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Can magic mushrooms really lighten skin?

BC says…I read this statement on another beauty blog: “Notorious for their hallucinogenic properties, mushrooms are more than just a mind-alerting substance. They also have powerful beautifying benefits!” This sounds like an urban myth to me what’s the scoop?

The Beauty Brains respond:

Scoop-wise we agree this does sound far-fetched but, even though the details are a bit screwed up, there is some true science behind using mushrooms for beauty benefits.

Mushroom extract does have skin lightening properties…

The product in question is the Elure Skin Brightening System which features Melanozyme,™ a trademarked version of lignin peroxidase. For those not up on your enzymatic mushroom extracts, lignin peroxidase is supposedly able to decompose eumelanin, one of the types of melanin found in the skin. (FutureDerm has an excellent in-depth review of the product so rather than rehash all the details here we’ll direct you to her post. But for now suffice it to say that there is at least some in vivo and in vitro testing that shows lignin peroxidase can indeed light skin.)

…but the mushrooms aren’t so magic

But back to the question about magic mushrooms. The idea that a potent hallucinogen can be safely used in a skin cream certainly makes for a compelling story. But in reality this skin lightening enzyme is not generally generally produced by the same type of mushroom that is used as a psychotropic drug. According to the patent which covers lignin peroxidase production, the enzyme is isolated from the fungus known as “White Wood Rot” which doesn’t sound nearly as awesome as “magic mushrooms” which are technically known as Psilocybe cyanescens.

The Beauty Brains bottom-line

There is some science behind the idea of using mushroom extract as a skin lightening agent. Unfortunately it doesn’t come from the same mind bending agent we all used back in college. (Wait a minute – did I just say that out loud?)

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Would you put radioactive dirt on your face?

You won’t believe what they do to this model’s face to sell Dorothy Grey’s cold cream!

They put RADIOACTIVE dirt on her face to prove how well the cleanser works – they actually show the Geiger counter!

Fortunately, modern cosmetic chemists don’t use such potentially dangerous test methods. Today we can quantify residual oil and dirt through a variety of techniques like Gas/liquid chromatography or Atomic Absorption which don’t involve exposing the test subjects to radiation.

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Is this mineral makeup really free of harmful stuff?

Moulin Rouge says…I just saw this Deep Bronzing Mineral Bronzer by Divine Cosmetics on Amazon.com. It’s cheap, it says its comparable to MAC makeup and it’s “FREE of harmful ingredients.” Should I buy it?

The Beauty Brains respond:

It depends on whether or not you’re Canadian. One of the ingredients in the formula, Ferric Ferrocyanide, is classified as “expected to be toxic or harmful, suspected to be an environmental toxin, and to be persistent or bioaccumulative,” according to Health Canada.

Risk is a combination of hazard and exposure

But seriously, the true risk of any given ingredient is determined by both the intensity of the hazard and the degree of exposure. In the case of a colorant such as this one which is only applied topically, the exposure should be quite low.

Still, one would think that any company wanting to make the claim “free of harmful ingredients” might have opted out of using something with CYANIDE in the name. Sheesh!

Deep Bronzing Mineral Bronzer ingredients:

Mineral Talc, Mica, Iron Oxides. May contain: Carmine, Ferric Ferrocyanide.

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There’s a lot more to making cosmetics than just mixing stuff up in a beaker. Listen to this week’s show to learn all about how cosmetic scientists create the products you use everyday. 

Click below to play Episode 50 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show notes

Take the cosmetic expert quiz

Here’s a fun quiz posted to test your cosmetic knowledge.  Go to the FDA website to check your answers or read them at the bottom of this post.

TRUE OR FALSE:

  1. FDA must approve cosmetics before they go to market.
  2. Using mascara the wrong way can cause blindness.
  3. Tattoos used to be permanent but now lasers are an easy, reliable way to erase them.
  4. Cruelty free or not tested on animals means that no animal testing was done on the product and its ingredients.
  5. There are non-animal tests that can replace all animal testing of cosmetics.
  6. If a product is labeled as all natural or organic it is probably hypo allergenic
  7. Even if a product is labeled hypo allergenic it may contain substances that can cause allergic reactions for some people.
  8. Choosing products with the claim dermatologist tested is a way to avoid an allergic reaction or other skin irritation
  9. Lots of lipsticks on the market contain dangerous amounts of lead.
  10. About 60 to 70% of what you put on your skin is absorbed into your body.

Question of the week…What does a cosmetic scientist do? 

Mia asks…You talk about not only ingredients but also advertising and regulations so there must be more to your job than just chemistry. Can you explain more about what a cosmetic chemist does?

