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Is “kitchen chemistry” really good for your hair and skin? This week Perry and I bust a bunch of beauty myths about using ingredients from your kitchen in home made beauty treatments.  

Click below to play Episode 36 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show notes

Randy’s Refinery29 Rant

We love the the website Refinery 29 but sometimes their advice isn’t based on science. As an example, I talk about their article on fixing dried out mascara with eye moistening drops.

Beauty Science or Bull Sh*t

A special animal themed version of the much beloved game where I challenge Perry and our listeners to guess which of the following 3 beauty science headlines are fake. (2 are real, one is made up.)

  1. A Philippines Zoo is offering ‘snake massages’ by 4 giant pythons.
  2. Chinese spas offer fish pedicures where tiny fish nibble off your dead skin.
  3. At an Arboretum in Thailand is you can get a butterfly facial which is said to soften skin and brighten and your complexion using butterfly wings.

Can you guess better than Perry?

Beauty Myth Busting

Today we’re introducing a new segment where we bust beauty myths. (I wanted to call this “The Beauty Brains Big Busts” but Perry didn’t like the name.)

1. Apple cider vinegar softens hair and reduces dandruff
Vinegar has a low pH but other than helping to remove mineral build-up on hair, it doesn’t do much. There is no evidence it helps with dandruff.

2. Tumeric paste gets rid of zits
There is some evidence that components of turmeric have antibacterial properties but it’s never been proven to be helpful for acne.

3. Oil-pulling whitens teeth and “detoxifies” your body
This may help reduce bacteria in your mouth but there is no reason to think it will whiten teeth (it won’t) or detoxify – it definitely won’t do this.

Oil pulling may however, improve the health of teeth and gums. One study shows swishing sesame oil in the mouth improves reduces gingivitis and plaque; there was a net decline in mean plaque scores.  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.

4. Rice flour exfoliates your skin
Will rice flour help for exfoliation? Maybe as long as the starch capsules aren’t so hydrated that they’ll just smoosh into your face.

5. Petroleum jelly grows longer eyelashes
This ingredient will definitely help condition eyelashes but there is no evidence that it will improve hair growth.

6. Frozen aluminum foil soothes puffy skin
If you wrap your face in frozen foil the coldness could help reduce swelling.  But foil won’t cool as efficiently as something like a gel mask which you can buy in any drug store.

7. Ketchup fixes brassy hair
Ketchup is made of tomatoes and has a low pH so it could help remove minerals and the tomato may stain the hair. But it could give an uneven color. Better would be something like a henna rinse.

8. Honey cleans your face
While honey can help moisturize the skin and has some anti-bacterial effect, it does not have good cleansing properties. Better would be some type of oil that you can apply and wipe off. Honey would work better as a moisturizer/facial mask.

Honey appears to work against bacteria in two ways, depending on the type of honey. In most types, the bees add an enzyme that generates low levels of hydrogen peroxide, which is the active ingredient that kills bacteria. In a special honey, known as Manuka honey, the bees feed on nectar of the flowers of the manuka bush which imparts additional anti-bacterial properties. Both types of honey can be effective but (and this is VERY important) their efficacy can vary greatly from batch to batch. Any given jar of honey may or may not have a high enough antibacterial activity to really work. To ensure efficacy, each lot of honey must be tested for activity before you know it will really work.

9. Green tea gets rid of bags under your eyes
Green tea is filled with polyphenols which have an antioxidant effect however, there is no evidence that topical application would have any benefit.

10. Coconut oil plumps your face
There’s no evidence that this oil would help to plump your face (other than the normal plumping effect you get from moisturizing.) This would actually work better as an oil cleanser than a face plumper. Coconut oil also can help strengthen your hair so you might want to try that as a home remedy.

11. Blackstrap Molasses gets rid of gray hair
No, this won’t stop the appearance of gray hair. It’s caramelized sugar and carmel is a colorant so it MAY stain hair and cover gray.

