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Will micro-needling help acne scars?

Vic says…I’d like to know what you think of micro needle therapy to reduce acne scars? It says it also stimulates cell regeneration, reduces wrinkles, reduces pores, adds collagen. I’m not too sure… I think it does more harm than good, they are sharp needles after all. But my daughter wants to reduce her acne scars.

The Beauty Brains respond:

It sounds crazy but poking holes in your skin can actually help!

Collagen Induction Therapy

Poking your skin with a needle studded roller is technically referred to as Percutaneous Collagen Induction Therapy (or CIT). CIT has 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 which can fill in wrinkles and help heal scars. Other benefits include improved skin tightness, reduced acne scars and stretch marks, as well as improved scar color.

Amazing, isnt it? Here’s how it works: The needles cause an inflammatory response which triggers a complex series of reactions involving chemotactic factors, neutrophils, and fibroblasts. This process leads to the creation of new skin cells that promote collagen deposition. But here’s the catch: for this procedure to be effective the the needles need to be at least 1.5 mm and have a diameter of 0.25 mm. So, because of potential side effects (not to mention potential pain), only a trained dermatologist should administer the procedure.

DIY Danger

The distinction in needle length is an important one: 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 less scrupulous companies blur the difference and imply that the home model will provide all the benefits of the medical treatment. Some are even so bold as to state that their needle rollers will cure cellulite and baldness. I’m surprised no one is marketing this technology as a breast enlargement treatment!

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Poking your face with needles (when done by a trained professional) is a legitimate treatment to increase collagen. But the Do It Yourself version is another story all together. If the roller has the proper type of needles to be effective then it is a medical device that should only be used by a trained professional. And if it uses smaller needles, then it may be safe for you to use on yourself as an exfolliant, but it won’t provide the same collagen stimulating effect. So either way, when it comes to DIY face needling, let the buyer beware!


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



Karen is curious… I live in Asia currently and this one of the most popular products on the beauty aisle now.It is made by Japan Gals Co. Ltd, and its acts like a facial massager (it’s called the “ion shotnizer“). It has two switches and the red light releases a positive ionic wave and enables “deep cleansing of negatively charged dirt particles which are impossible to remove by normal facial washing”. While the green light releases a negative ionic wave which “brings skincare products into deep layers of skin”. It does not vibrate or use light. Does this sound like hocus pocus to you?

The Beauty Brains respond:

Hocus pocus? Naw.
Psuedoscience? Yep!

What is iontophoresis?

The idea that electric charge can help ingredients penetrate skin is not new. Around the turn of the 20th century the French physician Stéphane Leduc proved that electricity could be used to move compounds through the skin. In an experiment that would be considered appalling by today’s standards he connected two rabbits to the same electrical circuit. The first rabbit was connected to the positive pole which was covered in a pad soaked in strychnine sulphate; the second rabbit was connected to the negative pole which was saturated with potassium cyanide. When the switch was flipped the positive electrode repelled the positively charged strychnine ions into the first rabbit causing it to go into convulsions. Likewise the negative electrode repelled the negatively charged cyanide ions into the second rabbit which poisoned it. When the current was reversed, neither rabbit was harmed because the electrodes attracted the strychnine and cyanide rather than repelling them.  This experiment shows that if an organism is connected to a complete electrical circuit, the electrodes can “push” ions with the same charge through the skin.

Does this mean the ion shotnizer really works?

No, it doesn’t. First of all, the shotnizer does not form a compete electrical circuit (it can only act as the positive or negative side.) Second, it’s unlikely that the two AA batteries that power the unit will produce sufficient energy. Third, even if there was a complete circuit and enough power, only certain types of ions (those with the right size, solubility, and charge) will penetrate skin.

But what about their claim that it will get rid of “negatively charged dirt particles which are impossible to remove by normal facial washing?” This claim makes no sense because that’s not how the charge interaction between skin and dirt works. When skin is damaged it has more of a negative charge which means that positive charged particles are more likely to stick to it. They basically have it backwards. Besides, who’s to say that any kind of ionic treatment would remove dirt particles better than a mild detergent?

