Hi, I'm Perry and you're listening to the Beauty Brains.

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Hello and welcome to the Beauty Brains, a show where real scientists answer your beauty questions and give you an insider's look at the beauty product industry. This is episode 197. I'm your host Perry Romanowski and it’s a solo show today. Valerie is traveling and Sarah Bellum is working. So, it’s just me.

On today's episode I’m going to be answering your beauty questions about

Whether Vaping is bad for your skin,

If inverse hair conditioning is beneficial  and

Whether you need to worry about emulsifiers in skin products

But first, how about a few beauty industry news stories that struck my fancy.

Beauty Science News

Sunday Riley - https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/stephaniemcneal/sunday-riley-fake-sephora-reviews-ftc

Here’s a story reported on by Buzzfeed - The FTC Said Sunday Riley Faked Sephora Reviews For Almost Two Years To Boost Sales

The Skincare brand Sunday Riley has agreed to settle with the FTC (that’s the federal trade commission who is responsible for policing advertising claims in the US) in regards to the FTC’s investigation into the writing and posting of fake reviews.  The FTC was tipped off by a whistleblower and concluded that

  1. The brand participated in crafting fake online reviews for products
  2. The brand downvoted negative reviews which would eventually be removed.
  3. Employees all the way up to the CEO Sunday Riley herself were posting fake reviews

Amazingly,iIn the settlement, the FTC did not impose any fine and it doesn’t even require the company to admit to wrongdoing.  

The settlement just means going forward, the company promises not to do it again and promises to give training to all its employees on the fact that posting fake reviews is against the law.

There were a couple of dissenting members on the FTC board who said this in their message about the settlement.

“Today’s proposed settlement includes no redress, no disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, no notice to consumers, and no admission of wrongdoing,” the statement says. “Sunday Riley and its CEO have clearly broken the law, and the Commission has ordered that they not break the law again. Unfortunately, the proposed settlement is unlikely to deter other would-be wrongdoers.”

I can’t say I disagree with that. If I recall, this is also the person who called herself a cosmetic chemist, but never actually got a degree in chemistry or had any formal training. Sadly, I see that more and more online. I guess it’s not exactly surprising the company chose to exaggerate the amount that people liked their products. I wonder how this will affect sales.

The beauty business is pretty competitive with new brands popping up all the time. However, the technology used to make beauty products really hasn’t changed significantly in the last 2 or 3 decades. It’s no wonder companies will pull these types of shenanigans to build up their brands. Their technology or product performance certainly can’t.

This just goes to show that you can’t always rely on the online reviews you read about products. While Sunday Riley got caught (because there was a whistleblower) you have to wonder how many other companies are out there that don’t get caught. Places like Amazon or Yelp don’t really have the ability to crack down on fake reviews. If a company is motivated enough to game the system, they’ll be able to do it.  I don’t know what you as consumers can do. Just be skeptical of beauty products with big claims and lots of accolades. The accolades may or may not be real.


J&J baby powder recall -  Next up is that J&J is in the news for talc again.  I tell you what, this company can’t catch a break. After losing multiple times in court for the unproven and not-scientifically supported conclusion that their talc has caused some people to develop cancer, now they’ve had to recall a lot of baby powder because the FDA found levels of asbestos in a sample.

The company has voluntarily recalled a single lot of the Johnsons Baby Powder that tested positive. And in this case, the word “lot” just refers to a production run. See when a company like J&J makes products they keep records of when things are made and what ingredients are used in them.  Then a code is usually put on the bottle which to the company can get them back to everything known about that product. That way if there are any problems they can do something like recall all the products from a single lot. Usually, a lot refers to a run of product made over the course of a single day or maybe two. I don’t know how big their production runs are but it likely represents a few thousand bottles.

J&J said that all their testing over the last 40 years of production has not found asbestos in talc used in the product.  Incidentally, talc and asbestos are often found together in nature. Talc is a mineral, mined from the earth, composed of magnesium, silicon, oxygen, and hydrogen. Asbestos is also a naturally occurring mineral made up of silicate but it has a different structure than talc. Asbestos has been shown to cause cancer while talc has not.

J&J is going to look into this but they are issuing the recall as “an abundance of caution.” Ya think…They deny any wrongdoing in this case. Hmmm.  I suppose it could have just been a quality control mistake. Big mistake though. Especially for a company that has had so much bad press about talc lately.

I don’t really know what to think about this. The reality is that J&J has no financial incentive to use substandard talc. They certainly know that they are a target and as this story proves, the FDA is monitoring them. So, this could have been some lazy QA person or a nefarious contract manufacturer or just…well I don’t know.

This is exactly the type of story however, that makes people not trust big companies. And it makes it easier to believe things that aren’t true like J&J baby powder causes cancer. It’s understandable that despite the available evidence, people are still skeptical about their products.

I guess I would say if you are using a baby powder product, J&J still is your safest choice. They are going to get the best suppliers and they’ll also have the highest safety standards. Even then, as this situation proves, they aren’t going to be perfect.

FDA Recall Roundup -  Since I’m on the subject of product safety, let’s talk about microbial contamination and some sternly worded letters from the FDA.  According to the FDA in September they issued a number of warning letters to companies including Color Art, Inc. who is dba as Solid Ink,  Dynamic Color, and Intenze Products Inc.

