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Would you use spray on nail polish? Episode 109

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Would you use spray on nail polish?spray-315164_640

A company called Nails, Inc has launched the first spray on nail polish. The line is called “The Paint Can” and it just launched in the UK (coming soon to the U.S.). It’s not on the company’s US website yet but according to an article published by The Gloss….

“The revolutionary nail polish is different than anything you have used before. It promises pigment that cannot be replicated in a regular nail polish and a faster drying time. Plus, it claims that you can paint your nails in seconds.”

We can’t test this yet because it’s not available here in the US but here’s what we think about it based their claims and on our understanding of the science of nail polish formulations.

The key claim is obviously the time savings. They say it allows you to paint your nails in seconds. It almost sounds like a miracle but there’s no mention of any trade offs in polish appearance or durability.

But there’s simply no way this type of product (which we are told is water-based) will provide the same degree of hardness and chip resistance as a conventional polish. That’s because the types of polymers that are required to form a very hard nail finish require solvents. A water-based product requires some degree of compromise when it comes to how hard the nail finish will be. Apparently that’s why they tell you you have to use a topcoat with this product.

Which brings me to my next point – how much time will product really save you First you have some preparation to do which involves laying down old towels or whatever on the surface that you’re going to spray on. Then there’s the spray part – actually that is very quick since it takes only about 20 seconds. (By the way if you’re really spraying 20 seconds worth of product out of such a small can I wouldn’t expect to get very many uses which means it’s likely to be more expensive than a conventional polish.)

Then you have to clean up the overspray. At the very least you have to carefully wash your hands and presumably you have to clean the towels you just sprayed on or whatever else the spray came in contact with. Finally you have to apply a topcoat.

Also doesn’t it seem strange that the color options are so few? Colorants or one of the most regulated ingredients in all of cosmetics. It strikes me as odd that this product’s claims to use colors “that cannot be replicated in a regular nail polish.” If they’re using FDA approved colorants how can they be unique to this product?

Finally, do we have a good reason to believe that this company has done inhalation testing on this formulation? When considering the safety of any formulation you have to consider the routes of entry. In other words if it’s on your skin is it likely to penetrate skin if it’s on your lips is it likely to be accidentally swallowed. In the case of an aerosol product like this then you have to ask about inhalation. Inhalation testing is some of the most expensive and complicated safety testing that you can do. To some extent it’s also still dependent on animal testing. If this were coming from one of the larger companies I would have a high degree of confidence that it was properly tested. I don’t know this company very well so it’s hard to make that assessment but it is a question that should be asked.

So what’s the bottom line here? This overall this feels like a gimmick to me. It may be a fun to use product just because of its different motive application but it certainly doesn’t seem like it’s going to capture the market. I predict we may see a brief popularity of this sort of delivery form but it will not last in the long run because it doesn’t really provide that much of a consumer benefit.

The Internet makes people think they know more than they do.


You know I love the Internet and on balance I think it helps society more than it harms. However, here is some new research that suggests the Internet can give a person the illusion of knowledge which makes people think they are smarter than they really are. I know I have a couple of siblings who suffer from this.

According to researchers who are investigating how the Internet affects our thinking, they found that just having access to the information on the Internet gives you the illusion that you know it and therefore an overconfidence in your own knowledge.

This is how people with no background in toxicology can “know” that synthetic ingredients like parabens, formaldehyde donors, phthalates, and all the other vilified ingredients in cosmetics are dangerous. It’s always amazed me that people with no scientific background are so completely sure of themselves about the impact of quote toxic un-quote ingredients.

Well this study might shed more light on what I call the University of Google effect. In research published by Matt Fisher of Yale University, they asked people to provide answers to fact-based questions. For example “Why are there time zones?” Half the participants were instructed to look up the answers on the Internet before answering and the other were told not to look up the answer. Then they were asked how confidently they could explain the answers to a second set of questions, like How is Vinegar made?

It turns out people who had used the internet to search for the answers to the first set of questions felt more confident about their ability to answer the second set of questions than the people who didn’t look up the answers. There was something about the act of looking answers up on the Internet that made people feel smarter about all other topics than they otherwise would.

