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The dangerous truth about using lip gloss as eye shadow

Why do some beauty websites give irresponsible and dangerous information?

As our regular readers may know, I have a kind of love-hate relationship with the website Refinery29. I love it because they have the really good at ferreting out interesting news stories on beauty and fashion. I hate it because, on occasion, I have seen them provide information that is… dubious… at best. 

Case in point is this article about using lip gloss to achieve a wet look eye shadow.  The author of the article discusses a video by makeup artist James Vincent who uses lip gloss to achieve that wet look. While some lip products MAY (and I stress MAY) be okay to use around the eye, others are most certainly not. One reason is that the eyes are particularly sensitive and an ingredient, such as a flavor,  maybe perfectly fine on the lips but could irritate the hell out of your eyes. Another potentially more serious problem is that the colorants used in lip products are not necessarily approved for use around the eyes.

Not all cosmetic  colors can be used near eyes

To keep us all safe, colorants for cosmetics are controlled by the FDA. Certain colors are NOT allowed to be used close to the eye because they can cause problems (including blindness!) Here are the colors used in the Ardency lip gloss referenced in the video:

Titanium Dioxide, Red 28 Lake, Red 6, Red 7 Lake.

And here’s what the FDA says about applying these red colors to the area of the eye:

“None of these colors may be used in products that are for use in the area of the eye unless otherwise indicated.”

Missed opportunity

I shared this information in a comment on the post and suggested that the author include a disclaimer so no one is accidentally harmed by following their advice. In a response to my comment the moderator at Refinery29 acknowledged they were wrong in response and they changed the headline of the post from “Lip Gloss On Your Lids? Yes, Really”  to “Wet-Look Lids? Yes, Really.” However, as far as I can tell they didn’t change any of the text of the article and they certainly didn’t change the video itself. In other words they’re still giving out the same dangerous advice which you won’t realize is problematic unless you scroll all the way down to the comments section.

Shame on Refinery29 for not taking this opportunity to better educate their readers. And even more shame on this expert make up artist who should know better.

Have you ever seen dangerousness information on a beauty website? Leave a comment and share your thoughts with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.


Does exfoliation make you run out of skin faster? Plus:  Beauty Science or Bull Sh*t Round 2: Randy quizzes my beauty science knowledge again. 

Click below to play Episode 24 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show notes

Beauty Science or Bull Sh*t

This is the game where Randy gives me 3 beauty science news stories and I have to tell the real from the fake. You can play along at home – just hit the pause button before we give the answer. Here are this week’s headlines, can you tell which one is TRUE?

1. Bacteria-filled liquid crystals could supplement the skin’s natural defense system.
2. Shampoo ads that ask you to imagine the smell of the product are more compelling.
3. Beautiful people have fewer pathogenic nasal bacteria.

Question of the week: Does exfoliating make you run out of skin?

Melanie asks…”I’ve read that there is a limited number of times a person should exfoliate due to the Hayflick limit.  Is that true?”

What is exfoliation?

Exfoliation is the process of removing excess dead cells which causes your skin to increase production of new cells. This is technically known as “increasing cell turnover.” Benefits of exfoliation include facial rejuvenation, acne control or prevention of precancerous growths.

Methods of exfoliation

  • “Regular” face washing
  • AHAs
  • Retinoids
  • Chemical peels (glycol acid, TCA)
  • Dermabrasion

What is the Hayflick limit?

It’s a property of cells discovered by Leonard Hayflick in 1961. He found that there is a limit to the number of times a fully differentiated human cell divides. These cells can only divide about 50 times and then they die. This happens because when cells replicate they lose a little piece from the end of their DNA chain, which is called a telomere. Eventually the telomere becomes so short the cell can no longer reproduce. So does this mean that exfoliating causes our new cells to be used up faster? Will we eventually run out of skin? The answer lies in the TYPE of cell.

