to come in and start flooding in I thought I would share another male hair related story.
Apparently facial hair transplants are on the rise. Up like 200% in the last few years.
Here’s how it works they cut out follicles from the back of your scalp and transplant those viable follicles to your face.

It seems to me this would appeal to a very small sub segment of the population three overlapping circles one would be guys who have trouble growing a beard and I would have to include myself in that first group. Second group are the ones who have enough money to actually have a procedure like this done because it’s bound to be expensive. And thirdly they also have to give a crap about this. I’m going to hold off investing in that facial hair transplant clinic for right now.

Grey hair pills don’t work


Have I ever told you how I feel about dietary supplements? Well, the way they are regulated in this country is shameful, dangerous and embarrassing. Now, I’m sure there are some reputable supplement makers who attempt to create quality products, but there are a ton of sketchy manufacturers who try to scam people by selling products that don’t reflect what’s on the label, making impossible claims, and generally tricking people into buying useless products.

According to this story apparently one such company went over the line when they tried to claim that their product could reverse or prevent the formation of gray hair.

A US district judge ruled that Coorga Nutraceuticals Corporation violated the law by claiming they product Grey Defense which is a dietary supplement could reverse or prevent gray hair. They were ordered to pay nearly $400,000 fine and told to stop making those claims because they are misleading and not supported by scientific evidence.

The bottom line is that gray hair preventing pills don’t work. Don’t waste your money.

The thing that is troubling about this is that the companies only have this small fine (I’m sure they made more than $400,000 on sales of this product) and they can continue to sell the product as long as they don’t make the claim. Or they can just start up another company, make the same claims and bet that the FTC won’t be able to catch up to them. It’s ridiculous.

Science says Clark Kent’s glasses are a good disguise


You know the deal with Superman’s secret identity? He doesn’t wear a mask or anything. When he switches to Clark Kent he just puts on a pair of glasses and POOF no one recognizes him. Pretty ridiculous right! Wrong! Science says this really works. Sort of.

A study published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology described how a researcher showed panelists pairs of pictures of people with and without glasses. When both pictures either had or didn’t have glasses the panelists could tell they were the same person. 80% But when just one picture had glasses only 74% of people could tell. The researcher concluded that glasses are a good disguise and that Clark Kent and Superman did indeed look like two different people. It doesn’t work with people who you know well so Lois would have been able to tell.

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How can I tell if a store brand mouthwash is the same as the expensive name brand?mouth-1234269_640

Victoria says…My husband insists that all name brand products are stronger and better than store brands. He feels strongest about Listerine and his dentist agrees with him. Does it matter in areas other than cosmetics?

When discussing store brands, I don’t think we’ve ever said “there’s NO difference” if the ingredients are the same. Comparing ingredient lists is a great way to see if a store brand is “in the ball park” compared to a more expensive brand but unless you see percentages listed you don’t know for sure if the concentration of ingredients is the same and if there are other factors, like manufacturing techniques, that may result in the products being different.

Fortunately, she picked a great example because Listerine DOES list the percentage of its active ingredients so we can do a much more precise comparison to store brands.

Listerine is named after Dr. Joseph Lister who pioneered the used of disinfectants in hospitals. It was invented in 1879 by two scientists Joseph Lawrence and Jordon Lambert. Lambert became one of the founders of the Warner-Lambert company that marketed Listerine until 2006 when it was bought by Johnson and Johnson.

Before we get to the chemistry of Listerine here are a couple of fun facts according to Wikipedia:

  • For a little while in in 1927 the company marketed Listerine Cigarettes.
  • From the 30s’ until the ‘50s they advertised that Listerine could be rubbed on your scalp to prevent “infectious dandruff”.
  • And, until the mid 70s, Listerine was marketed as a “preventive and remedy for colds and sore throats.” But then the Federal Trade Commission determined Listerine doesn’t do that at all and they ordered them to to stop making those claims.