There was another article the suggests a cure to this problem. In this research they found that if someone gave an answer and you said you were going to actually look it up, people’s confidence in their answers went down. So if you have the ability to check the accuracy of someone’s knowledge, they have much less confidence in it.

So, the next time you hear someone say that some ingredient is a miracle cure or another ingredient in a cosmetic will cause cancer, just pull out your phone and look it up on the Internet.

And if you’re looking for answers about beauty products, there are few other places to go than to The Beauty Brains. Of course, we probably suffer form the same overconfidence in other areas of knowledge but we really do have the experience and knowledge when it comes to beauty products.

Another split and breakthrough?

We’ve talked before about split end mending products and how most of them don’t do anything more than split and prevention. That’s because any good conditioner that smooths the hair and reduces friction will help prevent split ends from forming.

We’ve been aware of just one technology that actually works. It’s something we developed for the Tresemme line, although it is found in a few other hair care products. This is the PolyElectrolyte Complex or PEC. It works by getting into the split and then shrinking it shut. The material sticks around through multiple washings and it also provides an unusual slick feel which some people really love. What’s most amazing about it is that it can do this from a rinse out product. Up until now this is the only ingredient that we have seen proven to work this way but it appears there’s a new kid in town.

One of the premier hair care ingredient companies in the world, Croda, has developed a complex that they call Crodabond CSA. That’s their brand name for a mixture of Hydrogenated Castor Oil and Sebacic Acid Copolymer.

According to Croda, this material sticks to lifted cuticles and cements them down. I’m not exactly sure what the mode of action really is because just cementing the cuticle won’t seal a split end. You have to get inside the fragmented remains of the cortex and weld that back together. But Croda does know a LOT about this area because we’ve seen other research they’ve done. Apparently CSA also has a high refractive index which means it improve the shine of hair. Best of all it also works from a rinse out product.

Croda efficacy tested the complex in ways that were similar to ones we’ve used. You take hair tresses and artificially generate split ends by flogging them. You count the splits under a microscope, treat the tresses with the product and a control, then recount the splits. Then, you wash the tresses and repeat the count to see how many split ends stay glued shut and how many popped open again. In addition they used consumer testing which established that the difference was not only technically valid but was consumer perceivable. Seems like a valid approach because they combined lab and consumer data.

Now here or things to watch out for: All this testing was done by the supplier under what I assume was optimal conditions. We don’t know how this ingredient will perform in any given formula when used properly (right concentration, optimized for delivery.)

These kind of ingredients tend to be touchy to formulate with because they require a carefully balanced system to deposit appropriately. Some companies who don’t do their homework simply throw the ingredient in a stock formula and then assume it will work. The bigger companies have more R&D dollars so they will take the time to optimize the formula and then test it to confirm it works.

Right now, since this is fairly new, I’ve only seen a few product that use this ingredient and none of them are from large R&D departments. Instead they’re from salon brands:

  • Alterna Bamboo Smooth Anti-Frizz Conditioner
  • ALTERNA BAMBOO Color Hold & Vibrant Color Conditioner
  • Sexy Hair Concepts Healthy Sexy Hair Soy Milk Daily Conditioner

So is this “new kid in town” really a beauty breakthrough? That remains to be seen but if split ends are really a problem for you and you want to try something that is backed by some science then it looks like products with Hydrogenated Castor oil/Sebacic acid copolymer maybe worth a try.

Can acupuncture reduce pimples?


We here on the Beauty Brains like to keep an eye out for alternative treatments because you never know what interesting new technology might work. For example the fragrance that repels insects.

But there are a lot of people out there who make up fake products and try to separate you from your money without actually helping your problem. Here is one such technology.

I read this article with the headline “can acupuncture reduce pimples?” I scoffed of course but then was appalled to read that it was written by a medical doctor who’s conclusion was that “yes” it can.

According to this doctor “acne is caused by intense Lung Heat or Stomach Heat, Damp–Heat with Blood Stasis, and Qi (vital energy) Stagnation. Thus, Acupoint stimulation for acne relieves Heat toxicity, eliminate Dampness, regulate the Qi and Blood, and enhance immunologic function. It might balance androgen levels to inhibit excess oil secretion of the sebaceous gland.”

