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Has coconut oil finally met its match?

As ardent fans of the Beauty Brains already know we’re strong proponents of using coconut oil to treat hair.

Based on what we have seen in the scientific literature, coconut oil is the only oil able to penetrate to the cortex of hair where it waterproofs from the inside out. But now it looks like the scientists at Unilever may have some new research showing that other oils work similarly.

According to some private correspondence we’ve received, the team working on the Dove Advanced Hair Series product line has been measuring “the absorption of other oils into hair that is damaged. When hair is damaged, the cuticle lifts and hair becomes more porous. This creates openings for other types of materials to penetrate into the fiber. Depending on the extent of the damage and the opening of the cuticle, other materials may be able to get inside the hair strand to provide a benefit.”

While this is far from definitive because we have yet to see any published data, it is an intriguing notion. Perhaps this could be the science behind the Dove product discussed in this video?

Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.


Beauty Science News – April 13

Beauty news for nosey know-it-alls…



Vintage cosmetic video – Maybelline mascara


This 1956 Maybelline mascara ad is remarkable for one simple reason. (And no I’m not talking about the haunting echo effect at the beginning.)

It’s remarkable because of the straightforward scientifically, solid approach it uses to market the product. Basically the message is “use eyebrow pencil to make your eyebrows stand out and use mascara to make your lashes more pronounced. ”

There are no fancy exaggerations, no magic ingredients, and no claims about making your lashes look 97% thicker. It’s almost as if they’re selling the idea of using eye make up rather than any particular brand of makeup itself.

I wonder if this approach would still work today or is the market too jaded?


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What’s the deal with facial fillers?

Collagen is the scaffolding that supports your skin. As you age and those collagen fibers break down and are no longer replenished to the same extent, wrinkles start to form. If you want to treat wrinkles by getting some of that collagen back you have three choices.

1. Topical collagen creams

This is an easy and inexpensive option. The only problem is that they DON’T WORK! Rubbing collagen on your skin doesn’t do a damn thing for wrinkles.

2. Creams that stimulate collagen synthesis

This approach is a little more expensive (or a lot more expensive depending on which brand you buy) and scientifically speaking there’s a little better chance that this will do more for your skin than just rubbing on collagen. Unfortunately,  most of that scientific data on collagen is based on in vitro testing on human skin cells in the lab. There’s little if any data showing that it actually works on people.

3. Collagen injections

This is a little more painful and a lot more expensive but injecting collagen (or other fillers) really works. Just in case you’re  flustered over facial fillers we asked friend of the Brains Dr. Michele Koo to break down the details.

Filler Injections – The Newest, The Latest, is Collagen Passé

How do you choose what filler to use for what? How do you know what’s the “right filler to use” for your particular complaint? Are all fillers the same? Collagen injections are rather passé, as there are many products that far outlast the previous generations of collagen.

With so many different types of fillers that are currently available, Radiesse, Sculptra, Voluma, Juvederm, JuvedermUltra Plus, Restylane, ….etc etc, it is really tough to choose. Often times, your plastic surgeon or dermatologist will suggest only one type of filler for everything. Others will suggest one type for your eyes and another type for your lips and cheeks.

Hyaluronic acid and hydroxyapetite

There are currently two basic types of fillers on the market that are FDA approved. One is hyaluronic acid and the other is hydroxyapetite. The former is a type of thick viscous gel and the latter is more of a hard calcium substance. Both are injected with a needle.

The hydroxyapetite type of filler, Radiesse, is recommended for those who have true loss of volume from the face in cases of HIV facial muscle atrophy. Many plastic surgeons of dermatologists will use this product for large volume deficits of the face for cosmetic purposes other than the above.

The remainder of the products consists of hyaluronic acids,the differences are in their molecular make up. Some are more “cross linked” and more complex making the product more stable or more hydrophilic (attracting water from surrounding tissues) and will determine how “big” of a fill can be achieved. All products will last about 12-18 months. The Voluma is claiming longevity of 2 years.

The bottom line

Make sure your plastic surgeon or dermatologist is well versed in the use of the product they choose and ask why they are choosing that particular product. My personal favorite is Juvederm Ultra Plus for overall use in lips, lines of the face and even in the hollows under the eyes. I also use Restylane, Silicone (off label FDA use) and Juvederm and Juvederm Voluma. I tend not to use Radiesse or Sculptra as I feel they are too rigid and very unforgiving for facial creases and lips. I find that Restylane does not last as well as Juvederm therefore that is not my first choice for fillers, but in cases of a first time nervous patients or a very thin-skinned patient I might choose to use it.

