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Is my conditioner covering my hair in plastic?

Havoctheory says…I heard that conditioners contain ingredients such as polymers with reflective qualities to coat hair strands. They reflect light and therefore makes your hair shiny. Is this true? What kind of chemicals would also produce this effect?


The Beauty Brains respond

This question comes from our Forum where Pufff added this comment: “Hey! I actually was just thinking about this the other day! I was reading the ingredients on some of the old gel I have and saw it used a polymer which surprised me cause isn’t that plastic??? The gel did make my hair look shiny soooo who knows.”

Polymer does not equal “plastic”

It’s true that polymers are used to make plastic. But that doesn’t mean that every polymer IS plastic. A polymer is simply any chemical compound made up by a number of small repeating units which are called monomers. Depending on the type of monomer (or monomers) chosen, polymers with different properties can be created. For example, when propylene monomers are strung together in a long chain the result is polypropylene, a common plastic used to make a variety of packaging materials. On the other hand when acrylamide and diallyldimethylammonium chloride monomers are combined the result is Polyquaternium-7, a common hair-conditioning agent. These materials are both polymers but they have very different physiochemical properties.

How do conditioners make hair shiny?

You have the right idea when you say that polymer ingredients reflect light to make hair shiny. Actually what happens is the ingredients smooth the cuticle of the hair. (Remember the cuticle is made of tiny shingle-like structures like the ones you find on your roof.) When these “shingles” become loose and start to stick up they cause light to reflect unevenly from your hair. This uneven reflection makes your hair look dull. Smoothing the cuticles allows light to reflect evenly which makes it look shiny.

Which ingredients increase shine?

The shine increasing ingredients are the ones that do the best job of smoothing the cuticle. Here are few types of ingredients to look for:

These are are excellent conditioners even though they receive a lot of bad press. Dimethicone is one of the best for smoothing the cuticle. Look for ingredients that end in “-cone” or check this list of Silicone Ingredients Used In Hair Care Products for more details.

Fatty conditioners
These “quats,” like stearalkonium chloride, are good at lubricating hair as well. Look for ingredients that end in “-ium chloride.”

Mineral oil, meadow foam seed oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, are good shine enhancers. These work best from leave in products because the oils are not chemically modified to stay on your hair after rinsing.

Image credit: http://pixabay.com/en/dummy-woman-girl-hat-face-vision-431616/

Do you have any favorite hair shine products? Leave a comment and share yours with the rest of the Beauty Brains community. 


My favorite 8 moments from Perry’s Dr. Oz appearance

I’m very proud of Perry for his recent appearance on Dr Oz. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights…

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1. Dr. Oz declared that Perry is a “world renowned cosmetic chemist.” You can tell because he has a periodic table hanging on the wall in his laboratory.


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They featured pictures of THREE of our books. (But I’m still waiting for you people to BUY THEM.)

Click here to buy our latest book

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3. Perry did a great job of getting the Beauty Brains brand on national TV! But take a closer look at his lab coat…


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4. …It says “Complete Cosmetic Chemist Training Program.” WTF? That must be part of that other damn website that he runs behind my back!


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5. Dr. Oz also said that Perry has a “no holds barred reputation” for busting beauty myths. You can tell because of the low, dramatic camera angle.


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6. Here’s Dr Oz explaining Perry’s “brick wall vs chain link fence” analogy of sunscreen.


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7. Perry exposes the secrets of Big Argan Oil. Since the show aired they’ve placed a bounty on his head.


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8. Where did Dr. Oz find all these products named after microbeads?

Great job, Perry!


Do you want to learn some of the ways the beauty industry fools you?

Click to see Perry’s latest appearance on Dr. Oz.

(In my humble opinion, it’s his best show to date!)


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Is rose hip oil good for anti-aging? Episode 67

Is rose hip oil good for skin lightening, scar treatment, and other anti-aging benefits? Tune in to this week’s show to find out. 

Show notes

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Question of the week: Is Rose hip oil good for anti-aging?

Lisa says…I keep reading on various websites about the “miraculous” Trilogy rosehip oil. I’ve always thought that glycolic/lactic acids were the only treatments that can make a major difference, not a simple oil. And, is it right to pay 30$ for such a tiny bottle?

What is rose hip oil and where does it come from?

There are two fundamentally different types of oil that one can squeeze out of a rose. The first is rose petal oil which is probably what most people think of when they think of rose oil. That’s the essential oil which is used in perfumery. As you’d expect, rose flower oil comes from the petals of the flower.

The other type of oil is rosehip oil which comes from the hip of the plant. What is the hip you ask? The hip (which is also called the hem or haw ) is the radish-shaped, berry-like portion that’s left behind after the flower blooms. It’s also where the seeds of the plant reside. That’s why this oil is sometimes called Rose seed oil.

