Is store brand mouthwash as good as name brands? Episode 153

How can I tell if a store brand mouthwash is the same as the expensive name brand?mouth-1234269_640

Victoria says…My husband insists that all name brand products are stronger and better than store brands. He feels strongest about Listerine and his dentist agrees with him. Does it matter in areas other than cosmetics?

When discussing store brands, I don’t think we’ve ever said “there’s NO difference” if the ingredients are the same. Comparing ingredient lists is a great way to see if a store brand is “in the ball park” compared to a more expensive brand but unless you see percentages listed you don’t know for sure if the concentration of ingredients is the same and if there are other factors, like manufacturing techniques, that may result in the products being different.

Fortunately, she picked a great example because Listerine DOES list the percentage of its active ingredients so we can do a much more precise comparison to store brands.

Listerine is named after Dr. Joseph Lister who pioneered the used of disinfectants in hospitals. It was invented in 1879 by two scientists Joseph Lawrence and Jordon Lambert. Lambert became one of the founders of the Warner-Lambert company that marketed Listerine until 2006 when it was bought by Johnson and Johnson.

Before we get to the chemistry of Listerine here are a couple of fun facts according to Wikipedia:

  • For a little while in in 1927 the company marketed Listerine Cigarettes.
  • From the 30s’ until the ‘50s they advertised that Listerine could be rubbed on your scalp to prevent “infectious dandruff”.
  • And, until the mid 70s, Listerine was marketed as a “preventive and remedy for colds and sore throats.” But then the Federal Trade Commission determined Listerine doesn’t do that at all and they ordered them to to stop making those claims.

But what Listerine DOES do it give you fresh breath and it does that by using four essential oils that give the product antiseptic properties. Those are still listed on the bottle today:

  • Eucalyptol: Derived from the eucalyptus tree
  • Thymol: Developed from the ajowan herb
  • Methyl salicylate: Identical to methyl salicylate in natural wintergreen
  • Menthol: Identical to menthol found in natural cornmint

In addition, Listerine contains about 26% ethanol which is a solvent for the essential oils and also give it a more powerful mouthfeel. The rest of the ingredients are essential control agents to maintain the pH, give it color and flavor and so on.

Now, let’s look at a popular store brand to see how it compares. The Walgreens version of Listerine also lists the percentages of its active ingredients so let’s make a direct comparison of each one:


Listerine: 0.092%

Walgreens: 0.092%.


Listerine: 0.064%

Walgreens: 0.064%

Methyl salicylate

Listerine: 0.06%

Walgreens: 0.060%


Listerine: 0.042%

Walgreens: 0.041% So, other than the difference of 1/1000th of a % less Menthol, the active ingredients are identical.

There is a slight difference in alcohol concentration. It looks like Listerine uses about 26% while Walgreens contains about 22% but the ethanol is not an active ingredient so that isn’t an issue. It appears there’s NO reason to assume that these products would function differently. If Victoria’s husband’s dentist says otherwise I’d love to see his or her rational for that.

Right. I mean it’s POSSIBLE that Listerine has done side by side testing that shows their product out performs the equivalent store brands so if that’s the case we’d gladly change our mind but lacking that kind of proof we have to say that there is no difference.

You know there’s an interesting statement on their website that’s relevant to this discussion. Here’s the quote: “No other branded mouthwash brings power to your mouth like this botanically derived, four-ingredient formula.” At first glance that sounds like a superiority claim – it seems like they’re saying no other product works like Listerine. But look carefully at the wording. No other BRANDED mouthwash… And that’s true. I couldn’t find any other brand name product that uses this same cocktail of active ingredients. Only the store brand knock offs. So that’s clever of them to make a claim out of that. So what’s the bottom line for Victoria?

It’s tough to tell if a store brand is identical to a name brand unless they list the ingredient percentages but in the case of Listerine it seems clear cut that the two versions are pretty much indistinguishable in terms of performance. I recommend she just buy the store brand and pour it into a Listerine bottle.

Walgreens brand
Active Ingredients: Eucalyptol (0.092%), Menthol (0.041%), Methyl Salicylate (0.060%), Thymol (0.064%)
Inactive Ingredients: water, Alcohol (21.6%), Sorbitol, Flavor, Poloxamer 407, Benzoic Acid, Sodium Saccharin, Sodium benzoate, FD&C Green No. 3

Is the new “mirror chrome look” nail polish dangerous?

Camille says… There is a “chrome effect” nail video swarming the internet but I read some pigments that provide this mirror effect are made of aluminum and are dangerous if inhaled either in application or when filed off. Do we order this powder or save our lungs and dollars?

