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Is Bare Minerals 100% Natural lipstick worth the hype?

Bandana asks…Since I’ve been trying to get pregnant over the last year, I’ve become more concerned about toxicity. I probably eat a sizeable amount of lipstick. I am not your usual “organic” type, but I was surprised to see the list of ingredients for my favorite lipstick, Avon’s Beyond Color Plumping Lipstick. Are organic lipsticks worth the hype?? I’ve seen that Bare Minerals has a natural lipstick, but I’m not feeling $25 per tube. I’m more of a drugstore type girl. I’m not loaded with money and don’t want to be more paranoid than I should be.

The Beauty Brains responds

“Regular” lipstick like the Avon example you gave costs $8.00 ($3.99 on sale!) where as the Bare Minerals “100% natural” lipstick is $25. It’s really impossible for us to make the value judgment for you, but we can help by telling you if there are any significant technical differences between the two. (One point of clarification: although you asked about Bare Minerals “organic” lipstick, the company does not make the claim the this product is organic. They only state that it is “100% natural.”)

Ingredient comparison

It looks like the Bare Minerals formula is quite different from a typical lipstick because a) it only uses iron oxide pigments as colorants and b) it does not contain any of the petroleum-derived emollients typically found in lipsticks. (For the sake of thoroughness, the complete ingredient listing for each product is included below.)

Natural vs synthetic

As you’re probably aware, the debate over the safety of natural versus synthetic ingredients is not as simple as “all natural is good and all synthetic is bad.” For example, synthetic dyes like those used used in the Avon product are accused of containing carcinogens. And natural lavender extract, like the oil used in the Bare Minerals lipstick, is said to cause headaches and irritate skin. Whether or not you believe any of these specific accusations is beside the point but it’s important to recognize that these ingredients are ALL chemicals and depending on the dose, chemicals may have undesirable side effects.

As is typically the case with natural products, tradeoffs must be made: if you want to avoid “synthetic” chemicals you’ll have to accept a limited number of color choices. (That’s because iron oxides, the mineral pigments used to provide color, are only available in a few reddish-brownish-yellowish shades.) You’ll also have to give up long lasting color because these iron oxides don’t stain the lips like synthetic dyes do. Are these good trade-offs to make? Maybe, but we can’t make that value judgement for you. We can only try to frame the question and provide a few helpful facts.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Unfortunately there is no easy, one-size-fits-all answer to your question. Whether or not so-called natural lipstick is a good value depends on what’s most important to you. If you want to limit potential intake of “chemicals” (even though the best science available doesn’t indicate that this is a significant risk) AND if you don’t mind a limited number of “earth-tone” colors, then a “100% Natural” product may be a good choice for you. But, you’ll need to spend more for those benefits.

What do YOU think? Are you willing to spend more for products that say they are natural? Leave a comment and share your thoughts with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.




Bare Minerals

Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Barium Sulfate, Euphorbia Cerifera (Candelilla) Wax, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax, Theobroma Grandiflorum Seed Butter, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil, Gardenia Tahitensis Flower Extract, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Wax, Tocopheryl Acetate, Punica Granatum Seed Oil, Beeswax (Cera Alba), Silica, Echium Plantagineum Seed Oil, Hordeum Vulgare Seed Extract, Tocopherol, Macadamia Ternifolia Seed Oil, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891), Mica, Iron Oxides (CI 77491, CI 77492, CI 77499), Carmine (CI 75470)


Does 3 day deodorant really work?

QM’s query…The boyfriend and I were watching tv and there was an ad about a drugstore-brand deodorant that touted “3-day efficiency”.
Me : “3-day efficiency ? Does it means that you’re supposed to go 3 days without washing your armpits ? Ewwww !”
Him : “Well, deodorant crawls into the sweat thingies on your skin and block odors from inside. So it can be efficient for 3 days even if you wash the skin in between”.

(OK, none of us are cosmetic scientists, as you can guess from all these technical terms) Which one of us is right ? I thought that OTC skin products can’t legally seep into the skin, but maybe it’s different for deodorants and the like.

The Beauty Brains respond

First a question: are you and your main squeeze talking about deodorants or antiperspirants (APDs)? Here’s why it matters:

APD vs Deo for B.O.

Deodorants just stop odor (by covering up with fragrance and by killing odor-producing bacteria.) APDs prevent you from sweating (or by at least reduct the amount of sweat) and less sweat = less odor because the actual stink is caused by bacteria munching on fatty acids that are contained in your sweat. Since your boyfriend referenced that the product “crawls into the sweat thingies,” I’m assuming that your asking about the “plugging” kind of products so here’s the deal:

Antiperspirants plug your pits

The aluminum salts in APDs migrate inside your sweat ducts where they react with moisture to form Gelatinous Little Plugs. (That sounds like the name of a band but it’s not. As far as I know.) These plugs prevent sweat from soaking your armpits and therefore keep you relatively stink-free. If you stop using an antiperspirant it takes a few days for the sweat glands to clear themselves of all these petite plugs, which is why the sweat-reduction effect can last last for a few days – even is you shower!

This phenomenon is not unknown to advertisers: I remember seeing ads for Mitchum brand antiperspirant that claimed it was “so effective you can skip a day.” I’m pretty sure that claim was based on the sweat gland retention of gelatinous aluminum salt plugs. Anyway, what does all this mean? Your boyfriend is right! What did he win?

