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How can body wash contain as many moisturizers as skin cream?

Cee Cee says…I saw a bottle of Olay body wash that claims to contain as many moisturizers as a jar of Olay moisturizing cream. How is this possible?

The Beauty Brains responds

You have to hand it to those rascals in the cosmetic industry. They keep coming up with claims that sound compelling but aren’t really that meaningful.

First let’s be clear about this: it is helpful to have moisturizers in body wash. Procter & Gamble, the makers of Olay, have some very nice technology that can disperse oily conditioners in a rich foaming system. But the idea that it’s helpful to have a “jar full of Olay moisturizer’s” in body wash is a little bit silly. Here’s why:

How much moisturizer in skin cream?

The exact claim is “over a jar full of Olay moisturizers inside.” We take that mean that this bottle of body wash has (at least) as many moisturizers as a jar of Olay moisturizing cream. Looking the label of Olay’s original Active Hydrating Cream we see that the first moisturizing ingredient listed in the formula is petrolatum. Let’s assume for the same of discussion that this formula contains 5% petrolatum. (It’s probably somewhat less than that but we’ll use that number for a ball park calculation.) To find out the total amount of petrolatum in the Olay cream we just calculate 5% of 2 ounces to come up with 0.1 ounces.

How much moisturizer in body wash?

The Olay body wash is sold in a 23.6 ounce bottle. If you took the entire quantity of 0.1 ounces of petrolatum from the cream and put it in this bottle the formula would contain approximately 0.1/23.6 = 0.004% petrolatum. This is far too little to have any impact. The ironic point is that the the body wash probably has much more petrolatum than this anyway that since it’s the second ingredient in the formula! Olay could probably make a claim that says something like “this body wash contains 10x more moisturizers than a jar of of Olay.”

The Beauty Brains bottom line

This exercise isn’t meant to imply that this body wash doesn’t moisturize skin; we’re sure it does. We’re not even saying that the claim about the body wash containing more moisturizers than a jar of face cream is false; in fact it most certainly does contain more. We just think the comparison they’re using is a bit silly because it doesn’t mean anything.

But enough with our scientific skepticism…what do YOU think? Does this kind of claim mean anything to you? Would you buy this body wash because it contains more moisturizers than a jar of cream?


How is makeup setting spray different than hairspray?

SuperGorgeous says…I’d love to see a comparison of makeup “setting” sprays like Urban Decay All Nighter Long-Lasting Makeup Setting Spray and and plain ol’ hairspray.

The Beauty Brains respond:

Ask and Ye shall receive. There are (at least) three important differences between hairsprays and makeup setting sprays.

Aerosol versus nonaerosol

The best hairsprays are in aerosol form because they can be water free. (Water causes your curls to droop. Read this post to learn more about why water is bad for your hairstyle.) Fortunately water is good for your skin so non-aerosol make up setting sprays are perfectly fine. That’s good because you certainly wouldn’t want to blast your face with an aerosol spray from close range.

Spot welds versus facial film

Hairsprays are designed to do one thing very well: they deliver a fine spray of hair holding polymers. These tiny drops of polymers run down your hair until they get to the intersection where two hair shafts meet. At that spot they dry to form a tiny little weld point that holds the two hair shafts together. Your hair style is held in place by the effect of thousands of these tiny droplets on thousands of hair shafts.

Make up sprays, on the other hand, need to deliver a more uniform film across your entire face. They can’t be as “fluid” as hairspray droplets or it would drip off your face. Therefore they contain a much higher degree of solids then hairsprays.

Crunch versus non-crunch

The holding polymers used in hairsprays need to form a very rigid spot weld to hold your hairs in place. Makeup setting sprays need to form a less crunchy, light holding film. Therefore these formulas contain much more emollient type materials. That’s why the ingredient list below contains materials like Polyhydroxystearic Acid and Isononyl Isononanoate that are not contained in hairsprays.