12. Fabric softener sheets can replace your conditioner
Putting laundry products directly on your skin is not a good idea because they maybe irritating. Even if safety wasn’t an issue, why would you want to do this? Fabric softeners are are NOT optimized to condition hair. While they may help reduce static they certainly won’t improve the feel of your hair and they won’t give it more shine.

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.


When is a cosmetic really a drug?

Innovation from the cosmetic raw material companies always makes me smile. I remember when one particularly “innovative” company would come in for a visit and always show these incredible compounds with mind blowing claims. While I always admired their attempts there was a fundamental thing they did that I found troubling; they would blur the line between cosmetic claims and drug claims.

I still frequently see this with the way both cosmetics and cosmetic raw materials are marketed. So, I thought it would be helpful to go through what is a cosmetic.

What is a cosmetic?

Let me first apologize to our International readers. This article will focus mainly on the US market. However, many of the same principles apply.

According to the FDA a cosmetic is…

“articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body…for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance” [FD&C Act, sec. 201(i)]

And to distinguish cosmetics from drugs, the FDA further defines a drug as…

“articles intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease” and “articles (other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals” [FD&C Act, sec. 201(g)(1)].

What does this mean?

The key piece to consider is the part in the definition where it states “…articles intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man…”

So, when companies make claims like…

  • Ingredient will stimulate collagen production
  • Ingredient will inhibit the enzyme tyrosinase
  • Ingredient will prevent premature gray hair

…they are making DRUG claims, not COSMETIC claims. If you use these ingredients in your formulation with the intent that they are going to have the effects claimed, you are no longer making a cosmetic. You are formulating a drug that is regulated differently than cosmetics. (Mostly, it requires more testing and validation).

What is not a cosmetic?

So to simplify the difference between cosmetics and drugs think of it this way.

A cosmetic is a product that is designed to clean or alter the appearance of the skin and hair without affecting metabolic processes. Body wash, skin moisturizers, make-up, etc. are all cosmetics as long as they are not intended to ‘stimulate collagen production’ or otherwise interfere with natural body processes.

When is a cosmetic a drug?

There are some products that are both cosmetics and drugs. This would include products like anti-dandruff shampoos, toothpaste, antiperspirants, sunscreens and anti-acne treatments. These products have to comply with the rules governing both cosmetics and drugs.

Innovation in the cosmetic field is difficult because cosmetic chemists are restricted in what type of effect they can have on the body. If you have created a formula that affects the normal functioning of the body’s cells, then you are no longer formulating a cosmetic, it’s a drug. Until they change the rules, things called cosmecuticals are just marketing fluff.


Beauty science news – June 22

Another lazy Sunday means another five beauty science stories for you to peruse….



Dial Men Hair and Body Wash – Look at the label

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This week we’re looking at the label for Dial Men Hair and Body Wash. This is a two in one product that can be used as a shampoo for your hair and a body wash for your skin.   One guy made this observation in the comments section:

“I’m probably not the only guy who doesn’t see much of a difference between shampoo and body wash. I’ve got hair all over my body anyway.”

Hairy bodies aside, he’s right – there isn’t anything magic about this formula that makes it work on both hair and skin.

If you look at the ingredients below you’ll see that the detergents used in this product are Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Cocamidopropyl Betaine. They are two of the most common cleansers used in either shampoo or body wash and there’s absolutely no reason why this product (or almost any other product) can’t be used on hair and skin.

Dial Men Hair and Body Wash Ingredients

Water, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Glycerin, Polyquaternium-7, Fragrance, PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate, PEG-200 Hydrogenated Glyceryl Palmate, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, Cocamide MEA, Magnesium Gluconate, Sodium Benzoate, DMDM Hydantoin, Citric Acid, Tetrasodium EDTA, Sodium Chloride, Blue 1, Red 33

If you’re shopping for Dial Men Hair and Body Wash, or anything else, please use our link. It really helps us!