PS: APDs ARE over the counter drugs because they have a physiological effect on skin. Cosmetics can’t affect body function (according to US law, at least.)


Don’t be duped by drugstore doubles Episode 65

sLearn how to tell if a drugstore double is really the same as your favorite brand. 

Show notes

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Question of the week: Are drugstore doubles really the same?

Veronica asks…In the drug store there are the name brands and the drug store brand equivalents that say compare to Brand “x.” Most of the time the ingredients are the same so I’m tempted to buy the cheapest one. But am I sacrificing quality? How do I know the proportions and quality of the ingredients are the same and if the drug store brands test their products as well the name brands.

What is a drug store dupe?

These are products, as Veronica mentioned, that are usually store brand versions of more famous, more expensive products.

While they may be most commonly found in drugstores you’ll also see them in grocery stores and some chain department stores. They may be named based on the store or the parent company. For example there was a chain of grocery stores here in the Chicago area owned by the Safeway company and so you would see Safeway branded products.

Other examples include:

  • Walmarts brand is “Equate”
  • Target’s is “Up & Up”
  • Walgreens is “Studio 35”

You can tell these are dupes or doubles because the fine print on the back of the package says something like “made exclusively for…” Walgreens in this case. That phrase “made for” is a sure tip off that the product was made by not made by the major beauty companies themselves. Instead it was made by what we call a contract manufacturer. So let’s talk about the role of these contract manufacturers.

The role of contract manufacturers versus in-house manufacturing

Retail companies – the stores that sell you stuff – rarely, if ever, manufacture their own products. So even if product says it’s from CVS or target they are not actually making it. So who does make these products? Contract manufacturers which are sometimes called private label manufacturers. These are like the guns for hire in the personal care industry. These are typically relatively small companies that are engineered and designed to quickly and cheaply make a variety of different personal care products for a variety of customers. Many of them specialize in duplicating at least as close as possible the formulas of other companies. They basically play three rolls within the industry:

  1. Larger personal care manufacturers use them to supplement their own manufacturing organization. They’ll use them to when they’re short on their own manufacturing capacity or if they need specialized equipment that they may not have yet purchased.
  2. Smaller personal care companies who may not have their own manufacturing facilities at all will use contract manufacturers as their primary source of product production.
  3. Retailers who have no manufacturing facilities will use contract manufacturers to make their own in-house brands. Some of those may be unique products but others are knockoffs of something already on the market.

The secrets of knocking off a product

Copying a competitor’s product is not exactly easy but for a seasoned cosmetic chemist it’s not too hard. I once wrote a short ebook on the subject that people can get over at Chemists Corner, but here’s a quick summary of what you do.

First, you check the product to see if it is patented. If it is patented you can just look up the patent and find a formula. It won’t be the exact formula that is marketed but it will be pretty close.

But for products that aren’t patented you have to get the LOI (or list of ingredient) of the product you want to copy. Sites like Drugstore.com or Ulta.com make this easy to do.

Next, you have to figure out where the 1% line is. The 1% line is the place on the LOI in which the ingredients can be put in any order that the cosmetic company wants. See the rules of cosmetic labeling in the US are that you have to list ingredients in order of concentration above the 1% line, but once an ingredient is at 1% or lower you can list in any order you want.

You just have to look for things like natural or feature ingredients and you can usually find the 1% line.

After finding that line you can pretty much ignore everything below it. While those ingredients are not always inconsequential they don’t need to be in your first prototype. Then you can make a guess as to the concentration of the ingredients used. You can figure out the amount of water by doing a moisture % determination & there are other tricks to figuring out the levels of other ingredients.

Mostly, as a cosmetic formulator you know the levels of ingredients that are typically used for certain formulas.

Once you make your guesses at the formula, you make your first prototype. Then you compare it to the original product and adjust the ingredients until you get a product that is close. You may have to add some of the ingredients you ignored if you can’t get the performance to be the way you want it.

Then you just do a whole bunch of comparison testing and optimizing of your formula until you get something that matches pretty close.

So now you have a good sense of where these drugstore doubles come from. But are they necessarily a good duplicate or not? As you may have guessed already from some of the things we’ve said already these products are not necessarily always a true duplicate. Why is that? If the ingredients are essentially the same shouldn’t the products be identical? Here are some reasons drugstore doubles are not really duplicates and some tips to keep you from being duped by the dupes.

Does it claim to be the same?

One thing to look for on these drug store double is what the product claims to do. There are two types of claims you’ll see most commonly associated with these duplicate products.

“Compare to (insert brand name) “

This is actually the weaker of the two claims because it only indirectly makes a connection to the “real” brand.

For example, Walgreen’s Studio 35 Regenerating Daily Micro-shaping Cream makes the following claim: “compare to Olay.”

What could that mean? There is certainly an implied claim of efficacy. The product doesn’t state it but it seems to be saying “compare to Olay because it works as well.” That’s a reasonable take away but it’s not the only take away and I don’t think that Walgreens would be required to support that claim. They are not making a direct claim of efficacy so they are not responsible to prove that their product works as well.

How DO you support “compare to” claims? Perhaps by proving that the product looks similar, maybe even smells similar, it contains many of the same ingredients, it’s intended for the same function, even the packaging looks the same. These are all ways to make be able to say “compare to.”

