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Beauty Science News – March 9

Time for another weekly recap of beauty science news…

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Eminence Stone Crop Gel Wash – Look at the label

Eminence Stone Crop Gel Wash is a beauty best seller on Amazon this week. Let’s look at the label.

The Eminence website doesn’t list all the ingredients in the product, instead they provide the following “key ingredients”:

  • Stone Crop Juice and Pulp: hydrating and nourishing for uneven skin tones
  • Soap Base (free of sodium lauryl sulphate): cleanses and softens
  • Shea Butter: calming and restorative agent

Whenever a company lists “key ingredients” it’s always a red flag in my book. It’s another way of saying “we’re only going to tell you about the ingredients we WANT you to know about so you can’t ask any probing questions.” Sooo, I snooped around until I found the complete ingredient list.

Stone Crop Plant, Stone Crop Juice, Shea Butter Extract, Meadow Foam Seed Oil, Cellulose (Plant Source), Alpha Olefin Sulphonate (Plant Source), Benzoic Acid (Plant Source), Citric Acid, Essential Oil

“Stone crop,” in case you weren’t aware, is a flowering plant belonging to the genus Sedum. There are somewhere around 600 species in this family and there’s no way to figure out which version they’re using. My guess is s. acres because it’s traditionally used to treat skin disease.

The ingredient list is still a bit of a puzzle because if the plant itself is really the first ingredient I’d expect the product consistency to be more like a veggie smoothie. But from the picture on the website it’s a clear gel. That tells me that the plant extract is likely diluted in water. Strange how that doesn’t show up on the label.

The cleansing agent in the formula is alpha olefin sulphonate (AOS) a high foaming surfactant that is frequently used in sulfate free formulas. AOS is milder than sulfates but in comparison to other sulfate free systems it’s considered “economy” class meaning it’s less expensive but not necessarily the mildest.  Considering that Stone Crop sells for somewhere between $25 and $35 for 4 ounces, it would be nice if they used something milder than an economy class surfactant.

Finally, note that the product lists an “essential oil” instead of fragrance. Unfortunately, that’s not a legal choice in the US or EU. You can either list “fragrance” and not have to disclose the specific essential oils that are used (because fragrances can have hundreds of components) OR you can skip using a compounded fragrance and just use single essential oils. But then you have to list those oils by name. They have done neither in this case so this product could contain fragrance allergens and you wouldn’t be able to tell.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

This may be a perfectly fine product but the fact that it’s so expensive and that the company isn’t very transparent regarding the ingredients is troubling. Still, if you’d care to buy Eminence Stone Crop Gel Wash please use our link below and help support the Beauty Brains. Thanks!


Is the N Lite Laser good for acne and wrinkles?

Nancy asks…I’m bothered by adult acne and am thinking of getting laser treatment. Any thoughts?

The Beauty Brains respond:

To give you an expert’s opinion we checked with occasional contributor Dr. Michele Koo, a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon practicing in St. Louis, Missouri. Here’s what Dr. Koo has to say.

“The N Lite Laser has been commonly used to improve fine wrinkles. It achieves this by wounding the skin in a NON ABLATIVE (not completely removing the superficial layer of skin) manner. As a result this stimulates the growth factors to facilitate new collagen growth (Collagen is vital for strengthening blood vessels and giving skin its elasticity and strength). The N Lite Laser has also been used to treat acne and acne scars. Lasers work by ablating color targets such as red, yellow, yellow-green (amber) in the skin. The wavelength of the N Lite Laser is 585nm or if it is a more flexible laser such as the RegenLite laser it also has the capacity to switch to a 532nm wavelength. The idea is to treat acne scars or fine wrinkles and to remove the bacteria causing Acne Vulgaris.

However, the results have been marginal and not noticeable for fine wrinkle reduction. Similarly in treating acne, the results have been somewhat temporary and also disappointing to the millions who are constantly seeking out a solution to their (or their children’s) acne troubles.

Best Recommendation/Take Home Message: there are more effective chemical peels, topical medication for the treatment of fine wrinkles and acne that is less costly. Do your research and be sure you are working with a board certified physician!”


Are phthalates dangerous in cosmetics?

Hayley asks..What’s your take on phthalates? I just tried searching your Forum for a post on the topic but couldn’t find anything.

The Beauty Brains respond:

Given the lousy search function on our Forum we’d be surprised if you could find an article on phthalates even if we had written one. But it turns out that we haven’t so let’s rectify that oversight right now.

What are phthalates?

