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Why can’t I put my foot product on my face?

Miniature muses…Skin Laboratory has a Salicylic Acid Peel (okay to put on your face). Dr. Scholl’s has a Liquid Corn and Callus Remover (not okay to put on your face). Obviously, both have a high amount of Salicylic Acid, but other than that, I was curious to know which ingredients make the first alright to put on your face, and the second a serious mistake. Any ideas?

The Beauty Brains respond

Here are the ingredients for the two products in question:

Skin Laboratory Salicylic Acid Peel ingredients

Salicylic Acid (20%), Propylene Glycol, Denatured alcohol, Polyacrylamide, C13-14 Isoparaffin, Laureth 7.

Dr. Scholl’s Liquid Corn and Callus Remover ingredients

Salicylic Acid (17% w/w), Castor (Ricinus Communis) Seed Oil, Ethyl Lactate, Flexible Collodion, Polybutene, Alcohol (18% v/v), Ether (53% v/v from flexible collodion)

You’re right in that both look similar in the salicylic acid concentration. But the big difference is in how the products are intended to be used. The Skin Laboratories product is designed to be spread all over your face; the Dr. Scholl’s is designed as a spot treatment for a callus or corn on your foot. That’s where the “Collodion” ingredient comes in.

Callus concern

Collodion is a polymer that forms a very tough, flexible film on your skin. That’s perfect when you want to seal an active ingredient into the skin in a very localized area, like on a callus. The film keeps the active ingredient concentrated on the very tough, dead skin of the callus.

That’s NOT a good idea when you want to treat breakouts all over your face. The film could cause the acid to burn the more delicate skin of the face. Plus, the film would sort of feel like wearing a bandage on your face. (Also all that alcohol and ether isn’t ideal for a facial product. I can imagine you passing out after applying to much ether so close to your nose. LOL.)

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Even though it may not be apparent to the casual reader, there is a very good reason why the Scholl’s product should only be used as directed: on the feet!

{ 1 comment }

Can OFF insect repellant dissolve tights?

NataliaP says…A friend of mine put on OFF (repellant) all over her legs, she was using the aerosol form. And then she put in black tights. A while later we noticed that her tights/stockings were super blotchy. It was complelty ruined. What happened?

The Beauty Brains respond

The active ingredient in OFF is a chemical known as DEET which is an effective solvent that can dissolve rayon, spandex, other synthetic fabrics. Her tights are probably made from some combination of natural and synthetic fibers like nylon or acetate. She should switch to all cotton tights or a non-DEET containing product. Or else she should just stay indoors like Randy does.

Have you ever had a wardrobe malfunction after using any kind of personal care product? Leave a comment and share your experiences with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.


Science says high heels are sexy Episode 64

This week Perry and I reminisce about 2014 before sharing the first beauty science news stories of 2015.     

Show notes

NOTE: The audio file for this week’s show developed a glitch that I couldn’t fix so portions of the show are missing and you’ll hear a “skip” every once in a while. I spent so much time trying to repair the audio that I couldn’t type up all the show notes. Sorry!

Favorite moments from 2014

Here are a few of our fave moments of the year:

Our discussions of the Kligman questions
These are the questions that you should ask about any anti-aging ingredient:

1. Based on the chemistry of the ingredient, is there any scientific mechanism that could explain why it would work?
2. Does it penetrate to the part of the skin where it needs to be in order to work?
3. Are there peer reviewed, double blind, placebo controlled studies demonstrating the ingredient really works when applied to real people?

Wacky questions we covered in 2014
Can skin lotion make you fat? Is facial yoga for real? Can you cure cellulite with coffee grounds?

The controversy over our catch phrase (Be brainy about your beauty)
If you’re new to the show you don’t know what you missed. Every week the haters would come out.
Perry would occasionally try to hijack the ending of the show by saying some random crap. But the catch phrase prevailed! (So far…)

An audio homage to our fans
I play a short clip of our fans saying hello.

2014 was the year of Beauty Science or Bullsh*t
I quizzed Perry on the answers to some of last year’s games. True or False: How many of these do you remember?

  1. Earwax analysis is as effective as a blood test for detecting toxins in the body.
  2. The latest weapon against germs is a new protein-based antibacterial paint.
  3. A new “flesh eating” shower sponge uses a keratolytic enzyme to exfoliate dead skin cells while you bathe.
  4. Contact lens disinfectants control body odor better than most deodorants.
  5. Scientists can estimate the collagen levels in your skin just from a hand shake.
  6. Your nasal bacteria may predict if you’ll get a skin infection.
  7. A Philippines Zoo is offering ‘snake massages’ by 4 giant pythons.
  8. A treatment based on cow antibodies is as effective against acne causing bacteria as benzoyl peroxide.
  9. You can text your way to sunburn free skin.
  10. Getting a flu shot may make your perfume smell funny.

Beauty Science News

Bath salts won’t turn you into a zombie

Men like high heels – duh!

At last a product that REALLY adds collagen. Painfully.

Making oil and water lotions without surfactants


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.


Nancy Boy may be the most honest beauty product in the world

NoahJenda asks…I’m very curious to know what the Beauty Brains think about Nancy Boy’s Ultramarine Night Cream. It’s also sold as an eye cream. I find their descriptions of the product unusually frank. For example, when discussing eye creams, they say “None, including ours, do anything for dark circles or puffiness (even though some of them claim to) because no product can…The only under-eye problem that can be addressed with an over-the-counter product is fine lines and wrinkles.” I also find it interesting that they claim their cream has the same ingredients as other products costing ten times as much. What do the Beauty Brains think of the ingredients, and of the claims for this product?

The Beauty Brains respond

Wow. Nancy Boy has the most refreshingly honest product descriptions I’ve ever seen!

Why is Nancy Boy so different?

If you read their website you’ll see that they say things you’ve never been told by any beauty company, like:

“All that any anti-wrinkle product like this one can do is to diminish their appearance, and the way they do that is to shrink and plump them…” (As we’ve said time and time again, there’s not much functional difference in expensive anti-aging creams.)
“every manufacturer, including us and …La Mer, Clinique, Prescriptives, M-A-C, Origins, Aveda, etc…has the same access to state-of-the-art anti-wrinkle technology…” (There are few exceptions but this is a really good point.)
When it comes to spending a lot on beauty products “savvy consumers should read each brand’s ingredients listing to get the best deal.” (Sound familiar, Beauty Brains reader?)
“…the marine-based active complex in our ultramarine night cream is not alas, exclusive to us.” (Sounds different than companies that tell you they’re the only ones with specific technology!)

They also bash the fanciful source of an expensive ingredient used in Estee Lauder’s cream. To get a full appreciation of their positioning (and their sense of hum0r) you have to read their website for yourself!

What do their claims really mean?

Nancy’s straight up approach is very refreshing but be careful not to get caught up in everything they say. For example, they repeat claims about peptides, hyaluronic acid and vitamin C that are not as well established as they would lead you to believe.

Is Nancy Boy worth it?

We couldn’t agree more that Nancy Boy products work as well as products that cost hundreds more. At $55 for 2 ounces they have drastically undercut many of the ridiculously over-priced products on the market. But their logic works both ways – there are still plenty of products that cost less than $55 that can work the same way to plump up your skin. If your goal is to get a cheaper version of Estee Lauder’s formula, then Nancy Boy will save you some bucks. But if all you want to do is moisturizer wrinkly skin, you can save even more by shopping around.





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.

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

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

Click here for all the The Beauty Brains podcasts.


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

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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.