≡ Menu

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

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.


Does Farmaesthetics make greener products?

Amy asks…I’m looking for natural products just as many other people are. I read about Farmaesthetics new Almond Blossom Organic Body Wash and it sounds fantastic (and expensive!) Is this product green or not and is it worth the money?

The Beauty Brains respond

Farmaesthetics bills themselves as the “creators of 100% natural fine herbal skincare preparations.” They claim that their products are “100% natural; there are no chemicals, fillers, dyes, fragrances, natural identicals or petroleum products.” A 16 ounce bottle of their new Almond body wash will set you back $45 which makes it one of the more expensive products we’ve seen in quite a while. Is it really green? Is it worth that much? Let’s take a look.

Are the ingredients more “green?”

If you look at the ingredients (see below) you’ll notice a couple of things. First the good news. As they claim, this product doesn’t include any synthetic surfactants – the only cleansers it contains are soaps made from olive, coconut and jojoba oils. However, they failed to mention that these plant oils are mixed with either sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide to form soap. Gasp! Aren’t these dangerous, caustic chemicals? According to the Material Safety Data Sheet, sodium hydroxide is “very hazardous in case of skin contact (corrosive, irritant, permeator).” Are these ingredients really a cause for concern? Of course not because they’re used in low concentrations and they’re reacted (or used up) so they’re neutralized in the finished product. But in the interest of being transparent why aren’t these ingredients listed? Is the company trying to portray the product as being more “green” than it really is? Let’s look at another example.

This body wash also contains organic aloe vera gel. But what they don’t tell you is that aloe vera gel is preserved with potassium sorbate as a mold inhibitor. And where does potassium sorbate come from? It can be made from berries but “most of the Potassium Sorbate created today is synthetic and not natural. Commercial sources are now produced by the condensation of crotonaldehyde and ketene.” (see reference 2). That sure makes potassium sorbate sound like a “natural identical” to us and it doesn’t seem consistent with Farmaesthetics’ claims of “no artificial preservatives.”

(Note to Farmaesthetics, if your aloe supplier does use a berry-sourced potassium sorbate, or if you have any other ingredient information that contrasts with what we’re saying in this post, please let us know and we’ll make corrections right away.)

Ok, not to make too big deal about it because I’m picking on a preservative that comes in as part of another one of the ingredients they use. They’re not even adding potassium sorbate directly to their finish product. But I’m trying to make a point here: where do you draw the line? If you’re going to take a stance that you’re not using any “synthetic” ingredients yet one of the ingredients you use contains a synthetic, or a “natural identical” then isn’t that just as bad?

The company is tweaking how they list their ingredients to skew your perception of their brand. If there’s really nothing wrong with these ingredients then why not list them and explain to their consumers why you’ve chosen to use them?

Is “Green” good for skin?

Now that we’ve gotten past the games you can play with ingredient lists, let’s just concede that this product is more “natural” then most body washes on the market based on it’s choice of surfactants. That means it should be better for your skin, right? Well, while coconut oil soaps are certainly more natural than synthetic detergents it’s well-documented that (some, not all) synthetics are actually milder than coconut soaps. If you don’t believe us check out reference 3.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Farmaesthetics seems to trying very hard to market “natural” products but even the best intentioned companies are not always transparent when it comes to disclosing all the chemicals used in their ingredients. As usual it always comes back to the fact that there are no standard definitions of what green, organic, or natural means. If having a product that is “organic” means a lot to you then Farmaesthetics may be the brand for you. But if you care more about a reasonably priced product that is mild to your skin, there are plenty of other products to consider.

Almond Blossom Organic Body Wash Ingredients

(as listed on website) Saponified oils of olive*, coconut* & jojoba*; vegetable glycerin; aloe vera gel*; honey absolute; orange* & bergamot* essential oils; pure almond extract; rosemary extract (certified organic ingredients*)

1. http://www.thealoeverastore.us/aloe-vera-gel-32-oz-2p322.html
2. http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5067082
3. J. Soc. Cosm. Chem., 39, 355 – 366 (November/December 1988) “Forearm wash test to evaluate the clinical mildness of cleansing products”


Can gene therapy diagnose your anti-aging needs? Episode 62

In this Christmas Eve eve episode Perry and I talk about several new anti-aging trends and technologies. Plus a special prison-themed edition of Improbable Products!

