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Peptides in skin care – episode 208

Beauty questions answered today include

  1. Is there a bar shampoo or bar conditioner that works as well as the ones out of a bottle?
  2. Why can’t everyone use retinol?
  3. Is sugaring dangerous? And does it work as well as waxing? 
  4. Do peptides have an effect beyond moisturizing & is there a “best one” to pick?

Beauty Science News

Industry must take a wholistic approach to talking about ingredient safety

UV protection may not be enough for skin protection 

Beauty Questions

Question 1  – Audio

Jennifer asks – Is it wishful thinking to hope that a bar shampoo or bar conditioner will work as well as a product that comes in a bottle?  Do you know of any brands you might recommend?

We actually talked about the chemistry of solid bar shampoos and conditioners back on episode 178. I’d encourage you to go take a listen to get a more in-depth discussion. 

Basically, these formulas use many of the same ingredients as standard formulas but with a lot less water.  Lush uses Sodium Lauryl Sulfate as their main solid detergent. They also have some formulas which include Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate. Another popular ingredient in these bar shampoos is Sodium cocoyl isethionate. These are all standard shampoo detergents. I saw another shampoo bar based on Sodium Cocoate which is more of a soap that’s not going to work well on hair. If you’re going to get any benefit from these plastic free formulas, stick with the SLS, SLES or the Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate versions. They will work the most like regular shampoos. 

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.

While you might be able to find a bar shampoo that works find enough, I double you’ll be able to find a bar conditioner that works well enough. That’s because they can’t include stuff like silicones. 

In truth, I think the reason these don’t work as well is mainly because you don’t get enough delivery from the solid form. If you think about the amount of product you get from a squeeze of bottle, you get much less than rubbing a solid formula together in your hand or onto your hair. I don’t have exact measurements but I would guess you’re getting about 10 times less ingredients when using a soap bar versus a squeeze bottle. 

Question 2 Amy says Hi Beauty Brains – Love your Podcast & watching my friends get angry as I debunk their crazy claims. I worked in cosmetics for years and it’s crazy the scripts we’d be given to push products. Thank goodness for Science based reliable info like yours. Question; why can’t all skin types acclimate to Retinoids/ Retina-A. I’ve tried everything ( easing into it) and get nothing but irritation. I’m 55 & would love to be using it( something that’s proven to work & I just have no luck). Thanks for “keeping it real!” 

Thanks for the kind words.  Sorry if we’re causing any problems with your friends. But sometimes reality is less appealing than the marketing stories.  Ok, on to your question.

First, a little about retinoids.  Retinoic acid (also known as Retin-A, tretinoin and sometimes by brand names like Accutane) is a prescription drug used to treat acne. While it is primarily known for its anti-acne properties, dermatologists have also prescribed it for evening out complexion and reducing fine lines and wrinkles. This makes it one of the most valuable anti-aging ingredients. However, retinoic acid is not available in any cosmetic because it can only be purchased with a prescription from your doctor.

On the other hand, Retinol is NOT a prescription drug. It is the alcohol form of retinoic acid. That means it’s chemically related, and does have some similar skin refining properties, however it is not nearly as effective as the acid. Neither are the other derivatives of retinoic acid or retinoids like Retinaldehyde or Retinyl palmitate.

Another problem with retinol is that it is not very stable and is easily oxidized. That means that exposure to oxygen, light, or even other ingredients in the same formula can render this ingredient even less effective. Which will also probably be less irritating so that might be a plus. 

But as far as irritation goes, first, I don’t really have an answer to why some skin types can tolerate retinoids and others can’t. It could be a combination of a bunch of things like genetics, environment, your personal pain tolerance level. There really isn’t one simple answer.  But as far as what you might be able to try. The less effective retinoids are also less irritating. Use a lower level at the start. You might consider mixing your retinol lotion with a non-retinol containing lotion to dilute the exposure. Also, using it on dry skin might help reduce the problems.

Ultimately, for some people they just can’t use some ingredients. It’s the same with food allergies. Unfortunately, we don’t have many cures to some of these problems. 

On the plus side, daily moisturizing, avoid smoking, and stay out of the sun will provide a lot of anti-aging benefits you can get without retinoids.

Question 3 – Elizabeth writes – I listened to episode 192 of the podcast and was surprised to hear you group home sugaring recipes in with the dangerous kitchen chemistry segment. I did that one myself back when I made  less money and it seemed to work just as well as waxing kits from the store. Is there a danger here I’m not catching? These days I make more and get my legs waxed at a salon, and the last salon I went to offered sugaring as well as waxing, though they certainly weren’t using the home recipe kind. They claimed that the sugar sticks less to the skin than wax, but just as strongly to the hair, so it’s less painful. I couldn’t tell any difference myself, do you think that claim is true?