But what Listerine DOES do it give you fresh breath and it does that by using four essential oils that give the product antiseptic properties. Those are still listed on the bottle today: http://www.listerine.com/active-ingredients?icid=subnav

  • Eucalyptol: Derived from the eucalyptus tree
  • Thymol: Developed from the ajowan herb
  • Methyl salicylate: Identical to methyl salicylate in natural wintergreen
  • Menthol: Identical to menthol found in natural cornmint

In addition, Listerine contains about 26% ethanol which is a solvent for the essential oils and also give it a more powerful mouthfeel. The rest of the ingredients are essential control agents to maintain the pH, give it color and flavor and so on.

Now, let’s look at a popular store brand to see how it compares. The Walgreens version of Listerine also lists the percentages of its active ingredients so let’s make a direct comparison of each one:


Listerine: 0.092%

Walgreens: 0.092%.


Listerine: 0.064%

Walgreens: 0.064%

Methyl salicylate

Listerine: 0.06%

Walgreens: 0.060%


Listerine: 0.042%

Walgreens: 0.041% So, other than the difference of 1/1000th of a % less Menthol, the active ingredients are identical.

There is a slight difference in alcohol concentration. It looks like Listerine uses about 26% while Walgreens contains about 22% but the ethanol is not an active ingredient so that isn’t an issue. It appears there’s NO reason to assume that these products would function differently. If Victoria’s husband’s dentist says otherwise I’d love to see his or her rational for that.

Right. I mean it’s POSSIBLE that Listerine has done side by side testing that shows their product out performs the equivalent store brands so if that’s the case we’d gladly change our mind but lacking that kind of proof we have to say that there is no difference.

You know there’s an interesting statement on their website that’s relevant to this discussion. Here’s the quote: “No other branded mouthwash brings power to your mouth like this botanically derived, four-ingredient formula.” At first glance that sounds like a superiority claim – it seems like they’re saying no other product works like Listerine. But look carefully at the wording. No other BRANDED mouthwash… And that’s true. I couldn’t find any other brand name product that uses this same cocktail of active ingredients. Only the store brand knock offs. So that’s clever of them to make a claim out of that. So what’s the bottom line for Victoria?

It’s tough to tell if a store brand is identical to a name brand unless they list the ingredient percentages but in the case of Listerine it seems clear cut that the two versions are pretty much indistinguishable in terms of performance. I recommend she just buy the store brand and pour it into a Listerine bottle.

Walgreens brand
Active Ingredients: Eucalyptol (0.092%), Menthol (0.041%), Methyl Salicylate (0.060%), Thymol (0.064%)
Inactive Ingredients: water, Alcohol (21.6%), Sorbitol, Flavor, Poloxamer 407, Benzoic Acid, Sodium Saccharin, Sodium benzoate, FD&C Green No. 3

Is the new “mirror chrome look” nail polish dangerous?

Camille says… There is a “chrome effect” nail video swarming the internet but I read some pigments that provide this mirror effect are made of aluminum and are dangerous if inhaled either in application or when filed off. Do we order this powder or save our lungs and dollars?

Based on what I’ve been able to find you are correct that aluminum is providing the “chrome” or “mirror” look in this nail polish. This isn’t entirely new. This look has been offered in the past in the form of stick on films, press on nails or streaky liquid polish. Sally Hansen Color Foil, for example uses aluminum powder.

And that’s perfectly fine because aluminum powder is approved by the FDA as a colorant. Specifically, the FDA says that “Aluminum powder may be safely used in coloring externally applied cosmetics, including cosmetics intended for use in the area of the eye, in amounts consistent with good manufacturing practice.” (http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/retrieveECFR?gp=&SID=d098fe49ba80a72c842d0da5b8452f83&r=PART&n=21y1.

BUT the FDA regs are designed with finished products in mind. The safety profile can be different in this case because you’re mixing a powder into a nail polish and that powder can become airborne. Or you’re filing nails after they dry which can also generate airborne particulates. That’s a potential problem in this case because it is known that excessive inhalation of aluminum dust can cause scarring of the lungs. I’m not a doctor but that sounds bad. (http://nj.gov/health/eoh/rtkweb/documents/fs/0054.pdf).

So Camille’s concern certainly seems valid. It’s especially problematic for the nail technicians who might be exposed to larger amounts of aluminum dust throughout the day. I would think that if you could be exposed to significant amounts of dust from this pigment (either from mixing the pigment into a base or by filing nails coated with polish containing this pigment), I think wearing a mask would be a wise safety precaution. Once the application is complete I don’t see why there would be an additional risk.

