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Do stem cells work in cosmetics?

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

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

Stem Cells

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

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

Anti aging stem cells

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

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

I’ll tell you why.

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

Plant stem cells

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

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

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

The future of anti-aging stem cells

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

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

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


Beauty Science News – July 20

Another weekly dose of beauty science knowledge…


Face Whisperer Day Cream – Look at the label

Face Whisperer Day Cream is a top seller on Amazon this week. Let’s listen carefully to the label.  

Face Whisperer Day Cream claims

Argireline Reduces Fine Lines & Wrinkles up to 30% in 1 month
Wrinkle reduction is a standard claim that many moisturizers can support

Moisturize and Replenish Skin with Superior Ingredients
“Superior” is considered a puffery claim and doesn’t mean this product have been proven to be better than others.

Trylagen boosts collagen production
According to the label, Trylagen is a mix of Pseudoalteromonas Ferment Extract, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Tripeptide-10 Citrulline, and Tripeptide-1. As Truth in Aging has pointed out, other than a study conducted by the company that makes this stuff, there’s no data showing that the Pseudoalteromonas Ferment extract really reduces wrinkles. 

7 page Report about ingredients behind Face Whisperer after purchase
Huh? AFTER you buy this stuff you get proof that it works??

There’s no clear evidence that this product is significantly better than other, cheaper alternatives.

Face Whisperer Day Cream Ingredients

Water, Cetyl Alcohol, Sodium Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyl Dimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Glyceryl Stearate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Glycerin, Prunus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil, Acetyl Hexapeptide-8, Cetyl Alcohol, Sodium Polyacrylate, Dimethicone, Saccharide Isomerate, Trylagen®: Pseudoalteromonas Ferment Extract, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Tripeptide-10 Citrulline, Tripeptide-1, lecithin, Xanthan Gum, Carbomer, triethanolamine, Phenoxyetanol, Butylene Glycol, Caprylyl Glycol; Ubiqinone 50, Squalane, Sodium Carboxymethyl Betaglucan, Aloe Vera Gel, Propylene Glycol, Diazolidinyl Urea, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Sodium EDTA, Persea gratissima (Avocado) Fruit Extract, Daucus carota sativa (Carrot) Root Extract, Curcurmis sativus (cucumber) Fruit extract, Panax ginseng (Ginseng) Root Extract, Tilia cordata (Linden Tree) Leaf Extract, Tromethamine

Click here if you want to waste your money on Face Whisperer® Day Cream. Or you can click the link and buy ANYTHING else on Amazon and you’ll still support the Beauty Brains. Perry and I thank you!


Camay Pink Soap – vintage cosmetic video

I used to think that today’s 15 second hyper-speed commercials were a sad side effect of our ever decreasing attention spans. But I’ve changed my mind after watching this mini-opus which takes a full minute and a half to explain the color of a bar of soap. Okay, I get it, it’s PINK. It’s really pink. It even smells pink. (Whatever that means.)

Given the extraordinary amount of pinkness that needed to be conveyed, it’s surprising that the narrator managed to slip in a passing mention of the cold cream contained in the soap. Too bad since this is the true beauty science behind Camay. In fact, said cold cream was the basis of a 1959 law suit against the brand which alleged that there wasn’t enough of the emollient (less than 2%) in the soap bar to significantly impact performance.   The court ultimately ruled that just by claiming Camay contained cold cream didn’t necessarily mean that the cold cream DID anything for your skin.

By the way, don’t forget that Camay is “the soap for beautiful women.” Women of average appearance had better look else where to satisfy their facial cleansing needs.


Louisa asks…Can the 11 in 1 Grow Gorgeous Cleansing Conditioner live up to its claims? Is this the end of using both shampoo and conditioner?

The Beauty Brains respond: 
Based on a review of the ingredients Grow Gorgeous appears to be another fairly standard co-wash conditioner.  What I mean by that is it doesn’t contain any heavy silicones that could weigh hair down. The one interesting difference between this formula and some of the other popular cowash products (like WEN) is that it contains a little bit of a mild surfactant (Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate and Betaine.)

