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How to pick a mild shampoo The Beauty Brains Show episode 47

There are SO many cleansers used in shampoos, how can you tell which ones are the mildest? Tune in this week as Randy and I teach you how to find a gentle shampoo.

Click below to play Episode 47 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show notes

Beauty Science News

Question of the week: How do you choose a mild shampoo?

Alexandra asks…I have been trying to find more delicate shampoo because my hair is baby fine and prone to breakage. I know laureth is better than lauryl but is it the best? What about coconut based detergents in natural products. I’d love to be able to tell how harsh a shampoo is just from the list of ingredients.

What does mildness mean?

“Mild” can mean different things to different people.

  • Does “mild” mean the product shouldn’t irritate skin? Then you will want classic gentle, ingredients.
  • Or does “mild” mean it won’t sting your eyes? In that case you need something that’s not only gentle to skin but that’s proven to be non-stinging to eyes, as in baby shampoos.
  • Or, as Alexandra asked, are you worried about fine hair which can break easily? Then you might need extra conditioning to provide mildness.
  • She also might want a shampoo that lathers as quickly and thoroughly as possible so she doesn’t have to spend a lot of time scrubbing her hair to get it cleaned which can cause more breakage. In that case a shampoo which produces lather very quickly maybe important to her.

As you can see depending on what you’re looking for in a “mild” shampoo may determine what type of product we would recommend.

So why don’t cosmetic chemists just make one type of formula that suits all these goals. Why not make it high foaming AND fast foaming, AND mild to skin AND to eyes AND very conditioning – why not just put all that together into one product? The answer is – it’s a little more complicated than you might think.

Why chemists pick one surfactant over another

As in the case with most cosmetics, it’s a question of trade offs. Yes some ingredients are milder than others – but there are always multiple goals you’re trying to achieve when you make any formulation. If your goal is to produce the mildest formula period, then yes of course you should use the gentlest ingredients. But what if your goal is to also make the shampoo foam really well? The mildest ingredients don’t always foam well – so that’s a problem. And you’ll also have cost constraints which limit which ingredients you can use. If your goal is to produce the cheapest formula, then no. So as chemists it’s our job to do the best we can in balancing all these parameters to deliver a product that meets the goals. Here are a few of things we measure when we formulate a mild shampoo:

  • Irritantcy
  • Foam height
  • Foam texture
  • Flash foam (speed of foaming)
  • Detergency – how well it cleans. A shampoo may be very gentle but if you have to wash your hair three times to remove styling residue the net result will be more damage to your hair.
  • Processing considerations – we tend to think of the consumer is driving all the important product attributes however this is not necessarily the case. I think you would be surprised to find out how much the manufacturing side of a company how much input they have on what goes into a formula.
  • Compatibility with other ingredients – strong anionics like sulfates don’t play well with conditioning agents. Sal acid needs low pH which some surfactants don’t like.
  • Color
  • Odor
  • Purity – trace amounts of things can that mess up the formula like too much salt.
    Natural considerations (sourcing/biodegradability etc)

So the point of all this is just to recognize that there is a lot more involved in picking a good surfactant beyond its mildness.

Lower cost cleansers that are more likely to irritate

These are the most commonly used surfactants because they clean well and they’re cheap. However, they are also more likely to irritate skin and strip hair.

  • Sulfates (regular): Sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate, TEA lauryl sulfate
    Excellent foamers and degreasers. However sulfates do tend to bind to skin protein which means they don’t rinse very well. This can lead to irritation for some people.
  • Ether Sulfates (ethoxylated): Sodium laureth sulfate, Ammonium laureth sulfate, Sodium trideceth sulfate
    Milder than regular sulfates but don’t foam as well.
  • Alpha Olefin Sulfonates: Sodium C12-14 Olefin Sulfonate, Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate
    One of the most commonly used surfactants in the world (not just in shampoos) because they’re low priced, high foaming, all purpose surfactants. In terms of mildness they about the same as the ether sulfates.