You’ve seen this exact same approach used in some fragrance dupes. The claim is always something like this: if you like Elizabeth White Diamonds then you’ll love our “Pale Zirconium.”

Do you see how this works? They’re not directly saying it’s the same. They’re just saying compare one to the other. That’s a very open ended claim but you can easily be sucked in by that. If you see this phrase you should at least be suspicious.

“works as well as (insert brand name)”
This is a more direct approach which is the “works as well as” claim. Let’s look at another example:

Suave Professionals Natural Infusion Light Leave-In Cream says “Salon proven to strengthen as well as Pureology®.”

Clearly this is a more direct claim that overtly makes a reference to some functional parameter. Note that Suave uses this approach but Suave is owned by Unilever that has a large research and development organization that can afford to design and execute tests of the sort. You’re less likely to see this with the storebrand dupes.

So I would expect in this case the product would do exactly as promised because Unilever has some test to show that their product strenghtens hair as well as Pureology. However, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be as good as Pureology for all the things that you like about that product. For example it may not smell as well or it may feel thinner or it may leave your hair feeling too sticky. All they’ve done in this case is find one single product parameter where they are as good as the “real” product. It’s a stronger position than the “compared to” claim but it still no guarantee of equivalency.

So you have to look carefully at the claims when you’re considering a dupe. But of course you also have to look at the ingredients….

Are the ingredients really the same?

Just because a company is trying to sell you a drugstore dupe, don’t assume that it REALLY is the same. For example, let’s take a closer look at that Walgreens Studio 35 product.

As you can see from the ingredient lists in the show notes, the first 10 ingredients are identical – with one very important exception. The third ingredient in the Olay product, Niacinamide, is completely missing from the Studio 35 Beauty product. And guess which one is the only proven anti-aging ingredient in the Olay formula. That’s right – niacinamide. Other than retinol, niacinimade is one of the best studied and most effective anti-aging ingredients. It’s capable of brightening the complexion, erasing fine wrinkles, reducing transepidermal water loss, improving elasticity, and fighting inflammation. Without that ingredient this product isn’t much more than a really good moisturizer.

The point is that just because the label says “compare to Olay” doesn’t mean they use all the same ingredients as Olay. That’s something to watch out for when shopping for dupes.

It’s also important to consider the AMOUNT of ingredients used. For example, there’s a skin cream by the brand “Gold Bond” that contains 5% dimethicone. Dimethicone is a great skin protectant and it’s found in a LOT of lotions but you don’t see too products many with such a high level. And you certainly don’t see brands TELLING you how much they used.

At least with ingredients, it’s relatively easy to figure them out because they’re disclosed on the package. Unfortunately, there other, more subtle, differences that you CAN’T easily spot yourself.

Is it made the same way?

For most products the method of manufacture doesn’t impact performance very much. That’s not to say that the method of manufacture isn’t important what I mean is a duplicate product can be made using a different manufacturing method and you can get to the same final result. For example if you’re mixing up a basic shampoo there’s probably no secret way to make it that makes it work better. But there are some cases where it’s difficult to make a good dupe of a product because there IS something special about the way its made. Let me give you two examples:

First, I used to make pressed powder products like eyeshadows and blushes. A critical step in the manufacture these products is the pressing step. That’s where a machine pushes a metal cylinder down on the loose powder to compress it into a cake.

If that step is not done just right let’s say you’re a company that’s trying to save a few dollars so you turn the speed of the machine up, well the same pressure is not achieved in there for the kick me crumble more easily. that’s just one example of manufacturing difference that consumers would be oblivious to but which could certainly affect the quality of a finish product from brand to brand.

Here’s another example: Dispersing silicone oils properly in a conditioner or lotion is critical to get the product to feel a certain way and to work properly. My first patent was awarded for finding a better way disperse silicone in a conditioner by premixing it with another ingredient. This formula went on to be used in the Tresemme line. If another company created a duplicate of that formula you couldn’t tell from looking at the ingredient list if they were using this trick or not. And that means that the dupe wouldn’t work the same way even if the ingredients were the same.

The point of this is to make you aware that there are these subtle differences that would be impossible for you to recognize just by reading the label. So you should always be skeptical when looking at drugstore doubles.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

So here are our four steps to help being avoid being duped by a duplicate.

  1. Look at the claims to see if the dupe really is indeed claiming to do the same thing as the original product. This step is especially important if there’s a key function that you’re interested in like anti-aging claims.
  2. Find out who makes the dupe. You can do this very easily by checking the manufacturer which is listed on the back of the package. Is it a copy cat from a major company? Like the example of Suave shampoo – I would expect those Suave professional products to perform pretty well. That’s because as we’ve said before the larger companies have bigger R&D budgets and do more testing. On the other hand if it’s a drugstore or grocery store knockoff brand which was made by a contract manufacturer then it’s less likely that extensive testing was done.
  3. Compare the ingredients between the real product and the duplicate. If there are differences then that’s a good indication it’s not a very good duplicate. However there could be subtle differences in ingredients or ingredient concentrations that would be very difficult for you to catch.
  4. Be aware that there may be other subtle differences that you’re not aware of – for example the way the product is manufactured. So be skeptical and if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t. Don’t be duped by drugstore doubles!

LIL buy it now button

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

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

Click here for all the The Beauty Brains podcasts.