To make things even more confusing, you can extract rose hip oil from many different types of roses. Rosa damascena, the damask rose, which is widely grown in Bulgaria, Turkey, Russia, Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Iran and China. Rosa centifolia, the cabbage rose, which is more commonly grown in Morocco, France and Egypt. In fact, the American Rose Society currently recognizes 37 classes of roses. This is important because different roses yield oils with different concentrations of “active” ingredients.

True rosehip seed oil is produced from the seeds of Rosa aff. rubiginosa which is also called Rosa eglanteria; occasionally Rosa moschata Herm OR Rosa Mosqueta. So as I said, it’s a little confusing.

It’s important to understand if you’re buying a product with rose petal oil or rose hip oil because chemically these two oils are VERY different.

Rose flower oil consists of a variety of aroma chemicals including citronellol, geraniol, phenyl ethyl alcohol and a bunch of others. It smells great but you wouldn’t want to use this on your skin because these aroma chemicals can be very irritating. In fact, one of the constituents is linalool which you may have seen listed on other products as a fragrance allergen.

Rose hip oil, on the other hand, is composed of long chain fatty molecules that are both saturated and unsaturated. (PR – Briefly explain what that means.)

Poly-unsaturated fatty acids:

  • Oleic acid: 10-20%
  • Cis-linoleic acid: 41-50%
  • α-linolenic acid: 26-37%
  • Saturated fatty acids:
  • Palmitic acid: 3-5%
  • Stearic acid: 1-3%

It also contains other substances such as transretinoic acid, tannins, flavonoids, vitamin C and β- carotene .

The key take away here is that rosehip oil contains a large concentration of linoleic acid which is really good for skin and a lesser concentration of some other known anti-aging actives.

The case for rose hip oil – what is it supposed to do?

Here are the claims for rose hip oil according to the Trilogy website:

  • “Helps improve the appearance of scars, stretchmarks, fine lines and wrinkles”
  • “deliver all-over nourishment and repair for optimum skin health.”

Finally, depending on the source, you may hear that Rose hip oil is good for brightening the complexion and getting rid of dark age spots.

So what’s the deal? is rose hip oil is is really good for skin or not? Let’s get back to those Kligman questions.

Kligman question #1: Is there a mechanism?

The first question addresses whether or not there is any scientific rationale for how Rosehip oil could provide the benefits we just talked about.

It turns out there are some plausible reasons to believe that Rosehip oil could (in theory at least) be a good anti-aging agent.

First, as we discussed, one of the main components is linoleic acid which is recognized as an important component of cell membranes. It is known to be involved in prostaglandin synthesis, membrane generation, and other cell regeneration processes. This could explain how Rosehip oil may help diminish stretchmarks and scars.

Second it contains a form of retinoic acid which has been proven to be effective against fine lines and wrinkles.

And third it contains vitamin C which has several benefits including the ability to brighten complexion and diminish dark spots.

So, checkmark on the first question. There is at least a theoretical explanation for the magic of Rosehip oil.

Kligman question #2: Does it penetrate?

The second question deals with whether or not the components in Rosehip oil can penetrate skin to the point where it could possibly work.

Once again, the answer is yes. The active components that we just talked about, the linoleic acid, the retinoic acid, and vitamin C, all have been shown to penetrate skin in order to be functional.

Now, before you start hopping up-and-down with excitement because Rosehip oil seems so good, let me throw out one note of caution.

You also have to consider how much of these active components are present in Rosehip oil to understand if enough will penetrate skin to provide any benefit. In the case of linoleic acid it makes up somewhere between third and half of the oil so if you’re using straight Rosehip oil I would expect there’s plenty of linoleic acid present.

However for retinoic acid and vitamin C there’s really not much there to begin with. According to one study vitamin C is only present at about 0.2%. This is quite low since the optimal concentration is considered to be between 0.3 and 10%.

Kligman question #3: Is there proof it really works on people?

This is by far the most important question because while ingredient may hypothetically work without some evidence to prove that it’s effective under real life use conditions you could be totally wasting your time and money. So let’s look at the evidence for each of the benefits that rosehip oil supposedly provides.

Scar treatment
We found a couple of studies that evaluated the effect Rosehip oil has on scars. The first one is done by Trilogy, a company selling trilogy Rosehip oil.

It’s a small study with only 10 subjects. The subjects were instructed to apply Rosehip oil twice daily and not to use any other skincare products. Evaluators assessed the effect on both new scars and old scars at intervals of 4, 8, and 12 weeks. The results showed the following: 41% improvement in colour of scars; 27% improvement in appearance of scars; 26% improvement in visible area of scars. (By the way the ratings were both clinician rated and self assessment.)

This is certainly encouraging and we applaud for sharing their data, however, it’s a very small base size, it’s not blinded study, and it’s not placebo controlled. That means we don’t know if rosehip oil works any better than a regular moisturizing cream. We should also mention that Trilogy did another study on stretch marks with the same test design and almost identical results.

