Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

What Are Free Radicals? April 23, 2013

I’ve written about the importance of incorporating a cream or serum with antioxidants into your daily skincare routine in this blog before (see the list below of my related posts), but when I came across the following information about free radicals I thought I should address the subject of antioxidants from a different angle.  That angle, of course, would be to address the issue of free radicals more in-depth.

In their book Physiology of the Skin Drs. Draelos and Pugliese devote an entire chapter (chapter 8) to the subject of free radicals and the skin (those words also happen to be the title of the chapter).  I want to highlight some of the more accessible parts of the chapter (page 163):

A free radical is any atom or molecule that has one or more unpaired electrons and is capable of independent existence.  Oxygen, then, is a free radical.  In fact, oxygen is a diradical, which means it has two unpaired electrons.

Here, simplified, is the secret of the free radical – one or more unpaired electrons in a molecule or atom that can exist independently, and can react actively with other nearby molecules to alter or destroy them.  An example will make this concept more graphic and easier to remember.

Water contains hydrogen and oxygen.  It is a very simple molecule, and is written in chemical notation as either H2O or HOH.  The hydrogen atoms exactly balance the electronic charges in the oxygen atom to give us one molecule of water.  If only one molecule of hydrogen would react with the oxygen molecule, a free radical would exist, the deadly hydroxyl radical ·OH.  The little dot to the left of the “OH” formula means it is a free radical.  This ·OH is called the hydroxyl radical and is a very nasty free radical because it reacts immediately with any molecule adjacent to it to alter or destroy it.  It is a blessing that oxygen does not react with hydrogen in this manner to form hydroxyl radicals because life would be impossible if it did.

The chapter goes into great detail about oxygen – its chemistry, the molecule itself, the process and repercussions of oxidation, and oxidative stress.  On page 171 there is a graph that clearly shows how free radicals affect cells by damaging DNA, nerves, and all body tissues.  According to the book “it is the oxygen that you breathe which ultimately destroys your body”.

At the end of chapter eight in their book the doctors discuss a few specific ways free radicals specifically impact the skin and how to combat these subsequent skin problems.  The skin issues discussed are: skin inflammation, photo-damaged skin (sun damage), and aging skin.  For example when it comes to skin inflammation the doctors explain (page 177):

Any inflammatory response will involve free radical formation – no ifs, ands or buts.  If you see a red area that is tender and hot, it is inflamed and seething with free radical activity.  Superoxide radical, hydrogen peroxide, and hydroxyl radical will be there.  Iron will react with the superoxide and peroxide to form hydroxyl radicals, and produce great tissue destruction.

In her book Simple Skin Beauty Dr. Ellen Marmur explains, in easier to understand terms, how the sun damages our DNA and how the sun produces free radicals (page 138 in the hardcover copy):

Free radicals may sound like some kind of rock band, but they are toxic by-products in the body.  To make a very long and complex scientific phenomenon short, this is how they are produced through UV damage to cell’s DNA.

A photon (the sun’s laser beam) zaps through the cell membrane and cytoplasm, through the nuclear membrane (the safe, womb-like center of the cell), and hits the DNA.  Imagine DNA as being like two pieces of spaghetti laid parallel, with crosshatches all the way along like a ladder, then rolled up and twisted like an intricately knotted cuff link.  When a photon burns a hole into the DNA knot, it starts to unravel and the two sides of the ladder begin opening up.  The immune system immediately sends out enzymes to fix the problem.  (Enzymes are proteins that act as workers in the body, fixing damage by causing chemical reactions.)  One enzyme comes in and gobbles up the damaged portion; then it creates a new DNA rung to fix that ladder.  Another enzyme double-checks it, another seals it together, and another wraps it up into a nice, perfect knot again.  All these chemical reactions done to reconstruct damaged DNA give off toxic oxygen by-products, or free radicals.  Oxygen can be stable, with two electrons in its orbit, or, if it has only one electron (as free radicals do), it’s on fire – trying to steal an electron from another molecule in order to become stable.  An unstable oxygen molecule races around like a toddler with a pair of scissors or a Tasmanian devil, causing destruction to anything it its path until it runs out of energy.  Antioxidants quench and destroy that toxic free radical.

Suggestions for combating these free radical induced skin problems include the use of sunscreens with antioxidants in them, taking multiple vitamins daily, using Retin-A, getting regular exercise, and avoiding stress.  Of course all those tips not only will help your skin stay healthy but your body as well.  Just keep the following in mind when it comes to skincare products, antioxidants, and combating free radical damage:

Any client with aging skin should be approached with the fact that treatment is a lifelong reality.  There are no easy fixes and no miracle products.  It takes time to age, and time to restore the skin to normal.  Good and effective anti-aging products address the free radical problem by containing antioxidants at levels that prove they work.  Do not buy a product that has not been tested for antioxidant activity.  Beware of products that have antioxidants listed at the end of the ingredients; they are low in concentration and are useless.  …

In addition, do not smoke cigarettes; they produce an alarming amount of free oxygen radicals that damage both the lungs and the skin.  Avoid sun exposure as much as is practical.  Use sunscreens that provide both UVA and UVB photoprotection whether working indoors or outdoors.  Increase dietary intake of fruits and vegetables at each meal, remembering to eat them freshly picked and raw to optimize nutritional content.  Unripened and preserved fruits and vegetables do not have the antioxidant levels found in fresh vine ripened varieties.

(Physiology of the Skin, pages 178 – 179)

My Related Posts:

I haven’t read this book yet, but it turns out that there is a whole book devoted to the subject of antioxidants and skin aptly titled Antioxidants and the Skin.