Can I get a mole from popping pimples?

Afrogal asks…Recently I popped one of my pimples and a big lump formed on my forehead. I’m starting to wonder whether it is going to go away. Are moles genetic or can they appear when you pop pimples or have bad skincare routine?

The Beauty Brains responds

Moles are not caused by popping pimples or by by anything you’re doing with your skin care routine. Cleansing, exfoliating, and moisturizing the skin only affects the upper layer of skin called the stratum corneum.

What causes moles?

Moles are formed in the deeper layers of skin, where the epidermis meets the dermis. There, cells called melanocytes produce the melanin (the brown pigment that gives your skin its color.) Sometimes these melanocytes start to overproduce and grow together in clumps. This over growth of cells is what causes a mole to appear. This over growth can be triggered by combination of genetic factors and exposure to the sun. But your skin care products are not a problem.

Why does popping pimples make skin look dark?

Are you seeing some darkened skin after pimple popping? That could be from hyperpimentation which is, as SarahF pointed out in our Forum, usually flat, not lumpy, but darker than the rest of your skin. It will eventually fade but you can help it along with fade creams. Some experts think the hyperpigmentation you get from the sun (aka melasma–which is different from moles) and so-called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (what persists after a pimple) are actually caused by the same underlying process, inflammation. (Thanks Sarah!)


Why can’t I put my foot product on my face?

Miniature muses…Skin Laboratory has a Salicylic Acid Peel (okay to put on your face). Dr. Scholl’s has a Liquid Corn and Callus Remover (not okay to put on your face). Obviously, both have a high amount of Salicylic Acid, but other than that, I was curious to know which ingredients make the first alright to put on your face, and the second a serious mistake. Any ideas?

The Beauty Brains respond

Here are the ingredients for the two products in question:

Skin Laboratory Salicylic Acid Peel ingredients

Salicylic Acid (20%), Propylene Glycol, Denatured alcohol, Polyacrylamide, C13-14 Isoparaffin, Laureth 7.

Dr. Scholl’s Liquid Corn and Callus Remover ingredients

Salicylic Acid (17% w/w), Castor (Ricinus Communis) Seed Oil, Ethyl Lactate, Flexible Collodion, Polybutene, Alcohol (18% v/v), Ether (53% v/v from flexible collodion)

You’re right in that both look similar in the salicylic acid concentration. But the big difference is in how the products are intended to be used. The Skin Laboratories product is designed to be spread all over your face; the Dr. Scholl’s is designed as a spot treatment for a callus or corn on your foot. That’s where the “Collodion” ingredient comes in.

Callus concern

Collodion is a polymer that forms a very tough, flexible film on your skin. That’s perfect when you want to seal an active ingredient into the skin in a very localized area, like on a callus. The film keeps the active ingredient concentrated on the very tough, dead skin of the callus.

That’s NOT a good idea when you want to treat breakouts all over your face. The film could cause the acid to burn the more delicate skin of the face. Plus, the film would sort of feel like wearing a bandage on your face. (Also all that alcohol and ether isn’t ideal for a facial product. I can imagine you passing out after applying to much ether so close to your nose. LOL.)

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Even though it may not be apparent to the casual reader, there is a very good reason why the Scholl’s product should only be used as directed: on the feet!

{ 1 comment }

Can OFF insect repellant dissolve tights?

NataliaP says…A friend of mine put on OFF (repellant) all over her legs, she was using the aerosol form. And then she put in black tights. A while later we noticed that her tights/stockings were super blotchy. It was complelty ruined. What happened?

The Beauty Brains respond

The active ingredient in OFF is a chemical known as DEET which is an effective solvent that can dissolve rayon, spandex, other synthetic fabrics. Her tights are probably made from some combination of natural and synthetic fibers like nylon or acetate. She should switch to all cotton tights or a non-DEET containing product. Or else she should just stay indoors like Randy does.

Have you ever had a wardrobe malfunction after using any kind of personal care product? Leave a comment and share your experiences with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.


Science says high heels are sexy Episode 64

This week Perry and I reminisce about 2014 before sharing the first beauty science news stories of 2015.     

Show notes

NOTE: The audio file for this week’s show developed a glitch that I couldn’t fix so portions of the show are missing and you’ll hear a “skip” every once in a while. I spent so much time trying to repair the audio that I couldn’t type up all the show notes. Sorry!

Favorite moments from 2014

Here are a few of our fave moments of the year:

Our discussions of the Kligman questions
These are the questions that you should ask about any anti-aging ingredient:

1. Based on the chemistry of the ingredient, is there any scientific mechanism that could explain why it would work?
2. Does it penetrate to the part of the skin where it needs to be in order to work?
3. Are there peer reviewed, double blind, placebo controlled studies demonstrating the ingredient really works when applied to real people?

Wacky questions we covered in 2014
Can skin lotion make you fat? Is facial yoga for real? Can you cure cellulite with coffee grounds?

The controversy over our catch phrase (Be brainy about your beauty)
If you’re new to the show you don’t know what you missed. Every week the haters would come out.
Perry would occasionally try to hijack the ending of the show by saying some random crap. But the catch phrase prevailed! (So far…)

An audio homage to our fans
I play a short clip of our fans saying hello.

2014 was the year of Beauty Science or Bullsh*t
I quizzed Perry on the answers to some of last year’s games. True or False: How many of these do you remember?