Mildness boosters (can be added to lower cost cleansers to reduce irritation)

This is the list of ingredients that can make an SLS or SLES based shampoo much more tolerable because these can mitigate irritation. They can “plus up” a cheap surfactant to give you a milder product

  • Amine oxides: Cocamidopropylamine oxide
    These have excellent oily soil removal properties. Are used as foam boosters. They not only improve the amount of foam but also the quality of its structure. They have the bonus feature of providing some conditioning to hair that persists after rinsing.
  • Betaines: Cocamidopropyl betaine
    Betaines are effective cleansers, they are also foam boosters and thickeners. They can also reduce irritation of other surfactants. Good value for the money.
  • Glutamates: Sodium lauroyl glutamate, sodium cocoyl glutamate
    Made glutamic acid. Very mild but don’t lather very well.
  • Glycinates: Sodium cocoyl glycinate,  potassium cocoyl glycinate.
    Glycinates are made from the amino acid glycine. These are mild because they have good skin compatibility. (Not irritate like SLS). They even show some hair conditioning properties. However they’re not stable in hard water so unless you have soft water you probably want to stay away from formulas containing glycinates.
  • Sarcosinates: Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate
    Sarcosinates are made from yet another amino acid called sarcosine which is also known an n-methyl glycine.  Similar mildness and foaming profile. However, some people have gotten contact dermatitis from hand soaps using this stuff.
  • Sulfoacetates: Sodium lauryl sulfoacetate
    Although it seems to be a “safer” alternative to sodium lauryl sulfate, it still does pose the risk of skin irritation. Additionally, it’s not an environmentally-friendly option, as it takes a long time to bio-degrade and does pollute aquatic ecosystems.
  • Sulfosuccinates: Disodium laureth sulfosuccinate,  CocamidMEA Sulfosuccinate
    This mildness booster gives high foam but it doesn’t do much to build viscosity. It is mild but has some restrictions around pH so this is another one that you can’t use in sal acid systems.
  • Sultaines: Cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine, lauramidopropyl hydroxysultaine
    Give great foam at low pH and can improve the mildness of harsher detergent systems. Also good for dispersing lime soap so if you have some bath rub ring, it will help with that whereas some surfactants will just make the problem worse.
  • Taurates: Sodium methyl cocoyl taurate
    Another amino acid based surfactant, this one based n-methyltaurine.

Higher cost/proven to be most mild

These are the premium cleansers that are the most mild and which are typically used in the most expensive products.

  • Amphoacetates (Amphoterics):Sodium Cocoamphoacetate
    At normal use levels amphoacetates are non-stinging to the eyes which is why they’re used in baby shampoos. While you may see this listed as the first surfactant, it’s typically not the only one. It still needs to be coupled with other surfactants to provide optimal performance. (for example, it doesn’t thicken easily.) Having said that, it does have good lather, it’s gentle, and it provides some conditioning to hair. It also biodegrades easily which is a bonus.
  • Glucosides: Decyl Glucoside
    These are formally known as Alky Polyglucosides. While these are certainly synthetic materials they are often considered natural because the alkyl part can be made from coconut oil the glucoside part is typically corn derived. It’s non-ionic (one of the reasons it’s mild) – the more glucose units it contains, the milder it is. It also has pretty decent foam. It’s typically used with a betaine to thicken and boost lather. Benefit is that it’s completely free from any kind of ethoxylation which can lead to dioxane contamination.
  • Isethionates: Sodium cocoyl isethionate, Sodium lauroyl methyl isethionate
    Our favorite mild surfactant – the isethionates. Multiple studies have shown them to be extremely mild to skin and it produces a really creamy lather. The “isethionate” part comes from isethionic acid which is a type of sulfonic acid – so this is related to the sulfonates we talked about earlier. It can be irritating to eyes at higher concentrations so you won’t see this used much in baby shampoos but other than that we consider it to be the gold standard for mild surfactants.

Four tips to pick a mild shampoo

  • Avoid anything with “sulfate” and “sulfonate”
  • Look for Isethionate or Glucoside as the first ingredient after water
  • Look for Mildness boosters such as sulfosuccinates, sultaines, amphodiacetates
    Look for conditioning ingredients like silicones, polyquaterniums, and “guar”

Finally keep in mind that fragrance can be irritating and that no matter how hard you look for a mild product that can be an issue that you can’t screen for by looking at the ingredients.