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Ingredient Spotlight: Honey January 24, 2013

If you are a fan of DIY facial masks you’ve probably come across more than one recipe for at home facial masks using honey.  Why does this ingredient repeatedly appear in DIY facial treatments?  It turns out for a few very good reasons.   Honey is a humectant, which means it draws moisture to the skin, is antimicrobial, and an antioxidant.

According to Shape magazine honey helps the skin(and your overall health) in a few different ways:

1. Skin ailments: Everything from burns and scrapes to surgical incisions and radiation-associated ulcers have been shown to respond to “honey dressings.” That’s thanks to the hydrogen peroxide that naturally exists in honey, which is produced from an enzyme that bees have.

2. Mosquito bite relief: Honey’s anti-inflammatory properties make it a good option to help reduce the itch and irritation of mosquito bites.

3. It’s an immune booster: Honey is chock full of polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that helps to protect cells from free radical damage. It can also contribute to heart health as well as protect against cancer.

4. Digestive aid: In a 2006 study published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers found that substituting honey for sugar in processed foods improved the gut microflora of male mice.

5. Acne treatment: According to preliminary research, Manuka, and Kanuka types of honey can effectively treat Acne vulgaris, the skin condition that is caused by inflammation and infection of the pilosebaceous follicle on the face, back, and chest.

(From 5 Health Benefits of Honey)

Future Derm highlights honey’s beauty benefits thusly:

Honey’s combination of vitamins, antioxidants, sugars and amino make it produce hydrogen peroxide and gluconic acid — acidic solutions that are frequently used to clear dirt and bacteria from wounds.  It is due in part to its numerous antioxidants and hydrogen peroxide that honey is often lauded as an anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal agent — good news if you have oiler skin that could collect dirt more easily, have superficial wounds and scarring, or if you just need something to give your skin a little extra cleaning (Indian Journal of Plastic Surgery).

But honey’s effectiveness doesn’t just stop with being a skin cleanser – there is substantial evidence for its role in wound-healing. Coupled with its hydrogen peroxide, honey provides amoist environment for skin to repair itself, encourages epithelialization (skin cell regrowth), granulation tissue formation, (a type of connective tissue), and wound healing.  Plus, honey can reduce swelling and is a strong anti-inflammatory agent, meaning that it very may well reduce pain and irritation from skin lesions (Indian Journal of Plastic Surgery)

Honey is also good for dry skin, especially skin disorders such as Eczema and Psoriasis. These two skin ailments are characterized by their excessive dryness, itchiness, inflammation and irritation. After using the a mixture of honey, olive oil and beeswax three times a day for two weeks, 80 percent of the eczema patients had reduced symptoms of itching, scaling, and oozing from lesions. 63 percent of the psoriasis patients also reported significant improvement in symptoms (Complementary Therapies in Medicine).

Users should know that there are several different strains of honey whose efficacy can vary, such as the medical-quality Manuka and Revamil. If using pure honey, take caution — honey is able to support the bacteria that cause gangrene and botulism, and are typically treated with gamma irridation to eradicate these bacteria (Indian Journal of Plastic Surgery).

(From Lancome Tonique Confort Rehydrating Toner Review)

Many sources claim that not all honey is the same and you actually need to use raw honey in order to receive all the benefits described above.  In an article from Beauty at Skin Deep the benefits of raw honey are explained:

It should be noted that not all honey is created equal. Most of the honey found in grocery stores has been processed with heat, which kills off healing enzymes and destroys a lot of the nutrient-rich content. But, raw honey hasn’t been processed and will give your skin the healing benefits that it needs. Also, if you have allergies, try a patch test first and/or ask you physician if raw honey is a right for you.


Raw honey is an amazing natural beauty solution for all skin types because of its healing skin benefits. It does wonders for a wide variety of skin ailments including:

Acne and enlarged pores
Sensitive, mature, and dull lifeless skin

With its natural pH level of 4.5, raw honey falls within skin’s naturally healthy pH range. Its antiseptic and antimicrobial properties make it great for healing cuts and burns by killing bacteria and fungus. Raw honey also contains gluconic acid, a mild alpha hydroxy acid that brightens the complexion, evens out skin tone, and lightens scars and age spots.

Depending on where the honey is collected from, it contains many nutrients and minerals excellent for skin health such as vitamin B, iron, manganese, copper, potassium and calcium. It also acts as a humectant drawing moisture to the skin and is perfect as a gentle cleansing solution for even very sensitive skin. When mixed with water, honey releases peroxide properties which helps heal acne and impede bacterial growth causing more acne

(From Skin Benefits of Raw Honey)

Personally I’ve never tried honey, any type of honey, as a facial treatment, but I do find the information on it intriguing.  If you’ve ever used honey at home as a skincare treatment please comment below.

Sources and Further Reading:

Important read about the benefits of honey and the false marketing claims of beauty companies:

While researching this post I found that a lot of sources repeat the same information about honey over and over so I’ve highlighted just a few resources below.

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Chirality and Skincare December 19, 2012

I’ve never pretended that this blog is a skincare blog from a scientific perspective because frankly I’ve never been much of a science student.  When I was studying esthetics and realized that I had to refresh my high school chemistry knowledge (I received Cs in high school chemistry) I nearly had a panic attack.  As I’ve progressed in my work as an esthetician I’ve realized that science knowledge is key to understanding how skincare products work on the skin and key in helping my clients get great results from both treatments and home care products.  But I still need that science to be dumbed down for me or else my mind instantly goes blank.