Is my vitamin C cream giving me cancer?

Pazzaglia asks…I stumbled on an article about how Benzoic acid (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benzene_in_soft_drinks) turns into carcinogenic Benzene in the presence of Vitamin C. I’m guilty of having access to enough information at my disposal to freak me out without any of the knowledge to draw useful conclusions. So.. should I be worried about pairing my Italian Retin-A Cream (Airol) with a vitamin C serum. Would these two products create a carcinogenic cocktail on my face?

Let’s start by explaining a bit about the benzene controversy. Benzene, which is a 6 carbon ring, has been proven to be carcinogenic. The benzene can come from benzoates which are used as preservatives.

Specifically, “The benzene forms from decarboxylation of the preservative benzoic acid in the presence of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and metal ions (iron and copper) that act as catalysts, especially under heat and light.”

The FDA sets limits on how much benzene can be drinking water and other beverages. They looked into this and found that most products are below the safe limit which is 5ppb but they did find a couple of soft drinks that had higher levels.

The soft drink industry has responded by removing benzoates to a large extent although there are still products that use them.

That’s enough background because this is not the Beverage Brains podcast. What does all this mean for Vitamin C creams?

It doesn’t seem like this a problem in skin products for two reasons. First, benzene is a much greater health concern if you’re ingesting it which was the issue in the case of the benzene in soft drinks.

Second, the product she mentions also contains EDTA which chelates metal ions and reduces the chances of benzene formation.
Ref: http://www.icba-net.org/files/resources/icba-benzene-guidance-english.pdf

I would expect that your chances of getting cancer from using a vitamin C cream that converts a benzoate preservative to benzene, are WAY lower than your chances of getting cancer from smoking or drinking or eating grilled meats.

iTunes reviews

The first one comes from Cristina from Moldova. My favourite beauty webiste. The podcast is very educative and hilarious. I particualry like when they insert bits of vintage addvertising. Listen to save money on your beauty purchases!

Brit222 says…I love this podcast- with so much pseudoscience and so many grandiose claims in skincare and beauty, it is nice to have a reliable source that I can trust!

Canadian Angela says…Since finding The Beauty Brains podcast I no longer mind being stuck in traffic! I have learned so much listening to Randy and Perry’s method of informing consumers of the science behind why some products work and why some are a complete waste of money. Oh and you should really buy the book!

Beauty science news

Smell dating


Here’s an idea that might revolutionize the way people do online dating. Instead of picking people based on their looks or dating profiles, this project called Smell Dating matches people based on whether they like their natural body odor.

When you sign up for this service you are sent a T-shirt to wear for three days. You are not allowed to wear perfume or deodorant. You then send off your shirt and you receive samples to sniff in exchange. You choose the scents you like the best. If someone you like likes the way you smell then they connect you via email. No information about age, gender or sexual orientation is known prior to the shirt smelling.

The idea is that if you like someone’s scent then you theoretically will be more biologically compatible with them. There is evidence that people like the scents of others who have compatible immune systems.

So, does it work? Well, it didn’t seem to work for the reporter who wrote the story in the Guardian. She got four matches (two men, two women), went on one date and there was no “chemistry” between them. That doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone but I suspect humans & dating are a little more complicated than using our noses to pick our mates.

Dental care breakthrough


Scientists have learned how to grow new teeth from a somewhat distasteful source: human urine. This gives a whole new meaning to the term “potty mouth.”

This study was published in Cell Regeneration Journal and it shows that stem cells from urine could be grown into tiny tooth-like structures. The researchers are from China and hope that someday their technique could be used to replace lost teeth. Of course not everyone agrees with this approach. One stem cell researcher noted that that “that goal faces many challenges.” No kidding. But seriously, there are other, richer, sources of stem cells than urine so this seems like an odd choice. Regardless, just in case this catches on I’ve begun designing companion products to go with urine teeth the first product I’ll be launching is…Dental floss made from toilet paper,

Weird beauty ingredients


Cosmetic marketers are always looking for exotic ingredients to put in products. Usually, there is some story that goes along with it and sometimes the material can be really weird. For example, last show we talked about Centipede excretion that was being included in skin products as an anti-inflammatory. Well, here’s a story from LuxurySpot which lists some of the weirdest ingredients. Look for these ingredients to be featured in future cosmetic launches. We’ve talked about some but many we haven’t.

