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What’s the right order to apply a BHA serum?

Little Rhino asks…I would like to add a B5 Serum into my skincare routine. I use a BHA ( salycic acid 2% ) lotion in the am/pm. I works well with my skin and mild acne. However, I do need a little extra boost of hydration. So the B5 sounded like a great place to start. Can these two products work together.  If yes, serum first-then lotion or vice versa?

The Beauty Brains respondLautrec_woman_at_her_toilette_1889

Lil’ Rhino’s question is really a “two-for-one.” Let’s break it apart and try to answer them one at a time.

What’s the right order to apply products?

The quick answer is that you should apply the BHA product directly to your skin first so nothing interferes with its exfoliating action. Ideally you should let it work for 2 to 5 minutes before applying any other product.

Is Vitamin B5 good for skin?

Ok, now that we know to apply moisturizer after a BHA treatment we need to find out if vitamin B5 is worth using as a moisturizer. (Note: For the sake of accuracy we need to point out that Vitamin B5 is pantothenic acid. Panthenol, which is typically used in cosmetic products, is the alcohol version of B5. So it’s chemically close but strictly speaking it’s not the same. Okay, now back to the answer…) To be honest, the answer to this one surprised us a bit. As a whole, the use of vitamins is over-rated in skin care and we didn’t expect to find that the B5 provided any specific benefit when applied topically. Surely any moisturizing effect is the result of the other ingredients in the formula and not the vitamin itself, right?

Wrong! At least according to one study which showed that lotions with panthenol helps skin retain moisture. The researchers tested three versions of a moisturizing cream formula: a control version without panthenol and versions containing 1% and 5%. Their results showed that after using the creams for 30 days, both of the panthenol-containing versions reduced moisturize loss through the skin better than the control.

What does this mean?

We don’t think this means you need to run out and spend a lot of money on a Vitamin B5 lotion because this study wasn’t designed to show that it works better than other, less expensive, ingredients. It just shows that B5 does provide protection against moisture loss. Should you buy a B5 cream? IF you know the product contains at least 1% panthenol and IF that product is not too expensive, then it could be worth a try. Just be sure to use if AFTER your BHA treatment.

Image credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e0/Lautrec_woman_at_her_toilette_1889.jpg

Reference: J Cosmet Sci. 2011 Jul-Aug;62(4):361-70.


Should beauty companies keep secrets from you? Episode 80

Do you think it’s okay for cosmetic companies to keep their ingredients a secret from you if it means you get better products? We discuss this question and more in today’s quick Q&A show.

Improbable Products5103209989_72f73816d9_o

Two of these “ancient secrets” have been found to really work; one of them is just made up. Can you spot which one is fake? Tune in to the show for the answer.

  1. An onion and Garlic wine cooler can kill Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
  2. Pancake syrup from middle eastern dates inhibits the growth of Strep and E coli.
  3. Goat grease fights the fungus that cause cradle cap in infants.

Can I protect a product from oxygen by transferring it to an airless pump?

Bronwyn asks…I know products in jars are not ideal but I found I bought a “Holy grail” product that happen to come in jars. Can I decant to an airless pump container or will the oxygen that it’s exposed to during process render the products ineffective?

I think that as long as you do the transfer quickly and avoid stirring up the product too much it may be worth the effort. Once you’ve transferred it to an airless pump it will be less likely to come in contact with oxygen than if you were dipping into the jar every time. Keep the container as full as possible to minimize head space. One question – where do you even get a container like this?

Are eyelash perms safe?

Michelle asks…I had an eyelash perm before without problems, but I was wondering if the procedure is safe. I couldn’t find anything on the FDA website, but apparently is not approved according to other sources. Does that mean the procedure is unsafe or because it is a cosmetic doesn’t really require approval?”

I thought these had gone away because of their so dangerous but there are still several eyelash perm products on the market. (All from small I companies, I believe.) I looked up the ingredients on one and this is a true perm: A high pH solution of ammonium thioglycolate. This is a BAD idea: the eyes absorb things really quickly and no one ever rinses their eyes long enough to get it out. You could seriously damage your eye with a product like this. I’m not even sure how well these products would work. Any curl you achieve wouldn’t last very long because even the longest lashes aren’t really very long any bend you create would quickly revert to its natural state.

Is this hydrogel claim bogus?

Ling asks…I was hoping you guys could help me with a product claim for Etude House Collagen Eye Gel Patch. It says on the packaging (in bad english) “Hydro-gel under eye patches formulated with collagen to revitalize and improve appearance around eyes.” I just want to clarify something – Etude House isn’t claiming that the collagen in the product is what is “revitalizing and improving the appearance around eyes” and that this product isn’t claiming to actually improve the eye area (since it says appearance) or prevent any aging. Right? Or are they misleading people with bad science?  Commas make a big difference it seems…

You’re right. Commas DO make a huge difference. To be completely accurate, the claim should be written with commas:

“Hydro-gel under eye patches, formulated with collagen, to revitalize and improve appearance around eyes.”

This way it’s clear that the product (NOT the collagen) is responsible for whatever revitalization and improvement it provides. It’s all about “weasel words” or, in this case, “weasel punctuation.”

Are Celloplex and Juvalift miracle products?

Lee asks…Can you expose CelloPlex and JuvaLift, please (unless these really ARE the ‘miracle products’ to which all the stars are turning!

I couldn’t find an ingredient list for Celloplex but any product that claims to work “better than Botox” is obviously over-hyped. There doesn’t appear to be any that special about Juvalift.  It contains (among other things) Ceramides (which are used in a lot of products) Retinol Palmitate (which is about the least effective form of retinol), and Palmitoyl oligopeptide (a peptide which is also used in other products.)

Is facial mapping for real?

More Blonde Than Human says…I’ve had two facialists praise facial mapping (wherein acne on different parts of the face correlates with functioning of various internal organs.) But it it seems… unscientific. Thoughts?