  1. Earwax analysis is as effective as a blood test for detecting toxins in the body.
  2. The latest weapon against germs is a new protein-based antibacterial paint.
  3. A new “flesh eating” shower sponge uses a keratolytic enzyme to exfoliate dead skin cells while you bathe.
  4. Contact lens disinfectants control body odor better than most deodorants.
  5. Scientists can estimate the collagen levels in your skin just from a hand shake.
  6. Your nasal bacteria may predict if you’ll get a skin infection.
  7. A Philippines Zoo is offering ‘snake massages’ by 4 giant pythons.
  8. A treatment based on cow antibodies is as effective against acne causing bacteria as benzoyl peroxide.
  9. You can text your way to sunburn free skin.
  10. Getting a flu shot may make your perfume smell funny.

Beauty Science News

Bath salts won’t turn you into a zombie

Men like high heels – duh!

At last a product that REALLY adds collagen. Painfully.

Making oil and water lotions without surfactants


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.


Nancy Boy may be the most honest beauty product in the world

NoahJenda asks…I’m very curious to know what the Beauty Brains think about Nancy Boy’s Ultramarine Night Cream. It’s also sold as an eye cream. I find their descriptions of the product unusually frank. For example, when discussing eye creams, they say “None, including ours, do anything for dark circles or puffiness (even though some of them claim to) because no product can…The only under-eye problem that can be addressed with an over-the-counter product is fine lines and wrinkles.” I also find it interesting that they claim their cream has the same ingredients as other products costing ten times as much. What do the Beauty Brains think of the ingredients, and of the claims for this product?

The Beauty Brains respond

Wow. Nancy Boy has the most refreshingly honest product descriptions I’ve ever seen!

Why is Nancy Boy so different?

If you read their website you’ll see that they say things you’ve never been told by any beauty company, like:

“All that any anti-wrinkle product like this one can do is to diminish their appearance, and the way they do that is to shrink and plump them…” (As we’ve said time and time again, there’s not much functional difference in expensive anti-aging creams.)
“every manufacturer, including us and …La Mer, Clinique, Prescriptives, M-A-C, Origins, Aveda, etc…has the same access to state-of-the-art anti-wrinkle technology…” (There are few exceptions but this is a really good point.)
When it comes to spending a lot on beauty products “savvy consumers should read each brand’s ingredients listing to get the best deal.” (Sound familiar, Beauty Brains reader?)
“…the marine-based active complex in our ultramarine night cream is not alas, exclusive to us.” (Sounds different than companies that tell you they’re the only ones with specific technology!)

They also bash the fanciful source of an expensive ingredient used in Estee Lauder’s cream. To get a full appreciation of their positioning (and their sense of hum0r) you have to read their website for yourself!

What do their claims really mean?

Nancy’s straight up approach is very refreshing but be careful not to get caught up in everything they say. For example, they repeat claims about peptides, hyaluronic acid and vitamin C that are not as well established as they would lead you to believe.

Is Nancy Boy worth it?

We couldn’t agree more that Nancy Boy products work as well as products that cost hundreds more. At $55 for 2 ounces they have drastically undercut many of the ridiculously over-priced products on the market. But their logic works both ways – there are still plenty of products that cost less than $55 that can work the same way to plump up your skin. If your goal is to get a cheaper version of Estee Lauder’s formula, then Nancy Boy will save you some bucks. But if all you want to do is moisturizer wrinkly skin, you can save even more by shopping around.





Happy New Year from the Beauty Brains

No new questions today, just a quick look back at some of the top beauty science stories of 2014 courtesy of Chemists Corner.

Finally, just a great big THANK YOU to all of the great people in the Beauty Brains community. Whether you’re a podcast listener, an active commentator, forum poster, RSS feed reader, emailer, newsletter subscriber, or FaceBook fan, thank you for making the Beauty Brains a joy to work on each day.

Happy New Year!

We’re looking forward to more beauty sleuthing and beauty busting in 2015.

-Randy and Perry


How to pick the perfect makeup remover Episode 63

Makeup can be tough to remove so it’s important to pick the right kind of cleanser. Tune in to this week’s show to learn everything you need to know about the perfect product to clean your face. 

Show notes

The Beauty Brains on Dr.Oz

I just returned from New York where I not only attended the annual Society of Cosmetic Chemists meeting but I also appeared on the Dr. Oz show! I talked about beauty myth busting and I’ll post a link to the video as soon as I know when the episode airs.

Question of the week: How to pick the best makeup remover

Elisa asks…I recently bought a product from Herborist, a Chinese brand and it’s called Silky All-Day Softening Cleansing Foam. I’m wondering why it’s so good to remove mascara but it says we have to use it every day to clean our face. Normally I don’t use make up so I don’t know if this is the right product for me. It seems so strong but they keep saying that it’s okay. What do you recommend?

How do makeup removers work?

If you think about it, makeup removers have a tricky job to do. Unlike a regular face wash (or even a body wash) they have to be able to remove materials that are designed to be extremely water resistant like some foundations or mascara. Just think how heavy and greasy some of those products are. But the solution isn’t to just add stronger cleansing agents because those can be too harsh for the delicate skin on the face and they’re not may cause problems if you use them too close to your eyes. But never fear, cosmetic chemists have a solution. In fact, they’ve developed two different approaches to mild makeup removal. The first one we call “solvency.”

