Product Review: Neem Clay Mask

by Natalie Bell

There’s no shame in making yourself pretty while you work!

Being caught in your green facemask is a beauty cliché. I decided to one-up the old “you caught me during my private beauty routine,” slathered on Neem Clay Mask ($25.50,, and wandered around the office (you can see a picture on Nicki’s Friday update). Fortunately, not too many people caught me product testing. My own vanity aside — Neem Clay Mask promises to purify and draw out oils and impurities, leaving you with a fresh face.

Illite Clay

Clays are often used in skin care because they’re full of minerals. This pale green clay, also called French clay because of its origins, comes from recently deposited deep-sea sediments (Fangotherapy Fun). Originally, it was mined in France and sun dried, but the clay is now found just about everywhere (just because it says “French” clay doesn’t mean its from France). It has fine granules and a smooth feeling when wet. On study found it to have antibiotic properties that could work against a host of bacteria including E. coli and MRSA (Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy). Other studies have found this and also that illite clay increases the body’s ability to heal after exposure bacteria (The Clay Minerals Society). And it helps your skin in other ways. One study found that illite clay increased Tyrosinase, which acts as a melanin-inhibitor (Current Mincrobiology).

Sunflower Oil

Sunflower, (Suncokret), Croatia

Sunflower oil is better for your skin than olive oil. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sunflower oil is more effective than olive oil for hydrating. That’s because it contains 60% linoleic acid, which incorporates into skin lipids to hydrate and keeps hair from losing water (British Journal of Dermatology). It’s a source of vitamin E (Journal of the American Oil Chemist’s Society). It lessened transepidermal water loss, healed scaly lesions, and added lecithin in an extremely small — three-person — study (Journal of Investigative Dermatology).


Neem - the pharmacy tree

Neem has been used in folk medicine for its antibacterial and antimicrobial abilities. (Photo credit: Tatters:))

Neem, found in India, is an evergreen tree used often in folk medicine to treat skin conditions (Mosby’s Handbook of Herbs and Natural Supplements). It’s also been shown to be an anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial substance. That’s part of the reason it has been recently tested and shown to be effective as a spermacide and lice shampoo additive (Skin and Allergy News). The anti-fungal capabilities of neem were tested and found to be effective on pig skin (Indian Journal of Pathology and Microbiology). It’s also been classified as non-irritating (Consulting GmbH).

Personal Use and Opinions

Neem Clay Mask has a tingling sensation that might be too strong for some people.

Neem Clay Mask has a smooth texture with granular pieces. It tingles on your skin and the neem has a menthol smell — which both make it feel super fresh. That tingling lasts for a while and it’s a little intense, so if you don’t enjoy the sensation, this product isn’t for you. Once I washed it off, my skin felt softer and fresher. It was a little dry — clay is known for absorbing oils — so I needed to moisturize, but my skin looked bright. I would try it as a part of a regular routine.


Neem Clay Mask is a good purifying facial treatment with a lot of antibacterial and antifungal properties. It has hydrating properties, but the oil extraction leaves skin feeling a little tight. The scent is potent and matches the tingling sensation when you put the scrub on, which might be too much for sensitive skin. Overall, it’s a good choice for a face mask treatment.

Product Rating:  7/10

  • High or optimized concentration of key ingredients: 2/3
  • Unique formulation or new technology:  2/3
  • Value: 3/3
  • Sunscreen: 0/1


Aqua, Illite (French Clay), Helianthus Annus (Sunflower Oil), Azadirachta Indica (Neem Leaves), Cetearyl Alcohol & Ceteareth 20, Glycerin, Stearic Acid, Essential Oils, Phenoxyethanol & Caprylyl Glycol

About the author:  Natalie K. Bell is the former magazine editor of The Pitt News.  She has nearly five years of experience in print and communications.  She loves big sun hats and good grammar.  For more, please visit our About page.

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Are Eye Creams Necessary?

Gaze into my EYES and ignore my dark circles please.

Short Answer: Absolutely not.

There are several reasons why people—mostly sales associates and some dermatologists, claim that eye creams are crucial. In the following post, I will address these “reasons” and attempt to provide clarification and hopefully, a resolution on this confusing topic.

Reason #1: The skin around the eye area is thinner, more delicate, and has fewer oil glands, so it needs more care—in the form of more potent emollients, humectants, and antioxidants, etc.

Anatomy of the eye.