“Unscientific” pretty much says it all. This idea is so ridiculous that I was surprised to find so many articles in a quick web search. But even most of these articles said something like “such and such dermatologist says there’s no research that proves this is true.” We even had one reader say the following…

“These articles that discuss facial mapping I believe point out that the ancient Chinese used it so therefore it must be true (I’m Chinese btw and I’ve never heard of this from my family but rather from these articles!).”

This is a logical fallacy (Argument from antiquity).

Should beauty science be kept secret?

Irina asks…‘In your educated opinions: How important is secrecy (either technology or ingredients) when developing a new beauty product? And are there advantages to keeping some of those ingredients or technologies secret when the beauty product is released to the public?

I agree that Ingredients must be labeled… but that doesn’t mean the ingredient list discloses all the product’s secrets. For example:

  • Ingredient that has a surprise benefit – color protection.
  • Ingredient combination that works better than single ingredients – hairspray
  • How ingredients are put together makes a difference – patent on silicone dispersion.

Also, companies can protect specific technology with patents without being “secret.”

Why is sunscreen always greasy?

Roni asks…Why is sunscreen so slick and oily? 

Here’s a quick answer to your question: basically, you’re out of luck! Sunscreens feel oily for two reasons. First the UV absorbers used in sunscreens are oil soluble. Without a good slug of an oil like material the UV absorber won’t stay dissolved. Second, to keep the UV absorber on skin after exposure to sweat or moisture formulas have to be waterproof and that means more oil.

You might have better luck with some of the so-called “dry oil” products. I don’t recall a brand name off the top of my head but I have seen products that use esters which feel a little less greasy than traditional oils. Look for the phrase “dry oil” on the label.

Image credit: https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1397/5103209989_72f73816d9_o.jpg

What does face spray do for your skin?

Beyond35 asks…What’s the difference between a floral water and facial mist? The owner told me it [Wild Olive] was an infused water…I’m confused.

The Beauty Brains respond050725-N-1126D-006

I looked at this Wild Olive product. “Floral water” and “facial mist” are not technical terms but rather just marketing descriptions so there is no set meaning. A floral water could be an ingredient in a facial mist. Another question is, what’s the deal with these facial sprays?

Why lotions are better than face sprays

The product in question is Wild Olive Face Mist. According to their website this “product is an enriched water designed to help maintain good hydration levels in the deeper tissue of our skin.” The ingredients, referenced on the website, are basically water, a small amount of natural oils, glycerine, fragrance, glycerine, and a solubolizer (polysorbate-20) to help mix in the oils. I’m a bit surprised to see that there’s no preservative listed.

Spraying a water and oil mixture such as this one on your face will provide temporary hydration. I’m sure it feels quite nice if your skin is really dry. But, this type of product can’t deliver the same kind of long lasting moisturization that a cream or lotion can provide.

That’s because a moisturizer needs to be applied in a uniform layer across the skin so it can lock in moisture. (Moisturizers work by preventing water from evaporating through the skin. This is called Trans Epidermal Water Loss or TEWL.)

A spray like this will not uniformly coat your face and so it won’t reduce TEWL like a lotion will. Also, since this is a spray it consists of mainly water rather than the kinds of oils and waxes that really lock moisture in skin.

If you’re just looking for a fresh feeling and you have $20 bucks to spend, then this is the product for you. But if you truly want to deeply moisturize your face then you need a good facial cream.

Image credit: Wikipedia

What do YOU think? Do you use facial mists or sprays? Leave a comment and share your thoughts with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.


Do L’Oreal products really thicken hair? Episode 79

L’Oreal has a number of products that claim to actually thicken your hair. This week Randy and I take a look how these products work and which ones provide the best value.

Claim to Fame: Fructus Full & Plush Ends Plumper

This is the segment of the showgram where we look at popular personal care product claims and tell you what the claim really means, how it can be true, and whether or not it means the product is worth spending more money on. This week we’re looking at a hair thickening claim that used across several L’Oreal products most notably on Garnier Fructis “Full & Plush Ends Plumper.”

What is the claim?

We always start by reviewing the exact language of the claim because sometimes a claim implies something but doesn’t really say it. So here are the exact claims from this Fructus product:

  • Our first targeted treatment with Fibra-Cylane and pomegranate that plumps wispy ends for a fuller look.
  • PLUMPS thinned-out ENDS*
  • …penetrates and plumps hair for a full, voluptuous look.
  • Instantly the LOOK OF MORE HAIR*
  • Hair feels FULLER & looks THICKER*
  • Touchably SOFT & PLUSH*
  • *Garnier Fructis Full & Plush System of Shampoo, Conditioner & Ends Plumper treatment.

How can the claim be true?

First let’s point out that some of these claims can be supported by almost any conventional styling product. Any product that leaves a significant coating on the hair (especially true of mousses, gels, putties, and so forth) can be said to make hair “feel fuller.” And any product that helps lock your style in place (like a hairspray) can say that it instantly gives you the “look of more hair.” So to some extent this sounds like the same old marketing speak. Claims like this can easily be supported by a salon test that shows when you style your hair and lock it in place your hair style has more volume.

But, some of their other claims refer to penetrating hair and thickening individual fibers which is NOT something you can achieve by coating hair with conventional products. So to understand how they might support those claims we need to take a closer look at their special technology which they call “Fibra-Cylane.” By reviewing their ingredient lists and looking at their patents, it appears that Fibra-Cylane is an ingredient called aminopropyl triethoxysilane.

According to L’Oreal, this ingredient works like this:

“It penetrates the hair shaft, expands and strengthens the hair…”

“it’s…Similar to the silica gel used to fill cracks in car windshields, the technology is also inspired by wrinkle fillers for the skin…”

“…Filloxane’s small molecules slip through hair cuticles, attracted like magnets to proteins inside the fiber. They bind to the hair proteins as well as to each other, forming a rigid, stable network that adds volume to naturally thin or aging hair”

The idea appears to be based on what is called “sol gel” technology which involves converting a solution into a solid gel. This chemistry is used in glass coatings to fill in cracks. Here’s a link to a video by one of the researchers who worked on the technology which features a petri dish demo of how it works. Although, she admits that it’s not a very realistic demo because it uses a highly concentrated solution. But still it’s interesting. Based on looking at the hair tresses in the video it looks like the material helps hair fibers hold their shape but without a heavy crust. It’s easy to imagine how they could support these “volumizing” claims if that’s how it works.