And this doctor goes on to say that 12 weeks of acupuncture treatments helps reduce acne.

This story really bothers me.

First, it’s been studied thoroughly and the conclusion is that acupuncture has no effect beyond being a placebo. Some people might disagree and point to studies showing it helps reduce pain in certain circumstances but this evidence is weak, improperly controlled, and not compelling. And you know why it’s not compelling? Because acupuncture is not real. Qi and energies and all that is not real.

And it certainly not going to help stop your acne. If you want to stop acne use a treatment that has been proven to work. Salicylic acid, or Benzoyl Peroxide or Tetracycline. Don’t be fooled into wasting money on things that do-not-work!

It’s so frustrating! And this guy is a doctor. That just makes it worse. Alright, let’s move on. I think I made my point.

Do you love your fave fragrance because of the bottle shape?


I read an interesting article about the impact of the shape of a perfume bottle on your olfactory perception of how much you like the way it smells. The basic idea is that an exotic looking package that connotes high-quality can subconsciously influence people to assume the fragrance smells better. It’s not all that surprising when you think about it because we’ve seen similar studies – for example, you can put the cheap wine in a bottle from expensive brand and people will think it taste better.

Here are some examples of unusual perfume bottles:

  • Mark Jacobs Decadence looks like either a little black purse or a lunchbox.
  • Victor and Rolf Spice Bomb literally looks like a hand grenade which is one of the reasons you don’t see flight attendants wearing it very often.
  • Thierry Mugler’s Alien looks like one of the Infinity Gems from the Avengers movies.
  • Donna Karan’s Cashmere Mist looks a little like some kind of sex toy.

But my point is…there’s more innovation in fragrance packaging than almost any other area of cosmetics. Why is that? Really it comes down to two reasons.

First, perfume has to be packaged in the glass. That’s because the fragrance oils are so aggressive they will soften most types of plastic. Not only does that potentially make the fragrance smell funny but it can actually weaken a plastic bottle. Glass is much more inert so it’s almost exclusively used for fragrance. And glass, unlike plastic, is rigid enough to support a greater variety of unusual shapes. So it makes sense that there are more design options.

Second, and this is probably even a bigger driver packaging innovation, the profit margins on fragrance are huge compared to other products. It’s not unusual for a bottle of perfume to cost 75 or $100. The cost of the raw materials are not that great so that allows more money to be spent on packaging marketing and advertising.

Also unlike other cosmetic products there really are no claims that can be used to sell the product. So an unusual bottle can be used to attract people’s attention rather than flashy claims.

Victoria’s Secret fragrance repels bugs


According to research published in the October issue of the Journal of Insect Science, the fragrance called Victoria Secret Bombshell showed a modest mosquito repellency effect. Unfortunately, other things that have been traditionally touted as alternatives to DEET had little to no effect.

Let me digress. In the insect repellency world there are a limited number of things that have been proven to work. The main tool for formulators is N,N Diethyl-meta-toluamide or DEET. Now, DEET works and this research demonstrates that it does. But many people have safety concerns about the side effect of DEET and this has created a market for “natural” DEET-free insect repellents. I know growing up my mom would give us the Avon Skin-so-Soft product and burn citronella candles. I thought that skin-so-soft smelled awful and it didn’t seem to work.

In this study, researchers looked at a variety of products to see how well they repelled mosquitos. Here’s what they found.

DEET worked. It provided protection for 240 min or more.
And it was dose dependent. More DEET, better protection.

The Cutter product with oil of lemon eucalyptus which has a high concentration of p-methane-3-8-diol also worked. This would be a good alternative for people afraid of DEET.

Other products like Avon Skin-so-soft bath oil and skin-so-soft with bug guard had practically no effect. Neither did the EcoSmart organic insect repellent which is made up of different oils like rosemary oil, lemongrass oil, and cinnamon oil. The Cutter natural repellent made with geraniol and soybean oil didn’t work either. And the mosquito skin patch was useless too.