All Nighter long-lasting makeup setting spray ingredients

Aqua (Water), SD-Alcohol 39-C, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Isononyl Isononanoate, Ethylhexyl Isononanoate, Sodium Cocamidopropyl PG-Dimonium Chloride Phosphate PVP, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Methyl Diisopropyl Propionamide, Dimethicone PEG-7 Phosphate, PPG-3 Benzyl Ether Myristate, Gluconolactone, Sodium Benzoate, Glycereth-5 Lactate, Methyl Methacrylate Cross Polymer, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Fragrance.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

In some cases companies will sell a similar formula across different product types. But make up setting sprays really do need to be different than hairsprays. We’re not saying that you necessarily need to spend $30 on Urban Decay’s 4 ounce product but don’t try and save a few dollars by using your typical hairspray to set your makeup.

What do YOU think? Do you know of any good low-cost make up setting sprays? Leave a comment and share your thoughts with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.


The 5 causes (and cures) of under eye bags

Friend of the Brains, Dr. Brett Kotlus, has created an interesting infographic that explains the causes (and cures) of under eye bags. I didn’t realize that too much OR too little fat can cause baggy eyes. Check it out!



What are peptides in cosmetics? Episode 55

Have you ever wondered about peptides in anti-aging products? What are they and how do they work? Listen to today’s show to get the scoop on peptides.   

Show notes

Question of the week: What are peptides in cosmetics? 

Paulette asks…I was wondering about peptides: what they are, what they do and how long do you have to use them to get results?

What are peptides?

The term “Peptide” is actually common in the world of biochemistry and is the generic name given to a small string of amino acids. Amino acids, remember, are the so called building blocks of life. They are very small molecules that have both an amine group (which means it contains a nitrogen) and a carboxylic acid group (which means it contains a carbon double bonded to an oxygen.)

Amino acids can be linked together because the amine group of one amino acid can connect to the acid group of another.  Two connected amino acids are called a dipeptide, a chain of three is called a tripeptide, and so on. When a bunch of them are strung together the result is called a polypeptide. As a rule of thumb, if there are 50 or fewer amino acids hooked together, the chain is called peptide. If there are more than 50 it’s called a protein. Proteins can be VERY large and are organized in such a way that they have biological properties (for example proteins are components of hair and skin.) Some peptides occur naturally in your body and others are made synthetically to mimic the function of natural peptides.

What do naturally occurring peptides do in skin?

Peptides are naturally occurring in skin. (They’re not exactly the same as the peptides used as cosmetic ingredients, which we’ll explain in a minute.) These naturally occurring peptides come from some of the structural proteins in the epidermis and dermis which are broken down by enzymes. These protein fragments perform multiple functions in the skin.  They can regulate hormonal activity, activate or deactivate immune responses, communicate between cells, and activate wound healing. Maybe the simplest way is to think of peptides as “messengers” between skin cells.

According to at least one theory, your body has a feedback loop that tells it when to produce fresh collagen. It goes something like this:

Collagen has a natural life cycle and it eventually breaks down. When it breaks down it release little protein fragments (which are peptides). Some skin cells have receptors for these peptides which work like a little lock and key. When then peptides “turn the lock” it triggers the cells to produce fresh collagen. Then when that collagen is worn out it breaks down and those little broken pieces trigger more new collagen production and so on.

The problem is that as you age your body becomes less effective at this process of triggering new collagen. So by adding synthetic peptides, you can send a signal that “wakes up” these cells so they start producing more collagen again.

Now let’s talk about the 4 different kinds of peptides used for anti-aging.

Types of peptides used in cosmetics

Neurotransmitter inhibitors  are “wrinkle relaxers.” 

These peptides inhibit acetylcholine release by a variety of chemical interactions. The most extreme neurotransmitter include the poison curare and the botulism toxin (Botox). Less invasive versions have been developed for use on skin and the hypothesis is that they relax the muscles of facial expression so they don’t contract as much which causes wrinkles to relax.   These neurotransmitter inhibitor peptides have been shown to reduce certain types of wrinkles by approximately 30% (in in vivo studies.)