L’Oreal makes several mentions of how Fibra-Cylane penetrates hair. If the molecule is small enough this could be true and there are test methods that have documented silicone penetration into hair. For example, this 1995 paper talks show how silicones can penetrate through the cuticle and intro the cortex using an analtyical procedure known as scanning time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectroscopy (TOF-SIMS).

Should this claim persuade you to buy the product?

There SEEMS to be something significant here, but I couldn’t find any clear evidence of how well this stuff works compared to conventional technologies. There are a number of patents related to using aminopropyl triethoxysilane on hair but I couldn’t find anything like “this stuff thickens hair fibers by 39%” which is the kind of evidence I’d like to see. There was a paper presented at one of the technical symposiums titled “3-aminopropyltriethoxysilane: A new compound stemming from sol-gel chemistry provides thin hair fiber with more volume” but I haven’t been able to track down a copy to see if it provides more details.

So, it seems that L’Oreal may have some unique technology that can thicken hair from within but it’s tough to say for sure. The good news is, it’s relatively easy for you to try it for yourself. The bad news is that it can be confusing because L’Oreal uses this technology in no less than 6 different brands. AND, the prices varies wildly so you have to be careful which product you buy so you don’t get over-charged. Let’s take a look at each one so you can pick the one that’s best for you. For each brand we’ll tell you which product uses this technology, what they call the technology, the ingredients in the product, and the cost per ounce.

Interesting side note:  look at all the different words L’Oreal has for “volume” across their hair care brands:

  • Fructis has normal sounding “Volume Extend” collection
  • For L’Oréal Professionnel there’s the “Série Expert Vol-u-me-try”
  • Kerastase has the “VOLUM-I-FIQUE” and the “Vol-u-mor-phose” collections.
  • Kerastase also has “DEN-SI-FI-QUE” line and the“DEN-SI-MOR-PHOSE” mousse
  • And finally their Vichy brand has a “NEOGENIC REDENSIFYING SHAMPOO.”

All these are different ways of saying it looks like you have more hair. Wow.

Ok, now let’s talk about the specific products. Again, in case you weren’t aware, these are ALL L’Oreal brands.

Garnier Fructis Full & Plush Ends Plumper Amplifying leave in serum

Technology name: Fibra-Cylane.

Comments: Obviously we’ve already talked about this one. As we said the technology is called “Fibra-Cylane.” As you can see from the ingredient list (which we’ll post in the show notes) it does contain aminopropyl triethoxysilane but it appears to use a lower level and it contains a good slug of a traditional styling polymer. So even if this one does thicken your hair that may be overwhelmed by the feeling of a crusty styling coating. However, it’s also the cheapest product in the line at just over $1.00 per ounce.


Cost: $5.49/5oz = $1.10/oz

Biolage by Matrix Advanced FiberStrong Fortifying Cream

Technology name: Intra-Cylane (with Bamboo)

Comments: This one uses Aminopropyl Triethoxysilane in a cream base but it appears to be at a higher level. So at $3.25/oz you’ll pay a little more but you may get more of the active agent.

Ingredients: Aqua / Water / Eau, Cetearyl Alcohol, Aminopropyl Triethoxysilane, Cetyl Esters, Amodimethicone, Parfum / Fragrance, Behentrimonium Chloride, Lactic Acid, Phenoxyethanol, Isopropyl Alcohol, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Trideceth-6, Benzyl Alcohol, Hexyl Cinnamal, Cetrimonium Chloride, Linalool, 2-Oleamido-1,3-Octadecanediol, Benzyl Salicylate, Citronellol, Limonene, Geraniol, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone, Bambusa Vulgaris Extract.

Cost: $22/6.8oz = $3.25/oz

Vichy Dercos Instant Filler

Technology name: Filloxane

Comments: Vichy calls the technology “Filloxane” because it “fills in” your hair. Get it? It’s the purest version basically just a solution of aminopropyl triethoxysilane in water. It’s $3.25/oz which is only slightly more expensive than the Matrix version so if you want to try it without the cream base, this is a great option.

Ingredients: Aqua, Aminopropyl Triethoxysilane, Lactic Acid, Benzyl Alcohol, Benzyl Salicytate, Citronellol, Hexyl Cinnamate, Hydroxycitronellal, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Limonene, Linalool, Peg-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Parfum (Fragrance).

Cost: $14/4.3 oz = $3.25/oz

L’Oreal Paris Advanced Haircare Volume Filler Fiber Amplifying Concentrate In-Shower Treatment

Technology name: Filloxane

Comments: Here they also use the name “Filloxane” for the technology. It’s also the same basic formula as the Vichy version except it has some castor oil to thicken it up and it sells for a few cents more.

Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Aminopropyl Triethoxysilane, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Lactic Acid, Fragrance, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Linalool, Limonene, Citronellol, Geraniol

Cost: $5.59/1.5 oz = $3.72/oz

L’Oreal Professional Volumetry Anti-gravity Serum Booster

Technology name: Intra-Cylane

Comments: Just like Matrix they call the technology Intra-Cylane. It’s appears to be the exact same formula base as the L’Oreal Paris product but it sells for about $10 per oz which is almost three times the price. So stay away from this one!

Ingredients: Water, Aminopropyl Triethoxysilane, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Lactic Acid, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Phenoxyethanol, Limonene., Linalool, Hexyl Cinnamal, Hydroxyethyl Urea, Geraniol, CItral, Benzyl Alcohol, Parfum

Cost: $6/0.6 oz = $10/oz

Kérastase Resistance Volumorphose Volume Expansion Treatment

Technology name: Intra-Cylane

Comments: Again we see the “Intra-Cylane” name used but the Kerastase name is what will really cost you. This one sells for $20/oz which is ridiculous! I think they may have discontinued this because I could only find it on reseller sites and not L’oreal’s actual website.

