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What SPF sunscreen should I use?

Nicole needs to know…Is there a really big difference between using SPF 15 and SPF 30 facial moisturizer? If so, why? I was told to wear 30 in order to prevent rosacea flare ups.

The Beauty Brains replysun-32198_1280

Skin exposure to UV rays is almost never good for the skin. It causes sun burn, wrinkles, dryness, and as you’ve implied, rosacea flare ups. This is why the most important thing you can do for your skin is to wear a sunscreen or stay out of the sun. But what kind of sunscreen should you use?


Before answering this, we should first tell you what the SPF number means. SPF stands for sun protection factor and it essentially is a rating of how much UV light will be blocked. In general, a higher SPF number offers more protection from UV exposure than a lower number. How effective it is depends on many factors but the number one factor is your skin type. SPF 15 means that if you would normally burn after being in the sun for 20 minutes, you will be able to stay in the sun for 15 times as long or 5 hours. But it is important to note that the SPF scale is not a linear one. An SPF 2 will block 50% of the UV light while an SPF 15 will block 92% of all the UV light that reaches your skin and an SPF 34 blocks 97% of the UV light.

SPF effectiveness

Although skin type is the number one factor is determining the effectiveness of a sunscreen, it is not the only factor. The intensity of the sun and the amount that you apply is also important. It’s this second factor that is most relevant to your question.

SPF 15, 30 or more

For cosmetic chemists, creating a great sunscreen is a balance between making a product that is effective and making one that feels good on the skin. If it were just a matter of effectiveness, everyone would create SPF 50 products or higher. But the problem with creating a higher SPF product is that for each number you go up, you increase the greasy, nasty feel on your skin. An SPF 15 feels much better than an SPF 30. And an SPF 100 is, well, gross.

Of course, the point of a sunscreen is to protect you from UV damage so you need to use an SPF sunblock with a high enough number to give you good protection.

SPF experts

Experts at the FDA have suggested that an sPF 15 is the minium that you should be using to protect your skin from UV damage. In testing these sunscreens have been shown to provide adequate protection when combined with limiting your time in the sun, wearing sun protective clothes. And an SPF 15 also can be made so it doesn’t feel excessively greasy.

SPF 15 is not enough

While the experts say SPF 15 scores high enough in testing to give protection, that is only true if you are applying the right amount. In testing, scientists use 2 mg/cm2 of skin. So, do people apply this much?

In a word…no. It is well known that people typically apply much less than the amount tested by sunscreen manufacturers.

Think about how much you use. If you were applying 2 mg/cm2 of sunscreen, your skin should feel greasy, slippery, and some of the sunscreen will be running off your skin. For an average sized person, you would need to apply about 30 mL of sunscreen per application. One bottle wouldn’t even be enough for a week at the beach.

1/3 effective

So, while technically an SPF 15 will work (and it’s certainly better than nothing), it requires much more than you apply now. A good rule of thumb is that your sunscreen will be 1/3 as effective as the number based on the way people typically apply the product. That means an SPF 15 will protect you like a lab tested SPF 5. An SPF 30 will give SPF 10 protection in real life application.

Therefore, unless you going to glop on a lot more SPF sunblock than you are using now, you should stick with an SPF 30 or higher. This will give you the best chance at preventing sunburns and UV induced rosacea flare ups.

For more information on sunscreen effectiveness see the following resources
1. Melanoma foundation facts about sunscreens.
2. FDA Sunscreen guide
3. National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence Skin cancer prevention report
4. Dr. Steven Wang – Sunscreen Guide

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Are keratin hair straightening products safe?

Moxie must know…Brazilian Blowouts were found to release formaldehyde. Are the Keratin-based hair-straightening products that I see stylists in salons doing that much safer on hair/environment?

The Beauty Brains respondbesil_13_by_vertebra_p-d4zc1i3
The safety concerns regarding high levels formaldehyde in hair straightening prdoducts has been well documented and inhaling large quantities of formaledhyde gas is a legitimate health concern. (See this reference.) Some of the Brazilian Blowout type products contained as much as 10% formaldehyde which far exceeds the safe limits. (Remember, the dose makes the poison!)

The Keratin straightening products you refer to use an entirely different chemistry and guess what – they don’t really use keratin to straighten hair! Read our previous post on how temporary hair straighteners work.) These products do physically disrupt the structure of hair so there is some of degree of damage. (Much less than relaxing but more than simply combing and brushing.) However, these products do NOT raise the same health/environmental concerns as products with high levels of formaldehyde.


Can Pantene reverse the damage of 100 blow drys? Episode 70

Listen to this week’s show to learn how shampoo can fix blow dry damage. Plus, more Beauty Science News!

