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Anonymous asks…My partner both uses and (attempts to) distribute Nu Skin/Pharmanex/Epoch/LifePak products. I don’t know how he started but he says it was related to his contact dermatitis on his hands and needing better moisturizer. The products are 5x the price of high street products, and they make a lot of outlandish claims. I think he’s effectively wasting his money in a huge way and also possibly harming himself. He buys -every- product of theirs, not just ones for hand moisturizing as he originally started with.  How can I convince him he’s not using miracle products like he thinks he is and that they are not worth 5x the price of other products? 

The Beauty Brains respond:

Perry and I have discussed your problem and it’s not an easy one to solve. If your partner is as set in his ways as you make it sound then there’s probably little you can do to change his opinion. But there is one little test you can do to assess his open mindedness and to establish a possible plan of action. Just ask him the following question:

“What would it take to convince you to change your mind about these products?”

His answer will probably fall into one of four categories and then you can respond accordingly. (I’m paraphrasing his potential responses, of course.)

Answer 1: “Nothing will ever change my mind.”

Your action: Now you know that you’re just wasting your breath. If he’s that closed minded then it’s highly unlikely that anything you say or do will get him to change his opinion.

Answer 2: “I need to see scientific research that has tested these products against others.”

Your action: This answer gives something you can sink your teeth into. To start, you two can agree on one or two products to evaluate. Then, based on a review of the ingredients, you can look at the scientific literature to see what is known about this kind of product. (Once you agree on the specifics from him, we’d be glad to help with this part.)

Answer 3: “I need to see for myself that there’s really no difference between these products and others.”

Your action: If he’s open minded in this regard, we can help you set up an experiment where he blindly evaluates one of his products compared to another brand. (It may not be possible to completely blind him to which product is which but you can make it hard for him to know which is which. If he’s true to his word then he’ll have to change his mind if he can’t tell a difference between the two.

Answer 4: “I need to hear from other people who have used these products and decided that they’re not worth it.”

Your action: You may be able to find product reviews or a forum discussion featuring input from former users of his brands. This one may be more of a long shot but if he hears the truth from other people, instead of just you, maybe he’ll be convinced.

I hope this helps. Like I said, this is going to be tough! But depending on this answer to “The Question” we’d be glad to help you take further steps to convince him. Let us know how it turns out!


Is L’Oreal Age Perfect Cell Renewal Cream old fashioned?

PMA is puzzled…L’oréal has just lanched this night cream: Age Perfect Cell Renewal Cream. As usual Beautypedia “said” a lot of bad things against the product: “Dated mineral oil and wax based formula.” Just because beeswax is old it’s bad then? I’ve found the best rated creams on the Internet among consumers are wax based…

The Beauty Brains respond: 

Randy covered this already in our Forum but I think his answer bears repeating.

Is beeswax bad?

I don’t know exactly what Paula means when she says the formula is “dated” but my guess is that she’s referring to the aesthetics of the formula and not necessarily saying it’s “bad.” That’s because beeswax, while it does form a good emulsion, can make a formula hard to speed. It can feel “draggy” on skin. There are plenty of newer ingredients (esters, etc) which provide a similar function but with more slip. So maybe that’s her issue.

As far as mineral oil is concerned, we know that MANY people consider it to be an outdated ingredient which clogs pores, etc etc even though its a highly effective ingredient. (Albeit one that can feel greasy.) If you want to refute those allegations you can read our post on the top 5 myths about mineral oil.

The bigger concern (and here we agree with Paula) is that the product doesn’t seem to contain any bona fide anti-aging ingredients. Rather, it appears to be little more than a moisturizer which isn’t a very good value considering it costs $25 for 1.7 ounces!