Signal peptides are “collagen boosters.” 
These peptides stimulate skin fibroblasts to produce more collagen, elastin, and other proteins in the matrix of the dermis.  Boosting these “scaffolding” proteins makes skin look firmer and fuller. GHK is an example of a signal peptide and it was one of the first peptides discovered – it was originally isolated from human plasma in the early 1970s and its wound healing properties were first observed in the mid 80s- which goes to show that this technology is relatively new.

Carrier peptides act as “delivery agents.”
These peptides deliver trace elements, like copper and magnesium, which help with wound repair and enzymatic processes. These trace elements have been shown to improve pro-collagen synthesis, elasticity of skin, and overall skin appearance. For example,  a copper complex (called Lanin gel) which is made of amino acids glycine, histamine, and lysine ]is used in the treatment of diabetic neuropathic ulcers. This type of peptide is sometimes called a “penetrating peptide” or a “membrane transduction peptide.”

Enzyme inhibitor peptides are ‘breakdown reducers.” 
These peptides, as the name implies, interfere with enzyme reactions. This is important because some enzymes (such as MMP or Matrix Metalloprotease) degrade structural proteins like collagen. Therefore, by inhibiting enzymes these peptides can preserve your natural collagen and keep skin looking younger.  Soy proteins work this way – I suspect the mechanism is similar to how hormone disruptors work.

Paulette asked how long you have to use peptide products. The answer is: a long time. Unlike something like an AHA or a retinol that starts to work right away. But because of the way these peptides work you have to use for at least several weeks and probably up to a few months, to see much of an effect.

Naturally occurring vs synthetic peptides

Peptides sound good, don’t they? You just smear some natural peptides on your skin and look you younger. However, there’s a catch. Peptides aren’t always stable in water solutions, and because of their amino-acid functionality, they are charged in such a way that they don’t easily penetrate skin. And even if they do penetrate skin, they can be broken down by enzymes which render them inactive.

To overcome these problems, scientists have figured out that attaching a “fatty” carbon chain to the peptide can stabilize it and increase skin penetration. This non polar carbon chain allows the peptide to penetrate better, sometimes up to 5x better. The most effective peptides are modified this way to make them more effective.

Making sense of peptide names

As we explained, peptides are made up of long chains of amino acids. Often the number of amino acids shows up in the peptide name.

For example:

Pentapeptide has 5 amino acids
Hexapeptide has 6 amino acids

For every peptide chain of a given length many peptides can be formed because there are so many different amino acids. Therefore, the peptide name typically includes a number at the end of the name which gives the chemist additional information about its structure.

For example:


Now, for peptides which are bonded to a fatty acid group the name of that fatty acid appears usually at the beginning of the name.

For example:

Palmitoyl Tripeptide-5
Acetyl tetrapeptide-8

It’s kind of tricky but now you understand it, right? Wrong! It gets worse.

Peptides are sometimes named using the IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) convention which may or may not be the same as INCI.

For example:

Acetyl glutamyl Heptapeptide-1  = Acetyl octapeptide-3
Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4  = Pal-KTTKS
Hexapeptide-11 = Peptamide 6 (Peptamide is also good to take if you have an upset stomach.)

So, yes, this is confusing but now you’ve got it? Right?  No you don’t.

Peptides can also go by the brand name given to them by their company which is totally made up word. For example:

The most well known brand name is probably Matrixyl  which is actually Palmitoyl Oligopeptide.

Acetyl tetrapeptide-5 =“Eyeseryl”
Tripeptide-10 citrulline = “Decorinyl”

To be consistent we will try and use the name official INCI name which is what would appear on the ingredient list on the back of the package.

And speaking of the INCI name, there’s one last thing you need to watch out for when reading about peptides. The names may change from time to time:

For example:

Acetyl hexapeptide-3  is now called Acetyl hexapeptide-8

So depending on what information you’re looking at on what website can be very difficult to understand which peptide you’re looking at.

Which peptides really work?

Given that there are dozens of different peptides and that there are so many different ways that they can be named, you can imagine how difficult it is to track down definitive information on how each one works.  Which means…to learn which peptides really work you’ll have to wait a little while. We’re still research them and we’re planning on putting together an information product for you guys in the near future. So stay tuned. 

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.


Why is Gold Bond lotion good enough for stylists?

