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Can a smart phone app protect you from dangerous cosmetics? Episode 38

In this week’s episode Perry and I talk about the Think Dirty app that claims to help you identity dangerous ingredients in your cosmetics. Plus another game of Beauty Science or Bullsh*t!

Show notes

Beauty Science or Bull Sh*t – a special bacteria-based episode

Another special themed version – this time it’s about bacteria. Guess which of the following 3 beauty science headlines are fake? (2 are real, one is made up.)

  1. Your nasal bacteria may predict if you’ll get a skin infection.
  2. Rural bacteria can help improve city dwellers’ health
  3. Bacteria unique to house pets have been found as a contaminant in cosmetics

 Beauty Science News

Would you wash yourself with bacteria?
You rinse your skin with water and then apply a live bacteria mist to keep your body clean. Theoretically the good bacteria colonize your skin and prevent the bad bacteria from growing. The chairman of the company that makes this products only uses soap once or twice a month.

The “Think Dirty” App shows which products have toxic chemicals
This “Think Dirty app uses data from scientific studies conducted by non-profit organizations and government agencies to fill in some of the blanks from the labels of cosmetic products.

This article is a bit one-sided, to say the least. If you really pay attention to the scientific literature you’ll see that cosmetic ingredients such as these are not likely to cause you much harm. You’re WAY more likely to get cancer from drinking alcohol, smoking, or just hanging out in the sun.

Here are a couple of quick rebuttals for those of you who are interested in a balanced discussion:

In all these cases the dose makes the poison. At high levels (as in some hair straighteners) formaldehyde is dangerous but when released at very low levels from preservatives it is not an issue.

The amount of lead in lipstick is VERY small, not much of it is ingested, the amount that is ingested is not absorbed well by your body, and the amount that is absorbed is processed and excreted. Your body can get rid of far more lead than you consume from lipstick. (Instead you should worry about lead paint or contaminated soil instead.)

The evidence seems clear that certain (but not all) phthalates pose a health hazard. But does that hazard mean there’s a risk involved in using phthalates in cosmetics? (Remember that the risk is a function of the hazard AND the degree of exposure.) Both the FDA in the US and the SCCP in EU agree that there’s no clear data that the use of these ingredients in cosmetics pose a measurable hazard to consumers. The FDA is continuing to monitor the situation while the EU has taken a more conservative approach and decided to limit the use of some phthalates to only trace levels. From a regulatory perspective, the EU now has three categories for phthalates:
▪ Accepted phthalates: This one is considered safe for use in cosmetics: DEP
▪ Banned phthalates: These are banned from being added to cosmetics but are allowable as “trace contaminants” up to 100 ppm: DEHP, DBP and BBP.
▪ Unregulated phthalates: These have not been regulated in EU but given their low usage (at least in perfumes) there is no quantifiable risk to consumers: DMP, DIBP, DCHP, DINP and DIDP.

The most comprehensive study was published in 2011 which determined that Methylparaben and Ethylparaben were safe when used at approved levels (0.4% individually & 0.8% combined). Since these are the two most commonly used parabens cosmetic chemists still have good formulation options. They took some more time to look at butylparaben and propylparaben. And the latest SCCS opinion…these are safe when used at the suggested concentrations of 0.19% or less.

Yes, these surfactants can be drying to skin – but so is soap! And the manufactures of these ingredients have limited the trace levels 1,4-Dioxane so there is no need for concern.

The point is that toxicology of cosmetic ingredients is a VERY complicated subject, even for industry veterans like us. To think that all that information can be distilled down to a simple app is naive and unproductive.

Olfactory exposure to men stresses out lab animals
Are lab animals really stressed out by the scent of “gonadally intact” men? What does this mean for all the scientific research done on rats and mice?

Crazy about caffeinated shaving cream
I spotted an annoying new product from The Pacific Shaving Company. It’s caffeinated shaving cream! Here’s what they say about it: “Actually, when it comes to caffeine, the women are ahead of the men. Caffeine is already a “go-to” ingredient in everything from eye creams and anti-aging lotions to concealers and moisturizers. It just hasn’t found its way into the shaving world – until now!

And the reason this is so important to include in skin care is that “It can penetrate skin and absorb into your blood: Start your morning with a kick!”

The real kicker is that if you look at the kinetics of percutaneous caffeine absorption you’ll see that there’s no way this could work.

The diffusion rate for caffeine through human skin is 2.2 x 10-6 grams per centimeter squared of skin, per hour.

So the area of your face that gets shaved is about 100 square centimeters?

That means your skin could absorb up to about 0.2 mg caffeine/hour

Do you know how many mg of caffeine are in a cup of coffee? 100-200.

So for your skin to absorb enough caffeine to “kick start” your morning you’d have to leave this shaving cream on your face for about 1000 hours. That’s assuming it’s even dosed appropriately.

Unpleasant odors makes you more conservative
Here’s a study that says exposure to a disgusting odor makes you more politically conservative (on subjects like sex and gay marriage.)

Scientists develop way of making UV protection visible
Even though we don’t understand this very well we like this idea of a device that can predict how much sunscreen you need based on the amount of UV radiation that you’re exposed to.

More feminine looking women are more likely to win political office
Perry’s on a political roll today and he thinks that wearing cosmetics can help you win elections.


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

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

Click here for all the The Beauty Brains podcasts.

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