Claim to Fame: Can Pantene reverse the damage of 100 blow drys?HairDryer

This is a new feature where we look at the claims of popular beauty products and explain what the claim really means, how the company might support the claim, and most importantly, if the claim really makes enough of a difference for you to buy the product. Today we’re talking about Pantene Nourishing Shampoo. Here’s the claim:

“Erases the damage of 
100 blow drys 
for silky hair*

Of course there’s always an asterisk: 

“*Shampooo and conditioner system vs non-conditioning shampoo.”

What does the claim mean?

Erasing damage from blow drying is a big deal because blow drying after washing can cause all kinds of problems: cracked and uplifted cuticles, increased split ends, loss of tensile strength, dullness, rough feeling hair, loss or rearrangment of hair lipids that help keep it healthy, and so on. Are they saying this product erases ALL of these kinds of damage?

No. Because at the core of this claim is the statement that it “erases damage…for silky hair.” So you could argue that they’ve defined damage very narrowly: damage is really the absence of silkiness and if you make the hair silky it’s no longer damaged – at least that’s one possible interpretation.

How could they support the claim?

You can say pretty much whatever you want in a cosmetic claim as long as you have data that you believe adequately supports your assertion. If you’re just making the claim on your packaging or on your website, then that’s all you have to do. But, if you’re running an ad through some media outlet, they may ask to see your support data before allowing your ad to air. So, you have to convince the TV station or whoever it is that your approach is sound. If they agree with your assessment, they’ll air the ad. If they disagree you’ll have to either generate more data or you’ll have to change the ad.

Once your ad is “out in the wild” there are a couple of things that can happen. No one may ever question anything you said in which case you’re scott free. OR, you can be challenged either by a consumer, another company, a regulatory body or an NGO (Non Governmental Organization). If that happens you have to go through a fairly rigorous review of your data to ensure it supports the claim to their satisfaction or the satisfaction of whoever is adjucating the complaint. 
So how might they support this specific claim?

Here’s the kind of support that I would GUESS they have:
1. Take two sets of tresses – one set is the “test set” and the other is the “control” set. Wash and blow dry both sets 100 times using some standard procedure. (Note: They may also be comparing the test and control to a third set of tresses that is kept in “virgin” condition.)

2. The control set is treated with a non-conditioning shampoo, the “test set” is treated with Panetene Nourishing shampoo and Pantene Nourishing Conditioner.

3. Run a “silkiness” test on both sets. This test could be an instrumental test to measure the force required to detangle and comb hair, it could be a consumer perception test where you let people feel the tresses and give their subjective rating of silkiness.

Results: As long as the test and control sets (and perhaps the “virgin” set) are rated about equally “silky” the claim is supported. Because of the way the claim is worded they don’t have to prove that their product erases ALL the kinds of damage that blow drying can cause.

Should you buy the product based on this claim?

Pantene is a reasonably priced product with a good reputation so you don’t have much to lose if you think this claim is compelling and you want to buy this product. But if this were a very expensive salon brand, should this claim make you buy it? Probably not because they don’t compare it to anything (besides non-conditioning shampoo.) If this product cost $100 per bottle and they established that it works better than anything else on the market, then MAYBE the claim would be a good reason to spend your hard earned money. But even then, based on the way the claim is worded, all you really know is that the product makes your hair more silky. It doesn’t have to erase any other kind of damage in order to live up to that claim. I have a hard time believing this claim is very meaningful.

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Beauty Science News

Makeup is not the key to attractiveness
People apply color cosmetics hoping to improve the way they look. But according to this research published in the The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, most people don’t know what they are doing and are applying too much. 
In the study 44 women participated as models. They were first photographed with their hair back wearing no makeup or facial jewelry. They were then given a tray of popular color cosmetics and told to apply makeup such that they were going out somewhere fancy for the night. After this, their pictures were taken again. A range of photos were created using the “no make-up” and “with make-up” as the high and low points of the scale. 22 male and 22 female participants were then stationed at a computer and asked to optimize the attractiveness of the given faces.
Researcher found that both men and women preferred the look of women with less makeup than applied. Women liked the appearance of slightly more makeup than men.
While this is an interesting study, I don’t think looking at pictures is a good way to evaluate the attractiveness of someone. How many people do you know who look great in real life but don’t take good pictures? I think most people are more attractive in real life.
 Anyway, what this research suggests is that people who put on a lot of makeup can probably put on less. It also shows that some makeup definitely helps everyone look better and that is something of which we cosmetic chemists can be proud.

Is Gwyneth Paltrow wrong about everything?
Celebrities have been spokes-people for beauty products since the early days of the industry. But more recently celebrities have started spreading their own beauty and health advice – some of which is rather bizarre. Now there’s a new book that has taken a skeptical look at some of the bunk that is being spread by these celebrities.  I love the title the book which is “Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?”

