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Is it okay to have alcohol in your skin care products? Episode 105

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Does bee venom cause eye puffiness? IMG_8084

Tune in to listen to Perry’s amazing story to find out. (Hint: check out the picture.)

Is amniotic fluid the next hot anti-aging ingredient?

Have you heard about this new trend in skin care? Amniotic fluid.

Well, at least that is what is being claimed by this story in Stylecaster. Or is it?

The headline to the story is “Amniotic Fluid is a Growing Trend in Skin Car”. So I thought right away that I would be reading a story about amniotic fluid in beauty products. Which seems pretty weird to me. How could they put human tissue in beauty products? I know I’ve heard of placenta being used but that doesn’t really happen in the US.

Upon further reading you see that they talk about two products that are claiming “inspiration” from amniotic fluid. One of the products is from Hourglass Cosmetics. They have a skin active serum that uses a plant-based lipid that is found in high concentrations in amniotic fluid. So, it’s not amniotic fluid that is being used. According to the company, the lipid helps normalize skin cell growth which will apparently counteract signs of aging. Yeah right.

The other product they talk about is from Bilogique Recherché that uses a mix of fatty emollients that simulate vernix which is the waxy coating found on newborns. The cream mask is supposed to protect and recharge stressed skin. Oh brother.

So, despite the headine amniotic fluid is not being used in skin care products for antiaging. And there is no research of which I’m aware that has shown using amniotic fluid will have any anti-wrinkling effects. Save your money people.

Your smartphone can protect you from sunburn


I read an article that says your smartphone can protect you from sunburn. At first I just assumed this is because more people are buying the freakishly huge iPhone 6 plus, attaching it a selfie stick and then and holding it over their to shade them from the sun like an umbrella. It turns out that’s not the case at all. It’s actually an app that alerts you if you’re getting too much sun exposure.


The app is called Solar Cell (aka Sun Zap) and it’s produced in partnership with the National Cancer Center. Essentially it’s a sophisticated reminder system that tells you to spend less time in direct midday sun and encourages you to wear more sun protective clothing and hats. Those are both very common sense approaches to avoiding sun damage skin but they’re also easy to forget.

Apparently the developers have put together a system that effectively prompts you toward these good behaviors. Some proof that this works is available in the form of two clinical studies which where published in JAMA Dermatology. Here are the numbers: In the first study, 454 participants completed a survey, 305 were assigned to download and use the app, and 125 actually did it.

Since the base size was fairly small, the results showed that the people in the app group spent more time in the shade. But comparing within the app group they found that those who used it (vs those who didn’t) were more likely to wear protective clothing and to spend less time in the midday sun. This was surprising though – app users reported using LESS sunscreen. That seems counter intuitive but maybe they thought they needed less sunscreen because they spent less time in the sun.

The second study was identical in design (but with fewer people) and showed similar results. Another odd finding though: using the app didnt reduce the panelists chances of getting sunburn. (there were too few cases for the app to make a difference, said the researchers.)

I’m still not completely convinced that this will work as stated and it’s certainly not a full proof system but anything that increases your awareness and gets you to shield yourself from the sun can’t be a bad idea.

Is this new sunscreen technology an improvement?


Researchers at Yale university have developed a sunscreen that doesn’t penetrate the skin which, according to them, would eliminate a serious concern about commercial sunscreens.

They reported their findings in the journal Nature Materials. According to the researchers they found that the material they developed blocks damaging UV light and it isn’t easily removed from skin.

Their secret? Nanoparticles.

They also get into a claim that standard sunscreen ingredients like the organic molecules approved by the FDA can cause damage by creating reactive oxygen species. He says if these ingredient penetrate deep enough they could potentially facilitate skin cancer. That’s right, they are claiming the sunscreens can cause skin cancer. That is just over the top and there is zero evidence this is the case.