Cost: 30-0.66 oz vials/$400 = $20/oz.

So, there you have it, a complete run down on L’Oreal products with “sol-gel” technology.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

L’Oreal may have some unique technology that can thicken hair from within. However, even though the technology appears to be heavily protected by patents it’s difficult to say how well this works compared to conventional products. In fact, some of the claims L’Oreal makes can be achieved with standard formulas. This good news is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to try it out for yourself IF you know what to look for.

(Here’s the link to the Gawker article on the Food Babe vs. the Science Babe that we talked about.)


How to get rid of hard water on hair

Georgia asks…I have hard water where I live. Should I be using a chelating shampoo to remove mineral build-up? If so, should I use it every time I shampoo, every other time, etc. I color my hair and it is normal to dry.

The Beauty Brains respond796px-Hard_water_and_drop

Back when people used soap-based cleansers for their hair, hard water was a serious problem because soaps react with minerals to form an insoluble salts that build up on hair. Fortunately, the surfactants used in modern shampoos don’t cause this problem. Still, if your water is very hard you may get some mineral deposits from the residual rinse water drying in your hair. If you don’t notice this buildup then you probably don’t need to use a special shampoo. If you do notice your hair looking dull, shifting color, or feeling raspy then then using a chelating shampoo is not a bad idea on occasion. It’s unlikely that you’d need to use it everyday.

When shopping for a chelating shampoo look for “EDTA” on the label. That stands for Ethylene Diamine Tetra Acetate and it’s the ingredient that complexes with the minerals in the water and helps them rinse away. There are many shampoos that use EDTA at very low levels as part of their preservative so you should look for a shampoo designed specifically for chelating that uses higher levels of this ingredient.

If you’re shopping for a chelating shampoo to get rid of hard water on hair, you can support the Beauty Brains by buying through this link.


I’m confused about alcohol in cosmetics

SkinBiz says: I am a little confused re. the use of alcohol in skincare products, can anyone help me with which ones are not good for the skin and which ones are beneficial? Also what does it mean when a product range is certified halal?

The Beauty Brains respond:

Alcohol in cosmeticsred-wine-505296_640

There are two kinds of alcohol used in cosmetics that can be drying to skin:

  • Ethyl alcohol (also listed as Ethanol, Alcohol Denat or SD Alcohol)
  • Isopropyl alcohol (also listed as isopropanol)

These are drying to skin because they are short chain alcohols (very few carbon atoms in their backbone) which means they are liquids and can act as solvents. They can dissolve the natural protective oils in your skin.

Other kinds of alcohols can actually be good for your skin because they are long chain fatty alcohols which means they act like an oily moisturizer. The most common ones include:

  • Cetyl Alcohol
  • Stearyl Alcohol

Halal cosmetics

Essentially “halal” means the product is lawful according to The Islamic Food and Nutriition Council. In the case of foods you must avoid the following:

  • Pork and pork by-products.
  • Improper slaughter techniques for animals.
  • Ingredients made from carnivorous animals.
  • Intoxicants like alcohol.

You can learn more about halal products here: http://www.ifanca.org/halal/


Quicky beauty science questions Episode 78

This week we try something different: instead of taking one question and giving  it a very in depth answer, we a answer several questions very shallowly. Listen to the show and let us know what you think of this approach.

Are hair masks better than regular conditioners?question-63916_640-2

Alexandra asks…Is there a real difference between hair masks and regular conditioners. Or are masks just overpriced. Can you apply either in advance of shampoo and in case of oily or short hair? 

Of course it depends on which specific products you’re looking at, but in many cases “masks” and deep conditioners are not much different than regular rinse out products. (We’ve formulated such products.)

What is a “mask” in the context of hair anyway? Skin masks contain clay which dry on the skin to form a tight film. Hair masks don’t do that. It’s really just a marketing gimmick.

Do thickeners stop active ingredients from penetrating?

Erin asks…I’ve looked everywhere for information on the occlusive ratings for waxes and can’t seem to find any information. Do thickeners, such as glyceryl stearate SE, beeswax, cera bellina, etc. still allow penetration of goodies such as vitamin e, panthenol, and vitamins? Obviously, the percentage of wax would be a factor, but are some less occlusive than others? You’d think there would be some sort or rating guide out there somewhere.

Occlusivity typically means an ingredient will form a water proof layer on the skin that will keep moisture from evaporating. That doesn’t necessarily mean an occlusive ingredient will prevent other ingredients from getting into the skin. (Assuming of course that the ingredient in question will even penetrate skin.)

Since many, if not most, anti-aging creams that contain legitimate actives (like retinol and niacinamide) do contain waxes and thickeners like the ones you mentioned, I don’t see any reason to believe those ingredients are causing a problem.

If you’re allergic to latex are you allergic to shea butter?

Tindingo asks…What is in shea butter which can be irritated as latex? (I have read if you have latex-allergy than you must be allergic to shea butter.)

I found the answer from a paper published by the ALAA (The American Latex Allergy Association.) I had no idea there was such an association! They say…”The relationship between these materials remains unclear. There are currently no published studies that confirm the presence or absence of cross-reactive allergens in shea butter and natural rubber latex (NRL), but, they go on to say…

“even thought shea trees are not related genetically to rubber trees, a latex-type substance has been identified in some shea butters.”

So it’s not proven but there is some potential for concern.

Are oil infusions any better?

Duffy asked…Do oil infusions work differently then normal oils? I’ve come across herbalists which claim that oils have more beneficial properties when infused with herbs, e.g. calendula flower. Obviously I’m extremely skeptical, but I wonder if there’s any truth to this?

Well, I guess it depends on if the herb contains any oil soluble components that provide skin benefits. For example, rosemary, sage, and oregano do have some antibacterial properties. So IF an oil infusion contained sufficient amounts of these active ingredients it’s possible the infusion would be a better bactericide than the oil itself. For the most part, however, I’m very skeptical of such a claim.