The author, Tim Caulfield, is an attorney for Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta in Canada. Tim says that beauty is a science free zone. It certainly is when it comes to all the dreck that’s put out by celebrities and by many beauty bloggers by the way.  The book looks at different celebrity beauty claims and then hunts for scientific evidence to support those claims. Tim comes to some of the same conclusions that we’ve been preaching here on the Beauty Brains: That “detoxification” is bunk, cleanses are not that likely to provide much benefit other than cleansing your skin, and that expensive beauty regimens are mostly quackery. My two favorite quotes from the book are: “Beauty advice is a science-free zone.” and “Anecdotes and personal testimonials – no matter how compelling …are not good science.” 
Caulfield says that rather than believe all this crap you should cleanse your self of pseudoscientific babble, and detoxify your system with scientific evidence. So is Gwyneth Paltrow really wrong about everything? When it comes to the science of health and beauty, the answer, according to Caulfield, is yes.

Don’t be tricked by automatic beauty box subscriptions

Unscramble your way to better skin and hair
Here’s an interesting story about protein. Hair in skin are both made primarily of proteins so I’m always looking out for breakthroughs in technology that allow us to manipulate protein and some researchers in California and Australia have done something amazing. They have figured out how to uncook a boiled egg. Think about that – when you boil an egg it denatures the proteins so they coagulate and get all tangled up and the egg completely changes its consistency. Now they can untangle those proteins and return the egg to its original state in just minutes.

So if we can reverse something like the boiling of an egg why couldn’t we reverse some of the structural changes that are made to hair in skin either through the aging process or through external damage? For example could you cross-link or uncross-link double bonds in hair to change it curly or straight? Or maybe we could learn how to change the way to collagen bundles together in skin to prevent or cure wrinkles. These things seem rather far off now but who would’ve thought you could unboiled an egg? God, I love science!

Dietary supplements are less regulated than cosmetics!

Perry goes off on a food supplement rant. My favorite quote from the article “if this data is accurate, then it is an unbelievably devastating indictment of the industry.”

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Image credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9e/HairDryer.jpg

Does pressed powder makeup always contain synthetic ingredients?

Mary asks…Is is possible to make pressed makeup without using any synthetics?

The Beauty Brains respond

Rather than re-opened the debate on natural vs synthetic, I’ll try to address your question as it applies specifically to powdered makeup.

Loose powder needs fewer ingredients

One can certainly make the case that certain brands of so-called mineral makeup are among the most “natural” of cosmetic products. For example, Mineral Hygenics only contains a few powders which are all derived from crushed rocks (more or less.) This kind of product is relatively easy to formulate using only mineral (ie “natural”) ingredients because it’s just a simple blend of powders.

Pressed powder is more complex

Pressed powders, on the other hand, are much more complex. In order for the powders to stay compressed they need some kind of binding oil. And for those oils to mix with the powders they may require a surfactant to lower the surface tension. And the pressed powders have to spread easily across your skin so they may require emollients to provide slip. And these surfactants and binders and emollients may require antioxidants to prevent rancidity. And, since pressed powders have a surface that comes in contact with fingers and makeup brushes, they are more likely to require preservatives than loose powders. And…well you get the idea.

The more ingredients that a formula requires, the more difficult it becomes to source ingredients that everyone will agree are “natural.” And although natural alternatives may be available, they may not work as well as the nasty old “synthetic” chemicals. This is particluarly true of preservatives and of many surfactants.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

It’s not impossible to formulate a pressed powder without ”synthetics” but the requirements of the formula make it much more difficult.

Image credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5a/Lycopene_powder.jpg

Do YOU know of a pressed powder that made of only natural ingredients? Leave a comment and share your natural knowledge with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.


The deadly danger of Valentines day

Valentines Day may be more dangerous than you realize – especially if you kiss someone who’s eaten a food you’re allergic to!

NBC11.com reports that food allergies send over 30,000 people to the emergency room each year and a significant number of those cases are caused by loose lips.Kiss_(1873)

Careless kissing

Dr. Suzanne Teuber of the University of California, conducted a study of 379 patients with food allergies and found that as many as 5% had an allergic reaction after kissing someone who eaten a food which they were allergic to. The risk is even greater on February 14th because more kissing occurs on Valentines Day than any other day of the year. (Ok, I just made that last part up but you have to admit, it’s sounds like a plausible statistic.) Seriously though, if you have severe food allergies you really do need to be careful about accidental cross-contact. Here’s what you should watch out for:

Top 8 food allergies

  1. Peanuts
  2. Tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, etc.)
  3. Fish
  4. Shellfish
  5. Eggs
  6. Milk
  7. Soy
  8. Wheat

And while we’re listing Valentines Day dangers, let’s not forget that some people are allergic to flowers too. Oh yeah, and I’m pretty sure that chocolate causes cavities. And you might get hit by a bus on the way to a romantic dinner. And…aw, forget it. I’m staying home by myself and locking the doors. Be careful out there!