All of this brings us to the subject of this post – chirality.  I wanted to address this issue since two skincare lines I’ve used make sure to explain that they are both “chirally correct”.  What does that mean exactly and how does that impact skincare products?

The two skincare lines – Glo Therapeutics and Tecniche – each explain why it is important that their products be chirally correct.  (These are just two of many skincare companies that make this claim)

Glo says:

Q: What does “Chirally Correct” mean and why is it important?

A: A molecule is considered chiral if it differs from its mirror image. For example, hold out your hands in front of you. Notice that they are mirror images of each other. If you place your right hand on top of your left hand, you can demonstrate this difference. None of the features of your hands will line up when stacked on top of each other; though they have the same features, they are exact mirors of each other. This means your hands are chiral.

Certain ingredients in glo.therapeutics products are lab produced and will be made of 2 forms: Left (L for left) and Right (D for dextro). These ingredients are mirror images of each other, not exact duplicates. One side of the ingredient is more useful and beneficial to the skin, while the other side is useless. glotherapeutics only uses the purest, highest quality form, making the products superior in the results.

Tecniche has pretty much the same thing to say:

Chirally Correct

Mother Nature creates molecules with two sides or hands, right and left. For reasons unknown to scientists, some right handed molecules work best on skin, where as some left handed molecules are better received by the skin. It may be a more extensive and expensive route, but it has been Tecniche’s™ life work to only use the ‘hand’ of the lab-neutral molecule that best mimics Mother Nature’s perfect plan (aka: Chirally Correct).

Yet is this really necessary in skincare?   Two sources that I’ve read disagree what is stated above.  First to The Beauty Brains and their post Are Cosmedix Products Another Scientific Scam:

Leatha Questions Chirality:

I have started using a skin care line called Cosmedix and they claim that their products are chirally correct. I don`t know what this means and whether it is a marketing gimmick or if there is some truth to it.

The Left Brain Criticizes Cosmedix:

chiral cosmedixThe term chiral is derived from the Greek work for handedness and a molecule is called chiral if it differs from its mirror image. (A simple way to visualize this concept is to think of your right and left hand. You can`t fit your left hand in your right glove, right? That`s because they`re chiral. You can learn more about the idea here.)

Some chemical reactions produce both the left handed and right handed version of the same molecule. These versions are called isomers. This concept is very important in drug manufacture where the Left and Right isomers may have different chemical properties. If the Left isomer is effective against a given disease, you want a chemical reaction that produces pure Left, not a mixture of Right and Left. So for drugs, chiral purity is very important.

But for cosmetic products, chirality isn`t really an issue. That’s because cosmetic ingredients don`t interact with the biological systems of your body the same way drugs do. So your first guess was correct “ this IS a marketing gimmick!

In their book Physiology of the Skin Drs. Draelos and Pugliese agree with The Beauty Brains (page 116):

A term that is being used lately is chirality.  The word chiral is from cheir, the Greek word for “hand”.  A chiral molecule is one that cannot be superimposed on its mirror image, just as you cannot superimpose your two hands in a mirror image.  Any compound that has four different atoms, or groups, attached to a single carbon is chiral.  You need to think about this for a minute or two before you realize that what you are thinking about is an asymmetrical figure, since all chiral compounds lack symmetry by definition.

More and more often, it’s being asked if a product’s chirality is correct.  What should be asked is if the product is biologically active.  Most chemical compounds in nature are chiral compounds that are biologically active, so they are indeed, correct chirally.  Asking if it is “chirally correct” is the same as asking “Is this water in this product really H2O?”  There is no such thing as chirally correct, any more than you can be facially correct.  What should be asked is, “Does this product have the correct optical isomerism?”  By being correct it is biologically active.

So what about some middle ground on this subject.  I found the following post on the blog The Science of Beauty –  What is Chirally Correct Skincare?  I’ll skip quoting the beginning of the post since it contains information I already covered above.  Let’s dive in towards the middle of the post:

Well, whilst some skincare ranges contain only naturally derived ingredients, the majority are comprised of laboratory created ingredients. It is much easier and cheaper to synthesise Vitamin E, for example, in a laboratory than to try and extract it from natural sources. Vitamin E can be found in almonds, sunflower seeds, wheat germ oil, amongst other things but the quantities of these ingredients required to acquire sufficient Vitamin E, and the cost associated with extracting it would make the final skincare product exorbitantly expensive.
When molecules are synthesised by man they always form in pairs that are the mirror image of each other. So, like your left and right hand, these mirror imaged molecules contain all the same parts but are not identical to one and other. Each mirror image of the molecule is given a prefix to its chemical name – either d or l. So, using the Vitamin E example, the chemical name for Vitamin E is alpha-tocopherol so the mirror images of the molecules are called d-alpha-tocopherol and l-alpha-tocopherol. But even though these molecules are nearly identical (the only difference being the mirror image) only one of the molecules can be used by the human body – in this case the molecule with the d-prefix (d-alpha-tocopherol). So chirally correct skincare contains ingredients that have been tested to ensure that they only contain the active molecule, out of the mirror imaged pair, that can be used by the human body. The molecules are sorted so that only the active molecule is added. With Vitamin E it has already been determined that d-alpha-tocopherol the active molecule so any Vitamin E that is added to chirally correct skincare will have been sorted so that only d-alpha-tocopherol is added. If your skincare is not chirally correct, and the vitamin E molecules have not been sorted, it will be listed in the ingredients as dl-alpha-tocopherol, as it contains a 50/50 mixture of the d-alpha-tocopherol and l-alpha-tocopherol molecules.
So what happens if the molecules are not sorted? Generally nothing; however, your skincare will be less potent. When a molecule is made, equal amounts of the l-molecule and d-molecule are created. So, if your skincare range claims to have 10ml of Vitamin E in it, but the Vitamin E has not been sorted to get the chirally correct molecule then your skincare will actually contain 5ml of active Vitamin E and 5ml of a molecule that does absolutely nothing – so your skincare is half as potent as you expect. …
Therefore, there is no reason to be concerned if you are using skincare that is not chirally correct that it could be doing you damage, just be aware that it may not be as potent or effective as you think.