What is a cosmetic scientist?

It’s not surprising Mia has this question considering that cosmetic science seems to be some deep dark secret unless you’re in the industry. Even in college teaching courses in chemistry there is literally zero mention of the field of cosmetics. A cosmetic scientist may involve chemistry or some other scientific discipline. But it involves much more than just being a “cook” who mixes products together.  The term “Product Developer” is more accurate in some respects.

Where do you find cosmetic scientists?

You might logically assume that cosmetic scientists would work for cosmetic companies. And of course it’s true that cosmetic companies do hire these researchers but you might be surprised to find out where else cosmetics scientists work.

The cosmetics industry can be divided into five basic categories:

* Finished goods manufacturers
* Raw Material Suppliers
* Consultants and Testing
* Laboratories
* Government
* Academia

And even across these different parts of the industry there are many different sub types of cosmetic scientists.

Types of cosmetic science careers

* Product Development Chemist/ Cosmetic Chemist
* Analytical Chemistry for raw materials and production
* Cosmetology
* Manufacturing Engineer
* Safety Specialist evaluates raw materials and finished goods to establish their safety during use
* Regulatory Specialist ensures compliance with local and global regulations
* Toxicologist/Safety Specialist evaluates raw materials and finished goods to establish their safety during use
* Microbiologist
* Packaging Engineer
* Perfumer
* Claims development to support product performance
* Quality Assurance
* Technical Sales Representative assists customers (product developers) with formulation and technical support
* Marketing
* Science Public Relations
* Educator

What does a cosmetic scientist do?

Rather than try to explain all the functions of all these different careers we’ll do a little deep dive into the role of the product development chemist which, arguably , has the broadest exposure/responsibility across all these careers.

Creating an idea
Driven by a combination of new technology, consumer insight, and business needs.

  • Co-author concepts for testing
  • Inspire the marketing department with new product ideas
  • Developing the product

Making the product

Mixing products,  stability testing, cleaning glassware, chasing down raw materials. Work with fragrance houses to make products smell good. This includes writing briefs, testing samples, running consumer panels, etc. Working with Packaging, Micro, Regulatory, etc.

Researching consumer insights

Sitting behind the two-way mirror in a focus group.

Efficacy testing and claims substantiation

  • Test products to prove that they really work
  • Tress testing, instrumental tests, large consumer panels.
  • Evaluating products in the salon
  • Work with stylists to test on real people. An opportunity to see/feel how your products actually perform.
  • Developing advertising

Create compelling demonstrations which bring product benefits to life visually

Working with advertising agencies to develop supportable claims

Technical consulting for TV commercials
Here’s a commercial that I worked on:

Writing and reviewing label copy

  • Claims (as discussed above), LOIs, warning statements, net weight, etc.

Trouble shooting manufacturing issues

  • Work with Operations team on scale up
  • Troubleshoot manufacturing issues

Educating the sales team and retail customers

Explain product benefits, help the sales team do a better job of selling the product to Walmart, Target, etc.

Promoting the product through Public Relations

  • Staging “show and tell” events
  • Desk side interviews with beauty editors

Assisting with consumer complaints and litigation

  • Investigate cause of consumer complaints
  • Assist council with any resulting litigation

Working with attorneys on intellectual property issues

Applying for new patents and lawsuits related to existing patents
LIL buy it now button

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

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

Click here for all the The Beauty Brains podcasts.

Quiz answers:

  1. FDA must approve cosmetics before they go to market. F
  2. Using mascara the wrong way can cause blindness. T
  3. Tattoos used to be permanent but now lasers are an easy, reliable way to erase them. F
  4. Cruelty free or not tested on animals means that no animal testing was done on the product and its ingredients. F
  5. There are non-animal tests that can replace all animal testing of cosmetics. F
  6. If a product is labeled as all natural or organic it is probably hypo allergenic. F
  7. Even if a product is labeled hypo allergenic it may contain substances that can cause allergic reactions for some people. T
  8. Choosing products with the claim dermatologist tested is a way to avoid an allergic reaction or other skin irritation. F
  9. Lots of lipsticks on the market contain dangerous amounts of lead. F
  10. About 60 to 70% of what you put on your skin is absorbed into your body. F
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What is Clarins Beauty Flash Balm?

Madeira must know…What is Clarins Beauty Flash Balm? Is it a primer? A moisturizer? What does it do? (If anything).

The Beauty Brains respond:

According to Clarins this product “instantly moisturizes, brightens, and tightens facial contours so skin looks rested and relaxed.” It also “prepares skin for perfect makeup application.” We suppose you could call this a “moisturizing primer.”