Show notes

Improbable Products

I read an article about fake makeup in prison which inspired me to create an Improbable Products game – you have to guess which of these is not a real fake up recipe for prison cosmetics? In other words, two of these are real prison DIY recipes and one is made up. You have to guess which is the fake fakeup.

  1. Dissolve the candy-coated shells from M&Ms in hot water to make your own lip stain.
  2. Blend cigarette ashes with a touch of pocket lint to create a lash thickening mascara.
  3. Pour leftover coffee into your skin lotion to make your own foundation. Use just enough coffee to match your skin tone.

Listen to the show for the answer!

Beauty Science News

Is free range snail slime the next anti-aging breakthrough?
Perry waxes poetic about Dr. Organics anti-aging snail slime. There’s something for everyone in this product: It’s by a doctor. It’s organic. It has  high tech and natural ingredients. Plus – it was discovered by snail farmers in Chile. (Although Perry claims he thought of using snail slime as a hair shine ingredient back in the 1990s.)

Pro-aging is the new anti-aging
According to DataMonitor the new trend is showing off your real age. In fact, according to their research, age is “perceived as another step for women’s liberation.” This pro-aging movement wants to remove all anti-aging claims because they’re not against aging they’re FOR looking healthy and being honest. What does this really mean? I think it just means that marketers will weasel word their way around conventional claims. For example, instead of saying that their product “covers wrinkles” they’ll say it improves skin quality. Or it “moisturizers and protects” or improves “skin’s comfort.” Despite what the pro-aging movement may say, the underlying biology that needs to be addressed to make skin look better hasn’t changed.

Can gene therapy diagnose your anti-aging needs?
The Pampered Prince blog reports on GENEU technology that uses a “DNA microchip” to create custom anti aging products. For about $900 you can get an analysis of a DNA swab from your cheek which is used to create 2 weeks worth of a special serum made just for you.  For all this you get a 33% reduction in wrinkles (which is a common claim promised by much cheaper products.) The technology is really interesting but we doubt this really results in improved anti-aging products. Perry says you’d be better off saving your money for Botox.

Anti-aging breakthrough from wound care
A biotech company called NAYAderm is adapting a wound healing drug for use as an injectable anti-aging treatment. The product, ND-101, has a plumping effect on skin which makes it appear smoother. Currently you can get a similar effect with laser treatments but these are pretty uncomfortable because they burn the skin – when the skin heals it looks more youthful. Alternatively, you can get an injection of Botox which freezes muscles or a filler like Restylane which artificially plumps skin. The problem is that these aren’t very natural looking and they can be painful. ND-101 doesn’t have those negative side effects. If you could get a simple shot to look younger, would you?

Selling cosmetic safety is effective.
The company Beauty Counter is selling a lot of products by promoting that they only use safe ingredients. We find this troubling because cosmetics (with a few exceptions) ARE already safe. They have a “never” list of ingredients they’ll never use. Although they claim to put education first they’re not really transparent in how they choose to formulate their products. For example, they only point out the negative data about parabens when the current scientific consensus is that parabens ARE SAFE.  Are they misrepresenting information just to drive to their sales? This strategy will be a problem in Europe where “free from” claims are not allowed.

Would you give up your deodorant stick for a new spray?
Are you ready for the antiperspirant/deodorant (APD) market to be revolutionized? Apparently, that’s what Unilever is doing with a new line of Dry Spray APDs. You’ll see these in Dove, Axe, and Degree. Sprays were popular in 60’s and 70’s until concerns about the safety of some ingredients (like hexachlorophene) and environmental impact of others (like CFCs) essentially caused them to disappear. But new technology uses VOC compliant formulas with no water or alcohol so they’re very dry and not sticky. Surprisingly, sprays are the dominant form globally with over 60% of the market in EU and Latam. and their Dry Spray is already the #1 selling APD globally. Will it catch on in the US?

Has the Lumbersexual man replaced the metrosexual?
Move over smooth shaven Metrosexual Man – the new trend is for bearded guys.  According to DataMonitor, products for facial hair are on the rise. They report that in the top markets for men’s products (US, UK, Canada, Germany and Spain) the number of beard and mustache products have more than tripled.

