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The Return of the Beauty Brains – Episode 166

After a brief hiatus, the Beauty Brains podcast is back.

Covered on this episode:

Beauty Science stories:

Cruelty free products are free from cruelty.

What does it mean for consumers? Getting rid of animal testing means that products will not be much different than what you could ever make.

EWG on the Kardashian’s show

We got an email from the PR firm that does the work for the Environmental Working Group (the EWG). This is the group that seems to exist to propagate fear about cosmetics. Well, they sent me a notice crowing about how they were mentioned on the Keeping up with the Kardashian reality tv show. I think they wanted to get us to book the EWG expert on the show. Maybe we’ll do that some time.

The article goes on to parrot the other standard, misleading talking points of the EWG…the idea that cosmetic products are not safety tested…they are. The idea that products with a low EWG rating are more safe than ones with a higher rating…they aren’t. And the notion that new cosmetic regulatory legislation will make products more safe…it won’t.

So what can you do? I think you can assume products bought at stores and produced by big corporations are safe. The things you have to most worry about are products made by small companies who don’t do safety testing.


Beauty Questions:

Are human stem cells effective in anti-aging products?

Coincidentally, I just read a story about a new skin care product that incorporates both plant and human “stem cells.” This type of marketing is a bit annoying because it’s completely misleading. There aren’t stem cells in the product no matter what this company claims about their skin cream.

How do I know this? Well, all you have to do is know a little about the science of stem cells and it becomes clear. So let’s talk about stem cells.

Stem cells are living cells that are undifferentiated. They’re a bit like the cells that start every embryo when the sperm and egg cells fuse. They contain all the DNA information to make an entire human being (or plant or other animal depending on the species). When embryos start to grow, most of their cells differentiate into things like skin cells, brain cells, heart cells, and all the other different organs in your body. While nearly every cell in your body has the same DNA material, the DNA code is expressed differently so you end up getting the different organs. It’s like your DNA is one big recipe book and the organs are made by following different recipes in the same book. This is called cellular differentiation.

Stem cells do not differentiate in this way. They maintain their potential to become any type of organ. They also have an unlimited ability to divide and live. See most differentiated human cells can only divide about 50 generations before they die. They are subject to the Hayflick limit and have a built-in program that kills them off. Scientists theorize this prevents cancer.

But Stem cells, are not restricted as such. That’s why they are so promising for curing diseases or regrowing organs. Imagine if you could take some of your own skin stem cells and grow new patches of your own skin from them in a lab. You could use that skin to cover scars or other tissue damage. You could even get rid of wrinkles or signs of aging skin. It’s this potential that makes them a promising treatment for antiaging products.

It’s also a misunderstanding of this potential that has duped consumers and inspired marketers to put them into skin care formulations. So you might be wondering, if a stem cell could reverse aging, why wouldn’t you do it?

I’ll tell you why.

Because stem cells only work if they are living. And living stem cells are not being put into these skin creams. If they were, they would have to have a special growth medium and be kept at a specific temperature. They would need to be refreshed with food too. Stem cell containing creams are not created as such. At best you have a cream filled with dead stem cells that have no potential to do anything.

Plant stem cells

Plant stem cells in a skin cream is even more baffling to me. These are stem cells that come from plants and have the potential to grow stems, leaves, fruits, etc. Why would anyone think that a plant stem cell is going to be able to help improve the appearance or condition of your skin? It is nonsensical.

The reason companies put them in formulas however, is because they can claim the product has stem cells (which consumer like I guess) and the ingredients can be obtained inexpensively. Human stem cells would be pretty pricey and probably illegal. This isn’t a problem with apple stem cells. So marketers figure if people like stem cells in their products, it doesn’t matter what type of stem cells they are.

In this, they are right. But only because the type of stem cell in your cosmetic doesn’t matter. No type of stem cell added to your skin lotion will do much of anything!

Of course, I should add that stem cells are a promising technology for the future. And they may even be a great anti-aging treatment when the science catches up with the application. You will know when it is a real anti-aging treatment when the following things are true.

