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Do you know how cosmetics can change the acid balance of your skin? Then you should listen to this episode! Plus this week we begin a brand new feature: a game called Beauty Science or  Bull Sh*t.

Click below to play Episode 22 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show notes

Beauty Science or Bull Sh*t

In this new game, I give Perry 3 beauty science news stories and he has to tell the real from the fake. You can play along at home – just hit the pause button before I give the answer and see if you can outsmart Perry. Here are this week’s headlines, can you tell which one is TRUE?

1. Researchers have developed a vegetable alternative to petroleum based aerosol propellants.
2. Researchers have created the first detailed 3D model of curly hair.
3. Researchers have increased skin lotion stability with oil droplets shaped like hamburger buns.

Question of the week: Does the skin’s acid mantle affect how AHA products work?

BrainyBimbo asks…I’ve been told hydroxy acid products have to be in a certain pH range to work. But I’ve used products that were NOT in that range and they seemed to work for me. Is it possible that my personal skin acid mantle changed the pH of the products so they would work?

To answer that we’ll explain three things:
1. How AHA and BHA products work
2. What the acid mantle of skin is
3. How the acid mantle changes with pH

How Hydroxy Acids work

AHAs and BHAs are chemicals with a carboxylic acid group (COOH) and a hydroxyl group (OH)

Hydroxy acids loosen dead cells to smooth and plasticize skin.

The pH of hydroxy acid and other products

  • Hydroxy acid cleaners and lotions: 3-4
  • Liquid cleansers: 5-7
  • Syndet bars: 5-7
  • True Soaps: 9-10

So what’s the deal with this acid mantle?

Just think of it as a thin protective film that covers your skin. Your body generates it from three different sources:

  • From sweat: lactic acid secreted by sweat glands along with various amino acids
  • From sebum: which is the oil produced by the sebaceous glands. This oil water proofs the skin and it’s also broken down by enzymes on the skin’s surface to form free fatty acids.
  • From dead skin: additional amino acids and pyrollidone carboxylic acid which is part of the skin’s natural moisturizing factor.

So when this oily, acidic soup gets all mixed up and is spread across the surface of your skin, it has a pH between 4.5 and 5.5 and that’s why it’s called the acid mantle.

3 functions of the acid mantle

1. Physically shield skin from the elements (wind, cold, water)
because it water proofs the skin helps keep the skin cells tight and flat so it’s harder for bacteria to penetrate your skin.

2. Provide direct protection against alkaline substances
Since the mantle is acidic it will neutralize any contaminants and other chemicals that are alkaline (that have a high pH)

3. Provide indirect protection from microbes (bacteria, fungi, and viruses)
The microbes not only have to penetrate the mantle itself but the low pH of the mantle keeps skin cells tight and flat so it’s even harder for microbes to penetrate the skin.

Now, 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.

Factors which disrupt the acid mantle

  • Environmental conditions like sunlight, water exposure
  • Diet – if you’re undernourished your body won’t produce all the right essential fatty acids.
  • Skin diseases – for example iacute eczema can raise the pH of your skin as high as 7.5 which is beyond  that protective range. To some extent the same is true for conditions like contact dermatitis which you can get from exposure to cleansing agents.
  • Systemic diseases like diabetes and some vascular diseases also increase skin pH
  • Topical product use can damage the mantle.

The mantle will restore itself but it takes time

Once damaged, it can take up to 14 hours to restore, by which time, it’s most likely under assault again from another washing. Most people wash their hands about three times a day, on average. Single washings shift pH to the alkaline region, which can shift back to normal within a few hours.

The acid mantle can NOT lower below its own pH

Hydroxy acids need to be at pH 3-4.
Acid mantle is at pH 4.5-5.5
The acid mantle can make the pH lower than its own.
Therefore, the acid mantle can’t make higher hydroxy acids work.

Will the acid mantle lower the pH of non-acidic products?

If AHA products need to be at 3 to 4 to work and they start at 6 or 7, your acid mantle will not buffer the products that low.

The bottom line: Take care of your acid mantle

The acid mantle is a powerful skin protectant and it’s important not to overstress your skin’s acid mantle or it will lose some of its protective ability.  However, you can’t rely on it to make a poorly formulated AHA product work better.


pH of common cleaning supplies http://housekeeping.about.com/od/environment/tp/Ph-Levels-For-Common-Cleaning-Supplies.htm

Study of the effects of cosmetic formulations with or without hydroxy acids on hairless mouse epidermis by histopathologic, morphometric, and stereo logic…Lúcia Helena Terenciani Rodrigues , Patricia M. B. G. Maia Campos
2002, Vol 53pp 269



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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.