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.


Are there really crab shells in my cosmetics?

Cynthia is feeling crabby…I heard a rumor that many cosmetic products use crab shells as an ingredient. This sounds a little bit ridiculous to me but if it’s true I wonder why it’s so hush-hush. Is it because the cosmetic companies are worried that the animal-rights activists will find out?

The Beauty Brains respond:

Actually, Cynthia, crab shells are a legitimate ingredient in many cosmetics.

What is chitin?

You’ll never see “crab shells” listed as an ingredient. Instead you’ll see some version of a chemical called “chitin.” Chitin is a polysaccharide which means it’s sort of like cellulose and it comes from the exoskeletons of crustaceans, insects and even arachnids. When you realize this stuff could come from scorpions suddenly crab shells don’t sound so bad.

Chitin was “discovered” in 1811 by Professor Henri Braconnott. He found it, in all places, in the cell walls of mushrooms. I’m guessing that it’s too expensive to get significant amounts of high-quality chitin from mushrooms hence the use of crustacean shells. That’s much more cost effective since these shells are a by product of the animals we use for food (crabs as well as shrimp and lobsters.)

One of earliest applications for chitin was in preparing wound dressings where its moisture retention properties speed the healing of burns. Today it’s found in a variety of products including diapers, feminine napkins, and tampons. (Since these aren’t cosmetics they don’t have to provide an ingredient list.) It’s also an additive in many dietary supplements and, of course, it’s used in cosmetics or else we wouldn’t be writing about it.

What does chitin do in cosmetics?

It has been demonstrated that the addition of certain chitin derivatives significantly improves the skin hydrating properties of facial masks. In addition, chitin is used in hairsprays to increase combability, stiffness and curl retention. It can even help stabilize emulsions by reducing oil and water separation. Look for it on the ingredient list as either chitin or “chitosan.”

While it’s no secret that many products may contain ingredients derived from crustations I don’t think it would be a particularly wise marketing move for products to exclaim “Hey, I’ve got crabs!” Maybe that’s why the animal rights groups haven’t made much of a fuss about this ingredient. Somehow marine-derived ingredients seem to get a pass from the animal rights folks (with shark liver oil being a notable exception.)


Do night creams work better at night? Episode 61

We’ve all heard that night creams work better because your skin absorbs ingredients while you sleep. Is this true? Tune into to this week’s show to find out.  Also, Randy and I talk about how beauty companies cut costs on cosmetic formulas. 

Show notes

Please review our show on iTunes!

Randy and I are asking our listeners to review our show on iTunes. Here’s the link to the Beauty Brains on iTunes.
Your feedback is super important because it…

  • helps new listeners find out about us
  • demonstrates that we’re a trusted (and entertaining) source of information.
  • helps us attract and maintain sponsors for the show and for the website.

Please write a review for us today. Thanks!

Question of the week: Do night creams work better at night?

Christine says…I’ve read that night creams are supposed to work better because the skin heats up at night so the ingredients penetrate more deeply. Is this true?

What happens to your skin at night?

First of all, there doesn’t seem to be any question that sleep is good for skin. Lack of sleep can actually impair the barrier function of skin which means TEWL is increased. In other words – not getting enough sleep literally dries out your skin. For example, one study found that “Sleep deprivation also decreased skin barrier function recovery and increased plasma interleukin-1beta, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, and natural killer cell activity.” So dryness, psoriasis, eczema, and other types of dermatitis can be triggered by lack of sleep.

The hypothesis which explains this is that sleep gives the body time to repair itself. During the day the sympathetic nervous system is in control and it keeps blood flow near the core of the body. At night the parasympathetic system takes over and it shifts blood flow to the extremities. Theoretically, this is when the skin builds more collagen. In addition, the kidneys are more active during the parasympathetic phase and they are able to drain excess fluid that can create puffy eyes. So, sleep is good for skin but does it actually cause the skin to “heat up” as Christine mentioned?

Ref: Stress-induced changes in skin barrier function in healthy women. J Invest Dermatol. 2001 Aug;117(2):309-17. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11511309

Does the skin heat up at night?