You can reach Dr. Koo at www.drmichelekoo.com and follow her on Twitter at @drmichelekoo.

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Is bar soap bad for hair?

Kviskas says…Hello, my question is: Can I use a piece of ordinary toilet soap instead of a shampoo? Some say it’s really harmful, others say something like “My grandma has been using it all her life and still has wonderful hair.” When I tried it I loved the volume it gave my blond thin hair (after soap I also used a conditioner), so I’d love to use it all the time, but afraid that it can make my hair dry and fragile. 

The Beauty Brains respond: 

You CAN use bar soap on your hair but it’s certainly not the best option. Here’s why:

Soap lacks conditioning agents

Even the best modern soap bar is not very good at depositing conditioning agents on here.  Most shampoos (except perhaps the clarifying varieties) contain some level of conditioning agents which help detangle hair and prevent snagging which can cause damage and breakage. This is less of an issue if you’re following up with a separate conditioner but it’s still something to be aware of.

Soap causes scummy build up

This is less of a problem than it used to be but if you have hard water and you use regular bar soap you may experience a build up of soap scum on your hair. (This is sometimes referred to as “bathtub ring.”) It occurs because the mineral ions in hard water displace the sodium ions from the soap which results in an insoluble gunk that won’t rinse away very easily.

Regular soap is not good for skin

Classic soap (we’re not talking about synthetic detergent bars here) has a high pH which is problematic for skin. The high pH of soap increase the amount of time required for the skin’s acid mantle to restore itself. That means your skin is more prone to dryness and infections.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Occasional use of bar soap as shampoo is perfectly fine. However, if you make it a daily practice you’re likely to find that your hair is in worse condition than if you used a traditional shampoo.


Is your shower sponge making you sick?

LindyGirl asks…How often should you replace your shower pouf? Is the ‘once a month’ rule of thumb genuine or a marketing ploy?

The Beauty Brains respond:

When providing a rigorous scientific answer to a question such as this I think the most important first step is to come up  a good title. Before settling on “Is your shower sponge making you sick?” I had also considered the following titles:

  • Bacteria in your bath.
  • What’s lurking on your loofah?
  • Perilous pathogens on your pouf!

I hope you enjoyed this little peek behind the Beauty Brains curtain  - now on with the answer!

Shower poufs and pathogens

According to Journal of Clinical Microbiology, changing your pouf only once a month may not be often enough! That’s because poufs, sponges, and loofahs can harbor various strains of pathogenic bacteria. Specifically, researchers found gram-negative (Pseudomonas, Xanthomonas, and Klebsiella) as well as gram-positive (Enterococcus and group B Streptococcus) species. (To be clear, this study was done on loofahs which are cellulosic in nature. But the plastic-like material of poufs and synthetic sponges have also been shown to support bio-film growth.)

Clean and dry

That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to buy a new cleaning aid. You could clean the old one, if you do it properly. The study authors recommend soaking your loofah in 10% solution of hypochlorite (bleach). Unfortunately, the regular bleach you buy in the store only contains about 3 to 8% Sodium hypochlorite and that’s when it’s fresh. If you have and old jug of bleach that’s been sitting around your house the active content could be even less. Still, it can’t HURT to use a weaker bleach  solution to disinfect, you’re just less likely to completely kill everything. But, its certainly better than doing nothing.

By the way, in case you think you’re being clever by letting your sponge thoroughly dry out in the hopes that  lack of moisture will prevent bacterial growth, think again. According to the paper it takes almost 2 weeks of drying to kill off the microbes. I may be frugal but skipping showering for two weeks is not worth saving the cost of a new sponge.


Can skin cleansers really deliver vitamins and other anti-aging ingredients or is that all hype? We explain it all. Plus: In Beauty Science News we cover the case of the Fashion Billionaire and the Fountain of Youth.  Wow! 

Click below to play Episode 25 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show notes

Beauty Science News: The Case of the Fashion Billionaire and the Fountain of Youth

70 year old Fashion Designer Peter Nygard says stem cell treatments are making him younger.

Question of the week: Can skin cleansers deliver active ingredients?

Cindy asks: Can facial cleansers deliver active ingredients like AHAs and vitamin C?

Let’s start by looking at what methods can be used to deposit ingredients from a rinse off product.

Coacervation and dilution deposition

The ingredient has limited solubility in water- as the product as diluted during rinsing the product “falls out” of solution and stays on the skin.


Involves the use of a shell or vesicle which serves 3 purposes:

1. Suspends the active in the delivery medium
2. Shields the active from interaction with other ingredients
3. Deposits the active on substrate in such a way that it remains after rinsing.