The stem cells are from humans (preferably yourself)

The stem cells are alive

The product is somehow delivered to your dermis (probably an injection)

The product is applied by a doctor

If stem cells really worked the way they are promised, this treatment would be beyond a cosmetic one and well into the drug category. It just might happen in the next 20 years but any cream that is advertised to be anti-aging because it contains stem cells now is about as effective as all the skin creams without stem cells.

Kelly asks : What hair dyes cover gray the best?

Kim asks  – Why do people think “All Natural” is better?

There certainly is a “natural” trend in the beauty industry. It has taken on many names such as Green Beauty, Organic beauty, Natural beauty, and the latest, Clean Beauty.

Essentially, these phrases are all meant to imply that this new type of cosmetic is somehow more safe for consumers. They also try to imply that the products are also somehow better for you and that they work better. This is all just misleading marketing.

But why do people think that natural is somehow better?

I think there are a few reasons.

First, there is a thing in philosophy called the appeal to nature. This is a type of argument that says something is good because it is ‘natural’, or something is bad because it is ‘unnatural’. Of course, it’s easy to demonstrate that this is false (just think of dangerous things like poison ivy, snake venom, or anthrax) But many people just accept this as fact.

So with people primed to believe claims, advertiser take advantage of this. You see it all the time with companies making Free From claims or 100% all natural claims. The worst is Chemical Free claims as if everything isn’t made out of chemicals. All these claims imply that something natural must be better for you. When people are constantly told by advertisers that natural is better than synthetic they start to believe it.

Add to this a complicit media who love to do stories about some natural wonder product that scientists didn’t create. I think there is something compelling about stories where some unexpected, overlooked person or ingredient is discovered to do something amazing. This is almost always some type of natural ingredient.

Another reason I think is because (at least in the United States) there is a tendency for people to not trust corporations. They see big corporations as the ones who are making synthetic products while the natural products are made by little companies. Mom and pop shops that only put out wholesome goodness. This is false of course. In fact, some of the biggest natural brands are made by big companies, but people don’t really know that. We’ll have to do a show sometime looking the big companies and the “independent brands” they produce.

There is also the notion that natural ingredients are somehow better for the environment and more sustainable. (some are, some aren’t) Or that natural ingredients are better for indigenous populations and farmers. Sometimes they are, sometimes they’re not. And there are also people who buy into the natural trend who genuinely think that natural products are safer just because they are natural.

So those are a few of the reasons I think some people prefer natural products.

The reality is that in most cases natural is not better.

Natural products are not safer, natural products do not work better, and natural products are not always better for the environment. As with most things, these issues depend on many factors and the truth in any instance is complicated.

Shereen asks Does silicon damage curly hair?

Not really.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • RS December 4, 2018, 9:46 am

    It’s a real treat to have the Beauty Brains back on the air in this new incarnation!

    As always the show provides very compelling and practical answers to cosmetic science questions. Valerie is a welcome addition to the team particularly because of her solid expertise in hair color. Perry as always is entertaining (although not as entertaining as he was with when working with the former co-host of the show.)

    I particularly enjoyed him coining the term “complicit media“ rather than saying fake news. I also note that it only took him 47 seconds into the podcast before he mentioned something about his Chemist Corner website and his formulation course.

    My major criticism is that the show floundered a bit without a catchy tagline. “Be brainy about your beauty” always seemed to be the perfect ending to a perfect show.

    Welcome back and I look forward to many more episodes!

    • admin December 4, 2018, 10:41 am

      Always great to hear from a fan. I’m sure Randy would’ve stayed on with the show but he’s apparently gone off to Hollywood to work on the sequel to some comic book movie or something.

      • WmmKahPeh February 6, 2019, 9:02 am

        Ryan and Ryan, you two are a hoot. Miss you lots, Randy, but I do love Valerie already! So, good luck with that career in Big Beauty/Hollywood/journalism (is Allüre considered journalism?) you‘ve gone on/back to, RS!

  • EB December 4, 2018, 9:47 am

    You guys are back! Hooray!!! So glad to see the podcast up and running again!

    • admin December 4, 2018, 10:45 am

      Thanks! We wanted to get something up before the start of the new year. We’re working on a whole new web design too.