The answer is yes, at least for part of the night. We found a study which measured blood flow and skin temperature during sleep. By the way the technical term for this is nocturnal subcutaneous blood flow. The researchers found that after about an hour of sleep blood flow does increase to the skin (at least to the legs which is what they measured in the study.)

They also found that with this increasing blood flow comes a statistically significant increase in temperature which makes sense since the body cools itself by vasodilation. Interestingly this effect lasts for about two hours before returning to normal levels. So if you’re not sleeping for at least three hours total it doesn’t seem to make much difference.

This all means that Christine is correct – it does appear that as you sleep subcutaneous blood flow and skin temperature both increase. But, what impact does this have on the absorption of cosmetic ingredients through your skin?

Do increased temperature and blood flow lead to increased ingredient absorption?

There are two parts to this answer: first there’s the question of how well ingredients diffuse through the outer layers of skin to get to the bloodstream. Second there’s the question of how well the ingredients are absorbed into the blood stream once they pass through the skin.

As far as we can tell, no one has done a study correlating blood flow and the absorption of cosmetic ingredients. However, there’s plenty of research on the factors that affect absorption of drugs that are applied topically to the skin. For example, one study found that physical exercise increased plasma concentrations of nicotine during treatment with a nicotine patch. The researchers attributed this increase in absorption to “an exercise-induced increase in blood flow in the patch area.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7654487

So, yes, blood flow can increase absorption at least of drug ingredients that are designed specifically to penetrate all the way through skin. We could find no evidence that it would increase penetration of ingredients that are NOT prone to penetrate in the first place.

What about heat? Does that increase absorption? One study measured the effect of applying heat at the site of subcutaneously injected insulin. Since it was injected it bypassed the outer layers of skin. The results showed that increasing skin temperature did NOT cause the insulin to perfuse through the remaining tissue to any greater extent. And, considering that this was externally applied heat which was greater than what you’d experience from a modest increase in blood flow, it seems very unlikely that a small increase in skin temperature due to blood flow would impact ingredient penetration. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22162782

Do night creams provide ANY special benefit?

We haven’t been able to find convincing evidence to indicate that night creams are better because your skin absorbs ingredients better as you sleep. But is there ANY benefit to applying products at night? Yes, there are a couple of reasons why you might want to use a night cream.

First, some cosmetic ingredients make skin more sensitive to sunlight which means you could experience increased irritation or photo damage if you’re wearing these ingredients while in the sun. If you wear a sunscreen this may not be an issue but you can also get around that problem by applying these ingredients at night. Here are some examples of ingredients that can make skin more sensitive to sunlight:

  • AHAs – like lactic acid or glycolic acid.
  • Benzoyl Peroxide – the antiacne agent.
  • BHAs – or Beta Hydroxy Acids like salicylc acid.
  • Hydroquinone – which is used for skin whitening
  • Retinol – the popular anti-aging ingredient.
  • Some natural ingredients – like citrus oils, peppermint oils, lavender, etc may increase photosensitivity.

Ref http://www.beautifulskincareblog.com/which-ingredients-cause-skin-photosensitivity/

Second, some ingredients are just too aesthetically unpleasant to wear during the day. For example, you wouldn’t want to walk around with a heavy, greasy moisturizer on your face but you might not mind sleeping with a moisturizing mask on.

Don’t just take our word for this

Finally, don’t just take our word for this. Paula Begoun, the Cosmetic Cop also says night creams are mostly BS. She says:

“The ONLY difference between a daytime and nighttime moisturizer is that the daytime version should offer sun protection.”

“…cosmetics salespeople say is that the skin needs different ingredients at night than during the day…If that’s the case there isn’t a shred of research or a list anywhere of what those ingredients should be. Skin is repairing itself and producing skin cells every nanosecond of the day, and night.”

“Regardless of the time of day, your skin needs all the current state-of-the-art ingredients it can get. Saving these ingredients only for nighttime use is cheating your skin of the benefits it could be gaining during daylight hours, too!”

Ref: http://www.paulaschoice.com/expert-advice/myths/_/beauty-myths#myth18

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Yes there are some changes that occur within your skin at night and sleep is certainly beneficial to skin. However, that doesn’t mean that night creams provide any special functionality. In general it’s more about avoiding things that you wouldn’t use in the sun rather than adding things that work better at night.