A thorough discussion of all the different types of encapsulation is beyond the scope of this show but in rinse off systems phospholipids, polymers, and even silicones can be used as encapsulates.

Can you tell if a product will deposit actives by reading the ingredients?
Unfortunately, either of these methods are tough to spot just from ingredients. That’s because the ingredients which are responsible for deposition are typically multifunctional and can serve other purposes in the formula.

For example, the same surfactants used in coacervation are used to clean and provide lather. The same polymers that can encapsulate actives are used to thicken. In addition not every delivery system works for every ingredient. Phospholipid encapsulates can’t deliver water loving materials like Vitamin C. The best you can do is look for a reputable brand which gives some indication of how it works.

Here are some ingredients that are proven to be deliverable from skin cleansers.

According to this paper it is possible to deliver sal acid to skin from cleansers with acrylate polymers. We also found another study published by company shows increased deposition/adhesion of sal acid when encapsulated which makes sense. And we’ve also seen similar evidence for other acne drugs like 5% Benzoyl Peroxide In a cleanser and 2% resorcinol.

We know that fluoride can be delivered from a cleanser, namely toothpaste. This is thought to work because Fl more easily sticks to the enamel that has been attacked by acid producing bacteria. So it’s a type of charge deposition.

You’ll see a lot of anti aging actives in cleansers, like vitamins, like C, E, and niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, However, there’s little evidence that these will deposit. One exception that we’ve seen with data to back it up is vitamin C which can be delivered from a silicone vesicles that’s based on PEG-12 Dimethicone.

Dandruff shampoo are over the counter drugs which are proven to work so we know that actives like Coal tar, ketaconazole, sal acid, selenium sulfide, zinc pyrithione will deposit from a rinse off system. Keep in mind that the conditions required to deposit on hair are not necessarily the same as those for depositing on skin.

There are antibacterial wash products but those don’t necessarily have to remain behind after rinsing because they can kill bacteria on contact. On the other hand, antimicrobials like benzalkonium chloride could deposit by charge.

Moisturizing oils
Oils are relatively easy to deposit on skin by using surfactants bilayers, polymers, nonionic capsules and so forth. For example, P&G has patented technology to deliver petrolatum from a body wash and we’ve seen studies showing that plant oils such as jojoba, sunflower, and soybean can be delivered as well.

UV absorbers
Finally, believe it or not, you can even deliver UV absorbers from a facial cleanser or body wash. Aquea Scientific has a patent on this technology and it can be found in the Freeze 24/7 line. It really works but has limitations. It works by encapsulating the sunscreen and incorporating a cationic polymer to create some charge deposition.

So know you know HOW actives are delivered from cleansers and you have an idea of which actives really work, let’s talk about why you’d want to get your actives from a cleanser rather than a leave on product like a cream or lotion because there are advantages and disadvantages to this approach.

Advantages of using a cleanser to deliver actives
If you really can deliver actives from a cleanser there are several advantages.

  • Improve convenience. For example, you can eliminate a step by applying sunscreen while you wash your face.
  • Enhance functionality, you can boost the benefit by combining with a cleansing step for example, if you’re scrubbing your face to exfoliate it, you can exfoliate even better by including an AHA in the cleanser.
  • Eliminate a negative. For example, you can deliver dandruff actives from a conditioner but some people, especially guys, think that conditioners may leave junk on their scalp that makes the problem even worse. Delivering the actives from a shampoo solves that problem.

Disadvantages of using a cleanser to deliver actives
However, things aren’t always that simple and there are some serious issues with this approach.

  • Reduces performance. Anytime you’re striving for 2 in1 approach you’re going to compromise efficacy.
  • Makes it harder for you to pick products that really work. It’s hard to spot a cleanser that will really deliver what it says. You have to really scrutinize a cleanser that will deliver SPF it’s kind of a no brainier with a leave on product.
  • Increases product cost to more expensive products: If you want to deliver 2% acid from a cream you put in 2% if you want to deliver 2% from a cleanser you may have to put in 5% AND/OR you may have to have expensive delivery system like encapsulation. And you STILL won’t deliver an optimum dose. So why pay more for a product that does less?

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Cleansers can deliver active ingredients but there will certainly be a trade off in performance. You have to ask yourself WHY you would choose delivery from a cleanser rather than a leave on product to make the best choice.

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.


Can you make your own Tend Skin ingrown hair treatment?

Rozy asks…Can you make your own Tend Skin ingrown hair treatment?

The Beauty Brains respond:

The answer is sort of…kind of…maybe…a little bit.