The most noteworthy thing about this product is the marketing. Combination claims are common in cosmetics and everyone’s familiar with 2 in 1′s and 3 in 1′s. Pantene even makes a 10 in 1 beauty balm. But Grow Gorgeous has upped the ante by marketing what I believe is the first 11 in 1! How do they pack so many claims into a single product? Mostly by using their thesaurus. Let’s look at the list of 11.

Grow Gorgeous claims

  1. Deep cleanses
  2. Deep conditions
  3. Hydrates hair and scalp
  4. Adds lustre
  5. Adds shine
  6. Reduces frizz & flyaways
  7. Makes hair soft
  8. Offers lasting smoothness
  9. Makes styling easier
  10. Adds protective shield
  11. Adds volume

You’ll notice some overlap in these claims – “deep conditions” is really the same as providing hydrating hair and making it soft and smooth. Lustre is not really different from shine. There are a lot of synonyms on this list!

If you are into co-washing then this may be a perfectly fine product for you (although it is on the pricey side.) I doubt that traditional shampoos and conditioners are in any danger of disappearing because of this product!

Grow Gorgeous Cleansing Conditioner ingredients

Water (Aqua) · Palmitamidopropyltrimonium Chloride · Propylene Glycol · Crambe Abyssinica Seed Oil · Jojoba Oil Glycereth-8 Esters · Macadamia Seed Oil Glycereth-8 Esters · Olive Oil Peg-8 Esters · Ppg-3 Caprylyl Ether · Ethylhexyl Stearate · Hydroxyethylcellulose · Tremella Fuciformis Sporocarp Extract · Panthenol · Glycerin · Sodium Chloride · Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate · Betaine · Phenoxyethanol · Potassium Sorbate · Chlorphenesin · Fragrance (Parfum) · Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone · Butylphenyl Methylpropional · Cinnamyl Alcohol · Citral · Hydroxyisohexyl 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde · Limonene · Linalool.


Does Neodermyl really boost collagen?

Jonny says…I came across this range of products including supplements, skin and hair care. They make some bold claims including ‘wrinkles disappear’ not just reduce appearance of them or whatever. They also appear to have done well in something called ‘in cosmetics’, not sure what that is. Their latest product is a hair serum that claims to re grow 17% more hair than the placebo, they have done clinical trials and have been mentioned on a few blogs similar to yours where the science appears to hold up. If you guys could take a look it would be great! Here’s a link to what appears to be their leading skincare product Neodermyl

The Beauty Brains respond: 

Jonny, we share your implied skepticism. All too many times seemingly outrageous claims are nothing more than “smoke in the mirror” as one of my old bosses used to say. But surprisingly, there may be something to this Induchem product.

Before we begin you may be thinking “I’ve never seen any products from Induchem before.” That’s because they are not finished goods manufacturers. Rather, they are a company that makes ingredients. That’s also explains the reference in “In-Cosmetics” which is an exhibition for suppliers of the cosmetic industry. For those of you keeping score at home, In-Cosmetics 2015 will be held in Barcelona. But I digress…

The Neodermyl complex actually consists of 4 ingredients: Glycerin, Water, Methylglucoside Phosphate, Copper Lysinate/Prolinate. Here are the product’s primary claims:

  • The “needle-free” collagen & elastin filler
  • Revitalizes aged fibroblasts
  • Reactivates collagen I, III and elastin synthesis in a fast and sustainable way.
  • Visible results in only two weeks: skin is firmer, more supple, and deep wrinkles disappear.

What does testing show?

These are extraordinary claims and, as followers of the Beauty Brains know, we look for 3 types of data to support such claims: a mechanism, proof of penetration (in the case of skin products) and placebo controlled double blind studies on real people. Induchem seems to have done most of their homework. They conducted a series of in vitro and ex vivo tests that seem to confirm the mechanism (stimulation of fibrobalsts). They’ve also done a single small scale in vivo study (n = 20) which showed improvement in collagen density and alignment, firmness and elasticity, and wrinkle reduction.

It appears that their in vivo assessment of collagen production (which they calculated from measurements of dermal thickness) is the basis for their “needle free collagen and elastin filler” claim. According to their paper, injections with hyaluronic acid improve dermal thickness by about 3.5% after 1 month. Neodermyl, on the other hand, increased thickness by almost 6% in 15 days. Of course there’s no direct evidence that Neodermyl makes your skin look as good as if you used an injectable filler. Still, it gives them some place to argue from if their claims are ever challenged.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Given that Induchem’s in vivo data is limited to a small, single study we need to take this information with a grain of salt. Still, there’s enough “stuff” here to indicate that their ingredient may actually boost collagen to some degree. (Assuming that you can find a product that uses their ingredient at the proper level.)


