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Curology questions – Salon conditioners and bar soap shampoo – episode 178


On today’s episode of The Beauty Brains we’re going to be answering your beauty questions about

  • The differences between salon and store bought deep conditioners
  • Whether curology is better than going to a dermatologist
  • And what are the pros and cons of using a bar soap form of shampoo and hair conditioner?

Beauty Science News

Here’s a story that was published in Elle about dangerous cosmetics.

You know it’s a truism in the media industry…if it bleeds it leads. Fear based news stories are preferred for news organization and stories about cosmetic products are included. Fear based news stories prey on our anxieties and in this online world, they lead to more clicks, social media shares, and advertising money. And they all follow the same formula, grab attention with a scary headline, then offer a solution to reduce that fear.

These types of fear mongering / sales articles are all over the Internet. They are not based on science and are really just hidden advertisements parading as some kind of news. Rather than talking to a toxicologist who would be expert in product / ingredient safety, they usually talk to a biased brand owner who benefits from keeping you scared of mainstream products. Why are no toxicologists contacted when writing articles like this? Because the stories would not be nearly as scary.

Michelle Pfiefer fragrance launch

Speaking of fear marketing, it seems Michelle Pfiefer is launching her own “clean fragrance” line in which she’s following the lead of companies like P&G, L’Oreal and Unilever by making the full ingredient list available online for anyone who wants to see it.

Well, I think this new wave of transparency is good. For a chemist it’s interesting to get more information about other people’s products. I’m just not sure how helpful it is for consumers to now know that Tetrahydro-methyl-methylpropyl)-pyran-4-ol is in your fragrance.

Natural Formulas Arrive At Clairol

Happi magazine is reporting that Clairol has launched a new Natural Instincts line of demi-permanent hair colors. The company says that it’s the most gentle at-home hair color product yet and it’s made from 80% naturally derived ingredients. The other 20% are supernaturally derived, I guess.

What Does Vegan Skin Care *Really* Mean? | Shape Magazine

And finally, if you want to know what Vegan Skin care really means, there’s an article in which I was quoted in Shape Magazine. To sum up the article basically while there can be animal derived ingredients in cosmetic products, mostly there aren’t. Companies got away from using animal derived ingredients back in the late 1990’s as a reaction to the mad-cow scare in the UK.

Certainly you still see animal ingredients like Lanolin, Beeswax, and Gelatin but for the most part, the vast majority of cosmetic products you can buy do not contain animal derived ingredients. They are derived either from plants or petroleum. Of course you might say that petroleum was really just dead dinosaurs so it’s still animal based…but that’s not right. It’s a myth that the dinosaurs turned into petroleum. There weren’t nearly enough dinos to do that. Petroleum actually comes from the decay of ancient phytoplankton that lived in the oceans. So technically, petroleum based ingredients are plant based too. Petroleum is plants!  Which makes them vegan. I wonder if that will catch on with consumers seeking vegan cosmetics.

Alright, on to some beauty questions and answers.

Beauty Question

Lily asks – My question today is, Are the deep conditioning treatments salons offer any different from your regular conditioner? A popular one in the recent year is keratin deep conditioning treatment, and I also heard of quinoa hair treatment.. people pay hundreds of dollars for them. I know you are paying for services and that fresh feeling you get coming out of a salon. But I’m curious if there is any difference in formulation between salons conditioning treatment and your regular ol conditioner ?

This is a great question and I’ll cut to the chase, yes deep conditioning treatments in salons are different from a regular conditioner. But I mean they are different in terms of how they are applied, how they are rinsed out and the whole process. They may even be different in terms of how they are formulated since the aesthetics of putting the product on the hair, rinsing it out, and the fragrances are not nearly as important for a salon treatment than for something you use at home.

But in terms of whether you’re getting some great benefit from these pricey treatments versus something you could just do at home…I’ve not seen any good evidence of that.  Consider that there are no special ingredients that go in a salon conditioning treatment that couldn’t also be put in your standard at-home product. I looked at the Clairol Professional Color Vibrancey Repair Packet and they have standard conditioner ingredients Amodimethicone, Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine, Panthenol…you know, the same type of stuff you get in store brand conditioners.

Despite what you might read on the Internet there’s nothing about a quinoa hair treatment that is particularly impressive. Certainly not worth hundreds of dollars.  Keratin deep conditioning…those products also contain silicones, cationic conditioners, and all the other things found in standard conditioners. There really is no special technology that a salon puts on your hair when doing these special conditioning treatments.  

Now, I’m sure the whole experience will leave you with great feeling hair but I’ve tested enough of these conditioning treatments to know that your hair is not going to be left in a condition significantly better than the condition you can get by using a standard conditioner at home.  

Misty from Texas What are your thoughts on Curology? What do you think of these custom formulations?  Is this a good option instead of going to this instead of a dermatologist?

I hadn’t heard of Curology so I went over to their website to check them out. Indeed, they are all about customization and making customized formulas. Or at least, custom-ish formulas. They try to make things simple for you. You answer a few questions, snap a picture of your skin, send it to the website then they send you “your custom super bottle” of perfect skin care for you.  It sounds like magic.