L’Oreal Age Perfect Cell Renewal Cream ingredients

Aqua/Water, Paraffinum Liquidum/Mineral Oil, Glycerin, Dimethicone, Squalane, Glyceryl Stearate, Cetyl Alcohol, PEG-40 Stearate, Cera Alba/Beeswax, Sorbitan Tristearate, Mel/Honey, Stearyl Alcohol, Cera Microcristallina/Microcrystalline Wax, Paraffin, Calcium Pantothenate, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Neohesperidin Dihydrochalcone, Isohexadecane, Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Myristyl Alcohol, Vigna Aconitifolia/Vigna Aconitifolia Seed Extract, Disodium EDTA, Hydrolyzed Cicer Seed Extract, Hydroxyapatite, Capryloyl Salicylic Acid, Polysorbate 80, Acrylamide/Sodium Acryloyldimethyltaurate Copolymer, Acrylonitrile/Methyl Methacrylate/Vinylidene Chloride Copolymer, Octyldodecanol, Oryzanol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Pentaerythrityl Tetra-Di-T-Butyl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin, Ci 14700/Red 4, Ci 19140/Yellow 5, Linalool, Geraniol, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone, Limonene, Hydroxycitronellal, Citronellol, Hexyl Cinnamal, Benzyl Alcohol, Benzyl Salicylate, Parfum/Fragrance.



How do hair straightening products work? Are they safe? How long do they last?

Click below to play Episode 43 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show notes

Silicones and ice cream cones

In a clever summer time, non-beauty science twist I quiz Randy about ice cream cones. Listed to the show and test your conical trivia knowledge.

Question of the week: How do keratin hair smoothers work?

Jennifer asks… Will they help my daughter’s hair? Are they bad for hair, I don’t understand how they work. Will they prevent frizz in high humidity Florida weather?

What makes hair curly?

Hair is made of proteins which are long chain molecules. The shape of hair is determined by the chemical bonds that connect these chains together.  There are hydrogen bonds and salt bridges which are weak and easily formed and broken. There are also disulfide bonds which are difficult to form and to break.

To visualize how these bonds shape hair, think of a ladder. The sides of a ladder are two different protein chains and the rungs that connect them are like disulfide bonds.  In straight hair the rungs hold the sides rigid and perpendicular. The first bond on the left side is connect to the first bond on the right side and so on. But what if you sawed through those ladder rungs? Then you could freely move the two sides of the ladder. You could twist the sides move them up or down, shift them however you like.  Then if you glued those rungs back together, you would have changed the shape of the ladder. Now instead of the first bond on the left linked to first bond on the right maybe you’ve moved the sides such that the first bond on left is linked to the second or third bond on the right. That gives the ladder a twisted shape. It’s kind of like turning a straight ladder into a spiral staircase. Straight hair is like the ladder, curly hair is like the spiral staircase.  Now let’s talk about three kinds of hair straightening products and how they work.

Surface treatment products (No disulfide bond changes)

First of all – they DON’T work because of keratin. Keratin is the type of protein that hair is made of but just adding keratin to hair doesn’t cause it to change from straight to curly. It’s more accurate to think of these as treatments that smooth keratin rather than as products that smooth with keratin.

Remember these disulfide bonds are NOT easy to change so there’s an inherent tradeoff when you straighten your hair. The more complete and long lasting the straightness, the more damage to your hair. It’s a trade off.

Products that only coat the hair do not  break or reform bonds at all.  These are least effective but also least damaging. They are temporary and may last through a few shampoos depending on the formula. With current technology, the best you can do is a hair spray resin coating that is unneutralized which means its very hard to wash off.

Bond breaking products

These are the most effective but also the most damaging because they break and reforms the most bonds.  They are permanent until hair grows out. (Examples: Relaxing hair with sodium hydroxide  or perming hair with Ammonium thioglycolate or Bisulfite

Cross-linking free bonds

This is the class that most so called keratin smoothing treatments fall into. They are effective and only cause minimal to moderate damage. They work by reforming a percentage of free bonds (and reducing a few bonds as well.). They are semi-Permanent because not all bonds are affected and the reformed bonds can break again.  The performance depends on degree of curliness of hair. Examples include the following:

  • Formaldehyde (methylene glycol)
  • Oxoacetamide/Oxoacetic acid/Glyoxylic acid (behaves like formaldehyde)
  • Cysteine and Ethanolamine or cysteamine hydrochloride

Why does humidity make hair frizzy?

The inner region of hair, the cortex, consists of two different types of protein.  One type is more hydrophilic than the other which means it absorbs water more easily. So when hair is exposed to high humidity, one region absorbs more water than the other which causes the hair fiber to swell unevenly. This uneven swelling twists the hair fiber and causes it to frizz. The degree of frizz depends on several factors: The porosity of your hair, the mixture of the different protein regions, and the strength and completeness of the bonds in the hair.