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Unless the good folks at “Japan Gals Co. Ltd” can produce evidence that this gadget does what they say, I have to say that the ion shotnizer is hocus poo-poo.

Reference: Iontophoresis and Desincrustation

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This week I challenge Perry to another game of Beauty Science or BS. Plus we banter about a bevy of beauty science news stories. 

Click below to play Episode 42 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show notes

Beauty Science or Bull Sh*t – a special sunscreen-themed episode

Can you guess which one of the following Refinery29 headlines is fake?

  1. Your Hair Products Are Causing Your Scalp Sunburn
  2. Text your way to sunburn free skin
  3. Chemical-Free Sunscreens For A Health-Conscious Summer

Listen to the show for the answer and to find out if you can beat Perry at this game.

Beauty Science News Stories

1. Microbead ban not so bad

A ban on micro beads may not be such a big deal since there’s no evidence that the beads do a better job of exfoliating than a regular cleanser with a washcloth.

2. Should titanium dioxide be pulled off the market? 

The Public Interest Alliance (PIA) has won a California lawsuit requiring five leading skin care brands to re-label or remove titanium dioxide (TiO2) from their products. The PIA points to the link between TiO2 inhalation and tumor growth but they admit there’s no evidence that products containing TiO2 are dangerous to people. They say they just want to raise awareness of the safety issue.  The affected brands include DermaQuest, Dr. Hauschka Skincare, Melaleuca and Murad.

3. Is feline acne a thing?

Yes, your cat can get acne. Especially if it has bad hygiene. And, no, you don’t need to put benzoyl peroxide on its whiskers.

4. Is Abercrombie’s scent making you sick?

Abercrombie’s Fierce fragrance is making shoppers anxious, according to researchers at Concordia University in Canada. Professor Bianca Grohmann says that if a scent is mismatched to the space it is smelled in, it will increase anxiety. For example, “open” smells like the seashore or apple orchards, shouldn’t be used in enclosed spaces. Likewise “indoor” scents, like buttered popcorn or firewood shouldn’t be used outside. Abercrombie has announced it would cut its fragrance emissions by 25 percent.

5. Is Neutrogena’s Cloudscreen just a smokescreen?

Neutrogena is marketing a standard sunscreen product as a “cloud screen” that’s meant to protect your skin from the sun on cloudy days. Is this a legitimate attempt to get people to use more sunscreen or just more marketing BS?

6. Salon brands are not always who you think.

Salon hair care brands are fiercely independent using cutting edge knowledge….right? Well 3 salon brands were just gobbled up by the German surfactant company Henkel: Alterna, SexyHair and Kenra in $370 million deal.

Henkel also owns Dial, Schwarzkopf, Right Guard, and Got2Be (to name a few.)

7. The genetics of  being blonde

Just a single mutation on a gene determines if you have blonde hair. (This is called a single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNIPs for short.) Even though most humans have the same basic genetic makeup, SNIPs make us all different. In the future could you make yourself a blonde through genetic manipulation?

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.



The chemistry of hair color

Earlier this year I did a talk for a cosmetic science class at the University of Toledo which outlined the hair research I did which eventually resulted in this patent.  It was all about the process of how we went through some basic research to determine why colored hair fades and ways to prevent that from happening.  It was fun to remember that time.  While putting together the research I had to review the chemistry of hair colors and I thought I’d share that information with the Beauty Brains community.

Types of hair color

Natural hair color is the result of two types of melanin pigments, eumelanin which is responsible for the brown and black colors of hair and pheomelanin which creates the orange or blonde hues.  Together, these two molecules are responsible for every hair color on the planet, except for the artificial ones or grey hair which is the absence of any pigment.

There are a number of options for synthetic hair color and these are classified by the types of color molecules used and the length of time that they last.  They include the following

  • Temporary hair color
  • Semi-permanent / demi-permanent hair color
  • Permanent hair color
  • Bleaching

We’ll go through each of these and explain how they work.