Phthalates belong to a class of chemicals which are used to plasticize or soften other ingredients, to stabilize fragrances and color, and to add gloss to films. While there are at least nine different kinds of pthalate esters, two of the most common are di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and dibutyl phthalate (DBP) which are widely used in plastics, paints and coatings. In cosmetics they historically have been used in hairsprays (as a plasticizing agent) and in many more products as a fragrance additive.

What’s the problem with phthalates?

Phthalates do not bind to other chemicals in the formulas in which they are used and are able to leach out into the environment where they have been detected as pollutants. Phthalates have shown up as contaminants in blood samples and are believed to produce teratogenic or endocrine-disrupting effects. For this reason, the European Union has categorized dibutyl phthalate and diethylhexyl phthalate as Category 2 reproductive toxins. In the US, the FDA has moved to restrict the use of DEHP and DBP in pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

Are phthalates in cosmetics a problem?

The evidence seems clear that certain (but not all) phthalates pose a health hazard. But does that hazard mean there’s a risk involved in using phthalates in cosmetics? (Remember that the risk is a function of the hazard AND the degree of exposure.) Both the FDA in the US and the SCCP in EU agree that there’s no clear data that the use of these ingredients in cosmetics pose a measurable hazard to consumers. The FDA is continuing to monitor the situation while the EU has taken a more conservative approach and decided to limit the use of some phthalates to only trace levels. From a regulatory perspective, the EU now has three categories for phthalates:

  • Accepted phthalates: This one is considered safe for use in cosmetics: DEP
  • Banned phthalates: These are banned from being added to cosmetics but are allowable as “trace contaminants” up to 100 ppm: DEHP, DBP and BBP.
  • Unregulated phthalates: These have not been regulated in EU but given their low usage (at least in perfumes) there is no quantifiable risk to consumers: DMP, DIBP, DCHP, DINP and DIDP.

How can you tell if your cosmetics have phthalates?

Phthalates must be listed on the label if they are added to a cosmetic formulation. However, if they are just part of the fragrance they do NOT have to be listed. Not to worry though, even though they are not listed, ALL fragrance are still carefully assessed for safety. No ingredients that are banned from use in cosmetic are allowed to be used in fragrances for cosmetic products.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Data shows some phthalates pose a reproductive hazard but both US and EU regulatory agencies agree that there’s no clear data that the use of these ingredients in cosmetics pose a measurable hazard to consumers. The FDA is keeping on eye on the situation while the EU has taken a more conservative approach and decided to limit the use of some phthalates to only trace levels.



FDA statement on ingredient safety

J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2004 Dec;67(23-24):1901-14.

Safe Cosmetics report


Are natural extracts better than water?

Liz asks…Since water is usually the first ingredient of any shampoo… then all these extracts are basically taking the place of plain old water. What would make this formulation different is the concentration of the extracts in the purified water, no?

The Beauty Brains respond:

Think of it like this, Liz:

Let’s say my shampoo is made of mostly water (about 90%) and the rest (10%) is detergent, preservative, thickener, color, etc. So my ingredient list would read something like…

“Water, detergent, preservative, thickener, color, etc.”

Now, let’s say I want to make this formula look more natural by adding a bunch of plant extracts. I ask my supplier for a cocktail of 10 or 12 different botanicals which are supplied at low concentrations in water (sometimes alcohol, glycerin, or polyethylene glycol is used as a diluent along with the water.) So I’m still adding almost 90% water but now that water contains a few percent of botanical extracts. Since these extracts (along with the water in which they are diluted) make up the majority of the formula, I could create an ingredient list that looks something like this…

“Aqueous Purified Water Extracts: Camellia Sinensis Extract, Citrus Aurantium Amara Peel Extract (Bitter Orange), Astragalus Root (Membranaceus) Extract (Milk Vetch), Schizandra Chinensis Fruit Extract, Pinus Tabulaeformis Bark Extract (Pine), Vitis Vinifera Seed Extract (Grape), Sedum Rosea Root Extract, Rehmannia Chinensis Root Extract, detergent, preservative, thickener, color, etc.”

Of course this ingredient list is not following the official International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) which requires that water be listed first since it’s present at the highest concentration. You don’t get to count all of the water as extract since the true extract is present at a very low level. The majority of the product is STILL water but it certainly looks more natural when presented this way, wouldn’t you agree?

If the listing followed the U.S. rules (ingredients listed in order of descending concentration until 1%, below which they can be listed in any order)  it SHOULD like this.

“Water, detergent, thickener, etc. Camellia Sinensis Extract, Citrus Aurantium Amara Peel Extract (Bitter Orange), Astragalus Root (Membranaceus) Extract (Milk Vetch), Schizandra Chinensis Fruit Extract, Pinus Tabulaeformis Bark Extract (Pine), Vitis Vinifera Seed Extract (Grape), Sedum Rosea Root Extract, Rehmannia Chinensis Root Extract, preservative, color.”