Image credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6e/Kiss_(1873).jpg

3 reasons apple cider vinegar may be good for hair

HySpin says…I have started incorporated Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) rinses in my hair care practices with great results. My hair is very, very kinky and I find if I do the apple cider vinegar rinse as the final cleaning step of washing my hair I find my hair feels smoother, reflects light more (shinier) and it is easier to detangle. But what is the apple cider vinegar really doing to my hair?
Image credit: https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3030/2956893014_743850d17d.jpg

The Beauty Brains respond

In actual lab testing we’ve haven’t been able to demonstrate much of an effect from vinegar. But since vinegar is an acid, in theory, there are three things that the low pH could be doing for your hair.

Three Ways That Apple Cider Vinegar May Help Hair

1. Tightening the cuticle.
If your hair is damaged and the cuticles are upraised, an acid rinse could be helping them to lay flatter and therefore improving shine and detangle-ability.

2. Boosting conditioner efficacy
Conditioners based on quaternary ammonium compounds work better at a lower pH because the stick to hair better. Maybe the vinegar is helping to “lock” your conditioner onto the hair.

3. Removing shampoo residue
If shampoo isn’t rinsed completely it can leave a dulling residue on hair. Vinegar may be helping to remove buildup and letting the natural hair shine through.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Again, these are only theories. We have no prove that ACV is really good for your hair. The general scientific consensus is that conditioner will do a much better job than any kind of vinegar rinse.

Image credit: https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3030/2956893014_743850d17d.jpg


Are bar cleansers bad for skin? Episode 69

Do bar cleansers really clog your pores? Tune in to this week’s show to learn the truth about soaps and other bar cleansers. 

Valentines day and beauty science

It turns out that for every major Valentine’s Day meme there’s a connection to beauty science. I thought it would be fun to talk about a couple of those today.

The color of love
Red is the color of love. It’s the color of valentines hearts, of lingerie, and of red lipstick. But you might be surprised to find that some of those sexy red lipstick colorants come from crushed bugs.

Chocolate and acne
You know candy is a popular Valentine’s Day gift but you really shouldn’t give chocolate to your loved one because it could make her face break out. Right? wrong! Well, right, sort of. 
This controversy has been raging back-and-forth for decades. Chocolate was originally thought to contribute to acne but initial studies indicated that there is no direct correlation. Then, in 2008, a group of Australian researchers put it to the test again. They had a group of panelists eat a sugary, starchy diet while the control group ate healthy. At the end of 8 weeks they had dermatologists examined the faces of the panelists (on blinded basis) and they found of those on the crappy diet had more acne breakouts. But even this study has not definitively put the question to rest. For one thing the diet wasn’t based on chocolate alone.

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Question of the week: are bar cleansers bad for skin?Soap_in_blue_dish

Mary Ellen says…I’ve heard bar cleansers are not good for our skin because the waxy ingredients that make the soap a bar cause plugged pores. Is this true?

Regular soap

When you’re talking about “regular” bars of soap I think the classic example that comes to mind is the old Ivory soap. Remember their advertising slogan: “So pure that it floats?” Of course the reason it floated had nothing to do with its purity. It was one of those accidental discoveries – somebondy left the mixer on too long and the soap became aerated so the air bubbles make it float. But it made for a memorable commercial.

There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of similar soap products since then but all true soaps have one defining characteristic in common: they are made by neutralizing a fatty acid with an alkali material. That’s what “soap” means. By the way, when the first laws regulating cosmetics were created back in the 1930s, the soapmakers managed to have soap excluded from law which is why you won’t see a list of ingredients on a true soap bar. If the ingredients were to be listed you’d see things like sodium cocoate or sodium tallowate.

Lye soap

One of the earliest forms of soap is lye soap. No it’s not called lye soap because the advertisers make dishonest claims about it, lye actually refers to the “alkali” material that’s used to neutralize the fatty acids.

According to legend, lye soap was discovered in ancient times when animal fat from cooked meat spilled into ashes from fire. When rainwater washed the mixture away they noticed that it created lather and they eventually figured out it could be used for cleaning. So the animal fats provided the fatty acids and the alkali was pot ash specifically potassium hydroxide. (Originally lye referred to potassium hydroxide which was made by soaking plant ashes which are rich in potassium carbonate in water to make but overtime has also come to include sodium hydroxide.)

Castile soap

Another type of soap is Castile soap. Remember how we said soaps are made with some sort of oily, fatty acid? Well Castile soap is made with one specific type of fatty acid which comes from olive oil. Originally this was produced in the Castile region of Spain, hence the name Castile soap.

Glycerin soap

I’m sure you’ve heard of glycerin soap. That’s a type of soap bar that’s clear because it’s made with glycerin, right? Wrong! All soap bars are made with glycerin because it’s part of the natural manufacturing process. When when the oils are reacted they split apart and release glycerin. In fact all glycerin used to be produced by soapmaking before we developed industrial processes of making it.