This story shows the naivette of university researchers. First, sunscreens don’t penetrate skin to a significant amount. Second, they aren’t associated with higher rates of cancer. And third, why don’t they just use nanoparticle sized versions of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide?

Their ingredient is a hydrophobic chemical called padimate O which is encased in a nanoparticle.

We’ll see if this goes any where. It seems like they are solving a problem that doesn’t really exist.

L’Oreal chemist revolutionizes makeup with a new true blue


Here’s a case of a L’Oreal chemist who’s being recognized for a beauty breakthrough she discovered so I want to acknowledge her here on the show today. But I also want to see if we can figure out exactly what she’s being recognized for. Let me explain….

According to Cosmetics Design, Balanda Atis who is head of L’Oréal’s Women of Color Lab, has “revolutionized makeup” for women from an array of backgrounds. How did she do this? By using a colorant that they said is “rarely” used in their formulations she was able to create makeup that can better match deep skin tones. Typically, makeup for women of color is too red or too pale. But about 10 years ago she began to work on her own solution and Balanda, who says that “We’re always looking at new colorants and other raw materials” found that incorporation Ultramarine Blue into makeup solved the problem. The VP of the division described her discovery as “game changing.”

I’m baffled by this because Ultramarine Blue is an approved colorant and has been used for YEARS. I used it to formulate color cosmetics back in the mid-1980s. So clearly, her breakthrough was not figuring out a new, innovative raw material. It must have more to do with the way she blended it with other colors? I’m mean I’m impressed and all I just don’t really understand it.

So Balanda, if you’re listening to this, please get in touch with us and help us understand.

Should there be alcohol in your skin care?


Shall we talk about the kerfuffle we had with our good friends over at Paula’s choice about alcohol in skin products?

Their position is that the study we referenced doesn’t represent how people actually use alcohol containing products. They say that the alcohol products were meant to be left on the skin and the study doesn’t reflect that usage. They also say that high amounts of alcohol in skin products cause accumulative damage. I’m not convinced.

While the study we referred to does not represent how people normally use cosmetics, it does represent skin exposure to alcohol and demonstrates a worst case scenario. If the pure ingredient applied to skin for a long time does not demonstrate significant irritation, there should be little concern about using a formula that has the ingredient blended with other ingredients. Adding ethanol at reasonable levels allows formulators to combine ingredients that may otherwise not be included. We haven’t seen any convincing evidence that consumers who use products formulated with alcohol in this way are harming their skin.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Eileen October 20, 2015, 12:48 pm

    Those Yale researchers must be very, very young if they think Padimate O is something new and wonderful. It’s been used as a sunscreen for decades. I guess their twist is that it sits on the surface and is not absorbed? Actually, back in the day, I found Padimate O to be extremely irritating and was under the impression that it (along with PABA) had fallen out of favor especially in sunscreens for the face. This “startling, new research” brings to mind the old saying: The more things change, the more they stay the same 😉

    As for blue pigments in foundations, that is another example of what is old is new again. Even back in the late fifties (I can’t go back further than that–I’m not that old! LOL) we had blue tinged correctors and powders and, as any woman worth her Sephora card can tell you, nowadays there are loads of products for the face that incorporate blue pigments. Consequently, I don’t think the big deal is using blue pigment so much as it is recognizing that women of color have a rich variety of undertones that need to be factored in when designing a foundation for them. That the problem is being addressed by a global beauty behemoth such as L’Oreal is a huge step forward. Although it’s a cliché that beauty comes in all colors, the beauty industry has been slow to embrace it. When Lancôme selected the beautiful Lupita Nyong’o as its “face” and then went on to offer a number of products so flattering to women with darker skintones, I felt like a big stride forward had been made. Here’s the bottom line: Using blue pigment is not new. Using it in foundation is not revolutionary. Recognizing Atis for her “discovery” is just a ploy to get some publicity for the long overdue launch of some new foundation shades.