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.


How does Colorgirl Outlast Lipcolor work?

Bandana begs to know…I love Covergirl Outlast All Day lip color for the summer–I can boat, pool, eat, and have lovely fresh looking lips! When I put on the lipstick, I can’t help but think of nail polish because you have to let it dry. (It’s safe, right?) How in the heck does it work? AND how does the top coat make it shiny and petroleum jelly remove it?

The Beauty Brains response:

Most long lasting lip colors stay in place because the colorants stain the skin. That approach is fine but it means that those products can only offer a limited number of shades because not every lip color acts as a stain. Outlast is different than other long-lasting lip colors because it’s a two part system consisting of a colorcoat and a topcoat. Let’s take a look at each.

How Outlast lasts longer

As you can see from the ingredient lists below, the color coat contains colorants in a silicone and hydrocarbon base. The topcoat is made of sucrose polycottonseedate in a waxbase. The “magic” ingredient is the sucrose material which is a cotton seed oil ester. It’s an anti-transfer agent that helps keep the color from leaving your lips. Petroleum jelly is needed to remove the waxy topcoat so you can take off the color when you’re ready.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Outlast does contain technology that’s different than other lip colors. It’s more of a hassle because you have an extra application step and it’s harder to remove the color, but if all day color is what you’re looking for you should give it a try.

Colorgirl Outlast ingredients

All-Day Colorcoat: Isododecane, Triethylsiloxysilicate, Dimethicone, Mica, Disteardimonium Hectorite, Propylene Carbonate, Propylparaben, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Tocopherol Acetate, Flavor, (+/- CI 15850, CI 15985, CI 19140, CI 42090, CI 73360, CI 75470, CI 77491, CI 77492, CI 77499, CI 77891)

Moisturizing Topcoat: Sucrose Polycottonseedate, Ozokerite, Cera Alba, Tocopheryl Acetate, Tocopherol, Propylparaben, Propyl Gallate, Acetyl Glucosamine, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut Oil), Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, Butyrospermium Parkii (Shea Butter), Sodium Saccharin, Aroma.

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How do paraffin manicures work?

Renee asks…How do paraffin manicures work?

The Beauty Brains respond:

A paraffin manicure is a treatment that involves plunging your hands (or feet) into hot, molten wax. The wax is then covered with plastic and allowed to “soak into” your skin. When the hardened wax shell is removed, you skin is left feeling smooth and moisturized. The process supposedly improves the quality of your manicure and some people even allege that it opens pores to release toxins and even soothes arthritis.

Waxing eloquent

Believe it or not, the magic ingredient in a paraffin manicure is not really paraffin at all, it’s actually….mineral oil! Yep, that’s right the same petroleum byproduct that’s vilified by so many people because they believe it is unsafe. You see paraffin wax and mineral oil are both extracted from crude oil and then purified to remove any impurities, particularly cyclic compounds, that can be hazardous. So, both mineral oil and paraffin wax consist of almost pure alkanes which are straight chain hydrocarbons that are nearly inert and about as safe as they can be. The name paraffin comes from the Latin “parum (barely) and affinis (affinity) meaning it lacks affinity or lacks reactivity.

Many commercial paraffin manicure products are are actually mixed with mineral oil. For example, here’s the ingredient list for a Thermal Spa product: paraffin, mineral oil, Aloe barbadensis leaf extract, lanolin, soybean oil, fragrance, citronellol, coumarin, eugenol, limonene and linalool. Even “pure” paraffin wax contains about 0.5% oil.