Temporary hair color

Temporary hair colors are ones that are meant to be applied and worn for only a short amount of time.  They are great forperry romanowskioccasions when you just want to try out a new color.  They also have many more color options than you can get with most other hair colors.  Here’s a picture of when I tried a pink colored temporary hair color.  The thing about temporary hair colors is that they only coat the surface of the hair (they can’t penetrate) so they are easily removed with one or two shampooings.  The colorants used are acid or basic dyes.  Many of them are the same colorants used for food.  Acid dyes are more easily removed because they are less compatible with hair.  Basic dyes may be slightly more substantive but they too a readily removed.

Semi-permanent hair color

Semi-permanent hair colors can penetrate the surface of the hair into the cuticle layer.  These products will last for a few more washings than temporary colors but they too will eventually be washed out.  The vast majority of dyes used for semipermanent colors include nitrophenylenediamines, nitroaminophenols and aminoanthraquinones.   The first two compounds create yellow to violet colors while the last provides violet to blue hues.  Semi-permanent hair colors work great for people who just want to experiment with a new color.  They also work well for grey hair coverage.  One of the challenges for semi-permanent colors is that they do not completely cover the natural hair color so this tends to limit the color pallet that is available for the consumer.  That also means hair is not as damaged but it’s a trade off.


When a consumer wants to go lighter in color, one way to permanently do that is to bleach the hair.  Beaching essentially is an oxidation reaction with the hair melanin that causes it to lose color.  Strong bleaching requires a combination of ammonia, hydrogen peroxide and ammonium persulfate.  This will properly open up the hair shaft and break down the melanin.  Hair color is typically described on a 12 point scale with a 12 being ultra blonde and a 1 being black.  The maximum level of bleaching you can achieve with one treatment is a change of a 6-7 level.  Also, once this bleaching is done the hair is permanently changed in color.  New hair at the roots will be the natural hair color but the bleached hair will remain bleached unless otherwise colored.

Permanent hair coloring

The most common hair color is permanent hair coloring.  This process involves a change in hair color that is “permanent” or at least until new hair grows.  The process involves a couple of steps including bleaching out the natural hair color (by 3-4 levels) and adding the new color.  The dyes used are actually dye precursors.  These small molecules are monomers which are able to penetrate into the hair all the way to the cortext.  Common compounds used include p-phenylenediamine and p-aminophenol.  Permanent hair color is a three step process that begins with colorless monomers.

  1. Oxidation of the monomer to a reactive species via peroxide
  2. Addition of a coupler to give a dye intermediate
  3. Oxidation of intermediate to create the final dye

This is a polymerization reaction so the dye molecules become too large to easily come out of the hair shaft upon washing.  Thus, you get a permanent coloring.

The significant issues with this type of coloring is that it damages the hair structure and you have limited colors that can work.  Also, a patch test needs to be done to ensure that the person getting the hair colored does not have a negative reaction.


Sunscreen savvy for Sunday

Since it’s now August and we’re well into the summer (at least here in the northern hemisphere), I thought it might be a good idea to recap a few our favorite sunscreen-themed posts. (Instead of our regular beauty science news of the week.) Enjoy!


Africa’s Best No Lye Relaxer – Look at the label

Africa’s Best Dual Conditioning No-Lye Relaxer System is a top seller on Amazon.com. Is its “No Lye” claim truthful? Let’s look at the label to find out.

I worked with the chemist who developed Motions and other world class relaxers. If you want to support the Beauty Brains please use our link below to shop for No-lye Relaxer or ANY product that you want from Amazon. Perry & I really appreciate your support!

Is Africa’s Best Relaxer really no lye?

Lye, in case you didn’t know, is another name for sodium hydroxide which is the most effective ingredient used in modern relaxers. Unfortunately, it’s also the most harsh. No Lye relaxers use a calcium hydroxide combined with guanidine carbonate. The result is a relaxer that is a little more forgiving – you can leave it on a bit longer before it burns your scalp and fries your hair. Of course the trade off is that it doesn’t straighten quite as well. If you’re getting your hair relaxed by a professional in a salon a lye relaxer is good because it’s so effective. But if you’re doing it yourself at home, a no-lye product does a pretty good job and gives you a little extra cushion of safety.