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 duochrome nail polish become monochrome over time?

Missionista must know…I have a couple of (Sephora) duochrome nail polishes. One shifts from lavender to grey, and the other from hot pink to orange. Lately, I’ve noticed less shift in the colors. The lavender one has lost almost all the grey, and the pink is much less orange. Can duochrome polishes become monochrome over time? Am I just hallucinating?

The Beauty Brains respond

Mon0-Chrome? Duo-Chrome? Personally, I prefer Safari. But enough with the bad browser puns.

How do DuoChrome polishes work?

As usual, the first thing we do when faced with a question like this is take a look at the ingredient list for clues about what might be happening. Strangely enough, when we looked at the ingredient list on Sephora’s website we noticed that they don’t list any colors for these nail polishes. (See below.) We even paid a visit to our local Sephora to find a bottle but we couldn’t find any of their duochrome polishes. Since we can’t tell which specific duo-colorants Sephora is using, we’ll have to take a small leap of faith here and assume that their technology is similar to that used in other duo color products.

For example one chemical supplier, Kobo Products Inc., sells a line of iridescent effect pigments that are based on Synthetic Fluorphlogopite (and) Silica (and) Titanium Dioxide). The particle sizes of these pigments range from 30 to 120 microns (which is our clue to what may be changing.) These pigments consist of multiple layers of tiny “sheets” that can reflect light differently depending on the angle from which they are viewed.

Is there any way to fix a DuoChrome polish gone bad?

These mineral-based pigments are quite inert, chemically speaking, so they really should not change over time. But since the color effect depends in part on particle size it is possible that as the product ages some agglomeration occurs where the pigment particles clump together. This could result in a shifting of the color.Depending on the extent of the clumping, simple shaking of the product may or may not be sufficient to reverse the process. (Sometimes particles have an electro-static attraction which is not easily broken.) As Missionista pointed out in our Forum her products are about 8 years old so it’s not surprising that some clumping could occur. The best solution may be a shopping trip to Sephora.

Duo Color Nail Polish Ingredients from Sephora.com

Butyl Acetate,Ethyl Acetate,Nitrocellulose, Phthalic Anhydride/Trimellitic Anhydride/Glycols Copolymer, CI 77499 (Iron Oxides), Acetyl Tributyl Citrate, Isopropyl Alcohol, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, Stearalkonium Hectorite, Acrylates Copolymer, Adipic Acid/Fumaric Acid/Phthalic Acid/Tricyclodecane Dimethanol Copolymer, Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax, Polyvinyl Butyral, Citric Acid, Phosphoric Acid.



Can ant oil really reduce hair growth?

Rozy says…There is this product called Tala Ant Egg oil, sounds fishy to me, but I am wishing it to be true!

The Beauty Brains reply

Just when we thought we’d heard it all, here comes the invasion of the ants. Tala’s Ant Egg oil is one of several products that claims to use the oil recovered from crushed ant pupae to reduce hair growth. In addition the Tala product claims to be “tested with doctors” and “completely safe with no side effects.” Is this product “excell-ant” or just ant-agonizing?

What is Ant oil?

We’re cosmetic chemists, not entomologists, but as far as we’ve been able to figure out Ant egg oil is really furan-2-carbaldehyde which also known as Furfural. Apparently this stuff is a “red brown liquid and it has a sour fragrant ant smell.” That’s surprising considering that Furfural is used in cosmetics as a fragrance additive! Maybe that’s not a problem since furfural can also be derived from several non-ant sources including wheat bran.

Regardless of the source, we couldn’t find ANY published data suggesting it’s effective in reducing hair growth. If this product was “tested with doctors” as Tala states then results haven’t been published in any of the standard peer reviewed data bases. (As always, if someone can find a legitimate study to the contrary we’d be happy to revise this post to reflect the new data.)

Is Ant Egg Oil safe for skin?