But I’m skeptical of these types of things as you might have imagined. Especially the part where you are subscribing to a service. The main reason people market products as subscription is that it’s a guaranteed sale. They know that a large segment of their customer base will be too lazy or forgetful to cancel a subscription once it starts even if they don’t like the product. Marketing companies love to get people to subscribe to products. While subscriptions for things like Netflix or Car Insurance make sense, subscriptions to beauty products (especially acne treatments) don’t.  

They also don’t offer refunds.  hmmm. More troubling is the cancellation policy where they say that “if you do not receive a cancellation confirmation email, your account has not been cancelled.”  Seems a little dodgy to me. If someone wants to cancel they shouldn’t have to count on the company sending back an email to confirm you cancel. And then they don’t have a phone number?  What kind of business doesn’t have a phone number?

I digress.

The products are made in conjunction with a dermatologist which most likely means the dermatologist worked with a cosmetic chemist or contract manufacturer to get the products made. Anyway, I’m sure they are fine products.

I looked at their ingredient lists and wasn’t terribly impressed. The primary ingredients in their cleansers are Cocamidpropyl Hydroxysultaine and Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate. Then there are a couple of secondary surfactants too. This will be a perfectly functional, light cleansing product. I suspect it will have a hard time cleaning off a face that has a lot of makeup on it, but for an every day cleanser, I’m sure it will be fine.

The moisturizer isn’t anything special either in that it contains things you would expect like Dimethicone, and a couple other silicones and humectants like Glycerin and Sodium Hyaluronate. Again, a perfectly fine moisturizer.

But $60 for a 2 month supply?  

Then there is the super bottle. According to what I could find the formula contains three active ingredients which could be clindamycin, azelaic acid, tretinoin, niacinamide, and zinc pyrithione. These are all things that are found in anti-acne products.  Nothing groundbreaking here.

In my view the questionnaire is just a marketing gimmick. They ask you about skin sensitivity, aging, oil production and your breakout history. People are not very good at assessing their own skin so there are no obvious formulation changes you can make based on these answers. They could randomly give you one of the products and if it works, great. If it doesn’t work they can give you a different combination and keep iterating like that until you get something that works. Maybe their technology algorithm can do better than that but I doubt it.

Alright, so to your final question, is this a good option over going to a dermatologist? In my opinion, I don’t really think so. If you have acne, the first thing you should try is the over the counter stuff you can get at the store. These contain ingredients proven to work against acne for most people. But if you’ve tried that stuff and still have a problem, going to the dermatologist is a more reasonable option than a service like this one.  If you have severe acne or something that is complicated to treat, you need to be looked at by a dermatologist. Some people might like the at-home convenience of a service like curology but I’m skeptical that that is worth the cost.

Beth – What are the pros and cons from using a bar soap form of shampoo and hair conditioner?

First, what are these products and how are they different than standard shampoos and conditioners?

Basically, these formulas use many of the same ingredients as standard formulas but with a lot less water.  For a solid shampoo, typically a detergent is used diluted to about 15% of the formula. In these solid shampoos they can just skip the water and use a solid version of the detergent like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate.

For a solid conditioner, they substitute a solid like Coco butter or Shea butter for the water but then include conditioner ingredients like Behentrimonium Chloride. They also include some detergent surfactants so you can was the stuff out of your hair.  These are tricky formulas to make and they generally don’t include the best ingredients you can use in conditioners.

Pros –

  1. Reduce water waste in making the product. We haven’t thought much about water when creating formulas but in the future it could have significant impact on the environment.
  2. Reduce packaging waste – No plastic bottles means less waste.
  3. Reduce number of ingredients needed to make products – For solid products you can use a lower amount of preservatives, pH adjusters and some other ingredients. There is nothing necessarily wrong with those ingredients but reducing exposure to any kind of chemicals is probably helpful. At the very least this lessens the chances of you developing some kind of reaction to one of the compounds.
  4. Last longer – the marketers say that these bars will last longer and they might be right. Bar soap seems to last longer than body wash so these probably will last longer.
  5. Easier to travel with? I guess you don’t have to worry about the bottle opening up and getting all over your clothes

Cons –

  1. Light cleaning – they probably aren’t going to clean your hair as well
  2. Low foaming – they won’t feel like they are working because it’s harder to make foam. This may not be related to how well they are working but you probably won’t enjoy the experience as much.
  3. More damaging – Rubbing a solid on your hair directly could cause damage that you don’t get from a liquid product.   
  4. More tangling – The rubbing action might also make your hair more tangled.

In my view these products aren’t going to be as satisfying to use for people with longer hair. For someone with short hair they might be fine.  But on the plus side, they can probably work as bar soaps too.

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{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Christopher April 12, 2019, 11:12 am

    I think it is worth mentioning that a lot of “shampoo bars” out there are actually just soap with some added superfatting oils and not traditional shampoo ingredients (synthetic). Soap on the hair tends to build up and give it a waxy feeling. Gotta look at those ingredients!

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