Two types of cells

Stem cells are undifferentiated (or unspecialized) cells which means they can reproduce in two ways: they can make more stem cells or they can differentiated cells. (Potential future form)
Differentiated cells change size, shape, and metabolism to perform a specialized task. (Final, useful form)

Which type are skin cells?

Actually they’re both. The deepest layer of the epidermis is called the stratum basale which consists of basal keratinocyte cells. These are epidermal stem cells. They divide to form two types of cells: keratinocytes (which are “regular” skin cells) or more stem cells.

The keratinocytes die and are sloughed off and are replaced by new cells about every 35 days. So in other words, your skin is replaced about 10 times per year.

So why don’t we run out of skin cells?

The Hayflick limit only applies to fully differentiated cells. (In this case the keratinocytes.) Stem cells are NOT fully differentiated so they can continue to reproduce without any limit.

Here’s common sense proof: If the Hayflick limit applied then…

  • ANYTHING that scrapes of skin would use up your cells (not just exfoliating): Taking a bath, shaving your face – or your legs – or whatever you shave.
  • Skin scratches and cuts would stop healing at some point.
  • Criminals could just sand away their finger prints and they wouldn’t grow back.

None of these things happen because the Hayflick limit doesn’t apply to epidermal stem cells.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

The Hayflick limit doesn’t apply to the type of cells that make new skin cells. So you can never run out of skin by exfoliating. In fact, exfoliating provides health and beauty benefits so it’s something that you should do regularly.

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.


Did you see the news story last month about the Meth Lab guy who was busted while wearing a Breaking Bad shirt? As funny as that is, it turns out that methamphetamine production has a not so amusing consequence for consumers of beauty products.

Why is the FDA is “Breaking Bad” on silicones?

According to an FDA press release, the criminal chemists who run Meth labs are increasingly using silicones, especially dimethicone, as a source material for methamphetamine. In the past the FDA has limited access to other source materials, like the over-the-counter decongestant pseudoephedrine, but now the savvy sinister scientists of the drug world have figured out how to extract the components they need from common hair and skin care products.

Dimethicone is frequently used in beauty products because it’s an excellent skin protectant and provides slip and shine for hair. In fact, it’s unusual to find a high quality skin moisturizer or hair conditioner that does NOT include some form of silicone so the loss of this ingredient is expected to significantly impact consumers.

According to the FDA the silicone ban will take effect “as soon as it can be phased in” which does not give cosmetic product manufacturers much time to find suitable replacements.

You can click here to read the details from the FDA’s press release as well as the Personal Care Product Council’s response.


Why does red hair dye fade so much?

Eire asks…I’ve been dying my hair red for a couple years and it lasts now because ive been doing it so long. The thing is red dye always has a hard time lasting. I hear this is because the molecule size is too large , BUT I think that’s only regarding the size of the molecules on natural red hair and not dyed hair. With nano technology and improved dye colors and cosmetic formulas why haven’t we found a way to remedy this problem in red hair dye?

The Beauty Brains respond:

Red has always been a difficult color to form, especially in permanent hair color.  There are basically three reasons why this is the case:

Fewer choices due to safety concerns

The  intermediates (the tiny colorless molecules which penetrate inside the hair and then react to form larger, colored polymers) always seem to be in trouble for safety reasons. That means there are fewer chemicals available for chemists to use.

More easily broken down

The polymers which create the red shades are more easily broken down by UV radiation and other forms of oxidation. Once they’re oxidized their color shifts and they’re more easily removed from the hair.

Size matters

You’re right that in the case of hair dye the size of the molecule is important. But it’s not that the red molecules are too big, rather the problem is they are too small! These red polymers tend to be of smaller molecular size and are therefore more easily removed by water, especially when surfactants are involved (i.e., shampoo formulations).

The Beauty Brains bottom line

You’re right that red is by far the toughest hair color to get and keep. Unfortunately, due to safety concerns, there’s not very much innovation in this area so don’t look for a solution any time soon.