Renée asks… I’m a stylist and I just started in a new salon. I noticed that everyone uses Gold Bond hand cream after shampooing clients’ hair. I always thought that was kind of a crappy, low grade product. Shouldn’t they be using a better hand cream?

The Beauty Brains reply:

Gold Bond is kind of the gold standard when it comes to protecting your hands from detergent over-exposure. That’s because it contains 5 times the minimum amount of skin protectant that’s required by law.

The best skin protectant ingredient

The OTC (Over The Counter drug) monograph requires that a formula contain 1% or greater of dimethicone to be considered a true skin protectant product. Since dimethicone is relatively expensive, many companies will skimp on how much they use. But Chattem, Inc, the makers of Gold Bond, put use 5% dimethcone in this product which is MUCH higher than the concentration used by many other creams and lotions. In addition, they include petrolatum another outstanding moisture barrier ingredient. Together these two ingredients help lock moisure in the skin so it can heal itself.

To be honest, I’m a little surprised to see that it also contains menthol which on one hand can give a cooling effect but on the other hand can irritate raw skin. If you like the way it feels, it must be working for you. In any case, this is an inexpensive product that really works – there’s no need to spend more money on expensive brands.

Gold Bond Medicated Body Lotion ingredients

Active: Dimethicone 5% Menthol 0.15%

Inactive Ingredients: Water, Glycerin, Stearamidopropyl PG Dimonium Chloride Phosphate, Petrolatum, Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis) Leaf Juice, Cetearyl Alcohol, Stearyl Alcohol, Distearyldimonium Chloride, Ceteareth 20, Propylene Glycol, Steareth 21, Steareth 2, Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Disodium EDTA, Imidazolidinyl Urea, Propylparaben, Methylparaben, Triethanolamine, Fragrance

You can buy Gold Bond Medicated Body Lotion using this link and help support the Beauty Brains. Thank you!


What’s so terrible about propylene glycol?

Ally asks…I’ve been seeing “propylene glycol free” on a lot of products lately together with ‘paraben free’ and ‘mineral oil free’. Googled it to see what’s so harmful about it and here found the Material Safety Data Sheet warns users to avoid skin contact with propylene glycol as this strong skin irritant can cause liver abnormalities and kidney damage’. If anyone could shed some light on the issue, would be much appreciated.

The Beauty Brains respond:

Propylene Glycol (or PG as we cosmetic scientists call it) is primarily used in beauty products to improve freeze-thaw stabilize of emulsions. A few percent or less of PG can prevent a cream or lotion from developing a grainy, cottage cheese-like texture when exposed to low temperatures. It also has moisturizing properties similar to glycerine (which is more commonly used.)

But PG, along with many other chemicals, has gotten a bad rap from groups like the EWG. For example, according to the website The Good Human the main role of PG is to “help any other chemicals that you come in contact with reach your bloodstream.” and that it “alters the structure of the skin by allowing chemicals to penetrate deep beneath it while increasing their ability to reach the blood stream.

That sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? But let’s take a look at what science really says about propylene glycol in cosmetics.

Why is Propylene Glycol used in cosmetics?

As I noted above the main reason for using PG in cosmetics is to improve product texture. Relatively small amounts, on the order of 2% or less, are required to achieve this effect. To be fair, I should also point out that PG is used at higher concentrations in a few products where it acts as a solvent for other ingredients. But it is NOT primarily used to help other ingredients to penetrate into the blood stream.

Is Propylene Glycol dangerous in cosmetics?

According to the US Food & Drug Administration, propylene glycol is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) for direct addition to food. It’s also permitted for use as a defoaming agent in indirect food additives. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review board (a group of scientists who review the safety of cosmetic ingredients) have determined that it’s ”safe for use in cosmetic products when formulated to be non-irritating.” Essentially this means that companies need to conduct skin irritation testing on new formulas to ensure PG doesn’t cause irritation when mixed with other ingredients. This is a standard test that companies do on new products so it’s not a big deal. (BTW, the testing is done on people, not animals.) In addition, many oral and IV drugs use significant amounts of PG. It’s my opinion that if an ingredient is safe for ingestion AND safe for use in injected drugs, it’s unlikely to cause any problems in a topical cosmetic.