Fortunately we found another study that’s a little more rigorous.

This study was done on masectomy patients. It was also done with 10 panelists but they used a control group so I’m assuming that means they had five test subjects and five control subjects which is a very very small base size.

They had the patients apply a 26% solution of Rosehip oil for next 8 weeks and noticed increased skin growth in the sutured areas.

My concern with the study other than the small base size, is that it really only measures scar prevention that has nothing to do with getting rid of existing scars. Also, I couldn’t find out how the control group was treated. If the control group received no treatment at all then the study really only proves that applying some kind of oil helps protect the skin while it’s healing from a wound. Again, it’s encouraging but it certainly doesn’t prove that Rosehip oil works better than anything else.

There were a couple of other studies we found where there wasn’t a clear control and I couldn’t determine the base size but these studies did supposedly show an effect on post surgical scars.

So what does all this mean? There doesn’t appear to be any clear-cut evidence that Rosehip oil diminishes scars.

Skin lightening/dark spots
What about skin lightening? The only study we can find in this regard was not done on Rosehip oil but alcoholic extraction from rosehips. The researchers did an in vitro test on melanoma cells from mice and an in vivo test on guinea pigs (giving it orally.) Their results in both cases showed a reduction in the processes that result in skin pigmentation and they recommend that orally ingested Rosehip extract may be effective for skin lightening. It’s hard to say what this means for topically applied rosehip oil since the compounds that are alcohol soluble or different than the ones that are oils and these animal test data don’t directly correlate to human use.

At best you could look at these results optimistically and say that more research should be done.

Wrinkles and moisturization
Next, is there evidence that rosehip oil helps with wrinkles and skin moisturization? We found another study by Trilogy this time with 20 female subjects, 50% of which had dry skin. They applied rose hip oil twice daily for 8 weeks and the researchers measured wrinkle depth and assessed skin roughness and moisture level. Results showed 44% improvement in skin moisture; 23% improvement in fine lines and wrinkles; 21% smoother skin.

This is certainly not surprising since almost any good moisturizer will give similar results. Again the study was not blinded or placebo controlled so there’s nothing to indicate that this product is better than something that’s cheaper.

I want to briefly mention one other potential benefit of rosehip oil even though it’s not claimed for the Trinity product. That benefit is that it acts as an anti-inflammatory. We did find one study in Pubmed that talked about Rosehip oil is an anti-inflammatory.

They tested extract from the Dogwood Rose which is different from the rose that Rosehip oil is typically extracted from I don’t know how much of a difference that makes. but they tested and Hydro alcoholic extract and not an oil extract which certainly could make a difference, so take the results of this study with a grain of sodium chloride as they say.

In addition the testing was done on animals. Specifically part of the test was done on used a rat paw for edema which is swelling. The other part of the test the extract was given orally and they measured how well the extract could mitigate damage to the stomach lining.

The researchers concluded “Altogether, the present data demonstrate the anti-inflammatory property of Rosa canina suggesting its potential role as adjuvant therapeutic tool for the management of inflammatory-related diseases.”

But again, it was a different type of extract and the testing was done using a specific animal model that may or may not translate to human use and it wasn’t all done topically. so no clear evidence the Rosehip oil is a good anti-inflammatory.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Rosehip oil is a good moisturizer and it does contain some chemicals that in theory can have an anti-aging affect. However, even though it does have a plausible mechanism and at least some of its components have been shown to penetrate skin, there’s little direct data to prove that it works when applied to real people. There’s enough animal and in vitro testing to indicate there may be something worthwhile here but the only direct testing on people for the things that are important like scar healing and skin lightening were very very small tests and they didn’t compare rosehip oil to other alternatives. For example, if you’re trying to reduce scars there is much more evidence that silicone sheets are effective. And if you’re trying to lighten your complexion ingredients like hydroquinone and niacinamide are proven to be effective and they’re much less expensive.

But if you do decide to use Rosehip oil then here are some tips for you:

  1. Make sure you’re buying the right kind of Rose oil. Don’t be fooled into thinking a cream scented with rose petal oil will work the same way.
  2. Look for the pure oil since this will have the highest concentration of active ingredients.
  3. If you must use a cream or lotion, make sure rose hip oil is listed as the first or second ingredient. We know from some of the studies we looked at that it takes 15 or 20% of the oil to be effective.

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.


Can I pre-treat oily hair with shampoo?

LindyGirl longs to learn…I deep condition using Extra Virgin Coconut Oil once a week. I had tried oils before but would end up having to shampoo so many times to remove the oil it seemed to defeat the purpose of the deep conditioning process. Then I read some ‘how to’ directions on a spa site. They recommended applying the oil to dry hair, cover with a shower cap, cover the shower cap with a towel and leave it for an hour. Then apply shampoo to dry hair, add water and shampoo as usual. It works, but I have wondered is there any scientific reason to back it up.