Beauty Science News – March 30

Here are the last 5 beauty science news stories for this month…

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Signature Club Anti-Wrinkle Capsules – Look at the label

Signature Club’s Anti-wrinkle capsules are a best beauty seller on Amazon. Let’s look at the label to see what’s inside.

Claims and ingredients

But first, here are the product’s claims:

  • Help your skin look less wrinkled and younger.
  • These beauty treatment capsules contain 10% vitamin C plus bio-peptides and the addition of the Rapid-C delivery system.

The product contains two ingredients which can provide vitamin C. The first is ascorbic acid (which is “real” vitamin C.) Studies show that is it effective and 10% is a reasonable level to use but some people find that it can be irritating. It also contains Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate which will be less irritating but doesn’t penetrate skin as well.

Both forms of vitamin C are prone to oxidation so another advantage of this product is capsule packaging which will protect them from oxidizing before they can be used by your skin. The inclusion of  Tocopherol Acetate is good as well since vitamins C and E work better in combination. The product may be pricey  but it will probably provide good functionally.

Signature Club A Rapid Transport C Infused High Potent-C Anti-Wrinkle Capsule ingredients

Cyclopentasiloxane, Ascorbic Acid, Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Dimethiconol, Tocopherol Acetate, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Methyl Methacrylate/Glycol Dimethacrylate Crosspolymer, BHT, Myristoyl Pentapeptide-8, Myristoyl Tetrapeptide-8

If you want to buy Signature Club Anti-Wrinkle Capsules please use our link and help support the Beauty Brains. Thank you!


Is Elumen Hair Color really less damaging?

Maddy asks…I’ve heard about Elumen Hair Colour on the long hair community as a less damaging hair colour alternative. It claims to last like a permanent dye, but be as undamaging as a temporary color. How does it work?

The Beauty Brains respond:

There are essentially three factors on which to judge a hair coloring product: its degree of permanence, the degree of damage it causes to the hair, and the range of shades it provides.

Permanent hair color

On one hand you have permanent hair colors (also known as oxidative hair colors) which work the “best” because they give you the longest lasting color with the greatest range of shades (even allowing you to go from dark shades to lighter shades via bleaching.) However, permanent coloring also causes the most damage because the process swells the hair shaft which disrupts the protein structure of hair.

Temporary hair color

On the other hand you have temporary colors that merely stain the outside of the hair shaft. These cause little, if any damage, but they don’t last very long and they only allow you to add color on top of the hair color you already have. (So it’s impossible to turn yourself into a blonde using temporary colors.)

Elumen hair color

Elumen hair color technology is somewhere in between these two extremes. It is a low pH system so it will not swell the hair shaft. It uses solvents to help the hair colors penetrate a little ways into the hair shaft so they will last longer. They will still wash out because they are not bound inside the hair like permanent dies are but they will last longer than temporary colors. Of course you can’t lighten your hair shade with Elumen.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

If Elumen has a shade that you’re happy with and if you’re looking for a “semi-permanent” color then this brand may be a good compromise for you. But it’s not some magical solution that has all of the advantages of oxidative dyes without any of the disadvantages.

Elumen Dye ingredients
Aqua, propylene carbonate, alcohol denat., lactic acid, hydroxypropylated polysaccharides, dimethicone copolyol, sodium hydroxide, parfum. May contain: Acid black 1, acid red 52, yellow 10, ext. violet 2, orange 4, red 33.

Elumen Lock ingredients
Aqua, alcohol denat., PEG-8, Benzyl Glycol, Sodium Isethionate, Butylene Glycol, Lactic Acid, Carbomer, Dimethicone Copolyol, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Sodium Hydroxide, Parfum, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Amylcinnamyl Alcohol.

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The Story of Cosmetics, the Critique

You may have seen the Annie Leonard’s original video, the Story of Cosmetics, posted on our Twitter and Facebook feeds or in 1000 other places online. Sponsored by the Environmental Working Group, it is full of frightening misinformation regarding the dangers of cosmetic products.

