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Is bee venom a good anti-aging ingredient?

Monika asks…Korean Bee Venom essence but it does seem to work. My question is the bee venom really magic or is there something else that removes the spots?

RS: Thanks Monika…this gives me the perfect excuse time to remind listeners to go back to Episode 105 and listen to the story about how Perry got stung in the eye by a bee. If nothing else, just go the webpage and check out the picture of his face. It’s horrific. I’m not kidding. But let’s put my personal revulsion aside and try to figure out why this product seemed to work on Monika’s acne.

PR: We found a study published in the Journal of Integrative Medicine titled “Effects of cosmetics containing purified honeybee (Apis mellifera L.) venom on acne vulgaris.” The researchers did testing in the lab and found that bee venom can kill p acne which is the bacteria that is a contributing cause of zits. Then they did a study on real people and found that a significant decrease in inflammatory and noninflammatory acne lesions. The P value was only 0.027 which is not very statistically sound but at least there’s a reasonable chance this really works on acne.

RS: BTW, the product also contains azelaic acid and willow bark extract which is a natural source of salicylic acid. Both of these acids are drugs that are proven help acne so they could be responsible for the improvement you saw. But this raised the larger question about the trend of using bee venom in beauty products, specifically in anti-aging products.

Anyway, is bee venom a good skin care ingredient?

PR: As always when looking at functionality of cosmetic ingredients we try to answer the 3 Kligman questions.

RS: Does it penetrate? Sure it does…when you get stung by a bee. But I couldn’t find any clear evidence that it penetrates when applied topically. There are studies on bee venom as wound healing agent but of course open wounds are NOT the same as healthy intact skin. So that doesn’t tell us much. We can infer it penetrates based on some of the efficacy studies we’ll discuss in a moment but it certainly is not a clear cut YES.

PR: Is there a mechanism to describe how bee venom could theoretically reduce wrinkles or improve the appearance of your skin in any way? Again, this is murky at best. Bee venom does have some anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties and it’s been used for conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and even cancer. But this has little to do with skin. Apparently it has some some antimicrobial properties which could make it beneficial for certain skin conditions. We did find a study done in vitro showing it can decrease the formation of a type II collagen (which is how it helps treat arthritis). Melittin is the majority chemical found in bee venom is SAID TO increase/boost collagen production. But we couldn’t find anything explaining how it could do this or how it could reduce their degradation which is what you’d expect in an anti-wrinkle product.

RS: Okay then, what about the third (and most important) Kligman question: Is there evidence that bee venom reduces wrinkles when applied to real people? Well, there’s some evidence but I wouldn’t call it very good. I thought we had hit the jackpot when we found the study “The beneficial effects of honeybee-venom serum on facial wrinkles in humans.” I mean how much more on point could you ask for, than that?

PR: Here’s what they did: First they got some bee venom. That in itself is not an insignificant task. Here’s how the facial study paper described it…”the bee-venom collector was placed on the hive, and the bees were given enough electric shocks to cause them to sting a glass plate, from which dried bee venom was later scraped off. The collected venom was diluted in cold sterile water and then centrifuged at 10,000 g for 5 minutes at 4°C. Purified bee venom was then freeze-dried and refrigerated at 4°C for later use. They took the bee venom and formulated it into a serum at 0.006%. There was no discussion of what else was in this serum. Which, by the way, is kind of important.

RS: Next they recruited 22 women ages 30 to 49 and asked them to apply this serum to their faces twice daily for 12 weeks. The researchers did a clinical evaluation before the test and at 4, 8 and 12 weeks. Here’s what they found: The average visual grade of all patients significantly improved with the bee-venom serum treatment: 6.64% at 8 weeks (P=0.002) and almost 12% at 12 weeks. (P=0.0003) I don’t even know what that means. They also directly measured wrinkles using a couple different techniques, one was total wrinkle count. Results showed that total wrinkles went from about 104 initially to about 100 after 12 weeks. Plus or minus 32. Huh? There were similarly confusing results for wrinkle depth and total wrinkle area.

PR: Even if these numbers showed a conclusive reduction in wrinkles the data would still be suspect because the study was done with out a proper control. The product is just tested against nothing so we don’t know if some other factor cause the change or if other ingredients in the serum moisturized skin and therefore provided a modest reduction in wrinkles. There’s just no way to know.

RS: So what’s the bottom line? There seems to be a CHANCE bee venom may be helpful in treating acne, but we have data showing how it compares to conventional treatment like sal acid or B.P. There seems to be even less evidence that bee venom has any reliable anti-aging properties. By the way, thanks you Paige DeGarmo for providing much of the research we used in answering this question.

Benton Snail Bee High Content Essence 

Snail Secretion Filtrate, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Glycerin, Arbutin, Human Ogliopeptide-1, Bee Venom, Plantago Asiatica Extract, Laminana Digita Extract, Dios Pyros Kaki Leaf Extract, Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Extract, Ulmus Campestris (Elm) Extract, Bacilus Ferment, Azelaic Acid, Althaea Rosea Flower Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Butylene Glycol, Beta-Glucan, Betaine, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Cross Polymer, Adenosine, Panthenol, Allantoin, Zanthoxylum Piperitum Fruit Extract, Usnea Barbata (Lichen) Extract, Pulsatilla Koreana Extract, Arginine



Is dandruff shampoo good for your face?

Vanessa asks…I just saw a video of someone saying she uses Nizoral dandruff shampoo as a face mask or face cleanser for clearing tiny bumps on her face. Would this really work?

RS: This is one of those practices that sounds like an urban myth..I was ready to call B.S. on this one. Until we did a little digging.

PR: First, a little background on Nizoral. The active ingredient in that formula that stops dandruff is an anti fungal agent called ketoconazole. It kills the fungus that causes dandruff. That’s unlike most dandruff shampoos, like Head and Shoulders, that use zinc pyrithione. Did Nizoral get an NDA?

RS: Second, let’s talk about face bumps. It’s like a fist bump but done with your face. What causes face bumps?

PR: Of course there is acne but that condition is caused by bacteria (among other factors) not related to fungus.

RS: There’s Milia which is a skin condition characterized by small white bumps. These are typically keratin-filled cysts that are harmless. Milia is extremely common in infants (but adults get it too) and it’s believed to be caused by oil producing glands in your skin that are not fully developed. But they have nothing to do with fungus.

RS: What about razor bumps? No, those are caused by ingrown hairs, not fungi.

PR: BUT…there is a condition called “Pityrosporum folliculitis” which is caused by a yeast that can colonize the hair follicles and cause itchy, acne like bumps.

RS: I believe it’s pronounced “Pity the forum you like to eat us”

RS: It’s not TYPICALLY found on your face…most commonly found in what is called “the cape distribution.” I had never heard that term but it refers to the upper chest and upper back. Which is wear a cape would contact your skin. The bumps are said to be pinhead sized and uniform.

PR: Everyone has this yeast but in some cases it can grow like crazy. Contributing factors including applying greasy ingredients, like coconut oil, to your skin and wearing tight clothing that doesn’t breath.

RS: Which is why all the best dressed superheroes only wear capes made from cotton.

PR: Why are we spending so much time discussing this condition? Because this particular kind of yeast can be killed by ketoconazole. And that brings us back to Nizoral. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, washing your face with Nizoral weekly can get rid of face bumps. The best practice is to apply it to your face and leave it on for about 10 minutes before rinsing it off. However, you should be aware that treatment with ketoconazole doesn’t always work.

RS: So the bottom line it that IF your face bumps are caused by “Pliny thesaurus, come and fight us” then washing your face with a dandruff shampoo containing ketoconazole MIGHT help. But if some other condition is the cause then you’re totally wasting your time. In that case, consult a dermatologist.

Reference: http://www.aocd.org/?page=PityrosporumFollicu

Is dry conditioner the next dry shampoo?

Melissa Mary asks…Have you seen some of the dry conditioner formulas lately? They seem to be sold in specialty beauty stores like Ulta and Sephora. I’m not sure if they’ve made their way to drugstores yet. Are they essentially just shine sprays? Would they work well with dry shampoo?

RS: Dry Shampoos have been popular for several years now. In fact, we worked on the first successful mass market dry shampoo, Tresemme Fresh Start.

PR: But we weren’t familiar with dry conditioners until now. Melissa Mary provided a link to a couple of example products. One is from Amika and it’s an alcohol based spray with some silicone and cationic type conditioning agents.

RS: The other is Drybar’s Detox Dry Conditioner I can’t figure it out. According to a Sephora website it’s a very light light aerosol spray that you apply to dry hair. But the ingredient list they provide must be wrong because it looks exactly like a conventional rinse out conditioner with fatty alcohol, silicones, and quats. It could even be a No Poo Spray (although that sounds like some sort of aerosol laxative.) Regardless, this kind of product couldn’t be sprayed in the way shown in the video. So I’m guessing the ingredient list is wrong.

PR: We can tell you, though, that these products appear to be more conditioning than a shine spray because shine sprays are pretty much just pure silicone. Typically Cyclomethicone is used because it evaporates and it’s paired with something like dimethicone which gives good shine.

RS: But I still don’t understand the point of these products. I don’t really see how these would work with a dry shampoo, though, because dry shampoos leave a powder in your hair. Would you really put another leave in product on after that? Or do you use them instead of a dry shampoo in which case you’re applying them to dirty hair which is just going to make it weighed down? It makes no sense! We’ll post the ingredients in the show notes.

Amika spray:
Butane, SD Alcohol 40-B, Propane, Diisopropyl Adipate, Peg-8 Dimethicone, Panthenol, Butylene glycol, Quaternium-91, Cetrimonium Methosulfate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Fragrance, Hippophae Rhamnoides (Sea Buckthorn) Extract, Water.

Drybar spray:
Water, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol, Stearyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium Chloride, Cyclopentasiloxane, Isododecane, Cyperus Esculentus Root Oil, Prunus Insititia Seed Oil, Moringa Oleifera Seed Oil, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed) Extract, Citrus Junos Peel Extract, Keratin, Hydrolyzed Keratin, Caesalpinia Spinosa Gum, Acetyl Tetrapeptide-3, Hydrogenated Coco-Glycerides, Rhodiola Rosea Root Extract, Cystine Bis-PG-Propyl Silanetriol, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein PG-Propyl Silanetriol, Jojoba Esters, Ethylhexylglycerin, Tocopherol, Trifolium Pratense (Clover) Flower Extract, Tocopheryl Acetate, Panthenol, Sodium Nitrate, Inulin Lauryl Carbamate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Dextran, Caprylyl Glycol, Parfum (Fragrance), Stearamine Oxide, Methoxy PEG/PPG-7/3 Aminopropyl Dimethicone, Glycerin, Amodimethicone, Cetrimonium Chloride, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Silicone Quaternium-22, Isopropyl Alcohol, Quaternium-80, Dimethiconol, PPG-3 Myristyl Ether, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Octyldodecanol, Octocrylene, Pentaerythrityl Tetra-di-t-butyl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate, Quaternium-95, BHT, Butylene Glycol, Propanediol, Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane, Sodium Chloride, Dehydroacetic Acid, Polyaminopropyl Biguanide, Potassium Sorbate, Benzyl Alcohol, Propylene Glycol, Citric Acid, Sorbic Acid, Tetrasodium EDTA, Disodium EDTA, Sucrose Laurate, Glyoxal, Benzoic Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin, Methylisothiazolinone, Linalool.

http://m.sephora.com/product/P404912?icid2=skugrid http://m.sephora.com/product/P406254

Beauty Science News

Allure to stop saying anti-aging

Don’t condition your hair after a nuclear explosion

iTunes reviews

PR: Great podcast says “Fake noise from United States.” Perry and Randy help make me feel like an informed consumer who can make more informed choices. This Podcast has quickly become one of my favorites joining the ranks of Science VS, Skeptics Guide…, and This American Life.

RS: Ruweida from South Africa says…How do I profess my love for thee? Sexy nerdy scientists with an unbiased view on beauty products. Compulsory listening for any consumer. Love. Love. Love.

PR: Paul From France says…Goodbye marketing BS. Thank you Beauty Brains for providing an inside view on how marketing is constantly trying to screw you! And thank you for enlightening everyone on how cosmetic products really work.

RS: Alez from South Africa says…These two are my heroes. I’m a beauty writer, and I can’t tell you how many times the Beauty Brains have saved me from buying into and endorsing products on false premises. Just one request – Randy, please be nicer to Perry


Can you use diaper rash cream as sunscreen?

Mari asks…Today a customer came into the retail pharmacy where I work and demanded that we sell him zinc oxide diaper rash paste so he could use it as sunscreen. I tried to steer him in the direction of actual sunscreens with listed SPFs, but he was not to be dissuaded and ended up leaving with a tube of generic diaper rash cream (with no listed SPF) in hand. His rationale was that diaper rash paste has a higher percentage of zinc oxide than zinc oxide sunscreens. Although this is sometimes true, depending on the brand, my concern is that (a) the formulation of a diaper rash paste might not make it an effective sunscreen and (b) without a listed SPF, there’s no way to really know. What are your thoughts on this?

We’ve talked quite a bit about sunscreens on the showgram but believe this is the first time that diaper rash products have come up. So a little quick background discussion is in order.

We used to think that urine was the primary cause of diaper rash which makes sense since a baby (especially under 2 months) can urinate up to 20 times per day. But the hypothesis was that urine releases ammonia which raises the pH of skin which opens it up to damage. But it turns out urine is NOT the primary cause…it’s feces.

The pH of feces is acidic due to bile and studies have shown that diaper rash is more prominent where the feces contact the skin. This contact can lead to yeast and bacterial infection. So mark your calendars that today was the day that the whole urine-diaper rash myth was busted.

And that brings us back to diaper rash creams. In case you didn’t know, both sunscreens and diaper creams are Over the Counter drugs and are controlled by the FDA.

Sunscreens are 1 type of drug…they are sunscreens. But diaper rash creams are actually not 1…not 2…not 3 but actually 4 different types of drug products: External Analgesic, Topical Antifungal, Topical Antimicrobial, and Skin Protectant.