In a general sense, this claim is true. However, before going any further, we need to discuss the anatomy of the “eye area.” From what I’ve always understood and have been instructed to do by others, is to apply eye cream to both the eyelids and the outer periorbital area (OPOA), meaning the area around the eyes (under eye + brow bone + top of the cheekbone).

It’s important to note that the skin of the OPOA and that of the eyelids, are quite different. The skin of the OPOA, while much thinner than that of the rest of the face, still has many of the same features: Three main layers (epidermis, dermis, subcutaneous layer), and sebaceous glands (albeit less of them). The skin of the eyelid on the other hand has only two main layers (epidermis, dermis), no sebaceous glands (except those at the eyelash follicles), and at less than 1 mm thick (1), is even thinner than that of the OPOA.

Why is this important? Because too many times I’ve read information mixing up these two distinct skin parts and giving recommendations off of this incorrect combination. Now we’ve set the record straight.

More, More, More?

It turns out that the skin of the OPOA and the eyelids indeed does have fewer sebaceous or oil glands. Therefore, it is a valid claim for people to say that what is applied to these two areas generally needs to be more moisturizing (emollients) and hydrating (humectants). However, what about antioxidants? Here’s where the original “reason” falls through the cracks. You need antioxidants everywhere. Do you need more around the eye area? No. Think of it not as, “The eye area needs more antioxidants,” but as, “There can never be enough antioxidants on my skin.” If you apply additional antioxidants to the eye, why wouldn’t you apply it to the rest of the face? Ironically, application of too many antioxidants such as high concentrations of L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C), will more easily irritate the skin around the eye area, than if the same was done to the rest of the face.

Conclusion: So far, we’ve established that if required, a separate and “thicker” product can be applied to the eye area in place of the regular facial product.

Reason #2: There are ingredients present in eye creams that have special and exclusive properties for that area.


For example, we always hear that caffeine is good for the under eye area because it reduces puffiness by acting as a vasoconstrictor. It also reduces UVB-induced damage by decreasing the formation of cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers (CPDs) (2). That’s great, but why can’t it do that for the rest of the face? That’s just it, it can. What about vitamin K, and retinol (vitamin A) for dark under eye circles, eye bags, and wrinkles? While these two ingredients can certainly provide some benefit for the eye area, it does THE SAME THING for the rest of the face. We could go on and on with this. Ultimately, while there are many procedures available for these “symptoms” like fillers, blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery), and laser skin resurfacing, these symptoms are far too complex for any topical ingredient or combination of ingredients to remedy (3).

Conclusion: While a separate product may be required, there are no special ingredients for just the eye area.

Reason #3: (The skin) of the eye area is more sensitive and eye creams are designed with this in mind; they don’t contain irritating ingredients.

As we’ve already established, the eye area is indeed more sensitive than the rest of the face. But does that justify the assertion that eye creams are necessary? Nope! Why? Because what can be irritating to the skin around the eyes, can also be irritating to the rest of the face. Wow, that’s really a shocker.

So what do you want to avoid? A lot of the same things that you’d want to avoid in a facial product, such as fragrance, should also be avoided in an “eye” cream. For further information, check the post I did on fragrances in skin care HEREOrganic sunscreens are also typically not recommended for inclusion in eye creams because they can sting the eye itself, but there are plenty of facial sunscreens that use inorganic sunscreens and are emollient.

Human tears have a pH of about 7.5.

Now, there is one thing that needs to be noted for products used around the eyes. It’s that they can’t have too extreme pHs levels, either two basic or acidic. This is to prevent irritation of the eye, which has a slightly basic pH. The pH of human tears is approximately 7.5, and since mucus membranes (like the one covering the eye) are sensitive to environments with extreme pH values, it’s probably best to avoid using such products (4). Or at least be careful. I personally use glycolic and salicylic acid-based products all over the eye area. Use common sense and apply it gently, just like you would with a facial product.

As for the “ophthalmologist-tested” issue, there’s no need to worry about this at all. It’s just another marketing technique. It’s the same thing as “dermatologist-tested.” Great a dermatologist tested this, but what are the results? And remember, “tested” doesn’t mean it works! As long as a product doesn’t say, “Keep out of eyes,” it’s fine for use around the eye area. Manufacturers aren’t going to risk putting an ingredient that can blind you, into a facial skin care product. Imagine the repercussions should someone go blind! Talk about bad press and reputation.

Conclusion: If a separate product is used around the eye area, it should be non-irritating just like any other facial product.

Bottom Line:

I reiterate, are eye creams necessary?

Short AND long answer: Absolutely not!