Solvency (like dissolves like)

This involves the chemical principle called “like dissolves like.” In other words, oils will dissolve other materials that have a similar chemical structure. As an example let’s look at mineral oil because it’s so effective and used in so many products. Mineral oil is a solvent (the thing that does the dissolving) and it’s atoms are held together by covalent bonds. Heavy or greasy makeup (which in this case is the solute – the thing being dissolved) also consists of atoms that are hooked together with covalent bonds. So that means that mineral oil is similar enough to all the other gunk on your face that it will dissolve it. That’s a very simplified explanation of “like dissolves like.”


The second approach is the one that people are most familiar with when it comes to cleaning oily dirt – I guess the best name for it is “detergency.” It involves using a surface active agent, like soap and or synthetic detergent, to allow the oily makeup to mix with water. The potential issue with this approach is that anything which solubilizes oils has the potential for stripping the skin. In addition some surfactants, like sodium lauryl sulfate, don’t rinse well because they can interact with skin protein and the residue they leave behind is irritating to some people.

BUT, surfactants (which typically have a pH in the range of 5-7) do not upset the skin’s acid mantle as much soap which has a pH in the range of 9-10. If the mantle is washed away or neutralized by alkaline agents then the skin is more easily damaged or infected. That’s because without the mantle the skin cells start to separate and allow more moisture loss which in turn causes tiny cracks in the skin where bacteria can enter. Once the mantle is depleted and the pH of skin gets above 6.5 you’re much more prone to damage and infection. There are number of studies such that have evaluated the harshness of cleansers and have consistently found that soap is worse than surfactants (see below). The important point to takeaway from all this is that different kinds of cleaners may affect your skin differently.

Using these two approaches, cosmetic chemists can formulate 3 basic types of makeup removers. Next, we’ll explain how each type works and give you some specific product examples so you have an idea which ingredients to look for. We’ll also break down the cost of each product so you get an idea of how much you should spend.

Foaming cleansing/Detergent type

As the name implies, this type of makeup remover works by using soaps or surfactants to emulsify makeup. Typically these will be thin, watery solutions. They SHOULD be the least expensive since they contain a lot of water but as you’ll see that’s not always the case. Here are a few examples in order of least expensive to most expensive. Since these products come in all different sizes we’ve done the math for you and calculated the cost per ounce so it’s easier to compare them.

Olay Clean & Mild Make-Up Remover Cloths
Some products, like this one, are sold as cloth pads saturated with the cleansing solution. That makes it difficult to compare costs because you’ll get more uses out of a bottle of liquid. On the other hand, cloths and pads are convenient because you don’t need a separate cotton ball or wash cloth. And the cloths will help more than using just your hands. These cost $3.99 for a pack of 20 so they’re about 20 cents per use. It’s based on aloe juice, glycerine and a betaine which is a mild surfactant.

Cost: 20 for $3.99 ($0.20 per use)

Ingredients: Water, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Glycerin, Betaine, Polysorbate 20, Butylene Glycol, Sodium Hydroxide, Disodium EDTA, DMDM Hydantoin, Benzyl Alcohol, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Fragrance.

philosophy Purity Made Simple® Facial Cleansing Gel & Eye Makeup Remover
This one is based on a couple of surfactants which are commonly used in baby shampoos so that gives you some idea of how mild it will be and how well it clean. It’s about $2.80 per ounce.

Cost: 7.5 oz for $21 ($2.80 per oz)

Ingredients: Water, Sodium Trideceth Sulfate, Disodium Lauroamphodiacetate, Acrylates Copolymer, Polysorbate 20, Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate, Glycerin, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Isopropyl Alcohol, Sodium Sulfate, Limnanthes Alba (Meadowfoam) Seed Oil, Aniba Rosaeodora (Rosewood) Wood Oil, Pelargonium Graveolens Flower Oil, Bulnesia Sarmientoi Wood Oil, Cymbopogon Martini Oil, Rosa Centifolia Flower Oil, Amyris Balsamifera Bark Oil, Santalum Album (Sandalwood) Oil, Salvia Sclarea (Clary) Oil, Ormenis Multicaulis Oil, Acacia Dealbata Flower/Stem Extract, Daucus Carota Sativa (Carrot) Seed Oil, Piper Nigrum (Pepper) Fruit Oil, Disteareth-75 Ipdi, Glycereth-7 Caprylate/Caprate, Potassium Chloride, Hydrogen Peroxide, Magnesium Nitrate, Magnesium Chloride, Sodium Benzotriazolyl Butylphenol Sulfonate, Buteth-3, Tributyl Citrate, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Chloride, Disodium Edta, Citric Acid, Linalool, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone.

Caudalie Make-Up Remover Cleansing Water
This product is $4.20 per oz and it’s also based on glycerine and a betaine.

Cost: 6.7 oz for $28 ($4.20 per oz)

Ingredients: Water, Glycerin, Poloxamer 188, Grape Fruit Water, Capryl/Capramidopropyl Betaine, Cocoyl Proline, Methylpropanediol, Sodium Chloride, Polyaminopropyl Biguanide, Fragrance, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Caprylyl Glycol, Grape Juice, Sodium Hydroxide, Citric Acid, Phenylpropanol, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate.