Mineral oil (a.k.a. baby oil) is an extremely effective moisturizer. The wax shell helps hold the oil place to make sure that it is absorbed into your skin. When I say “absorbed” I’m talking about only into the stratum corneum which is the upper layer of skin which is dead. Mineral oil does not penetrate into the deeper layers or into the bloodstream. The mineral oil is very hydrophobic (repels water) so it helps keep moisture locked deep in your skin. While the wax-oil mixture does soften skin it won’t really provide any benefit for your nail polish. That’s because paraffin is much softer than the resins used to polish your nails.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

A paraffin manicure is certainly a pampering indulgence but don’t expect to do much for your nails or cure your arthritis. And if you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to melt a pot of wax, try rubbing a little baby oil on your hands and feet to get a similar softening effect.







Cathy inquires…I occasionally suffer from itchy scalp but this morning I was out of my usual Fructis dandruff shampoo so I used my roommates Head and Shoulders. The one in the dark blue bottle. I swear that my hair has smelled like rotten eggs all day. Why is that and why did this product cause it when others don’t? I thought all dandruff shampoos were essentially the same except for color and fragrance.

The Beauty Brains respond:

The majority of dandruff shampoos use zinc pyrithione (ZPT) as the active ingredient. For most people that’s sufficient to alleviate their symptoms. But the Over the Counter Drug monograph that controls the active agents that can be used in these shampoos includes other options for those people who don’t respond well to ZPT.

One of those options is selenium sulfide which works by reducing corneocyte production and an antifungal mechanism that is yet unknown. As many sulfur containing compounds do , selenium sulfide can have a residual sulfur odor that is very reminiscent of rotten eggs. The Clinical Strength variety of Head and Shoulders (the one in the dark blue bottle) uses this eggy ingredient. If your typical Fructis shampoo works for you stick with it and let your room mate be the egg head.


Tune in this week to learn how alcohol can improve your sense of smell. Plus another thought provoking round of of Beauty Science or Bullsh*t!

Click below to play Episode 46 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show notes

Beauty Science or Bull Sh*t – with a natural twist

Which of these natural sources has NOT been the inspiration for a next generation cosmetic ingredient. (Two are real, one is made up.)

1. Wasp venom as…a Botox-like wrinkle reducer.
2. Donkey Milk as a vitamin rich moisturizer.
3. Butterfly wings as an iridescent makeup pigment.

Beauty Science News

Are fragrance allergies all in your head?
The first story is about research done at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. They figured out that people may be imagining that they’re allergic to fragrance. At least in terms of a reaction to fragrance that involves asthma. They’ve found that if we expect an odor to be harmful our body will react to it as if it is actually harmful. The study was published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research.

They gave the subjects a rose scented chemical to smell. Half the group was told the scent may have therapeutic properties and the other half was told that it may be irritant. Then they assessed their air ways for inflammation. The people who were told it had therapeutic properties thought it smelled nice. The people who were told that it was an irritant experienced more airway inflammation (some of which persisted for a 24 hours.) The scary part is that we’ve talked before about chemophobia but here’s a case where just telling someone that a chemical is dangerous actually makes it dangerous.

BPA replacement in plastic bottles maybe just as bad as BPA
The plasticizer used in bottles could be a hormone disruptor. But it’s replacement could be just as bad! BPS has same sort of issues as BPA. The moral of the story is in the push to get rid of compounds that people think are dangerous could lead to things that are even worse. An example of this is the movement toward preservative free products which has led to an increase in product recalls.

Illegal butt injections on rise in US
The BBC which reports that unscrupulous “pretend” doctors are injecting fake buttocks plumping ingredients into women. Butt plumping and butt lifts are legit procedures – done by something like 10,000 women per year. It’s expensive so an underground business has sprung up run by fake doctors who inject dangerous substances into women’s behinds:

  • Olive oil
  • Cement
  • Superglue
  • Tire sealant

Sadly the reaction to this stuff is pretty gruesome. It can change skin color and cause scarring. One woman even died after getting illegal silicone injections – from another woman she met ONLINE.  This is apparently rampant in Miami Florida where one plastic surgeon says he gets 100 calls per week from women looking for help. Why is this such becoming such a problem? Blame the hip hop culture and the pressure on women to have bigger behind.

The Surgeon General warns against indoor tanning
For the first time the Surgeon General has spoken out about the dangers of sun and indoor tanning.

