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

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 198. I'm your host Valerie George, and joining me today is my co-host, Perry Romanowski!

On today’s show we will be answering questions about…

Lucas’ pawpaw ointment, cosmeceuticals, whether nail polish slows nail growth, copper peptides and whether shikaki belongs in your hair.

I do want to make a correction on Episode 195, where we were discussing the methodology that is used in the United States to measure sunscreen efficacy. I had stated 2g/cm2 for sunscreen application, and I misspoke on the units. It’s 2mg/cm2.

Well, on today's episode we're going to do something we haven’t done before, an all audio show! <Valerie tells audience how to submit an audio question>

But first, let’s cover some of this week’s beauty industry news!

Beauty Science News

How to Get Rid of a Hickey: 7 Easy Hacks That Actually Work

  1. Reduce swelling with a cold spoon. Coldness reduces swelling, but if this isn’t performed immediately, doing this won’t do you any good!
  2. Speed up the healing process with aloe vera. There have been mixed studies with aloe vera assisting wound healing from burns, but no studies exist that show aloe vera helps with getting rid of bruises.
  3. Soothe your skin with a banana peel. The recommendation behind this was that bananas are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants, so it has to be good to rub the inside of the peel on your skin.
  4. Promote circulation with a warm compress. This actually is helpful, but only once the bruise has stopped forming. It’s recommended to apply a cold compress upon the initial bruising.
  5. Apply a vitamin C cream. Does nothing for bruises, and the article actually said, “don’t expect a miracle.”
  6. Eat vitamin K-rich foods. Like kale, broccoli, spinach. The article says it helps your body absorb clots of pooled blood. That’s not actually how it works, but Vitamin K does aid in clotting. You’d probably be better using a topical Vitamin K cream at the site versus diet since the body does not readily store lots of Vitamin K.
  7. Promote blood circulation with a toothbrush. This method actually involves massaging the bruise, once it’s formed, forcing the clots to break up and allow the blood to dispel.

News 2

Are anti-aging products going to become illegal?


There are two lawsuits that are making their way through the courts that could have a huge impact on the cosmetic industry.

L’Oreal is being sued by a plaintiff who says RevitaLift products are unlawful drugs.

And Beiersdorf is looking to have a case completed that was brought up against the Nivea Skin Firming Hydration Body lotion.  This one has been around for 5 years

The lawsuits are trying to get a ruling on whether companies can claim “skin firming” and “anti-wrinkle” on products marketed as cosmetics.

They claim that products are unlawfully marketed drugs.

Incidentally, there is already a way for companies to get drug products like these on the market, that is the NDA process. It’s just costly and time consuming so companies generally don’t want to do it.

The companies are trying to get the cases dismissed on the grounds of the plaintiffs not having standing. They note that the FDA has not done anything to stop the companies from marketing the products and the FDA has even declined a citizen petition back in 2015.

What we think…

Beauty Questions

Question 1

Sarah asks about Lucas’s paw paw ointment.  It seems like a petroleum jelly product.  Is there any research that says paw paw does something that petroleum jelly doesn’t?

So, I looked into this product a bit and it does appear to me to just be a glorified version of vaseline which means it is mostly petroleum jelly or better know as petrolatum.  It really bugs me that a bunch of articles that I saw written about this product is that it is made with petroleum. Petroleum is not the same thing as petrolatum.  Petrolatum is a perfectly safe ingredient that is used in many topical medications and cosmetics. In fact, it is the gold standard for preventing transepidermal water loss.

Composition: The company makes the claim that it is 39 mg/g of fermented papaw. So people have taken that to mean that it is 4% fermented paw paw and 96% petrolatum. I have no reason to think that’s not true. Therefore, essentially the primary benefit you’re getting from the product is from the petrolatum.  Whether the papaw extract has any benefit is debatable.  I looked through the available research and saw nothing that showed it gave any impressive benefit.  


Carica papaya

0.1 mg of potassium sorbet

It was shown to be helpful for treating tape worms but I’m not sure why that would be beneficial for skin.

I will caution that there is some evidence the papaw ferment can cause irritation or allergic reactions. This is one of the problems with papaya extracts and natural ingredients in general.

I’m sure this is a perfectly fine, quaint product that has been around for a long time and people’s grandparents recommend it because it provides some benefit (primarily because of the petrolatum). Then there is the whole mystic that goes with the historical product and they have their fermenting process that adds to the allure.  I’d say from a functional standpoint you can get all the same benefits just using petrolatum. You just won’t get the story.

They also make these claims on their website about their product...

“Our product does not contain polyplasdone, polyvinylpyrrolidone, talc, shellac, palm oil, glycerin or sodium lauryl sulphate.”

It’s too bad a company has to result to this kind of nonsense claims….this is just chemical fearmongering. No one would put SLS in a topical product like this….


Question 2

What does the term Cosmeceutical mean? Is it just marketing? What is the difference between cosmeceuticals and standard products?

We can just riff on this one…

Here is what the FDA says about cosmeceuticals…

“The term "cosmeceutical" has no meaning under the law. While the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) does not recognize the term "cosmeceutical," the cosmetic industry uses this word to refer to cosmetic products that have medicinal or drug-like benefits.”


“The FD&C Act defines drugs as those products that cure, treat, mitigate or prevent disease or that affect the structure or function of the human body, if a product makes such claims it will be regulated as a drug. Cosmetics are intended to beautify, promote attractiveness, alter appearance or cleanse; they are not approved by FDA for sale nor are they intended to effect structure or function of the body. “


Question 3 (audio)

Does keeping nail polish on your nails help them to grow? I’ve heard that nail polish keeps the moisture locked in on your nail bed, helping nails grow faster, longer. She also wants to know if the gel nail polish that helps to strengthen and fortify your nails actually work?