The Beauty Brains respond

I’ve never tested this “pre-treatment” technique but there could be a scientific explanation for why it works.

Why is pre-treatment good?

When creating emulsions, which are mixtures of oil and water, the order of addition can be important. By adding the shampoo first you’re putting it directly in contact with the oil which allows it to “premix” with the oil. I suspect that this is effectively increasing the concentration of the shampoo without having to wash multiple times. In addition to getting rid of oily residue, this technique should be useful for removing heavy styling product build up (especially hairspray.)

Can it break bad?

I”m guessing that working a viscous shampoo through dry hair could be a bit challenging on long hair. So this tip might be easier to execute if you have short hair. Also, putting more concentrated surfactants in contact with skin without prior dilution with water MAY be more irritating. (Of course that will depend on what kind of shampoo you’re using.) I’m not sure whether or not this would be more or less irritating than washing multiple times. Sounds like this could be a good half head test for Perry!

Have you every had trouble getting oil out of your hair? Have you tried Lindy’s shampoo pre-treatment technique? Leave a comment and share your experiences with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.


Can I make my own aluminum free deodorant?

Floraesthetics asks…After reading your blog post about scare tactics, I decided to try my hand at homemade deodorant. I looked at all kinds of recipes, and I created one based on the available ingredients I had in my kitchen. The result was amazing! I was so excited to have created a natural, “aluminum-free” deodorant that worked. Then, I researched a little more and realized that the clays I was using have aluminum content. I went back online and noticed that many natural deodorants contain clays that have aluminum. Can you help me figure out if it can be called aluminum-free if it contains bentonite clay, for example? Also, how does this type of aluminum fit into the neurotoxicity issue?

The Beauty Brains respond

First a little background about the different kinds of aluminum in Antiperspirant/Deodorant products.

How is Aluminum used in APDs?

Ingredient: Aluminum zirconium tetrachorohydrex glycine

Function: These ingredients are designed to interact with the pores of your body, creating tiny gelatinous plugs that reduce sweating. Best research shows no connection to Alzheimer’s disease.

Ingredient: Bentonite, Kaolinite

Function: These are naturally occurring clays that are used as thickeners because of their ability to gel the solvents typically used in deodorants. We have not been able to find any reference linking these to the Alzheimer’s controversy.

Can you legally claim aluminum-free?

Unfortunately we’re not lawyers (although we do like to watch them on TV) so we can’t really advise you of the legality of making such a claim. You’re certainly free to make such a product for your personal use, but if you plan on selling your own deodorants we recommend consulting an attorney. Regardless of what legal council tells you, would this claim really pass the “red faced test” for you? In other words, if you really don’t believe the scientific consensus that says aluminum salts in APs are safe, then can you in good conscience add aluminum containing ingredients to your deodorant? If science says they’re safe, they should be safe in both cases.


Don’t waste money on expensive beauty brands Episode 66

Tune in to this week’s show to find out how your brain reacts to expensive beauty brands. And how to pick beauty products based on your astrological sign. (Yeah, right.)

Show notes

Improbable Products

This is the game where I scour the internet for new beauty products that sound too wacky too believe. Then I make up a wacky one of my own and challenge Perry to guess which one is the fake. You can play too – can you guess the phony story? Listen to the show for the answer!

1. The Boar Bristle Toothbrush
Boar bristle hairbrushes are the best natural grooming tools. Now, our new Boar Bristle toothbrush uses these stiffer natural fibers to deep clean your tooth enamel.

2. The Scented Fork
Make any meal more tasty with this elegant fork that’s saturated with enticing aromatherapy oils.

3. The Beauty Spoon
Are you frustrated because you can’t get the last few drops of your favorite beauty product out of the bottle? This new flexible, spatula like spoon lets you scrape out every drop.

Beauty Science News

Science says you shouldn’t bother buying expensive brands
According to this study, when a product’s price goes up, it increases “blood-oxygen-level-dependent activity in medial orbitofrontal cortex, an area that is widely thought to encode for experienced pleasantness during experiential tasks.” So by purchasing a more expensive product, your brain physically changes and tells you that the product is better. But if spending more actually gives you more pleasure then shouldn’t you buy the more expensive one?

Does sunscreen make you infertile?
A new study claims certain sunscreen ingredients can make men less fertile. The researchers studied 500 couples that were trying to become pregnant. And they tracked the relationship between their fertility to lifestyle factors and to chemicals to which they’ve been exposed. They tested participants’ urine samples for five different UV filters and found that 2 of the UV filters were linked to diminished fertility in men (but not women.)

Those ingredients are BP-2 and 4OH-BP. Now this is a single study and the researchers themselves cautioned “that the results are preliminary and that additional studies are needed to confirm their findings.” So it’s important that these kind of studies are done but here’s the strange thing – neither of these are actually sunscreen ingredients.