Is Aqua Velva irritating? Vintage cosmetic video

The first time I heard this commercial here’s what I thought they said…

“Then one day Dad, he got the notion and tried Williams Aqua Velva lotion. Now all the gals…go for Dad!”


I later realized they were singing “Dan,” not Dad, which makes sense since I don’t think infidelity had been invented back in 1961.

While that’s good news for the nuclear family this product is bad news for men’s skin. It appears that the formulation strategy in these old products was to throw in as many irritating ingredients as possible:

Alcohol? Check!
Menthol? Check!
Fragrance? Check!

The only way this product could make your freshly shaved skin burn more is if they added a good slug of table salt. Modern aftershave products are typically in lotion form so they can include oily materials which do a much better job of calming irritated skin.


Is zinc ricinoleate a good deodorant?

Marie asks…I’d like to know if deodorants containing Zinc Ricinoleate (those made by Vichy which are free from aluminium salts, for example) will still leave yellow stains on my clothes, on the armpit area. How safe and effective is this ingredient?

The Beauty Brains respond: 

The yellow pit stains that you experience are caused by the aluminum salts used in antiperspirants. These are the ingredients that stop you from sweating. Deodorants, which by definition only fight odor instead of stopping sweat, don’t contain these aluminum salts so they won’t cause clothes to yellow. But what about zinc ricinoleate (ZR)?

How does zinc ricinoleate stop odor?

This is actually an interesting ingredient. Most deodorants rely on a combination of an antibacterial agent (such as Triclosan) to kill odor causing bacteria and a fragrance to cover up any residual odor. Zinc ricinoleate works a different way - instead of killing bacteria or masking smells it actually absorbs the odor and traps it so you don’t stink.

I’ve never seen studies which directly compare the odor-neutralizing efficacy of ZR to  conventional deodorants but the little info I did find says that it’s not very effective. (I actually formulated with this ingredient years ago and didn’t see ANY benefit.) Also, one source said it may also cause skin irritation but this is true of just about anything you smear on freshly shaven armpits.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Zinc ricinoleate may help trap body odors but unless you’ve fallen in love with the Vichy products I’d look for a cheaper deodorant which, since it’s free of aluminum salts, won’t stain your clothes yellow. Or, you could just buy a bunch of yellow clothes.

Reference: J. Soc. Cosmet Chem.,44, 211-220 (July/August 1993)


The best beauty science blogs

Christopher says…Hello Randy & Perry. What other beauty blogs (with a scientific twist) do you guys recommend? I hear you guys mention this news articles showing up in your feeds but not exactly sure what that ‘feed’ is.

 The Beauty Brains respond: 

Hi Christopher!  We collect our beauty science news from a number of sources. (It used to be easier back in the days of Google Reader. Now Randy is a big fan of Feedly but I still struggle with the best way to collect RSS feeds.) A number of our sources are beauty blogs with a scientific spin so I’ll list a few of those today. We also rely on a number of non-blog sources; maybe we’ll list those in a future post.

The Beauty Brains favorite beauty science blogs (at least some of them)

Colin’s Beauty Pages -Written by a UK-based cosmetic scientist. Colin reviews products, beauty advice, and the science behind beauty and attraction. He’s currently writing a book on the science of beauty and you can see some excerpts on the blog.

Science of beauty -Here’s a site that discusses the science behind beauty products from the perspective of a university professor. Joanne doesn’t work in the beauty industry but she loves beauty products & knows a thing or two about chemistry. Be sure to see her video experiments.

Natural Haven -Written by JC, a natural haired scientist based in UK who does not work for any cosmetic company, but is well-versed in the latest beauty research published in scientific journals like the Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists. Definitely worth checking out.

Realize Beauty - written by Amanda Foxon-Hill, another cosmetic chemist, Realize Beauty is a great resource for people “grappling with scientific terminology, ingredients listings and conflicting information.”

FutureDerm – written by aspiring dermatologist Nicki Zevola, FutureDerm does a deep dive into the science of how skin care products really work.