Click here for all the The Beauty Brains podcasts.

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Is Oil Pulling really good for you?

Klennerable questions…I saw a post on Pinterest talking about oil pulling. It claims that it takes toxins out by washing your mouth with either vegetable oil or virgin coconut oil. This one girl even said that she lost weight and her teeth got whiter.. Are there any advantages to oil pulling?

The Beauty Brains responds:

This is the first time I’ve heard weight-loss claims attributed to oil pulling but this ancient process is widely claimed to help detoxify the body. While I put absolutely no faith in the anecdotal claims of these detox benefits there does appear to be some evidence that the procedure has a positive impact on oral health.

Test results for oil pulling

One study shows swishing sesame oil in the mouth improves reduces gingivitis and plaque. There was a net decline in mean plaque scores from baseline to 45 days amounting to 0.81±0.41 (p<0.01). Another study, as reported by the British Dental Association, shows that “pulling” with coconut oil can reduce cavities. They found that that “coconut oil strongly inhibited the growth of most strains of Streptococcus bacteria including Streptococcus mutans – a major cause of caries.” However, the coconut oil may need to be “pre-digested” with an enzyme to make it most effective.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Getting rid of toxins by oil pulling is a myth but it may provide benefits to your teeth and gums. Talk with your dentist for a better understanding of how to make oil pulling a part of your complete oral health regimen.


http://www.johcd.org/pdf/Effect_of_Oil_Pulling_on_Plaque_and_Gingivitis.pdf J Oral Health Comm Dent 2007 ;1(1):12-18


TD Anand, C Pothiraj, RM Gopinath, et al. Effect of oil-pulling on dental caries causing bacteria. African Journal of Microbiology Research, Vol 2:3 pp 63-66, MAR 2008. < TD Anand, C Pothiraj, RM Gopinath, et al. Effect of oil-pulling on dental caries causing bacteria


Beauty Science News – March 16

Here are 5 of our favorite beauty science news stories from this week….


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Softsoap Lavender and Chamomile: Look at the label

Softsoap’s Lavender and Chamomile liquid soap is one of the top selling products on Amazon.com. Looking at the label you’ll see that it contains neither lavender nor chamomile. Is this misleading or even illegal?

The answer depends on what they claim about the product. Here’s what they say:

“Soothe your spirit while cleansing hands. The relaxing scent of lavender, fresh from the field, entwines with tender chamomile flowers. Brings a moment of calm to stressful days and helps leave skin feeling soft.”

Read the claims closely and you’ll see that they only claim that the product provides the scent of lavender and chamomile. While you may assume these botanicals are added to the product, all that’s really required is a fragrance based on these flowers (or based on other fragrance notes that çreate a similar smell). Many manufacturers will include some of the title extract but it’s certainly not required. In fact you might even consider it refreshing that Softsoap DOESN’T insult your intelligence by adding these extracts since they don’t do anything in this kind of formula anyway!

Softsoap Lavender and Chamomile Liquid Soap ingredients

Water, Sodium C14 16 Olefin Sulfonate, Lauramide DEA, Sodium Chloride, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Fragrance, DMDM Hydantoin, Citric Acid, Tetrasodium EDTA, Polyquaternium 7, Glycerin, PEG 7 Glycerol Cocoate, Benzophenone 4, Hydrolyzed Silk Protein, Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis) Leaf Juice, Ext D&C Violet 2 (CI 60730)

You can buy Softsoap Lavender and Chamomile (or ANYTHING on Amazon.com) using our link below and you’ll be showing your support for the Beauty Brains. Thanks!


Useful information about cosmetic chemistry

This article on cosmetic science is primarily intended to benefit anyone interested in chemist careers but hopefully the Beauty Brains community will find this information useful as well!


It is amazing how little time is devoted to surfactants in college when you consider the importance they play in so many industries.

What are they? Surfactant is a shorter way to say “surface active agent”. These are molecules that have the property of reducing surface tension, thereby allowing oil and water to form stable (temporarily) mixtures.