Bottom Line:  Like so many subject that I present in this blog there are truly opposing perspectives here on the same subject.  I think that at the moment I am inclined to agree with those who say that being chirally correct has no place in effective skincare products.  What do you think?  Please share your opinion below.

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Baking Soda – A Great Natural Exfoliant? November 26, 2012

I’m not someone who usually makes her own skincare products except for the occasional body scrub from sugar and oil (you can read about my misadventures in trying to make my own beauty products here).  I am very diligent about facial exfoliation though it has never occurred to me make my own facial exfoliant.  Yet again and again I’ve seen baking soda recommended as a DIY exfoliant (even Arm & Hammer recommends you do this).  So is it really ok to put baking soda on your face and scrub away?

I’ll turn to The Beauty Brains for some explanations from their post Is Baking Soda an Effective Natural Exfoliant?:

Baking soda (aka sodium bicarbonate) falls under the category of physical exfoliants, and what makes it especially effective is that it is a fine, yet hard powder, making it highly effective at removing the dead skin cells without causing excessive irritation. Chemically speaking, baking soda is acid neutral, and acts a mild buffer which means that it has the ability to neutralize other substances it comes in contact with that are acidic (like vinegar) or basic (like soap). Many people also believe that baking soda has cleaning properties; however, scientific evidence has shown that this is due to baking soda’s physically abrasive nature, and it is not an effective anti-microbial agent.

Exfoliating with baking soda

To reap the benefits of exfoliating with baking soda, add a teaspoon of the powder to your facial cleanser, mix well, and massage into skin like you would with a commercial exfoliant. Do this 2-3 times a week or as per your regular exfoliation routine. If you notice that your skin is red or irritated afterwards, try putting in less baking soda and use the treatment at night so that your skin has a chance to get back to normal while you sleep. Remember to always moisturize afterwards!

Baking soda as an acne treatment

While there are numerous testimonials in which people claim that baking soda cleared up their acne when nothing else helped, please remember to take these statements with a grain of salt. We don’t know what else that person had changed in their skin regimen; it’s possible that besides using baking soda they also started drinking more water, switched their cleanser or moisturizer, or maybe even changed the number of times they cleanse their skin per day. Seasonal changes and stress levels also have a very strong impact on how much and how noticeable your acne may be. However, there is some evidence that baking soda may be beneficial in treating acne since just the exfoliating properties of baking soda alone lead to an increased skin cell turnover rate making your acne look less noticeable. Plus, baking soda’s neutralizing properties maybe reduce redness of the skin also reducing the appearance of acne. If you want to try using baking soda as an acne treatment, my recommendation is to use one teaspoon of it in your cleanser at night to exfoliate your skin, as well as make a thicker paste of just baking soda and water and apply it to the acne as a mask for 5-10 minutes or overnight (beware, when it dries the mixture will crumble so you might up wake up to a messy pillow).

The Beauty Brains bottom line

In summary, all signs point to baking soda being an excellent and cheap physical exfoliant. It is ph neutral and a fine powder, which means that it will be gentle on your skin. Baking soda may also be useful in treating acne when made into a paste and applied to the affected areas although there is not as much scientific evidence to back that up.

(As an aside I want to mention that I was actually taught, though I never tried it, while in esthetics school that if we didn’t have another way to exfoliate skin we could use a mixture of baking soda and water.)

I thought for the purposes of this post I should try exfoliating with baking soda.  I added about a half a tablespoon of baking soda to my gentle cleanser one night and gently scrubbed away.  I found the baking soda felt very harsh on my skin, too harsh almost, but my skin did feel very soft afterwards – if only for that night.  Because I found the baking soda too  harsh I would think twice before using it again.  (I should mention that I use prescription Retin-A on a regular basis so my skin tends to be more sensitive to exfoliating products)

Bottom Line:  As long as you aren’t using a lot of other exfoliating products you can try baking soda a few times a week as a mild scrub to exfoliate.  Just keep in mind that a scrub will remove surface dead skin cells and will not penetrate into your pores in order to unclog pores or dissolve excess oil.  I would definitely not believe the internet hype that using baking soda cures acne.  Keep in mind what The Beauty Brains had to say above about that phenomena.

Further Reading:

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Why Does Mineral Oil Have Such A Bad Reputation? November 5, 2012

A very long time ago a reader asked me to address the issue of mineral oil in my blog.  I am just now getting around to writing this post.  My apologizes to that reader.

Let me start off with information about mineral oil that I found on the holistic lifestyle website The Chalk Board:

Toxic Tuesday Ingredient Focus: Mineral Oil (aka Paraffinum Liquidum)

WHAT IS IT? An extremely cheap & common petroleum derivative (refined crude oil petrochemical) which is found in 98% of skincare products sold in the US.