Thankfully the good people at How the World Works have put together a critique of the video which includes references to peer-reviewed scientific journals to document the true facts about cosmetic safety. It’s a bit lengthy at a little more than 15 minutes but if you’re interested in the true story behind “dangerous” cosmetics it’s certainly worth your time.




Is Vitamin E a hormone disruptor?

Suzanne says…I’m an esthetician with a 60-year-old client who said she won’t use any product with vitamin E (among many other ingredients). She claims that the vitamin E is from soy, and since she is extremely sensitive to hormonal disruptors, she can’t use it. I can find nothing on the internet about sources of vit E. And I wonder, even if it is derived from soy, is there any constituent of the soy left to have such an effect?

The Beauty Brains respond:

First, it’s true that soy is used as a source of vitamin E. In fact it’s THE major source even though other plant oils, like wheat germ,  have a higher vitamin E content.

Second, I think the concern is not that there are “soy constituents” present in vitamin E but rather that the vitamin E itself may interfere with hormones. However, the data here is conflicting: I found one study that says Vitamin E acts like estrogen and another that says it may block estrogen receptors. But it is well established that vitamin E can penetrate the skin. So, if your client is really that sensitive to hormonal disruptors it’s probably wise to err on the side of caution and avoid the use of vitamin E in her skin care treatments.


Can you get rid of cellulite by rubbing coffee grounds on your thighs?  Find out in this week’s episode. Special bonus: Listen to Perry rant about Harvard spreading misinformation on cosmetic safety! 

Click below to play Episode 23 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show notes

Beauty Science News: Harvard says harmful untested chemicals rife in personal care products

Here’s the link to the article that sent Perry into a frenzy.

Question of the week: Can I make a DIY cellulite scrub? with coffee grounds?

Heather asks…Can a DIY coffee bean scrub can reduce cellulite?

According to an article from PopSugar you can “take down cellulite with this DIY coffee bean scrub.” The scrub is made of Coffee grounds, sugar and coconut oil. Massage into your skin, rinse it away and the caffeine will reduce the appearance of cellulite. Will this really work? First let’s look at caffeine to see if it really is effective against cellulite and then we’ll look at this coffee bean scrub to see how well it delivers caffeine to your skin.

We’ll start by asking the three “Kligman questions” about caffeine:

1. Is there a scientifically proven way that the ingredient could work?
2. Can the ingredient penetrate skin to get to where it needs to work?
3. Are there any controlled studies showing the ingredient really works when applied to skin?

Is there any known mechanism for caffeine reducing cellulite?

Yes there is a proposed mechanism. It’s a little complicated so to explain the biochemical pathways involved we’ll abbreviate the chemical names here and we’ll post the full names in the show notes.

To get rid of cellulite you need to increase lypolysis which is the breaking down of fat. And lypolysis is controlled by an enzyme called HSL. HSL is activated by a material called PKA (Protein Kinase A). You can increase the amount of available PKA by controlling cyclic AMP (cyclic Adenosine MonoPhosphate.) But an enzyme called PDE (PhosphoDiEsterase) breaks down cyclic AMP. So to get rid of cellulite you need to get rid of PDE And guess what, caffeine is a PDE inhibitor.

So theoretically caffeine reduces PDE which gives you more cAMP which means more PKA which activates more HSL which breaks down more cellulite deposits.

Does caffeine penetrate skin?

Yes! A search on Pubmed shows over 50 studies involving skin penetration of caffeine with number of different variables:

  • Different vehicles (water, alcohol, gel.)
  • Different substrates (In vitro, in vivo and ex vivo testing.)
  • Different methods (like tape stripping or Raman spectroscopy.)
  • Different skin conditions (intact skin, barrier impaired skin, skin with and without hair follicles.)

No doubt that it penetrates but how much and how fast varies with the method and vehicle. For example, small amounts in alcohol show penetration in as little as 5 minutes. Larger amounts from a gel base take up to 6 hours. So there’s a range of absorption behavior.

Are there any legitimate studies proving caffeine works when rubbed on skin?