If deemed beneficial, a separate, more emollient, and non-irritating facial product (with antioxidants, peptides, and other beneficial ingredients) can certainly be used in place of or in addition to the “regular” facial moisturizer. But you don’t need something specifically labeled, packaged, and/or marketed as an eye cream. When it comes to this issue, I actually do agree with Paula Begoun. However, if after reading this you STILL want to pay more $$$ for less product, at least look for an “eye” cream that’s NOT packaged in a jar, to reduce the rate of oxidation/degradation.


Can You Permanently Damage Your Skin with Argireline?

iQ Natural Argireline contains 5% argireline, the lowest concentration to have exhibited effects when applied topically in studies.

Dear Nicki,

Can you permanently damage your skin with argireline?


Dear Maria,

Argireline is a peptide complex.  It works in two ways, according to the Textbook of Aging Skin:

  • Stops formation of a complex necessary for neurotransmitter release, called the SNARE complex.
  • Inhibits the release of neurotransmitters, including catecholamines, noradrenaline, and adrenaline.
Argireline needs to be applied to the skin in concentrations of 5% or greater to be effective.  At 5% concentration, Argireline has been shown to decrease wrinkles up to 30% when applied once daily for 28 days (International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 2002). Argireline at 10% has also been shown to have better wrinkle-fighting effects than another peptide, Leuphasyl, at 10% (International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 2009). 

So is Argireline Damaging?

Synapse illustration without labels, intended ...

Argireline inhibits the release of neurotransmitters at synapses, like the one shown here.

On the one hand, it won’t be for most people.  Argireline needs to diffuse through the top layers of skin to reach the crucial muscle-nerve connections like injectable BotoxTM.  Some prominent dermatologists, like Dr. Leslie Baumann, M.D., are skeptical that peptides even work at all, stating, “Peptides do not penetrate and they are unstable in the formulations.”  I had my mother once try an argireline cream, and it did absolutely nothing for her.

On the other hand, there is limited data showing results.  Some people are getting significant results from argireline – and for them, the concern is that argireline is applied all over the face, whereas BotoxTM is injected into specific areas.  As any skilled BotoxTM practitioner can tell you, where and how you inject BotoxTM makes a huge difference in not only the expression lines, but also, to some extent, the contours of a face.  Granted, the effect of topically-applied argireline will be far less than injected BotoxTM , but you get the idea.

So if I were to use argireline, I would recommend using itonly on wrinkled areas – not all over the face.

Is Facial Sagging From Argireline Permanent?

face of power

Relax – the effects of Botox reverse completely in 4-6 months, and so should the effects of argireline (Photo credit: jacob earl)

No, it definitely shouldn’t be.  As any BotoxTM user can tell you, after a few months, the facial freezing effect completely wears off.  The neurotransmitter complex is no longer inhibited, and neurotransmitters resume prior activity.  Histological analysis shows absolutely no difference in tissues before and after long-term BotoxTM treatment (European Journal of Neurology, 2006).

Since argireline works on the same pathways as BotoxTM, and to a much lesser extent (topically applied rather than injected), it should not exhibit permanent sagging effects, even if it is applied all over the face.  It may take a few months to wear off – considering that injected BotoxTM on one area of the face takes six months, topically-applied argireline should take one to three months, from my best estimate.

Hope this helps,

Spotlight On: Quinces

Champion quince

Quinces were once a much-loved fruit but are less common now.

by Natalie K. Bell

Once upon a time, quinces were revered by ancient peoples, who used them to pray to deities. The yellow fruit has a thick, fuzzy skin that’s difficult to remove. The flesh is so astringent and sour that they’re inedible raw, but are used for cooking. These “golden apples” have fallen from their high perch in more recent years, replaced by commoner fruits (New York Times). But recently, they’re gotten more attention. They’re slowly regaining popularity, in part because of their inclusion into skincare products in the form of quince seed oil.



Phytosterols, found in quinces, have been shown to lower cholesterol.

Quinces contain Phenolic Acid — a ubiquitous antioxidant that’s not yet well understood because of few in vivo studies (Agriculture and Food Chemistry). It also have flavenoids and other organic acids, which have been measured spectrophotometrically (Journal of the American Oil Chemist’s Society). It has a 73% phytosterol content — shown to help reduce cholesterol — and there’s some idea of the effects of quince in the body. It’s antimicrobial, anti-ulcerative.