  • Snail slime – it’s a mix of proteins that are supposed to repair skin damage. It doesn’t.
  • Bee Venom – Supposed to plump up your skin. Not likely
  • Bacteria – The folks at Mother Dirt think this will be the cosmetics of the future. They may find a niche but I doubt we’ll see a big shift towards bacterial laced cosmetics.
  • Hemp – With all the states that have legalized marajuana it’s not surprising people want hemp products. The oil is a fine enough natural oil but there isn’t any data showing it’s anything more special than soybean oil.
  • Donkey Milk – supposedly good for your skin. I wouldn’t count on it.
  • Ice plant – this is an extract taken from plants that grow in icy conditions. It’s supposed to rejuvenate your skin. Maybe it’s a good story but I doubt it will noticeably improve your skin.
  • Camel milk – Apparently people love to bath in milk and they think it will improve their skin. Camel milk is supposed to have more lactic acid than cows milk so the marketers say it will be good for exfoliation and skin brightening. I don’t know why the formulator wouldn’t just put lactic acid in the formula.

Don’t be fooled by exotic ingredients. These story ingredients almost never provide additional functions to products but marketers continue to add them. And the main reason is that people want to buy products with ingredients that sound exotic. Argan Oil was a big hit last year but the reality is that the products that featured Argan Oil were really just standard silicone products that had a drop of Argan Oil in them. Consumers bought the Argan Oil, but the Cyclomethicone and Dimethicone were actually providing the benefit.

RS Bogus baby products


I bring up this next news story because it’s sort of a coincidence. A few weeks ago I saw a product in my local Walgreens that caught my eye it’s by the brand Babyganics. It was a combination pack of sunscreen and insect repellent. It had the usual claims about being natural and organic I took a look at the sunscreen and saw that it was using legitimate mineral sunscreen active so OK fine I can see how you could say that’s natural and maybe organic.

But then I looked at the insect repellent product and saw that it had nothing other than some natural extracts things in it like citronella. Now those products are controlled by the EPA they don’t fall under cosmetic regulations but I’m not aware of any approved insect repellent other than things like DEET that really work. So I left the store scratching my head on how this product could get away with it.

Turns out they’re not really getting away with it because there’s a class action suit against the brand for misleading claims. The most interesting part of the story though was the last line which informed me that this brand was recently bought by SC Johnson.

That’s a very reputable company that always plays by the book so I’m wondering if they bought this brand and then had just not gotten around to making the necessary regulatory changes before everything hit the fan. So. If you know anybody and if SCJ see if you can get the inside scoop on this lawsuit confidential lawsuit that then we can share with our tens of thousands of listeners.

Beware contaminated cosmetics


There’s one thing that bugs me about cosmetic manufacturer more than anything else. You know what that is?

No, it’s companies that sell contaminated cosmetic products. It is not hard to ensure your products are safe and free from microbial contamination. You just need to use GMPs and a proper preservative system. Ever since ingredients like Parabens or Formaldehyde donors got bad press and fear mongering groups started spreading misinformation, some cosmetic manufacturers have made it a marketing angle that they don’t use these ingredients.

But you know what happened? Now we’ve got more instances of products being recalled by the FDA due to bacterial contamination.

So, as a public service I just want to call out those brands who received warning letters from the FDA for selling products that were contaminated with microorganisms.

  • The Aura Cacia brand has voluntarily recalled their Milk and Oat Bath due to microbial contamination. The brand says that their products are made from simple & pure botanical ingredients that unlock nature’s ability to improve our well-being. Well, if they think exposing people to disease causing bacteria is improving well-being, we have different meanings for the term well-being.
  • Arbonne International – They got contacted by the FDA due to bacterial contamination of their Black and Brown liquid eyeliner. Nice going Argonne. And on an eye product? I wonder if they blinded anyone.
  • Aplicare Castille Soap Towelettes – These were recalled due to bacterial contamination.