Flash in the pan

A quick look at the ingredients (see below) reveals that the product is water-based and contains the following key ingredients:

  • Hygroscopic agents (propylene glycol and glycerin) which will help bind moisture to skin. However if the climate is very dry these kinds of ingredients can actually pull water out of the skin.
  • Octyldodecanol – a hydrocarbon-based emollients that will help make skin feels smoother.
  • Starch which is a film former. That means as it dries on your skin it will make it feel tighter. This can have a temporary effect on reducing fine lines and wrinkles.

It’s also important to note what this product does NOT contain. There are no highly occlusive moisturizing agents to seal moisture in the skin, such as petrolatum or dimethicone. There are no skin resurfacing agents that would truly make this product “brightening” such as a retinoid or an alpha hydroxy acid.

The Beauty Brains bottom-line

This product should do pretty much what it claims as long as you don’t get your hopes too high. It will certainly provide some degree of moisturization (although there are much better moisturizers on the market); it will also smooth skin and help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. The starchy film combined with the octyldodecanol should provide a good base for make up. Just remember that it won’t provide any sustained benefits to your skin – once you wash it off the benefits will disappear.

Beauty Flash Balm Ingredients

Aqua/Water/Eau, Propylene Glycol, Octyldodecanol, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Starch, Glycerin, Polysorbate 60, Sorbitan Stearate, Olea Europaea (Olive) Leaf Extract, Carbomer, Phenoxyethanol, Bisabolol, Sodium Hydroxide, Parfum/Fragrance, Butylene Glycol, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Citrate, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Leaf Extract, Algae Extract, Hexyl Cinnamal, Linalool, Coumarin, Benzyl Salicylate, Hydroxyisohexyl 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Hydroxycitronellal, Citronellol, Geraniol, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone, Eugenol, Limonene, Isoeugenol, Ci 15985/Yellow 6E.

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Is it okay to melt coconut oil in a microwave oven?

Lindsay Girl asks…I have used extra virgin coconut oil in my hair as a deep conditioning treatment once a week for several years now. I melt the oil in the microwave. This morning I was reading in an article on the naturallycurly.com website that the author of the article “heard” that you shouldn’t warm coconut oil in the microwave because that will “alter the bonds” in the oil. What say the Brains? Can I safely put the coconut oil in the microwave to melt it? Or is there a better way?

The Beauty Brains respond:

When LG raised this question in our Forum we said “no problem.” But after further consideration we realized that there is some risk involved with heating coconut oil in a microwave oven.

The danger of microwaving coconut oil

Coconut oil penetrates hair because of its size and the configuration of its carbon chain. Unless you’re heating it above the point where it will decompose, microwaving it should cause no problems. In other words, “melting” it is just fine. BUT you need to be very careful when using this approach. Here’s why:

Microwave ovens work by exciting the bonds between atoms, causing them to vibrate. The motion of the molecules vibrating and bouncing around generates heat. Different substances will absorb microwave radiation differently depending on a property called the “dielectrical constant”. Water molecules have a high dielectical constant; they are very mobile and will bounce around a lot. Oil molecules are larger and more fixed. Their dielectrical constant is smaller so and they will take longer to heat up. HOWEVER, the specific heat capacity of oil is less than water which means that oil will hold about twice as much heat as water will. And that means that it’s easy to over heat oil to the point where it could burn you. (f you really want to geek out on dielectrical constants and specific heat capacity check out this thread about microwave absorption by oil in the Physics Forum.)

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Melting coconut oil in the microwave is unlikely to hurt the oil but you could accidentally over heat it and give yourself a nasty burn. To be safe you might want to melt the oil in a bowl of hot water instead.

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What is Kajal and is it safe around my eyes?

Rozy asks…Is Himalaya Herbals Kajal safe to put around eyes? What ingredient gives it pigment?

The Beauty Brains respond:

Before we can talk about this specific product, we need to explain what is kajal is.

Curious about kajal

Those of you not familiar with Kajal may recognize it by its more common name: Kohl, which is a pigment that has been used since ancient time in parts of Asia and Africa to darken the area around the eyes. (“Kajal” typically refers to Kohl eyeliner while “Surma” refers to Kohl powder.)

Historically kohl was made from a sulfide of lead which, as we all know now, is not the safest of chemicals to expose yourself too. While some old-school kohl/kajal products still exist, most modern versions (like STILA Kajal Eye Liner use the name but not the lead. Instead, they use iron oxide pigments (like those used in mascaras) which are much safer and give the same basic effect.

Is Himalaya Herbals Kajal safe?