Examples – Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Glycol Distearate, Ammonium Laureth Sulfate, Polysorbate 80

Why are they used? Surfactants are used for various purposes in cosmetic formulas including

* Detergents – for cleansing
* Wetting agents – for helping formulas spread more easily
* Foaming agents – to produce consumer friendly suds
* Emulsifiers – to create stable mixtures of oil and water
* Conditioning agents – to improve the surfaces of hair and skin
* Solubilizers – to help mix fragrances into water-based formulas
* Preservatives – to keep cosmetics microbe-free
* Special Effects – to improve the look of certain formulas

Where can you learn more? For a quick primer on the subject, see this book on surfactants on Google. For a more general discussion of surfactants, start with the Wikipedia surfactant page.


This topic is related to surfactants and covered even less in college. Yet emulsions are one of the most important types of mixtures / product forms you will encounter in the cosmetic industry.

What are they? An emulsion is a fine dispersion of one insoluble liquid in another. In the cosmetic industry, the most common emulsions are ones in which oil is dispersed in water. To create emulsions, typically a surfactant is also used.

Why are they used? Emulsions are delivery systems for beneficial cosmetic ingredients. These ingredients are often incompatible with water and have undesirable aesthetic characteristics by themselves. The ingredients are mixed with water to create creams or lotions.

Where can you learn more? Look for upcoming articles on Chemists Corner about emulsions, but until then, you can see this on Google for more information. For a more general discussion of emulsions, see this emulsion entry.

Fatty Acids

While much college time was devoted to learning about acid-base reactions and equilibrium constants, very little time was spent looking at the properties and chain length distributions of specific acids. Those topics are much more important to cosmetic chemists.

What are they? As you learned in college, a fatty acid is a carboxylic acid with a long hydrocarbon “tail”. They are typically derived from biological sources and thus have an even number of carbon atoms. The most important fatty acids in the cosmetic industry are those that have between 8 and 22 carbons.

Examples: Lauric Acid, Palmitic Acid, Oleic Acid, Stearic Acid, Behenic Acid

Why are they used? Fatty acids are the basis for many of the surfactants used in cosmetic products. They are derived from natural oils such as coconut, palm kernel, sunflower, wheat germ, etc. They are used for the following properties in cosmetics.

* Conditioning agents – to improve the surfaces of hair and skin
* Thickening – to make thin products more creamy
* Secondary Emulsifiers – to help create stable mixtures of oil and water
* Opacifying agents – to make formulas look more luxurious

Where can you learn more? You can find information about Fatty Acids in the following fatty acid book and a general discussion here.


In college an entire course is devoted to hydrocarbon chemistry which is important. But almost no mention is made of silicone compounds and their usefulness in formulating.

What are they? Silicones are compounds that have a molecular backbone of –[-Si-O-]x- surrounded by hydrogens or methyl groups. They are manufactured from silicon dioxide taken from sand or other minerals. They are also known as polysiloxanes reflective of their polymeric nature.

Examples: Dimethicone, Cyclomethicone, Amodimethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane, Silicone oil

Why are they used? Silicones have a number of properties that make them useful to cosmetic formulators. They are amazingly slick, slippery and can make surfaces look shiny. Some applications include

* Conditioning agents – to improve the surfaces of hair and skin
* Opacifying agents – to make formulas look more luxurious
* Shine agents – to increase hair shine and give gloss to skin
* Defoaming agents – to reduce foam in cleansing formulas
* Occlusive agents – to help moisturize skin
* Slip agents – to help skin formulas spread more easily
* Hair detangling agents – to make hair easier to comb

Where can you learn more? There are entire organizations devoted to promoting the safe use of silicones. You can learn some general information about silicone chemistry from the Silicones Environmental, Health and Safety Council of North America (SEHSC). For more specific cosmetic uses see the Dow Corning web page. Of course, silicones will be a topic we explore in more detail later.


Polymers are mentioned in college chemistry courses but the focus is on the molecular structure and how to synthesize them. In the cosmetic industry, structure is much less important than polymer properties.

What are they? As you’ve no doubt learned, polymers are macro molecules made up of repeating monomer units. The molecule generally has a long chain backbone with side groups that modify its properties. Homopolymers are made up of a single type of monomer while copolymers have two or more monomer starting units. They can be synthetically derived or obtained from natural sources (then chemically modified).