Alcohol improves your sense of smell
According to the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, our sense of smell may be improved by a couple of cocktails. It turns out that our sense of smell is inhibited by certain brain functions. So if you could lower the inhibiting signals in the brain you should be able to boost how well you can smell.

The researchers had 20 volunteers smell a set of three liquid samples and two of which were identical one was a little bit different. Then they split the panelists into two groups and gave them a drink:  Half got plain grape juice and the other half got grape juice mixed with a shot of vodka. After having their drink, the smell test was repeated.

The results showed a correlation between the persons blood alcohol level and how well they could discriminate scents. They found having one or two drinks in an hour increased  their ability to discriminate odors but having any more than that decreased ability.

Natural skin moisturizers can cause food allergies
Did you know that you can develop a food allergy just from using a skin lotion with natural ingredients?  An article from the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology reports on a woman who developed an allergy to goat cheese after using a goat milk containing skin lotion.

Victoria’s Secret model burns off split ends
A Brazilian model by the name of Barbara Fialho, announced to the world that she goes to a salon where BURN OFF HER SPLIT ENDS.  Here’s how it works: The stylist braids her hair to make the split ends popout and then wave a candle underneath them to singe off the splits. Here’s why this is a bad idea: no matter how good you are or how careful you are by its very nature you can’t exactly control where the flame will touch. Fire degrades hair and/or cross-links the proteins making them more brittle which means whatever the flame touches you will be more likely to have a new split end.

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.


Labor Day and cosmetic chemists

In honor of Labor Day we’re re-running one of our holiday posts for our American (and Canadian) readers.

As you may recall, Labor Day originated in 1882 as “a day off for the working citizens.” But have you ever stopped to think how many “working scientists” are involved in making the brand name cosmetics you use every day? From Almay and American Crew, to the Body Shop and Burts Bees, to Clinique and Clearasil, to Dove and Dr. Scholls, there are thousands of chemists, biologists, and engineers who work behind the scenes to make the makeup and other products you use daily. Here are some examples:

Cosmetic Scientists…

  • Formulators who mix and match chemicals to develop new products.
  • Chemists who create the raw materials.
  • Technical representatives for the companies who sell chemicals.
  • Compounders who actually batch the chemicals and finished products.
  • Safety and regulatory scientists who ensure products are legally compliant. (No one want to go to jail over a bad bottle of Shu Uemura!)
  • Fragrance chemists and perfumers who make all those great celebrity fragrances. Where would be we without Shania Twain’s Starlight scent?
  • The claims testing professionals who make sure that Pantene is really good for your hair.

…making cosmetic products

These are just some of the scientists laboring behind the scenes to make the shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, mousse, body wash, acne scrub, gel, foot spray, diaper rash cream, nail polish, eye makeup remover, toothpaste, deodorant, hair color, sunscreen, bar soap, hand lotion, bubble bath, breath spray, shaving cream, mascara, blush, facial wash, sunless tanner, lipgloss, foundation, eye shadow, moisturizer, and baby powder that you all know and love. We hope you appreciate us as much as the Beauty Brains appreciate you!


Can It Factor Quick Blowdry Shampoo make my hair dry faster?

Tina is troubled…Does It Factor quick blowdry shampoo really make hair dry faster?

The Beauty Brains respond:

“It Factor” is a salon brand owned by Niche Beauty, LLC. The line includes 3 “Quick BlowDry” products: It Factor Quick Blowdry shampoo, Quick Blowdry conditioner and Simply It Blowdry lotion. The claim for all three products is that the “Vaporboost® System reduces drying time.”

Feasibility of reducing drying time

This is one of those “holy grail” claims in hair care and we know from personal experience that some of the biggest beauty companies in the world have worked on this with no success. The notion that a small salon company could succeed where dedicated R&D departments have failed is implausible to say the least. But, to be fair, we reached to the company to give them a chance to explain how their product works. We received no response.