Personal Care Truth - provides “information based on scientific facts” and is written by a group of industry experts, several of which publish some of the other blogs on this list.

Celebrity Cosmetic Surgery- Written by plastic surgeon and friend of the Beauty Brains, Dr. Anthony Youn, this website always provides an entertaining behind the scenes look at  celebrities and it’s often informative about the nuts and bolts of cosmetic surgery procedures.

DermBytes - features “useful articles about dermatology, the latest dermatology news, and answers common questions about the skin from its readers.” It’s written by Dr. Huang,  a board-certified dermatologist at the Harvard teaching hospital Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and an instructor of Harvard Medical School.

Lab Muffin - self-described as “a blog that explains the science behind beauty and skincare, featuring honest reviews and swatches, and lots of nail art.” This site is written by Michelle, a PhD chemist who is pro-science, anti-fear-mongering.

Brightest Bulb In the Box - This is not really a science-based blog but it is billed as “beauty for critical minds.” It primarily features product reviews but it does so from a skeptical mindset.

Chemists Corner - Randy calls this one “Cheaters Corner” because he thinks I’m being unfaithful to him by writing another blog. But I think it’s okay because this website is geared toward the needs of professional cosmetic chemists rather than consumers. Still, you may find some of the articles helpful.

Did we miss any of your favorite beauty science blogs? Leave a comment and add yours to the list.


Do skin bleaching products really work? Are the ingredients safe? This week Randy and I explain everything you need to know about skin lightening.    

Click below to play Episode 35 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show notes

Beauty Science News: 7 ways to spot a real expert

As you know we like to promote skeptical thinking, especially when it comes to beauty products. I found an interesting article from Forbes that gives 7 ways to tell you’re dealing with a real expert and not someone who’s just faking it.

  1. Real experts focus on their field, not themselves.
  2. Real experts have no trouble saying: “I don’t know.”
  3. Real experts demonstrate intellectual honesty.
  4. Real experts show intellectual curiosity.
  5. Real experts know when and how to share.
  6. Real experts know when and how to improvise.
  7. Real experts cannot help but teach.

Question of the week: What’s the best skin lightening ingredient?

Hannah from Australia asks…What’s in skin whitening products (or dark spot correctors or age imperfection correctors, or a million other confusing names.) What is it that’s bleaching away dark spots and is it good for you?

To understand skin lightening you first have to understand skin darkening. So let’s talk about what causes hyperpigmentation.

Causes of hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation means your skin produces too much melanin. Melanin is the pigment that colors your skin, hair and the iris of your eyes. It comes from the Greek term meaning “dark.” Melanocytes are cells that actually create the pigment particles.  Melanosomes are little vesicles, or capsules, that hold the melanin and carry them to various parts of the skin.

There are 2 basic causes of HP. Not surprisingly, both involve melanocytes which are the pigment producing cells in your skin.

1. If the melanocytes increase the amount of melanin they produce, this is called  Melantotic HP (melan-tot-ic)

2. If the melanocytes make the same amount of pigment but the NUMBER of melanocytes are increased, this is called Melanocytic HP (melano-cy-tic). Both conditions lead to increased melanin.

HP is further classified by WHERE this excess pigment is: If its in the outer layer it’s called Epidermal HP In the middle it’s called Dermal HP. There are many different types of HP…here are some of the most common.


Everyone is familiar with freckles but I bet you didn’t know that they are technically called  (ephelides) e-fel-i-deeze.  These are melantotic which means your skin has a normal number of melanocytes but they produce more pigment. And the more you are exposed to the sun, the more freckles you’ll get and the darker they’ll become. Also, freckles are kind of the cute version of skin HP.

Age spots

Age spots are formally known as Solar Lentigines (len-tij-in-eeze ) and they are  small brown patches on the skin. As the name implies, they are caused by sun exposure.  These used to be called “liver spots” because they were associated with liver problems that occur as you age. Lentigines are melanocytic which means they are caused by the creation of MORE melanocytes.  While these are triggered by sunlight, once they’re formed they pretty much stay stable in their color even if you get more sun exposure.