Examples: [Natural] Polysaccharides, cellulose, starch, xanthan gum. [Synthetic] Polyquaternium-7, Polyquaternium-10, PVP

Why are they used? Polymers can be used to create a full range of effects in cosmetics. They can be used as thickeners, conditioning agents, formula stabilizers, styling ingredients, and even preservatives. The following are some examples but do not represent all uses for polymers.

* Thickeners – to modify the viscosity of a formula
* Formula Stabilizer – to help keep emulsions stable
* Conditioning agents – to improve the surfaces of hair and skin
* Opacifying agents – to make formulas look more luxurious
* Preservative – to prevent microbial growth
* Occlusive agents – to help moisturize skin
* Styling agents – to hold hair styles in place

Where can you learn more? For a general refresher on polymers, the Wikipedia polymer entry is good. For something more specific to cosmetics, see Principles of Polymer Technology in Cosmetics and Personal Care.

Skin Biology

You may have taken some biology courses but unfortunately, there are so many topics to cover like genetics, biochemistry, evolution, and classification systems, there is almost no time to go into specifics of human biology. Even in your human anatomy classes, the topic of human skin is only briefly covered. We can’t cover everything here but from a cosmetic standpoint, here are some important facts to consider.

1. Skin is made up of two layers – Dermis (inner layer) & Epidermis (outer layer)
2. As skin grows, cells in the epidermis die off and are pushed to the surface by new cells created in the dermis.
3. Dead skin cells are eventually shed and flake off.
4. The less moisture there is in the outer layer, the dryer skin feels
5. Skin products are designed to keep moisture in the outer layer and improve skin’s condition.

Of course, there are many more skin topics to cover like acne, age spots, wrinkles, etc. but those will be things to learn along the way.

Where can you learn more? A good starting point is the book Handbook of Cosmetic Skin Care.

Hair Biology

While you might have picked up a few facts about human skin, you were exposed to even less about human hair in your biology courses. Yet one third of the products launched in the cosmetic industry are formulated for hair. Here are the basic hair facts you need to know.

1. Hair is made of keratin protein.
2. Hair has two important layers called the cortex (inner layer) and cuticle (outer layer)
3. The cuticle is responsible for the appearance and feel of hair.
4. The cortex is responsible for hair strength and flexibility

Where can you learn more? You can get a limited preview of a couple excellent books on the subject of hair biology. The Science of Hair Care and Hair and Hair Care.


From a cosmetic science perspective, the most important aspect of microbiology is how to use preservatives to keep formulas microbe-free. The primary preservatives used in the cosmetic industry include parabens and formaldehyde donors. Much has been written decrying the use of these ingredients but they are necessary to ensure the safety of cosmetics.

Chemical Nomenclature

Naming of chemicals is introduced in your first year of college and expanded upon when you take Organic Chemistry. You are taught the proper IUPAC system which allows you to figure out chemical structures from names. Here’s a surprise. Only a tiny fraction of that knowledge will be useful in the cosmetic industry. In this industry, we follow the naming conventions of the INCI. To learn more, you can see this article about making the transition from the IUPAC to the INCI.

Stability Testing

Unless you spent time volunteering for a professor who worked with proteins, you probably haven’t even heard the term stability testing. When you first start out your career, these may be the most common tests you have to run. Stability tests are studies set up to determine what effect storage at different environmental conditions will have on the formula. Samples of your product are put at elevated temperatures, freezing temperatures and exposed to different types of light. This gives an indication of what the product might look like after sitting on store shelves and in consumer’s bathrooms. The formulator’s goal is to always produce long-lasting, stable products.

This is just a brief synopsis of some of the most important cosmetic science topics but hopefully understanding these terms will make you a smarter beauty consumer.


Can lotions make your skin drier?

We recently read an interesting article about skin moisturizing on the DermBytes blog. The author, Dr. Huang, points out that you can use creams, ointments or lotions to moisturize your skin and that creams are thick and white, ointments which are greasy and lotions tend to be watery and can “actually lead to more drying of the skin.”

We found that last statement puzzling. How could a lotion, no matter how “watery,” make your skin drier?

What makes a lotion “watery?”

First of all, what “watery” even mean? We suppose it could be a way of describing the viscosity, or the thickness/thinness of the lotion. But low viscosity does not automatically equal less moisturizing. For example a lotion could be based on mineral oil which is fairly runny yet is a very effective moisturizer.