Africa’s Best Dual Conditioning No-Lye Relaxer System ingredients

Super Activator: Aqua (Water) , Guanidine Carbonate , Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein , CI 16035 (Red 40) ,

Creme Relaxer: Aqua (Water) , Petrolatum , Cetearyl alcohol , Ceteareth-20 , Calcium Hydroxide , Paraffinum Liquidum (Mineral Oil) , PEG-75 Lanolin , Polyquaternium-6 , Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil , Olea Europaea Fruit Oil (Olive) , Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter , PEG-50 Shea Butter , Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil , Cholesterol , Tocopherol , Simmondsia Chinensis Seed Oil (Jojoba) , Silk Amino Acids , Mustela (Mink Oil) , Ovum (Egg Powder) , Lactis Proteinum (Milk Protein) , Mel (Honey) , Zea Mays (Corn) Oil , Bht , BHA , Neutralizing Shampoo: Aqua (Water) , Sodium Laureth sulfate , Cocamidopropyl Betaine , Cocamide DEA , Polyquaternium-47 , Trideceth-7 Carboxylic Acid , Carboxylic Acid , Phenolsulfonphthalein , propylene glycol , propylparaben , MEthylparaben , Articum Lappa Root Extract , Trigonella Foenum-Graecum Seed Extract , Commiphora Myrrha Extract , Betula Alba Leaf Extract , Hedra Helix Extract (Ivy) , Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Extract , Salvia Officinalis (Sage) Leaf Extract , Arnica Montana Flower Extract , Nasturtium Officinale Extract , Urtica Dioica Extract (Nettle) , sodium chloride , Citric Acid , Deep Conditioner: Aqua (Water) , Dimethicone Copolyol , PPG-1 Trideceth-6 , Polyquaternium-37 , Propylene Glycol Dicaprylate , Dicaprate , Hydrolyzed Collagen , DMDM HYDANTOIN , panthenol , fragrance , d-limonene , tetrasodium edta , Lyral , linalool


White Rain Shampoo – Vintage cosmetic video

“Nice shot,” says the Golf Pro to the Sunshine Bright Blonde.  “And take a look at the beautiful hair!”

Sure, it’s an awkward come on line but she doesn’t seem to mind. It took him until the 8th hole to get up the courage for even that lame overature. She laughs and agrees to let him buy her a drink. By the end of the commercial they’ve polished off  three Mai Tai’s and she sends him off for another round. After all, this is Golf Day and she’s not nearly ready to go home yet.

The beauty science bit is that apparently the White Rain of the 1950s was not a cream, a dulling bar or a drying liquid. Rather it was a “lotion shampoo.” What the heck is a lotion shampoo? Since this was before two-in-one shampoo technology was invented I assume that they added an opacifying agent to the shampoo which gives it that rich, pearly look.

It’s also interesting to consider the claim “The only shampoo guaranteed not to dull or dry your hair.” How could they prove that White Rain was the ONLY shampoo that wouldn’t dull hair? They didn’t have to prove that – if you read the claim carefully you’ll realize they’re simply claiming to be the only brand that makes that guarantee. Presumably, if some other company had started making the same promise, this White Rain commercial would have been null and void.


Yesterday I told you all about the Sunscreen Innovation Act and how the EWG is pushing us to get safer sunscreens by skipping safety testing. (It’s a long story, follow the link above and you’ll see what I mean.)

By now we know that the law DID pass which hopefully means we’ll see these “superior” European ingredients on the U.S. market soon. But wouldn’t it be awesome if you could get some of these European ingredients right now? Well you can, sort of.