But what about skin penetration?

Let me be clear: propylene glycol is one of the ingredients that penetrates skin but “absorption through the skin is minimal.” Since PG itself is safe to ingest (it’s either excreted in the urine or it breaks down in the blood to form lactic acid, which is naturally produced by your body, toxicity isn’t really an issue. The only cases where PG getting into the blood stream caused a problem occurred when PG-containing creams where applied to large areas of burned skin. That makes sense since burned skin would be missing the outer protective layer. In these cases mild lactic acidosis and serum hyperosmolality were observed. There are certainly no problems when low levels of PG are applied to healthy, intact skin.

How much is PG is ok?

According to a report issued by the World Health Organization, the estimated acceptable daily intake for PG is about 25 mg of propylene glycol per kg body weight. (Seventeeth Report of the FAO/WHO Expert Committee, 1974). For a 130 pound person that would be about 3 pounds of PG per day before you might have problems. That’s by ingesting it, you could put MUCH more on your skin since only a small amount actually penetrates through your skin into the blood stream.

What about penetration enhancement?

So PG is safe by itself but what about helping other ingredients get through the skin? This is the one question I couldn’t get a clear answer to. I couldn’t find any studies showing which ingredients PG enhances penetration and by how much. However, considering it’s used in relatively hight amounts in topical drug products it seems unlikely to me that it will cause problems at the lower levels used in most cosmetics.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Its always good to be knowledgable about the chemicals you put in or on your body. But based on the the most recent scientific data it doesn’t look like there’s really much to be worried about cosmetics that contain propylene glycol.


Is lead in lipstick dangerous? Episode 54

In this “lost episode” Perry and I explain EXACTLY why you don’t need to worry about lead in your lipstick.

Show notes

Question of the week: How much lead is added to your body from lipstick?

Fact 1. How much lead is in your brand of lipstick?
Let’s assume the worst case scenario: the brand/shade with the highest lead content is Maybelline Pink Petal with 7.19 mcg/g (that’s micrograms of lead per gram of lipstick. A microgram is 1/1,000,000 of a gram or about 1/28,000,000 of an ounce.) You can also think of it this way: one microgram is like a single ant swimming in a pool the size of Central Park.

Fact 2. How many times a day do you apply lipstick?
We’ll assume five applications per day which is fairly heavy use. (http://www.snopes.com/science/stats/lipstick.asp)

Fact 3. How much lipstick is deposited on your lips per application?
A tube of lipstick weighs about 3 grams which will provide about 400 applications. Therefore a single application delivers about 7.3 micrograms to your lips. (http://www.snopes.com/science/stats/lipstick.asp)

Fact 4. How much of that lipstick do you swallow during the day?
We know that much of your lipstick ends up on napkins, coffee cups, and body parts but again let’s use the worst case scenario and assume that ALL the lipstick you apply to your lips is swallowed.

Based on these calculations the absolute most lead you could swallow from lipstick is about 0.3 micrograms per day. (For most people it will far less than that.) Is that much lead bad? Read on.

Question: Is 0.3 micrograms of lead a dangerous amount to swallow?

Fact 1. How much of that lead gets into your blood?
The lead in lipstick is tied up in the color pigments and it takes a very strong chemical reaction (using hydrofluoric acid) to release the lead so it can be absorbed into your blood. So, in reality, a large portion of the lead you swallow doesn’t get into your blood at all, it passes right through your body. (One reference says your body only absorbs about 10% of the lead you swallow) But, once again, let’s assume the worst case and figure that 100% of the lead you swallow stays in your body. So that means your daily lipstick use will add 0.3 micrograms of lead to your blood. (Hepp, N.M.., “Determination of Total Lead in 400 Lipsticks on the U.S. Market Using a Validated Microwave-Assisted Digestion, Inductively Coupled Plasma–Mass Spectrometric Method,” Journal of Cosmetic Science, accepted for publication in May/June, 2012, issue and http://www.lecbiz.com/serv02.htm)