But the Victoria Secret Bombshell fragrance showed good protection for 120 min. In fact it was as good as DEET products over that time period. So maybe there is something in that fragrance that could be used as an alternative.

The bottom line is that if you are looking for a product to keep mosquitos away, pick something with DEET but if you want to smell nice, then the Victoria Secret Bombshell fragrance might be the way to go.

Will 3-D printed hair change the world?


In Episode 104 we played a game of Improbable Products with frozen hair, pixelated hair and 3d printed hair extensions. It turns out printed hair is real!

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania figured out how to do exactly that. Here’s a quote from the webpage that summarizes their research:

“We introduce a technique for furbricating 3D printed hair, fibers and bristles, by exploiting the stringing phenomena inherent in fused deposition modeling 3D printers.”

Apparently they were inspired by using a glue gun. You know how you get the little thin wispy filament of glue after you touch the end of the gun to what ever you’re applying glue to? They modified a 3-D printer to mimic that effect. The effect is a bit crude right now but they demonstrate that they can print little hair tresses in different colors. Another cool thing is that they can actually print that here is part of a larger object. For example they could print a toy horse with a tail.

There’s a video on their website that shows all this along with a couple other examples that include the troll, a wizard, and inexplicably a finger with hair on it. How did THAT become the poster child for this technology? It makes no sense.

The hair can be put in the braided although I’m not sure if it can be curled.
Imagine how cool it would be to scan a lock of your own hair and then instantly print hair extensions in the exact colors to match.

iTunes Reviews

I’m a beauty brainiac says…5 stars I have been overspending on my face cleanser that actually worked for me. Upon listening to your podcasts, I recently discovered a generic version with the same ingredient list for 1/3 of the price. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. I too have become a beauty brainiac.
Golden ears 1983 from the UK says…The Beauty Brains podcast is quite simply a must listen show. Years ago I purchased products mostly based on marketing claims, fancy packing and scent. Since listening to the show and reading the blog posts, I’ve learned a tonne of useful and eye opening information. I can now see past the gimmicks and hype and make informed choices based on the information that matters… The ingredient list!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Eileen November 24, 2015, 11:36 am

    Yes, indeedy, the Internet can certainly make us feel like we know it all–even if what we know is totally wrong! LOL Unfortunately, all too many people beleive that if it is on the Internet, it must be true despite the fact that the Internet is the home to countless scammers, propagandists, zealots, and other charlatans who are out there promoting their own particular world view–manufactured “facts” and all! I love the Internet and think it is an invaluable tool when it comes to being informed, but it has also led us to believe we know so much more than we actually do and has spawned an abundance of “experts” who are anything but.

    About a year ago, The Federalist published an interesting essay written by Tom Nichols called “The Death of Expertise”. It touches on the phenomenon that is mentioned in the link you provided but approaches it from a different angle as it is written in essay form and is not a study.

    As for that spray on nail polish, at this point in time I think it is just a gimmick that uses its novelty and Alexa Chung’s celebrity as marketing devices. Good Housekeeping reviewed it and wasn’t all that impressed. Allure also rviewed it and was more enthusiastic, but then Allure’s raison d’être is to sell product. Bottom line: You have to carefully and evenly apply a special 2-in-1 base coat to your nails; avoiding the cuticles, because the polish is going to adhere to it. Shake and spray on the polish. Then, you have to carefully apply the 2-in-1 as a top coat to seal the polish. Wash (scrub) the excess polish off your hands and from around your cuticles. I think it is pretty obvious that the target demographic for this product is young tweens and teens. Even the two colors that are currently available (Barbie pink and model airplane silver) are juvenile and one dimensional. It might have a future, but at this time, it’s sort of whah, whah, whah . . . Time will tell.

  • Zoey November 25, 2015, 9:40 am

    I have been liking all your podcasts, but it’s very very disappointing to hear Perry bashing acupuncture and Chinese medical practice with such confidence. It is still not clear to scientists how traditional Chinese medical practice works and how effective it is, but it is still largely used in China, and while some treatments don’t work, some certainly do. I’ve seen a great documentary made by a British medical scientist on her exploration of acupuncture, and in the film she witnessed a heart surgery with no other pain sedation but acupuncture. Do you still believe that’s only placebo effects?