In addition to Zinc Oxide other approved diaper rash ingredients include mineral oil, petrolatum, cornstarch, allantoin, calamine, dimethicone, kaolin clay, and cod liver oil.

How does ZnO help with diaper rash? It works 3 ways: It helps water proof (or feces proof) skin, it’s a mild astringent which means it can cause the contraction of body tissues, and it has some antimicrobial properties. That’s what makes it suitable for use in the 4 drug product categories we just mentioned.

So Zinc Oxide is an approved drug ingredient that is used in both products. But does that mean you could use them interchangeably? Can you use diaper cream as a sunscreen as the demanding gentleman in Mari’s pharmacy intended to do.

And conversely, can you use sunscreen on diaper rash?

Let’s begin by answering a fundamental question: is the zinc oxide used in diaper creams the same as the zinc oxide used in sunscreens?

In classic Beauty Brains fashion, the answer is yes and no. Chemically, they’re identical. Both have to use USP grade [what does USP stand for] which means they have to meet certain purity requirements.

BTW did you know that, being a natural product, zinc oxide contains somewhere between 1 and 10 ppm of lead?

Physically, there are differences. Zinc oxide powders are sold with different particle sizes and the size of the particle impacts how well the zinc screens out UV rays. It’s even more complicated than that because it’s not just the size of the particles but these particles tend to stick together to form clumps or aggregates which affect how well the zinc scatters UV rays.

In addition to different particle sizes zinc oxide is commercially available in different varieties such as surface coated varieties as well as dispersions in different materials like natural oils and silicone fluids.

So sunscreens HAVE TO use a version of zinc oxide that’s designed to scatter UV rays…and sunscreens are tested to ensure that they do indeed do that. But diaper rash creams do NOT have to use one of those forms. They may or may not and there’s no way to know since diaper rash products are not tested for UV protection. So that’s issue #1.

Here’s issue #2: Even if a diaper rash cream uses the exact same grade as a sunscreen, the way the diaper rash cream is formulated can impact level of UV protection it provides.

Yeah, the medium in which the zinc is dispersed can determine the final opacity of the product. In other words, the oils, waxes, and other ingredients used in diaper creams can make the final formula more transparent in which case it won’t filter out as much UV radiation.

And then there’s issue #3: The way the product is processed makes a difference as well. For sunscreens, specific dispersion technology can be used to one way to make sure these particle agglomerates are broken up.

Diaper rash products wouldn’t necessarily require the same kind of dispersion technology.

What does all this mean? IF a diaper rash cream contains the right kind of ZnO, and IF it’s used at the correct concentration and IF it’s properly processed, and IF the final formula doesn’t contain any ingredients that can compromise the UV scattering properties of the ZnO, THEN you certainly could use a diaper cream as a sunscreen.

But the only way to know for sure is to conduct SPF testing and it’s doubtful any company will do that because even if it works they can’t use that data to promote the product? Why not? Because the drug monographs and don’t allow for any combined claims.

Even if I knew all those IFs where true I’m not sure I’d want to use diaper rash cream instead of sunscreen. Aesthetically it could be a trainwreck: a diaper cream’s PRIMARY purpose is to create a hydrophobic barrier so they use high amounts of things like petrolatum. A high ZnO/petrolatum cream is great for babies but not very pleasant when smearing all over your face or body.

Is there ANY reason why you’d want to do this? I’m guessing it’s motivated by cost: depending on the brand, diaper rash creams can be cheaper than sunscreens. For example, Desitin costs about $1.75/oz while a ZnO-only sunscreen like Badger costs about $4.70/oz.

So the Beauty Brains bottom line is amount of money you save is not worth the risk of compromised UV protection or the sacrifice of aesthetics.


Is facial massage good for winkles?

Mark asks…is facial massage good for wrinkles?

We’ve touched on this before. Way back in Episode 14 we answered a question about facial yoga being good for wrinkles. So go listen to that for a full recap. But the basic idea is that “plumping up” muscles by exercising them gets rid of wrinkles. Massage is essentially another way to stimulate facial muscles.

But as we pointed out at the time, muscle laxity is not the cause of wrinkles – rather it’s the collapse of structural elements like collagen and elastin. So if we’ve covered this before why are we answering it again? Because it gives us an excuse to discuss another aspect of this which is using electrical stimulation to get rid of wrinkles.

CNN recently reported electro-stim for skin and they quoted Jennifer Aniston who said that “”It’s like a little workout for your face.” And an aesthetician they interviewed said that the more times you have the procedure the more results you’ll see.

Sure, get a bunch of treatments – depending on where you have it done it costs between $200 and $600!

However, the consensus of the medical experts they talked to is that “there is no data demonstrating its effectiveness.” I did find a couple of papers on the subject. One study tested 6 women. Another evaluated 108 women and did show that the procedure resulted in SOME difference in facial muscle thickness.

But it required treatment for 20 min/day, 5 days/week for 12 weeks. That would cost you between $12000 and $36000. Who’s going to spend that kind of money for such a small benefit?

As always the important takeaway is that you think critically when you hear about treatments like this. Not everyone thinks like that. 

RS: When I posted this on Facebook, one commenter said “Clearly Mr. Knott needs to experience micro current himself because regardless of “data” it most certainly does produce results and it is so much more than a “feel good” skincare modality. It seems like he is trying to discredit skincare therapists.”

I replied: DM: It may be nice for Mr. Knott to experience the treatment but that doesn’t prove or disprove that it really works. That’s what “data” is for and in this case there doesn’t seem to be sufficient data to prove that this treatment really works. If you’re familiar with any evidence we’d love to see it and share it with our readers.

Does this plant extract boost collagen?

Ana asks…We love the beautybrains podcast here in Portugal and I finally have a question to ask. I read recently about a plant called bulbine frutescens that is kind of similar to aloe. In some studies it says the juice of the plant stimulates collagen production. Have you heard about it? Do you think it would be a good think to use on the skin for the anti aging properties?

Bulbine frutescens is similar to aloe in that their both used in the treatment of skin wounds and burns. We found a study showing that leaf gel extracts can increase collagen deposition in wounds on pig skin.

I won’t go into details on how the testing was done but unfortunately I CAN’T say that “no pigs were harmed during the course of this study.”

But even if there is some data, before you get too excited, consider 2 of the Kligman questions. Remember what those are?

Mechanism, penetration, and data it works on real people.

In this case they’re applying the BF leaf extract directly to a wound. So the extract doesn’t need to penetrate and the mechanism of wound healing is NOT the same as the production of normal collagen that keeps your skin looking smooth and healthy.

In fact, we couldn’t find anything to suggest this material has anti-aging properties when applied to healthy skin.

If it is similar to aloe it may have some moisturizing properties and it may be good for sunburn but don’t expect it to fix the kind of collagen loss we all experience as we age.


https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232319403_Bulbine_Natalensis_and_Bulbine_Frutescens_promote_cutaneous_wound_healing [accessed Jun 21, 2017].

Beauty Science News

J&J vs natural products


I want to give a quick mention of an article I saw on Global Cosmetic News about Johnson & Johnson speaking out on natural products. First of all I love the title: J&J calls parents bluff over natural baby products. Let me quote the article:
“While many parents want all-natural products for their baby, natural or organic isn’t always what’s safest for baby,” said David Mays, Senior Director of Global Scientific Engagement at Johnson & Johnson in an email sent to Forbes. “The debate over naturals and chemicals has been oversimplified where many consumers now believe that the more natural something is, the better and safer it is. It’s just not that simple and in fact that oversimplification is doing a great disservice to consumers.” I think important take away is this quote: ‘being natural is never more important than being safe.’

Artificial sun tan


iTunes reviews

  • Ouija says…Your “showgrams” are fun, educational, and a much needed public service. Put me down for a yes on the banter.
  • Tornadogirl1981 from Germany says…So useful! Should be on a list for everyone who spends money on skincare. In addition to substance, the form of delivery makes you laugh out loud so beware when listening to the Beauty Brains in public places.
  • Tavelbella says…Just when I thought I knew it all! Love sharing your factoids with my clueless friends.
  • Rose from Australia…Great to learn more about beauty products and how they work 🙂
  • Sashawhyismynamenotavailable says…Great podcast for the closeted cosmetics junkie (or junkie to be) — 5 stars
  • Togahairgurl…I absolutely love listening to these Cos-chesmonauts! I would love to be in your industry, so listening to your podcast is fascinating.

How can you find a cheaper natural lip balm?

Abby says…I have a question about Bite Beauty’s Agave Lip Mask. It claims its natural formula smoothes, nourishes and moisturizes lips with a bio active combination of organic agave nectar, jojoba oil, vanilla co2 extract, and triple the amount of the antioxidant trans-resveratrol found in red wine. It doesn’t mention anything about it containing lead so I’m wondering if it’s safe and effective to use on dry lips. I’m also wondering if you can tell me if there’s anything else on the market that might be similar to this because this is very expensive.

Bite Beauty, in case you’re not aware, is a Toronto based company that hand crafts lip products using “food-grade, or good-enough-to-eat ingredients.” Their credo is to prove that “there’s no sacrifice in quality for products sourced from nature.”

That sounds quite noble but of course it’s never as simple as that. Mainly because when it comes to cosmetics everyone has a different definition of what “sourced from nature” means. But let’s set that aside for the moment and focus on what this particular lip mask.

Most of the hype is around the ingredients Abby mentioned: the agave, the “CO2”vanilla, and the resveratrol but let’s use our “Rule of 5” to look at the PRIMARY ingredients in the product: lanolin, castor oil, agave, olive oil and beeswax.

Lanolin is the first ingredient and it’s perfectly reasonable for use in a product like this because it’s composed of waxy, cholesterol-like materials and other skin compatible lipids. That means it’s good for sealing moisture into skin and making skin softer and more pliable. The big negative of lanolin is that some percentage of the population is allergic to it. It also gets a lot of criticism because it’s an animal by product. You don’t have to kill the sheep – it just comes from the oil on the wool. But still, it’s animal derived which some people don’t like.

Castor oil is another good emollient. Do you know why it’s called “castor” oil? I always that original it was used to lubricate casters…those rollers used on the bottom of some kinds of furniture. But that’s not it all all. Castor oil was originally used as a replacement for the oil from the perineal glands of beavers. And the latin word for beaver is “castor.” Anyway, when properly mixed with other ingredients it can form a nice film on the lips which make it good for a “lip mask.”

Next is agave which is essentially cactus nectar. It doesn’t have ANY benefits to the skin that I’m aware of. (Maybe it can help bind a little more moisture but the other ingredients really have that covered.) It’s primary used as a sweetener so in this formula it just makes the product taste better. It does have the advantage of having a lower glycemic load which means it doesn’t have much impact on your blood sugar.

That might be a big deal dealing with a product like a sweetened soft drink because you’re consuming a lot of it. If you drink a can of soda with sugar it can mess with your blood sugar levels but a drink sweetened with agave isn’t as bad. Of course, that doesn’t matter very much when you’re talking about a lip balm because you apply such a small amount. Instead of 1 calorie you’re ingesting 0.5 calories. It doesn’t really matter.

Olive oil unsaponifiables, which are also known as hydrogenated olive oil, is the next ingredient. This is a solidified version of olive oil that has some skin moisturizing benefits and also contributes to the heavier feel of the product.

Beeswax rounds out the top 5 ingredients and it’s there simply to give the product a thicker consistency. This product is not in stick form it’s packaged in a small squeeze tube so it’s more fluid. Beeswax helps, to some extent, seal in moisture so it’s a good thickener for a product like this.

So these are the ingredients that provide the form and function of the product. The vanilla, which Abby also asked about, is just there as a flavoring agent. The fact that’s it’s CO2 vanilla just means that it was extracted from the vanilla bean using carbon dioxide and high pressure rather than a solvent like alcohol. Supposedly this means the aroma of the extract is closer to the aroma of the original vanilla bean but it doesn’t necessarily give the vanilla any super powers. It may just make it taste a little bit better.

And that brings us to the resveratrol which is often touted as a miracle anti-aging ingredient. This all started because of a few studies back in the early 2000’s which showed that if you give older mice high doses of resveratrol they are able to more successfully walk across a balance beam. Another study showed it made lazy mice look like they had exercised.

There haven’t been very many studies on the effect of resveratrol on skin. There was a 2005 study that indicated topically applied resveratrol can protect skin from UV damage but again this was an animal study. A couple of studies have been done on humans: a 2012 study showed that people who took the ingredient orally had better quality skin and a 2011 study showed that resveratrol gel improved acne. But overall, the scientific consensus is that the benefits of topically applied resveratrol are not well established.

The fact that this product contains “triple the amount of resveratrol found in red wine” isn’t that relevant because you’re applying such a small amount.

So at best you’re applying a very small amount of a compound that hasn’t really been proven to have much of an effect.

On the plus side it may help you walk better on a balance beam.

So back to Abby’s question about less expensive substitutes for this Bite Beauty product. If the agave is just there for sweetness, the vanilla for flavor and the resveratrol…well probably not much. So let’s say for the sake of argument you don’t need to worry about finding a product with those ingredients. What SHOULD you look for?

Since the majority of the product is lanolin I’d look for another lanolin based product. We can’t tell you how to find a product that will FEEL the same way but we can give you a couple of options that are close enough for you to maybe want to try and they’ll be a hell of a lot cheaper.

First there’s Koru Naturals lip balm. It contains just two ingredients: USP Grade Lanolin and Sunflower Seed Wax. It only costs $2.80 for a 0.15 ounce stick.

And then there’s Lanicare which contains Lanolin, Castor Seed Oil, Olive Oil Unsaponifiables and Beeswax. That’s also about $3.00 per stick. Both of these products are about a tenth of the cost of Bite Beauty so they certainly seem worth a try.