BP2 is used in some packaging inks for foods and 4OH BP is a breakdown product of BP3 which is oxybenzone which is used. in the study BP3 was NOT a problem. It’s a little misleading to say sunscreen lotions are the problem because these chemicals come form other places. BUT if you want to be cautious you should avoid oxybenzone because it does has a bad rap as an endocrine disruptor.

Triclosan in soap causing liver damage?
Triclosan continues to be a controversial ingredient. Perhaps we should discontinue its use where volumes are high and there’s little benefit (like in soaps) but continue to use it where the volumes are low and there’s a proven health benefit (like in toothpaste for gingivitis.)

How to choose beauty products based on your astrological sign

Refinery29 published explains which beauty products you should use based on your astrological sign. This is all according to celebrity makeup artist Gloria Noto who has the signs of the zodiac tattooed all over her body. So I think she’s a credible source. Anyway, here are a few of her tips:

  • For Aquarius she suggests covering the whole eyelid with a neon blue eyeshadow. and adding a neon purple liner which she makes by adding a bit of water to shadow. Get it water?
  • For Pisces she is emulating the scales of a fish with a variety of metallic looking pigments. finished the face with a balm luminizer to highlight and give a dewy, fresh-from-the-water finish.”
  • Leo the lion get’s an elongated cat eye shape. Of course.
  • Taurus will be sexy in a slow burning way so she designed a play on the horns of the bull by creating a graphic shape to the outer edges of the eyes.” So if you’re a Taurus I guess you’re supposed to look…horny?
  • in 2015 Gemini should wear a two tone black and pink lip color. She what she did there – 2 toned color for Gemini?
  • Finally, for Cancer, she emulated sea shells and the ocean by using a loose orange pigment on the eyelid with pale green powder where the eyelid meets the brow bone.

There you have it – astrologically determined makeup for 2015.

Why are larger eyes more attractive?
Studies have shown that men are biologically programmed to find women with bigger eyes more attractive. Why the appeal of big eyes? Two reasons: Big eyes are a sign of higher levels of estrogen and the concept of neotenous protection, which says that men will take care of children.

Can almond oil kill you?
Back in episode 59 we talked about sesame oil as a skin moisturizer. That made me think of another popular natural oil used in lotions – almond oil. Did you know that almond oil can be a deadly poison? This came to my attention though our friend Colin over at Colin’s beauty pages when he reported on a study that almonds were pulled from Whole Foods stores because they contained cyanide. So I wondered that if almonds contain cyanide is almond oil safe to use in cosmetics.

It turns out, and I didn’t know this, but there are two kinds of almonds: bitter and sweet. The bitter variety DO contain a relatively high level of cyanide. Bitter almonds yield about 6.2 mg of cyanide per almond and the LD50 for cyanide is 50 mg – 200 mg. That means if a person of average weight ate only 15 of these almonds you could die.

Fortunately, sweet almonds are the ones sold for human consumption and it’s sweet almond oil that used in cosmetics so there’s really nothing to worry about but I thought it was an interesting story worth sharing.

Men try to impress women with their grammar
A recent study shows that men unconsciously change the way they talk to women depending on where the women are in their monthly cycle. Researchers found that men mimicked women’s sentence structure less frequently when the women were at the more fertile point in their cycle.

LIL buy it now button

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

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

Click here for all the The Beauty Brains podcasts.


Is Bare Minerals 100% Natural lipstick worth the hype?

Bandana asks…Since I’ve been trying to get pregnant over the last year, I’ve become more concerned about toxicity. I probably eat a sizeable amount of lipstick. I am not your usual “organic” type, but I was surprised to see the list of ingredients for my favorite lipstick, Avon’s Beyond Color Plumping Lipstick. Are organic lipsticks worth the hype?? I’ve seen that Bare Minerals has a natural lipstick, but I’m not feeling $25 per tube. I’m more of a drugstore type girl. I’m not loaded with money and don’t want to be more paranoid than I should be.

The Beauty Brains responds

“Regular” lipstick like the Avon example you gave costs $8.00 ($3.99 on sale!) where as the Bare Minerals “100% natural” lipstick is $25. It’s really impossible for us to make the value judgment for you, but we can help by telling you if there are any significant technical differences between the two. (One point of clarification: although you asked about Bare Minerals “organic” lipstick, the company does not make the claim the this product is organic. They only state that it is “100% natural.”)

Ingredient comparison

It looks like the Bare Minerals formula is quite different from a typical lipstick because a) it only uses iron oxide pigments as colorants and b) it does not contain any of the petroleum-derived emollients typically found in lipsticks. (For the sake of thoroughness, the complete ingredient listing for each product is included below.)