    As for alcohol in skin formulations–don’t get me started! Certainly, there are harsh products out there that will dry and irritate the skin, but there are many more that use alcohol as part of the formulatio that do no harm whatsoever. But, I began by saying don’t get me started so I won’t! 😉

    • Randy Schueller October 20, 2015, 2:13 pm

      Eileen: I think we need to hire you as our resident beauty historian.

      • Eileen October 20, 2015, 3:37 pm

        LOL 🙂

  • Judy L Dughman October 20, 2015, 7:31 pm

    I’m confused! You talk about alcohol and ethanol interchangeably, which I think I understand, but the alcohol used in the majority of skin care is Isopropyl Alcohol, which is awfully drying and damaging for people with sensitive skin. I have yet to see many skin care products that contain pure ethanol. Can you enlighten me?

  • Kelli October 20, 2015, 8:54 pm

    I agree with you guys and Eileen on the whole Ultramarine Blue pigment in products. That’s sort of basic color theory, which you would think that any company who is making “color” cosmetics would know at least a little something about. Color theory has also been used for ??? in processing film for photographs. Again, basic color theory. Like Eileen said, probably just something to spotlight the new line.

    • Eileen October 21, 2015, 8:43 pm

      Even powder manufacturers in the 1800’s knew about the color wheel and created blue and lavender tinged powders to counteract the yellow-orange effect of candlelight. In those days, women coveted a cool, pale, porcelain look and so the warm glow of candlight was seen as a problem. Thankfully, by that time most women (and men!) had gotten the memo about the toxic (and sometimes deadly) effects of the white lead based foundation called ceruse and so safer alternatives such as the blue and lavender tinged powders were popular. Yes, blue pigments have been used in foundation products for centuries and No, Randy, I’m not old enough to remember this first hand! LOL

  • jicky October 20, 2015, 9:44 pm

    When I used to spray perfume on my décolleté I ended up with red bubbly skin that I had to pay to have reconditioned with peels etc. The beauty therapist told me it was the alcohol in the fragrance combined with exposure to the sun that caused the skin trouble. Would you agree with that Randy or do you think it might have been other ingredients that may have led to that reaction? regards

    • pannerin October 21, 2015, 2:35 am

      It’s probably the fragrance ingredients used in the perfume. Many ingredients used in perfume increase photosensitivity of the skin when exposed to sunlight. Apply perfume under a broad-spectrum sunscreen that does not interfere with the scent, or simply apply to skin that is covered up by opaque fabric.

    • Randy Schueller October 21, 2015, 7:00 am

      The problem could have been caused by the perfume oils rather than the alcohol. Some fragrance compounds are known irritants and can react with UV light.

  • Alessandra October 20, 2015, 10:35 pm

    Is it possible that sensitivity to alcohol is an individual thing? My skin flakes a lot when I use toners containing alcohol, but my husband uses after shave and he is fine

    • Randy Schueller October 21, 2015, 7:01 am

      Yes, the drying effect could certainly vary from person to person. It also depends on what’s in the products. Toners may be mostly alcohol while after shave may contain moisturizing agents.

  • Laura P. October 21, 2015, 6:26 am

    I’m an impressionable consumer, so when I hear things from Paula like “alcohol kills skin cells” I start to get a little concerned.
    (starting minute 51:39 here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLZC_j2YvNI&index=3&list=PLL5NMj2wYGjavMFjllsgUo0CIVJ85BtrM)

    I also saw another video where she said that “alcohol explodes skin cells so ingredients can penetrate the skin” (paraphrasing). This is pretty graphic language.

    What’s the real deal? Is alcohol irritant because it kills cells? I learned (from listening to the podcast) that the top layer of skin is dead anyway – so what are we “killing” or “exploding” exactly?

    Could you expand a little bit on how alcohol interacts with the skin and how it facilitates the penetration of ingredients?