How does baby foot work?

Leslie asks…Can you please explain how Babyfoot works and if it is truly safe to use. I have used it and my feet did peel but I really don’t understand how it works. 149580816_a956e46245_b

In case our listeners aren’t familiar with this product, it’s a special type of exfoliator designed just for your feet. For $25 you get two “booties” lined with a gel product.

Here’s what the website says about it:

Our scientifically formulated product contains 17 types of natural extracts…
The principal ingredient …is fruit acid which…penetrates into the layers of dead skin cells and breaks down the desmosomes which hold the layers together.
…skin is undamaged but peels easily away from the fresh layer beneath. After peeling, your feet are reborn just like a baby’s foot.
Note: Baby Foot must only be used on the feet.

As you can see from the website they’re very proud of their 17 natural extracts. But, surprise, the natural extracts have very little to do with how the product actually functions.

Yea, this is a great product in the sense that will do exactly what it says it will. However it doesn’t work because of the reason they tell you. If you look at the first two or three ingredients you’ll see our old friends glycolic acid and lactic acid. These are both alphahydroxy acids which as most of you probably already know are very good at exfoliating.

AHA’s work by loosening the “glue” that holds dead skin cells together and as you strip away that upper layer of dead skin the remaining skin will be very soft and supple. These are sometimes called “Fruit acids” but fruit extracts are not the source of these fruit acids. Fruit acids only occur naturally at very low levels to make commercial quantities of lactic acid, for example, you have to use a large scale fermentation process.

That involves giant vats of sucrose and glucose mixed with lime or chalk. The mixture is fermented in a fermenter until crude calcium lactate is formed. The gypsum is stripped way which leaves crude lactic acid, that in turn is purified and concentrated into the material used in this product. I could go on but I’m already boring myself.

But just because this is based on common alphahydroxy acid’s don’t think you can use your normal exfoliating face lotion on your feet. This is a case where buying a special product probably is justified.

That’s because there are two bits of “magic” that make this product work. First, it’s designed only for your feet which tends to have a thicker layer of callused skin so they have formulated the product with higher levels of the alpha hydroxy acids. You could use your regular exfoliating facial on your face and use that on your feet and it may not work very well but it won’t hurt you. On the other hand if you use baby foot on your face it could leave you with a chemical burn.

The second bit of magic is the fact that it has an occlusive application method. That’s the little plastic sock that you wear after applying the product. This application method accomplishes two things it keeps the solution from evaporating so it stays more active against your skin and it prevents it from being rubbed off presumably while you walked around or put on regular socks or whatever.

So the higher concentration and the occlusive application really boost the efficacy and help this product deliver the softness of the baby’s foot. Great. It works. But she also asked if it’s safe.

The answer is “mostly yes.” Alphahydroxy acid’s are used in thousands of products with very little problem. However because this is a higher concentration if you were to have more sensitive skin it is conceivable that you could get a chemical burn on your foot from this. And apparently that indeed has happened to some people.

According to dermatologist Sandra Bendeck, who works with One Medical Group, (http://www.onemedical.com/blog/live-well/baby-foot-safe/) , it’s a bit concerning that the company doesn’t disclose the level of fruit acids. AHAs are typically used at up to 10% but we don’t know HOW much are in this product. She also pointed out that some of the reviews for the product mention side effects like “bleeding, cellulitis, and having to go to the ER after using it.” She also says that diabetics, who can have issues with nerve endings in their feet, should not use it.

In addition, according to the Baby Foot website, the product should be avoided “during pregnancy, lactation, or menstruation because during this period the skin becomes more sensitive due to the disruption of normal hormone balance.”

Finally, the website also mentions that the product also contains salicylic acid which is classified as a category C drug by the FDA and that animal studies have linked salicylic acid and birth defects.

So the bottom line is that the product does use technology which is very effective although it’s rather expensive for what you get. The ingredients it’s based on are commonly used in the beauty industry but the concentration and application method MAY cause problems for some people.