Natural vs synthetic

As you’re probably aware, the debate over the safety of natural versus synthetic ingredients is not as simple as “all natural is good and all synthetic is bad.” For example, synthetic dyes like those used used in the Avon product are accused of containing carcinogens. And natural lavender extract, like the oil used in the Bare Minerals lipstick, is said to cause headaches and irritate skin. Whether or not you believe any of these specific accusations is beside the point but it’s important to recognize that these ingredients are ALL chemicals and depending on the dose, chemicals may have undesirable side effects.

As is typically the case with natural products, tradeoffs must be made: if you want to avoid “synthetic” chemicals you’ll have to accept a limited number of color choices. (That’s because iron oxides, the mineral pigments used to provide color, are only available in a few reddish-brownish-yellowish shades.) You’ll also have to give up long lasting color because these iron oxides don’t stain the lips like synthetic dyes do. Are these good trade-offs to make? Maybe, but we can’t make that value judgement for you. We can only try to frame the question and provide a few helpful facts.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Unfortunately there is no easy, one-size-fits-all answer to your question. Whether or not so-called natural lipstick is a good value depends on what’s most important to you. If you want to limit potential intake of “chemicals” (even though the best science available doesn’t indicate that this is a significant risk) AND if you don’t mind a limited number of “earth-tone” colors, then a “100% Natural” product may be a good choice for you. But, you’ll need to spend more for those benefits.

What do YOU think? Are you willing to spend more for products that say they are natural? Leave a comment and share your thoughts with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.




Bare Minerals

Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Barium Sulfate, Euphorbia Cerifera (Candelilla) Wax, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax, Theobroma Grandiflorum Seed Butter, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil, Gardenia Tahitensis Flower Extract, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Wax, Tocopheryl Acetate, Punica Granatum Seed Oil, Beeswax (Cera Alba), Silica, Echium Plantagineum Seed Oil, Hordeum Vulgare Seed Extract, Tocopherol, Macadamia Ternifolia Seed Oil, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891), Mica, Iron Oxides (CI 77491, CI 77492, CI 77499), Carmine (CI 75470)


Does 3 day deodorant really work?

QM’s query…The boyfriend and I were watching tv and there was an ad about a drugstore-brand deodorant that touted “3-day efficiency”.
Me : “3-day efficiency ? Does it means that you’re supposed to go 3 days without washing your armpits ? Ewwww !”
Him : “Well, deodorant crawls into the sweat thingies on your skin and block odors from inside. So it can be efficient for 3 days even if you wash the skin in between”.

(OK, none of us are cosmetic scientists, as you can guess from all these technical terms) Which one of us is right ? I thought that OTC skin products can’t legally seep into the skin, but maybe it’s different for deodorants and the like.

The Beauty Brains respond

First a question: are you and your main squeeze talking about deodorants or antiperspirants (APDs)? Here’s why it matters:

APD vs Deo for B.O.

Deodorants just stop odor (by covering up with fragrance and by killing odor-producing bacteria.) APDs prevent you from sweating (or by at least reduct the amount of sweat) and less sweat = less odor because the actual stink is caused by bacteria munching on fatty acids that are contained in your sweat. Since your boyfriend referenced that the product “crawls into the sweat thingies,” I’m assuming that your asking about the “plugging” kind of products so here’s the deal:

Antiperspirants plug your pits

The aluminum salts in APDs migrate inside your sweat ducts where they react with moisture to form Gelatinous Little Plugs. (That sounds like the name of a band but it’s not. As far as I know.) These plugs prevent sweat from soaking your armpits and therefore keep you relatively stink-free. If you stop using an antiperspirant it takes a few days for the sweat glands to clear themselves of all these petite plugs, which is why the sweat-reduction effect can last last for a few days – even is you shower!

This phenomenon is not unknown to advertisers: I remember seeing ads for Mitchum brand antiperspirant that claimed it was “so effective you can skip a day.” I’m pretty sure that claim was based on the sweat gland retention of gelatinous aluminum salt plugs. Anyway, what does all this mean? Your boyfriend is right! What did he win?

PS: APDs ARE over the counter drugs because they have a physiological effect on skin. Cosmetics can’t affect body function (according to US law, at least.)


Don’t be duped by drugstore doubles Episode 65

sLearn how to tell if a drugstore double is really the same as your favorite brand. 

Show notes

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Question of the week: Are drugstore doubles really the same?

Veronica asks…In the drug store there are the name brands and the drug store brand equivalents that say compare to Brand “x.” Most of the time the ingredients are the same so I’m tempted to buy the cheapest one. But am I sacrificing quality? How do I know the proportions and quality of the ingredients are the same and if the drug store brands test their products as well the name brands.

What is a drug store dupe?

These are products, as Veronica mentioned, that are usually store brand versions of more famous, more expensive products.

While they may be most commonly found in drugstores you’ll also see them in grocery stores and some chain department stores. They may be named based on the store or the parent company. For example there was a chain of grocery stores here in the Chicago area owned by the Safeway company and so you would see Safeway branded products.