When we say “legit” studies here’s what we mean:

  • in vivo (meaning on people, not just tested on skin cells)
  • Placebo controlled (meaning if one thigh was treated with a cream with caffeine then the other side is treated with the same cream without the caffeine)
  • Double blinded (meaning neither the subject nor the researcher knew which was the the “test” and which was the “control” side received the treatment)
  • Peer reviewed (meaning the results where published in a scientific journal and the study was reviewed by other scientists)

So are there such studies on caffeine?  No. But there are some in vivo studies that are worth of mention.

Study 1: tested 18 people, measured thigh circumference after 30 days of applying a “Slimming Complex” consisting of encapsulated caffeine, L carnatine and some other stuff to one thigh and nothing to the other thigh. Results showed a a reduction in thigh diameter of ranging from between 0 to 10mm.

Two problems with this study: They were testing a mix of caffeine and other ingredients which were encapsulated to enhance penetration. So it tells us nothing about caffeine alone. Also, there was no control. We know that just massaging skin can have a slimming effect so there’s no way to know how much of the effect of the cream was from just massage.

Study 2: Another study was placebo controlled and it evaluated a mix of caffeine, retinol and ruscogenine. They used more sophisticated measuring techniques:

  • Used digital imaging to measure the “orange skin” type bumpiness. The test product showed a 53% improvement, the placebo a 14% improvement.
  • 3D Ultrasonic imaging to measure thickness of dermis and hypodermis: Both test product and placebo showed some improvement.
  • A cutometer to measure mechanical properties of skin. No diff between test and placebo.
  • Laser Doppler Flowmetry to measure blood flow: The test product was better than placebo at increasing blood flow, even 1 month after test was over.

Problems with this study: Once again they were testing a cocktail of ingredients not caffeine alone. Also, the results didn’t show clear improvement on all parameters.

Study 3: In fact the only study that we could find on caffeine alone was not an in vivo study it was an ex vivo study done on swine skin. And it ONLY showed positive results when the caffeine was combined with ultrasonic waves. Caffeine alone did nothing.

So there are no high quality studies (that we could find) which where done with caffeine alone that clearly indicate an anti-cellulite effect.

We did learn, however, that in all the slimming studies we saw caffeine was used in the range of 3 to 7%. (7% is about the maximum solubility of caffeine in water). Which brings us to our next point. Even if caffeine does have some slight slimming effect by itself, will this DIY coffee bean scrub deliver it to skin?

Do coffee grounds have enough caffeine?

How much caffeine is in coffee grounds? Before brewing, ground coffee has somewhere around 5% caffeine. So dry coffee grounds have plenty of caffeine but it’s locked up in the grounds so it’s not available to enter your skin.

Used coffee grounds are moist enough to release caffeine but depending on how your processed them they may only have 0.5% caffeine left. (In other words, brewing coffee extracts about 90% of the caffeine from the ground beans.) Either way, using coffee grounds to deliver caffeine to skin is very ineffective.

Will this scrub deliver caffeine to the skin in a way that it can work?

As we said, caffeine is water soluble. By mixing the grounds with coconut oil you’re essentially blocking the caffeine from getting out of the grounds and into your skin.

Also, caffeine absorption takes time: Unlike many ingredients caffeine can penetrate skin, however it’s a slow process. The diffusion rate for a substantial amount of caffeine through human skin is 2.2 x 10-6 grams per centimeter squared of skin, per hour. So it will take an hour or two to get sufficient caffeine into your skin. No one leaves a scrub on that long.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

So IF you maximize the amount of caffeine left in the grounds by brewing weak coffee…
And IF you use the raw grounds (without oil that can block the caffeine from getting to your skin)…
And IF you massage the grounds on your skin…
And IF you leave the grounds on your skin as long as you can stand it…
And IF you repeat this daily for about month…
And IF the few studies that show a slimming effect are not an anomaly…
THEN you might see a slimming effect of up to 1/2 inch decrease in your thigh circumference. Would you even notice that difference?

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.