If “watery” is meant to imply that the product is watered down, that it literally consists of mostly water and is lacking in oils that could seal in moisture, then it’s true that the product will be less effective. But that would be because of lack of oils not because of low viscosity. And, just because the viscosity is high (meaning the product is thick) doesn’t mean that it will work better. For example you could thicken water with a gum to the point of making it almost jelly-like and yet without oils it would not do a good job of moisturizing skin.

So that’s why we’re confused by Dr. Huang’s statement: there is no direct correlation between the viscosity of a skin moisturizer and its effectiveness. We left a comment on her post and she was kind enough to explain that water content increases as one goes from ointment to cream to lotion. While we don’t necessarily disagree with this statement we’re still confused why a lotion would make skin drier. We believe that the moisturizing efficacy of a given product is more related to the ingredients it contains rather than its viscosity. A thin lotion based on dimethicone will moisturize skin better than a thick cream based on shea butter.

Have you ever encountered a lotion that you think left your skin drier than it was before? Leave a comment and share your thoughts with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.


Can science banish baldness?

It may not be a cure for cancer, but science is getting close to banishing baldness. Here’s a quick summary of recent research on hair regrowth.

The 3D Spheroid Solution

A joint program between the University of Durham and Columbia University Medical Centre has found a new way to grow new hairs from tissue samples. Historically this has been tricky because when the cells are grown in the lab they tend to produce more skin instead of hair fibers. But the team figured out that by clumping the cells into “3D spheroids” they could increase the number of hairs produced. Problem yet to be solved: how to prevent the spheroids from becoming cancerous! Researchers say that “It’s hard to say exactly how long that would take.”

The Faux Follicle Simulation

Scientists from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology have used their cell and tissue engineering expertise to develop a “hair follicle-like structure” from dermal papilla cells and keratinocyte. They hope this breakthrough will simplify the testing of new hair loss drugs. The catch: we still need new drugs.

The Prostaglandin Paradigm

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that high levels of a protein called prostaglandin D synthase is associated with hair loss. The challenge now is to determine which compounds, if any, could interact with the genetic receptor and whether or not the interaction would reverse balding or just prevent balding. Apparently this will “take a while to figure out.”

The Hairy Leg Juxtaposition

According to The Archives of Dermatology, researchers have developed a new procedure for taking hair follicles from patients’ legs and grafting them to their head. Apparently this technique results in a more look because hair transplanted from other parts of the body can look “pluggy.” The procedure involves 1,500 to 1,800 follicles and requires about eight hours Best of all, if you can find the right doctor, you can get it done right now!


Have you ever wondered which anti-aging ingredients are proven to work? This week we review the science behind 5 of the top ingredients. Plus, find out why Germany wants to ban retinol! 

If you’re a fan of our free podcast you can show your support by buying our new book!

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Click below to play Episode 21: “Which anti-aging ingredients REALLY work” or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.


Beauty Science News: Will retinol be banned from skin care?

We discuss an article from Colin’s Beauty Pages.

Question of the week: Which anti-aging products work the best?

Terri asks…Which anti-aging products or brands actually work the best? I’m over 50 and always trying to purchase the latest great and best thing.

Here is our version of the three “Kligman 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?


What’s the story? It’s a vitamin A derivative which smooths skin, unclogs pores, lightens age spots and improves skin texture.

Can science explain how it works? Yes. It fades dark spots by reducing the contact time with pigment creating cells; reduces fine lines/wrinkles by stimulating synthesis of collagen and glycosaminoglycan. May also inhibit enzymes that breakdown collagen. Smooths skin by modulating genes involved in epidermal cell turn over.

Can it penetrate skin to get to where it needs to be in order to work? Yes. Retinol has the right chemical structure to penetrate skin and this has been confirmed two ways: In vivo by measuring the level of a skin enzyme induced by presence of retinoic acid. (Also confirms metabolism to active version.) In vitro by measuring retinol metabolites on skin biopsies and cell cultures. There are some unresolved questions about how much bio-converts, however.

Is there proof it does anything when I rub it on my skin? Yes. Retinoic Acid has undergone extensive clinical testing. Fewer studies have been on the over the counter versions. Retinol shown to be effective vs placebo but not as effective when compared to retinal for wrinkle reduction.