Other examples include:

  • Walmarts brand is “Equate”
  • Target’s is “Up & Up”
  • Walgreens is “Studio 35”

You can tell these are dupes or doubles because the fine print on the back of the package says something like “made exclusively for…” Walgreens in this case. That phrase “made for” is a sure tip off that the product was made by not made by the major beauty companies themselves. Instead it was made by what we call a contract manufacturer. So let’s talk about the role of these contract manufacturers.

The role of contract manufacturers versus in-house manufacturing

Retail companies – the stores that sell you stuff – rarely, if ever, manufacture their own products. So even if product says it’s from CVS or target they are not actually making it. So who does make these products? Contract manufacturers which are sometimes called private label manufacturers. These are like the guns for hire in the personal care industry. These are typically relatively small companies that are engineered and designed to quickly and cheaply make a variety of different personal care products for a variety of customers. Many of them specialize in duplicating at least as close as possible the formulas of other companies. They basically play three rolls within the industry:

  1. Larger personal care manufacturers use them to supplement their own manufacturing organization. They’ll use them to when they’re short on their own manufacturing capacity or if they need specialized equipment that they may not have yet purchased.
  2. Smaller personal care companies who may not have their own manufacturing facilities at all will use contract manufacturers as their primary source of product production.
  3. Retailers who have no manufacturing facilities will use contract manufacturers to make their own in-house brands. Some of those may be unique products but others are knockoffs of something already on the market.

The secrets of knocking off a product

Copying a competitor’s product is not exactly easy but for a seasoned cosmetic chemist it’s not too hard. I once wrote a short ebook on the subject that people can get over at Chemists Corner, but here’s a quick summary of what you do.

First, you check the product to see if it is patented. If it is patented you can just look up the patent and find a formula. It won’t be the exact formula that is marketed but it will be pretty close.

But for products that aren’t patented you have to get the LOI (or list of ingredient) of the product you want to copy. Sites like Drugstore.com or Ulta.com make this easy to do.

Next, you have to figure out where the 1% line is. The 1% line is the place on the LOI in which the ingredients can be put in any order that the cosmetic company wants. See the rules of cosmetic labeling in the US are that you have to list ingredients in order of concentration above the 1% line, but once an ingredient is at 1% or lower you can list in any order you want.

You just have to look for things like natural or feature ingredients and you can usually find the 1% line.

After finding that line you can pretty much ignore everything below it. While those ingredients are not always inconsequential they don’t need to be in your first prototype. Then you can make a guess as to the concentration of the ingredients used. You can figure out the amount of water by doing a moisture % determination & there are other tricks to figuring out the levels of other ingredients.

Mostly, as a cosmetic formulator you know the levels of ingredients that are typically used for certain formulas.

Once you make your guesses at the formula, you make your first prototype. Then you compare it to the original product and adjust the ingredients until you get a product that is close. You may have to add some of the ingredients you ignored if you can’t get the performance to be the way you want it.

Then you just do a whole bunch of comparison testing and optimizing of your formula until you get something that matches pretty close.

So now you have a good sense of where these drugstore doubles come from. But are they necessarily a good duplicate or not? As you may have guessed already from some of the things we’ve said already these products are not necessarily always a true duplicate. Why is that? If the ingredients are essentially the same shouldn’t the products be identical? Here are some reasons drugstore doubles are not really duplicates and some tips to keep you from being duped by the dupes.

Does it claim to be the same?

One thing to look for on these drug store double is what the product claims to do. There are two types of claims you’ll see most commonly associated with these duplicate products.

“Compare to (insert brand name) “

This is actually the weaker of the two claims because it only indirectly makes a connection to the “real” brand.

For example, Walgreen’s Studio 35 Regenerating Daily Micro-shaping Cream makes the following claim: “compare to Olay.”

What could that mean? There is certainly an implied claim of efficacy. The product doesn’t state it but it seems to be saying “compare to Olay because it works as well.” That’s a reasonable take away but it’s not the only take away and I don’t think that Walgreens would be required to support that claim. They are not making a direct claim of efficacy so they are not responsible to prove that their product works as well.

How DO you support “compare to” claims? Perhaps by proving that the product looks similar, maybe even smells similar, it contains many of the same ingredients, it’s intended for the same function, even the packaging looks the same. These are all ways to make be able to say “compare to.”

You’ve seen this exact same approach used in some fragrance dupes. The claim is always something like this: if you like Elizabeth White Diamonds then you’ll love our “Pale Zirconium.”

Do you see how this works? They’re not directly saying it’s the same. They’re just saying compare one to the other. That’s a very open ended claim but you can easily be sucked in by that. If you see this phrase you should at least be suspicious.

“works as well as (insert brand name)”
This is a more direct approach which is the “works as well as” claim. Let’s look at another example:

Suave Professionals Natural Infusion Light Leave-In Cream says “Salon proven to strengthen as well as Pureology®.”