How can you fight humidity? Water proof hair with a silicone, reconfigure bonds with reactive hair products, and/or lock hair in place with a ton of styling products.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Keratin smoothers don’t really work by adding keratin. Instead they work by either coating the hair, cross-linking some of the internal bonds, or breaking and reforming a bunch of bonds. By looking at the claims and ingredients you can figure out which is which and you can also pick the best product to keep your hair frizz free.

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.


Is Sleep Cream a good idea?

As a cosmetic chemist it’s always a good idea to come up with new ideas even if you aren’t working in a particular area at the moment.  We spend a lot of time on dull rehashings of previously created formulas, like just changing the fragrance or color or tweaking a surfactant.  It’s rare that we get to make a truly new formulation. skin cream sleep antiagingBut that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think of new ideas and try them out.

Philosophy on Ideas

Here’s an example of a new idea which you can feel free to steal or make yourself.  I am a firm believer in the idea that no one owns an idea and that if you have a good one it is your obligation to share it with the universe.  If someone else is able to make it happen when you couldn’t, well, at least the idea became something which helps the rest of the world.  It saddens me to think of all the great ideas that people took with them to their graves just because they were afraid someone would steal their idea.  No one is going to steal your idea.  They are too in love with their own ideas.

Skin Cream and Sleep

Alright, in the spirit of sharing ideas here’s one that I thought about after reading this research done by Estee Lauder regarding skin aging and sleep.  Create a overnight skin lotion that helps people sleep better.  You could add different aromas which impact sleep.  Partnering with the Smell and Taste Institute might help in identifying these odor.  You could also make a warming sensation which typically is associated with sleep.  Then the rest of the product marketing could all be geared towards encouraging sleep.  Point to the skin aging and sleep studies and viola!  You’ve got a niche anti-aging overnight cream.

Of course, as with nearly all ideas in the cosmetic world, someone has already thought of it as you can see by the picture in this post.  However, just because someone has already done an idea doesn’t mean that they’ve done a good job of it.  That just means it’s an idea that is good enough to launch.  People keep opening new restaurant even though there are thousands already out there right?  You need to take the idea and make it your own.  Make the execution of the idea special.  Do a better job with the idea than the people who have already done it.

Ideas don’t have to be unique but idea execution does.

In truth, I’m not sure I’m buying the sleep / aging skin link.  There are just so many variables and the rating of “good sleep” versus “bad sleep” seems pretty arbitrary to me.  And they only tested 60 people in their study.  It hardly seems convincing to scientist Perry.  But cosmetic product marketer Perry is convinced!  And most people who consume cosmetics are more like the latter character.


Beauty Science News – August 10

Here are some of our favorite beauty science news stories from the past week…


Nizoral dandruff shampoo – Look at the label

Nizoral dandruff shampoo is a best seller on Amazon. Is it really different from other products? Let’s look at the label.

Dandruff shampoos are drugs

We’ve talked before about how over the dandruff shampoos are actually over-the-counter drugs. As such, there are only a few different active ingredients that can be used in these products. The most commonly used ingredient, zinc pyrithione, doesn’t always work well for everyone. In that case you might want to try other options. Nizoral is one of the few brands to use ketoconazole, a former prescription drug. If you haven’t had good luck with your Head & Shoulders, you might want to give this one a try. (But you probably wouldn’t want to try this one first since its much more expensive than shampoos which use ZPT – it’s about $14 for 7 ounces.)

Nizoral ingredients

Active Ingredient: Ketoconazole (1%). Inactive Ingredients: Acrylic Acid Polymer (Carbomer 1342), Butylated Hydroxytoluene, Cocamide MEA, FD&C Blue 1, Fragrance, Glycol Distearate, Polyquaternium-7, Quaternium-15, Sodium Chloride, Sodium Cocoyl Sarcosinate, Sodium Hydroxide and/or Hydrochloric Acid, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Tetrasodium EDTA, Water.

If you want to buy Nizoral please use our link and help support the Beauty Brains. Thanks!

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A man enters a shower with a bar of soap telling himself “Ok fella, go to it.” James Bondish theme song music, which identifies the time period as the mid-60’s, plays in the background as we see close up shots of him soaping himself. At the end of the shower he tells us with a sigh of satisfaction that the shampoo lather makes “Old Number 1 feel fresh all day.”

I DO NOT want to know which body part he has nicknamed “Old Number 1!”