Bite Beauty Agave Lip Mask Ingredient list:
Lanolin* (medical grade), Organic Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil**, Organic Agave Tequilana (blue agave) nectar**, Olea Europaea (Olive) Oil Unsaponifiables*, Organic Cera Alba (Beeswax)**, Flavor, Vanillin, Siraitia Grosvenori (Monk Fruit)*, Vanilla Tahitensis (Vanilla) Fruit Extract*, Organic Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax*, Trans-Resveratrol*, Vitis Vinefera (Grape) oil*, Tocopherol acetate*, Lonicera Caprifolium (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract (And) Lonicera Japonica (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract (and) Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil*.

What’s the deal with K Beauty anti-aging alginate masks?

Kate in our Forum asks…. There is this new beauty trend going on in Japan and South Korea – Alginate Masks. They work by mixing alignate mask with water, then you need to apply it to the face, leave the mask in place for at least 15 minute, then remove by peeling it off in one piece. These masks claim to have lifting effect, reduce wrinkles and hyper pigmentation. Is this something new that can actually work on skin and penetrate it? Or is it another foolish trend created by marketers?

To answer Kate’s question let’s start by explaining what it means for a product to be a “mask.” In her original Forum post Kate asks about two ingredients that she saw popping up in a number of these K Beauty mask products: Calcium sulfate and Sodium alginate. Alginate is a material derived from seaweed and it’s a polysaccharide, sort of a long chain of sugary-starch material. When alginate is combined with a divalent atom like calcium, these long chains of starches are connected together in a process we call cross linking.

So when this cross-linked mixture dries, it forms a film. That’s the basic property of any mask – the ability to form a film on your face. That film serves two purposes. First, it provides a tightening feeling because it’s pulling on your skin. That may give the look and feel of lifting and may temporarily tighten some wrinkles. But these benefits only last until the mask is washed away. The second function of the film is to hold other ingredients, like anti-aging actives, onto your skin.

Remember, that for anti-aging ingredients to be effective a few conditions must be met. First, the ingredient must be efficacious, just because a company CLAIMS an ingredient will do something doesn’t mean it really works.

Second, you need to have that ingredient in the right form, delivered from the right kind of forumula (e.g, pH), third it has to be at the right concentration.

And lastly it has to have enough time to get to it needs to do. Some ingredients don’t need to penetrate into the deeper layers of the stratum corneum to work and they work fairly quickly. Others need to be on skin for a lot longer. And that brings us to the problem with masks.

There are three problems actually.
1. Masks are limited in the types of ingredients they can contain. Unlike a cream or lotion where you can easily combine oil and water soluble ingredients, masks tend to be made with more water soluble ingredients.

2. Masks are not the best delivery vehicle because the ingredients can be trapped in the film which prohibits them from fully contacting the skin .

3. And most important, unlike other product forms masks are only left on the skin a relatively short period of time which limits the kind of anti-aging effects it can have. Specifically Kate asked about reducing wrinkles and hyper pigmentation. Ingredients that are effective against these symptoms of aging need to be in contact with skin for a LONG time. Think hours, not minutes. Anti-aging ingredients work best when left in contact with skin. So whether it’s a cleanser or a toner or a mask, if the product isn’t left on the skin you KNOW it’s not going to work as well.

The bottom line is that masks are fun to use and provide a temporary benefit but they can’t be your main anti-aging weapon.

Is baby shampoo good for adults?

Alessandra asks…Is Johnson’s Baby shampoo a gentle sulfate-free option for fine-haired adults who don’t use many styling products (and an inexpensive alternative to fancy salon “low-poo” products)? Or is it as harsh as stylists say, because in order to make the product non-irritating to the eyes, its pH is really unsuitable to the hair?

First let’s talk about what’s in J&J baby shampoo. We’ll put the complete ingredient list in the show notes for your reference.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the ingredients look different than regular “adult” shampoos. Remember the ingredients most commonly used in adult shampoos are sodium or ammonium lauryl and laureth sulfate (SLS, SLES, etc). These are anionic surfactants meaning they tend to have a negative charge, they are high foaming, good degreasers, and unfortunately, can intereact with skin in such a way that causes irritation for some people.

Now, in typically for a baby shampoo, and certainly in the case of J&J the first ingredient after water is what we call a non-ionic surfactant. In this case it’s PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate. This type of detergent doesn’t foam as much so it doesn’t clean as well but it is milder because of the way it interacts with skin.

You’ll also see Cocamidopropyl Betaine which is a cleanser and foam booster used in both baby and adult shampoos. It can be made from coconut oil so even though it’s chemically processed you’ll see it featured in some natural products.

Next is PEG-150 Distearate. This is another non-ionic compound but this one doesn’t do much cleaning. Rather it’s used as an emulsifier to tie the system together and to add some thickening.

Finally, there’s sodium trideceth sulfate. How can this product be sulfate free if it contains a sulfate? “Sulfate free” really refers to free of SLS, etc. This surfactant is considered more of an non-ionic because of the mildness that the “trideceth” portion of the molecule provides.

So these 4 ingredients provide the backbone of the formula. Of course it contains preservatives, colorants, and fragrance as well. It also contains a touch of polyquarternium-10 which is a polymer that can provide a little bit of conditioning but it won’t give the same kind of feel of silicones or guar that you’ll find in adult conditioning shampoos.

One more thing…it contains sodium hydroxide which is a horrible chemical that can burn through your skin. Do you want to explain how that can be in a baby shampoo?

NaOH is very basic which means it has a high pH. But a very small amount can be used to adjust to the pH. When you adjust the pH the base reacts with the acid and is neutralized. In other words the sodium hydroxide is “used up” and isn’t even really in the product any more. So you don’t need to worry about it.

The pH of this product is about 7 which is close to the pH of tears which is one of the reasons it doesn’t hurt babies’ eyes.

But to answer Alessandra’s question, is this stuff too harsh as she said? I’ve even heard it said that I baby shampoo is harsh because it’s loaded with detergents to help get rid of cradle cap. That’s not true. You don’t need a lot of detergent for that more just mechanical washing. What you might need is a keralytic agent that would help speed up skin cells sloughing off but those are not used in regular baby shampoo.

So baby shampoo is NOT harsh but that doesn’t mean it’ll leave your hair feeling smooth. Some people think baby shampoo feels rough because of what it DOESN’T contain: there aren’t really any major moisturizers or silicones in it to coat the hair and counter balance all the surfactants.

The bottom line is that you may not like the way baby shampoo makes your hair feel but it’s not harsh and irritating.

Ingredients: Water, PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Trideceth Sulfate, PEG-150 Distearate, Phenoxyethanol, Glycerin, Citric Acid, Fragrance, Sodium Benzoate, Tetrasodium EDTA, Polyquaternium-10, Ethylhexylglycerin, Sodium Hydroxide, Potassium Acrylates Copolymer, Yellow 6, Yellow 10.

Beauty Science News

Daily Consumption of a Fruit and Vegetable Smoothie Alters Facial Skin Color.


Remember that time I ate 3 pounds of carrots in one night in an attempt to turn my skin orange?

Well, it turns out that that experiment wasn’t so crazy after all.  In an article published in the journal PLOS One researchers found that daily consumption of fruit and vegetables produced a measurable skin color change. Here’s what they did. They took a group of 81 university students both male and female and measured their skin color using a chronometer. I should mention these were all from an Asian population.  They were able to get a LAB value for yellowness, redness & luminance.  Remember we used to do measurements like that.

Anyway, they gave half the group a fruit smoothie to drink daily and the control group got mineral water. Over the course of 6 weeks they did skin measurements to see what would happen.

It turns out there was a large increase in skin yellowness in the test group and a slight increase in skin redness after 4 weeks of testing.  This effect remained for even 2 weeks after they stopped the test.

So, if you have Asian skin and you are interested in changing the color, perhaps a daily fruit smoothie rich in carotenoids is the way to go. Ya know, I’ve always been skeptical of this “beauty from within” trend but this is at least some evidence that it could work.

Why is Homeland Security interested in cosmetic products?


Normally we say you shouldn’t believe all the hype about dangerous cosmetic ingredients. But it turns out that some cosmetic ingredients are so hazardous that Homeland security has gotten involved.

The danger is not from using cosmetic products, those are safe, but certain raw materials in high concentrations can be weaponized. For example, here are 3 common cosmetic ingredients that can be used in explosive devices: If there are any terrorists listening please cover your ears:

triethanolamine which is used as a pH control agent, hydrogen peroxide which is used in hair lighters and a bunch of other products, and powdered aluminum which is used in color cosmetics.

So, Homeland Security is working with cosmetic companies that have large stock piles of these ingredients to help them ensure the materials remain secure.

The only time I’ve seen cosmetic chemistry threaten homeland security was that time you were doing some testing in the lab and and you set a comb on fire. Remember that?

iTunes reviews

Abky25 says…5 stars. This podcast is a must for anyone who wants to be informed about the products they’re using. Since I started listening to this i’ve really reduced the amount of money I spend on skin products. I will say the podcast can get a bit boring after a while. Overall, these guys are easy to listen to and just so knowledgeable!!

Disparate Housewife from Ireland says…Beauty is an industry and this podcast holds them to standards while guiding listeners to be savvy consumers. I love that the hosts are intelligent and have a fun sense of humour.

Monika from Sweden says…You’ve saved me so much money and I love to listen to you on my morning commute.

Um, please says…I never write reviews but this podcast is just so awesome I had to share the love! These guys address all your cosmetic questions in a fun, quick, and educational way.



Can hair straighteners stop your hair from being naturally curly?

Sarah asks…Can straightening your hair for a long time change it from being very curly to being naturally straight?

That’s like saying bleaching your brown hair for a long time will make you naturally blonde. It doesn’t work that way because you’re only treating the hair that’s already grown out of the scalp. The chemistry and biology that determines if your hair is curly or straight happens BELOW the scalp.

Yes, there are two main factors that control hair shape. One is the shape of the follicle. We’ve used this analogy before but you can think of hair as little tubes of Play Doh that are squeezed out of holes in your scalp. If the scalp hole is perfectly round the hair is round and very straight. If the hold is a little more oval, the hair has an elliptical shape which causes it to twist and turn into a curl. And if the hole is sort of kidney-bean shaped, the hair grows out to be kinky (like African-American hair.) There’s nothing you can do about this although it may change as you age and experience hormone changes.

The other factor is the protein composition of the cortex of the hair. That’s the core of hair that gives it its strength and it’s made up of protein bundles that are grouped into two different regions: one is called the Ortho Cortex and the other is the Para Cortex. These regions absorb water differently and this differential absorption causes one protein region to swell more than the other. That causes hair to twist and turn as it absorbs moisture. That’s why hair gets curlier in high humidity.

The chemistry and biology involved with these factors take place deep in the follicle which is buried beneath the scalp. Once the hair is extruded from the follicle and it pokes out through the scalp, its shape is set. Nothing that straightening products do to the dead hair on top of your head affects the living, growing cells under the skin.

These straightening products work by modifying the molecular bonds inside hair to change the shape from curly to straight. Temporary straightening products modify the hydrogen bonds which are very weak. As soon as your hair gets wet the hydrogen bonds reset and your hair reverts to being curly. Temporary treatments include heat processing like flat ironing. Most styling products work this way as well.

On the other hand, semi-permanent and permanent straightening products modify the disulfide bonds in hair. These are sulfur-sulfur bonds which are very strong. You have to break these bonds so the hair loses its curly shape, then you pull the hair straight and then create new bonds that hold this new shape. These disulfide bonds are hard to break and reform but once you’ve straightened the hair this way it’ll stay straight for a long time.

These long lasting straighteners use similar technology to permanent waves and relaxers. Some products use formaldehyde or formaldehyde-like chemicals because they are good at forming cross linked bonds in the hair which keeps it straight.

You should be aware of the tradeoff involved in using these products though: the longer lasting the straightening effect, the more damaging it is. That’s because not all the bonds are reformed once their broken. That means your hair is weaker after permanent straightening so it will break more easily.

I just learned something about curly hair that I think is interesting. Mechanical engineers at Purdue University used an infrared microscope to study how hair reacts to heat and they found that curly hair loses heat faster than straight hair. That’s because the shape and surface area of hair determine how fast heat dissipates – and straight hair holds on to heat for a longer period to time.

This research is important because it can help consumers predict how much damage they’re doing to their hair during heat styling. It could lead to the development of new styling products that are designed to work better on curly hair. Better living through chemistry!

Can you believe this anti-aging ingredient list?

PMA asks…Can I believe Skinceuticals A.G.E Interupter when it says it contains 4% of blueberry and 30% of proxylane?

I think the more urgent question is…what the hell is proxylane? That’s how it’s spelled on the Skinceuticals website: p-r-o-x-y-l-a-n-e. One word. Proxylane. But there is no such thing. There is however, an ingredient called Pro-Xylane. Pro – dash- Xylane (which is a type of sugar.) (Pro-xylane, by the way, is a trade name for hydroxypropyl tetrahydropyrantriol.) The fact that they couldn’t even spell the name of one of their key ingredients correctly is the first strike against them in terms of believability. But there’s more.

Let’s look at the claims.

  • Reduces the appearance of skin creping and thinning
Visibly improves the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and skin texture
Restores water and nutrients to improve the look of skin firmness
Comforts dry, aging skin
Paraben-, alcohol-, and dye-free.
  • These are pretty generic claims…note the use of weasel words like “reduces the appearance of” and “improve the look of.”

If you do the right kind of test you can usually get enough data to support these kinds of claims. But the last claim…the one about paraben free. That should be a no brainer right? All you have to do is not use parabens. BUT if you look at the ingredient list on their website you’ll see that the product contains both ethylparaben and methylparaben! In terms of believability, that’s strike two!

Now let’s get back to the core of PMA’s question which was about the concentration of 2 key ingredients. The only way we can tell FOR SURE is to look at the actual formula. We don’t have access to that but we do know that by law ingredients must be listed in order of descending concentration until you get to ingredients that are used at 1% or less. Below that level you can list them in any order.

The first four ingredients are: Water, Propylene glycol, dimethicone, and Pro-xylane. Skinceuticals is telling us that the Pro-xylane is present at 30%. Given the ingredient label law we just mentioned we know what the first three ingredients must be present at HIGHER levels that 30%. But if that were true the first 4 ingredients would total up to at least 120% of the formula which can’t be right either. Something is screwed up!

