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Do plant extracts work in skin care products – episode 222


Welcome to the Beauty Brains, a show where real cosmetic chemists answer your beauty product questions and give you an insider’s look at the cosmetic industry. This is Episode 222. Yes, that’s a palindrome!  Yeah.   I’m your host, Perry Romanowski and with me today is…well, it’s just me. Valerie is off today but she’ll be back next week.  

Meanwhile on today’s show I’m going to be answering questions about…

  • Whether the SkinDupes AI is a reliable way to pick skin care products?
  • Can you combine Vitamin C and Niacinamide?
  • Do blue light serums provide any extra benefit?
  • Whether it’s worth it to grow your own plant extracts for skin care?

Why don’t people apply sunscreen? 

I should say up front that it’s a good practice to wear sunscreen every day. It has proven benefits both with stopping the negative skin aging effects of the sun and also protecting you from the development of cancer. If you’re going outside, wear sunscreen.  

-they don’t like how it feels
-they think it causes acne
-they don’t like the white cast it leaves on the skin
-they don’t want to mess up their makeup and
-they don’t think they need it because they aren’t going to be in the sun too long.

CBD meet CBG  – CBG is the new CBD?

Beauty Product Advice

So, an efficient way to find the product that is the best value for you, which means it works well and is low cost, is to start with an inexpensive product. If the least expensive product works for you, then that’s what you should use. However, if you try that inexpensive product and you hate it, then move up to the next tier of product cost and try that out. If you don’t like that, then move up in price until you find a product that works for you.  This is the most efficient way to find the product optimized for you. 

But what that does not mean is that you should just buy the cheapest thing you can find. Some people may like VO5 or Suave shampoo. It’s cheap and it works. But a lot of people won’t like it. It may be too harsh or they don’t like the fragrance. For those people, they should move up to the next tier of shampoo. Don’t start out with a super pricing, customized product for your hair type. Because the product likely isn’t better and you can find less expensive options that will work just as well. 

Anyway, I just wanted to clarify, we here on the Beauty Brains are not telling you that you should just buy the cheapest products.  What we are telling you is that you need to experiment with products to find out what works best for you. And that a good way to start that experiment is to begin with the least expensive products. Then move up in price until you find a product that you are happy with.

Beauty Questions

Question 1My question is about the skincareskool. It’s described as the first algorithm that compares products that are similar. Is this dupe finder reliable? Can you expect similar results from products that have a high match score?  

They give a reasonable option as an alternative. Just know they are not completely unbiased or accurate.

Question 2 Shilpa says – I read online that certain actives should not be used together, specifically vitamin c and niacinamide. I read the vitamin c reacts with the niacinamide and inactivates the niacinamide. Is this true, and if so, should I apply niacinamide creams at night in rotation with my retinoids? Can they be applied together or do they react together too?

Now, about combining them in a single product. Generally, Vitamin C needs to be used at a low pH to be most effective while Niacinamide works better at a higher/neutral pH. So, there can be a problem if the pH isn’t optimized.  As far as a problem layering, no there isn’t a problem with that.  But some research done in the 1960’s had shown a negative interaction between Niacinamide and Ascorbic Acid (they can potentially react to produce nicotinic acid which can cause redness and itching).  However, that result is using pure ascorbic acid and niacinamide held at high temperatures. It’s unlikely to be a problem in modern day formulations stored at room temperature.

So is there any benefits to combining them?  They would be beneficial together in that you could get multiple effects from a single product. Niacinamide and Vitamin C fight different problems related to aging skin. Combining them also would help with skin lightening (theoretically) as they work in different ways to achieve that effect.

Question 3 – Paige asks – Is there a difference between an antioxidant serum marketed for blue light and a good antioxidant serum? Are these products actually beneficial or what are their shortcomings?

There is not really a formulation difference. They pretty much use standard anti-aging ingredients like peptides, humectants, niacinamide, etc. But there isn’t any ingredient you can formulate with that will have a measurable impact on the effect (or lack there of) that blue light has on skin.  The products are beneficial in the way that moisturizers are beneficial. But there is nothing in them that will make them measurably different in terms of the effect of blue light.