There’s not much information on the company website either, but we did find this explanation of how the products work: the Vaporboost system “reduces the attraction between the hair shaft and water to speed up the natural evaporation of water from the hair.” This sounds suspiciously like an “azeotrope” which is a solvent that mixes with water, speeding its evaporation. It’s tough to conceive of a shampoo being able to deliver this but the Simply It lotion might be able to. However, this would only likely affect the surface water on the hair and not the moisture that has been absorbed INTO the hair which is what takes so long to evaporate when you’re drying your hair.

Finally, they don’t list their ingredients online and we couldn’t find them on any other site anywhere. So it’s pretty much impossible to give a solid technical assessment. According to a review on the Polish Insomniac, we did find that dimethicone is a main ingredient in the lotion. If mixed with cyclopentasiloxane, that could help some water “sheet” off the hair faster. But any product with this combination of silicones should do this just as well. There’s no need to spend more money on an expensive salon product.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

As Arthur C. Clarke once said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Based on our hair care experience, it’s highly unlikely that these products work better than anything else. However, we’d be glad to revisit this subject if the company ever responds to our inquiry. If anyone out there has tried this product, leave a comment and share your experience with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.


Can you tell a cosmetic ingredient from a famous world city?

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What is dermal rolling? Does it really get rid of acne scars? And most importantly, is it safe and effective to do it to yourself at home? 

Click below to play Episode 45 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show notes

The Cosmetic Categories Game

Tune in as I try to stump Randy in a new game that features beauty products, beauty brands and beauty ingredients.

Question of the week: Will dermal rollers get rid of acne scars?

Chris asks…Does dermal rolling really work to remove acne scars and can you do it at home?

How does dermal rolling/micro needling work?

A dermal roller is one of the devices used in micro-needling which is the process of pricking tiny holes in the skin to stimulate collagen production. The technical name for this is “Percutaneous Collagen Induction Therapy” which is abbreviated as PCI or CIT). It’s been used by dermatologists for the last decade or so as a way to reduce wrinkles and scar tissue without significant side effects.

Basically, the process involves numbing your face and then poking it with fine needles a few millimeters long. These micro perforations trigger increased collagen synthesis. For some conditions it’s supposedly even better than lasers or dermabrasion because those procedures can cause a loss of skin elasticity.

Here’s how it works: Micro needling takes advantage of the skin’s normal response to any kind of inflammatory wound. If you cut your skin, for example, the platelets and neutrophils in your blood release growth factors which increase the production of components of the intercellular matrix of your skin.  With micro needling, you prick the skin with a specially designed device that creates hundreds of micro wounds down in the dermis. These micro wounds cause this superficial inflammatory response which increases fibronectin production which sets up kind of a scaffolding where collagen is deposited. And over time this collagen goes through a conversion process where it naturally tightens up which reduces wrinkles and helps resurface scars. And because these needle holes are so small, there’s little risk of side effects from things like exposure to air or infection. Better still, there’s no post inflammatory hyper pigmentation like there is with some kind of wound healing.

What are the proven benefits of micro needling?

Chris asked specifically about acne scars and there have been studies which document that it really works. Here’s one example:

One 60 patient study published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment in April 2014 showed an average 31% reduction in acne scars as measured by silicone replicas of the skin. They concluded “PCI offers a simple and safe modality to improve the appearance of acne scars without risk of dyspigmentation in patients of all skin types.” http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3109/09546634.2012.742949


As we already mentioned the procedure boosts collagen so it can reduce wrinkles. And there are even studies which indicate it can help anti-aging ingredients penetrate better. Here’s another study, this one from a 2011 edition of the Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery. It’s called “Percutaneous collagen induction–regeneration in place of cicatrisation?” (sick-uh-try-zation.) This particular study involved four groups of rats:

  • Group 1 the control group received no treatment
  • Group 2 received topical vitamin treatment Vitamin A retinyl palmitate 1% and Vitamin C ascorbyl tetra-isopalmitate 10%
  • Group 3 received needling only.
  • Group 4 received needling plus vitamin treatment

After treatment they looked for changes in epidermal thickness, expression of the genes that control collagen production, increase in collagen, fibronectin, glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) and some related growth factors. The results were interesting – across all these parameters they saw a trend that the vitamin treatment alone showed a small improvement, needling showed a bigger improvement, but the combination showed an even BIGGER improvement.