Ok but what about 4% Blueberry? The INCI name for blueberry extract is vaccinium myrtillus fruit extract. It appears on the ingredient list almost at the end, AFTER EDTA and parabens which are used at much less than 1%. If blueberry was present at 4% it would HAVE to appear much higher on the ingredient list. So this seems very sketchy too.

So what’s gong on here? The wording on their website says that key ingredients are “4% Blueberry extract and 30% Proxylane.™” I wonder if it’s possible that they’re referring to the concentration at which the ingredients are supplied to them. In other words, if Pro-xylane is sold as a 30% solution, then they could be saying, “hey, we’re using 30% Pro-xylane in our product” In other words, they’re referring to the concentration of the ingredient itself as purchased, not the concentration used in their final product. But that still sounds very sketchy to me too. That’s strike 3.

Yeah, in terms of ingredient list credibility, this product is just a hot mess. What makes even less sense to me is when you look at who owns Skinceuticals. It’s L’Oreal who typically is very careful and accurate with claims like these. Maybe the parent company is letting this brand play a little fast and loose the the facts. But the important thing is that if you want to try this technology, it’s expensive. ($160 for a 1.7 ounce jar.) Wouldn’t it be nice if L’Oreal made a cheaper product?

Well, they do! Here’s a L’Oreal’s Triple PowerTM Deep-Acting Moisturizer has the same active ingredient with a similar formulation that’s only $25 for the exact same amount.



Aqua / water / eau, propylene glycol, dimethicone, hydroxypropyl tetrahydropyrantriol, cyclohexasiloxane, isohexadecane, glycerin, synthetic wax, dimethicone/peg-10/15 crosspolymer, aluminum starch octenylsuccinate, ci 77163 / bismuth oxychloride, phenoxyethanol, magnesium sulfate, ethylhexyl hydroxystearate, salicyloyl phytosphingosine, acrylates copolymer, methylparaben, ethylparaben, disodium edta, vaccinium myrtillus extract / vaccinium myrtillus fruit extract, parfum / fragrance, butylphenyl methylpropional, coumarin

Is this makeup ingredient ALWAYS a sunscreen?

This question comes from our Forum… Hi all – just wondering if all skin care or make up products that contain titanium dioxide provide some amount of sun protection even though an SPF is not listed on the bottle? I see it listed in some of my moisturizers, serums, etc. for example: Olay Eyes Lifting Serum.

Titanium dioxide is not just a sunscreen. It’s also used to whiten a formula or to make it more opaque. I think that’s the case in the Olay product you mentioned. Based on where it appears on the ingredient list there’s not enough there to be a functional sunscreen.  In this case its at the bottom so its less than 1% so its not a sunscreen which is up to 20%.

Water, Dimethicone, Glycerin, Niacinamide, Sdimidetheicone Crosspolymer, Polymethylsilsesquioxane, Polyethylene, Panthenol, Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Tocopheryl Acetate, Allantoin, Polyacrylamide, Caprylyl Glycol, 1,2-Hexanediol, Phenoxyethanol, C13-14 Isoparaffin, Laureth-4, Dimethiconol, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Laureth-7, Sodium Peg-7 Olive Oil Carboxylate, Disodium Edta, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Titanium Dioxide, Mica, Iron Oxides.

Do lip plumpers have long term effects?

Angela C asks…Just wondering if there are any long term effects to using lip plumping glosses? My favorite is by Soap and Glory, a product called “Sexy Mother Pucker.”  About a minute after application the tingly stops and its a nice long wearing gloss that isn’t overly goopy.   My question is – is there a downside to such products? Will using this daily prematurely age the skin on my lips or cause fine lines to appear sooner?

RS: Lip plumping products work by using an irritant to stimulate the nerves in your lips which causes that tingly feeling. They MAY stimulate histidine release which could give you some temporary swelling. As long as the product doesn’t over-irritate and/or your lips and you don’t develop an allergic reaction to any of the ingredients it’s probably fine.  The thing to watch out for is that if you’re applying this kind of product to very dry/chapped lips that puckery tingling sensation can become too intense.

Polybutene, Paraffinum Liquidum (Mineral Oil/Huile Minérale), Silica Dimethyl Silylate, Glycerin, VP/Hexadecene Copolymer, Hydroxystearic Acid, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Silica, Calcium Aluminum Borosilicate, Mica, Parfum (Fragrance), Spilanthes Acmella Flower Extract, Propylene Glycol, Alumina, Stevioside, Butylene Glycol, Pentylene Glycol, BHT, Tin Oxide, Sodium Hyaluronate, Hexyl Cinnamal, Limonene, Linalool, Eugenol, Geraniol, Citronellol, Benzyl Alcohol, Coumarin, CI 77891 (Titanium Dioxide), CI 15850 (Red 6), CI 77491 (Iron Oxides), CI 77499 (Iron Oxides)

Beauty Science News

Skin lotions can cause you to catch on fire


Do you really want beauty products that smell like this?

I saw three different news stories but they all had something in common – new products that with a rather odd fragrance profile.

The first one is a Japanese spa treatment that is pancake-scented with notes of vanilla and maple syrup. I know that different cultures embrace different scents but the idea of “hot cake hot tub” seems sickly sweet to me.

Next, there’s a new fragrance from Demeter (De-meter? Dem-etter?) Anyway, it’s called Kitten Fur and it smells like the back of a kitten’s neck.
Personally I’m waiting for them to develop a “wet dog” cologne.


Finally there’s a pizza flavored lip balm. This comes to us from Etsy seller is Regina Panzeca. She says it’s not a bland pizza flavor because it has notes of Italian herbs, tomato, garlic. In other words, this lip gloss makes your mouth taste like all the things you brush your teeth to get rid of.


So there you have it – 3 products with questionable aroma-ti-city.

iTunes reviews

Robert from the UK says…Informative for Chemist Listeners as well! The episodes always bring a smile to the end of my day, when I get to enjoy Randy & Perry rip into false claims, cheeky company practices and pseudoscientific blog posts.

Wenabar says… Makes my life easier. I used to spend so much time researching and reading articles, blogs, magazines, etc. Now if I want to know something, I can count on TBB’s to fill me in. I love their rapport which is a hilarious mix of nerdy-cool.

Yeoldegoldie says… Do you scour cosmetic ingredient labels with the avidity of a Lululemon-clad Yogini dissecting the food product labels at Whole Foods? Are you a critical thinker who understands that the difference between marketing hype and solid, tested, and effective anti- aging ingredients?? If so, this podcast is for you!

ChoirGeek from United Kingdom says…Super fascinating, listen asap &educate yourself on what you’re putting on your skin.

Cwfjluwgjj says…I’m a guy who wears “natural” makeup to cover my blemishes, etc and I’ve slowly been sucked into the world of makeup and skincare. As much as I love Fat Mascara, it’s so refreshing and awesome to hear guys discuss the world of makeup and beauty. Pleeeease keep this podcast going forever!

Abbielove says…Humor, Wit & hardcore cosmetic science!  I’m an Esthetician and I just love filling my beauty brain with all the scientific information from behind the cosmetic industry scenes! Do you ever want a showgram guest?


Why isn’t everyone exfoliating with AHAs?

Melissa says…I’ve been using an night cream with glycolic acid and I noticed that my skin is actually brighter, clearer, and softer. I’ve been using this product for years and I still love it but I worry that it may be too good to be true. Are there any risks associated with alpha hydroxy acid products? Why aren’t we are using them?

Thanks Melissa. Long time fans of the show will remember that I love getting questions about Alpha Hydroxy Acids because it gives me an excuse to retell the story of the marketing director for St. Ives didn’t quite get the acronym and would instead of calling them AHAs would call them “Ah-Ha’s.” That always amused me during meetings because it sounded like she was speaking with exclamation marks. “We need to launch a new AHA!”

Before we can answer Melissa’s questions, let’s quickly recap what AHAs are and how they work. Alpha Hydroxy Acids are a class of chemical that is used to loosen dead skin cells.They consist of long chain of carbon and hydrogen atoms with a carboxylic acid group at the end. When naming carbon chains we start by labeling the carbon next to the carboxylate which is known as the α carbon, the next carbon is the β carbon, and so forth. So in this case the carboxylate is on that first carbon so this is an ALPHA hydroxy acid. Salicylic acid has the group on the second carbon so it’s a BETA hydroxy acid.

They work by softening the “glue” that holds skin cells together so the dead ones fall off more easily. When this happens, the basal layer is triggered to produce fresh skin cells. This is also referred to as “increasing cell turnover.”

There are several types of AHAs. The two most common are Glycolic and Lactic. Glycolic acid is the smallest, it can be derived from sugar cane or produced synthetically. Lactic is also known as “milk acid” because it can be derived from soured dairy products, as well as fermented vegetables and fruit.

One less popular AHA is actually Perry’s favorite to pronounce: Tartaric Acid. Other runners up include citric and malic acid. There’s another that’s technically a PHA or polyhydroxy acid and that’s lactobionic acid. Interestingly, According to research published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, Lactobionic acid is not only more effective than glycolic acid at improving cell turn over but it’s also less irritating. An international team from London, Serbia and Slovenia tested both AHAs in a cream and a gel. 26 volunteers used the products twice a day for two weeks. The researchers found that Lactobionic acid scored better in both forms even though their data indicated the gel base worked a bit better than the cream form.

But Melissa asked if there are risks associated with AHAs. Yes, there are. Some people can’t tolerate their effects and they experience redness and irritation (especially if they have rosacea prone skin.) Using products too frequently or using products that have too high of a concentration can exacerbate this problem. A potentially bigger problem is that if you misuse AHAs they can increase the danger of UV exposure. This was determined by the European Commission on Scientific Affairs. This is problematic is you’re using them improperly or too often but for most people, AHAs are perfectly fine.

So if they work so good and they’re safe for most people, why isn’t everybody using them? Great question! First of all, everyone’s skin is different and not everyone responds to AHAs to the same degree. Some people (especially if they’re prone to conditions like rosacea) are likely to see redness and irritation to an extent that can over whelm the benefits. Other people may have dabbled with AHA products but perhaps they didn’t choose one with a high level of actives and were so disappointed in the results that they just gave up. But there are a lot of people like yourself who have picked a good product to which they respond to well. Good for you!!

The other factor, in my opinion, is that the beauty industry wants to sell more products (and more expensive products) by enticing you with the latest and greatest technology. We’re so bombarded with information on all these new product launches that sound so amazing, that sometimes it’s hard to focus on the basics that really work. Companies may think it’s harder to sell “old” technologies like AHAs when they can hype the latest and greatest algae extract or whatever.

ALS vs. SLS vs. SLES vs. ALES

Long time fan Alessandra asks…Which is more harsh SLS vs ALS vs SLES vs ALES?

First, let’s decode that alphabet soup: Most people know that SLS is sodium lauryl sulfate. They may not know that ALS is Ammonium lauryl sulfate. When you see an “E” added to the name that means it’s Sodium or Ammonium “LAURETH” sulfate.

Yes, the “eth” stands for ethoxylation which essentially means that you’re extending the molecule by inserting some oxygen atoms. Why would we do this? Because the ethoxylation process makes the detergent milder (and a little less powerful as a cleanser.) Essentially that’s because it’s more water soluble. So that means that sodium lauryl and ammonium lauryl are harsher than sodium laureth and ammonium laureth? Got it?

Now what about the sodium vs ammonium versions? There’s really not much difference. It’s the lauryl sulfate part of the molecule that’s the issue not the counter ion.

Alessandra pointed out that several brands like Organix and Leonor Greyl, advertise their shampoos as SLES-free but they have ammonium lauryl sulfate as the first ingredient. Now you know how misleading that is!

Are silkworm cocoons good for skin?

Becky says…I’ve read a few articles about the collagen-promoting qualities of silkworm cocoons – apparently rubbing them on your face improves the texture of your skin, improves signs of UV damage and all those other impossibly amazing things. It sounds like another crazy gimmick but I noticed in this article http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2837024/Rub-face-silkworm-cocoons-wipe-away-wrinkles-sounds-bizarre-works.html they back it up with some pretty convincing words from a dermatologist. 

Becky’s right, the dermatologist quoted in the article says some very convincing things. For the most part the woman rubbed her face with cocoons every day for about a month and at the end of that time her skin looked better. Of course this can’t be considered scientific evidence because the test involved one person and there was no control.

But there ARE some studies showing sericin (silk protein) may have anti-aging properties under certain conditions. For example, one study showed that silk sericin can “stimulate collagen type I synthesis, suppress the regulation of nitrite, which nitrite may induces oxidative stress.” This test was done by applying pure sericin directly to cultures of cells in the lab which does NOT prove that rubbing cocoons are your face will do anything. http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/jas/article/view/22487/15481

I’m still skeptical, however, because rubbing a cocoon on your face is not a very efficient way of delivering sericin to the skin and the amount of the protein that can be delivered that way seems like it would be very low. Stick with the anti-aging products that are proven to help.

Should you worry about counterfeit hairspray?

Redheaded 4 Trouble says… I’ve seen this picture floating around Facebook. It shows a hairspray can with the label torn off to reveal a different brand underneath. The caption says: “This is why you do NOT buy product from TJ MAXX, ROSS or MARSHALS!!! Only buy from your stylists, that’s it.” I’m thinking this is probably just something salons are spreading so people will buy these products from them at a higher price. What do you think?

This isn’t nearly as sinister as it appears and it is NOT proof that TJ Maxx is selling counterfeit hairspray. My guess is that the company had too many cans decorated of the blue product so rather than destroy them and lose the value, they decided to have them relabeled and then used them for another product.

Yeah, If it were TJ Maxx or any other third party labeling over one product with the label from another then the ingredient list would be wrong (as well as other information) which would be illegal.

How would this even work? They buy a cheaper, inferior product and then relabel it? But the product underneath is Egyptian vs Chi – prove that this is the same brand. Why wouldn’t they buy Suave hairspray and relabel it? IT MAKES NO SENSE!