Of course we do have some beauty science to go along with all the sexual innuendo. Zest was one of the early synthetic detergent bars (or SynDet for short) and originally it used an antimicrobial ingredient called Triclosan to kill the bacteria that causes body odor. Today the product is zestfully free of Triclosan due to safety concerns. The cleansing action and the zingy fragrance provides whatever deodorancy the product offers.


Will micro-needling help acne scars?

Vic says…I’d like to know what you think of micro needle therapy to reduce acne scars? It says it also stimulates cell regeneration, reduces wrinkles, reduces pores, adds collagen. I’m not too sure… I think it does more harm than good, they are sharp needles after all. But my daughter wants to reduce her acne scars.

The Beauty Brains respond:

It sounds crazy but poking holes in your skin can actually help!

Collagen Induction Therapy

Poking your skin with a needle studded roller is technically referred to as Percutaneous Collagen Induction Therapy (or CIT). CIT has been used by dermatologists for the last decade or so as a way to reduce wrinkles and scar tissue without significant side effects. Basically, the process involves numbing your face and then poking it with fine needles a few millimeters long. These micro perforations trigger increased collagen synthesis which can fill in wrinkles and help heal scars. Other benefits include improved skin tightness, reduced acne scars and stretch marks, as well as improved scar color.

Amazing, isnt it? Here’s how it works: The needles cause an inflammatory response which triggers a complex series of reactions involving chemotactic factors, neutrophils, and fibroblasts. This process leads to the creation of new skin cells that promote collagen deposition. But here’s the catch: for this procedure to be effective the the needles need to be at least 1.5 mm and have a diameter of 0.25 mm. So, because of potential side effects (not to mention potential pain), only a trained dermatologist should administer the procedure.

DIY Danger

The distinction in needle length is an important one: some companies who make these rollers are very clear about the difference between the professional models for medical use and the home models for cosmetic use. But other less scrupulous companies blur the difference and imply that the home model will provide all the benefits of the medical treatment. Some are even so bold as to state that their needle rollers will cure cellulite and baldness. I’m surprised no one is marketing this technology as a breast enlargement treatment!

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Poking your face with needles (when done by a trained professional) is a legitimate treatment to increase collagen. But the Do It Yourself version is another story all together. If the roller has the proper type of needles to be effective then it is a medical device that should only be used by a trained professional. And if it uses smaller needles, then it may be safe for you to use on yourself as an exfolliant, but it won’t provide the same collagen stimulating effect. So either way, when it comes to DIY face needling, let the buyer beware!


Derma-Roller FAQ’s: http://www.derma-rollers.com/24/derma-roller-faqs

Oral Maxillofacial Surg Clin N Am 17 (2005) 51 – 63 Minimally Invasive Percutaneous Collagen Induction Desmond Fernandes, MB, BCh, FRCS(Edin) The Shirnel Clinic and Department of Plastic Reconstructive Surgery, University of Cape Town, 822 Fountain Medical Centre, Heerengracht, Cape Town 8001, South Africa

American Academy of Dermatology 67th Annual Meeting March 6–10, 2009 P3514 Skin collagen induction and photoaging Gabriella Fabbrocini, Department of Dermatology University Federico II of Naple, Napoli, Italy; Antonella Tosti, Department of Dermatology University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy; Giuseppe Monfrecola, MD, Department of Dermatology University Federico II of Naple, Napoli, Italy; Maria Pia De Padova, MD, Ospedale Privato Nigrisoli, Bologna, Italy



Karen is curious… I live in Asia currently and this one of the most popular products on the beauty aisle now.It is made by Japan Gals Co. Ltd, and its acts like a facial massager (it’s called the “ion shotnizer“). It has two switches and the red light releases a positive ionic wave and enables “deep cleansing of negatively charged dirt particles which are impossible to remove by normal facial washing”. While the green light releases a negative ionic wave which “brings skincare products into deep layers of skin”. It does not vibrate or use light. Does this sound like hocus pocus to you?

The Beauty Brains respond:

Hocus pocus? Naw.
Psuedoscience? Yep!

What is iontophoresis?