Clearly this is a more direct claim that overtly makes a reference to some functional parameter. Note that Suave uses this approach but Suave is owned by Unilever that has a large research and development organization that can afford to design and execute tests of the sort. You’re less likely to see this with the storebrand dupes.

So I would expect in this case the product would do exactly as promised because Unilever has some test to show that their product strenghtens hair as well as Pureology. However, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be as good as Pureology for all the things that you like about that product. For example it may not smell as well or it may feel thinner or it may leave your hair feeling too sticky. All they’ve done in this case is find one single product parameter where they are as good as the “real” product. It’s a stronger position than the “compared to” claim but it still no guarantee of equivalency.

So you have to look carefully at the claims when you’re considering a dupe. But of course you also have to look at the ingredients….

Are the ingredients really the same?

Just because a company is trying to sell you a drugstore dupe, don’t assume that it REALLY is the same. For example, let’s take a closer look at that Walgreens Studio 35 product.

As you can see from the ingredient lists in the show notes, the first 10 ingredients are identical – with one very important exception. The third ingredient in the Olay product, Niacinamide, is completely missing from the Studio 35 Beauty product. And guess which one is the only proven anti-aging ingredient in the Olay formula. That’s right – niacinamide. Other than retinol, niacinimade is one of the best studied and most effective anti-aging ingredients. It’s capable of brightening the complexion, erasing fine wrinkles, reducing transepidermal water loss, improving elasticity, and fighting inflammation. Without that ingredient this product isn’t much more than a really good moisturizer.

The point is that just because the label says “compare to Olay” doesn’t mean they use all the same ingredients as Olay. That’s something to watch out for when shopping for dupes.

It’s also important to consider the AMOUNT of ingredients used. For example, there’s a skin cream by the brand “Gold Bond” that contains 5% dimethicone. Dimethicone is a great skin protectant and it’s found in a LOT of lotions but you don’t see too products many with such a high level. And you certainly don’t see brands TELLING you how much they used.

At least with ingredients, it’s relatively easy to figure them out because they’re disclosed on the package. Unfortunately, there other, more subtle, differences that you CAN’T easily spot yourself.

Is it made the same way?

For most products the method of manufacture doesn’t impact performance very much. That’s not to say that the method of manufacture isn’t important what I mean is a duplicate product can be made using a different manufacturing method and you can get to the same final result. For example if you’re mixing up a basic shampoo there’s probably no secret way to make it that makes it work better. But there are some cases where it’s difficult to make a good dupe of a product because there IS something special about the way its made. Let me give you two examples:

First, I used to make pressed powder products like eyeshadows and blushes. A critical step in the manufacture these products is the pressing step. That’s where a machine pushes a metal cylinder down on the loose powder to compress it into a cake.

If that step is not done just right let’s say you’re a company that’s trying to save a few dollars so you turn the speed of the machine up, well the same pressure is not achieved in there for the kick me crumble more easily. that’s just one example of manufacturing difference that consumers would be oblivious to but which could certainly affect the quality of a finish product from brand to brand.

Here’s another example: Dispersing silicone oils properly in a conditioner or lotion is critical to get the product to feel a certain way and to work properly. My first patent was awarded for finding a better way disperse silicone in a conditioner by premixing it with another ingredient. This formula went on to be used in the Tresemme line. If another company created a duplicate of that formula you couldn’t tell from looking at the ingredient list if they were using this trick or not. And that means that the dupe wouldn’t work the same way even if the ingredients were the same.

The point of this is to make you aware that there are these subtle differences that would be impossible for you to recognize just by reading the label. So you should always be skeptical when looking at drugstore doubles.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

So here are our four steps to help being avoid being duped by a duplicate.

  1. Look at the claims to see if the dupe really is indeed claiming to do the same thing as the original product. This step is especially important if there’s a key function that you’re interested in like anti-aging claims.
  2. Find out who makes the dupe. You can do this very easily by checking the manufacturer which is listed on the back of the package. Is it a copy cat from a major company? Like the example of Suave shampoo – I would expect those Suave professional products to perform pretty well. That’s because as we’ve said before the larger companies have bigger R&D budgets and do more testing. On the other hand if it’s a drugstore or grocery store knockoff brand which was made by a contract manufacturer then it’s less likely that extensive testing was done.
  3. Compare the ingredients between the real product and the duplicate. If there are differences then that’s a good indication it’s not a very good duplicate. However there could be subtle differences in ingredients or ingredient concentrations that would be very difficult for you to catch.
  4. Be aware that there may be other subtle differences that you’re not aware of – for example the way the product is manufactured. So be skeptical and if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t. Don’t be duped by drugstore doubles!

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

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      • How to tell the difference between the products that are really green and the ones that are just trying to get more of your hard earned money by labeling them “natural” or “organic.

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