  • Margie Miller December 4, 2018, 11:25 am

    Hi Perry,
    Great to have you back!
    Are the ads featured on your site endorsed by you?

    • admin December 4, 2018, 11:34 am

      No, we do not endorse products. The ads are chosen by a Google algorithm probably based on your search history. At some point we are probably going to remove the ads but will need to experiment with other methods of monetizing the website.

  • Danab December 4, 2018, 2:39 pm

    So great to see you back, Perry! You’re always so informative and I really appreciate your clear, fact-based explanations to counteract all the marketing claims out there and also the EWG fear mongering.

    • admin December 5, 2018, 10:38 am


  • Donna Frederick-Neznek December 4, 2018, 3:03 pm

    Fabulous to see you’re back!!!

  • Anne K Julian December 4, 2018, 3:28 pm

    SOO glad to hear you address the EWG. So, despite all the pubmed links they cite, they ignore the dose-response relationship in their numbers ratings.

    • admin December 5, 2018, 10:38 am

      Yes, they do not take that into account. I also think they don’t read the pubmed links that they cite.

  • Maureen December 4, 2018, 4:09 pm

    Welcome back delighted to have some sanity returning to my life

    • admin December 5, 2018, 10:37 am


  • Isa December 5, 2018, 1:55 pm

    Great episode and welcome back! Thank you for talking about product toxicity. It is especially confusing with the rise of epigenetics, yet lack of consumer understanding about the effects of our cumulative exposure to everything in our environment.

  • Rachael December 6, 2018, 11:30 am

    I’m soooo glad you are back!!! I’ve never listed to your podcast – just read the blog. It is PG enough to listen to in the car with my kids (6 and 8)? If so I will add it to my list!

    Question: is the Olay Regenerist Regenerating Cream Cleanser a good one to use for anti-aging? I’m 36, also using Cetaphil, Regenerist Microsculpting cream, and Cerave spf moisturizer daily.

    Water/Eau, Ppg-15 Stearyl Ether, Glycerin, Oxidized Polyethylene, Stearylalcohol, Cetylbetaine, Salicylic Acid, Distearyldimonium Chloride, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Cetyl Alcohol, Steareth-21, Behenyl Alcohol, Ppg-30, Steareth-2, Panthenol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Carnosine, Disodium EDTA, Ascorbic Acid, Fragrance/Parfum, Iron Oxides. Beta-Hydroxy/Be¿ta-Hydroxy Pro-Vitamin/Provitamine B5 Vitamin/Vitamine E Amino-Peptide Vitamin/Vitamine C.

  • Miki December 6, 2018, 6:48 pm

    OMG!! YES. I thought I’d never hear from you guys again. I can’t wait to listen! Woot!

  • Barbara Bird December 8, 2018, 9:36 am

    I am so grateful for having the Beauty Brains back! Your discussion of stem cells was very timely – we are starting to see this concept drift into the realm of pet products.

  • Jennifer Younis December 10, 2018, 11:28 am

    Thank you so VERY much for coming back. You have been missed!

  • Lisa December 11, 2018, 10:40 pm

    So happy to hear The Beauty Brains are back! I loved the detail you and Valerie went into re: silicones, and the kittens at the end! Adorabubble!! Please keep it going!

  • Nema December 15, 2018, 11:33 am

    If apple stem cells grew into apple blossoms on my face, would that be all-natural?

  • Susan Portz December 20, 2018, 8:16 am

    Yayyyyyy! You’re back. And I’m thrilled. You’ve been missed!

  • Annie January 22, 2019, 11:25 am

    I’m so thrilled you are back! I’ve been a massive fan. Thank you so much for bringing this back!

  • LE March 14, 2019, 6:02 am

    I’m so glad you are back! I’m a hairdresser who refuses to sell BS to my clients and I use your website and podcast for reference. (ironically I have a BS from Iowa State U. in Psych prior to my going to cosmetology school) it’s funny though, I think new clients sometimes mistrust me when I don’t want to sell them hair products, so I do have some they can buy if they want to spend more than they need too

  • Sadaf April 21, 2019, 4:08 pm

    You’re back!!! Can’t express just how happy I am!