This fruit may be golden in color, but they’re not necessarily the gold standard for antioxidants. Quinces don’t include vitamin E and they have about a 64.25% scavenging of DPPH free radicals (Journal of the American Oil Chemist’s Society). That doesn’t mean they’re not a valuable source of antioxidants still, on study called them a good, cheap sources of antioxidants that could be exploited on an industrial level (Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry). But the studies about antioxidant potential aren’t as numerous as those for other fruit and fewer still are done in vivo, which means there’s room to uncover more uses.


This image shows a whole and a cut lemon.

In a mixture with lemons, quinces were shown to help allergic reactions.

A lot of research is being done on the anti-allergic properties of quinces. They’ve been shown to reduce inflammatory cytokin from mast cells (Phytomedicine). When consumed or applied topically in a solution of lemon juice and aqueous quince they work well to combat Type I allergetic symptoms in early and late phase allergic reactions (Bioscience Biotechnology Biochemistry). These promising studies still call for more research done in double-blind studies in vivo to uncover whether quinces will be useful to treat allergic reactions in the future. However, it’s also possible to be allergic to quinces and allergies have been discovered.

Healing Qualities

Rabbits / Kaninchen

Studies show quinces heal rabbit skin.

Quince is considered a healing oil (Cosmetics and Toiletries). It’s been used topically in traditional medicine to heal canker sores and gum disease (Mosby’s Handbook of Herbs and Natural Supplements). Several studies have been done on rabbit skin to determine their healing capabilities. One found that quince mucilage healed intentionally-made wounds better than an over-the-counter wound cream (Journal of Herbs, Spices, and Medicinal Plants). Another study found that quinces mucilage when used on rabbit skin suffering from T-2 toxicity healed better than no cream or a eucerin cream (Experimental and Toxicologic Pathway). Studies call for more research as well as double-blind and human studies to discover how effective quinces are for wound healing.

Bottom Line

A basket of quince at the Portland Farmers Market.

Future studies may demonstrate the many uses for quinces.

Quinces are fruits with a lot of promise — both in skincare and the kitchen. They have a winning combination of being cost efficient and having antioxidants. Their anti-allergetic and wound-healing properties are being studied, though they’re already used to treat certain oral ailments. It is also possible to be allergic to quinces. Future studies will uncover exactly how beneficial quinces are, but in the meantime, we’re aware of some of their benefits.

If you want to try quince in skincare, consider:

Dr. Hauschka Quince Day Cream, 1.0-Ounce Box ($21.12, — with avocado, olive, and jojoba oil in addition to quince, this cream promises to be super hydrating for dry and sensitive skin.

Eminence Organics Quince & Ice Wine Masque ($44.71, — with a biocomplex containing vitamin C and E as well as Co-Q10, this mask can replenish your skin.
About the author:  Natalie K. Bell is the former magazine editor of The Pitt News.  She has nearly five years of experience in print and communications.  She loves big sun hats and good grammar.  For more, please visit our About page.

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Follow Friday+Nicki's Personal Updates: Week of July 27, 2012

A day in the life at FutureDerm: Testing and writing, testing and writing :-)

Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.” -Mahatma Gandhi

I’m a big believer in positive thinking.  I read a lot of old-school Napoleon Hill, Dale Carnegie, and new writers like Martha Beck.

Unfortunately, I also tend to question things, be skeptical, and consider all possibilities – positive and negative.  Call it my science training.

So, for the last week, I tried really hard to only think positive.  And I came to the following conclusions:

    • It takes practice.  I’m so used to thinking certain negative thoughts:  My thighs look huge in this dress.  I am not comfortable in large crowds.  I like to sleep in.   These types of negative thoughts are automatic, but even worse, they speak to my identity in some way:  I have large thighs for my size.  I’m not good in crowds.  I’m not a morning person.  When I tried to think positive all week, it made me realize that not only are these beliefs not working for me, but also that I won’t allow myself to be defined by them any longer.
    • There’s really no reason to be afraid of 99% of the things that we tend to be fearful of – speaking in public, saying something stupid, wearing a bad dress, etc.  While I wouldn’t advocate walking down a dark alley in a crime-laden neighborhood in the middle of the night, there aren’t that many actual valid concerns to be plaguing your mind.  Most of the negative thoughts I had this week were either self-degrading or fearful, but very few of them were grounded in truth – and none of them were things I couldn’t do something about.  And when I realized that, I felt empowered.
    • When you think more positive, you yield better results.  It sounds cliché, but it’s true.  My rational side sees it this way:  Most interactions or projects begin as neither negative or positive.  They just are.  But whenever you go into something believing in it, looking for amazing possibilities, and with the right attitude, you tend to find what you seek.  Plus, for whatever reason, most people are drawn to upbeat, positive people – and no one gets anywhere alone.