How do we rate it? “A” The mechanism and effects of retinoic acid are well understood and it appears that other retinoids have a similar, work the same way just to a lesser extent however the OTC versions are not as well substantiated as the prescription form.

Kinetin (N-furfuryladenine growth factor)

What’s the story? It’s a plant growth hormone that supposedly promotes cell division and acts as an antioxidant. It nourishes skin cells to keep them healthy longer/ Boosts skin’s energy for increased radiance

Can science explain how it works? Sort of. Testing on cultured human skin cells (lab testing aka in vitro testing) has shown kinetin can impact cell growth factors which cause age related changes, however the mechanism is not understood. Multiple studies have shown kinetin to be an effective antioxidant; it acts like Superoxide Dismutase, an natural free radical scavenger in skin. There are no reported mechanisms for how it helps wrinkles, age spots, or barrier properties.

Can it penetrate skin to get to where it needs to be in order to work? Unknown. No studies have been done on skin absorption of kinetin.

Is there proof it does anything when I rub it on my skin? Inconclusive. There’s very limited research on topically applied kinetin. One study showed it can partially improve photo-damaged skin and increase skin’s ability to retain moisture. Another showed that when combined with niacinamide it works synergistically to reduce hyper-pigmentation.

How do we rate it? “C” because it needs penetration studies, better mechanistic understanding, and additional studies to document efficacy.


What’s the story? It’s a version of vitamin B3 (Niacin) which can brighten the complexion, erase wrinkles, reduce transepidermal water loss, improve elasticity, and fight inflammation.

Can science explain how it works? Yes, partially. The mechanisms for ALL these proposed benefits are not fully understood. However, Niacinamide’s ability to increase the antioxidant capacity of skin is well studied. It works by reducing (the opposite of oxidizing) NADP. Niacinamide may reduce water loss by increasing production of lipids and ceramides and by increasing cell turn over. It may reduce wrinkles by increasing collagen production. Finally, it lightens age spots by reducing the amount of pigment transferred from melanocytes to keratinocytes.

Can it penetrate skin to get to where it needs to be in order to work? Yes, penetration has been proven directly at sufficient levels in one study. In addition several studies indirectly proved penetration by measuring increased NAD in cells after topical application (which increases due to the skin metabolizing vitamin B3.)

Is there proof it does anything when I rub it on my skin? Yes. Skin brightening has been proven in several half-face studies. Some of the studies also measured niacinamide’s ability to reduce photo-aging.

How do we rate it? “A.” Although further mechanistic understanding is required, niacinamide is one of the best studied anti-aging ingredients.

Soybean extract

What’s the story? Consists of two active ingredient types (isoflavones and protease inhibitors) which neutralize free radicals, stimulate collagen production, increase skin moisture, and reduce hyperpigmentation.

Can science explain how it works? Sort of. For antioxidancy: One study shows soy isoflavones work 4 ways to fight oxidation in skin. They MAY work as cell signaling molecule but no conclusive proof. Even though mechanisms are unconfirmed, evidence shows they are antioxidants. For collagen production/skin thickening: Only data on collagen is in vitro. Specific components of soy (genistein and daidzein) MAY have sufficient estrogenic activity to counter act thinning skin. For moisture increase: Appears to boost hyaluronic acid production but we don’t know how. For depigmenation: appears to reduce pigment production and block transfer of pigment between cells.

Can it penetrate skin to get to where it needs to be in order to work? Not known for sure. There is little direct evidence the primary soy isoflavones penetrate skin. However, there is evidence that similar compounds can reach the epidermis and dermis. It is also known that penetration depends on the formula from which the isoflavone is delivered and its pH.

Is there proof it does anything when I rub it on my skin? Yes, partly. Preliminary in vivo tests confirm skin lightening benefits (undenatured only). However, anti-aging benefits related to antioxidancy are unconfirmed in large scale tests on humans.

How do we rate it? “B-“ It gets high marks for skin lightening as long as the ingredient is properly processed. But it gets a lower score for unconfirmed anti-oxidant anti-aging effect.

Green Tea

What’s the story? It’s an extract containing polyphenols which are known to be potent antioxidants that may protect against UV damage and help photo-aged skin.

Can science explain how it might work? Yes. There’s no doubt that green tea extract is an effective antioxidant which works by quenching several reactive oxygen species. It is also capable of limiting enzymes which cause collagen breakdown and to increase synthesis by fibroblasts, but again in in vitro testing.