HEALTH RISK: Petrochemicals contain neurotoxins which damage the nervous system. Mineral oil forms a film on the surface of your skin that can not be absorbed, thereby blocking the pores and the skin’s natural respiration. It traps dirt and bacteria and blocks the absorption of vitamins/minerals/botanicals that may be in a product. John Hopkins University named mineral oil in cosmetics and moisturizers as the number two cause of aging (first being direct exposure to sun). It may also cause allergic reactions and dryness, as well as promote acne and other skin disorders.

Oy!  If I took everything I read at face value I would be throwing out my beauty products right now instead of writing this post.  Scary information, right?  Extreme information, right?  (I recently did a training with a very well known international skincare company during which the trainer repeated the same information about mineral oil that you see above)  So what’s the truth about mineral oil?  What was written above or is it something else?

In his book The New Ideal in Skin Health Dr. Carl Thornfeldt devotes three pages just to the topic of mineral oil.  He debunks the information above (pages 377-380):

One of the most widely used ingredients for moisturizers is the first controversial ingredient we will cover.  Petrolatum (also known as petroleum jelly and white petroleum) and mineral oil have been much maligned from “natural” based cosmetics companies, internet consumer sites and other environmental groups.  These sources erroneously claim that petrolatum and mineral oil are terrible ingredients because they come from crude oil (petroleum) which causes harm to the skin by forming an occlusive oil film, thereby “suffocating” it.  Unfortunately for these sources, this claim defies known human biology. In the body oxygen is transported to the skin by the blood supply, and then diffuses into the epidermal cells – oxygen is not absorbed directly from the air.  Herbal mucilages have been used for wound healing to soothe, protect and heal damaged or abnormal skin for centuries.  These mucilages naturally mimic the occlusive activity of petrolatum and mineral oil.  However, the “suffocating” claim is never used to dissuade use of those types of products.

Mineral oil, also known as soft paraffin, is the liquid form of petrolatum.  All of these ingredients consist of mixtures of hydrocarbons that are byproducts of crude petroleum distillation; thus they are all actually organic, natural ingredients. …

Mineral oil reduces TEWL (transepidermal water loss) by 40%, is equally as occlusive as coconut oil and more occlusive than linoleic acid, yet it does not induce acne.  Mineral oil and petrolatum provide inhibition of excessive inflammatory activity superior to 1% hydrocortisone is treating soap induced contact irritant dermatitis conducted by this author.  It has also been documented these ingredients have anticarcinogenic and mild antibacterial effects.

Many of these misconceptions regarding safety and efficacy of these ingredients are directly related to the quality of the grade.  Technical grade is the least unpurified form of the oil, and is commonly used by machinists to lubricate engines and equipment.  It is known to induce contact reactions in 10-50% of the machinists.  Cosmetic grade is a more purified option.  The highest standard is United States Pharmacopeia (USP) pharmaceutical grade, which indicates that it is essentially free of impurities.  …

Prescription pharmaceuticals and some cosmetic companies do use the highest quality USP grade in their marketed formulations.  Cosmetic companies are not required to use USP grade, even though USP grade mineral oil and petrolatum are considered the safest, least irritating moistutrizing ingredients ever found in the skin care industry.  In addition, they are commonly used as a “vehicle” for most substances used in patch testing by dermatologists due to their nonirritating and nonsensitizing properties.  This is a medical diagnostic process used to determine if one is allergic to ingredients in products applied to the skin.

Neither pharmaceutical nor cosmetic grades of petrolatum or mineral oil are considered comedogenic when using the standardized comedogenicity testing.  With the highest comedogenicity rating at 5, these ingredients have tested at a 0-1 rating.  This rating indicates the increased impurities in lower grades appear to be the major cause of adverse reactions including comedogenicity, contact irritant and allergic dermatitis. …

As to claims that people react negatively even to USP grade petrolatum or mineral oil, to date all compounds used in skin care have at least one documented positive patch test response.  Even purified water applied to the skin may activate hives in people afflicted with a disease called aquagenic pruritus.  Thus, while safety testing is imperative, there can always be the exceptional patient that may react negatively to even the safest known ingredient.

If that information isn’t enough to persuade you that mineral oil in skincare products is ok let me present some more evidence.  The Beauty Brains debunked five long-held myths about mineral oil in their post The Top 5 Myths About Mineral Oil – Part 1:

We often see the advice that people should avoid mineral oil at all costs.

This idea is propagated by numerous “natural” companies. Well, this advice is just bogus. It’s not based on any scientific studies. Mineral oil is a perfectly fine ingredient and has been used in cosmetics for over 100 years.

Here are the top 5 Myths that companies tell people to make them afraid of mineral oil.

Mineral Oil Myths

1. Mineral oil is contaminated with carcinogens. While it’s true that some petroleum derivatives contain carcinogenic materials (like some polycyclic aromatic compounds) the mineral oil that is used in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry is highly refined and purified. It’s purity is even regulated by the US FDA and other international regulatory agencies. There is absolutely no evidence that cosmetic grade mineral oil causes cancer. And there has been plenty of testing done to ensure that fact. We could find no published reports in any of the dermatological or medical journals indicating a link between mineral oil and any forms of cancer.

2. Mineral oil dries the skin and causes premature aging. Mineral oil works as a barrier between the skin and the air. It acts as an occlusive agent which prevents water from naturally leaving your body through your skin. It will not dry out your skin or cause premature aging. Quite the contrary. It will provide moisturization.

3. Mineral oil robs the skin of vitamins. Since many vitamins are oil based, people assume that mineral oil will pull them out of your skin. There is no legitimate scientific evidence that this is true. Mineral oil has no effect on the vitamin levels in your skin.