The other important question to ask whether or not the extracts will make the shampoo work any better on your hair. The truth is the vast majority of botanical extracts won’t do anything for your hair (especially when applied from a shampoo, since they just rinse away.)

You have to be very careful when buying so-called natural products so you’re not tricked into spending more money on a product that isn’t really any different.


Did you know that most shampoos today are secretly 2-in-1′s? In today’s episode we tell which ingredients to avoid if you’re worried about shampoo buildup. Plus, we discuss the case the disturbing plastic surgery app!

Click below to play Episode 20: “How to avoid shampoo buildup” or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show Notes

Beauty Science News: “The case of the disturbing plastic surgery app”

Putting the app in inappropriate. It’s called “Plastic Surgery & Plastic Doctor & Plastic Hospital Office for Barbie version.” It lets children play plastic surgeon by performing virtual operations on the faces and bodies of Barbie doll like characters.

Example activity. “This unfortunate girl has so much extra weight that no diet can help her. In our clinic, she can go through a surgery called liposuction that will make her slim and beautiful. We’ll need to make small cuts on problem areas and suck out the extra fat. Will you operate her, doctor?”

Options. You decide where to make incisions into the doll’s skin to alter her appearance, or whether to give her to give a local anesthetic before the incision is made.

Social media outrage. The app prompted outrage across social media because there is already too much pressure on kids to look a certain way and to strive for impossible photoshop quality appearance. iTunes responded by removing it.

A better way. If this was less about “obese kids must alter their appearance” and more about “teaching the science behind beauty products” this could be a good idea.

Question of the week: How can you avoid shampoos that cause buildup?

Trisha asks…Can you tell me what to look for in a shampoo and conditioner that will leave my hair feeling clean and not weighed down and coated in product buildup?

History of conditioning shampoos

  • 1943 – earliest conditioning shampoo (“Special Drene”)
  • 1970s – the birth of the true 2 in 1 (Pert Plus)
  • 1990s – moisturizing shampoos go mainstream (Pantene)
  • Today – MOST shampoos deliver some conditioning

Ingredients used in shampoos to condition

  • Cationic polymers
  • Silicones
  • Quats
  • Opacifying agents (e.g., glycol distearate)

How to spot a shampoo that gives you buildup

  • Look for clear vs creamy
  • Read the claims look for conditioner language
  • Read the ingredient statement

Beware the “Buildup Bunch”

  • Polyquaternium’s (10, 11)
  • Certain silicones: Amodimethicone
  • Anything ending in “Methosulfate”
  • Guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride

The Beauty Brains Bottom line

Today most shampoos are “secret two-in-ones” so if you’re worried about build up you need to pay attention to what you’re using. Using clear shampoos and checking the label for conditioning agents can help.

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.

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Bugra asks…You say in your book some brands can have similar products and therefore check the ingredients first and buy the cheap one. However, although the ingredients are similar in both products, how about the amounts ? For instance, both products have the same ingredients. Let’s name the ingredient ” hyaluronic acid”. For example Product A has 1k of hyaluronic acid and Product B has 3k of hyaluronic acid. That makes Product B is more effective and expensive. How can we say two products are the same although we don’t know the amount of ingredients ?

The Beauty Brains respond:

Our suggested approach can only give you directional information about which products to try because reading the ingredient list only allows you to make a rough comparison of the relative amounts of ingredients between two products. It’s certainly possible that the ingredient list of two products could be identical but the products could contain different amounts of those ingredients. In some cases the product with the higher amount of a given ingredient could be superior. But just having “more” of an ingredient doesn’t automatically mean the product is better. Here are some examples where more is NOT better:

When MORE of an ingredient is bad

1. Over dose effects
In the case of products with retinol or alpha and beta hydroxy acids, TOO much of the active ingredient is a bad thing because it can burn/irritate the skin.

2. Poor aesthetics
Higher levels of occlusive agents (like petrolatum, mineral oil or even olive oil) may do a better job of locking moisture in skin but too much will leave your skin feeling so greasy you’ll never use the product again.

3. Law of diminishing returns
Some ingredients (like cationic hair conditioners) have an optimum use concentration. Once you reach that level adding more doesn’t increase the benefit because the substrate (hair or skin) will only absorb so much and the rest of the ingredient will just rinsed down the drain.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

While there are cases where “more is better” when it comes to active skin care ingredients that’s not always the case. Our suggestion of finding a cheaper product by comparing the ingredient lists is only a starting point. You’ll still have to try to the product to see if it provides the benefit you’re seeking.