Stretch marks
And finally here’s a study from a 2010 issue of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery showing PCI even helps reduce stretch marks.

22 women with Striae Distensae were micro needled for a single 30 minute session. They were then assessed after 6 months and the needled area showed “improved skin texture, skin tightening, dermal neovascularization, and no change of pigmentation.” They even took biopsies which showed an increase of collagen I and elastin.

Can you needle yourself? The importance of needle size

Can you micro needle yourself? Actually, it’s not as simple as that. Depending on what benefit you’re trying to achieve, self-micro needling may not be such a good idea. Part of this concern is that not all dermal rollers are the same. The first thing to understand is the importance of needle size.

Short needles (0.1 to 0.3mm)
These are used for cosmetic needling only. They can improve penetration of active ingredients but will NOT stimulate collagen production or affect scars. They require no special skin preparation other than proper cleansing and, as I said, the use of anti-aging creams or lotions.

You can use these at home but they won’t boost collagen or treat scars and if you’re not using this type of roller with a truly functional anti-aging ingredient, you won’t see any improvement at all.

Medium length needles (1.0- 2.0 mm)
These are used for “medical needling.” These needles WILL activate collagen synthesis as long as they puncture enough capillaries. This is what is called a “petechial hemorrhage” and it’s required to trigger the anti-inflammatory response that we talked about earlier. 1.5mm needles will even work on some shallow acne scars. When this kind of needle is used properly you’ll have tiny red-purple blood dots all over your face. And, since you’re wounding the skin to a great extent, these needles require a topical anesthetic. These needles are sold for use at home but if done properly they are painful to use and remember – you need to bleed.

Long needles (3.0mm)
These are used for “surgical needling” and they penetrate deep enough to work on deep scar tissue. They MUST be used by a physician or trained medical personnel and may even require general anesthesia. They produce a LOT of blood. Obviously you can’t do this yourself.

Device quality and the importance of proper application

There are differences between the “at home” versions and the professional versions. The “professional” needles, like the Environ® Medical Roll-CIT, are made from surgical grade stainless steel and they are gamma sterilized so you know they are safe and clean. Products like this have some kind of disclaimer like “This product is highly specialised, for use by medical doctors and trained medical staff only. Professional training at one of Environ’s institutes is therefore required before this product may be used in treatments.”

Now should you decide that you want to try this for yourself, there are 3 dangers of DIY dermal rolling that you should be aware of:

1. Beware of misinformation
Needle size is critical. It looks like some companies who make these rollers are very clear about the difference between the professional models for medical use and the home models for cosmetic use. But other companies blur the difference and imply that the home model will provide all the benefits of the medical treatment model. Here are two examples of dermal rollers you can buy for use at home:

The Scientia Dermal Roller
Dermal Roller Systems (http://www.dermarollersystem.com) This is one the featured on Rachael Ray.

Their websites provide usage instructions but neither say anything about the petechial hemorrhages and the Dermal Roller System doesn’t even tell you to use a topical anesthetic gel!

2. Practice good hygiene
Another important point to consider is hygiene – whether you’re doing it at home or even more so if you’re having it done in a salon. I saw an article “Salon workers often skip the sterilizing process in between sessions and continue using rollers which can become bloodied after one session. This can expose clients to risks such as HIV and hepatitis.” http://www.truthinaging.com/review/beware-of-micro-needling. So this is nothing to screw around with.

3. Watch out for skin damage
Finally, there are those who say that rolling needles can tear the skin and that you should use stamps and pens which are provide “Vertical PCI.” These are supposedly superior because they can apply controlled pressure rather than requiring you to judge how hard to push the roller. They also poke holes perpendicular to the skin to they don’t tear as much. Also, needle cartridges are disposable and so are safer and more sanitary.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Does micro needling really work? The preponderance of data indicates that when the correct needles are used properly it IS effective for reducing scars, wrinkles and stretch marks and it can help with anti-aging treatments. According to the scientific literature, the procedure has to induce some bleeding to be effective.