Based on what I’ve been able to find you are correct that aluminum is providing the “chrome” or “mirror” look in this nail polish. This isn’t entirely new. This look has been offered in the past in the form of stick on films, press on nails or streaky liquid polish. Sally Hansen Color Foil, for example uses aluminum powder.

And that’s perfectly fine because aluminum powder is approved by the FDA as a colorant. Specifically, the FDA says that “Aluminum powder may be safely used in coloring externally applied cosmetics, including cosmetics intended for use in the area of the eye, in amounts consistent with good manufacturing practice.” (

BUT the FDA regs are designed with finished products in mind. The safety profile can be different in this case because you’re mixing a powder into a nail polish and that powder can become airborne. Or you’re filing nails after they dry which can also generate airborne particulates. That’s a potential problem in this case because it is known that excessive inhalation of aluminum dust can cause scarring of the lungs. I’m not a doctor but that sounds bad. (

So Camille’s concern certainly seems valid. It’s especially problematic for the nail technicians who might be exposed to larger amounts of aluminum dust throughout the day. I would think that if you could be exposed to significant amounts of dust from this pigment (either from mixing the pigment into a base or by filing nails coated with polish containing this pigment), I think wearing a mask would be a wise safety precaution. Once the application is complete I don’t see why there would be an additional risk.

Is my vitamin C cream giving me cancer?

Pazzaglia asks…I stumbled on an article about how Benzoic acid ( turns into carcinogenic Benzene in the presence of Vitamin C. I’m guilty of having access to enough information at my disposal to freak me out without any of the knowledge to draw useful conclusions. So.. should I be worried about pairing my Italian Retin-A Cream (Airol) with a vitamin C serum. Would these two products create a carcinogenic cocktail on my face?

Let’s start by explaining a bit about the benzene controversy. Benzene, which is a 6 carbon ring, has been proven to be carcinogenic. The benzene can come from benzoates which are used as preservatives.

Specifically, “The benzene forms from decarboxylation of the preservative benzoic acid in the presence of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and metal ions (iron and copper) that act as catalysts, especially under heat and light.”

The FDA sets limits on how much benzene can be drinking water and other beverages. They looked into this and found that most products are below the safe limit which is 5ppb but they did find a couple of soft drinks that had higher levels.

The soft drink industry has responded by removing benzoates to a large extent although there are still products that use them.

That’s enough background because this is not the Beverage Brains podcast. What does all this mean for Vitamin C creams?

It doesn’t seem like this a problem in skin products for two reasons. First, benzene is a much greater health concern if you’re ingesting it which was the issue in the case of the benzene in soft drinks.

Second, the product she mentions also contains EDTA which chelates metal ions and reduces the chances of benzene formation.

I would expect that your chances of getting cancer from using a vitamin C cream that converts a benzoate preservative to benzene, are WAY lower than your chances of getting cancer from smoking or drinking or eating grilled meats.

iTunes reviews

The first one comes from Cristina from Moldova. My favourite beauty webiste. The podcast is very educative and hilarious. I particualry like when they insert bits of vintage addvertising. Listen to save money on your beauty purchases!

Brit222 says…I love this podcast- with so much pseudoscience and so many grandiose claims in skincare and beauty, it is nice to have a reliable source that I can trust!

Canadian Angela says…Since finding The Beauty Brains podcast I no longer mind being stuck in traffic! I have learned so much listening to Randy and Perry’s method of informing consumers of the science behind why some products work and why some are a complete waste of money. Oh and you should really buy the book!

Beauty science news

Smell dating


Here’s an idea that might revolutionize the way people do online dating. Instead of picking people based on their looks or dating profiles, this project called Smell Dating matches people based on whether they like their natural body odor.

When you sign up for this service you are sent a T-shirt to wear for three days. You are not allowed to wear perfume or deodorant. You then send off your shirt and you receive samples to sniff in exchange. You choose the scents you like the best. If someone you like likes the way you smell then they connect you via email. No information about age, gender or sexual orientation is known prior to the shirt smelling.

The idea is that if you like someone’s scent then you theoretically will be more biologically compatible with them. There is evidence that people like the scents of others who have compatible immune systems.

So, does it work? Well, it didn’t seem to work for the reporter who wrote the story in the Guardian. She got four matches (two men, two women), went on one date and there was no “chemistry” between them. That doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone but I suspect humans & dating are a little more complicated than using our noses to pick our mates.

Dental care breakthrough


Scientists have learned how to grow new teeth from a somewhat distasteful source: human urine. This gives a whole new meaning to the term “potty mouth.”