Here is where it gets tricky. Unfortunately this company, like many others, does not provide full ingredients lists for its products online. All we’ve been able to find is what they refer to as the “key ingredients” which to us is just marketing speak for “we’re only going to tell you about the ingredients we want you to know about.” Still for the sake of completeness here are the ingredients that we were able to find:

Almond Oil (Prunus amygdalus, Vatada) Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora, Karpura) Castor Oil (Ricinus communi, Eranda) Rose (Rosa damascene, Shatapatri) Triphala consisting of the fruits Emblica officinalis (Amalaki), Terminalia chebula (Haritaki) and Terminalia bellerica (Vibhitaki)

It’s obvious that this formula must have more ingredients since there’s nothing here that contains a black pigment. It’s likely that the product uses an iron oxide just like most other companies do you. But, since, in their infinite wisdom they’ve chosen not to share that information with us, there is no way to know for sure that they are not using a lead compound.

Unless you can get the company to give you a full ingredient list I would err on the side of safety and buy a product that’s honest and open about the ingredients it contains.

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On this week’s show we talk about the date rape nail polish, stinky celebrities, and more!  Plus a brand new game we call “Improbable Products.” 

Click below to play Episode 49 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show notes

Improbable Products

In this new game Randy challenges me to guess which of the following new beauty products is the fake.

  1. Old People’s Soap – a soap bar specially designed to neutralize the body odor produced by the elderly. It’s a necessity for nursing homes!
  2. Pig Perfume – a fragrance for dogs which uses pig pheromones to curb excessive barking. It’s the safe, muzzle free alternative.
  3. Eggshell Sunblock – a chemical free lotion that uses crushed eggshells to block UV light – for a “sunburn free eggsperience.”

Which do you think is fake? Listen to the show for the answer!

Beauty Science News

Chameleons and color changing cosmetics

Scientists have discovered how chameleons change color. Do color changing cosmetics work the same way?

Stinky celebrities versus science

According to Soft & Dri deodorant, Cameron Diaz, Matthew McConaughey and Bradley Cooper don’t use deodorant because of the “toxins that most deodorants contain.” So, Soft & Dri  offers an Aluminum-Free Deodorant that is “a safe alternative, with fewer chemicals, that goes gently onto any skin type!” This approach promotes chemophobia and it’s misleading because it implies that an aluminum free deodorant will do the same thing as an aluminum based antiperspirant – which it won’t.

Is the date rape nail polish for real?

You may have seen the news about the new nail posh that can detect date rape drugs. But is this for real? Tune in to find out.

Sensitive skin breakthrough

Beiersdorf, maker of Eucerin and Nivea, has developed a new compound for sensitive skin. One cause of skin irritation is when chemicals trigger nerve cells to fire – that signal is interpreted as pain or irritation. Apparently this compound, which they call Sym-sti-itve works by blocking that signal from reaching the nerve cells. They used capscicn which is pepper extract, known to be irritating. When their active is applied after the pepper extract it reduces or stops the irritation and when applied before the pepper it prevent the irritation from happening at all. This ingredient will be available in their Ultra sensive and anti-redness lines.

Is stress really bad for skin?

Everyone’s heard that stress is bad for skin but now science has as thing or two to say about it.

Is it safe to use DEET against mosquitos?
These days there’s much more concern over mosquito borne diseases like West Niles Virus and dengue fever. Fortunately, DEET is a good mosquito repellant but you’ll still hear the chemophobes complain that it’s not safe, particularly that it’s linked to brain swelling. Well, rest easy because a recent study has confirmed the safety of DEET. BTW – the study also confirmed that changes in diet (like eating lots of garlic) does NOT reduce the number of mosquito bites.

Ten innovations that might change the future of beauty – or not

It’s surprising to see what some people consider innovative. Listen to our discussion of the list and judge for yourself.

LIL buy it now button

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

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

Click here for all the The Beauty Brains podcasts.

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Does Avon ANEW Clinical Pro Line Eraser really work?

FK1221 asks…What is A-F33? According to AVON “It’s unlike AHA. Unlike Retinol. It works to deactivate collagen blocking ( what does ‘deactivate collagen blocking’ mean?) and help effectively boost collagen production in just 3 days. The look of deep wrinkles begin to fade in just one week.” What part does the ingredient Acetyl Tyrosinamide play in the formulation?

The Beauty Brains respond:

The product you’re referring to is officially known as Avon ANEW Clinical Pro Line Eraser and is new to the market as of September 2012. The magic ingredient Amino-Fill 33 is actually the Acetyl Tyrosinamide that you asked about.

What does “decrease collagen blocking” mean?