    I think I’ll still trust you on topical skin chemistry, but perhaps not on overall skin health anymore…

    Here is a link to the documentary. If you still believe it’s placebo and BS, then fine. Otherwise, would you be willing to correct yourself on the next podcast?

    • Randy Schueller November 25, 2015, 12:25 pm

      Zoey, thanks for your comment, I really appreciate you taking the time to respond. I’ll let Perry speak for himself but I know he has looked extensively at the medical literature that is available for acupuncture. My understanding is that there are no solid studies demonstrating that it works. I’m certainly open to reviewing any studies you may have come across though. However, telling me that you saw something on TV isn’t really much proof of anything. Thanks again and I hope you continue to listen to our podcast.

      • Zoey November 25, 2015, 1:53 pm

        Thank you for your reply! I just took a closer look at the BBC documentary and some internet criticism and realized that it is flawed. Well, now I’m more aware of tricks that documentaries exploit, and will take them with a grain of salt in the future.

        I’ll continue to listen to your podcasts, just hope you understand that it’s frustrating to hear you deny definitely other people’s practice due to insufficient support. Companies can always fake medical/cosmetic research using tricks, so how can we tell if insufficient research is really due to lack of results or lack of profit?

        • Randy Schueller November 25, 2015, 4:53 pm

          It’s very tricky with cosmetics because finished products are rarely evaluated by independent third parties. Acupuncture, on the other hand, has been tested and the results show it doesn’t work.

    • Randy Schueller November 25, 2015, 1:16 pm

      Zoey – I think it’s important to point out this skeptical evaluation of the BBC documentary on acupuncture. If you read the article you’ll see the flaws in the TV program. Here’s just one quote:

      “She showcases a patient in China having open heart surgery without general anesthesia, but with acupuncture “instead.” The framing of the case is massively biased to exaggerate the role of acupuncture. Then, tucked into the reporting, she mentions that the patient had sedation and local anesthesia (her chest was numbed), as if this is a tiny detail. There is no mention of whether or not you could have the same procedure with conscious sedation and local anesthesia but without the acupuncture.”

      In addition, according to this report even the BBC agreed that the heart surgery segment could have been misleading to the audience.

      If you really are serious about understanding the scientific status of acupuncture, PLEASE take a look at the two links I provided and let us know what you think.

      • Zoey November 26, 2015, 12:02 am

        Thank you for the information. Yes, I found that article and agree with some of its evaluations. I’m not serious about acupuncture (and Qi) – my father had it for his back pain, and he said the result was minor but noticeable. I think it’s worth a try before getting dependent on drugs – at least it’s not harming your body. I have my stance on the ugly health industry in USA, but that’s another issue.

        I am, however, very intrigued by your comment that cosmetic products are rarely evaluated by independent third parties. Products aside, I’m very curious how validating is the actual research. Is this possibly another research area that one can prove, by using high-tech equipment and low statistics, that an ingredient can make a dead salmon skin look younger?

        Also, since I’m already leaving so many comments here, I might just ask a beauty question: I used to have shiny black hair when I was living in China, but since living in USA, my hair has gradually changed to a dark brown color. Is this possibly caused by water or shampoo? In Asia, shampoo is often advertised to make hair more black – is this possible at all or just cleverly disguised false claim?

        Thanks again for all your replies.

  • amy December 2, 2015, 2:28 pm

    spray on nail polish does sound totally gimmicky. if it’s anything like spray paint, you’re going to need to lay down at least four light layers so it’ll be thick enough, and you have to let it dry in between each layer so it doesn’t get drippy. plus I’m so sick of this trend of everything being offered in spray form. you can’t recycle those types of cans. ugh. none of these things saves you any time at all, I can’t see any benefit.

    • Randy Schueller December 3, 2015, 7:56 am

      You raise a good point about the multiple coats, Amy. And, yes, aerosol cans are complicated. They also add a lot of cost to the product so unless they provide a very tangible benefit (like they do in a hairspray or air freshener) they are not the best choice for consumers.