Active ingredients: Water, Alcohol, Lactic Acid, Glycolic Acid, Arginine, Butylene Glycol, Peg-60 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Glucose, O-Cymen-5-Ol, Citric Acid, Malic Acid, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Oil, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Peel Oil, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Cymbopogon Schoenanthus Oil, Nasturtium Officinale Extract, Arctium Lappa Root Extract, Saponaria Officinalis Leaf Extract, Hedera Helix (Ivy) Extract, Salvia Officinalis (Sage) Leaf Extract, Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Fruit Extract, Clematis Vitalba Leaf Extract, Spiraea Ulmaria Flower Extract, Equisetum Arvense Extract, Fucus Vesiculosus Extract, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Houttuynia Cordata Extract, Phenoxyethanol, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Salicylic Acid

How do makeup setting sprays work?

Roni says…I have a question about makeup setting sprays. I have tried doing half face test and the half with the setting spray wears longs, the makeup looks better at the end of they day. What is making the product do that? Why does it make it last longer?

The name “setting spray” seems a little inaccurate to me. It implies you’re doing something to the make up to “cure” it or anchor it to the skin. In reality what you’re doing is putting a thin film on top of the make up that helps it remain undisturbed.

That’s right. Let’s take a look at a couple of products starting with the one emailed us about: Wet N Wild Picture Perfect Setting Spray. (Not Wet And Wild.) The main ingredient is PVP which is a polymer that is a film former. PVP stands for…

Poly Vinyl Pyrrolidone. It’s used in in products like mousses and gels to form a film on hair that holds it in place. By the same principle PVP can form a film over your make up that prevents it from smearing or smudging as easily. The disadvantage to PVP is that it’s hygroscopic which means that it can absorb moisture from the air which can make it sticky.

In this particular product the PVP is dissolved in a mixture of water and alcohol, which of course will evaporate. The product also contains propylene glycol to plasticize the film and keep it from cracking.

So how do you use this stuff? The website instructs you to…”Hold the setting spray 8 inches away from your face and mist in a criss-cross pattern.”

And finally, what about the cost? This Wet N Wild product is relatively inexpensive at $5.00 for 1.5 ounces or about $3.30 per ounce.

Next let’s take a look at the Matt Finish Setting Spray from NYX COSMETICS.

This one is based on VP/VA copolymer. You can think of VP/VA copolymer as the next generation of PVP. It provides similar benefits but it is less likely to absorb moisture. That means in hair sprays it provides superior hold. I assume this property would make it better for setting makeup as well.

The instructions are to “Hold 8-10 inches from face, close eyes, and spray in downward motion 3 times to cover entire face.” So NOT criss cross but downward motion. Got it.

It sells for $8 for 2 oz or $4.00 an ounce so it’s slightly more expensive but it could very well be worth it.

Finally, let’s look at an example that uses different technology: URBAN DECAY COSMETICS All Nighter Makeup Setting Spray

It’s different it uses a hybrid approach. In addition to PVP for film forming it also contains a couple of fluorinated ethers and a couple of additional polymers. In theory, this kind of system could provide a much more durable, waterproof makeup shield.

The website describes it as a “groundbreaking, clinically tested formula… [that] features patented Temperature Control Technology…. actually lowers the temperature of your makeup to keep foundation, eyeshadow, blush and concealer in place – even in hot and humid or cold and windy conditions.

I don’t know about temperature control but it certainly could work better in high humidity.

I was kind of blown away because the website describes a 7-day clinical study the conducted on this product. They found that:
“78% of participants said All Nighter helped their makeup last for 16 hours.
Over 80% said their makeup not only looked better, it stayed on better (even in the T-zone) without settling into fine lines.
88% or more said All Nighter was the best product to help their makeup last.”

And just for the record, you’re instructed to “mist face 2-4 times, in an “X” and “T” formation.” Not criss cross. Not downward motion. Just x and T. Got it?

But here’s the catch: The product sells for $30 for 4 oz or about $7.50 per ounce. That’s more than twice as much as the Wet N Wild product. Is it twice as good?

If you’re really curious I would recommend getting a sample or a tester of the more expensive product at Sephora or someplace and doing your half face test again with the more expensive product versus the cheaper product and see if you see a difference.