  • Vivella October 21, 2015, 10:14 am

    I have medium olive skin (being Italian) and find that most foundation makeup is either too orange, too pink and dark, or too yellow (true olive is more neutral than yellow), so after much struggling and never finding a perfect colour, I have successfully altered some of the foundations I have, by adding a drop or two of leaf green food colouring. My thinking process was that leaf green has blue and yellow in it, which basically is opposite orange on the colour wheel, so it would help! I have also taken ‘chartreuse’ coloured eyeshadow (an olivey green) and scraped some into foundation with similar results. Thanks for an interesting post!

  • Ashlynn October 21, 2015, 11:27 am

    This is quite interesting info about L’oreal. I make mineral makeup and Ultramarine blue is a color I must have for darker foundations and eyeshadow shades, as well as blushes for a cooler pink/red, or peach tone. It seems like basic color science that blue counteracts orange and can neutralize a shade too orange/deep of a yellow. I have successfully come up with a couple shades of foundation for darker skin tones and they are tried and true! Ultra marine blue isn’t the only magic ingredient with darker foundations though. I’ve also found different sericite micas and more/less zinc to make a difference too. I wonder if there is more to this than they let on or if they might really need some attention in the oh-so competitive world of cosmetics.

  • Michelle October 21, 2015, 3:39 pm

    Geesh, what a bait and switch. “Amniotic Fluid is a Growing Trend in Skin Care” = “taking inspiration from amniotic fluid”? The people coming up with these clickbait titles are basically straight up lying nowadays!

  • Wonderlusting October 21, 2015, 6:34 pm

    I’m a long time reader and love the way you break down the science. However re alchohol I was extremely surprised to read the assertion “If the pure ingredient applied to skin for a long time does not demonstrate significant irritation, there should be little concern about using a formula that has the ingredient blended with other ingredients.”

    Ethanol on its own may very well cause no reaction but the fact that one ingredient on its own causes no irritation therefore means that it will be OK when mixed with other ingredients is quite a leap! There are examples of solutes reacting with solvents. It would be great if you could qualify that statement.

    • Randy Schueller October 22, 2015, 6:59 am

      Thanks for calling us out on this important point. We were commenting on the inherent irritation potential of alcohol itself and ignoring the potential for it to act as as a penetration enhancer that could increase irritation potential of other ingredients. We should have said something like “If alcohol is not irritating at high concentrations it’s unlikely to be irritating at lower concentrations. However, in either case, the alcohol could be enhancing the penetration of other ingredients which could lead to irritation.”

  • A.C. Baecker October 22, 2015, 10:37 pm

    Hi, I’ve been reading this blog for a year or so now and have learned a lot from it. So thank you for the great work you do. I wanted to make a comment on the discussion over Balanda Atis’s new make-up formulations. All of the comments disputing whether or not her formulations are a “breakthrough” or truly constitute a discovery have the effect of minimizing her accomplishment, and re-directing attention away from Balanda Atis and toward the commenters. I just wanted to point this out as something to which you might want to be sensitive. If ultramarine blue has been used for a long time but not to formulate color cosmetics that suit darker skin tones, then I think hers is an accomplishment worth recognizing and celebrating without qualification.

    • Eileen October 24, 2015, 12:29 pm

      Hi A.C.,
      I don’t think either Kelli or I–and certainly not The Brains–meant to belittle Ms. Atis in any way and I regret that you thought we were being detractors. To the contrary, my original comment makes it quite clear that I’m giving a big shout out to the L’Oreal family for recognizing a need and then taking positive steps to meet it. The confusion over Atis’ accomplishment stems from the article itself wherein Atis is being celebrated for revolutionizing the industry by using ultramarine blue pigment. Sorry, but that’s not original thinking and is far from revolutionary. Ms. Atis’ far more important contribution can be found in her research and perseverance. She was responsible for conducting an extensive exploration and cataloging of darker skintones and then directing L’Oreal’s attention to the need for a greatly expanded assortment of foundation shades for women of color. The establishment of L’Oreal’s Women of Color Lab has its genesis in Atis’ work. Now, that is a far better reason to honor Atis than using blue pigment which, incidentally, is also frequently used in foundations for light and medium skintones.