Post inflammatory HP (PIH)

This is skin darkening that occurs as a result of skin injury or trauma. As part of the healing process the melanocytes kick into high gear and produce more pigment. These spots may become darker if exposed to sunlight. Two examples: dark marks from acne. Have a zit which is infected, the trauma causes the “scar.” Do you know another area of the body that’s prone to PIH? Armpits! Shaving your pits causes some micro trauma which triggers melanin production. A lot of people complain about dark armpits. Even rubbing of clothing agains armpits can cause this.


It causes brown to gray-brown patches on the face. Most people get it on their cheeks, bridge of their nose, forehead, chin, and above their upper lip. It’s caused by sun exposure but may be triggered by hormones so you can get it due to pregnancy or taking a contraceptive pill. In fact, it’s so common that it’s called “the mask of pregnancy.”

Other conditions

Acral melanosis usually located on the acral areas of the fingers and toes. It is mostly seen in newborns or during the first years of life. Not very common. Tinea versicolor – typically occurs on the chest and it is caused by yeast growing out of control. It is one of the most common skin diseases in tropical and subtropical areas of the world.

How to treat HP

For each of these conditions, treatment depends on WHERE the pigment is. For Dermal HP – there’s not much you can do. Not much helps with this except for certain lasers. You basically have to cover it up. Epidermal HP – The good news is that most common types, like freckles and age spots, are epidermal so you have several treatment options.

  • Topical treatments – creams and lotions
  • Abrasive methods – chemical peels (combined with topical)
  • Surgical methods (Dermabrasion, Cryosurgery, Lasers)

Since Hannah asked about creams and lotions, we’ll limit out discussion to the pros and cons of skin lightening creams and lotions.


What is HQ and how does it work?
HQ , like many skin lightening ingredients, is a phenolic compound. That means it contains a 6 carbon ring with an OH group attached. This structure allows it to inhibit melanin synthesis by acting as a substrate for tyrosinase. Tyrosine, an amino acid, is acted upon by the enzyme tyrosine to form melanin. These phenolic compounds “interrupts” this reaction by giving the tyrosine something else to attach to. That way the tyrosine never makes melanin particles.

Nothing works better than HQ – it’s considered the gold standard for skin lightening. Here’s a quote from Dr. Rendon, associate clinical professor, University of Miami who says “other products haven’t proven that they really are as good as they say they are. In the few studies that actually compare them to hydroquinone, they never beat it.” Now, that doesn’t mean it works instantly – it can take several months of usage to reach maximum lightening efficacy.

What are the concerns about HQ?
There are some concerns about HQ, as you probably have heard. The reaction that’s responsible for it working so well also causes damage to the melanosomes and melanocytes which is one of the reasons HQ raises safety concerns. And animal and cell culture studies have shown that HQ can cause DNA damage which has raised concerns about cancer. Another concern:  In some people HQ causes a condition called Ochronosis (Oak-row-know-sis) which is a permanent bluish-black discoloration of the skin. This is rare and some dermatologists say it only occurs after prolonged use of high concentration hydroquinone.

So is HQ safe or not?
These studies that raised cancer concerns were based on oral or injected application and there have been no clinical studies or cases of skin cancer or any kind of internal malignancy related to topical HQ use. Therefore, the International Agency for Research on Cancer  (IARC) considers hydroquinone as “not classifiable” as to its carcinogenicity in humans. As far as the Ochronosis is concerned, this is one of reasons that regulatory bodies in other countries have banned HQ for over the counter use. It has has to be prescribed by a doctor which helps prevent the kind of long term abuse that can lead to that permanent discoloration. In the US The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has even proposed banning over-the counter skin bleaching agents containing hydroquinone but as of right now it’s still available.