Matt Finish Setting Spray from NYX COSMETICS Ingredients
Water / Aqua / Eau, Alcohol, VP / VA Copolymer, Propylene Glycol, Disodium EDTA, Niacinamide, Sodium Salicylate, Plantago Lanceolata Leaf Extract, Mahonia Aquifolium Flower / Leaf / Stem Extract, Phenoxyethanol.

Wet N Wild Ingredients
Water/Eau, Alcohol Denat., PVP, Propanediol, PPG-3 Benzyl Ether Myristate, Dimethicone PEG/PPG-12/4 Phosphate, Glycereth-5 Lactate, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Chlorphenesin, Ethylhexyl Isononanoate, Isononyl Isononanoate, Poloxamer 127, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Cocamidopropyl PG-Dimonium Chloride Phosphate, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, PPG-26-Buteth-26, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Fragrance/Parfum.

Urban Decay Ingredients
Aqua (Water/Eau), Alcohol Denat, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, PVP, Methyl Perfluorobutyl Ether, Methyl Perflouroisobutyl Ether, Dimethicone PEG-7 Phosphate, PPG-3 Benzyl Ether Myristate, Caprylyl Gylcol, Menthyl Methacrylate Cross Polymer, Poloxamer 407, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Cocamidopropyl PG Dimonium Chloride Phosphate, Glycereth-5 Lactate, N,2,3-Trimethyl-2-Isopropyl Butamide, Ethylhexyl Isononanoate, Isononyl Isononanoate, Fragrance, Aloe Barbandensis Leaf Extract.

Do sunscreen pills work?

Silvia from Spain says I want to know if sun protection pills really work.

Personally, I think SPF pills are in the realm of quackery but according to the American Academy of Dermatologists there is SOME promising research in this area. https://www.aad.org/media/news-releases/could-protecting-your-skin-from-the-sun-be-as-easy-as-popping-a-pill

Yeah, we found an article from 2014 which quotes a Dr. Lim from the AAD who says that there is SOME data showing that Polypodium leucotomos, an extract of a Central American fern plant, can increase the amount of time it takes for skin to become sunburned. That’s in pill form!

According to Dr. Lim…“We’re not completely sure how sunscreen pills work, but the main understanding is that Polypodium leucotomos acts as an antioxidant, so it protects the skin from oxidative damage caused by sun exposure,”

Wow, that sounds too good to be true. How much SPF protection does it provide?

It’s tough to compare directly because this ingredient is take orally not applied to skin but Dr. Lim says studies estimate it as having an SPF of about 3 to 5. That’s WAY less than Academy’s recommended SPF level of 30 or higher.

So if the best studied sunscreen pill ingredient MAYBE gives you an SPF of less than 5 it seems kind of pointless. THere’s no way that could replace using a sunscreen lotion. At best it might supplement the protection you get from your lotion but not by much. That’s assuming of course that the pill you buy even has the right ingredient at the right concentration.

iTunes reviews

JanellyL says…New favorite podcast 5 stars. They provide great insight on how products work and call out what products’ claims are bs. Plus they are never boring with their dry humor and sarcastic banter. Another plus is that if you ever have a question, they are so quick with responding to your email.

Slithy tove says…Beauty is a lot more than science 3 stars. It’s great to have a resource that encourages consumers to think more critically about the content of the products they buy, and this show has taught me a lot in that respect. But as a woman, sometimes it’s hard to listen to two men laugh about how ridiculous beauty marketing can be when most of it is unrelentingly targeted at women’s self esteem. For example, when they were discussing unlicensed “butt injections” – a horrifically dangerous practice that disproportionately affects lower income trans women who can’t afford to get the procedure done safely – and making callous puns about “the bottom line,” the insensitivity made me cringe. Or another direct quote: “If you want to give yourself the best chance of getting a good grade, just make yourself as attractive as possible” (this just after recognizing the same study found this bias didn’t apply to male students). I know you guys focus on science and you like to keep things light-hearted, but I often wish you’d recognize there’s way more to all of this than chemicals. Marketing hype and unfair biases about beauty come from cultural norms and contexts that can be seriously messed up. (Props to Randy for acknowledging this from time to time.) How about a dedicated regular feature about ridiculous products for men, to balance things out? Or letting your female intern speak on the show? That’s what I’d call being even more brainy about your beauty.

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