Can I use retinol and niacinamide together?

Chris asks…is it okay to use retinol in evening and niacinamide in morning. Is there anything to look out for in terms of brand? 

Retinol product can be irritating and can make your skin more susceptible to UV damage so they should be used at night. Niacinamide can also cause some redness but does not matter in terms of UV exposure so using Niacinamide products in the morning is fine. By separating them you also reduce the chance of compounding the irritation.

Should I avoid oils on my hair?

Gabis asks…I’ve been meaning to start a Low-poo routine and one of the rules is to avoid products that contain mineral oil or other petroleum products. Aside from the famous petrolatum, mineral oil, parafinum liquid and vaseline, are there other common petroleum sub-products that are used in cosmetics? Mainly hair care products.

I guess that depends on what you mean by “sub-products”.  Crude oil is used to produce a wide range of cosmetic ingredients such as surfactants, emollients, emulsifiers, preservatives and pretty much any other class of ingredient you could need in a hair care formula.

But many of these same ingredients can also be derived from a plant source.  Take an ingredient like Cetyl Alcohol for example.  This is one found in nearly every hair conditioner. Cetyl Alcohol can be made by chemically modifying Palm Oil.  But it can also be made by chemically modifying a petroleum distillate.  When you pick up that bottle of conditioner you have no way of knowing what was the original source of your Cetyl Alcohol. Both ingredients will work exactly the same way so it doesn’t really matter.

The advice to avoid petroleum based products if you’re going Low-poo is not bad advice but it is incomplete.  What you really want to do is avoid long chain oils that will coat your hair and attract dirt & more oil.  That means staying away from Petrolatum & Mineral Oil is a good idea.  But you should also stay away from other long chain oils like Olive Oil, Sunflower seed Oil, Jojoba oil and pretty much any other natural oil.  These things will build up in your hair and cause it to be more dirty.

Does make up really have an expiration date?

CandyPuff asks…Does make up really have an expiration date?  I only wear make up occasionally and I am not thrilled at the prospect of throwing away a lipstick only used a few times because it is a year old.

The answer depends on the type of product. Here are three things to look for:

1. Does it still work? Some active ingredients can lose efficacy over time. (Probably not an issue with lipstick.)

2. Is it still aesthetically pleasing? In other words, does it look and smell ok. Fragrance and color fade over time and some oils can pick up a rancid flavor. This IS likely to happen to lipstick.

3. Is it still free from microbial contamination? Over time a preservative system may fail which means a product could grow bacteria or fungi. (This is less likely to happen with a lipstick because it doesn’t contain water.)

You have to look at each product on a case by case basis. Some will last beyond their expiration date and there’s little danger in continuing to use them. Others may put you at risk if they’ve expired, like mascara.

Does yogurt really nourish pet hair?

Barbara asks…Here’s claim to tackle: The pet product “Bark to Basics Blueberry Greek Yogurt Shampoo” says it cleans, repairs and nourishes the skin and coat and that it feeds protein to hair follicles allowing water to penetrate deep in root. This is so misleading it’s driving me nuts! 

A pet shampoo with misleading claims? Now there’s a shocker… Water does “penetrate” so you could always rely on that as claims support. But yogurt does not really feed hair follicles. At best, claims about nourishing hair are really about conditioning.


Can nail polish really be healthy?

KrisInPhilly asks…Can nail polish, like from Remedy Nails, be “healthy”? Is their claim that they have the most unique polish on the market true?

The Beauty Brains respond

Kris thanks for such a great question. I just wish I had a definitive answer about Remedy Nails.

Healthy polish?et_s_finger___3d_nail_art_by_kayleighoc-d61x937

I had trouble finding much information about how Remedy Nails claims to be so healthy and unique so I wrote to the company asking for an explanation. Unfortunately they have not responded. So, I can’t really tell for sure how they support their claims. In my humble opinion, it all depends on how you define “healthy.” Having worked in the beauty industry for many years, I can speculate how a company might respond when asked “what does healthy mean?”

Definition 1: Free from damage (that negatively affects appearance)

Example: Healthy looking nails.

Comment: Claims related to appearance are almost always easily substantiated.

Definition 2: Free from disease

Example: Fights nail fungus.

Comment: This would be a drug claim so I doubt Remedy Nails would use such as approach unless, of course, they are selling a drug product.

Definition 3: Improved quality

Example: Stronger nails, longer lasting color, etc.

Comment: This is a gray area. Nail strengtheners can also cause brittleness. Is that really healthier? Many people would say not.

Definition 4: Less dangerous side effects, less toxic

Example: No harmful solvents.

Comment: We’ve written about the dangers of breathing nail polish and there is certainly reason for concern about neurotoxicity. Water-based polishes could “healthier” in this regard. Perhaps this is Remedy’s approach? If so, do they provide the same quality polish as solvent-based systems? If not, you have to ask yourself: how much are you willing to give up to get a “healthier” product?

The Beauty Brains bottom line

As you can see from these examples, “healthy” is a very subjective claim that is open to interpretation. It would be interesting to see how Remedy Nails defines “healthy” for their products.

What do YOU think? Have we missed any definitions of healthy that you would include? Leave a comment and share your thoughts with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.


Are ceramides good anti-aging ingredients? Episode 77

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


Which anti-aging ingredients really work?

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

What are ceramides?

“Ceramide” is one of those buzzwords that gets thrown around a lot in the beauty industry, especially with regard to anti-aging. But I’ve never seen a good explanation of what a ceramide is, what it really does, and what to look for in a product. That’s what we’re going to cover today, starting with a little chemical background…

Ceramides are a special type of oily wax that’s naturally found in our skin (and other places.) In fact, the word ceramide comes from the Latin cera which means wax. Ceramides form a kind of water-proofing barrier in the upper layers of skin. They’re not only critical for helping skin retain water but they also help repair the skin’s natural barrier and regulate cells. Ceramide production dwindles with age which can result in dry skin, wrinkles and even some types of dermatitis.