This study was published in Cell Regeneration Journal and it shows that stem cells from urine could be grown into tiny tooth-like structures. The researchers are from China and hope that someday their technique could be used to replace lost teeth. Of course not everyone agrees with this approach. One stem cell researcher noted that that “that goal faces many challenges.” No kidding. But seriously, there are other, richer, sources of stem cells than urine so this seems like an odd choice. Regardless, just in case this catches on I’ve begun designing companion products to go with urine teeth the first product I’ll be launching is…Dental floss made from toilet paper,

Weird beauty ingredients


Cosmetic marketers are always looking for exotic ingredients to put in products. Usually, there is some story that goes along with it and sometimes the material can be really weird. For example, last show we talked about Centipede excretion that was being included in skin products as an anti-inflammatory. Well, here’s a story from LuxurySpot which lists some of the weirdest ingredients. Look for these ingredients to be featured in future cosmetic launches. We’ve talked about some but many we haven’t.

  • Snail slime – it’s a mix of proteins that are supposed to repair skin damage. It doesn’t.
  • Bee Venom – Supposed to plump up your skin. Not likely
  • Bacteria – The folks at Mother Dirt think this will be the cosmetics of the future. They may find a niche but I doubt we’ll see a big shift towards bacterial laced cosmetics.
  • Hemp – With all the states that have legalized marajuana it’s not surprising people want hemp products. The oil is a fine enough natural oil but there isn’t any data showing it’s anything more special than soybean oil.
  • Donkey Milk – supposedly good for your skin. I wouldn’t count on it.
  • Ice plant – this is an extract taken from plants that grow in icy conditions. It’s supposed to rejuvenate your skin. Maybe it’s a good story but I doubt it will noticeably improve your skin.
  • Camel milk – Apparently people love to bath in milk and they think it will improve their skin. Camel milk is supposed to have more lactic acid than cows milk so the marketers say it will be good for exfoliation and skin brightening. I don’t know why the formulator wouldn’t just put lactic acid in the formula.

Don’t be fooled by exotic ingredients. These story ingredients almost never provide additional functions to products but marketers continue to add them. And the main reason is that people want to buy products with ingredients that sound exotic. Argan Oil was a big hit last year but the reality is that the products that featured Argan Oil were really just standard silicone products that had a drop of Argan Oil in them. Consumers bought the Argan Oil, but the Cyclomethicone and Dimethicone were actually providing the benefit.

RS Bogus baby products


I bring up this next news story because it’s sort of a coincidence. A few weeks ago I saw a product in my local Walgreens that caught my eye it’s by the brand Babyganics. It was a combination pack of sunscreen and insect repellent. It had the usual claims about being natural and organic I took a look at the sunscreen and saw that it was using legitimate mineral sunscreen active so OK fine I can see how you could say that’s natural and maybe organic.

But then I looked at the insect repellent product and saw that it had nothing other than some natural extracts things in it like citronella. Now those products are controlled by the EPA they don’t fall under cosmetic regulations but I’m not aware of any approved insect repellent other than things like DEET that really work. So I left the store scratching my head on how this product could get away with it.

Turns out they’re not really getting away with it because there’s a class action suit against the brand for misleading claims. The most interesting part of the story though was the last line which informed me that this brand was recently bought by SC Johnson.

That’s a very reputable company that always plays by the book so I’m wondering if they bought this brand and then had just not gotten around to making the necessary regulatory changes before everything hit the fan. So. If you know anybody and if SCJ see if you can get the inside scoop on this lawsuit confidential lawsuit that then we can share with our tens of thousands of listeners.

Beware contaminated cosmetics


There’s one thing that bugs me about cosmetic manufacturer more than anything else. You know what that is?

No, it’s companies that sell contaminated cosmetic products. It is not hard to ensure your products are safe and free from microbial contamination. You just need to use GMPs and a proper preservative system. Ever since ingredients like Parabens or Formaldehyde donors got bad press and fear mongering groups started spreading misinformation, some cosmetic manufacturers have made it a marketing angle that they don’t use these ingredients.

But you know what happened? Now we’ve got more instances of products being recalled by the FDA due to bacterial contamination.

So, as a public service I just want to call out those brands who received warning letters from the FDA for selling products that were contaminated with microorganisms.

  • The Aura Cacia brand has voluntarily recalled their Milk and Oat Bath due to microbial contamination. The brand says that their products are made from simple & pure botanical ingredients that unlock nature’s ability to improve our well-being. Well, if they think exposing people to disease causing bacteria is improving well-being, we have different meanings for the term well-being.
  • Arbonne International – They got contacted by the FDA due to bacterial contamination of their Black and Brown liquid eyeliner. Nice going Argonne. And on an eye product? I wonder if they blinded anyone.
  • Aplicare Castille Soap Towelettes – These were recalled due to bacterial contamination.