Fact 2. How much lead is normally in your body?
Even though you hear that there is no safe level of lead, every healthy adult has some amount of lead in their blood from drinking water, foods, and the environment. According to the CDC, the average healthy adult person has 1.4 micrograms per deciliter of blood. That means an average woman (130 pounds, 5 feet 6 inches) will have a total of 53.5 micrograms of lead in her blood. Therefore, the additional 0.3 micrograms from your daily lipstick usage will increase the total amount of lead in the average person’s blood from 53.5 micrograms to 53.8. (http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/ables/pdfs/ABLES_EBLL_050112.pdf) and http://easycalculation.com/medical/blood-volume.php)

Fact 3. How much lead is dangerous?
While this is a controversial point the CDC says that for non-pregnant adults the total Blood Lead Level (or BLL) should be below 10 mcg/dl which is a total of 382 mcg in an average person’s blood. If the BLL is above 382 mcg, then the CDC recommends you seek medical treatment. As you can see, going from 53.5 mcg to 53.8 mcg doesn’t put you anywhere near that limit. The average person would have to ingest an additional 328 micrograms of lead in a single day to cross this threshold. It would take 15 tubes of lipstick to give you that much lead! (http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/ables/description.html)

Based on the calculations used above, you’d have to EAT 15 entire tubes of lipstick in a single day to elevate your blood lead level to the point where the CDC would say it’s necessary to take action. Obviously the small amount of lead you swallow from lipstick each day presents very little risk.

Question: So one day’s worth of lipstick lead is fine but you wear lipstick everyday. Does lead build up over time?

Fact 1. How much lead are you taking in every day from lipstick?
We’ve just shown that in the worst case scenario lipstick adds an extra 0.3 micrograms of lead to your blood every day.

Fact 2. How much lead does your body get rid of every day?
Studies have shown that every day your body can get rid of about 35 mcg.(mostly through urine and feces.) (http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2526&context=opendissertations and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC333178/pdf/jcinvest00644-0006.pdf)

Lipstick doesn’t cause any buildup of lead in your blood over time because you’re only taking in about 1/100 of what your body removes.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Even assuming you’re a heavy lipstick user, the amount of lead from your daily lipstick usage only raises your blood lead level by a very small amount. Over time your body excretes far more lead than you take in from lipstick. Lead poisoning from other sources IS a serious problem (especially for children) but non-pregnant adults don’t need to worry about getting lead poisoning from lipstick.

Final note: we’re cosmetic chemists, not toxicologists, and we invite anyone with additional knowledge on this subject to check our numbers and assumptions. We’ll gladly update this article if new information comes to light.

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.


A post on one of our favorite beauty and fashion sites, Refinery29, listed the top 7 worst things you do to damage your hair. Let’s review their list to see if they’re based on beauty science.

1. Neglecting nourishment

The article says that not taking care of yourself can lead to weaker hair. It’s certainly true to some extent but studies have shown you have to be quite malnourished before that takes a toll on your hair. Still it’s hard to disagree with advice “you should take care of yourself.”

2. Tearing it up with your towel

This one is certainly true – the fiber to fiber friction caused by rough towel drying is very damaging to the cuticle. And once you lose a few layers of cuticle your hair will break much more easily.

3. Battling with your brush

It’s also true that brushing and combing can damage hair. As the article points out this is especially true when hair is wet. (Wet hair her will stretch farther but it will actually take less force to break.)

4. Blasting with your blow dryer.

The article claims that when you excessively blow dry your hair you pull out “intrinsic moisture” which damages your hair even more. (It’s also true that the heat can cause some structural disruption to the proteins in your hair.) Surprisingly though, here’s an article that talks about why air drying may be more damaging to your hair than blow drying!

5. Skipping shampoo

Not washing your hair often enough is one of the worst things you can do? This one is mystifying to us. Refinery29 says two things that are scientifically questionable: The first is that oil on your skin (or in this case on your scalp) does not provide hydration. That’s not really the case because oils do a great job of moisturizing by preventing water from evaporating from the deeper layers of skin. (This is called trans epidermal water loss.)