4. Mineral oil prevents absorption of collagen from collagen moisturizers. Collagen in your skin lotions and moisturizers is too big to actually penetrate your skin. Therefore, mineral oil will have no effect on whether the collagen gets absorbed or not.

5. Mineral oil causes acne. In some people, mineral oil can exacerbate acne problems. However, most people will not experience any problems.

So, if it is not for safety concerns, why would companies be telling you to avoid mineral oil? We’ll look at that in part 2 of our series.

The Beauty Brains Bottom line. Mineral oil is NOT bad for you or your skin. It is one of the best ingredients available in skin lotions and moisturizers. It is also 100% natural taken directly out of our dear Mother Earth.

Next I’ll turn to the blog Lab Muffin to further debunk a few mineral oil myths (From the posts – Is Mineral Oil Dangerous? Part 1 and Is Mineral Oil Dangerous? Part 2):

Mineral oil comes from crude oil… I’m not putting gasoline on my face! – FALSE

While it’s true that mineral oil comes from crude oil, it doesn’t mean that its properties are the same, or even similar to gasoline!

Crude oil is formed when biological material (from algae and plankton) gets buried under the sea. Over millions of years, the pressure transforms the carbon-containing compounds in the once-living tissue into the carbon-containing compounds which make up crude oil.

Crude oil contains lots of different things, mainly made up of carbon and hydrogen only. After it’s been pumped out of the ground, it has to be refined to separate out the different bits.

Apart from mineral oil and gasoline, things that come from crude oil include paraffin wax (found in most candles, and in cheese wax) and asphalt/bitumen. And as you know, candles and gasoline and asphalt are completely different! So just because it comes from the same stuff at the beginning doesn’t mean it’ll look, act or be the same.

Mineral oil is comedogenic and will make you break out – FALSE

Mineral oil appears on a large range of “comedogenic ingredients” lists. Once upon a time (well, in the 1970s), cosmetic companies noticed that a lot of women started getting acne from their makeup products. One scientific study on comedogenicity used the inside of a rabbit’s ear to test whether products caused pimples, and this quickly became the test of choice. However, later on, they found that sometimes the results on a rabbit and the results on a human were different. (Lab Muffin loves rabbits, and this made her sad, because an awful lot of rabbits got ear pimples for no good reason!)

A later study tested products containing between 0 and 30% mineral oil, and found that it wasn’t comedogenic on human skin. The best thing about mineral oil is that (unlike a lot of plant oils) it’s incredibly stable – it doesn’t oxidise, and stays liquid. In other words, it’s not likely to clump up later on, after reacting with oxygen and light, and clog your pores! However, this doesn’t mean that it won’t cause you to break out, since different people respond differently to certain ingredients.

It just sits on top of skin – it doesn’t moisturise! It suffocates your skin – PARTLY FALSE

There are three ways in which moisturisers moisturise – occlusive (covering your skin up so water can’t evaporate), humectant (grabbing water and keeping it next to your skin) and emollient (makes your skin feel soft) actions. Mineral oil is an excellent occlusive, so yes, it does just sit on top of your skin – but it definitely moisturises! In fact, scientists often use it as a standard for comparing other moisturisers. Of course, if you have dry skin to begin with, just putting mineral oil isn’t going to work so well (if there’s not enough water to begin with, there’s not much water to keep in!).

As to whether skin can be suffocated – skin is porous, but it doesn’t really need to “breathe”. What people usually mean by “letting your skin breathe” means washing off the dirty gunk from your pores… dirt can stick to mineral oil, just like it can stick to anything else on your face.

Because mineral oil is really good at being an occlusive, it’s possible that it can block certain nutrients in your cream from reaching your skin – the solution is to put on the active ingredient first, then cover it up with the mineral oil, and the mineral oil will keep that stuff on your skin.

Lastly, now that my sources have debunked the different myths about mineral oil perhaps you are asking yourself – if mineral oil is good for our skin why do I need another moisturizer?  Once again I’ll turn to The Beauty Brains to explain (from Why Can’t I Just Use Mineral Oil?):

Yashendwirh says…I’ve read here and several other blogs that mineral oil, vitamin-E and a few other very inexpensive products are both hydrating and non-comedogenic. Would that make them effective every day go-to moisturizers? That said, what is the benefit of spending anything more than the couple bucks it costs for these products on expensive moisturizer formulas?  Even inexpensive ones that are $10-$20 seem expensive compared to the $3 it costs for an absolutely enormous bottle of mineral oil? We know it works, why would we throw our money at anything else? Would I be doing my skin a massive disservice by forgoing my current moisturizer (clinique gel) in favor of using mineral oil long term?

The Right Brain replies

You certainly won’t be hurting your skin by using mineral oil but you may be missing out on some of the benefits of a fully formulated product. Here are three examples:

1. Balanced moisture
Fully formulated lotions contain water and ingredients that can attract water to your skin like glycerin. You won’t get that with just mineral oil.

2. Non-greasy feel
Compared to modern lotion formulas which feel nice and soft on the skin mineral oil can leave you feeling a bit, well, oily.

3. Special function ingredients
Creams and lotions can deliver sunscreens and retin-A which are both important anti-aging ingredients that you won’t get from just mineral oil.

Bottom Line:  Don’t let mineral oil scare you.  It’s an effective and worthwhile skincare ingredient.

Further Reading:

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Ingredient Spotlight: Witch Hazel October 28, 2012

Filed under: Ingredients — askanesthetician @ 7:00 am
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Allure places it in its ingredient hall of fame, Paula Begoun says to avoid using products that contain it.  So what who should you believe?  What does witch hazel do for your skin?