On the other hand, you have companies selling the do-it-yourself versions which claim they only cause a little transitory reddening of skin. That sounds suspiciously like “cosmetic needling” which is not intense enough to trigger collagen production and heal scars.

So if you want to give your skin care regimen a boost these at home devices seem like they can help ingredients penetrate but if you have serious scars that you want to remove, you’ll more likely to have the treatment done professionally.

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

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

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

Percutaneous collagen induction–regeneration in place of cicatrisation?, Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery
Volume 64, Issue 1 , Pages 97-107, January 2011 http://www.jprasurg.com/article/S1748-6815(10)00179-8/fulltext

Percutaneous Collagen Induction Therapy as a Novel Therapeutic Option for Striae Distensae Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery: October 2010 – Volume 126 – Issue 4 – pp 219e-220ehttp://journals.lww.com/plasreconsurg/Fulltext/2010/10000/Percutaneous_Collagen_Induction_Therapy_as_a_Novel.79.aspx


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Why does your skin get so oily?

Violence in the Middle East. Child immigrants crossing into the US from Mexico. Ben Affleck as Batman.

If I asked you to name the day’s most controversial issue you might have guessed one of the above. However, you would have been wrong.  Apparently nothing is as contentious as what controls oil production on your skin.

In a previous post on oily skin I reported on a 1974 study which indicated that the presence of oil on the skin’s surface sends a signal to the sebaceous glands to turn off. One astute reader, Kiera, was quick to point out that the study I cited is “old” and that the most comprehensive view of the literature confirms that skin does NOT have an external mechanism for regulating the level of sebum on the skin. More comments followed:

Lejla: “That study is old and has been falsified.”

Lyn: “Are the authors going to respond? Is the content of this post accurate or not?”

Ahj: “I also am very interested why Beauty Brains quote such a controversial study without further comments.”

Whew! Who knew this was such a touchy topic?

Why sebum production is so confusing

The controversy stems (at least in part) from the opinion of renowned dermatologist Albert Kligman who refuted this so called “Feedback Theory” in 1958. Kligman (and coauthor Shelly) said that “the sebaceous gland functions continuously, without regard to what is on the surface.” Yet, the theory once more gained credence in 1974 based on a paper titled “The regulation of sebum excretion in man.” (No word on how sebum is excreted in women.)

But *gulp* in 1976 the Feedback Theory was refuted again and there it stayed until new data became available in 1979.  In the 1979 study, researchers found, after controlling as many variables as possible, that the excretion process does indeed slow down over time. If you read the paper you can see for yourself that the authors refuted arguments against the Feedback Theory which include:

  • A wiping off effect
  • A “run off” of sebum
  • A resorption of sebum and changes in the physical property of sebum

They conclude by saying that “the Feedback Theory should not be too lightly dismissed.”

In 1981 the Feedback Theory deniers made a good case by reinforcing Kligman’s objections (“Sebum secretion and sebaceous lipids.” Dermatologic Clinics, Vol. 1, No. 3, July 1983.) I couldn’t find any more recent studies so I assume that the controversy rages on. (Of course I may have missed something so I welcome our readers to poke around in the literature for more recent studies which may trump this one.)

So is there an answer or not?

Could the answer to this controversy be a question of language? When Kligman raised his initial objections he used the term “secretion” which can mean either production or excretion. The authors of the 1979 study were careful to point out that they only studied the excretion of sebum (in other words the “arrival of sebum at the surface of skin.”) This is not necessarily exactly the same as sebum production which is the creation of sebum by sebaceous glands. So, could both parties be right? Maybe the sebaceous glands are unregulated (as Kligman says) but the mechanism by which the sebum reaches the skin’s surface IS regulated by some kind of feed back loop.  Without further data, that’s my best guess and I hope it satisfies the hordes of passionate readers.

Is the Excretion of Sebum Regulated ? H. Eberhardt and G. Trieb Arch. Dermatol. Res 266, 127-133 (1979)