The secret sunscreen ingredient

As noted in yesterday’s discussion, the laws that govern approval of ingredients for Over the Counter products like sunscreens make the process very ponderous. There is, however, another way to get a sunscreen ingredient approved that bypasses this process: companies can petition the FDA to approve a new sunscreen active as part of a New Drug Application. This NDA “backdoor” is not used very often because it’s an expensive process and it limits the types of formulas in which the active can be used. But this is exactly what cosmetic giant L’Oreal did back in 2006 with their patented ingredient “Ecamsule.” Ecamsule not only provides stronger UVA protection but can also be used in formulas which are longer lasting and which have a better skin feel.

So, armed with data from Europe, Canada, and other parts of the world, L’Oreal won U.S. approval for a few, very specific Ecamsule-based products. Sound too good to be true? There is a catch: First of all, it’s expensive so you can expect to pay considerably more for products containing this secret ingredient. Second, you may have a hard time finding Ecamsule products. That’s partly because L’Oreal is limited in the number of different formulation in which it can be used but it’s also because Ecamsule goes under several different names. It’s also known as Mexoryl SX, Anthelios SX, and the ever popular terephthalylidene dicamphor-sulfonic acid. To make things even more tricky, L’Oreal sells these products under the guise of some of their non-L’Oreal brands like La Roche-Posay and Vichy.

Still, if you’re aching to try sunscreen formulas that are not allowed under the OTC monograph, here are links to a few L’Oreal Ecamsule sunscreens. (Note: If you actually buy any product after clicking our link please be advised that we received a microscopic commission from Amazon. Trust me, it’s not a lot of money but I just thought you should know.)

Top 5 best sunscreens with Ecamsule

La Roche-Posay Anthelios SX Daily Moisturizing Cream SPF 15 with Mexoryl SX

La Roche-Posay Anthelios 40 Suncreen Cream UVA Protection with Mexoryl SX

Vichy Capital Soleil Max Protection SPF 50+ Face Cream

Ombrelle Sunscreen SPF60 w/ MEXORYL

Loreal Revitalift UV with Mexory SX


How to bypass US law to get better sunscreen

Astute Beauty Brains fan, Lisa K, sent us a press release from the Environmental Working Group which asks “Do you want safer sunscreens today? Then tell your representative to vote for the the Sunscreen Innovation Act

According to the EWG, we need more, safer sunscreen options and the FDA should move faster to approve chemical sunscreens. On the flip side the FDA says something like “Hold it – we can’t approve these ingredients yet because we need more safety data.” Let me get this straight: the EWG is arguing that we should expose people to chemicals that haven’t been properly safety tested? Has the world gone topsy turvy?

Better protection with the Sunscreen Innovation Act

Not really. The problem lies in the way the U.S. regulatory system is set up to approve sunscreen actives. You see, in the U.S. sunscreens are drugs and therefore have to go through a longer approval process than in Europe where they are treated as cosmetics. It’s a case of good intentions gone bad, apparently, because European countries have more, and more effective, sunscreens to choose from. For example, there are currently 8 new (to the  U.S.) sunscreen ingredients awaiting approval and they’ve been stuck in the approval process for about 5 years. These are important ingredients because some of them do a better job of absorbing UVA rays which are the ones that cause most skin cancers.

The new proposed law (the Sunscreen Innovation Act aka HR 4250) proposes a more streamlined approval process which would require the FDA to act on these 8 ingredients within one year. And any future new ingredients would have to be evaluated within one and a half years.  Of course no one’s advocating using untested chemicals on our skin but since 2 million per year are diagnosed with skin cancer it makes sense to take a faster look at ingredients from other countries when they have years of in market safety data.  All things considered we think the Environmental Working Group is making the right argument, this time.

How to find a better sunscreen

If it’s not too late by the time you read this you can click the link above to tell your representative to got for the new sunscreen law. (Oops, too late – it was just announced that the law passed!) But what can you do if you want better sunscreen protection RIGHT NOW? There’s a little secret we’ll let you in on. You can find one of these superior European sunscreen ingredients in the U.S. right now if you know where to look. Next time I’ll tell you the sunscreen secret that “bypasses” the U.S. laws.