Color Art is a tattoo ink manufacturer and the FDA did an inspection of their inks. They found significant microbial contamination. Yikes!  They also found that the facilities where they make the products were unsanitary and that the products were mislabeld. Isn’t that fun?

The Dynamic Color company was also cited for microbial contamination of a tattoo ink product that they make.  The FDA said they detected in samples “the presence of the high-virulence pathogen Bacillus cereus.  B. cereus can cause serious skin infection and endocarditis through cutaneous exposure.” Nice - I wonder if they charge extra for that?    The FDA is waiting for a letter from them explaining how they are going to correct the situation.

And finally, Intenze Products has gotten a letter from the FDA because of tattoo ink microbial conatmination.  Jeez, aren’t these people using preservatives.  This is what happens when marketers get convinced to stop using preservatives.  Yikes!  Anyway, the FDA tested samples and found “samples contained the microorganisms Pseudomonas andersonii, Oligella ureolytica, and unidentified members of the genus Methylobacterium.” It’s a whole shmorgasboard of microbes!  And like the others, they have to send a response letter to the FDA to tell them how they are going to fix the situation.  And who says cosmetic products are regulated?  


Alright, on to some beauty questions

Beauty Questions

Question 1

Inverse conditioning:


The first question comes to us from our Facebook page.  Yes, we have a facebook page and on occasion, I actually check it. Probably not as much as I should but rest assured, if you post there, eventually we’ll see it.

Sophia says - Hi Beauty Brains! I was wondering about the “inverse hair conditioning  device” it’s kind of like a reverse hair straightener with ice and if it actually works?

Well, I hadn’t heard of this product before so I looked it up and found this product from Inverse.  

The say Inverse is a world-first product, that uses the power of sub-zero temperatures to improve the condition and appearance of your hair.  Their patented technology can be used on wet hair, dry hair, or as part of a deep conditioning treatment, and can be used on all hair types.

Alright, so it looks like a flat iron. But instead of heated plates they have these plates you cool off in the freeze and then they attached to the device via magnets. I looked up for any kind of patents I could find assigned to their parent company Roholm ltd but only found something related to using magnets to attach a heating plate to a styling device. They also had another filed in 2006 about a styling tool for sealing moisture into hair, by cooling the hair. But this was abandoned in 2019 so maybe that’s what they’re referring to?

Anyway, I watched their video and they show how to use the device. Cool the plates in your freezer, then attach to the device then run it through the hair that you’ve already dried to dampness. They are careful to say that you shouldn’t leave the product on your hair too long. No doubt if ice crystals formed in your hair shaft that would be bad.

I don’t know, this appears to be a total gimmick to me. There is no scientific evidence I could find that showed a cold treatment is beneficial for hair.  I guess it could be beneficial in that if you’re not using heat it would be less damaging.  But I really don’t see what extra benefit you would get out of this.  You have to towel dry so it doesn’t help much with drying.  In fact, heat actually dries faster than cold. You can just prove this to yourself by running a load of laundry in a dryer on cold dry or hot dry. Heat definitely dries faster.  

Then you use this product after you put in a leave-in conditioner so maybe it helps with spreading it through your hair. But I really don’t see much additional benefit there.

So the bottom line is that this is an unproven device and an unproven treatment that probably won’t do much for your hair except reduce damage because you’re not using a flat iron.  According to the company’s own consumer research 8 out of 10 women recommend the product to their friends. Wow. Well, that must be true <s>    


Question 2 (audio)

Is vaping as bad for your skin as smoking?...

Theoretically, smoking damages skin by creating free radicals.

The nicotine in cigarettes causes narrowing of the blood vessels in the outermost layers of your skin. This impairs blood flow to your skin. With less blood flow, your skin doesn't get as much oxygen and important nutrients, such as vitamin A.

Chemicals in cigarettes directly damage collagen and elastin which causes sagging and wrinkles.

Then they say the shape your mouth takes when sucking on a cigarette can also exacerbate lines.

Vaping doesn’t involve as many bad chemicals to inhale as cigarettes so in that way it probably does less damage than cigarettes. But the product does contain nicotine so you’re still going to have the problem of impaired blood flow and skin damage that way.  And then you never know what other chemicals are in vaping devices. A number of people have come down with unknown maladies as a result of vaping so that’s unsettling. I also learned that a lot of the ingredients put in vaping devices haven’t been tested for safety on humans. Some of these flavorants have been tested for safety in food but that’s not the same as inhaling.  

Overall, I would say that vaping is probably not as bad for your skin as smoking but it’s not good for your skin. It definitely has some of the same problems as cigarette smoking. I just think there isn’t enough long term data to say definitively whether vaping is less damaging to skin. Reportedly, it takes about 10 years of smoking to start to see skin damage.  At least that’s what the Mayo Clinic folks say.

So, you shouldn’t vape because it’s bad but it’s better than smoking. So if you are trying to quit smoking, vaping is still better, but it’s bad. And it is bad for your skin, as far as we can guess.

Question 3

The Slog says - All moisturizers have emulsifiers. Many articles state that they harm our skin barrier when we apply moisturizers. Do they really do that? Should we stop applying leave-on products that use emulsifiers?

Sign off:

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