After I wrote this, I found a Snopes article that gives the same answer: http://www.snopes.com/chi-products-tj-maxx-marshalls/

Beauty Science News

Lifestyle matters more than genetics for looking young

New makeup trend


We’re routinely criticized for not being in touch with the latest beauty trends – but not today! Here’s a story from Refinery29 about the newest, most exciting thing in cosmetics: ear makeup. Apparently some trendy Instagrammers are posting pictures where they have applied a dab of glitter or a spot of color to their ear lobes. Violette is one of the most popular.

It’s interesting because this isn’t an area of the body that’s been used for cosmetics much but apparently now it’s quite the rage. Right now these women are just repurposing other make up and applying to their ears but it’s only a matter of time before some savvy cosmetic manufacturer catches on and starts to create make up specifically designed for the ears.

I predict we’ll see MAC launch a line of Ear Shadow and Ear Gloss to light up your lobes! Now, this creates a new problem: which is makeup residue on ear jewelry. Inevitably your earrings will get gunked up so you’ll need a special product to to clean makeup from earrings. Well, I’ve created that product and I call it – wait for it…”Earring Aid.” Get it?

iTunes reviews – it’s an All International edition of iTunes reviews!

Twiddly dee from Canada says…As an Esthetician I can appreciate all the science behind products. Keep up the great work!

Hrwlondon from UK says…Both informative and soothing listening. Lots of interesting facts and anecdotes. Would like a top ten greatest ingredients show soon!

MeginMunich from Germany….Excellent Beauty Advice! I really appreciate the scientific basis behind these beauty tips. Most of the information available these days is distributed by marketing teams and can be totally confusing.

Livdane from Latvia says…Funny, evidence based and informative. I used to think that I was an informed and skeptical consumer. Now in hindsight I can appreciate the Dunning-Kruger effect on me at its best. The podcast revealed me the whole new world of the cosmetic chemistry in the amazingly geeky and entertaining way Randy and Perry delivers it. Now I can make the claim: “listening to The Beauty Brains minimizes the perceived feeling and appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.”


How does color changing makeup work?url-6

Julia asks…I’m a make up artist and my question is how does color adjusting makeup work? I’ve tried a few and they didn’t adjust very well. Also, what are both of your favorite ingredients to use on your own skin?

Thanks for bringing this up Julia! Color changing makeup has never come up on the podcast before but we’ve written about it a couple of times. On our website someone once asked “People have called self-adjusting makeup the mood ring of makeup, does it actually change with your mood?” Great way to rephrase Julia’s question…So, Perry, what say you?

The idea is great! But this is one of those amazing beauty products that don’t really exist.

Right. in fact, back in Episode 51 we talked about 10 amazing beauty products that don’t exist and true mood ring lipstick was one of them.

Yeah, the notion that these products change color with mood is a myth. But color changing makeup, or self-adjusting makeup as some people call it, does change a LITTLE bit.

Yes, in fact, there are two different ways that these products can work.

Color change by pH

The first way involves color that changes with pH and solubility. Most of the products that we see that make these claims use this approach. The main ingredient that provides the effect is a colorant known as “Red 27,” a red dye which is colorless when dissolved in a waterless base. When it comes in contact with moisture, the change in solubility and pH causes the dye to turn bright pink.

The product appears to change with your personal chemistry because the color changes when it comes in contact with moisture in your skin or even just the humidity in the air. Red 27 can be used in powdered cosmetics, waxy sticks, and gels.

We’ll list a couple of examples in the show notes including Smashbox O-Glow Blush, Stila Custom Color Blush, and DuWop Personal Color Changing Lipstick.

Color change by encapsulation

The second way to make a product change color is to use pigments which are encapsulated. In this case the colorant is coated with a waxy or gel-like ingredient and suspended in an uncolored base. When the product is rubbed into your skin the friction breaks open the dye capsules releasing the color.

The product appears to change with your personal chemistry because the more your rub in the color, the more is released.

Encapsulated colors work best in cream and powder based products, although they can be used in water-based lotions with the right kind of encapsulating agent. Some examples of products that uses encapsulated colors include Wet n’ Wild’s Intuitive Blend Shade Adjusting Foundation , The Body Shop’s All in One BB Cream, and Carmindy and Company’s Diamond Fusion Powder.

I want to quickly mention a third type of color changing product. It’s not quite the same thing but consider products that provide a “natural tan glow.” These may use a different name but they’re just self-tanners and they work by using an ingredient called “dihydroxyacetone” or DHA. This chemical reacts with the keratin protein in the upper layers of your skin, staining them a light orangish-brown color. The product appears to change with your personal chemistry because it uses low levels of DHA that provides a very gradual change in skin color. The more you use, the more pronounced the “glow” effect is. Jergen’s Natural Glow is an example.

Finally, here are a few tips if you’re planning on using any self-adjusting makeup. If you’re using the pressure sensitive type you may have to play around with it a bit to find out how much you need to rub it in to match your particular skin tone. (Or at least to get it as close as possible.)

You should also keep in mind that color change has little to do with you individual skin chemistry. However, the color of your skin will have a significant effect on the appearance of the cosmetic color. As your skin color changes (either with age or sun exposure) the color of these cosmetics could look different. This is not an issue for lip products since the skin on your lips doesn’t change color much because it doesn’t tan.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

While it’s true that cosmetics can change color, the idea that they can match your mood is a myth. If you find a product that gives you the color you like, then fine. But don’t be fooled into buying these products because you expect them to magically adjust to your skin tone.

Does lipstick make bubbly drinks go flat?

Jessica asks…I heard an interview on NPR that said if you have lipstick and you drink something out of the glass the lipstick interacts with the champaign and makes it go flat. Is that correct?

Very interesting question. I had never heard this before but we tracked down the interview which was with a chemist by the name of “Richard Zane” who said that “any greasy thing like chips, fries, or lipstick will actually break up the bubbles. So will leaving too much soap in the glass.”

This makes sense – at least for the part of the liquid that actually touches the lipstick. especially if you’ve just put on a fresh coat of lipstick and you leave a large smear of it on the inside of the glass then there may be enough left over to continue to break up the bubbles. It most cases it doesn’t sound like wearing lipstick will make the entire glass of champagne (or beer or soda or whatever) go flat.

The ingredients that are causing the problems are the primarily the oils and the silicones in the lipstick. Certain silicones are actually used as anti-foaming agents which are specifically designed to break up bubbles. You could certainly avoid silicone containing the lip products to maximize bubbles. You could also look for lipsticks that are higher in wax content since those are less likely to transfer to the glass.

Do high ph shaving creams work better?

Christopher asks… Many shaving creams seem to have very high pH’s. Some assert that alkaline shaving cream opens up the cuticle of the hair, which makes the oils and conditioners enter the strands more effectively and therefore making cutting it easier. This seems like a well-marketed excuse. Is there merit to the idea that opening the cuticle of the hair with a pH cream better accepts the conditioning agents and makes it easier to cut? If so, is it worth the high pH trade-off?

Shaving creams traditionally are formulated from true soaps which mean they inherently have a high pH. It is true that very high pH can swell the hair shaft which would soften and weaken the hair. (This is one of the tricks used in hair coloring products and to some degree relaxers.) It’s not really about opening the cuticle but about swelling the hair shaft.

However, I’ve never seen any data showing that shaving cream works that way, possibly because the pH isn’t as high as the other products we mentioned and it’s not left on the hair/skin for very long. But at least it’s theoretically possible.

The “trade off” that Christopher mentioned is that high pH soaps can deplete the natural acid mantle of your skin which protects your skin. If any slight improvement in the ease of hair cutting worth a potential compromise of your skin barrier? I guess that depends on how hard it is for you to shave…

Will salt ruin your hair straightening treatment?

Liz says…”After using a hair straightening treatment, I’ve heard that it’s not only sulfates one should avoid but also (and perhaps more importantly) sodium chloride. Is it true that sodium chloride is the so-called Kryptonite of these treatments?”

We’ve never seen any evidence that the level of salt that one would encounter during normal shampooing would have any impact what so ever on the longevity of hair straightening treatments. I can’t even think of a plausible mechanism for this effect, can you?

Nope. Of course it depends on what kind of straightening treatment you’re talking about. Some straighteners do actually modify the chemical bonds in hair. I can’t think of anyway that those would be effected by quick contact with salt. Others products straighten temporarily by coating the hair with silicone or something – but any shampoo will reverse that effect, not just ones that contain sodium chloride. I think the whole “salt is bad for your hair” thing is highly exaggerated.

I can see how people would think this, though. They’ve seen their hair be damaged by swimming in the ocean, so they assume salt water is bad for hair. But being in the ocean (or even the pool) exposes you to multiple sources of damage: extra UV radiation, multiple wet and dry cycles of your hair, chlorine, etc. The exposure time to the saltwater is also a lot greater.

Yeah, there’s a big difference between salt exposure from being in the ocean or in a pool and simply washing and conditioning your hair. And besides, just about every shampoo has salt in it anyway even if it’s not listed on the label. That’s because sodium chloride is a byproduct in the production of many surfactants.

Beauty science news

Alarm clock wakes you up with scents


During the holiday season I was in the market for a new alarm clock. Mostly, I wanted to get one in which I could plug in my phone and listen to podcasts while I go to sleep. Anyway, while looking for one I stumble on this product called the Sensorwake alarm clock. It’s an alarm clock that wakes you up by diffusing a burst scent in the room. You can wake yourself up to the smell of coffee, bacon, the forest, waves, grass and 10 other scents. Each scent blasts last about 30 uses and it costs $5 for each cartridge. I suppose if it takes off famous fragrance companies might get onboard. This product seems a bit ridiculous to me. Who would wake up just from a strong odor? Does that happen? Well, they also have a backup traditional alarm just in case the odor isn’t enough to wake you up. Anyway, if you’re curious about the product you can go to their website https://sensorwake.com/ to learn more.

St Ives face scrub may be dangerous


Remember when the company we worked for bought the St. Ives brand? When was that…late 90s? At the time St. Ives had shampoo and conditioner as well as skin care. Do you remember one of the most popular skin products? 
St. Ives Apricot Scrub! In fact, at one point it was the number one facial scrub in the country. Well, it’s back in the news but not for a good reason – the current owner of the brand is being sued because the product is “”unfit to be sold or used as a facial scrub”.

There’s a class action lawsuit that argues the particles in the scrub can cause the skin to tear. Interesting sidenote contrary to what you might think the scrubbing particles are not Africa pieces but actually walnut pieces. 
the article mentions a couple of dermatologists who say that this kind of product can be too abrasive. Unilever, naturally, says their product is safe.

So what’s the truth? I expect both sides are right to some extent. I’ve personally use this product and I know there are tens of thousands hundreds of thousands of consumers with used it with no problem. If you miss use for either use a product like this I wouldn’t be surprised if you could cause some skin abrasion. I don’t expect this problem will go away but I wouldn’t be surprised if you leave her and some extra warning statements to their label.

On an ironic endnote there is an ingredient that they could substitute for the walnut shells that would completely solve this problem. That’s right – plastic microbeads. Unfortunately they’re being banned world wide because they contribute to pollution.

iTunes reviews

Oznuck from Austraila says…Mansplaining — 1 star. I’ve tried to like this podcast because I love science and skincare. But this is the epitome of mansplaining. I’m tired of the condescension and the sexual comments. I’m tired of hearing the hosts’ mocking comments about what their listeners must be watching on tv (the Bachelor? Really?). I’m tired of their “humor” and the snide remarks made to put others down, including the other host. It could be so much better.

Smelliness says…5 stars
 “As a science student I quickly developed an interest in the chemistry of beauty products. Imagine my disappointment in trying to find podcasts to further my understanding, I found a veritable drought of science focused cosmetic podcasts. Then lo and behold, beauty brains popped up on my phone and at last I had the scientifically backed podcasts of my makeup dreams.”


Are lotions with water actually bad for your skin?pool-519453_640

Veronica asks…I heard that using lotions with water is actually bad for your skin because as the water evaporates it removes the skin’s natural moisture and oil. Is this true?

Veronica’s question is an interesting twist on a theme that we have discussed a couple of times – and that is how moisturizers actually work.

There are two fundamental ways that lotions can moisturizer your skin: one way is to provide an occlusive barrier that prevents the moisture that’s already in your skin from evaporating. That’s what ingredients like, petrolatum, mineral oil, silicones and so forth do. The technical term for this is reducing TEWL or Transepidermal Water Loss.

The second way lotions work is to attract moisture to you skin using an ingredient that has an affinity for water. We call these ingredients “humectants” and they are things like glycerin, sorbitol, and hyaluronic acid. They essentially bind water to the surface of your skin.

The best skin moisturizers use both mechanisms to moisturize skin. And the best way to do that is through an emulsion that’s a combination of oil and water.

This brings us back to Veronica’s question – what about the water that’s contained in the cream or lotion? What does it do?

There’s enough water in a lotion or cream to give your skin a little quick moisture boost which the oils and other occlusive agents can lock in your skin. Let’s be clear – most of the moisturizing effect comes from preventing the loss of what’s already in your skin, but it doesn’t hurt to add that extra little topical boost of moisture.

Right, some of that extra water will be absorbed by your skin and some of it will evaporate but that process of evaporation doesn’t cause any harm to your skin. It’s not going to cause the loss of skin’s natural moisturizing capacity in any way. So what Veronica has heard about lotions is just a myth. BUT I can see where this myth may have got its start.

It could have come from the fact that soaking your skin in water is not good for it. That swells the skin cells and does allow leaching out of some water soluble moisturizing components like urea and sodium PCA. But that only happens when your skin is submerged in water for a considerable period of time.

So I could see some clever marketer taking this little half truth and then saying that skin care products that contain water are bad for skin so they can sell you their special oil based product that doesn’t contain water. But it just doesn’t work that way. So, Veronica there’s nothing to worry about from using skin lotions that contain water.

Is air drying hair more damaging than blow drying?