  • Trish December 28, 2015, 8:48 am

    I appreciate this site very much and have never felt compelled to comment because other commenters always leave such insightful and holistic comments. But I couldn’t let one of your comments go by without saying anything. Stating that acupuncture has not been clinically proven to have the health benefits its practitioners espouse is one thing, and if the science and the clinical studies back that statement up, I take no issue with it. But to extrapolate that to saying that “Qi and energies and all that” are not real, is unacceptable. Let me phrase this as perhaps a more familiar example. Let’s say a study comes out that says prayer is more effective at pain management than a leading narcotic. And let’s say someone reviewing that study states that the study is flawed and there is no clinical evidence for prayer as pain management. And then, that person goes on to say that prayer doesn’t work as pain management because prayer is not real and the soul is not real. That’s basically what you just said. Qi and the soul are very similar concepts, and they are equally testable concepts: which is to say, neither of them are testable (at least not with any technology we have available to us today). To state so unequivocally that a concept on which thousands of years of culture are based is flat out fake is, quite frankly, disrespectful and deeply arrogant. Scientists should always know what they don’t know, and should also know the difference between what can and cannot be tested, so that we don’t veer into the dangerous territory of making fact-based statements on things that can’t really be tested as fact or fiction. It’s a bit of an epidemic in our modern world, and I would hate for my community to contribute to it.

    Thanks for this site, and keep up the good work.

    • Perry December 28, 2015, 10:06 am

      Hello Trish – Thanks for you comments and kind words about the show. Certainly, no disrespect to any person was meant by any of my comments.
      As far as Qi goes, I’ll stand by my comments. Despite what people believe there is no scientific evidence that Qi energy exists. Similarly, there is no evidence that a soul exists either & the sensation that people call a soul can be explained as an emergent property of brain function, not something existing separate from it.

      People can believe in whatever they like. And I remain open to the possibility of changing my beliefs given new evidence. But based on everything we know today, Qi is not a real thing. When you suggest that scientists should know what they don’t know, I agree. I would also suggest that people who claim something exists without evidence should also understand that they do not know. I’m open minded about whether Qi exists or not but my default position on this (and anything else) is that I don’t believe it until evidence shows otherwise. You probably are the same way. So I wonder what evidence convinces you that Qi energy is a real thing?

      • Trish December 29, 2015, 8:36 am

        Thanks for your reply. I did not state that I do or do not believe that Qi or the soul exist; that wasn’t the point. The point is that it cannot be tested (and saying that something can be reasonably explained is not the same thing as it being testable). You took something that can be scientifically proven (acupuncture does not cure acne) and leaped to something that cannot be scientifically proven (Qi is not real), and that leap is the only thing I take issue with. You are a respected and intelligent contributor to this community, and as such, your words have weight and impact. I only caution you to consider that impact on others before veering from scientifically testable facts and into belief systems. I absolutely take no issue with your own personal belief system and the fact that you do not believe things without evidence; if that is the belief system that works best for you (and I know it works for many), I would never challenge it or expect you to reconsider it in the absence of the evidence that you need. The only reason I felt compelled to comment is because whether you realize it or intended to do so, you challenged a long-held belief system of many people, and I simply don’t think it is anyone’s place to challenge anyone else’s belief system, as long as they are not using that belief system to justify hurting people. I agree that people who believe things without evidence should also know what they don’t know.

        Apologies if any of this comes off as hypersensitive. I’ve seen a lot of animosity between people who are looking for evidence both for and against things that can’t be proven or disproven, and I have become personally vigilant about not stepping into that by challenging beliefs. I would only ever encourage someone to look elsewhere for their beliefs if what they currently have isn’t working for them or isn’t helping them find happiness.

        • Trish December 29, 2015, 8:44 am

          I’m also realizing that what you might have intended to say is “There is no evidence that acupuncture works, or that Qi energy exists”, which is a world away from “Qi does not exist”. It might seem like a trivial point, but I do believe that as scientists, we should strive to speak as precisely as possible and be extra clear about what is known as fact (gravity, dinosaurs not coexisting with humans, etc.) and what will likely stay unproven for a long time (the presence of a soul, lifeforms on other planets … maybe …)