Can air freshener stop your allergies? Episode 68

Can an air freshener really reduce allergens? Listen to Perry and I discuss some ways this might be possible. Plus – more beauty science news stories! 

Show notes

Claim to Fame: Allergen reducing air freshener

We’re premeiring a new segment today.  Companies use compelling claims to attract your attention and showcase a product’s benefits. But sometimes they can make you think the prdouct is better than it really or to make you think it’s worth spending more money on it. In this segment we’ll take a look at a few popular claims and show you how to pick them apart: how to understand what it really means, and how the company might support it, and most importantly, to understand it really makes a difference to you so you can decide if the product is worth your hard earned money.

For our first example, we chose an interesting product although strictly speaking it’s not a beauty product rather it’s an air freshener but they’re making the claim that it protects you from allergens so I figure that still falls under personal care.  The product is Febreze Air Effects freshener

Claims and the relevant package copy

  • Allergen Reducer
  • Reduces up to 75% of inanimate allergens that can become airborne from soft surfaces*
  • On the back: * Refers to inanimate allergens from pet dander and dust mite matter that can become airborne from soft surfaces.
  • Spray around the room in a sweeping motion…Allow mist to settle on soft surfaces to keep allergens from becoming airborne.

What does the claim really mean?

Allergen reducer could mean many things: For example, it could somehow neutralize or chemically destroy allergens.
It reminds me of the “99% bacteria reduction” claim that antibacterial products make. Is a reduction of 75% in allergens enough to really make a difference? (That means that 25% of the allergens are still there!)

How does the product work/deliver the claim?

It’s most likely due to a wetting effect or perhaps an electrostatic interaction. In fact if you look at the ingredients you’ll see “polymer” listed which could be some kind of film forming agent to keep dust particles ein place even after the spray has dried. (That might also make it hard to remove from furniture?) We speculate why the claim is only for “soft surfaces.” Why wouldn’t this work on hardwood floors, counters, table tops, etc?

How might the company support a claim like this?

Perry likes the idea of a terrarium type box where the air could be sampled for allergen particles before and after spraying.

Does this claim mean the product is better?

It’s hard to say. How does a “regular” air freshner work in this regard? Is a 75% reduction enough to make a difference? Or is the 25% that’s left still plenty to trigger your allergies?

Key take away

This is one of the key points of critical thinking you should apply to all claims: What is the product in question being compared to? In this case, it’s being compared to nothing at all so it’s impossible to tell if this is a premium product sthat’s worth a higher price. The “*” on the label will often give you this information.

Beauty Science News

Ancient cosmetic skin cream analyzed
I once made a shampoo formula that I kept for about 17 years. It was my first batch of anything and for some reason I just never disposed of it. It stayed stable for about 7 years before it separated into three layers. I suspect if it were a clear shampoo that would not have happened.

Anyway, 17 years seems pretty impressive but not nearly as impressive as this cream which is just about 2000 years old. The formula contained animal fat, starch and tin dioxide. Even more interesting, the scientists who analyzed it made a copy of the formula.

Perhaps the 2000 year old sample wasn’t completely stable (no one said whether they tried it or not) but it doesn’t look separated in the picture. That’s an impressive feat by an ancient cosmetic chemist.

I wonder if any of the people who discovered the cream tried it out. Also, this product was probably preservative free. I suspect that it was an anhydrous formula so you wouldn’t need a preservative.

Who would want an eyeball tattoo?
I have to admit that I’m not a very trendy person but I try to understand what others think is fashionable. But the BBC news has reported on a recent trend and I just don’t get. It’s the practice of tattooing your eyeball. Apparently this was in the news recently because of the sentencing of a criminal in an Alaskan court. He had the white of his right eye tattooed jet black. You really have to see this to appreciate it so I’ll put a link to some pictures in the show notes.

This trend is about a decade old which was kind of surprising to me but it’s gaining new converts all the time. According to the article, The eyeball tattoo was first done by a US tattoo artist who goes by the name of Luna Cobra. Mr. Cobra figured out that he could take a syringe filled with tattoo ink and inject it directly into the eyeball. The pigment rests under the thin top layer of the eye which is called the conjunctiva.