The second questionable statement is that if you don’t wash your hair the bad bacteria will grow out of control and cause itching and dryness. If you’re talking about microorganism-induced itching and dryness then you’re talking about some form of dandruff which is caused by the yeast Malassezia not bacteria. But if you don’t have dandruff you won’t develop the condition just because you don’t wash your hair. And if you DO have dandruff regular shampooing may not solve the problem; you need an active ingredient calm the flaking and itching.

6. Agonizing with accessories

The article states that you should be careful when using pins and elastic bands on wet hair. We agreed since, as noted above, wet hair is more susceptible to breakage. Anything you do to wet hair, whether it be brushing, adding hair extensions, or using pins and elastic, can cause more damage.

7. Causing cumulative damage

Refinery29 says that you should give your hair a break from constant stress of styling. In other words, this one is essentially the same as items 2, 3, and 4 above.

What’s missing?

Amazingly the article makes no mention of the two or three things that more damage to your hair than ANYTHING else on this list. Chemical processes like relaxing, perming, straightening, coloring, and highlighting all intensely and irreversibly damage your hair. These are the worst of the worst! And if we had to pick one more factor they missed we might add damage from over exposure to the sun. In reality it takes quite a bit of solar exposure to do significant damage to your hair but if frequently soak up the sun it is something you should be aware of.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

There’s some good advice in this Refinery29 article but don’t forget how much damage you’re doing to your hair with chemical processes.


Is Cetaphil a good mild cleanser for getting rid of germs?

Bluecatbaby asks…Lately I’ve had some kind of rash on my wrist. Instead of using my usual Softsoap non-antibacterial, I bought Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser to use as hand soap, thinking it would be less irritating. I chose Cetaphil because on the website of the National Eczema Association they recommend using products at a certain pH that makes them less irritating, and Cetaphil is on their list. Now I’m wondering if Cetaphil can really do the job of getting rid of germs, like from the bathroom, or from handling raw egg or meat. If Cetaphil isn’t good to use for cleaning germy hands, does anyone know of another gentle cleanser that is? Also, does anyone agree or disagree that the ph of a soap or cleanser plays a part in how irritating it is?

The Beauty Brains respond:

When it comes to removing bacteria there is evidence that shows regular cleansing products do a good job but anti-bacterial soaps are a little bit better. Check out this post on Can soap really kill germs for more details along with references. But what about irritation?

Is Cetaphil mild?

There are two main factors that determine the irritation potential for a cleanser and pH ain’t one of them! That’s because based on the chemistry of the surfactants used to most cleansers, pH is in a very narrow range typically (somewhere around 5 to 7.) AHA cleansers are an exception because the pH is lower due to the acid but that’s not the kind of product for talking about here. Here are the two most important factors that do determine how irritating a cleanser might be.

Type of surfactant

As we’ve explained before, some cleansing agents are inherently more irritating to skin than others. Sodium lauryl sulfate, which is in this Cetaphil product, has been shown to interact with skin protein in a way that makes it harder to rinse away which results in irritation for some people. (To be fair it should also be noted that many many people use this ingredient with no problem whatsoever.) Sodium cocoyl isethionate is a much gentler (but more expensive) ingredient that is used in the top 10 mildest body washes and facial cleansers. (Follow the link for technical references which back up what we’ve said here.)

Fragrances and essential oils

Fragrances are one of the most potentially irritating ingredients used in cosmetics. That’s why fragrance allergens must be listed as separate ingredients. And don’t think they are irritating just because they’re full of “bad synthetics.” Even natural essential oils, especially citrus oils, can be very irritating to skin. So, fragrance free products really do have an edge when it comes to mildness.

How does Cetaphil score?

Well it’s kind of a mixed bag – there’s no fragrance which is good but it uses sodium lauryl sulfate which may be bad. This is one of those cases where you’ll have to try it for yourself and see. The product is reasonably priced and if it doesn’t irritate you it’s perfectly fine to use. If you still have irritation issues after using it look for a fragrance free facial wash based on sodium cocoyl isethionate.