Question 4 – Mishu asks Is there no plant extract worth harvesting and using in skincare? Is synthetic always better?

To the question of whether any plant extract works to provide benefits for your skin. As a consumer you need to know up front that while cosmetic marketers frequently advertise on their bottles that there are plant extracts in the product, the reality is only a tiny amount of the extract is typically used. The formulators & marketers of the product don’t expect those extracts to have any measurable impact on performance. They are what we call “claims” ingredients and they help tell a story. They don’t make the product work. 

Now, there are lots of plants that may have benefits. Aloe juice certainly has moisturizing benefits.  And in an article titled “Botanicals in Dermatology: An Evidence-Based Review” published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, they point out potential benefits for a few plant extracts such as Tea Tree oil to fight acne, Glycyrrhiza, which is derived from licorice, as a treatment for atopic dermatitis and Mahonia and Capsicum for psoriasis. Of course, there is just directional evidence for these working. It hasn’t reached the level of these being prescribed as treatments.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20509719/

Question 5Alison asks – Am I better off still using good old-fashioned petrolatum and glycerin on my face? Is hyaluronic acid just a fad?

Yeah. Glycerin is the most efficient humectant in terms of real world performance. Hyaluronic acid makes a much better story though. I think it’s just a fad although it’s an ingredient that will probably stick around because it does actually work. I just don’t think it works better than plain old glycerin. It’s a lot harder to market products that just use it, but that’s why I’m not in the beauty product selling business. If you’re using a product with petrolatum & glycerin, you can’t do much better in terms of performance.

Question 6 – Julia says – What’s up with prostaglandins used in eyelash serums? My understanding is that they are similar to the ingredients in prescription medications in effectiveness and potential side effects, but do not require the labeling or testing required of “drugs”. What gives?  

If they work, they’re illegal drugs.  Except Latisse

Question 7 – Theresa asks – Are commercially available retinol creams like La Roche-Posay Redermic R Intense with 0.3% retinol just as strong as the prescription tretinoin at 0.25% or 0.3%? What’s the difference?

The tretinoin products are proven to work. The retinol products aren’t.

Question 8Tina says “This is the list of ingredients that Monat does not use in their products: NO Parabens , SLS/SLES, Cyclic Silicones, BHT, DEA, Phthalates, Phenoxyethanol, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, or Paraffin Wax, Triclosan, Plastic Microbeads, Formaldehyde Releasers.  Can you explain in laymen’s terms what they are/do and if they’re actually harmful? Or, is this more fear-based marketing?”

It’s fear based marketing.

Question 9 – And finally, here’s one from Kimberly  from Instagram – What is the difference between Medical grade skincare and OTC skincare? I’ve heard many so called experts say non medical grade skincare does nothing but make your skin feel nice.

OTC skin care uses proven actives to treat conditions like acne, psoriasis, eczema, etc. The ingredients and claims are regulated by the FDA (at least in the US).  In this case OTC refers to the terms Over the Counter drugs.  These are the most regulated cosmetic-type products on the market.

If you’re just referring to any product you can buy at the drug or grocery store then perhaps you mean OTC as in drug store brands. These are different and they can not, by law, treat diseases. They are classified as cosmetics and are only allowed to improve the appearance of skin and hair.

Medical grade skincare is a marketing position that has no legal meaning. Anyone can call anything they want “medical grade.” It does not refer to things that dermatologists prescribe.  It generally refers to standard cosmetic products that are sold by dermatologists, use a dermatologists name, or just take the marketing position  that they are medical grade. The reality is that these products do not have any special technology that allows them to work better or treat diseases that other cosmetic skin care brands can’t do. It is a marketing position, that’s all.

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Tcol June 13, 2020, 9:13 pm

    Plastic microbeads are terrible for the environment, so while the rest might be fear based marketing, it is worth recognising this concern.

    • Perry Romanowski June 18, 2020, 1:50 pm

      I agree. It’s still important to be precise in issues like this though.

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