  • Alessandra October 23, 2015, 11:43 am

    What about denaturated alcohol in hair products? I’m curious because I have always thought that alcohol (unless it’s cetyl.) was very drying for the hair and made it crunchy; however, it’s generally the first ingredient listed in most spray heat protectants! (Unless they are heavy and dinethicone-based). Why? Does this make them drying? Thanks!!!!

  • Pilgrim October 25, 2015, 11:01 am

    the amnion and vernix claims make me think of Countess of Bathory!
    we may have moved away from blue undertones when tanning became popular in the ’60s. remember all that orange and avocado green used
    in decors?

    i wonder if anything of alcohol remains in the end result of a product like creams, lipsticks, etc.? seems like pharmaceuticals and cosmetics are avoiding alcohols because of the bad press.

    the late Isaac Asimov’s wife, who is a physician, would tell Isaac Asimov that a wound antiseptic doesn’t have to sting for it to be effective. but he said he always wanted to feel the sting of the alcohol as assurance that something was going on.

  • Pilgrim October 25, 2015, 11:23 am

    someone once told me of an “old wives” home beauty treatment of using newborn baby pee on the skin. makes sense, some skin lotions contain urea.
    and the using amnion like substance i suppose would be similar because the amniotic fluid comes from the unborn baby practicing his peeing skills.

  • Alison H October 29, 2015, 11:39 pm

    Everyone should switch over to physical sunscreens (titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide) anyway, especially if you’re going to be in the ocean. Chemical sunscreens (oxybenzone in particular) are toxic to coral and are contributing to massive population die-offs. They’re banned by many marine reserves now, but even if you wear them on land, they’re going to get into the water supply eventually when you bathe.

    From this article on NPR’s website: Some 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotions wind up in coral reefs around the world each year. The ingredient oxybenzone leaches the coral of its nutrients and bleaches it white. It can also disrupt the development of fish and other wildlife.
    “We have lost at least 80 percent of the coral reefs in the Caribbean,” Downs [co-author of the most recent study about this subject] said. “Any small effort to reduce oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers.”

  • Paulina November 6, 2015, 12:55 pm

    Oh I read all article and I must say “It’s Great!’ I always check ingredients in care products, because many of them could be very danger for our health!

  • Charlotte G May 30, 2016, 12:55 am

    What about Paula’s claim that alcohol in skincare creates free radicals? I am a beauty therapist just starting out in business and want to be 100% sure before I recommend any product with alcohol in.

    • Randy Schueller May 30, 2016, 8:53 am

      From everything we’e seen it doesn’t seem to be a problem but there is no way to “be 100% sure.”

  • PA July 17, 2017, 1:54 pm

    Vivella, thanks for that great information about adding green to your foundation. So easy to add a drop of food coloring and it’s good to know that it might actually work. I have very light skin with a yellowish tiny that I have been told is olive, but I’m not sure if it’s true olive or just a little on the yellow side for some reason. Ethnically, I am a typical United States mix of British Isles, Germanic, and probably a little of everything, but because of the racism of the times, the family, over the generations, always repeated that they were English or Irish or German in origin. Most people in my family have pale or pinkish skin, but my brother, father and I get very deep tans and have kind of a yellowish tint to our skin if we stay out of the sun. And I do avoid tanning, of course, because it is bad for my skin.
    Eileen, your post brought back memories of the 70s and 80s, when I knew that I should avoid suntanning and sunburn, but all the sunscreens gave me a disgusting read pimply rash, especially on my forhead. I think it was the PABA. Luckily, I enjoyed wearing hats, or the sun damage could have been worse. I like your historic perspective too!