Cetaphil cleanser ingredients

Water, cetyl alcohol, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, stearyl alcohol, methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben


Is it true that Europe bans more cosmetic ingredients that the US? Listen to this week’s show to find out (or read the notes below). You’ll also learn about perfume from the past, microbeads in your mouth, and more. (Plus a special themed version of our  “Improbable Products” game.) 

Show notes

Improbable Products

Can these crazy products be real? Two of them are – but one is made up. Can you guess which one is fake?

  1. Triple Penis Potion – this exotic skin lotion uses fermented penises from dog, deer and seal to moisturize skin and increase virility.
  2. Pocket penis – A prosthesis you slip in your pants to instantly look more well endowed.
  3. Fresh Crotch- a revolutionary lotion that transforms to powder as it dries to soothe a guy’s sweaty private parts.

Listen to the show for the answer!

Beauty Science News

Perfume from the past
Bottles of perfume have been recovered from an 1864 shipwreck. Using a gas chromatograph, perfumers were able to recreate the scent and it is not offered for sale in a limited edition. The lesson here is that it’s a good idea to store your perfume in a cool, dark place because it prolongs the shelf life. (You can wrap the bottle in aluminum foil and keep it in the refrigerator.)

Are micro bead toothpastes bad for your gums?
We’ve talked about microbeads before in an abstract “somehow they’re bad for the environment which is probably not good for us either” context. But now the stakes have been raised and research shows microbeads now present a clear and present danger. Dentists are finding that these little polyethylene micro-beads from toothpastes can become lodged in your gum line and lead to inflammation and infection.

Now if there was definitive benefit to the beads I’d say that MAYBE they’re worth the risk but they don’t do anything! So, that begs the question, why do toothpaste manufactures put them in the first place? They’re just there for the visual effect – to provide a sensory cue of scrubbing beads. The beads don’t actually contribute to cleansing. This maybe a moot point if microbeads are banned but the lesson is be careful what you replace them with.

Butterfly wings inspire a new type of cosmetic pigment
Did you know that butterfly wings do NOT contain any colorants? If you look at a wing under high magnification you’ll see the structure looks like rows of tiny Christmas trees. This nano-structure reflects light in a specific way that makes creates all those iridescent colors. Scientists are now looking at similar technology to create paints that will NEVER fade and cosmetics that don’t contain chemical colorants.

Are soaps safe for the environment?
Plastic microbeads may not be good for the environment but what about all the tons of shampoo and body wash that we dump down the drain every day? Do you think all that detergent kills little fishes and frogs? A new study says that we’re NOT damaging the environment by shampooing our hair, cleaning our bodies, and even washing our clothes.

Researchers at Department of Environmental Science AU Rokskilde were concerned because these detergents are some of the most commonly used substances and we dump a LOT of them into our wastewater – so if they make their way into the environment that could be a BIG deal. So, they looked at 250 studies done over the last 50 years and found that because these detergents are made to degrade rapidly and once they are processed treatment plants there’s very little risk to the environment. The study was done based in the North America but they expect the results will apply across the world. It’s good that we keep an eye on these things but sounds like we can keep using our cleaning products – as long as they are micro-bead free, that is!

Is it true that Europe bans more cosmetic ingredients that the US?
The rumor is that the EU has banned over 1000 ingredients while the governing body in the US (the FDA) has only banned 9. Can this be true? Is the US really that reckless compared to Europe? When you look at the EU laws that govern cosmetics you’ll see that the list of 1000+ ingredients include chemicals that are not used in cosmetics AT ALL (such as the picric acid, which is explosive, and radioactive substances.) These ingredients would never be used in cosmetics in the US because they are not safe, so even though they are not banned they are not legal in the US. Many of the banned ingredients in Europe are only banned if they contain contaminants. As long as the ingredient is purified, it’s allowed to be used (just like in the US.) Click the link if you want to learn more details about the EU regulations.

New scent trends for 2015
Just like in the world of fashion, there are new fragrance trends are predicted for the coming year. For 2015, here are the surprising (and not so surprising) notes that are expected to be used in perfumes and personal care products:

  • Rhubarb
  • Mint
  • Tea

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.