C&T article: http://www.cosmeticsandtoiletries.com/testing/invitro/Collagens-I-and-III-and-Elastin-Activation-for-Anti-aging-premium-246919201.html?c=n

Feb 24, 2014 D. Auriol and G. Redziniak Libragen; and H. Chajra, K. Schweikert and F. Lefevre, Induchem


What are xenohormones and should we be worried about them in cosmetics? This week we talk about the alleged dangers of estrogen and other endocrine disruptors in beauty products.  

Click below to play Episode 39 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show notes

Beauty Science News – The case of the stolen body parts

Stolen hair and skin – who would have thought that beauty body parts would be the target of theft?

Question of the week: Are endocrine disrupting hormones dangerous in cosmetics?

Melissa asks…I’m interested in your take on the Suzanne Somers organic skincare and cosmetic line. As a recent breast cancer patient I would like to know if you think we should be concerned about xenoestrogens and are her products or any other nontoxic type of products hype or really worth taking a look at?

What is the endocrine system?

The endocrine system is responsible for controlling biological processes such as metabolism, blood sugar levels, growth and function of the reproductive system, and the development of the many organs.

It has three parts:

1. Glands are organs like the thyroid, testes and ovaries that secrete specific chemical substances called hormones.

2. Hormones which are chemicals that stimulate cells or tissues into action. For example, there’s estrogen which regulates menstrual cycles.

3. Cell receptors that pick up the signal from the hormones and trigger a response. Estrogens (for example estradiol) are a group of steroid compounds, named for their importance in the menstrual cycle and function as a primary female sex hormone.

The problem is that certain chemicals can mimic the effects of hormones and interfere with normal operation of the endocrine system.

Xenohormones and endocrine disruptors

Chemicals that can “fake out” cell receptors are known as Xenohormones. These are a group of either naturally occurring or artificially created compounds with hormone-like properties.

The most commonly occurring xenohormones are xenoestrogens. (And, by the way, there are also xenohormones that mimic other hormones such as xenoandrogens and xenoprogesterones.)
Xenoestrogens are often referred to “environmental hormones” or “EDC” (Endocrine Disrupting Compounds).

There seems to be overlap in definition I think all xenohormones can be EDCs but not all EDCs have to be xenohormones.

Here’s the EPA’s definition:
An EDC is “an exogenous agent that interferes with synthesis, secretion, transport, metabolism, binding action, or elimination of natural blood-borne hormones…”

So what are these EDCs?

They can be either synthetic or natural. Some synthetic examples include …
Industrial solvents/lubricants and their byproducts [polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), dioxins], materials used in plastics like bisphenol A (BPA)] and phthalates), a variety of pesticides and even some pharmaceutical agents.

For natural chemicals…examples include phytoestrogens (genistein and coumestrol).

5 Reasons studying EDCs are problematic

You might wonder then, if EDCs are so bad, why are they still used in ANY product, not just cosmetics. The answer is that the science is very complicated and we don’t really know yet which compounds are REALLY a problem. In fact there are 5 reasons why this is so complicated.

1. Age at exposure
2. Latency from exposure
3. Importance of mixtures
4. Nontraditional dose-response dynamics
5. Transgenerational, epigenetic effects

EDCs in cosmetics – what are they and how bad are they?

There are a handful of chemicals that are of concern in cosmetics related to endocrine disruption. I’ll list the important ones and give you their status.