Rascally Rozy’s question was prompted by this video  which shows you how to make your own Tend Skin by crushing aspirin tablets and mixing them into isopropyl alcohol and witch hazel. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as Lacey makes it appear.

What is Tend Skin and how does it work?

Tend Skin, as most ingrown hair products, uses either acetylsalicylic acid (aka aspirin) or salicylic acid to unblock the follicle by removing dead skin cells and to provide an anti-inflammatory effect. Tend Skin is a patented formula which optimizes the effect of the acetylsalicylic acid (let’s just call it ASA, ok?) by combining it with specific ratios of alcohol and polyols such as glycerin and propylene glycol. According to the patent, polyols like these are critical to proper product performance. The patent also notes that the “most effective and soothing” concentration of ASA is about 15 percent. Here, then, are the Tend Skin Ingredients along with the function of each one:

  • Acetylsalicylic Acid – active ingredient that unblocks pores and soothes skin
  • Isopropyl Alcohol – solvent
  • Butylene Glycol, Glycerin, Diglycerin – polyols that help deliver the ASA and provide good skin feel.
  • Cyclomethicone – spreading agent
  • Polysorbate 80 – coupling agent

Can you really make your own Tend Skin?

Lacey’s recipe calls for 9 tablets of aspirin mixed into Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) and another 4 tablets mixed into Witch Hazel for a total of 13 tablets. Each tablet contains 325 mg of the active ingredient, Acetylsalicylic Acid, and the rest is starch which is an excipient or carrier. That means 1/2 cup of her recipe contains about 4.5% ASA. As we noted above, the optimal concentration of ASA is about 15%. So Lacey’s recipe is only about 1/3 as powerful as the product she’s trying to copy.

Couldn’t she just triple the number of aspirin tablets? It’s not that easy because there’s a solubility issue. She’s using over the counter IPA which is only 70% alcohol; the rest is water which is not a good solvent ASA. So her mixture is leaving some of the ASA undissolved. Also, all that starch she’s adding won’t dissolve in alcohol so it makes a white sludgy mess. (She even says in the video that you have to shake the product every time because it settles out.)

So there are three basic problem with this DIY Tend Skin:

1. The active ingredient concentration is too low.
2. It lacks polyols which help optimize the deliver of the active.
3. It’s gunked up with starch which makes it impossible to tell if the active ingredient is properly dissolved.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

While you can attempt to make your own solution of acetylsalicylic acid it’s difficult to optimize it to give you the best effect of treating ingrown hairs. You may save some money but you’ll also lose some efficacy. There are other ingrown hair products on the market that use the same basic technology that are much less expensive than Tend Skin. Using one of those is likely to give you better results than trying to make your own.


Beauty Science News – April 6

More scoops from the seamy underbelly of the world of beauty science…



Penetrex cream – Look at the label

Penetrex is a top-selling health and beauty product on Amazon. How does it reduce painful inflammation? Let’s look at the label.

Apparently this is another one of those companies that doesn’t like to share product information because I couldn’t I can’t find a complete ingredient list anywhere.  So, here are the active ingredients listed on their website:

  • Vitamin B6
  • Arnica
  • MSM
  • Cetyl Myristoleate
  • Shea Butter
  • Boswellia Serrata

Penetrex claims

  • Penetrex represents a revolutionary breakthrough in the treatment of inflammation related ailments including: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome , Tennis Elbow,  Golfer’s Elbow, Tendonitis, Bursitis, Arthritis, Plantar Fasciitis.
  • Utilizing an innovative topical process, Penetrex delivers …deep into muscles, nerves, ligaments & tendons.
  • Researched & developed by a renowned Chemist in Southern California, Penetrex is available without a prescription.

How does Penetrex work?

This one is a puzzle to me since, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t contain any of the approved over-the-counter drug actives for inflammation. The website provides a breakdown of what each ingredient does but unfortunately this information seems to be more anecdotal in nature than anything else. What I mean by that is they claim these ingredients are known to work yet they don’t cite any specific studies proving the point. The only example of a clinical study which is cited is in regards to Cetyl Myristoleate. However this particular study was done on oral dosage with the patients also using topical treatment “according to their perceived need.”  If they tested a combination of the orally ingested compound along with the topical treatment there’s no way to tell if the topical treatment alone is effective!

The Beauty Brains bottom line

I don’t see anything to demonstrate that this product would really be effective but they do offer a money back guarantee. I suppose if you want to buy some of this you can always return it but let the buyer beware!  By the way, if anyone from Penetrex happens to read this and you have any additional information on how your product works, we’d be happy to publish it.