Can it penetrate skin to get to where it needs to be in order to work? Probably not. The active component EGCG is water soluble so it is not well suited for skin penetration. Also, It’s difficult to stabilize green tea extract long enough for it to penetrate skin. To make things worse there is little standardization about which components are contained in extracts and how much of them.

Is there proof it does anything when I rub it on my skin? Maybe, for UV prevention. At least two studies indicate at high concentrations of the active components can prevent the damaged caused by UV exposure. However there is no comparison to indicate if it as good as conventional sunscreens. The only randomized, double-blind, controlled, clinical trial involving topical green tea extract showed no improvement in photo damaged skin from topical application of green tea extract after 8weeks. There were some trends in the data which indicate that a longer questing period might have yielded better results. But so far the ingredient remain unproven.

How do we rate it? “C” The active component is is unstable and it’s not easy to get the ingredient to where it needs to be work. Also, there are no clear studies proving that it does what it’s capable of. In addition, there is little standardization to document the type and concentration of antioxidants present in the extract, not to mention in any finished products.

The Beauty Brains Bottom line

For us to believe that an anti-aging ingredient really works, it must pass the test of the three Kligman questions. Of the 5 ingredients reviewed in the paper we found, Retinol and Niacinamide get an “A” for anti-aging. The others have gaps in their data which make them suspect.



Community Comments
Julie at the Style Page shared her thoughts on our show about pore minimizing products.


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  • 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.


Do natural ingredients do anything for hair?

Charlotte says…I was researching the purpose of the various components and found that comfrey helps prevent tangles, chamomile helps with shine, and witch hazel balances hydration and reduces frizz. Also, the first ingredient has to be the largest by volume, right? That’s ginseng (right after water) which is supposed to help with shine and strength. Don’t these ingredients play a role in the effect on hair as well? Let me know if there’s something I’m not considering.

The Beauty Brains respond:

I’ll let you in on a little secret of the cosmetic industry. Most of the “natural” sounding ingredients are used at extremely low levels, are put in formulas for claims purposes only, and are not expected to have ANY impact on the function of the formula. I know this might be difficult to believe but it is the truth. We even have a term in the industry for these raw materials “Claims Ingredients”.

But let’s begin with your question of concentration.

Ingredient concentration

While it is a rule in the cosmetic industry that ingredients with a concentration higher than 1% are required to be listed in order, the
 ingredient listing you gave is not a legal one. They are not following the rules in the way they list their ingredients. The first ingredient should be Water. Calling something an “Aqueous Infusion of…” is improper labeling. Since it is produced by a small company they will be able to get away with breaking the labeling rules for a short while (or longer) but they are simply tricking you. I guarantee you that Water is the number one concentration ingredient in the formula.

Effective ingredients

I have no doubt that you found information while researching that says Comfrey helps prevent tangles or chamomile helps with shine. But I can guarantee that the resources in which you found the information about those benefits being conferred by the natural ingredients were not science based. More likely they are the production of some raw material or finished product marketing group. They sound like great benefits but they really aren’t doing anything.

To give you an idea, Chamomile extract is typically sold to cosmetic manufacturers as a 1% solution. That means in a 3 ounce sample (~100 g) of the raw material, only 1 g comes from the chamomile plant. But it gets even worse. When formulators create a shampoo or conditioner with this raw material, they typically use less than 0.1%. So, if you were using an 8 ounce bottle of shampoo (~226 g) there is only 0.0023
g of actual Chamomile plant in the bottle.

It’s difficult to picture, but 0.0023 grams would be about the equivalent of putting a single drop of chamomile in a 5 gallon bucket of water. Even if the chamomile would have any ability to affect the shine (which isn’t proven scientifically) there just isn’t enough in the formula to have any noticeable effect.

We could do a similar exercise with the Comfrey extract and the Witch Hazel. These are just claims ingredients.

One other thing that I didn’t mention was that since these ingredients are included in a formula with surfactants, there are additional forces that will wash them away preventing them from even staying on the hair. And if there is any hope that they will work they must be left behind on the hair.

I hope that helps you better understand the formulas. There really is nothing special about the natural ingredients in this formula and they are not having any effect on the final results. If the formulator forgot to put them in there, you wouldn’t notice any difference.


Beauty Science News – March 9

Time for another weekly recap of beauty science news…

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