Did you know that newborn infants, especially premature ones, may be born with a waxy or cheese-like coating on their skin that prevents them from losing too much moisture? That coating is called the vernix caseosa and it is composed, primarily, of ceramides.

Chemically speaking, ceramides consist of a long-chain or sphingoid base linked to a fatty acid. By the way, “sphingoid bases” were first discovered in brain fluid and they’re named after the Sphinx because the chemist who found thought them thought they had an “enigmatic structure.” Anyway, sphingoids make up about half of a ceramide. Therefore, ceramides are not a single thing – different types of ceramides can be made depending on which specific base and which fatty acid are combined. There are at least 9 different types of ceramides found naturally. To make things even more confusing there are not only ceramides but phytoceramides, psuedoceramides, and synthetic ceramides. So let’s define these before we go any further.

  • Ceramide: A waxy lipid that is occurs naturally in skin. It’s made by combining combine a fatty acid with a sphingoid base.
  • Phytoceramide: A ceramide made with a phytosphingosine (a special type of sphingosine found in yeast, plants and some mammalian tissues. Don’t get tricked by this because “Phyto” is a buzz word for made from plants so this sounds like a cool, green ingredient. In reality its sourced from yeast.)
  • Pseudo-ceramide: A lipid that has similar properties to a ceramide but which has a different structure. For example, Ceramide E is a pseudo-ceramide. Another example is Arachamide MEA. Pseudo-ceramides may be naturally occurring but typically are made synthetically.
  • Synthetic ceramide: A lab-created version of a ceramide found in nature.
  • For the most part, ceramides used in skin care are synthetic (whether they are true ceramides or pseudoceramides.) Ceramides can be sourced naturally but they are present at only low concentrations in plants and animals so naturally derived ceramides are expensive. And besides, based on what we’ve seen, it doesn’t matter if the ceramide is natural or synthetic as long as it has the right structure.

Understanding ceramide nomenclature

Understanding which ceramides are used in cosmetics is confusing because there are three different ways they can be named:

1. The original INCI name which simply refers to each ceramide by a number.

2. The revised INCI name (sometimes called the “Motta” system) which uses a three letter designation. The first letter is the type of amide-linked fatty acid. (N stands for Normal Fatty acid. A stands for Alphahydroxy fatty acid and O stands for Omega hydroxy fatty acid.) The second letter is the type of base. (S stands for Sphinogsine base, P stands for Phytosphingosine base and H stands for Hydroxysphingosine base.) If there’s an “E” in front of the two letters then that means it’s an ester linked fatty acid.

3. Some times the chemical name of the ceramide is used (which doesn’t include the word ceramide at all.)

What to look for on the label:

  • Ceramide 1 = Ceramide EOS
  • Ceramide 2 = Cermamide NS = N-stearoyl sphinganine
  • Ceramide 3 = Ceramide NP = N-stearoyl phytosphingosine
  • Ceramide 4 = Ceramide EOH
  • Ceramide 5 = Ceramide AS
  • Ceramide 6 = Ceramide AP = α-hydroxy-N-stearoylphytosphingosine
  • Ceramide 6 II = Caproyl sphingosine
  • Ceramide 7 = Ceramide AH
  • Ceramide 8 = Ceramide NH
  • Ceramide 9 = Ceramide EOP
  • Ceramide E = Cetyl-PG Hydroxyethyl Palmitamide and Hexadecanamide

Now that you know what ceramides are and how to spot them on your product labels, let’s talk about what these things really do for skin. Are they worth the hype?

Ingested ceramides for skin

We’re going to focus our discussion on topically applied ceramides but I want to quickly touch on ingested ceramides. If you’ve listened to our previous anti-aging spotlights on collagen and hyaluronic acid you know we looked at the data for ingesting those materials to help your skin. For ceramides there is SMALL amount of research that shows they can improve the skin barrier when swallowed. A company called Hitex that makes phytoceramide capsules conducted their own study that showed a “perceived” improvement in dry skin.  Another study showed that taking 20mg or 40mg/daily for 3 weeks decreased transepidermal water loss (TEWL) and increased skin moisture content compared to a placebo.  And, for what it’s worth, the FDA has published a paper which essentially says phytoceramides are safe to ingest and that they’ve never seen any problems from dietary supplements that contain them. That, however, doesn’t mean they’ve actually been proven to work. ”New Dietary Ingredient Notification: For Phyto-Derived Ceramides.”  There just doesn’t seem to be as much as a push for ingestible ceramides like we’ve seen with collagen.

Ceramides as topical moisturizers

Overall, topical application is much better studied and that’s where the majority of interest is in the beauty biz so let’s get to that.

As always we’ll be using the 3 Kligman questions as a framework: is there a scientific mechanism to explain HOW ceramides work? Do ceramides penetrate into the skin where they COULD work? And are there any legitimate studies on real people showing ceramides DO work?

Is there a mechanism?
It’s well understood that natural ceramides waterproof skin. Furthermore, we know they do this best when they’re combined with other oily materials in a specific ratio. The optimal mixture of 50% ceramides, 25% cholesterol, and 15% free fatty acids forms what are called “crystalline lamellar structures” which have unique moisture retaining properties. So yes, there is a mechanism for how ceramides benefit skin.

Do they penetrate?
Yes they do and it’s not surprising given that ceramides are “skin identical” lipids. This is not some foreign ingredient, it’s one that’s naturally present in the upper layers of skin. It’s been proven that topically applied ceramides can move into the upper layers of the stratum corneum by a method called tape stripping. We’ve talked about this method before – essentially it involves sticking a piece of tape on your skin, ripping it off, and then analyzing it for the ingredient that you’re looking for. Each time you do this you tear off a few more layers of skin cells so by repeated tape stripping you can get a sense of how far an ingredient penetrates into the stratum corneum. Here are two quick examples:

Friend of the Brains Dr. Zoe Draelos published one such study. Cosmetics and Dermatologic Problems and Solutions, Third Edition By Zoe Diana Draelos. Another source confirms that finding but, interestingly, the degree of penetration may depend on what else is in the formula. The Textbook of Cosmetic Dermatology says that without a glyceryl ether the ceramides weren’t any better than the placebo.