One thing that keeps me thinking positive: My little Yorkie, Emmie.

So, bottom line:  Actively thinking positive for a week was definitely a step in the right direction.  My skeptical side was concerned that such a campaign would detract from seeing key issues or problems emerging in my personal and professional life – but, truth be told, thinking positive didn’t actually stop negative things from popping up.  But a simple “I can get through this, I can get through anything” type of mantra sure helped navigate through any small disagreements or glitches that emerged – and also made me see just how small they are in the grand scheme of things.

Awesome.  :-)

Now for the Follow Friday:

Got a topic suggestion or comment for me?  Please let me know!  We also are still running the FutureDerm survey until August 6, 2012.  For responding, you’ll be entered to win a $100 Sephora gift card!


Guerlain Rouge G L’Extrait for Fall 2012

Wednesday night I was invited to a very intimate blogger event at Neiman Marcus in Orlando, Florida. Neiman Marcus wanted to show us the new Guerlain Fall 2012 lineup. Last time I was at Neiman’s for a blogger event, it was wonderful but very much a whirlwind with so many representatives from different brands and people. This time, it was very nice because of the single focus on Guerlain and the chatting about the brand with my fellow beauty bloggers and the knowledgeable brand representatives, the products, and the colors.

In a little over a week, Guerlain will introduce a new lipstick range called L’Extrait. It’s a highly pigmented, liquid lipstick that dries down to a matte finish and is long wearing.

This is the display of the Guerlain Fall 2012 products.

To start out, the lovely ladies at Neiman’s offered us champagne, chocolate covered strawberries and Guerlain’s very own color quiz. Guerlain loves the duality of women so he created two color palettes this fall:

  • The Femme Fatale – sultry reds, a sexy siren
  • The Femme d’Amour – softer pinks, a romantic lady

I lean towards bright lips, so I was drawn to the Femme Fatale.

The lipsticks are named after the Seven Deadly Sins in French.
M06 Avarice – beige for greed
M25 Colère – red for wrath
M27 Luxure – brown for lust
M41 Envie – orange for envy
M65 Paresse – pink for sloth
M69 Orgueil – plum for pride
M71 Gourmandise – raspberry for gluttony

So I think this is Colère – Gourmandise – Avarice – Orgueil – Paresse , but I’m not 100% sure since I didn’t swatch them on my own skin and write it down.

The top 2 are the glosses – Sable Snow – Grenade In.
Sable Snow is absolutely gorgeous!
The bottom right is gourmandise and I think the bottom left is Colère.

I believe the top is Paresse, the middle Orgueil and the bottom is Avarice.

The lovely MUAs swatched some of the shades for us, before letting us play with them.

This is Steph from Imperfectly Painted and I believe she is wearing Orgueil.

I believe Cat from Beauty By Cat is wearing Envie and Judy from Judixo is wearing Orgueil.

Judy, me and Kimberly from Libby’s Pink Vanity. I believe I was wearing Gourmandise and I think Kimberly was wearing Colère.

These new lipsticks are a part of the permanent range. I believe the glosses are LE. There is a new brown lip pencil and it is permanent.There are new blushes as well.

The lipsticks are long wearing, but they’re not a stain. They feel sort of like a gel on your lips and they dry down to a demi-matte finish. You do need to blog them after they dry down or you will end up with lipstick on your teeth. We couldn’t really test them properly for wear at the event, but they did seem to stick around even after a sip or two of champagne. I do think that a tiny bit of wear was evident after one of the chocolate-covered strawberries.

I really like matte and demi-matte finishes, so I liked how these looked when worn. I also am a fan of pigmented lip products, and these were packed with pigment. They didn’t dry down to the point that my lips felt tight and uncomfortable, like a lot of long wearing lip products can do. They felt still sort of moist, probably because of the gel-like feel.

Neiman Marcus will be having an event in August when this collection launches. From August 6 to August 11, you will be able to make an appointment and get facials and makeovers done, as well as other treatments. If you make a purchase of $350 or more during this week, you will get a brush set and case worth $250. The brushes are made of natural hair. For any other purchase made with an appointment at the store, you will receive a mini bottle of Shalimar perfume.

This is the cute little box they gave all the bloggers with samples inside. I just love the colored in lips and the hearts.

Guerlain Rouge G L’Extrait retail for $48 each and will be available in August, along with the rest of the Fall 2012 collection.

What do you think of liquid lipsticks? Do you like a demi-matte finish?