(Very important point – it’s a myth that’s it’s “banned” in other countries, it’s really just restricted to prescription use. Europe and Asia currently allow hydroquinone at 2-5% concentration by prescription. The drug is valued worldwide but is regulated to protect against misuse and bad formulations.)

There are quite a few other ingredients which have skin lightening properties but based on everything we could find, nothing works as well as HQ and some of the ingredients that work pretty well have their own issues. While it’s generally recognized that HQ is the gold standard, there are not a lot of studies directly comparing all these other agents to each other. So it’s difficult to rank them. But we’ll give you a quick run down.


This is a derivative of HQ which According to Dr. Draelos, this outperforms OTC alternatives and is a prescription alternative to hydroquinone. Of course, as you’ll see with almost all these agents it has side effects as well which include erythema, burning, pruritus, desquamation, skin irritation.

Azelaic acid

It’s a dicarboxylic acid which occurs natural in wheat, rye, and barley. inhibits DNA synthesis in melanocytes and has a modest antityrosinase effect. According to some sources, it works better than 2% hydroquinone and about as good as 4%. The interesting thing is that its apparently safe to use during pregnancy. Side effects of itching, mild redness, scaling, and burning but overall this is a good contender. It’s also prescription. Kojic acid This is a fungal metabolite and also a famous cop show from the 70s. It works by inhibiting the production of free tyrosinase. Could not find any data directly comparing it to other agents but one source considers it to be be the most effective skin-lightening agent behind hydroquinone. We do know that it can cause greater irritation, it is highly sensitizing and may be mutagenic. For this reason, it is banned in Japan, just like over-the-counter (OTC) hydroquinone.

Alpha arbutin

Arbutin is chemically related to hydroquinone and was originally obtained from the bearberry plant. Like HA it decreases melanin biosynthesis through the inhibition of tyrosinase activity.  It also inhibits melanosome maturation and is less cytotoxic to melanocytes than hydroquinone. However, several studies have shown that arbutin is less effective than kojic acid for hyperpigmentation. Deoxyarbutin is a synthesized topical derivative. Studies have shown that it has an enhanced sustained improvement, general skin lightening and a safety profile comparable to hydroquinone.

Vitamin C

A study compared 5% ascorbic acid and 4% hydroquinone in 16 female patients with melasma and found 62.5% and 93% improvement respectively


It works by interfering with the interaction between keratinocytes and melanocytes, thereby inhibiting melanogenesis. We’ve talked about this in our anti-aging show and it does work but not much data comparing it to other options.

Licorice extract

Licorice extract improves hyperpigmentation by dispersing the melanin, inhibition of melanin biosynthesis and inhibition of cyclooxygenase activity thereby decreasing free radical production. Glabridin, a polyphenolic flavonoid is the main component of licorice extract. Studies have shown that glabridin prevents Ultraviolet B (UVB) induced pigmentation and exerts anti-inflammatory effects by inhibiting superoxide anion and cyclooxygenase activity. However, more studies are needed to prove its de-pigmenting action.


Works three ways: dispersion of keratinocyte pigment granules, interference with pigment transfer, and acceleration of epidermal turnover Something like 68% improvement (although you can’t really compare numbers across studies.) Side effects: erythema, peeling, and possible post inflammatory hyper pigmentation. Can help with Melasma which is in the dermis. Works very slowly. Takes 24 weeks or more at 0.1% Need a prescription. One paper we found listed something links an additional 16 other ingredients that have some data but not enough to fully validate them.

Skin lightening vs brightening vs “imperfection correctors”

True skin lightening products are drugs and have to be labeled with very specific language. If you are selling an HQ product it has to bel labeled as a “skin lightener” or a “skin bleach.” If you are selling a cosmetic that uses any of the other ingredients we talked about you CAN’T call it a skin lightener or a bleach which is why you see products called “brighteners” imperfection correctors” and so forth. These are marketing terms that are NOT regulated by law which explains why they are so confusing. Our recommendation is not to pay too much attention to the name but rather look for the active ingredients.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Check with your doctor but based on the evidence we’ve seen, for treatment of isolated areas of hyper-pigmentation (a couple of dark spots here and there), short term use of hydroquinone followed by the use of sun protection is most effective. Under those use conditions they’re don’t appear to be any serious health issues. We do not recommend it for long term use over larger areas of your body (e.g, trying to lighten overall skin tone).