First, recognize that there are probably 6 different common phthalates – Some of these have shown up as contaminants in blood samples and are believed to produce teratogenic or endocrine-disrupting effects. For this reason, the European Union has categorized dibutyl phthalate and diethylhexyl phthalate as Category 2 reproductive toxins. In the US, the FDA has moved to restrict the use of DEHP and DBP in pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

Both the FDA in the US and the SCCP in EU agree that there’s no clear data that the use of these ingredients in cosmetics pose a measurable hazard to consumers. The FDA is continuing to monitor the situation while the EU has taken a more conservative approach and decided to limit the use of some phthalates to only trace levels. From a regulatory perspective, the EU now has three categories for phthalates:

Accepted phthalates: This one is considered safe for use in cosmetics: DEP
Banned phthalates: These are banned from being added to cosmetics but are allowable as “trace contaminants” up to 100 ppm: DEHP, DBP and BBP.
Unregulated phthalates: These have not been regulated in EU but given their low usage (at least in perfumes) there is no quantifiable risk to consumers: DMP, DIBP, DCHP, DINP and DIDP.

Most recent data shows that when used at designated levels (around 0,2%) they are safe, particularly Methyparaben which is the most commonly used. insert reference.

Bisphenol A (or BPA)
There is data showing BPA is hazardous but it’s only used in packaging not as part of any cosmetic ingredient.

Dioxin vs 1,4 dioxane
Dioxin is an EDC but not found in cosmetics. Comes from pesticides, industrial manufacturing. 1,4 dioxane is found in cosmetics as a contaminant from surfactant manufacture. At certain levels it has been shown to be carcinogenic but the industry regulates the amount to make sure it’s at a safe level. http://cosmeticsinfo.org/HBI/32

Now as I said, some of these EDCs are naturally occurring compounds
For example, plant estrogens (also known as phytoestrogens) found in soybeans and other foodstuffs have been shown to have weak endocrine activity. However, the estrogenic activity of these materials, as measured under laboratory conditions, is generally far below that which is observed for estradiol – the naturally occurring form of estrogen in the human body. In addition, the levels at which these ingredients with potential hormonal properties occur in cosmetic and personal care products is significantly below levels that have been associated with the laboratory demonstrated endocrine activity.

Vitamin E
Some studies say this is an EDC while others say it protects against EDCs. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16182432

And finally Tea Tree oil and Lavender oil http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17575592 have been shown to mimic estrogens and a few years ago there was a case reported where a couple of boys developed gynomastia (they grew breasts) after using products tea tree and lavender products.

But after a closer look at the data, it appears there’s nothing to be concerned about – for a thorough breakdown of this case check out the link:


So it seems like the EDCs which are of most concern in cosmetics really aren’t that concerning after all…Of course the debate still rages on.

EDCs in cosmetics: Two sides of the story

Play it safe and act now
Some people take the stance that we should play it safe and act not. They say that…
We don’t know if there are a safe exposure levels.
We don’t know if there’s a synergistic effect with mixtures of ingredients
It can take years for effects to show up and by that time it’s too late

So, if there’s even the slightest risk why not completely get rid of the right now? (Some people call this the Precautionary Principle)

Get more data so we can make informed decisions
Others say we should collect more data so we can make more informed decisions.
According to CosmeticsInfo, this topic is very controversial and is currently under-investigation by scientists in many countries. Right now the best science says that “Although a variety of chemicals have been found to disrupt the endocrine system in studies of laboratory animals at very high doses and in some populations of fish and wildlife, there is no convincing evidence that ingredients used in cosmetic and personal care products cause endocrine disruption in humans.”

There are two reasons we meed more data:
1. We can’t do everything at once. We should focus on the chemicals that have been proven to be a high risk. For example, we should prioritize efforts to remove EDCs from foods before cosmetics.
2. Let’s not accidentally make things worse. There are lack of good alternatives (for example, we don’t have any preservatives that works as well as parabens, so getting rid of them may cause other more pressing issues (like contamination leading to infections.) Also, we don’t have good alternatives that have better safety profiles. Don’t want to exchange a potential EDC for a known carcinogenic compound.

Also, for what it’s worth, historically once the cosmetic industry has had clear data that an ingredient is harmful, it has moved quickly to removed it. Numerous colorants, hexachlorophene, certain preservatives.

So called “Organic” or “Green” products are not necessarily the answer

Melissa also asked if the SS line and other “non-toxic” products are worth taking a look at. Unfortunately, Just because a product is labeled “organic” or “green” doesn’t guarantee that it is better.

First of all, since there’s no standard definition you don’t REALLY know whether or not you can believe a company when they tell you their product is green. For example in a 2011 study researchers found that in terms of the number of “hazardous” chemicals, the “green”-labeled fragranced products were not significantly different from regular fragranced products.