What most people refer to as glycerin soap is really just a gelled transparent soap bar. The reason it’s transparent is that it’s heated with sugar and alcohol which prevents the soap molecules from crystalizing so the bar stays clear. Take that, you disingenous glycerin soap bar manufacturers!

Synthetic Detergent bars (aka Syndet bars)

Enough about true soap bars not let’s talk about synthetic detergent bars. The difference is that instead of saponified fatty acids as the primary cleansing and foaming agents, these bars rely on synthetic detergents.

These are known as “cleansing bars” or “beauty bars” because by law they can’t be called soap. That’s part of the 1938 FD&C act that we talked about. But why would you want to use a synthetic detergent?

Because soap has a couple of serious drawbacks. First, if you have hard water the soap can react with the minerals in the water and form and in soluble residue. This used to be called bathtub ring and it was really a big problem. Not only could it mess up your bath tub but it could leave a film on your hair and skin that was really hard to rinse away. Most of our audience is probably too young to remember that because detergents have been in use for so long now. The second issue with soaps is that they have a high pH and are harsh on skin. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.

So as industrial chemical chemistry progressed in the 1940s synthetic detergents were developed and incorporated into cleansing bars. While there are many of these detergents in use, probably the most popular and best in terms of mildness and lathering is sodium cocyl isethionate. While detergents such as this are the primary active ingredient in modern cleansing bars they’re typically blended with true soaps like we’ve already discussed.

By the way, since these are not soaps they ARE subject to cosmetic labeling requirements. Therefore you will see a conventional ingredient list on the back of the package. See the show notes for an example ingredient list for a cleansing bar:

Sodium cocoyl isethionate, stearic acid, sodium tallowate, water, sodium isethionate, coconut acid, sodium stearate, sodium dodecyl benzene sulfonate, sodium cocoate, fragrance, sodiumchloride, titanium dioxide, trisodium EDTA, trisodium etidronate, BHT

Next let’s talk about how these different types of cleansing bar affect your skin.

Soap bars are harsher than detergent bars

There seems to be little question that true soap bars are more harsh than the synthetic detergent bars. That’s due to their pH as well as the nature of soap molecules. Multiple studies have proven that repeated use of soap bars can damage the skin by drying out the stratum corneum. It’s believed that soap damages the skin’s natural moisture barrier by binding to and denaturing of proteins in the stratum corneum. (Some detergents do this as well.)

For example, one test evaluated three types of cleansers. The first was a synthetic detergent bar using SCI, the second was a high glycerin TEA soap. And the third was a traditional soap based on the sodium salts of coconut oil and tallow. The degree of irritation and the amount of surfactant binding is consistently less with the SCI. Bars is based on true soaps are more binding and more irritating depending on exactly how they are blended.

But, setting the irritation issue aside for the moment how would we answer Mary Ellen’s questions about cleansing bars causing acne breakouts?

Do waxy ingredients plug your pores?

There’s a popular misconception that waxy ingredients clog pores. At face value this sounds reasonable – waxy ingredients get inside the little holes in your skin, the pore becomes plugged up and you develop acne. But that’s not what happens at all. Ingredients that contribute to acne trigger a condition called “retention hyperkeratosis” which means that dead skin cells become stuck inside the hair follicle. Excess sebum is a contributing factor to this condition. But this effect can occur with solid ingredients as well as liquid ingredients. So the “waxiness” of an ingredient really has nothing to do with how likely it is to cause acne. Regardless, once the follicle becomes plugged it turns into what is called a black head. The technical term for black head is a comedone which is where the term “comedogenic” comes from. Finally, if a certain type of baceria are present the plugged folicle can become infected and turn into a white head. And before you know it you have a pus filled pizza face. So how do we know which ingredients will cause this problem?

How to tell if your cleansing bar ingredients will cause breakouts

Unfortunately we don’t know for sure. There is a test called the Rabbit Ear Assay which is used to predict whether or not an ingredient will cause acne but there’s a lot of controversy over the accuracy of this method so at best consider this a rule of thumb test to rule out the worst offenders.

Also, not every single cleansing bar ingredient in the world has been put through this test so the effect of a lot of them are unknown.

And, to make things worse, combinations of ingredients can act differently than single ingredients so you really need to test a finished formula rather than just look at the comedogenicity rating of its individual ingredients.

So, the best we can do is point out a few ingredients that are known to be the worst offenders. If you want to know if a specific combination of ingredients has been put through this test the only way to know for sure is if the manufacturer has done the test and labels their product as non-comedogenic. But even then that’s no guarantee.

Ingredients to avoid

I don’t think any of the actual cleansing agents in either real soap bars or detergent bars show up on the list of acne causing ingredients. At least none of the published lists that I can find.

However, some of the other ingredients used in soaps in detergent bars are known to have a comedogenic potential.

The oils that are used to make soap may be comedogenic. For example: wheat germ oil is rated 5 which is highly comedogenic. Sesame oil is a 4 and olive oil is a 2 (which is moderately low.) That means I would expect Castile soap may be less likely to cause breakouts than some other oil based soaps.