Are there studies proving they work?
There a numerous studies on the efficacy of ceramide creams but there are two problems to watch out for. First, a number of the studies are “open label” which means they’re not blinded and there’s no control. So even if they show that ceramide cream does work you can’t tell if the cream without the ceramides would have worked just as well! The second problem is that there are so many different types of ceramides, that can be used at different levels, in combination with so many other materials that’s it’s impossible to pinpoint a definitive study showing what works “best.” Despite these problems, though, the weight of the evidence makes it apparent that ceramides can be beneficial. We’ll cite a few example studies to give you a flavor of the work that’s been done.

  • A study published in the J Clin Exp Dermatol shows that topical ceramides not only repair the skin barrier but they actually protect it from future attack by surfactants. (This study was done on mice.)
  • A Japanese study shows that plant-derived ceramides improve skin moisture better than a placebo.
  • The Kao Corporation published a study showing that a cream containing 8% of Ceramide E improves water content of skin and symptoms of atopic dermatitis. But, ceramide cream wasn’t compared to any other product. So the test had no control and it wasn’t blinded. By the way, this 8% concentration shows up in a couple of studies and it’s MUCH higher than the typical use level of ceramides which is a few tenths of a percent.
  • According to the Textbook of Cosmetic Dermatology, certain ceramide combinations are better than a placebo at repairing skin barrier function.
  • And a paper titled “Skin-identical lipids versus petrolatum” shows that ceramides work but they aren’t any better than petrolatum. They tested a blend of ceramide-3, cholesterol, oleic acid and palmitic acid and they say the lack of superiority may be due to a “suboptimal lipid mixture.” Again, it’s this notion that you have to have the right blend at the right ratio for ceramides to perform their best.

There are many more of these studies so it appears there is ample evidence that ceramides really do work.

Let me very quickly interject a note about a completely different approach. Instead of restoring ceramides you’ve lost, you can protect the ceramides you already have. There are enzymes in your skin called ceramid-ases that break down these lipids so if you can limit these enzymes theoretically you can keep more ceramides in your skin. I found one research paper on this topic and apparently it’s a little bit tricky because of the difficulty in sourcing these enzymes. Researchers can’t get them out of skin very easily so instead they get them from…get this…fecal extracts and nasal secretions.

So, anyway, now that we know ceramides really work what does this all mean if you want to buy an anti-aging ceramide cream?

How to pick the ceramide cream that’s right for you

First, let me summarize why picking a ceramide cream is so complicated:

1. There are many different types of ceramides. But at least most of them (at least the ones commonly used) appear to be beneficial to skin.

2. Sometimes they’re beneficial because they are just providing an occlusive layer on the surface of skin that locks in moisture. If that’s the case, ceramides may work no better than conventional, less expensive ingredients like petrolatum.

3. Other times they’re MORE beneficial because they’re penetrating and moisturizing from within. This means they may have a more prolonged effect compared to conventional ingredients. However, this seems to be the case only when the ceramides are combined with other materials like cholesterol and fatty acids. AND, they have to be combined in very specific ratios. For example, in skin the natural ratio is 3.6 to 1.2 to 1. We found one patented product that uses a ratio of 3:1:1. And who know what ratios other products use – but we do know it’s critical. Unfortunately we could find no side by side studies to prove which products are best. Which means that it’s very difficult for you to know if any given product is worth trying, especially if it’s expensive.

So, if you want add ceramides to your anti-aging regimen, here’s what we recommend: Start cheap and work your way up. To help you get started, we’ll list a few products starting with the inexpensive ones that may only have a single ceramide followed by more costly ones that appear to contain the optimal blend of actives (hopefully at the right ratio.) Try the cheapest one first. If you don’t like the way that one makes your skin feel, go up to the next most expensive one and continue the process until you find one you like.

Product examples

Curel Ultra Healing

Cost: $0.45/oz

Comments: You can’t beat the price but this Curel product only contains a single ceramide without the other critical ingredients.



CeraVe Moisturizing Lotion

Cost: $0.92/oz

Comments: Impossible to tell for sure without seeing the formula but this one seems to offer the best blend of ingredients at the best price.

Key ingredients: Ceramide 3, Ceramide 6 II, Ceramide 1, Cholesterol, Phytosphingosine

Full ingredient list: Water (Purified), Glycerin, Capric/Caprylic Stearic Triglyceride, Behentrimonium Methylsulfate/Cetearyl Alcohol, Ceteareth 20, Ceramide 3, Ceramide 6 II, Ceramide 1, Hyaluronic Acid, Cholesterol, Dimethicone, Polysorbate 20, Polyglyceryl 3 Diisostearate, Potassium Phosphate, Dipotassium Phosphate, Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Disodium EDTA, Phytosphingosine, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Carbomer, Xanthan Gum


Cost: $8.80/oz

Comments: An over the counter medication used to treat eczema.

Key ingredients: Strangely the ingredient list just says “ceramide” without specifying which one. It also contains linoleic acid which is good but none of the other key actives.

Full ingredient list: Active: Purified Water, Lanolin, PEG-20 Methyl Glucose Sesquistearate, Cetyl Alcohol, Ceramide, Glycerine, Petrolatum, Dimethicone, Curcumin, Soybean Sterol, Linoleic Acid, Tocopheryl Acetate, Stearic Acid, Hyaluronic Acid, Carnosine, Carbomer, Tromethamine, Propylene Glycol, Diazolidinyl Urea, Methylparaben, Propylparaben.

DHC Ceramide Cream

Cost: $27.14/oz

Comments: Even though this is called a ceramide cream it doesn’t appear to contain any actual ceramides. Go figure.