Let’s begin with some facts about witch hazel:  it’s a very commonly used cosmetic ingredient that comes from the bark and leaves of the hamamelis virginiana plant.  I learned the following from the book The New Ideal in Skin Health (pages 318-319):

Topically used to treat cutaneous inflammation, swelling, itching, injury, hemorrhoids, insect bites and stings, minor burns and irritations.  Active elements include bitters, essential oils, gallic acid, and tannins.

Types of Products:  Skin fresheners, astringents, local anesthetic, vein cosmeceuticals

Functions:  Anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, astringent, elastin synthesis stimulant

Adverse Effects:  The alcohol content contained in witch hazel can be a skin irritant

Clinical Studies:

a.  One clinical study shows Witch Hazel to be less effective in reducing UV-induced erythema than 1% hydrocortisone.

b.  It was shown to reduce inflammation and pruritis in 36 atopic dermatitis patients.

Why does Allure love witch hazel so much?  In the Daily Beauty blog post entitled Ingredient Hall of Fame: Witch Hazel they explain

For centuries, witch hazel has been known for its soothing and cleansing properties, but right now, one of our Web editors is going completely nuts over the stuff. While searching for an alternative to her over-drying cleanser, she tried a witch hazel-infused one, and it did the trick, degreasing her skin, without drying or stripping it.

“Witch hazel is a natural astringent,” says Kenneth Beer, a cosmetic dermatologist in West Palm Beach. “It removes surface debris and oil, and has a long history of safety and efficacy.” Hmm. No wonder why it’s in tons of popular face cleansers, treatments, and atomizers.  …

Bottom line: Witch hazel is the Madonna of skincare ingredients—it takes many forms and has been around forever.

But before you rush out to buy some witch hazel keep a few things in mind.  My Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients has the following to say about witch hazel (I have the 6th edition of the book, page 546):

One of the most widely used cosmetic ingredients, it is a skin freshener, local anesthetic, and astringent made from the leaves and/or twigs of Hammamelis virginiana.  Collected in the autumn.  Witch hazel has an ethanol content of 70 to 80 percent and a tannin content of 2 to 9 percent.  Witch hazel water, which is what you buy at the store, contains 15 percent ethanol.

[So then the question really becomes – what does ethanol do to your skin?  Well that readers is a whole other debate that I really can’t get into here in this post (or would want to).  Cutting to the chase – ethanol is an alcohol and there are varying opinions about how alcohols (we aren’t talking about alcohol that you drink, by the way) impact the skin.  I would suggest reading the following blog posts from Future Derm for more information about ethanol and about alcohol in skincare products:  Why Alcohol in Skin Care is Safe, Despite What Paula Begoun Says and Is Ethanol in Skin Care Products Safe?)]

Just how is witch hazel transformed into an ingredient that can be used in cosmetic products.  The Beauty Brains explain in their post How Does Witch Hazel Work?:

In its natural form witch hazel is a shrub that can grow to be 10 feet tall, or more. It has oval leaves and slender petals. In autumn,  the plant is harvested by cutting the branches to the ground and chipping the wood and leaves into little bite size pieces. This mulch is then transferred to large stainless-steel vats where it is steam distilled for thirty-six hours. After “stewing” the extracted mixture is condensed and filtered and ethanol is added as a preservative. (Depending on the exact processing, the witch hazel may contain more or less tannins. The mixture of plant parts also controls the tannin content – bark contains 31 times more tannin than the leaves.) The resulting liquid is bottled and sold to drug stores as “witch hazel.”

Paula Begoun’s objections to products containing witch hazel rests on the fact that you don’t know what you are getting in your product and because of possible skin irritation.  She explains:

Commonly used plant extract that can have potent antioxidant properties (Sources: Phytotherapy Research, June 2002, pages 364–367; and Journal of Dermatological Science, July 1995, pages 25–34) and some anti-irritant properties (Source: Skin Pharmacology and Applied Skin Physiology, March-April 2002, pages 125–132). However, witch hazel’s high tannin content (and tannin is a potent antioxidant), can also be irritating when used repeatedly on skin because it constricts blood flow. The bark of the witch hazel plant has higher tannin content than the leaves. Steam distillation for producing witch hazel water removes the tannins, but the plant’s astringent qualities are what most believe give it benefit. Alcohol is added during the distillation process, the amount typically being 14–15%. Witch hazel water is distilled from all parts of the plant, so in that sense you never know what you’re getting, though the alcohol content remains (Source:; Depending on the form of witch hazel, you’re either exposing skin to an irritating amount of alcohol (which causes free radical damage and collagen breakdown), tannins, or both. Moreover, witch hazel contains the fragrance chemical eugenol, which is another source of irritation.

Personally I remember drying my face out with the use of a witch hazel astringent when I was a teenager with acne.  Now I know that the added ingredients in the product caused my skin to feel dry and tight not the witch hazel itself.  As a stand alone ingredient witch hazel has many skincare benefits.  When buying a product containing witch hazel look to see what the witch hazel is mixed with to make sure that you are getting the real benefits of this ingredient and not suffering side effects from the other ingredients in the product.

Further Reading:

Besides for the articles mentioned above I also suggest reading:  Spotlight On:  Witch HazelFuture Derm



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Time to Stop Spray Tanning? August 6, 2012

Filed under: Ingredients,skin cancer — askanesthetician @ 5:00 am
Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve recommended several times in this blog that if you want to tan you need to fake it.  I’ve discussed different ways to get a faux tan including the use of bronzers, self-tanners, and spray tans.  But as many of my readers may already know the safety of spray tans has recently been called into question.