DaniD in our Forum says…I recently came across this article claiming that air drying is actually bad for your hair. “The reason? When hair comes into contact with water, it swells which damages the protein. The longer your hair is wet, the longer it swells and the greater the chance for damage.” Is this true? I also wonder if all the extra tugging from brushing during blow drying could add additional damage as well.

We wrote about this a couple of years ago. I think the post was lost when our server crashed. I can’t remember if we ever talked about it on the show before or not. But, yes, there is showing that air drying your hair does cause some damage. The mechanisms is exactly as you explained.

That swelling and shrinking process she described is actually called “Hygral Fatigue.”

Exactly. But the study that we found didn’t compare this damage to the damage caused by blow drying, so we don’t have data to say which is worse. If I had to choose, I’d say that blow drying is more damaging for 3 reasons:

1. You still get some fiber swelling whether your blow drying or air drying.

2. The additional heat from blow drying can be damaging by itself.

3. The tugging that she described does cause additional damage.

I think it’s really interesting, and kind of counter-intuitive, that air drying causes any damage at all but it’s probably still better than blow drying. But you know what doesn’t blow…the fans who review us on iTunes.

Can tomatoes really shrink your pores?

Renee asks…According to Easyhacker.com, rubbing tomatoes on your face is a good way to shrink your pores, is that true?

Let’s take a look and see exactly what Easyhacker says about using tomatoes on your face. According to the video on their website: “Tomatoes are rich in vitamin C and acids, both of which are effective at reducing the appearance of pore size.” http://easyhacker.com/how-to-reduce-large-pores-naturally/

There is a kernel of truth to this: In the video the author mentions that the acid in tomatoes is salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is a keralytic agent which means it can loosen dead skin cells. This is one way to keep pores clear of debris and keep them from appearing larger. So yes, sal acid is good for minimizing pores. But do tomatoes contain enough of it?

Tomatoes contain about 1mg of sal acid per 100 gr which about 0.01%. http://www.food-info.net/uk/qa/qa-fi27.htm
Salicylic acid products that are effective against acne need to contain about 3% sal acid. So tomatoes are about 300 times weaker than a product that you can buy over the counter. I really can’t see how that small of an amount of sal acid would have much effect.

You can do the same kind of calculation for vitamin C. Tomatoes contain about 23 mg of ascorbic acid per 100 gr of the fresh fruit. That’s about 0.23%. We know from previous research that the most effective level of vitamin C is somewhere between 15% and 20%. That’s almost 100 times too low. http://ucanr.edu/datastoreFiles/608-1086.pdf

The bottom line: Tomatoes do contain natural chemicals that can help keep your pores clean. However, they contain FAR less than products that are optimized for this purpose.

Beauty science news

FDA Recommends Limiting Lead In Cosmetics


Lead is NOT a cosmetic ingredient that is added to the product for any reason whatsoever. Rather it is a contaminant that occurs naturally in the environment that comes in in trace amounts with certain ingredients.

It’s difficult if not impossible to remove all lead from any given product depending of course on what ingredients you’re using.

This hit the news pretty hard a few years ago when I believe there were two studies showing that many brands of lipstick, especially those with red colors, do contain small amounts of lead.

The amount of lead ranges from a couple of parts per million two up to about 9 ppm.
We’ve also said before that such small amounts don’t seem to really present much of a risk because your body can process these. Now for very young children or pregnant women even smaller amounts do raise some concerns but remember that small amounts of lead are approved even in drinking water and candy. So limiting lead to very low levels is a prudent thing to do and it should be done but getting to absolute zero doesn’t always seem to be necessary or feasible.

So the new news is the FDA has said they want to limit the amount of lead in cosmetics to 10 ppm. What does this mean?

Since the highest amount of lead that was found in the study a lipsticks was 9 ppm the FDA is really just saying make sure you don’t go any higher than what we’re already finding in your products.

The bottom line is that’s a good safeguard but it really doesn’t change much in terms of what’s already in the products you’re using.

Dumpster diving for luxury makeup


Have you heard about the latest strategy for getting beauty products? It’s dumpster diving. According to a story in Marie Claire, Beauty bloggers, and other motivated people I suppose, are heading out to the dumpsters behind stores like Sephora and Ulta and finding discarded beauty products. These stores probably have to throw away old product and testers to make way for the new stuff and some less-than-squeamish beauty aficionados are diving into those dumpsters to retrieve what they see as perfectly fine products.

One beauty vlogger posted a video in which she found nearly $2000 worth of product in an Ulta dumpster. And since the video has over a million views no doubt this will inspire some other people to take the dive.

In the story they also got quotes from a guy in New Jersey who has been reselling found make-up since the 1970’s. He says he makes 100 percent of his income from beauty product dumpster diving. So, if you’re buying things on eBay or Craigslist, well…sometimes a good deal might not be such a good deal.

So you might be wondering whether this is safe. It really depends on the product and the risk you’re willing to take.

Aloe free aloe


I just talked about lead, a contaminant you don’t want to have in your products but it’s there. Here’s a story about an ingredient that you DO want in your products but it seems to have gone missing.

Bloomberg News reported that some private label brands of aloe vera skin care lotions that are sold by Walmart, Target, and CVS didn’t actually contain any aloe vera. Bloomberg commissioned a lab to test samples of these products and low and behold, they couldn’t find any traces of aloe. Which makes me think…Bloomberg has got a LOT of time on its hands.

If you go back to episode 156 you’ll find out why this is kind of much ado about nothing because except in a few rare cases aloe doesn’t really do anything in the skin lotion anyway so if you’re missing it you’re not missing much.

Still, no one likes to be deceived. Companies should be held responsible for deceptive advertising. If they’re selling you an aloe lotion you should expect to find aloe in it. (Unless it’s just aloe scented which we’ll get to in a second.)

But here’s the piece that makes no sense to me. It’s very common in the beauty industry to sell a product with a featured ingredient in this case aloe and that product only contains a very small amount of aloe or maybe it only smells like a aloe. There is no law on how much you have to put in your product so you put in a small dusting of aloe you call it an aloe product and you’re done. That’s perfectly legal. Why would you risk a lawsuit and even action by the government by lying on your label and saying it contains aloe and it doesn’t. You’re not saving any time or money. It makes no sense!

Now I should point out that the test method used by the lab to measure aloe is a bit controversial it’s not 100% accurate so it’s possible these results could just be a fluke.

Taking more selfies makes you happier


According to a study published by researchers at the University of California-Irvine, they tested forty-one students who were instructed to take selfies for four weeks straight. They also had to share the selfies with others. They then reported their moods over that time. Researchers found that this group of people were happier and more confident over the course of the study. Just smiling (even fake smiling) made people feel better.

Now, I had to dig a little deeper because the report on this study was pretty weak and left open a lot of questions. Like did it have to be selfies or could just any picture do? Also, was there a control group.

Well, it turns out that there were actually three groups. One group took selfies, another group took pictures of things that made them happy, and the third took pictures of things that thought would make other people happy. Only the selfie takers reported feeling more confident and comfortable.

So, the bottom line is that this research suggests a good strategy for becoming more happy. Run every day and at the end take a smiling selfie. Then share it on twitter every day.

iTunes reviews

Breathe Easy 4 Once…Great fun for this med student — 5 stars. I appreciate their easy rapport, nerdball humor, and the SCIENCE. This podcast makes you a better consumer, science nerd, and human being. Okay, that last one might be a bit of a stretch but not by much. Keep it up! The world needs good podcasts like this to balance out the many shows about “Housewives of the Rich and Brainless.”

Cool Maven…5 stars. I realized that I have never before heard two highly intelligent men bicker and it’s very amusing. I’m a podcast freak and am very selective about those that I actually ‘subscribe’ to and they easily made the cut. THANK YOU, Beauty Brains — you ROCK!

Liz says… 5 stars. The Beauty Brains help you see through marketing claims and pseudoscience to make informed decisions and often save you money. Some may not like the banter at the beginning and throughout but I often laugh and enjoy it.

Look says… This is a great podcast to debunk a lot of beauty science myths and get to the truth of what’s in your bathroom. Really big fan though they tend to digress. They have a teensy blindspot about natural ingredients/ethnic hair care so I’d take their advice there with a pinch of salt.


Is aloe lotion good for skin?

Gemma asks…I am a huge fan of Vaseline Intensive Care Aloe Fresh lotion. However, I have found another aloe lotion that is even cheaper: Perfect Purity. So I’m wondering can you tell me if the Perfect Purity will perform as well as my beloved Vaseline? Or should I just bite the bullet and save my dollars for a big bottle of the Vaseline Aloe Fresh?_mg_3478

Thanks to Gemma for taking the time to record her question. We can answer this pretty conclusively just based on reviewing the ingredients and we’ll cover that first. But then we we want to take this opportunity to talk more about aloe vera itself and discuss why it is (or isn’t) so good for your skin. So, let’s break down the differences between Vaseline and Perfect Purity.

The Vaseline product contains 4 key moisturizers let’s look at each one in order of descending concentration. First there’s glycerine. Glycerine is a humectant which means it attract and bind water to skin. That’s one of two basic ways that a moisturizer works.

The other way a moisturizer works is to occlude the skin which means it seals the moisture in by preventing evaporation. That’s how the second ingredient, mineral oil, works.

The 3rd key ingredient is dimethicone which is a silicone that not only helps seal in moisture but it also protects the skin from detergents and other harsh ingredients. Which is why it’s approved by the FDA as a skin protectant.

The 4th ingredient is petrolatum which is one of most effective, if not the most effective, occlusive moisturizing ingredients.

So Vaseline contains a potent cocktail of simple but effective moisturizing agents. Now let’s look at all the effective moisturizers in Perfect Purity. Ready? Here we go:

Mineral oil. That’s it. The rest of the formula is just emulsifiers and control agents. Vaseline is better because a mixture of different occlusive agents blended with a good humectant will moisturize more effectively than just a high level of mineral oil.

In addition, Vaseline has a better balanced emulsion system so I’d expect it to be more stable and more aesthetically pleasing. Finally, for what it’s worth, the amount of aloe in either formula is pretty much irrelevant.

And that brings us to the second part of the discussion – what is aloe and is it or isn’t good for skin?
What is aloe vera?

Aloe vera gel is harvested from the aloe vera plant by cutting open the leaves and collecting what oozes out. This thick, clear “ooze” is known as a mucilage. The term mucilage comes from the work “mucus” or it least it comes from the same Latin root. Talked about pituitous.

The gel is sterilized, through Pasteurization, and filtered. It can be sold that way or it can be spray dried and turned into a powder.

Most of the mucilage is water about 99.5%. The other 0.5% is a combination of mucopolysaccharides, choline and choline salicylate.

The polysaccharides include pectins, some celluloses, and sugars like mannose derivatives. It also contains amino acids, lipids, and sterols like lupeol.

Interestingly, the specifications for aloe allow it to contain 1 ppm arsenic, 2 ppm lead and 0.01 ppm mercury.
What does aloe do for skin? Here’s the good news. This stuff really works.

According to Dr. Zoe Draelos, MD a dermatologist who is frequently quoted on matters of cosmetic science, aloe vera is a good treatment for burns.

Mucopolysaccharides are film formers that create a thin, protective covering over the burn as the aloe dries; this film helps shield exposed nerve endings. Choline salicylate (which is chemically similar to the active ingredient in muscle rub creams) is an anti-inflammatory that soothes burned skin.

WHO agrees that it works for burns. “Aloe Vera Gel has been effectively used in the treatment of first- and second-degree thermal burns and radiation burns. Both thermal and radiation burns healed faster with less necrosis when treated with preparations containing Aloe Vera Gel.” I saw at least one test that compared it to a petroleum jelly coated gauze and it was statistically better. http://apps.who.int/medicinedocs/en/d/Js2200e/6.html

But wait, there’s more! Aloe also has anti-inflammatory properties. There both in vitro and in vivo studies showing aloe is reduces acute inflammation (at least in rats.) The mechanism appears to be based on enzyme active and through inhibition of prostaglandin F2. The sterol components of aloe (specifically lupeol) are thought to be responsible.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But here’s the bad news: aloe is effective only under very specific conditions.
Things to look for in aloe product

A lot of aloe lotions contain aloe powder. But Dr. Draelos points out that reconstituted powdered aloe vera doesn’t contain the same 0.5% of goodies that make the aloe work. That means it won’t have the same activity.

The research summarized by WHO confirms this. They say …”At present no commercial preparation has been proved to be stable. Because many of the active ingredients in the gel appear to deteriorate on storage, the use of fresh gel is recommended.”

In addition, WHO says that concentrations of between 10% and 70% of the fresh gel are required to get the benefits. That’s a lot! (The described dose or posology)

So, it seems unlikely that most of the aloe lotion products on the market will provide all the benefits we described. Don’t have the right posology. It’s a poser!

If you’re still determined to use aloe here are a couple of things to look for. First make sure you’re getting the right kind of aloe.

Actually, the first step is to make sure you’re getting aloe AT ALL. One of the products that Gemma asked about in her email was “Dermasil Aloe Fresh.” But when you look at the ingredient list it doesn’t actually contain any aloe! (Of course this could be a typo on the ingredient list but still…come on!

But back to the right kind…To make sure you’re not getting the reconstituted version look for “juice” in the ingredient name. Allowed names include “aloe barbadensis leaf juice” or just “aloe vera juice.” If it says aloe or aloe extract you not getting the right stuff. (Mention difference between different INCI versions. 2nd edition vs 9th edition.

Second, look for high concentrations. When formulating natural cosmetics, you won’t find 10 to 70% in a typical lotion but there are products on the market that use aloe at this level. One that we found is Jason Natural Cosmetics Aloe Vera Super Gel. It’s not fresh but this kind of product has the best chance of providing aloe benefits – just keep in mind that it won’t replace a conventional moisturizer because it doesn’t contain the type of ingredients we talked about at the top of the show.

Aloe is an effective natural ingredient but only when used fresh and at high concentrations. Most commercial products won’t provide the full benefits you get from the plant itself.