Are omega-3 fatty acids good for skin?  Or, do these oils actually damage your skin? This week Randy and I explain what omegas, polyunsaturated oils, and Essential Fatty Acids really do for your skin. Plus – Beauty Science News!    

Click below to play Episode 41 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show notes

Beauty Science News – Are you science savvy?

I found an interesting article on the top 10 scientific terms that scientists wish you’d stop using incorrectly.Randy and I banter about a few of them including:

  • “Proof”
  • Theory vs hypothesis
  • Nature vs nurture
  • and more!

Question of the week: Are omega fatty acids good for skin?

Ling asks…I read on Beauty Editor that polyunsaturated oils are the cause of skin aging. They also said that Essential Fatty Acids (like Omega 3s) are not really essential. I’m skeptical but can you tell me if this is all really true?

What are PUFAs?

Way back in 1929, George Burr and his wife Mildred discovered that if rats were fed a fat-free diet, their skin would lose the ability to hold moisture. They’d also develop visible skin abnormalities.

Then the Burrs began reintroducing fats into the rats’ diet one at a time until they determined that oils rich in certain polyunsaturated fatty acids (like corn oil and linseed oil) could completely reverse these skin conditions. Oils containing only saturated fatty acids (coconut oil, butter) did not solve the problem. And that’s how the importance of polyunsaturated fatty acids was discovered. It has since been determined that essential fatty acid deficiency (EFAD) in humans also causes symptoms of dermatitis such as scaling and dryness.

So what are these PolyUnsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs)? They’re a class of chemical characterized by the following:

1. A long carbon chain (that’s a defining characteristic of fats and oils.)
This chain ends with a carboxylic acid group which is H-C=0 (This is where it gets the name “acid.”)

2. Two or more of the carbon-carbon bonds in this long fatty chain are double bonds. Remember every carbon atom likes to make bonds to 4 other atoms. In the case of oils, the carbons are bonded to hydrogen atoms. (That’s why oils are called “hydrocarbons.” If the carbon can’t bond to a hydrogen then it forms an extra bond to the carbon next to it. This is called a double bond or an unsaturated bond because it’s not saturated with hydrogen. Conversely, saturated fats have no double bonds because all the carbons are saturated, or bonded with, hydrogen atoms.

  • When an oil is saturated it tends to be a solid at room temperature (like butter.)
  • When an oil is unsaturated it tends to be a liquid at room temperature (like olive oil.)

What are Essential Fatty Acids?

PUFAs, like other lipids, play a critical role in skin biology. Some PUFAs can be manufactured by the body but some PUFAs can ONLY be obtained through diet – in other words, since your body can’t produce them you have to eat them. These PUFAs that must be eaten in order to maintain health skin called Essential Fatty Acids. So EFAs are a subclass of PUFAs. All EFAs are PUFAs but not all PUFAs are EFAs.

There are only two TRUE EFAs:

  • linoleic acid
  • alpha-linolenic acid

By the way, some other fatty acids are sometimes classified as “conditionally essential,” meaning that they can become essential under some developmental or disease conditions; examples include docosahexaenoic acid gamma-linolenic acid.

These are the ones that are most important in the context of skin care because from these two parent compounds, the body synthesizes longer chain derivatives that also have important functions in healthy skin. Without them you’ll develop skin problems like dermatitis.

These are NOT the same as Essential Oils which are a type of perfume ingredient. It has nothing to do with being essential to your body, it’s just a perfumery phrase.

What does the “omega” in omega fatty acids mean?

We just said that EFAs consist of long chain of carbon and hydrogen atoms with a carboxylic acid group at the end. When naming carbon chains we start by labeling the carbon next to the carboxylate which is known as the α carbon, the next carbon is the β carbon, and so forth. The carbon in the last position is labelled as the “omega” carbon which is abbreviated with the last letter in the Greek alphabet which looks like a “w.”

This is important because the properties of the molecule are different depending on the location of the double bonds (the unsaturated part of the chain) in relation to the end of molecule.