Vegetable butters
Vegetable butters are are added as “super fatting” agents. That means there to counteract soaps drying effect on skin. Cocao butter and coconut butter are both rated “4” which is “fairly high” in comedogenicity.

These are the ingredients that are added to keep the cleansing bar from dissolving in the shower. They are typically fatty acids like stearic acid or fatty alcohols like cetyl alcohol as well as some waxes. Some of these do have comedogenic potential.

Other ingredients
Things misc. ingredients like certain red dyes, even fragrances have been shown to cause acne.
So the best we can suggest is to stay away from the few ingredients we have flagged here.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

First to be aware that what most people call “soap bars” are really synthetic detergent bars.

Second, true soap, while it is more natural, is harsher on skin. That’s partly because of the high pH and partly because of the way soap interacts with skins proteins.

Third, because of the ingredients that are added to super fat soap that you can be more likely to cause acne than detergent bars. check the show notes for some of the specific ingredients that we talked about.

And finally you can look for cleansing bars that are designed to be used on acne prone skin. At best this means the manufacturer has tested them for comedogenic city but even that does not guarantee it won’t cause breakouts for any given individual.

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      • Which ingredients are really scary and which ones are just scaremongering by the media to incite an irrational fear of chemicals.
      • How to tell the difference between the products that are really green and the ones that are just trying to get more of your hard earned money by labeling them “natural” or “organic.

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Angel19i asks… I have 4a type Afro-Caribbean hair and would like the flexibility of straightening it every once in a while. But just blow drying & flat ironing only last a few days before my hair poofs up & according to your post on Keratin Straightening products other methods rearrange the bonds in your hair & aren’t that safe. And the Bumble and Bumble Concen-Straight doesn’t have any of the ingredients listed on the post so what I want to know is it safe for a temporary way to straighten my hair and will my hair return to normal after the treatment wears off?

The Beauty Brains respond

Considering all the new straightening products that were launched in the last few years, this is a great question. If you haven’t already seen it, take a look at our post on Keratin straighteners for more background on the various hair straightening technologies on the market.

What does B&B say about Concen-Straight?

According to B&B, this single use straightener is used with heat tools to “smooth hair for manageability and frizz reduction for up to 30 shampoos.” They also claims that it is “Formaldehyde free. Cysteine free. Lye free.” This means it uses chemistry that is different than Brazilian straighteners, Garnier’s Blow Dry Perfector Kit, or hydroxide relaxers. However, it is based on a technology that functions similarly. Let’s take a look at the ingredients and see:

Concen-straight Ingredients

Water, Sodium Metabisulfite, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Dimethicone, Hexylene Glycol, Sodium Sulfite, Sodium Sulfate, Fragrance (Parfum), PEG/PPG-18/18 Dimethicone, Cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 Dimethicone, Pearl Powder, Sapphire Powder, Malachite, Tourmaline, Transglutaminase, Polylysine, Methyl Trimethicone, Dimethicone/PEG-10/15 Crosspolymer, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Caprylyl Glycol, Maltodextrin, Tetrasodium Iminodisuccinate, Dimethiconol, Dipropylene Glycol, Coumarin, Geraniol, Eugenol, Xanthan Gum, Potassium Sorbate, Phenoxyethanol, BHT, Linalool, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Hexyl Cinnamal, Limonene, Benzyl Salicylate, Citronellol, Benzyl Alcohol.

You’ll notice that the first ingredient (after water) is sodium metabisulfite. This means this product is based on similar technology used in bisulfite perms from the 1970s.

How do bisulfite perms work?

Perms are designed to add curl to hair so the product is applied to hair that is wrapped around curling rods. These perms contain sodium bisulfite which reduces, or breaks, the sulfur-sulfur bonds in hair. These sulfur bonds are like little bridges that lock protein strands together and make hair keeps its shape. When these bridges are broken, the hair relaxes hair and disrupts its natural shape. In the second step a neutralizer solution is applied to oxidize the bonds. This oxidation reaction re-forms the sulfur-sulfur bridges and locks the curls in place. After removing the rods the curls will retain their shape until the hair grows out.

Concen-straight (ya gotta love that clever name!) is essentially half of this perming process. But this time the product is applied as hair is straightened: the metabisulfite breaks the bonds so hair is relaxed, but nothing is added to neutralize and reform the sulfur bridges. The result is straighter hair, but the effect is not truly permanent because over time (about 30 shampoos worth per the product instructions) the bonds will auto-oxidize and the hair will more or less return to its original shape.


Does grape seed oil protect hair from heat?

Lilypad asks…I’m transitioning from relaxed to natural hair and a lot of blogs and video bloggers tout grape seed oil as a heat protectant when blowdrying or flat ironing hair because it has a high smoke point (about 420 °F). Is there any truth to this claim? The smoke point refers to the oil’s use in cooking but does it apply to hair as well?