Key ingredients: cholesteryl hydroxystearate, sphingolipids,

Full ingredient list: water/aqua/eau, dipropylene glycol, caprylic/capric triglyceride, squalane, stearic acid, olea europaea (olive) fruit oil, lanolin, glyceryl stearate SE, pentylene glycol, sodium PCA, methyl gluceth-10, hydrogenated lecithin, batyl alcohol, cholesteryl hydroxystearate, phenoxyethanol, behenyl alcohol, dimethicone, tocopherol, serine, butylene glycol, potassium hydroxide, allantoin, sodium citrate, pyrus cydonia seed extract, dipotassium glycyrrhizate, phospholipids, ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate, sodium hyaluronate, hydrolyzed rye phytoplacenta extract, sphingolipids, glycine soja (soybean) seed extract

Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Lift and Firm Night Cream

Cost: $42.35/oz

Comments: This product appears to have all the right pieces but who knows if the ratio is correct. However, it’ll cost you!

Key ingredients: Ceramide 1, Ceramide 3, Ceramide 6 II, Linoleic Acid, Linolenic Acid, Phytosphingosine, Cholesterol, Oleic Acid,

Full ingredient list: Water/aqua/eau, Dimethicone, Butylene Glycol, Butyrospermum Parkii (shea butter), Glycerin, Cetearyl Alcohol, Isostearyl Alcohol, Caprylic/capric Triglyceride, Theobroma Cacao (cocoa) Seed Butter, Ceteth-20 Phosphate, Butylene Glycol Cocoate, Isodecyl Salicylate, Ceramide 1, Ceramide 3, Ceramide 6 Ii, Calluna Vulgaris Extract, Chondrus Crispus (carrageenan), Dioscorea Villosa (wild yam) Root Extract, Glycine Soja (soybean) Sterols, Hibiscus Abelmoschuss Seed Extract, Trifolium Pratense (clover) Flower Extract, Sodium Hyaluronate, Linoleic Acid, Linolenic Acid, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Retinyl Palmitate, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, Tocopherol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Erythritol, Glycine Soja (soybean) Oil, Caprylyl Glycol, Isohexadecane, Macadamia Ternifolia Seed Oil, Peg-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Acetyl Octapeptide-3, Sodium Pca, Trehalose, Urea, Homarine Hcl, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Hydrolyzed Potato Protein, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Hydrolyzed Yeast Protein, Lauryl Peg-9 Polydimethylsiloxyethyl Dimethicone, Lecithin, Phospholipids, Phytosphingosine, Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/beheneth-25 Methacrylate Crosspolymer, Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/vp Copolymer, Ceteth-20, Cholesterol, Oleic Acid, Oleyl Alcohol, Peg-100 Stearate, Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate, Dicetyl Phosphate, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Polysorbate 60, Polysorbate 80, Polyquaternium-51, Ethylcellulose, Beta-glucan, Hexylene Glycol, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Hydroxide, Thioctic Acid, Ubiquinone, Disodium Edta, Cyclohexasiloxane, Cyclopentasiloxane, Parfum/fragrance, Benzyl Salicylate, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Hexyl Cinnamal, Hydroxycitronellal, Hydroxyisohexyl 3-cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde, Limonene, Linalool, Isopropylbenzyl Salicylate, Benzoic Acid, Methylparaben, Phenoxyethanol, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Sorbic Acid, Triacetin, Chlorphenesin.


I don’t have the price for this one since it’s a prescription drug but it is approved for treating atopic dermatitis. We also know that it contains ceramide, linoleic acid, and cholesterol in the ratio of 3:1:1. It looks promising but you’ll have to ask your doctor for it. http://www.epiceram-us.com/physician.html

The Beauty Brains bottom line

“Ceramides” refers to a class of ingredients which are waxy lipids naturally found in skin.

Ceramides are good moisturizers but may be not better than regular lotions unless correctly formulated.

The best formulas blend ceramides with cholesterol and fatty acids to replicate skin’s natural moisture barrier.

To save money, start with the least expensive ceramide creams and work your way up until you find one you like.

Improbable Products

We also played the Improbable Products game in this week’s show. Can you guess which of these three products is just made up? (Listen to the show for the answer.)

1. Robo manicurist
If you like the look of well manicured nails but you’re too lazy to do it yourself, you’re in luck! A Japanese company has invented a robot designed to paint your nails.

2. Smart sock
Anyone who’s suffered from calluses will love this new salicylic acid impregnated sock that treats your feet while you walk.

3. Moisture monitor
Researchers have developed a sensor that detects when your skin is dry and alerts you to apply more lotion.


Are Easter eggs good for hair and skin?

Today is Easter so we’re re-running one of our favorite egg-themed posts.

Spring is here and today is the day the Easter Bunny leaves a little surprise on your doorstep. No, we don’t mean rabbit pellets, silly, we’re talking about Easter eggs! To commemorate the occasion, here are our top 5 favorite facts about eggs in cosmetics.3436159484_1e273a9f0f_o

1. Beware Botox

The popular wrinkle paralyzing treatment, Botox, is packed in egg albumin to increase its stability. So if you have an egg allergy – beware the Botox!

2. The awesome ovum

The French company, L’Avenir, has launched a line of products using special technology that allows them to include whole eggs in topical cosmetic formulations. Until now, egg yolks couldn’t be used in creams and lotions because they could cause spoilage.

3. Oily eggs

We recently blogged about Phyto Phytonectar Oil Treatment. Did you know one of its ingredients is egg oil? Did you even know you could get oil from an egg? It’s true: eggs are rich in cholesterol-type compounds which can be extracted to yield rich emollient oils.

4. Walking on eggshells

We’ve had a lot of interest in our upcoming project on mineral cosmetics and many mineral cosmetics use calcium carbonate as a base. Guess what? Eggshells are 95% calcium carbonate, so they can be used to make mineral cosmetics.

5. Egg shampoo

Finally and most famously, there’s egg shampoo. Our favorite is Mario Badescu’s Egg Shampoo. It contains only 4 ingredients: Deionized Water, Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Chloride, and Egg. Mmmm, I bet that smells good!

Happy Easter everyone!

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