So, an omega-3 fatty acid has a double bond on the 3rd carbon from the end while an omega-6 fatty acid has a double bond on the 6 carbon from the end. These are loosely called Omega-3s or Omega-6s or sometimes just Omega fatty acids.

What do EFAs do for skin?

When you ingest these fats they’re absorbed across the intestines and are then processed by the liver for delivery to skin. It’s assumed that they accumulate in the sebaceous glands which then deliver them to the skin’s surface. To some extent you can “bypass” the digestive system by applying EFAs directly to skin. That’s because they provide some benefits when applied directly to the stratum corneum but it’s also because they are absorbed through the skin into the blood stream where they can be redistributed.

Once they reach the epidermis they become part of the extracellular lipid matrix that provides the barrier function of skin. How do they do this? Well, you’ve heard of ceramides, right? EFAs, specifically Linoleic acid (LA),is combined with other molecules to create these ceramides that help control the permeability barrier function of the skin. So they are critical to skin health.

PUFA’s gone bad – the free radical hypothesis

So back to Ling’s question, do PUFAs cause skin aging. As we said a minute ago, PUFAs are some what of a controversy in nutritionist circles. In particular, there is one researcher, Ray Peat who claims they do all sort of horrible things to your metabolism when you ingest them. For example, he says PUFAs are responsible for…

“cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, obesity, stress-induced immunodeficiency, epilepsy, brain swelling, retardation, hardening of the arteries, cataracts, and so on. He says they are “They are possibly the most important toxin for animals.”

We’re not nutritionists so we won’t debate that point but Peat also claims that PUFAs are bad for skin which is relevant to Ling’s question. Peat claims (and we quote) that “Free radicals are reactive molecular fragments that occur even in healthy cells, and can damage the cell. When unsaturated oils are exposed to free radicals, they can create chain reactions of free radicals that spread the damage in the cell, and contribute to the cell’s aging.”

So according to Peat, adding PUFAs to your skin is sort of like pouring gasoline on a fire. You’re adding fuel that can make the UV damage worse. That’s a serious accusation and it is counter to what science has been telling us for years. Is it legit?

Are PUFAs really bad for skin or not?

It is true that these oils oxidize. No question about that. But I couldn’t find any evidence that they are harmful to skin. Peat seems to be the ONLY researcher raising this concern. At least the only one I could find. EVERYTIME I came across an article stating that PUFAs are dangerous to skin the source of their information was one of Peat’s articles. And by the way, as far as I could tell, he hasn’t been published in any peer reviewed scientific journal.

These articles are well referenced – at least regarding nutrition. His articles include dozens of citations for scientific studies going back 70 years or more. But in all his references I could not find a single study that corroborated his claim that polyunsaturated oils are bad for skin. I may have missed it – but I couldn’t find it. In fact, when I reviewed the technical literature all I could were studies that confirmed what we have always been told about these oils which is that they are essential for skin health.

These oils do oxidize and I did find some research addressing this problem. Not from a “ it’s bad for skin” perspective but just a “don’t let the oil go rancid.” I’ll put a link to that study in the show notes but essentially what it says by mixing the polyunsaturates with other types of oils (canola) and with antioxidants you can greatly reduce the amount that the polyunsaturate is oxidized. Here’s one data point in that regard: they measured PUFAs to determine how long it took before the oil showed significant oxidation. They did this at elevated temperature and with exposure to UV and found it only takes about eight hours. But with antioxidants and other oils it lasts hundred hours.

So if oxidation of PUFAs leading to more free radicals really is a problem, the simple solution is to blend them with other oils and antioxidants. Specifically look for tocopherol, which is Vitamin E.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

The current scientific consensus is that certain polyunsaturated fatty acids (the ones we call Essential Fatty Acids) play an important role in maintaining healthy skin. Your body can’t make these EFAs so you have to get them through your diet or by applying them directly to your skin. These oils are prone to oxidation but despite the claims or Mr Peat, there seems to be no credible evidence that they are bad for your skin. But, as always, we love to be proved wrong so if anyone has proof that EFAs are bad for skin, we’d love to see it.




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