Not only does furfural (apparently) not reduce hair growth but this stuff may not be that good for your skin. It’s a known skin irritant (at high concentrations) and long term exposure can lead to skin allergy and increased sunburn. Even worse, there’s some concern that it may have carcinogenic properties. As a fragrance additive, furfural is typically used levels are around 0.036%. A safety study reported by the SCCNFP (SCIENTIFIC COMMITTEE ON COSMETIC PRODUCTS AND NON-FOOD PRODUCTS INTENDED FOR CONSUMERS) says that ”The maximum exposure stated by RIFM does not represent any significant cancer risk. However, the exposure should not be increased.” Use levels in ant egg oil creams are substantially higher than this since its the first ingredient listed in the ingredient list. In other words, there’s not much to worry about if it’s in your perfume at very low levels but it’s not a good idea as a main component in a skin creme.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

I can’t find ANY research which indicates ant egg oil has an effect on hair growth but I do find at least one report indicating that there are some potential dangers associated with using it on the skin at high concentrations. I’d stick with a product like Vaniqua which is proven to slow the growth of facial hair on women.

Ant Egg Oil Ingredients:

Ant Egg Oil, Aqua,Glyceryl Stearate (and) Ceteareth-20 Ceteareth-12( and) Cetearyl Alcohol(and)Cetyl Palmitate,Herbal Extract,Dicaprylyl Carbonate,Hexyldecanol &Hexyldecayl Laurate, Glyceryl monostearate,Glycerin,Prpyle Glycol,Dimethicone, Fragrance,Phenoxiethanol,1-2-dibroma-2,4-dicyanobutane and CIT/MIT, Chamaemelum arvensis




Do you want to buy Ant Egg Oil cream? Probably not. But if you click this link for Tala Ant Egg Oil and then buy ANY product, the Beauty Brains receive a small commission which helps defray some of the costs of running our website. Thank you!


Should your vagina smell like peaches? Episode 60

Would you take a dietary supplement to change the way you smell “down there?” That’s only one of the hot topics we discuss in this week’s show. Also, we play a toothpaste-themed version of Improbable Products.

Show notes

Improbable Products

This is the game where I tell Perry about three unlikely beauty products and he has to guess which one is fake. Today’s theme is toothpaste. Which of these is NOT a real toothpaste ingredient?

  • Caviar
  • Urine
  • Wasabi

The answer will surprise you! Tune into the show to find out.

Beauty Science News

Should a supplement make your lady parts smell like peaches? 
This is a controversial (and confusing) story about a supplement that will allow you to “hack” your biome to change the way your vagina smells. In a press conference, two representatives for the company (Austen Heinz and Gilad Gome) claimed that their new probiotic supplement, Sweet Peach, will allow women to change the odor of their vaginas. In addition, the product will help prevent yeast infections. However, Audrey Hutchinson, the founder and CEO of the company (Sweet Peach Probiotics), says this is NOT the case. Her product is NOT intended to make vaginas smell a certain way and the idea was misrepresented by Heinz and Gome. Rather, she says, the probiotic is only intended to help maintain a healthy biome.  Follow the link above to read the entire convoluted story.

Why scratching makes you itch
Have you ever noticed that the more you scratch an itch the more itchy it gets? Well, now researchers have discovered why.  As you probably know, itchiness can be caused by minor skin irritations and more serious conditions such as eczema and dermatitis. When you scratch you’re actually triggering pain receptors which send a signal along the nerves that blocks the nerve from transmitting the “itch” signal. A recent study published by the British Association of Dermatologists shows that scratching causes a vicious cycle because this pain signal causes the brain to release serotonin which is a “happy” neurotransmitter. The serotonin then activates nerves in the spinal cord that control itch intensity. Once the serotonin level subsides the itch intensity increases again so you feel the need to scratch more. The good news is that this research may lead to cures for chronic itching which affects people with the skin conditions I just mentioned.

Environmentally friendly scrubs
We’ve previously covered the controversy of plastic micro-beads in cosmetics. A new article lists a few alternatives to these polyethylene particles:

  • Sugar and salt (although these can’t be used in water based formulas)
  • Milled rice (good abrasive but should we use food crops in cosmetics?)
  • Candelilla and jojoba wax (plant-based scrubbers)
  • Walnut shells (these may be too abrasive to skin)

What’s the deal with fermented skin care ingredients?
Fermentation is a way of preserving foods because the yeast or other bacteria feed on sugars and release lactic acid or alcohol which prevents the food from spoiling. (Think sauerkraut.) Some fermented foods supposedly provide health benefits because of these beneficial bacteria. (Think of yogurt.) Of course, you have to be careful when considering these health claims… “In 2010, yogurt giant Dannon was found by the US Federal Trade Commission to have made “false and misleading claims” by suggesting in its marketing that its probiotic yogurt product line “reduces the likelihood of getting a cold or the flu” and “is scientifically proven to help with slow intestinal transit.”