I also found a study that tested over 200 products and compared “regular” products to “green” alternatives and found EDCs in both.

And, here’s an example from the SS line: Her product line is “organic” and certified as “Toxic Free” yet it contains tea tree oil which is a known EDC. (I’m not saying it’s proven to be dangerous but it is proven to be an EDC so why would they include that?)

You have to be very skeptical of HOW green products are different. It’s just not enough to be told “they’re organic.”

Substitute products may involve trade-offs in performance.

Here’s another factor to consider, choosing substitute products is complicated because there are likely to be trade-offs in performance.

For example, let’s look at a couple of the Suzanne Somers’ products which Melissa mentioned:

Her Organics Defining mascara is based on simple plant extracts and waxes rather than polymers which means it’s more likely to flake, smear and so forth.

Her Organics Ageless Serum uses a vitamin C derivative that doesn’t convert well to ascorbic acid and it doesn’t contain anything else proven to work for anti-aging. (such as retinoids or niacinamide)

Her Organic Nourishing shampoo is based on Decyl glucoside but it’s $20 for 8 ounces. Rinse off products are even less an issue due to lower exposure so probably not the place to waste money.

The point is, if you’re that concerned about product safety and you’re willing to pay a lot more money for products which CLAIM to be safer, then you deserve to know that these products will work differently.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

When it comes to learning which cosmetic ingredients pose a risk as an EDC, pay attention to legitimate scientific sources rather than fear mongering groups.

Consider what your personal risk factors are. Are you pregnant or likely to become pregnant soon? Then you may have a higher level of concern about potential effects upon your reproductive system.

If you do decide to look for alternative products then do your research. Learn what’s really in the products you’re considering and find out what trade offs in performance you might expect. That way you can make an informed decision.

But at the end of it all: If you’re really concerned about EDCs and don’t mind spending more money and potentially sacrificing performance, to avoid an undefined risk then MAYBE these alternative products are a good option for you.



Dodson RE, Nishioka M, Standley LJ, Perovich LJ, Brody JG, Rudel RA. 2012. Endocrine Disruptors and Asthma-Associated Chemicals in Consumer Products. Environ Health Perspect 120:935–943; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1104052


Diamanti-Kandarakis E et al. 2009 Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement. Endocrine Reviews 30(4):293-342


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.


Pros and cons of cosmetic surgery

Did you know that fat transfer is the 8th most popular cosmetic surgery procedure? Did you know that Botox or dermal fillers can be administered by anyone, even if they don’t have proper training? (At least in the U.K.) Did you know that botched Botox injections can cause speech and breathing difficulties?  Yikes!

Those are just a few of the interesting tidbits I found in this info graphic on cosmetic surgery.
Cosmetic Surgery Claims
Original source of information about cosmetic surgery compensation claims: Blackwater Law


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Beauty Science News – July 13

It’s time again for the best beauty science news stories of the week…



OZ Naturals Vitamin C Serum – Look at the label

OZ Naturals Vitamin C Serum is the number one best selling beauty product on Amazon this week. Let’s look at the label to see how it works.

As you can see below Amazon only lists “key” ingredients whichs always makes us suspicious. We’d like to see ALL the ingredients in the formula! Having said that, our main concern is that the product uses the Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate form of Vitamin C which has been proven less effective (but also less irritating) than true Vitamin C.  There’s only limited ex vivo animal testing which shows it penetrates skin. There is no data showing it converts to ascorbic acid (which is the active form.) There is human in vivo testing showing it protects skin from UV but it is less effective than ascorbic acid. There is in vitro testing showing it boosts collagen production but it’s less effective than the magnesium version. Finally, it reduces skin pigmentation but only in in vivo testing. This may not be a bad product but it’s also not likely to be one of the best.

OZ Naturals ingredients

Key ingredients are as follows: Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (Vitamin C), MSM, Vegan Hyaluronic Acid, Witch Hazel, Vitamin E, Amino Complex, Jojoba Oil.

You don’t have to buy this OZ Naturals product but please use our link to buy ANYTHING on Amazon and you’ll be helping to support the Beauty Brains. Perry and I appreciate it!