Thanks, Lisa. This question addresses such a common myth that I hear perpetuated in the industry about the nail polish - nail relationship. There is nothing that a nail polish can actually do to change the physiology of the nail plate as it’s growing out of the nail bed. It can’t provide it nutrients, it can’t intrinsically strengthen the nail (and by that, make the nail stronger if you were to remove the polish), and it can’t make them actually grow faster. That’s up to your body!

What nail polish can do is keep nails from breaking, which gives them the appearance of being stronger or growing faster. That’s how the strengthen and fortify claim comes along; if you can provide that nails are breaking and chipping less, the nail must therefore be stronger from the application of the nail polish. It’s not actually giving the nail that property of strength, or locking in moisture. It’s just preventing breakage.

So, you certainly can use nail polish for less breakage of the nails, which will give you longer nails (because they’re not breaking), but disregard any fancy marketing claims related to vitamins, fortification, or nail growth.


Question 4 (audio)

Charlotte says - Are copper peptides an effective anti-aging ingredient?  Should I include it in my skin care regimen?  Copper peptides uglies?  Can they have the opposite effect making skin appear more aged?

We covered peptides way back in episode 55.   Copper peptides are a carrier / signalling peptide.

These peptides deliver trace elements, like copper and magnesium, which help with wound repair and enzymatic processes. These trace elements have been shown to improve pro-collagen synthesis, elasticity of skin, and overall skin appearance. For example,  a copper complex (called Lanin gel) which is made of amino acids glycine, histamine, and lysine ]is used in the treatment of diabetic neuropathic ulcers. This type of peptide is sometimes called a “penetrating peptide” or a “membrane transduction peptide.

Some benefits copper peptides are claimed to provide are “Anti-aging, anti-wrinkle, after-sun products, after skin resurfacing, skin moisturizer, hair growth stimulator”  

How it is supposed to work:  Promotes

1. Degradation of “extra-large” collagen aggregates—found in scars

2. Synsthesis of more regular collagen—found in normal skin

3. Production of elastin, proteoglycans, glycosaminoglycans p

4. Growth and migration of different cell types

5. Anti-inflammatory responses

6. Anti-oxidant responses

First, if it actually did these things it would be an illegal drug. So if it is working, it is illegal. And companies make it a point to not make any specific claims. They’ll say “anti-aging” rather than “increase collagen production.”

But there are a number of double blind studies that showed some benefit to using a product with a copper peptide versus the placebo control.

“GHK-Cu improved skin laxity, clarity, and appearance, reduced fine lines, coarse wrinkles, and mottled hyperpigmentation, and increased skin density and thickness”

“Compared to vitamin K cream, cream with GHK-Cu significantly improved fine lines, wrinkles, skin thickness, density, viscoelasticity, and the overall appearance of the eyelids “  So maybe it would work better as compared to vitamin K.

Of course, just because something beats a placebo doesn’t mean it was a good placebo. I didn’t get to see the control product but typically they make something that doesn’t work too good so when it does show some benefits with the treatment, you can talk about it in advertising.

Should you include it?  I don’t know. You might find copper peptides helpful but from a consumer standpoint, I doubt you will see much benefit. If you are using a good moisturizer, copper peptides are not going to show a better effect over that, in my opinion.

As far as the “uglies” I couldn’t find any evidence of that either. I suppose if it really did degrade collagen then it would have potential to cause problems with over use. I’m just not convinced by anything I’ve seen that it would do that in practice.  …


Question 5 - Audio

Misty - Shakaki DIY recipe for hair. Does it have any effect on hair? And is it safe?

Shikakai is a fruit extract “Acacia Concinna Fruit Extract” that has been used by Indian women for generations in their hair routines due to the high antioxidant content of this extract, and if it’s used to cleanse, likely contains saponins. The pod, which contains the fruit, is removed from the shrub. It is dried and pulverized into a powder. After wetting it again to make it into a paste, it’s applied to the hair. It’s known for promoting hair growth and preventing dandruff. The name of the fruit actually translates as “fruit for the hair” according to one source.

The CIR reviewed the safety of acacia extracts, and mentioned in their safety analysis that it was reported that brands use shikakai for cleansing, stimulating and astringent properties, where the astringent properties provide toning of the scalp and conditioning of the hair.

Unfortunately, most of the benefits of this fruit are based on folklore and ignore the genetic propensity for Indian women to have strong, lustrous hair.

One study was done in the Journal of Cosmetic Science by a botany research group in India, on whether or not Shikakai, amongst other oils, could prevent the proliferation of two different fungi into the hair fiber; shikakai actually favored fungi penetration.

Another study looked at formation of dreadlocks, and matted hair, in a patient. This study was published in the International Journal of Dermatology. The patient had noticed her hair forming matted dreadlocks just 3 hours after washing her hair with an herbal soap containing Shikakai. The matted hair eventually became has hard as a stone. The article noted that the cause of the dreadlocking was undetermined, but it did note that women, in India, where the authors were located, often boiled the extract and applied it to their hair because - presumably - it keeps the hair soft, black and shiny.

And lastly, the YouTube video where a user made her own shikakai mask, got it in her eye, and had to go to the emergency room, clearly shows that you should probably just stick to conventional beauty products, unless you know what you’re doing. (Who knows who is making these extracts?!) There are no proven benefits to making your own shikakai treatment, and all benefits are based on folklore and hearsay. I would recommend to stick to products that have been widely studied and have a proven benefit on the hair.


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