So what does all this have to do with beauty science? Fermented ingredients are starting to make their way into cosmetics:

  • L’oreal has done a study which purportes to show that kombucha (a fermented tea) is “beneficial to the skin, helping to maintain moisture and elasticity so it appears more even in tone and texture.” (Although the study was really about skin irritation.)
  • Another study found that fermented red ginseng had higher levels of antioxidants and supposedly “increased anti-wrinkle efficacy, [and] whitening efficacy.”
  • A Korean skin care company claims that fermented medicinal herbs are more easily absorbed through the skin.
  • LaMer has a so-called Miracle Broth that contains some kind of bioferment.
  • The skin care line SK-11 is based on fermented rice. According to their website “Scientists noticed that the brewers had wrinkled faces but youthful hands. This led to SK-II’s secret ingredient, Pitera™, which allows the skin’s natural surface rejuvenation process to function at its prime.”

Tommy Chong’s smoke wipe product
Pop culture stoner, Tommy Chong, has launched a clothing wipe that supposedly removes the odor of pot smoke. This could be the most appropriate celebrity-endorsed product ever. (Although it’s somewhat surprising that he chose a wipe as the delivery vehicle for use on clothing because a Febreze like spray may be better.)

Will cosmetics list all their fragrance ingredients?
We’ve talked about cosmetic ingredient lists in the past and at one point someone asked why all the ingredients in fragrances aren’t listed. Why is that? First, all the ingredients can’t fit on the package so you need an insert or you have to put online. Second, it’s just going to bewilder most people. If you’re allergic to something specific you can already look up the allergens which are listed.

This may become a hot topic because SC Johnson just announced that will begin to voluntarily disclose product-specific fragrance ingredients. Consumers will be able to go online or call a special number and find out what fragrance ingredients are used in their air care products. But, here’s the catch, they’ll list all the ingredients as a group rather then tell which specific ingredients are in which specific products because as the company says…”we see those as secret recipes.”

Orangutans like red heads
Did you know that orangutans are attracted to red haired humans? According to “Zoo Times” one specific orangutan is a big fan of Nicole Kidman. You can’t make up stuff like this.

The beauty science of brass
The Oligodynamic effect explains the antimicrobial properties of certain metal ions (like silver, copper, lead) which can actually kill harmful bacteria. Apparently the effect works because these metal ions can denature certain enzymes. That’s why some hospitals and schools use brass doorknobs to stop the spread of disease. Brass is made of copper and zinc both of which exhibit this effect.  Brass door knobs completely disinfect themselves in about 8 hours while stainless steel or aluminum knobs never do. However a recent study has shown that human sweat can reduce anti-bacterial properties of brass objects in hospitals and schools. Within just an hour, sweat can cause enough micro-corrosion on the surface of the metal knob to reduce its bactericidal properties.

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 LED lights cure nail polish?

Anonymous asks…What is the difference between the polishes and why do some require UV where others require LED? If I buy an LED lamp, will that still work on Shellac polishes, which normally use a UV lamp? Or if I buy a UV lamp will this work on the ones that normally use LED? Does the wattage of the lamp make a big difference to the curing time?

The Beauty Brains respond:

To get a definitive answer to this question I spoke with a marketing coordinator for Nail Systems International, one of the top manufacturers of nail lamps. Here’s what I was told:

“UV and LED lamps are different. Generally a gel polish will cure faster in an LED lamp, and it will take a bit longer in a UV lamp. As long as the polish is labeled to work both in LED and UV lamps, the person should be OK. Just make sure the gel polish is formulated to work in both lamps. Check the cure time suggested for each of the different lamps as well (Example: Our balance UV gels only cure in UV lamps… Our NSI Polish Pro is curable in both UV and LED. The Polish pro takes about 2 minutes, per layer, to cure in a UV lamp; where as in an LED lamp it takes about 30 seconds to 1 minute.”