In June of this year ABC News broadcast their investigation into the dangers of DHA, the ingredient in spray tans and self tanners that gives you your tan, when inhaled.  Basically, if inhaled DHA could be a possible carcinogenic.  Let me be clear – you need to inhale DHA, like you would do while receiving a spray tan, in order for it to pose a health risk.  Applying a self-tanning lotion to your body with DHA will not pose a cancer threat since you do not inhale the lotion through your nose, mouth, or eyes (or at least you shouldn’t if you apply it correctly).

According to the ABC News report the FDA has never approved the use of DHA in spray tans, but does allow its use in self-tanning lotions and creams, yet has not banned its use either in spray tanning.  There is also little to no oversight over the tanning industry (a fact I have lamented here in my blog more than once) so that this industry can pretty get away with saying whatever they want about the safety of tanning beds (which don’t kid yourself are never safe) and spray tans.  The ABC investigation included an undercover reporter who went to various tanning salons and inquired about the safety of spray tanning.  Her concerns were dismissed repeatedly.

The New York Magazine piece about this controversy quotes one of the doctors seen in the ABC News report:

“I have concerns,” said Dr. Rey Panettieri, a toxicologist and lung specialist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. “The reason I’m concerned is the deposition of the tanning agents into the lungs could really facilitate or aid systemic absorption — that is, getting into the bloodstream. These compounds in some cells could actually promote the development of cancers or malignancies,” he said, “and if that’s the case then we need to be wary of them.”

Back in the seventies, when DHA (short for dihydroxyacetone, the chemical ingredient that darkens skin) was first approved by the FDA, it was only meant to be an ingredient in tanning creams. No one foresaw the popularity of spray tanning today, which obviously disperses DHA into the air (and, by proxy, into your lungs if you’re nearby).

“DHA should not be inhaled or ingested” today. It tells consumers on its website, “The use of DHA in ‘tanning’ booths as an all-over spray has not been approved by the FDA, since safety data to support this use has not been submitted to the agency for review and evaluation.” The agency advises consumers who spray tan they are “not protected from the unapproved use of this color additive” if they are inhaling the mist or allowing it to get inside their body. The agency recommends, “Consumers should request measures to protect their eyes and mucous membranes and prevent inhalation.”

While further studies will be conducted for more conclusive results (the original data was formulated after testing DHA on nonhuman cells), the bottom line is, be pale. You’ll look and feel much better in the long run.

(Now Spray Tanning Might Cause Cancer, TooNew York Magazine)

I always like to present two sides to every controversial topic I bring up here in my blog so I was interested to read a rebuttal to the ABC News report on the esthetician centered publication website Skin Inc. in the article Is Spray Tanning Safe?:

Many questions have recently been posed regarding a story featured by Good Morning America/ABC News regarding the safety of spray tanning. Kelly Richardson of B.Bronz offers her response to the report, and provides some tips and advice when discussing this with clients, employees and others.

The report, information and interpretations

The study that was used in the report presented by the media was done by the European Commission Scientific Study on Consumer Safety. This study was published in 2010.

The news media did not differentiate between data that was obtained for automated spray booths and for hand-held turbine devices. The hand-held turbine devices are considered to be safe and do not need/require many of the safety precautions that the automated spray booths require.

Spray tanning technique

The techniques that should be used are designed to minimize dihydroxyacetone (DHA) exposure to the clients. The suggested treatment time consists of less than two minutes of spraying with approximately 50 mL of product. The spray pattern should be designed to push the overspray to the ground, minimizing it and, lastly, it is always recommended that you do not run fans during or after the treatment, as it promotes inhalation. Also recommended is using an extraction fan if you do not have proper room ventilation.


The report by the European Commission shows that high levels of DHA should not be inhaled by either the technician or the client. Most “rapid-developing” products that are on the market have active ingredient levels of 14-22%, which are considered too high for inhalation.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)

DHA (the same active ingredient in every self-tanner, spray tan or sunless tanning treatment) has been approved for decades by the FDA for cosmetic use. As there have been no studies on inhalation and exposure done directly by the FDA (even though the European Commission has done studies), they advise that the products should not be used in the mucous membranes. It is a good idea to have this verbiage in your client release form or available for your clients to review.

Additionally, the FDA has not studied DHA, and pregnancy or nursing. It is recommended you have clients who are pregnant or nursing to ask or get permission from their doctors before starting any tanning regimen.

Safety equipment

It is important to use a face mask or other protection when spraying. If you are spraying, especially multiple clients in a poorly ventilated area, it is crucial. Keep items stocked at your skin care facility, including lip balm, nose plugs and silicone covers for the nipple areas.

After having discussions yesterday with many spray tanners, and professionals in the industry from insurance companies and other manufacturers, most had serious questions as to whether or not eye coverings used in tanning salons for UV protection would protect for spray tanning. It was our general consensus that these products do not, and better protection would be having the customer keep their eyes closed during the treatment. I would discuss with your insurance agent and find out what they require and recommend you to have on hand for your customers.

Of course, the ABC News report gave me a lot to think about.  Anytime I have a client who tells me how much they love tanning (either on the beach, by the pool, or in a tanning booth) I recommend that they get a spray tan instead.  I guess I should stop giving out that recommendation or recommend that they wear a mask, nose plugs, and goggles while receiving the spray tan.

Please share your thoughts below on this controversy.

Further Reading:



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