We should mention that Gemma has her own blog which is  visagemaquillage.blogspot.com

Ingredient lists
Vaseline Intensive Care Aloe Fresh lotion ingredients:
Water, glycerin, stearic acid, isopropyl myristate, mineral oil, glycerl stearate, glycol stearate, dimethicone, peg-100 stearate, petrolatum, cetyl alcohol, tapioca starch, phenoxyethanol, magnesium aluminum silicate, methylparaben, acrylates/c10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, fragrance, propylparaben, disodium edta, xanthan gum, stearamide amp, aloe barbadensis leaf juice powder, titanium dioxide (cl77891)

Perfect Purity:
Water, stearic acid, cetyl alcohol, glycerol monostearate, mineral oil, triethanolamine, carbomer, aloe vera, tocopheryl acetate (vitamin e) , propylene glycol, diazolidinyl urea, iodopropynyl, butylcarbamate, DMDM hydantoin, fragrance, Yellow 5 (CI 1940) Blue 1 (CI 42090)

Jason Aloe Vera Super Gel ingredients
Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera) Leaf Gel, Aqua (Purified Water), Vegetable Glycerin, Allantoin, Polysorbate 20, Panthenol (Vitamin B5), Potassium Carbomer, Argnine, Natural Menthol, Benzyl Alcohol, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Chlorophyllin-Copper Complex, Fragrance Oil Blend

Dermasil Aloe Fresh lotion:
Water, glycerin, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Stearic Acid, Dimethicone,, Glycol Stearate, Glyceryl Stearate, Peg-40 stearate, Cetyl alcohol, Cetyl Acetate, sodium hydroxide, fragrance, dimethicone, phenoxyethanol, carbomer, Helianthus Annus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, disodium edta, Acetylated Lanolin, methylisothiazolinone, iodopropynyl butylcarbamate, magnesium aluminum silicate, lecithin, Borago Officinalis Seed Oil, Cholesterol, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Prunus Amygoalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil, Ethylene Brassylate, Santalium Album (Sandalwood) Oil, Rosa Damascena Extract, Vanilla Planifolia Fruit Extract, Stearmide Amp, Disodium Edta, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Dmdm Hydantoin, and other Ingredients. Helianthus Annus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Glycerin

Are serums really necessary?

Sheila asks…Thank you for recommending The Age Fix. I read the book and have throughly enjoyed it. My question is are the use of serums really necessary?

I‘m glad to hear you enjoyed The Age Fix! Remember that’s the book by friends of the Brains Dr Tony Youn who runs the Celebrity Cosmetic Surgery website. Very entertaining! Check it out.

First let’s talk about serums. Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer because the term “serum” is used differently by different companies. 
All it really tells you is the consistency of the product – it’s not a liquid, or a cream or a lotion. I think in most cases the term has just come to mean “a product with a heavy consistency.” Typically clear and applied with a dropper or some other controlled dispensing packaging.

Whether or not a product provides a benefit is not typically dependent on the product form but rather the active ingredients it contains. For example, a serum with retinol? Probably worth the money. Unless you’re using a cream or lotion with retinol in which case you don’t need both. What about a serum with chamomile extract? Probably won’t provide much benefit.

So maybe the question shouldn’t be “are serums necessary?” But rather something like “which active ingredients are necessary to provide the benefit I’m looking for.” Once you’ve decided that you can decide which product form is best for you.

Is this a good nail oil package?

Sonja in our Forum says…. A lot of nail art bloggers and Instagrammers swear by this nail oil pen, but I can’t help but wonder if packaging nail oil this way is safe. The pen has a brush on one end and the oil comes out through the brush, which you can sweep across your cuticles and nails. I can see how it’s =convenient, but I worry that the brush would pick up germs from my hands and then the germs could migrate back into the reservoir of oil and contaminate the product. Is this kind of packaging safe?

I don’t think there’s much to worry about because this kind of product is not very prone to microbial contamination. If you look at the ingredients you’ll see that there’s no water in the product which means bacteria and mold won’t be able to grow very well.

Plus, the pen packaging prevents direct exposure to moisture so the product is likely to stay uncontaminated. For anhydrous products that are more exposed to the moisture in the environment (think of a bath oil in an mouth container) there’s still concern but I don’t think there’s much danger here.
Simply Pure Hydrating Oil Pen ingredients: Jojoba Wax Ester, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Grape Seed Oil, Fragrance Oil Blend, Olive Squalane, Vitamin A Oil, Vitamin E Oil, Tea Tree Oil http://www.myblisskiss.com/simply-pure-hydrating-oil-pen/


Can a patch test predict acne?

Janelly asks…I would like to know if patch testing a product for acne can really work. I see this concept mentioned a lot on Reditt as a way to test if a new skincare product will cause acne.14130436354_2488c613eb_b

That’s a great question but patch testing for acne does NOT work. Unlike an allergic reaction (where can occur in minutes or hours) the process of acne genesis takes much longer.

According to Fisher’s Contact Dermatitis, acne can result from topical application of cosmetic products via two mechanisms. The first is referred to as a “true comedone” process and that takes several months to develop. The second is the result of follicular irritation and that takes weeks to occur.

A patch test that involves leaving a product on your skin for only a few hours or even a few days will not accurately predict whether or not you will break out.

Even if you could patch test and leave it on, or reapply it, I’m not sure I’d trust the result because it could be a false negative based on the small area of skin which you applied it to.
She said applying it all over her check for several weeks but at some point that’s not a patch test that’s just using the product.

We shared this response with Janelly via email and she asked this follow up question: “Now that I know that it takes at least several weeks to a few months to know if product is breaking me out, is there a way of isolating which product is breaking you out? Is this even possible?

Trying to isolate which product is breaking you out is not very practical because you can’t really do long term single variable tests on yourself very well. I don’t think anyone is really going to put a single product on their face and leave it there for several weeks/months without washing face, wearing any makeup, putting on sunscreen, etc.

And you have to repeat that process for every product you want to evaluate. Even IF you did all that you still can’t really control for other factors like hormonal changes and changes in diet.

About the best you can do is buy products that are labeled as “non-comedogenic.” Even that is no guarantee because the testing that’s done to evaluate whether or not a product will give you acne is NOT very definitive.

We’re talking about the rabbit ear assay. In fact, there are some people who say that test is not predictive AT all. So at best it can give you some guidance.

The bottom line is that predicting acne is VERY difficult and don’t waste your time on patch testing.


Can shampoo and conditioner be concentrated?

Scott says…I use a shampoo and conditioner by Pureology and on the front of the bottles they claim the products are concentrated formulas. Do you know if this is true or not? Is it possible to formulate shampoos and conditioners in a way that makes them more concentrated?

A claim like that is meaningless because it doesn’t provide a comparison to anything else. More concentrated than what?? And even if it is true, what’s the benefit? Do they claim that it works any better? And again, better than what?

Now, I can think of a couple of applications where this MIGHT make sense. The first is in the case of deep cleansing products where a slightly higher surfactant load is justified. (Although most shampoos have plenty of cleansing power.)

The second is It MIGHT make sense from a sustainability point of view – you make the product more concentrated so you get more uses per bottle which reduces packaging waste. I’ve seen this used successfully in dishwashing soaps and laundry detergents.

But you have to realize that there are some negatives associated with increasing concentration. Hair care products have to have the right aesthetics or they don’t feel right on your hair – it’s tough to make a highly concentrated product that isn’t hard to disperse through your hair.

And some ingredients just don’t work well at have a higher concentration. For example Polyquat 7, which is a great condition agent used in shampoos, can build up on hair if you use to much and it can make the product very stringy and pituitous. “Consisting of, or resembling, mucus.”

In most cases, when a company tells you their shampoo or conditioner is “more concentrated” it’s probably just a marketing gimmick. The bottom line is that the claim could be true but rather pointless.

Is Nugene Worth the money?

Lee asks… I need to know if NuGene Universal Serum is worth the astronomical price of $300 a bottle!! Is there comparable products for less money?

This is a product based on stem cell media. We’ve talked about stem cells before and science says that they don’t work when applied from topical products. (in fact here’s a recent article on that very topic: http://www.miamiherald.com/living/health-fitness/skin-deep/article62053467.html)

The product also contains 4 different peptides. Peptides are promising ingredients that do have some data which indicate they have anti-aging properties including collagen stimulation and slowing the breakdown of the structure of skin. But there are plenty of cheaper peptide products on the market. To be honest, I didn’t have time to track any down but you can Google products that have these ingredients and you’ll find cheaper versions.

Their website includes links to clinical studies in which their product(s) were tested (single blind, half face test) against nothing. The results showed their products moisturize, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, etc, better than no treatment at all.

Most anti-aging products will produce similar results so I don’t see anything compelling that shows this product is worth $300. They did have one study showing gene expression but this was done in vitro (on cells in the lab) so it doesn’t necessarily translate to real life. I say save your money.

Ingredients: Human Adipose Derived Stem Cell Conditioned Media, Palmitoyl Tripeptide-5 / Glycerin, Acetyl Hexapeptide-8, Polysosbate-20, Acetyl Tetrapeptide-5, Aloe barbadensis Leaf Juice , Pentapeptide-18 / Caprylyl Glycol, Nano Chloropsis oculata Extract / Pullulan, Citrus grandis Seed Extract, Sodium Carboxymethyl Cellulose, Phenoxyethanol / Sorbic Acid / Caprylyl Glycol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Fragrance, DL-Panthenol, Niacinamide, Camellia sinensis Leaf Extract, Nanosome Copper Peptides, Human Oligopeptide-1

Beauty Science News

Perfume can influence your dreams


Here’s an interesting article I stumbled on which discusses work that researchers did looking at the influence that smell has on your dreams. According to scientists at the University Hospital Mannheim in Germany, people who were exposed to the scent of rotten eggs during sleep had unpleasant dreams while people exposed to the scent of roses had pleasant dreams.

In this study of 15 women…oh brother, researchers hooked them up with tubes taped to their nostrils and had them go to sleep. They monitored the subjects’ brain activity. When they hit the REM stage they gave them a shot of either rotten egg smell, rose smell, or no smell for 10 seconds.

The scientists then let them sleep for another minute and woke them up. They asked them to describe their dreams at that moment and rate the experience as positive or negative. It turns out that people who had the rotten egg smell dreamed negatively while those with the rose dreamed positively.

They think that this could be a potential treatment for nightmares or other sleep disorders. I’m thinking this might be a whole new product category for fragrance makers.

UPF: The SPF of clothing


We talk a lot about sunscreen products on the program but I hadn’t given much thought to the sun protection factor of clothing. Fortunately, our friend Nikki at FUtureDerm has. She published an interesting article about sun protection from clothing which is called UPF or Ultra Protection Factor. Here are a few key points:

Dark protects better than light fabrics.
Heavier fabrics are better than lighter fabrics
Tighter weaves are better than looser weaves and knits
Synthetic is better than natural fabric (e.g. cotton)

If you’re interested, you can look up the ratings for different fabrics. There’s a rating scale published by ARPANSA which stands for Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency.

Perfumes pollution in the canals of Venice


You ever wonder what happens to the fragrances used in soaps, shampoos and skin lotions? Well, according to this study they end up in our water supplies and can persist for a long time. That is if you live in a place like Venice where there are no sewers.

Between April and December 2015, scientists repeatedly collected water samples from 22 places between the inner canals in the historic center of Venice, the island of Burano and at two points in the far-north lagoon. They were looking for the presence of 17 fragrances among the most used and chemically stable between the thousands available to the cosmetics industry.

Traces of ‘scented’ molecules have been identified in all sampling sites, including those more distant from inhabited areas, though illustrating concentrations up to 500 times higher in the inner city canals. Samples collected during conditions of low tide in Venice and Burano showed concentrations comparable to those of untreated waste water.

Of course, they don’t know the consequences of this build-up of fragrance molecules and they aren’t at levels that would be toxic to marine organisms.

So what does it all mean? I don’t know. It seems like these scientists were looking for some way to convince people that there might be a problem and that they need more money to study it. It seems like there is a lot of research like that.

New mascara will make you more popular


A recent article from Cosmetics Design discusses a Japan based company that is developing what they call “an aesthetic shape-controlling mascara” that will give you “enhanced social impression in Asia.”

I’m not sure I totally understand this but the company, Kosé, says that their studies show that women who wear mascara has higher self esteem and social status and they link that to curve of their eyelashes because it makes the eye appear bigger and more open. So, they developed a mascara specifically to enhance this eyelash curl. It uses water based resins like you’d find in hairsprays to control the lash shape. That’s an interesting trend based on Asian culture, I wonder if it will ever make its way here. (Cheap Trick Big Eyes)

New sunscreen applicator


Putting on sunscreens is a pain in the ass. And this is why people don’t do it more. I know I don’t like to. And the spray sunscreens seem like such a waste to me.

Well, here’s a new packaging design that might change that. It’s called the BlokRok and it reminds me of an antiperspirant stick. You put your sunscreen in the container and then roll it on your skin. No mess and you get the proper amount in the right places. We’ll see if this takes off.

iTunes reviews

Shinobuchin from Australia says…Very informative and brilliant show! — 5 stars. Randy and Perry are like my besties when it comes to beauty, trust them and nothing else any packaging or fancy ad campaign will ever tell you.

Blondenicky says…Educates While Entertains — 5 stars. This show has taught valuable lessons, for example, It’s Ok to Have Lead In Your Lipstick, and has answered Other Beauty Questions I’ve Been Dying to Know 😉 What started out as a way to keep my entertained at work has also given more insight into the cosmetics I use. I’ll never walk into a store the same way again.


Should your cosmetics be biodegradable?

Fabi asks about biodegradable products… I have an outdoor shower and it drains into the ground and everyone tells me I have to have biodegradable shampoo, conditioner, and body wash for the ground. Can you explain biodegradable products? It’s really hard to find them. What they’re all about and why would it be important to use them? What are some pros and cons of these products?old_outhouse_-_the_seats

This is a great question that we’ll try to answer but everyone should recognize that this is not our usual area of expertise. We’re not environmental chemists or water treatment specialists but we’ve tried to sort this out the best we could If we’re not quite right on any of these points please let us know and we’ll make corrections as needed. We’ve included references where ever possible so you guys can check out work. Let’s start by explaining what the term “biodegradable” means.