The Beauty Brains responds

We’ve blogged before about how to protect your hair from heat damage and there’s more to it than just the how much heat the ingredients can take.

What to look for in a good heat protectant

Heat tolerance (in this case measured by smoke point of the oil) is only one factor to consider. You also need to look at how the product lubricates hair. You can experiment with oils if you want DIY heat protection but be careful: oils alone can create drag which could slow down the flat iron as it passes through your hair so it could end up doing MORE damage.

Good heat protectants should also help offset the drying effects of heat. Ideally you want a combination of glycerine or other moisturizers to lock in water and a low molecular weight polymer that can penetrate and help prevent heat from cracking the cuticles. (See the link above for more discussion and scientific references.)

Which oils can stand a lot of heat

But back to your question about smoke point. This site lists grape seed at 485F with soy bean oil at 495F, safflower oil at 510F, and avocado oil at a startling 520F! Wikipedia lists slightly different values: Cottonseed and virgin olive oil are in the same range as grape seed while almond, peanut, sunflower, and our cold friend coconut oil are higher. We’re not sure which values are more accurate, but either way it looks like you have some options to try that offer an even higher smoke point than grape seeds.


Can air freshener stop your allergies? Episode 68

Can an air freshener really reduce allergens? Listen to Perry and I discuss some ways this might be possible. Plus – more beauty science news stories! 

Show notes

Claim to Fame: Allergen reducing air freshener

We’re premeiring a new segment today.  Companies use compelling claims to attract your attention and showcase a product’s benefits. But sometimes they can make you think the prdouct is better than it really or to make you think it’s worth spending more money on it. In this segment we’ll take a look at a few popular claims and show you how to pick them apart: how to understand what it really means, and how the company might support it, and most importantly, to understand it really makes a difference to you so you can decide if the product is worth your hard earned money.

For our first example, we chose an interesting product although strictly speaking it’s not a beauty product rather it’s an air freshener but they’re making the claim that it protects you from allergens so I figure that still falls under personal care.  The product is Febreze Air Effects freshener

Claims and the relevant package copy

  • Allergen Reducer
  • Reduces up to 75% of inanimate allergens that can become airborne from soft surfaces*
  • On the back: * Refers to inanimate allergens from pet dander and dust mite matter that can become airborne from soft surfaces.
  • Spray around the room in a sweeping motion…Allow mist to settle on soft surfaces to keep allergens from becoming airborne.

What does the claim really mean?

Allergen reducer could mean many things: For example, it could somehow neutralize or chemically destroy allergens.
It reminds me of the “99% bacteria reduction” claim that antibacterial products make. Is a reduction of 75% in allergens enough to really make a difference? (That means that 25% of the allergens are still there!)

How does the product work/deliver the claim?

It’s most likely due to a wetting effect or perhaps an electrostatic interaction. In fact if you look at the ingredients you’ll see “polymer” listed which could be some kind of film forming agent to keep dust particles ein place even after the spray has dried. (That might also make it hard to remove from furniture?) We speculate why the claim is only for “soft surfaces.” Why wouldn’t this work on hardwood floors, counters, table tops, etc?

How might the company support a claim like this?

Perry likes the idea of a terrarium type box where the air could be sampled for allergen particles before and after spraying.

Does this claim mean the product is better?

It’s hard to say. How does a “regular” air freshner work in this regard? Is a 75% reduction enough to make a difference? Or is the 25% that’s left still plenty to trigger your allergies?

Key take away

This is one of the key points of critical thinking you should apply to all claims: What is the product in question being compared to? In this case, it’s being compared to nothing at all so it’s impossible to tell if this is a premium product sthat’s worth a higher price. The “*” on the label will often give you this information.

Beauty Science News

Ancient cosmetic skin cream analyzed
I once made a shampoo formula that I kept for about 17 years. It was my first batch of anything and for some reason I just never disposed of it. It stayed stable for about 7 years before it separated into three layers. I suspect if it were a clear shampoo that would not have happened.

Anyway, 17 years seems pretty impressive but not nearly as impressive as this cream which is just about 2000 years old. The formula contained animal fat, starch and tin dioxide. Even more interesting, the scientists who analyzed it made a copy of the formula.

Perhaps the 2000 year old sample wasn’t completely stable (no one said whether they tried it or not) but it doesn’t look separated in the picture. That’s an impressive feat by an ancient cosmetic chemist.

I wonder if any of the people who discovered the cream tried it out. Also, this product was probably preservative free. I suspect that it was an anhydrous formula so you wouldn’t need a preservative.

Who would want an eyeball tattoo?
I have to admit that I’m not a very trendy person but I try to understand what others think is fashionable. But the BBC news has reported on a recent trend and I just don’t get. It’s the practice of tattooing your eyeball. Apparently this was in the news recently because of the sentencing of a criminal in an Alaskan court. He had the white of his right eye tattooed jet black. You really have to see this to appreciate it so I’ll put a link to some pictures in the show notes.