Beauty Science News – March 2

Here are our top beauty science news stories of the week…


Heel Tastic Intensive Heel Therapy – Look at the label

Heel Tastic Intensive Heel Therapy is a beauty best seller on Amazon. Let’s look at the label. 

Heel Tastic is a wax-based moisturizer sold in a no-mess stick form. The product claims are fairly pedestrian:

Heel Tastic Claims

  • This balm repairs rough, dry skin quickly and easily.
  • It blends a unique combination of imported Indian neem and karanja oils, that have been prized for centuries for their restorative properties.
  • Its fragrant, easy-to-use formula is absorbed deep below the skin’s surface to aid the body’s natural healing process, turning even tough, cracked skin, baby-smooth and soft after only a few applications.
  • Anti-fungal & anti-bacteria oils

Although it dances around a potential drug claim (anti-fungal foot products are controlled under an Over the Counter Drug Monograph) it does appear to live up to basic expectations. The product contains 1% dimethicone which makes it a good skin protectant. In addition it contains coconut oil and a blend of waxes  (soybean, beeswax, carnuaba, and ozokerite) which help coat the skin.

Heal Tastic ingredients

Active ingredient: Dimethicone 1% skin protectant

Inactive Ingredients: Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil , Glycine Sojo (soybean) wax , Beeswax (Apis Mellifera) , Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax , Ozokerite , Proprietary Blend of Essential Oils , Azadirachta Melia (Neem) Seed Oil , Pongamia Glabra Seed Oil , Nigella Sativa (Black Cumin) Seed Oil , Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter) , Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter , Isopropyl Myristate , Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Oil , Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil , Persea Gratissima (Avocado Oil) Fruit Oil , Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Seed Oil , Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) , Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed OiI , Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil , Tolnaftate , Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E) , Retinyl Acetate (Vitamin A) , Phenoxyethanol , Caprylyl Glycol

If you want to buy Heel Tastic please use our link and help support the Beauty Brains. We really appreciate it!


Are you tampering with nature by moisturizing your skin?

MKN says…I am a sixty-five year old male who has been his wife’s hair colorist for most of the 42 years we have been married. I have slightly better taste in women’s fashion than she tho’ we almost always agree on her clothing purchases. She almost always solicits my advise on cosmetic purchases; and again we most always agree.  I drilled down to the plain English translation of a recent journal article about some kind of a tubular protein matrix that expands to absorb water and then—-unsurprisingly—–contracts to squeeze it out. (I assumed some such mechanism existed to maintain hydration homeostasis.) My question is: why would not this matrix squeeze out occlusives that kept the skin overly hydrated? So for how long do even the best occlusives—I use petrolatum on myself—-prevent evaporation of water? Of course, this begs the more fundamental question: why would anyone man or women in her or his right mind want to tamper with mammalian hydration homeostasis by preventing water evaporation? What are the unintended consequences of skin moisturizing? What body systems are being disrupted by retarding “natural” skin dehydration?

The Beauty Brains respond:

Interesting questions, MKN. Randy and I have put our heads together and come up with the following answers:

Q: Why would not this matrix squeeze out occlusives that kept the skin overly hydrated?

A: The protein matrix of which you speak is in the lower levels of the skin. The occlusives sit on the surface. So the matrix can’t “squeeze out” something that’s located layers of skin above.

Q: So for how long do even the best occlusives—I use petrolatum on myself—-prevent evaporation of water?

A: Since the occlusive provides a physical barrier it will continue to prevent evaporation as long as it’s in place. Of course in the real world the barrier is never left in a static state – it’s continually worn away by hand washing, rubbing against clothing, even movement of your body, etc. So over time the barrier will lose its integrity and moisture will begin to seep out of your skin at increased levels.

Q: why would anyone man or women in her or his right mind want to tamper with mammalian hydration homeostasis by preventing water evaporation? What are the unintended consequences of skin moisturizing? What body systems are being disrupted by retarding “natural” skin dehydration?

A: Moisturizing skin with occulsives doesn’t interfere with your skin’s natural need to “breathe” because the skin is never FULLY occluded. All you’re trying to do with a moisturizer is to prevent certain areas of skin from becoming rough and dry which can lead to cracking, bleeding and infection. Moisturizing in this fashion doesn’t cover ALL your body so you’re not preventing skin from performing its thermoregulation function which it does by sweating. Now, if you fully occluded every square centimeter of your body – THEN you’d have a problem.