Estee Lauder Gentle Eye Makeup Remover
For about $6.00 per oz you can get this Estee Lauder product. It uses another baby shampoo type surfactant along with a nonionic surfactant and a polyol solvent. The nice thing about this one is that it’s fragrance free. You really don’t need fragrance in a product like this since all it will do is increase the likelihood of irritation.

Cost: 3.4oz for $20 ($5.90 per oz)

Ingredients: Water, PEG-32, Butylene Glycol, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate, PEG-6, Trisodium EDTA, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Butylparaben

Givenchy Mister Perfect Instant Makeup Eraser (pen form)
Finally, if you’ve got money to burn you should buy this Givenchy product that costs $300 per oz! It’s so expensive because it comes in a low dose pen form. We couldn’t find an ingredient list for this one but but their website says it’s based on a ”coconut derivative anionic surfactant formula.” This could be anything since MOST surfactants can be coconut derived. Anything from ultra mild sodium methyl cocoyl istheionate to the more harsh SLS. I can’t imagine this product is worth the money.

Cost: 0.1 oz for $30. ($300 per oz.)

Ingredients: “coconut derivative anionic surfactant formula”

Oil cleansing type

The second product type is an oil based product which, as we just explained, uses the principle of like dissolves like. Not surprisingly, these are oily, viscous liquids. They may be based on true oils like olive oil or other “oily” materials like esters. These are effective and have the advantage of moisturizing because they can leave an occlusive film on skin. However, they have the negative of not removing all types of makeup and may leave skin feeling greasy, and may even increase breakouts depending on the oils they use.

These products should be the most expensive since they don’t contain water – remember it’s almost always cheaper to formulate a product with water as the first ingredient. That doesn’t mean you should spend more on these because you can get much of the same benefit from much cheaper oils that you already have at home like baby oil or even olive oil. But here are some examples.

I didn’t even know that you could get oil from a carnation. This one also contains sesame oil and costs about $3.50 per oz.

Cost: 2 oz for $7 ($3.50 per oz)

Ingredients: Carnation Oil, Sesame Oil, Floral Extract

The Body Shops Moisture White Shiso cleansing oil is based on a triglyceride which is derived from coconut oil. It also contains some nonionic surfactants and soybean oil. It costs $3.57 per oz.

Cost: 4.2 oz for $15 ($3.57 per oz)

Ingredients: Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, PEG-20 Glyceryl Triisostearate, Isohexadecane, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil, Glyceryl Behenate/Eicosadioate, Water, Fragrance (Fragrance), Perilla Ocymoides Seed Oil, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Citric Acid

MAC Cleanse Off Oil
Then there’s MAC’s Cleanse Off oil. It uses an ester Cetyl Ethylhexanoate and a blend of olive oil, jojoba oil, wheat germ oil, and rice germ oil. Surprisingly, they’ve decided to include some citrus extracts which can be skin irritants so I’m not too crazy about this one.

Cost: 5oz for $31 ($6.20 per oz

Ingredients: Cetyl Ethylhexanoate, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, PEG-20 Glyceryl Triisostearate, Squalane, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Oil, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Germ Oil, Tocopherol, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Oil, Citrus Aurantium Amara (Bitter Orange) Oil, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Oenothera Biennis (Evening Primrose) Oil, Water, Rosa Canina (Rose) Fruit Oil, Limonene

Max Factor For Long Lasting Makeup
Finally, there’s Max Factor…This one kills me because the primary ingredient is mineral oil which means you’re essentially spending $6.50 for an ounce of baby oil.

Cost: 2 oz for $12.55 ($6.30 per oz)

Ingredients: Mineral Oil, Isopropyl Palmitate, Polyethylene, Ceteth 20, Trihydroxystearin, Sorbic Acid, Methylparaben, Butylparaben, Propylparaben, Vanillin, Titanium Dioxide

Cream cleansing type

The third type of makeup remover is kind of a cross between the first two: these products are typically a mixture of water with some kind of oil. And since they’re emulsions they also contain a surfactant which can aid in cleansing. Some cream cleansers are designed to be left on the skin so they may provide some moisturization while others are rinsed away. The classic example of a “cold cream” type cleanser is Noxzema. Here are a few more modern examples…

POND’S Cucumber Cleanser
Pond’s cucumber cleanser is tough to beat because of the price. It’s only 89 cents per ounce. It’s based on mineral oil so it should work pretty well.

Cost: 10 oz for $8.29 ($0.89 per oz)

Ingredients: Water, Mineral Oil (Paraffinum Liquidum), Isopropyl Palmitate, Glycerin, Ceteth 20, Triethanolamine, Cetearyl Alcohol, Glyceryl Stearate, Carbomer, Fragrance, Methylparaben, Magnesium Aluminium Silicate, Diazolidinyl Urea, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Cucumis Sativa (Cucumber) Fruit Extract

SEPHORA COLLECTION Waterproof Eye Makeup Remover
Sephora’s product is disappointing because it’s based on volatile silicones and hydrocarbon solvents which could be too stripping and it doesn’t contain any oils to rehydrate skin. The good news is that it’s only $2.50 per oz.