The idea that electric charge can help ingredients penetrate skin is not new. Around the turn of the 20th century the French physician Stéphane Leduc proved that electricity could be used to move compounds through the skin. In an experiment that would be considered appalling by today’s standards he connected two rabbits to the same electrical circuit. The first rabbit was connected to the positive pole which was covered in a pad soaked in strychnine sulphate; the second rabbit was connected to the negative pole which was saturated with potassium cyanide. When the switch was flipped the positive electrode repelled the positively charged strychnine ions into the first rabbit causing it to go into convulsions. Likewise the negative electrode repelled the negatively charged cyanide ions into the second rabbit which poisoned it. When the current was reversed, neither rabbit was harmed because the electrodes attracted the strychnine and cyanide rather than repelling them.  This experiment shows that if an organism is connected to a complete electrical circuit, the electrodes can “push” ions with the same charge through the skin.

Does this mean the ion shotnizer really works?

No, it doesn’t. First of all, the shotnizer does not form a compete electrical circuit (it can only act as the positive or negative side.) Second, it’s unlikely that the two AA batteries that power the unit will produce sufficient energy. Third, even if there was a complete circuit and enough power, only certain types of ions (those with the right size, solubility, and charge) will penetrate skin.

But what about their claim that it will get rid of “negatively charged dirt particles which are impossible to remove by normal facial washing?” This claim makes no sense because that’s not how the charge interaction between skin and dirt works. When skin is damaged it has more of a negative charge which means that positive charged particles are more likely to stick to it. They basically have it backwards. Besides, who’s to say that any kind of ionic treatment would remove dirt particles better than a mild detergent?

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Unless the good folks at “Japan Gals Co. Ltd” can produce evidence that this gadget does what they say, I have to say that the ion shotnizer is hocus poo-poo.

Reference: Iontophoresis and Desincrustation

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This week I challenge Perry to another game of Beauty Science or BS. Plus we banter about a bevy of beauty science news stories. 

Click below to play Episode 42 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show notes

Beauty Science or Bull Sh*t – a special sunscreen-themed episode

Can you guess which one of the following Refinery29 headlines is fake?

  1. Your Hair Products Are Causing Your Scalp Sunburn
  2. Text your way to sunburn free skin
  3. Chemical-Free Sunscreens For A Health-Conscious Summer

Listen to the show for the answer and to find out if you can beat Perry at this game.

Beauty Science News Stories

1. Microbead ban not so bad

A ban on micro beads may not be such a big deal since there’s no evidence that the beads do a better job of exfoliating than a regular cleanser with a washcloth.

2. Should titanium dioxide be pulled off the market? 

The Public Interest Alliance (PIA) has won a California lawsuit requiring five leading skin care brands to re-label or remove titanium dioxide (TiO2) from their products. The PIA points to the link between TiO2 inhalation and tumor growth but they admit there’s no evidence that products containing TiO2 are dangerous to people. They say they just want to raise awareness of the safety issue.  The affected brands include DermaQuest, Dr. Hauschka Skincare, Melaleuca and Murad.

3. Is feline acne a thing?

Yes, your cat can get acne. Especially if it has bad hygiene. And, no, you don’t need to put benzoyl peroxide on its whiskers.

4. Is Abercrombie’s scent making you sick?

Abercrombie’s Fierce fragrance is making shoppers anxious, according to researchers at Concordia University in Canada. Professor Bianca Grohmann says that if a scent is mismatched to the space it is smelled in, it will increase anxiety. For example, “open” smells like the seashore or apple orchards, shouldn’t be used in enclosed spaces. Likewise “indoor” scents, like buttered popcorn or firewood shouldn’t be used outside. Abercrombie has announced it would cut its fragrance emissions by 25 percent.

5. Is Neutrogena’s Cloudscreen just a smokescreen?

Neutrogena is marketing a standard sunscreen product as a “cloud screen” that’s meant to protect your skin from the sun on cloudy days. Is this a legitimate attempt to get people to use more sunscreen or just more marketing BS?

6. Salon brands are not always who you think.

Salon hair care brands are fiercely independent using cutting edge knowledge….right? Well 3 salon brands were just gobbled up by the German surfactant company Henkel: Alterna, SexyHair and Kenra in $370 million deal.

Henkel also owns Dial, Schwarzkopf, Right Guard, and Got2Be (to name a few.)

7. The genetics of  being blonde

Just a single mutation on a gene determines if you have blonde hair. (This is called a single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNIPs for short.) Even though most humans have the same basic genetic makeup, SNIPs make us all different. In the future could you make yourself a blonde through genetic manipulation?

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.