He was inspired by a picture that a friend of his had Photoshop to make his eyes look blue like one of the characters in the science-fiction novel Dune. Cobra took one look at the picture and said “hey I can do that for real .” The next day, Luna Cobra took a syringe and practised on three brave volunteers.

He says he’s “aware of how insane that sounds, but I’ve been doing this type of thing for my whole life so I wasn’t coming from nowhere with this.” Now he’s done it on hundreds of people – in blue, green, red and black. Mr Cobra says “If you want to amuse yourself by decorating your eyeball, why not do it?” Well here’s one reason: opticians say that it could cause infection, inflammation and blindness! But that kind of nay saying is the reason I’m not a very trendy person.

Airline pilots exposed to as much UV as tanning beds
According to this research published by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, the amount of UV radiation that a pilot is exposed to in an airplane cockpit is similar to those gotten by people in tanning beds. It turns out that the acrylic plastic windshield is not so great at blocking UV-A radiation. So flying for 56 minutes at 30,000 feet is equivalent to laying in a tanning bed for 20 minutes.

So, it turns out pilots should wear sunscreen even when they’re inside. I wonder what the UV radiation is like in the bulkhead part of the plane where people are sitting. Probably not anything to be concerned about as the UV radiation would have a tough time getting to people but it might be a good idea to wear sunscreen on the plane just in case.

Are cash register receipts more dangerous than cosmetics?
BPA or bisphenol A is not used in cosmetics anymore (not since 2006) but it is used in packaging – for food and beverages. And concerns have been raised that exposure to BPA could disrupt the endocrine system and be hazardous to our health. The new twist, based on research done at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is that some personal care products may increase the amount of Bisphenol A (BPA) that penetrates through skin and into the blood stream.

The researchers found that a “variety of personal care, skin care and soap products caused a ‘rapid increase’ in the levels of BPA in their blood.” This was particularly true for hand sanitizes, presumably due to high levels of alcohol (I’m talking about ethanol not fatty alcohols.)

I thought that the way they did the research was interesting. They had subjects apply the lotion or sanitizer or whatever and then they handled cash register receipts from a thermal printer. Yea, apparently this kind of printing process leave copious amounts of BPA on the paper. So the lotions, etc apparently reduced the barrier function of their skin then they got all doped up on BPA coated paper. And the headline is “Personal care products heighten absorption of BPA. Shouldn’t the headline have been “Cash register receipts are dangerous!”? They have it back-asswards. And it’s not just store receipts – fast food restaurants, airline tickets, ATM receipts all use this printing method. Why haven’t we heard an outcry over THAT? I’ll tell you exactly why – because of the nefarious Big Thermal Printing Cabal. They’ve covered this whole thing up.

Smartphones and tablets lead to extra wrinkles
Did you know that your iPhone and tablet computer might be damaging to your skin? At least that’s what some dermatologists are saying. They are dubbing it ‘tech-neck’. According to some looking at screens the way we are is leading to sagging skin, dropping jowls and a distinct crease above the clavicle. This used to be a condition seen mainly in people in late middle age but now we are seeing it in a much younger generation of women.

Now, 18 to 39 year olds should be worried about ‘tech-neck’. The idea is that since you are looking down at your screen up to 150 times a day you are stretching out the skin, accelerating the effect of gravity and leading to a natural loss of skin elasticity.

Of course, whenever there is some new recognized beauty problem, beauty brands are quick with a solution. Enter the Yves Saint Laurent brand who claims to have invented the first cream to address ‘tech neck’. They include a new molecule meant to boost the elasticity of skin. It contains a molecule called glycanactif-y which is said to boost glycans and plump up sagging skin.

Color me skeptical that this cream will have much impact on the glycans but it is an interesting new problem. I’m just really skeptical that it is real. I mean, it makes sense but how much of an impact could this really have. I guess we’ll see.

Beauty beverages are bogus
I’m always thrilled to see when somebody exposes the truth behind bogus products especially when you get into this area of nutritional supplements and related products. Here’s a new study that says little or no benefits from the so called “beauty beverages.” You know the kind I’m talking about – these are the vitamin waters, energy drinks, other novel juices that claim to be good for your skin. The study, which was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, didn’t specifically address beauty beverages but they did talk about nutritional beverages that contain the same types of ingredients. The researchers found that for the most part consumers are already getting enough of these nutrients in their diets so they don’t need to consume special beverages.


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