Cost: 4.2 oz for $10.50 ($2.50 per oz)

Ingredients: Water, Cyclopentasiloxane, Isohexadecane, Butylene Glycol, Dipotassium Phosphate, Caprylyl Glycol, 1, 2-Hexanediol, Potassium Phosphate, Sodium Chloride, Maltodextrin, Disodium EDTA, Panthenol, Poloxamer 184, Hydroxycetyl Hydroxyethyl Dimonium Chloride, PPG-26-Buteth-26, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Centaurea Cyanus Flower Extract, CI 61570 (Green 5), CI 42090 (Blue 1 Lake), Apigenin, Oleanolic Acid, Biotinoyl Tripeptide-1, BHT.

CLINIQUE Take The Day Off Makeup Remover For Lids, Lashes & Lips
Clinique’s Take the day off has the same problem because it’s based on isohexadecane and cyclopentasiloxane but it’s a little better because it contains dimethicone which is a good skin protectant. It’s a bit pricier at $4.40 per oz.

Cost: 4.2 oz for $18.50 ($4.40 per oz)

Ingredients: Water, Isohexadecane, Dimethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane, Trisiloxane, PEG-4 Dilaurate, Lauryl Methyl Gluceth-10 Hydroxypropyldimonium Chloride, Hexylene Glycol, Sodium Chloride, Potassium Phosphate, Dipotassium Phosphate, Dipotassium EDTA, Phenoxyethanol

Herborist Silky All-Day Softening Cleansing Foam (aerosol foam)
Next up is the product which Elisa asked about – Herborist’s Silky All Day Softening Cleansing Foam. This one is relatively unique because it’s an aerosolized foam. It uses betaine, a mild surfactant, to generate foam and glycerine and some oils to remove makeup. It does contain a volatile silicone which can dry out skin but there’s plenty of other “goodies” in the formula to rehydrate skin. So, to answer Elisa’s question, I’d guess this is mild enough to be used everyday. There’s nothing particularly harsh here. It costs about $5.60 per oz but it’s hard to judge how good of a value that is because it’s a foam. The other problem with this product is that it makes some outrageous claims which we’ll get to in a minute.

Cost: 5 oz for $28 ($5.60 per oz)


They’re Real Remover
They’re Real Remover is another emulsion containing isohexadecane so it might be drying to skin. There’s certainly nothing here to justify a price of $10.60 per oz.

Cost: 1.7 oz for $18 ($10.60 per oz)

Ingredients: Water, Isohexadecane, butylene glycol, hydrogenated polyisobutylene, mineral oil, plus other emulsifiers, thickeners and adjusting agents.

Kate Somerville True Lash™ Lash Enhancing Eye Makeup Remover
And speaking of over-priced there’s Kate Somerville’s Lash Enhancing eye makeup remover at almost $21 per oz. It’s based on an unusual combination of polyols and a baby shampoo type surfactant. It contains “SymLash226 Complex” which supposedly enhances eyelash growth.

Cost: 1.7 oz for $35 ($20.59 per oz)

Ingredients: Water, Caprylyl Methicone, Glycerin, Propandiol, Polysorbate 20, Disodium Cocoamphodipropionate, Sodium PCA, Trehalose, Polyquaternium-51, Sodium Hyaluronate, Myristoyl Pentapeptide-17, Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Extract, Euphrasia Officinalis Extract, Oenothera Biennis (Evening Primrose) Oil, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Rosa Canina Fruit Oil, Urea, Triacetin, Sodium Hydroxide, Citric Acid, Acrylates/ C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Disodium EDTA, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Fragrance.

Don’t be tricked by makeup remover claims

I’d like to say a few words about makeup remover claims – the words are “don’t believe them.” If the product says it will remove makeup, it’s credible. If it says it will not dry out skin and moisturize, it’s fine but if it claims to “grow lashes” or “cool skin” or “depuff your baggy eyes” or “tighten wrinkles” then we would be very skeptical. Makeup removers are not typically capable of delivering the kinds of ingredients that can provide these benefits. Think about it – the products are either rinsed off or wiped away… There’s not much of an opportunity for active ingredients (assuming they have active ingredients) to penetrate into the skin. Most likely the company is exaggerating their claims to entice you to spend more money on their product instead of using baby oil or whatever.

For example, here are some of the claims from Elisa’s product:

  • a unique formula based on traditional Chinese herbal extracts
  • gently purifies the skin
  • The application method stimulates microcirculation
  • The pores open so that nutrients can be better absorbed by the skin
  • Mulberry extract adds to the extraordinary gentle sensation and satin softness

It looks like a fine product and there doesn’t appear to be any reason not to use it everyday but it’s not going to do some of these things.

A word about sonic cleansers

By the way, in case you’re wondering how sonic cleansers stack up as a facial cleanser, we did cover this in a previous episode. Our bottom line was that If you have “normal” skin and you wash your face diligently with a washcloth, you may not see much additional benefit from any of these devices. BUT, if you have certain skin conditions which make it harder to clean your skin, then you may be able to more effectively and more gently clean your skin using a sonic cleanser. You can read all about this in our post on Are sonic cleansers better for your face.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Picking the right makeup remover for you can be summarized in 4 steps:

1. Decide if you like the clean feel of detergent based systems or the moisturizing feel of oil based systems.
2. Based on your preference, look for oil based or detergent based products by looking at the first 5 ingredients. (See the ingredient lists are to give you some examples as guidelines)
3. Ignore any claims about lash growth, wrinkles, etc.
4. Buy the cheapest product that fits your requirements

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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.

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