Thursday, August 21, 2014

Skincare Ingredient Myths

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 It seems like every time we turn around, there is some new untruth or urban legend about the ingredients used in the products we put in or use on our bodies. Off the top of my head: titanium dioxide (a common ingredient in sunscreen) is a carcinogen, parabens (and other preservatives) cause cancer, “all” essential oils are non toxic and edible, silicones are bad, hydroquonone is bad, “hypoallergenic” products will not cause skin reactions, certain skin creams can prevent wrinkles or “cure” them after they show up on the face, natural or organic ingredients are better than “chemicals,” your skin gets used to certain products and then they stop working…the list goes on and on. That these assertions are not based in scientific fact often does not matter and that’s where the problem is. Unfortunately, many of these myths are generated by cosmetics manufacturers themselves, in an attempt to make their products (which, of course, do not contain the offending ingredients) seem better, more “natural” (gahhh! I hate that word!!!) and overall worth more of your money. Marketers are not stupid. They know that by instilling fear, uncertainty and doubt in our collective minds, as well as playing on the fears that aging brings on, they can perpetuate whatever idea they want that helps them sell their products.

For those of you interested in actually reading what science really shows about a few of the more recent (and blatant) fear mongering stories, read on!

1. “Hypoallergenic” products: This one isn’t based on science, just fact as it applies to cosmetics labeling “rules.” Did you know that the definition of the  word “hypoallergenic” is not regulated in any way (unlike “organic” and even then, there are all kinds of classifications)? I can make any product I want, slap a label on it that says “hypoallergenic” and I don’t have to prove anything. There are no guidelines anywhere, in any country, that define what that word means. What that means to you, the consumer, is that you very well can have a reaction to a product labeled “hypoallergenic” and many people do. So, instead of being impressed with a word on a label, do yourself a favor and look at the actual ingredients list as you work to find out what specific ingredient causes a reaction for you.

2. Products that prevent (or cure) wrinkles: We have to face it. There are three things that cause wrinkles: genetics, sun exposure and smoking. Take a look at what your parents look like at any age and that will give you an idea of what you will look like. Then consider their exposure to the sun and any smoking habits, compare that to what you are doing in those areas and you’ll get an even better picture. As I always say to my friends and family, “Sunscreen is your friend!” Unfortunately, once we have wrinkles, there’s not much we can do to get rid of them, short of cosmetic surgery. There are creams (like Retin A) that can help improve the texture of skin over time but once you have wrinkles, they are a bitch to deal with. If you don’t believe me, click here to read the abstract of a Swedish study published in Skin Research & Technology (Lodén, M., Buraczewska, I. and Halvarsson, K. (2007), Facial anti-wrinkle cream: influence of product presentation on effectiveness: a randomized and controlled study. Skin Research and Technology, 13: 189–194. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0846.2007.00220.x). This controlled study shows that there was no difference between subjects using several facial creams marketed to improve the look of wrinkles and the surface of the skin. In other words, not only do facial creams not have a measurable impact on the look and feel of wrinkles, luxury creams do no better than low cost creams. Interesting stuff! (But you already knew that, right??)

3. “Natural” and organic skincare products and better than those that aren’t: Why do I hate the word “natural?” Because things like arsenic, ammonia and cyanide are “natural.” And you wouldn’t want any of those things in your face cream or in your vitamins. The word, “natural,” like “hypoallergenic,” can mean anything a cosmetics manufacturer wants it to mean. In fact, one of the ingredients that many people are so upset about (wrongly, based on the science)is the class of preservatives known as parabens---which are mostly plan-based (so, therefore “natural?”)---are found in the foods we eat (methylparaben’s natural source is blueberries). So…yeah…not buying that. And regarding parabens--if you want actual citations regarding research on parabens, click here for a Wikipedia page that has lots of info on studies, citations, uses of parabens, links to more info, etc. This page even discusses where the hysteria originated.

4. Silicones: <sigh> Silicones are everywhere, from our food to our medicine to our electronics and cosmetics, these useful compounds are much maligned and misunderstood. For those of us who love and wear cosmetics, we owe the silkiness of the product and the finish that our skin takes on to silicone. In the August 2014 issue of Skin, Inc magazine, Rebecca Gadberry’s article, “12 Silicone Myths Exploded,” exposes the myths and the facts around this building block of many cosmetic products. Full of sciency stuff, Ms. Gadberry is able to explain, in layman’s terms, where each “urban legend” began and why it’s not true. Check it out if you have any doubt about silicone. It’s an interesting read.

So that’s my rant for the day on beauty and cosmetic myths. Hope you find this info interesting and helpful. And remember---don’t blindly believe what you are told by a marketer---check out the science behind the claims. You’ll be much happier with your results and spend much less money in the long run!