What is biodegradability and how is it measured?

Biodegradable means that a material can be broken down, or decomposed, by the action of bacteria, fungi, or other biological processes.

Here’s a simply analogy from Biodegradable Product Institute (BPI) that explains it really well: “If you think of a long string of popcorn on a thread as a “plastic polymer” chain, then step one (fragmentation) is when the thread is cut randomly between the popcorn kernels and you have a shorter chains of popcorn. The second step “biodegradation”, occurs when you get short enough for you to eat the popcorn and use it as a food.”

It’s important to break down these ingredients because if they persist in the environment they may have adverse effects like toxicity, effect on ozone, bioaccumulation in the food chain to name a few. But if an ingredient is biodegradable, it’s much less likely to cause any of these other problems because it rapidly breaks down.

Not every ingredient is a candidate for biodegradation. Bacteria can only feast on carbon-based materials. (Mention true meaning of organic.) Silicones and other inorganic materials have to be separated and disposed of in a different way. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Biodegradability can be measured in different ways. One key factor is to measure something known as the “DOC” which is Dissolved Organic Carbon. My favorite biodegradability test is the “Porous Pot” test which sounds like something we used to do back in college. But this is apparently different because it simulates the effect of aerobic microbe activity like you’d find in a waster water treatment plant.

Measuring biodegradability is also complicated because an ingredient can be readily degraded into components but some of these components may or may not degrade further. Dialkyl sulfosuccinate is an example. So you have to consider not only each ingredient but WHAT it degrades TO because an ingredient may be biodegradable but parts of it can still persist in the environment.

It’s also important to note that time is a factor when measuring biodegradability. Some tests look at how much degrades in 28 days others look at degradation in just 10 days.

BTW, You’d think that this would be easier for natural derived ingredients but actually it can be MORE difficult to test them because they frequently consist of mixtures of materials compared to synthetic compounds which are more purified and therefore more singular.

So as we said, this is quite complicated. Frequently testing is done for one ingredient and then various models are used to predict how similar materials will biodegrade. For example, there’s the BIOWIN model that uses peer reviewed literature, government databases, and research done by cosmetic ingredient suppliers to predict biodegradability.

Are biodegradable claims meaningful or just marketing?

So clearly, this can be a confusing subject area. How are consumers supposed to know if a product is really biodegradable and if that’s meaningful or not? The answer is…it’s hard to tell.

Different countries have different requirements for making biodegradable claims. We’ll mention a few but you can find more at the Biodegradable Product Institute http://www.bpiworld.org

In the EU the European Commission has established a voluntary eco label scheme which allows you to label your product with a flower symbol if it meets specific requirements. The regs say that each surfactant in the product must be biodegradable and they establish some very specific parameters for how much non biodegradable materials are allowed in shampoos, liquid soaps and shower products. So, look for the flower.

Canada uses the “Mobius Loop” symbol which I’m sure you’ve seen. It looks like three twisted arrows following one another to form a triangle. Canada does not allow any degradation products to be harmful to the environment, the require substantiation of biodegradability, and they require the conditions for biodegradability to be specified. In other words, you can’t claim that a product is biodegradable if most of time it ends up in a land fill where is won’t degrade.

The U.S. doesn’t have an official symbol, as far as I can tell, although the Biodegradable Product Institute does have symbols. For the most part you’ll have to rely on the company to specifically tell you that the product is biodegradable.

The claims are are governed by the Federal Trade Commission. There are 3 basic guidelines to determine if you can say if your product is biodegradable or not. One, you must have “competent and reliable scientific evidence that the entire item will completely break down into elements found in nature within a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal.” Two, solid waste items must break down in 1 year. Three, “claims must be qualified to the point that they’re not deceptive.” That’s similar to Canada, it also means that you have to be clear whether you’re talking about the only the formula or the formula and the package.

So is it more of a marketing story? The testing is complicated and the requirements are vague/broad enough that if a company wants to make a claim, they can. There’s little context/data to know if one product is more biodegradable than another. (No one is doing competitive product testing that I’ve seen.) Also, testing is expensive and there’s not a lot of benefit unless your positioning is natural so most brands don’t do additional testing. They’ll just look at supplier data or previously tested versions.

Based on what we’ve read it looks like a lot of ingredients used in shampoos, conditioners, and body washes are biodegradable to some extent when properly processed. According to a water quality report by Cornell University which says “most laundry detergents and surfactant-based cleaning products are considered safe for both septic systems and groundwater.” And just in case you’re worried about things like silicones, check out this report from Dow Corning that says silicones used in personal care products degrades into silica and carbon dioxide.

It seems like this is more of a concern for products that can “exist in the wild” like sunscreens. Sunscreen ingredients get rinsed directly into the ocean where they may be creating adverse effects.

Examples of biodegradable products

You do tend to see this claim more from brands positioned as natural and organic. Brands that make biodegradable shampoo include Avalon Organics, Kiss My Face, Dessert Essence, Nature’s Gate, Live Clean and Toms of Maine. Lets look at a few examples:


Even a big brand like Garner is making these claims. For example, for their Pure Clean shampoo, Garnier claims the product is “92% biodegadable” which is great. But if you look at the ingredients you see the product is based on standard surfactants like Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate and Cocamidopropyl Betaine. So at lot of shampoos will have similar biodegradability just by using standard ingredients. 


Ingredients: Aqua/Water/Eau, Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Chloride, Hexylene Glycol, Pyrus Malus Extract/Apple Fruit Extract, Parfum/Fragrance, Sodium Benzoate, Hydroxypropyl Guar Hydroxypropyl-Trimonium Chloride, Citric Acid, Salicylic Acid, Benzoic Acid, Niacinamide, Pyridoxine HCI, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Linalool, Hexyl Cinnamal, Saccharum Officinarum Extract/Sugar Cane Extract/Extrait De Canne A Sucre, Citrus Medica Limonum Peel Extract/Lemon Peel Extract, Camellia Sinesis Extract/Camellia Sinesis Leaf Extract, Malphighiapunicfolia/Acerola Fruit Extract, Sodium Hydroxide.

California Baby

California Baby Shampoo is formulated with glucosides which are less common surfactants derived from corn. They claims the product is “extremely biodegradable” which doesn’t tell us very much.

Ingredients: Water, Decyl Glucoside (Sustainable Palm Fruit Kernel and/or Coconut), Lauryl Glucoside (Sustainable Palm Fruit Kernel and/or Coconut), Quillaja Saponaria Bark Extract (Soap Bark) (Certified Organic), Vegetable Glycerin USP (Sustainable Palm Fruit Kernel and/or Coconut), Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract (Calendula) (Certified Organic), Viola Tricolor Extract (Pansy) (Certified Organic), Yucca Schidigera Root Extract (Yucca), Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice (Aloe Vera) (Certified Organic), Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil (Certified Organic), Hydrolyzed Quinoa, Xanthan Gum USP, Panthenol (Vit. B5), Phytic Acid (Rice Origin), Gluconolactone (Sourced from Corn (Non-GMO)) (and) Sodium Benzoate. No Fragrance or Scent Masking Agents.


Then there’s the brand Method that seems to provide the most information. For their Mickey Mouse body wash and shampoo http://methodhome.com/wp-content/uploads/method_greenskeeping_toolkit_final_complete-100614.pdf They claim the ingredients “degrade into simple and benign components in the environment. Method follows the highest technical standard for defining biodegradability, whereby at least 70% of organic ingredients break down within 28 days.” This particular product uses baby shampoo type surfactants.

Ingredients: Water, Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine, Disodium Lauroamphodiacetate, Sodium Coco-Sulfate, Propanediol, Disodium Oleamido MIPA Sulfosuccinate, Fragrance, Citral, Limonene, Linaool, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Caprylyl Glycol, Glycerin

Do beauty products contaminate the water supply?
With all that background in mind, let’s go back to the first part of Fabi’s question. Essentially she wants to know if she needs to buy special BD products for her outdoor shower.

For indoor plumbing, waste water is pumped to a treatment center. For an outdoor shower it drains into an underground septic system which is a tank buried underground. Either way, it works like this: the oil and fat based materials (most of the surfactants and conditioning agents) float to the top to form what is called the scum layer.

These materials can be treated with bacteria to be broken down. The water layer in the middle can be drained away and the bottom layer, the sludge that doesn’t degrade can be sent to a landfill (in the case of water treatment plants) or it can be pumped out (in the case of home septic systems.) Home septic tanks are supposed to be cleaned out every few years.

So, Fabi, if you have a septic tank it doesn’t really sound like you need any special products. If you don’t have a septic tank and you’re just letting waste water drain into your yard then that’s kind of messed up. Talk to a plumber.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

So the bottom line is that while there are specific ingredients used in shampoos that don’t biodegrade, it appears this isn’t a big problem because the majority of cleansing and conditioning agents (which make up the VAST proportion of the stuff that gets into waste water) are pretty readily degradable.

If Fabi is worried about her outdoor shower, this doesn’t seem to be a huge problem. If you want to make the planet a better place and reduce stuff that ends up in land fills and so forth, then vote with your dollars and buy products that make it clear that they adhere to higher standards. Method is apparently one of these.

It’s tough to tell in the US because there’s no universal standard. If enough people do this it will encourage companies to follow stricter standards (like the EU Flower) because that’s where the money is. As always though, be careful about companies that try to get you to spend a lot more money products just because they have a vague claim of “biodegradble.”

What are Dry Oils?

United States 35 says “Can you please talk about this kinda new, not new anymore, trend of dry oils?”

“Dry oils” seems like such a strange term. Oils certainly aren’t “wet.” I think what they really mean is more like “non-greasy, quick absorbing oils.” That would be in contrast to things like mineral oil and most traditional vegetable oils like olive oil. That “oily” feeling is a function of the long carbon backbone that’s characteristic of these oils.

Since this is a marketing term there’s no universal scientific definition so companies can call just about anything they want a “dry oil.” But typically they fall into two categories. Some are true oils, like squalane, that just have a lighter texture. But most “dry oils” are not really oils at all.

Sometimes they’re silicones like cyclomethicone and sometimes they belong to a class of materials known as esters. Esters are esters are typically derived from a carboxylic acid and an alcohol so they have different properties than just a long chain of carbon atoms with hydrogens attached. They have a lighter texture.

In either case, these materials feel like they sink into skin quickly and don’t leave as much residue. However, the trade off is that these “dry oils” are not as occlusive as traditional oils. So don’t think you can get a great moisturizer that’s formulated exclusively with “dry oils.”

Beauty science news

New scar technology


Here’s a story about some new technology to help prevent scarring on people who are severely injured. A team out of the University of Western Australia are studying compounds that inhibit an enzyme that enables the cross linking of collagen. See when a scar is formed, this enzyme causes collagen molecules to form chemical bonds within themselves which leads to scar formation.

The idea is that if they can prevent that cross link bonding, then they will prevent scar formation. They are working with a pharmaceutical company to find compounds which inhibit an enzyme called lysol oxidase or LOX.

They test new compounds using a “scar in a jar” model which is a lab culture which mimics scar formation in a petri dish. Who knew there was such a thing?

Anyway, they have found a few compounds that have inhibited the LOX enzyme in the petri dish model and will be moving on to mouse and pig models. If that’s successful they’ll move on to human trials in a couple years.

While the technology is being developed for burn victims or others with severe scarring, there is no reason why this couldn’t work for cosmetic applications too.

So maybe there is hope for me to get rid of the scar in the middle of my face caused by the chainsaw accident.

Facial hair transplants are growing


Remember last week or the week before we talked about the breakthrough scientific study showing that bald guys are less attractive? Well while we’re waiting for the hate mail from that story to come in and start flooding in I thought I would share another male hair related story.
Apparently facial hair transplants are on the rise. Up like 200% in the last few years.
Here’s how it works they cut out follicles from the back of your scalp and transplant those viable follicles to your face.

It seems to me this would appeal to a very small sub segment of the population three overlapping circles one would be guys who have trouble growing a beard and I would have to include myself in that first group. Second group are the ones who have enough money to actually have a procedure like this done because it’s bound to be expensive. And thirdly they also have to give a crap about this. I’m going to hold off investing in that facial hair transplant clinic for right now.

Grey hair pills don’t work


Have I ever told you how I feel about dietary supplements? Well, the way they are regulated in this country is shameful, dangerous and embarrassing. Now, I’m sure there are some reputable supplement makers who attempt to create quality products, but there are a ton of sketchy manufacturers who try to scam people by selling products that don’t reflect what’s on the label, making impossible claims, and generally tricking people into buying useless products.

According to this story apparently one such company went over the line when they tried to claim that their product could reverse or prevent the formation of gray hair.

A US district judge ruled that Coorga Nutraceuticals Corporation violated the law by claiming they product Grey Defense which is a dietary supplement could reverse or prevent gray hair. They were ordered to pay nearly $400,000 fine and told to stop making those claims because they are misleading and not supported by scientific evidence.

The bottom line is that gray hair preventing pills don’t work. Don’t waste your money.

The thing that is troubling about this is that the companies only have this small fine (I’m sure they made more than $400,000 on sales of this product) and they can continue to sell the product as long as they don’t make the claim. Or they can just start up another company, make the same claims and bet that the FTC won’t be able to catch up to them. It’s ridiculous.

Science says Clark Kent’s glasses are a good disguise


You know the deal with Superman’s secret identity? He doesn’t wear a mask or anything. When he switches to Clark Kent he just puts on a pair of glasses and POOF no one recognizes him. Pretty ridiculous right! Wrong! Science says this really works. Sort of.

A study published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology described how a researcher showed panelists pairs of pictures of people with and without glasses. When both pictures either had or didn’t have glasses the panelists could tell they were the same person. 80% But when just one picture had glasses only 74% of people could tell. The researcher concluded that glasses are a good disguise and that Clark Kent and Superman did indeed look like two different people. It doesn’t work with people who you know well so Lois would have been able to tell.

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