I’m sorry if it sounded like we were saying that sugaring was unsafe. I think we were referring to some of the other home treatments.  Sugaring to remove hair has been done for a long time so it’s not like a new technology. Some people claim that it can lead to a more permanent hair removal but that’s not true. Both waxing and sugaring are temporary measures. The reason is that they only pull out the hair but do not remove the hair-creating cells in the follicle.   

The sugaring paste you get at a salon is made from sugar and an acid like citric acid (lemon juice). In sugaring, the sugar actually forms crystals that trap the hair. Essentially, it’s like you are putting caramel on your skin then letting it harden, then ripping it off.  Wax is made up beeswax plus rosin or another sticky polymer. The sticky polymer attaches to the hair and comes out when you pull off the product. But they basically work in the same way. And they basically can both hurt. Maybe one hurts less than the other but pulling out hair is probably going to hurt either way. 

As to the question of whether sugar sticks more to hair and less to skin, there is no scientific basis to this claim. Wax and sugar will both stick to the skin and to the hair. If one formula sticks more to the skin, it will also stick more to the hair. From an adhesive standpoint, there isn’t some difference in mechanism. Sugar doesn’t know whether it is sticking to skin or hair.   

Sugaring and waxing can both work to remove hair temporarily. Whether one works better for you or not really is a personal preference. I think everyone will be different. 

Question 4 – Kayla asks – There is some concern that peptides are too large to have any other benefits other than being a humectant, what do you think of this? Is there any “superior” peptide? Thank you for you time.

We actually covered peptides way back in episode 55 and I would encourage you to go listen to that show. As far as whether they work…

There was a review article published in the journal Cosmetics back in 2017. They reviewed the work that had been done on 28 different peptides which have been suggested for use as a topical skin treatment. There was also a review article published in 2017 in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science that looked at 19 peptides. All this is to say that there are a lot of peptides. 

Whether there is a superior peptide or not is still up for debate. 

I’ll preface this talk by saying that if peptides really had the effect that the research claims, these would be illegal drugs. Peptides are said to stimulate collagen growth (cosmetics can’t do this), stimulate keratinocyte growth (cosmetics aren’t allowed to do this), stop cell apoptosis, and a number of other processes affecting the body’s biochemistry. It is not legal for cosmetics to interfere with the body’s biochemistry.

This is one of the reasons that the claims about peptides remain vague and general. If they came out and claimed what they want to claim (the products stop the formation of wrinkles) then the products would be illegal.  But let’s ignore that for the moment. 

What has been proven?

As I said there are a number of studies looking at all kinds of different peptides. Many of the published studies are on cell cultures which isn’t terribly helpful. This type of work is useful to give scientists an idea about what compounds to evaluate, but it doesn’t tell you if it would work in a person. 

A number of studies were done with a small number of subjects or they used peptides along with some other ingredient like niacinamide or retinoids. I don’t know why they did that. Probably because they didn’t get good enough results using the peptide alone.

But there were some studies that were placebo controlled, double blind with a good number of subjects. The peptides that appeared to do the best or at least had the most rigorous science behind it were.

The first is a signal & carrier peptide called Copper Peptide GHK-Cu. The INCI name you would find on the cosmetic container is Copper tripeptide-1. In a couple of double blind, placebo controlled studies, it was found to reduce wrinkles, increase skin density and thickness.  They showed results starting in week 4.

Another one that showed promise was Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4 or Pal-KTTKS – This one is a signal peptide that is thought to stimulate collagen and elastin production.  In a couple double blinded, placebo controlled studies, they found significant reduction in fine lines and wrinkles and a reduced bumpy texture. 

Now, I remain skeptical about recommending these ingredients for two reasons.  First, there aren’t reproduced studies. One study doesn’t mean much to me & they are often funded or even published by manufacturers who certainly aren’t unbiased.  But second, I didn’t see what the control placebo formula was. There is a trick that researchers can do and this happens with raw materials all the time. If you want to prove that your ingredient has some kind of property the first strategy is to compare it to no treatment. If the untreated side looks worse than the treated side, viola, you’ll convince some people your technology works.

But if you don’t want it to be easily dismissed, it’s better to compare yourself to a placebo. If the ingredient shows an effect then, at least you can say the ingredient is doing something. The trick here is that you want to use an ineffective placebo. So, if you wanted to show wrinkle reduction you might make a cream with a low level of moisturizing ingredients versus the same cream with your peptide. If the ingredient has wrinkle reducing abilities it would be easier to see.

The only problem with that is that from a consumer standpoint you don’t want to know whether an ingredient has an effect. You want to know whether an ingredient is the best thing to use. What they should compare themselves to is a good moisturizer that has proven anti-aging effects. Consumers don’t necessarily care about the ingredient per se, they want to know what overall treatment is the best. If these peptides don’t work better than a good moisturizer like..I don’t know…Neutragena or something like that, then they aren’t worth paying the extra money for are they? 

Anyway, if you’re sold on peptides in skin care then the ones with the best science behind them include Copper tripeptide-1 and Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4.  Look for those names on the ingredient lists. 

Peptide article

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