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.


How are cosmetic products tested for safety?

They say that a magician never reveals the secrets of his or her tricks but I think that revealing the “tricks” of cosmetic chemists can help consumers by making them smarter. To that end, here’s an article written for cosmetic chemists on the topic of safety testing finished products.

Formulators of cosmetic products must ensure their products are safe for consumer use. The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 mandated quality and identity standards, prohibited false therapeutic claims, and clarified the FDA’s control of product cosmetic patch testadvertising, among other items. According to the Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR 740.10a). Each cosmetic manufacturer is responsible for:

* using only safe and suitable ingredients
* substantiating the safety of those ingredients and of the finished product

FDA Cosmetic Regulation

This means that manufacturers of cosmetics in the United States, no matter how big or small, are obligated to perform safety tests on the products they produce. In fact, ingredients or finished goods whose safety has not been evaluated are misbranded (false, misleading, or fraudulent) and must have this text on the label:

“ Warning — the safety of this product has not been determined.”

The FDA can send warning letters, safety notices, and initiate recalls or withdrawals of product from the market. Safety testing is serious stuff!

Types of Safety Testing

The type of safety testing is often determined by area of contact (skin, eye area) and can be modified depending on the type of product and how it may be used e.g. diluted. Safety testing can also be used to generate product claims. Here are some examples:

* mildness
* hypoallergenic
* dermatologist tested

There are two commonly accepted methods for making skin safety assessments in the industry. These are the 21-Day Cumulative Irritation Test (CIT) and the Human Repeat Insult Patch Test (HRIPT). Both of these methods use a trained observer to measure inflammation, which is the body’s general response to distress. The four classic signs of inflammation are:

- Erythema (Redness)
- Edema (Swelling)
- Pain
- Heat

21-Day Cumulative Irritation Test

The CIT measures inflammatory response to an irritant. It occurs immediately and only at the site of exposure. The response tends to be universal (produces a reaction in most individuals) and depends on the strength and duration of exposure. In this type of test products are applied to human subjects under an occluded patch, usually on the back, and graded daily for a total of 21 days. A known irritant and a non-irritant are run as controls. The scores are summed across all subjects to provide a cumulative irritation score. The score can be compared to the large pool of historical test data to make judgments about irritation potential. An additional challenge phase can be run two weeks after the last patch was removed to understand potential for sensitization, which is usually measured with the HRIPT.

Human Repeat Insult Patch Test — Sensitization, Allergic Response

Sensitization is the process by which a person becomes, over time, increasingly allergic to a substance through repeated exposure to that substance. It is very different from irritation because it involves immune response, the reaction becomes worse with repeated exposure, and it is usually specific to individuals. The HRIPT consists of 2 phases, possibly 3.

Phase I is the Induction Phase where product is applied to the skin a few times during the course of a week. This is a followed by a two-week rest period after which the skin is exposed to the product again in Phase II or the Elicitation Phase. A response in Phase II is usually allergic in nature and Phase III is used to verify and better define the reaction.


The HRIPT method can also be modified for photosensitization, which is particularly useful for sunscreens. Photosensitization can occur when normally harmless molecules undergo changes when exposed to UV light.


Have a hairy Father’s Day

Most of the time we cater to the female segment of our audience but since today is Father’s Day I thought something aimed at the guys might be more appropriate.

Unfortunately we don’t get a ton of questions from the gents so instead I pulled together some of our favorite links about hair loss. That’s not to say that every father is follicularly impaired but baldness does seem to be more of a problem for men than women.