Our skin contains an enzyme called PLOD-2 that is partially responsible for ensuring our skin has an adequate amount of healthy collagen. As we age the production of this enzyme drops which causes collagen production to decrease. Less collagen means more lines and wrinkles. Supposedly, A-F 33 works to increase the levels of this enzyme so collagen production remains that youthfully high levels. In other words, the ingredient decreases the chemical that stops new collagen from being created.

Does it really work?

As always, it can be tough to separate the science from the marketing spin when it comes to anti-aging products. We haven’t been able to track down anything on this ingredient that was published in the peer-reviewed technical literature but we did find information from Avon about a poster session presented by one of their researchers at the Academy of American Dermatologists. Here is a summary of some of the key points along with our comments.

In vivo testing showed that the formulation “increased the thickness of the stratum corneum…and compressional elasticity of skin.”

Without being able to review the actual data it’s unclear whether the skin thickening was the result of plumping from moisturization or a more fundamental long-term structural change. It’s also impossible to tell the magnitude of the result. While the researcher noted that the results are statistically significant there is no indication of how large the improvement was. Therefore it’s impossible to tell if this product causes enough improvement to be noticeable to the average person.

In vitro research showed A- F33 was shown to stimulate the production of both collagen and elastin.

In vitro essentially means the testing was done on cells in a test tube not on “complete” skin on a real person. Chemicals applied directly to a solution of living cells have the opportunity to interact with those cells in ways that are much different than a product that is applied to the top of your skin. Therefore this kind of testing is directional at best. Plus, you’ll notice that the ingredient A-F33 was tested, not the finished product. So even if A-F33 works we have no way of knowing if the finished product contains enough of the ingredient to be effective.

ANEW Clinical Pro Line Eraser improved “fine wrinkling, pigmentation and skin texture better than the commercial treatment.”

The study notes that the ANEW product works better than a ”commercial anti-aging wrinkle treatment.” Unfortunately the reference does not disclose which anti-aging product was tested. If this product works better than a retinol containing product we might be impressed. However if the other anti-wrinkle product was simply a moisturizing lotion the results would be less meaningful. There’s no way to tell without access to the full study.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

We haven’t seen strong enough evidence to convince us that this product is worth its high price tag. It was would be really helpful if Avon was a little more forthcoming in the details of their testing or if they published the results in a peer-reviewed journal. Nonetheless we are a little more optimistic than Paula Begoun’s BeautyPedia site which cranked out a scathing review of this product. Unlike many other products there seems to be at least a nugget of science behind this treatment. Try it at your own risk.

Clinical Pro Line Eraser Ingredients

WATER/EAU
GLYCERIN
ETHYLHEXYL ISONONANOATE
OCTYLDODECANOL
DIMETHICONE
BUTYLENE GLYCOL
POLYMETHYL METHACRYLATE
TRISILOXANE
HYDROXYETHYL ACRYLATE/SODIUM ACRYLOYLDIMETHYL TAURATE COPOLYMER
ISOHEXADECANE
ACETYL TYROSINAMIDE
DIMETHICONOL
PEG-100 STEARATE
LAURETH-4
POLYSORBATE 60
POLYSORBATE 20
ASCORBIC ACID
BHT
SODIUM HYDROXIDE
DISODIUM EDTA
RETINOL
PHENOXYETHANOL
METHYLPARABEN

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Should I pat my face with water before applying oil?

Ida inquires: In another beauty-related forum, I read the following claim (from a member, not an “expert”) about applying a face oil: “Make sure your face and your hands are slightly damp when applying the oil. Rub the oil between your hands to emulsify slightly, then pat it on your face and massage it in. The oil will help trap the water in. ” Is this true? Can the skin really absorb water this way? And if so, is it beneficial in any way?

The Beauty Brain respond:

The quick answer is: it won’t hurt but it won’t really help much either.

How moisturizers work

The main moisturizing function of oil is to create a barrier that prevents the moisture in the deep layers of your skin from evaporating. The oil can only lock in the water that’s already absorbed by your skin. So, if you’ve just saturated your skin by taking a shower then you’ll lock in quite a bit of moisture with oil. But if your face is dry and then you just splash it with a little water before applying oil, you’re really not helping that much.

Creams and lotions are designed to deliver oil WITH water so you lock in the deeper moisture that’s already in your skin AND get a quick hit of surface moisture from the water in the lotion.

What is “emulsify?”

Also, just to clarify, you can’t really “emulsify” oil and water just by rubbing them together in your hands. There are many technical definitions of emulsify but to put it in layperson terms it means to disperse tiny droplets of one liquid in another liquid. Since oil and water water don’t naturally mix, you need a chemical known as an emulsifier (also called a surfactant) that allows the two to co-mingle without separating.

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