This trend is about a decade old which was kind of surprising to me but it’s gaining new converts all the time. According to the article, The eyeball tattoo was first done by a US tattoo artist who goes by the name of Luna Cobra. Mr. Cobra figured out that he could take a syringe filled with tattoo ink and inject it directly into the eyeball. The pigment rests under the thin top layer of the eye which is called the conjunctiva.

He was inspired by a picture that a friend of his had Photoshop to make his eyes look blue like one of the characters in the science-fiction novel Dune. Cobra took one look at the picture and said “hey I can do that for real .” The next day, Luna Cobra took a syringe and practised on three brave volunteers.

He says he’s “aware of how insane that sounds, but I’ve been doing this type of thing for my whole life so I wasn’t coming from nowhere with this.” Now he’s done it on hundreds of people – in blue, green, red and black. Mr Cobra says “If you want to amuse yourself by decorating your eyeball, why not do it?” Well here’s one reason: opticians say that it could cause infection, inflammation and blindness! But that kind of nay saying is the reason I’m not a very trendy person.

Airline pilots exposed to as much UV as tanning beds
According to this research published by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, the amount of UV radiation that a pilot is exposed to in an airplane cockpit is similar to those gotten by people in tanning beds. It turns out that the acrylic plastic windshield is not so great at blocking UV-A radiation. So flying for 56 minutes at 30,000 feet is equivalent to laying in a tanning bed for 20 minutes.

So, it turns out pilots should wear sunscreen even when they’re inside. I wonder what the UV radiation is like in the bulkhead part of the plane where people are sitting. Probably not anything to be concerned about as the UV radiation would have a tough time getting to people but it might be a good idea to wear sunscreen on the plane just in case.

Are cash register receipts more dangerous than cosmetics?
BPA or bisphenol A is not used in cosmetics anymore (not since 2006) but it is used in packaging – for food and beverages. And concerns have been raised that exposure to BPA could disrupt the endocrine system and be hazardous to our health. The new twist, based on research done at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is that some personal care products may increase the amount of Bisphenol A (BPA) that penetrates through skin and into the blood stream.

The researchers found that a “variety of personal care, skin care and soap products caused a ‘rapid increase’ in the levels of BPA in their blood.” This was particularly true for hand sanitizes, presumably due to high levels of alcohol (I’m talking about ethanol not fatty alcohols.)

I thought that the way they did the research was interesting. They had subjects apply the lotion or sanitizer or whatever and then they handled cash register receipts from a thermal printer. Yea, apparently this kind of printing process leave copious amounts of BPA on the paper. So the lotions, etc apparently reduced the barrier function of their skin then they got all doped up on BPA coated paper. And the headline is “Personal care products heighten absorption of BPA. Shouldn’t the headline have been “Cash register receipts are dangerous!”? They have it back-asswards. And it’s not just store receipts – fast food restaurants, airline tickets, ATM receipts all use this printing method. Why haven’t we heard an outcry over THAT? I’ll tell you exactly why – because of the nefarious Big Thermal Printing Cabal. They’ve covered this whole thing up.

Smartphones and tablets lead to extra wrinkles
Did you know that your iPhone and tablet computer might be damaging to your skin? At least that’s what some dermatologists are saying. They are dubbing it ‘tech-neck’. According to some looking at screens the way we are is leading to sagging skin, dropping jowls and a distinct crease above the clavicle. This used to be a condition seen mainly in people in late middle age but now we are seeing it in a much younger generation of women.

Now, 18 to 39 year olds should be worried about ‘tech-neck’. The idea is that since you are looking down at your screen up to 150 times a day you are stretching out the skin, accelerating the effect of gravity and leading to a natural loss of skin elasticity.

Of course, whenever there is some new recognized beauty problem, beauty brands are quick with a solution. Enter the Yves Saint Laurent brand who claims to have invented the first cream to address ‘tech neck’. They include a new molecule meant to boost the elasticity of skin. It contains a molecule called glycanactif-y which is said to boost glycans and plump up sagging skin.

Color me skeptical that this cream will have much impact on the glycans but it is an interesting new problem. I’m just really skeptical that it is real. I mean, it makes sense but how much of an impact could this really have. I guess we’ll see.

Beauty beverages are bogus
I’m always thrilled to see when somebody exposes the truth behind bogus products especially when you get into this area of nutritional supplements and related products. Here’s a new study that says little or no benefits from the so called “beauty beverages.” You know the kind I’m talking about – these are the vitamin waters, energy drinks, other novel juices that claim to be good for your skin. The study, which was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, didn’t specifically address beauty beverages but they did talk about nutritional beverages that contain the same types of ingredients. The researchers found that for the most part consumers are already getting enough of these nutrients in their diets so they don’t need to consume special beverages.


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

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

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