Spotlight On: Dragon’s Blood


Angelina Jolie at the premiere of Alexander in...

Angelia Jolie swears by Dragon’s Blood, but does it work? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lately people have been talking about Angelina Jolie keeping her looks fresh with something called Dragon Blood.


Dragon’s Blood sounds downright magical — doesn’t it? Like something you’d find at an apothecary stand in a Shakespearean plan, not an actual ingredient being used in skin-care products. But it is real, and its origins aren’t quite as dramatic as “dragon blood” would make it seem.


Dragon’s Blood, also known as Sangre de Drago, comes from the Croton Lechleri tree in South America. The red, viscous resin extract has been used for diarrhea and wound healing in traditional medicine (Sloane-Kettering Memorial Center, New Beauty).


How Does It Work as an Antioxidant?


Dragon's blood(Daemomorops draco) crushed ince...

Dragon’s Blood is an antioxidant, so it helps with anti-aging in that regard. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dragon’s Blood contains powerful antioxidants called catechins that are like those found in green tea. They’ve been proven to reduce neurogenic inflammation and may also treat skin inflammation (Experimental Dermatology). It’s also been found to have a high phenolic content (BMC Complimentary and Alternative Medicine).


There are studies that show positive effects on oxidative damage as well. On in vitro study found that it effectively treated oxidative stress and inflammation (Phytomedicine). It has been found to be effective as an antioxidant, but only at high concentrations (Journal of Ethnopharmacology).


How Does It Work for Wound Healing?


Another component of Dragon’s Blood is alkaloid Taspine. This works to heal wounds by increasing the migration of fibroblasts to the wound site because it acts like a chemotactic factor for the fibroblasts (Planta Medicina). Taspine has been found to be a cicatrizant, which means it promotes wound healing by creating scar tissue. In studies with mice it was found to be non-carcinogenic after 17 months of treatment (Planta Medicina).


In a study with mice it was found to make the found contract and make a crust over it, form collagen and regenerate the epithelial level (Phytomedicine). Dragon’s Blood was more effective at expediting wound healing that synthetic proanthocyanidins.


How Does It Work for Anti-Aging?


wrinkles - part I

Just because it heals wounds doesn’t mean Dragon’s Blood is good for anti-aging. (Photo credit: kroszk@)

The claim is that “the modernized version of the herb forms a protective layer on the skin to shield it against damaging elements and inflammation. A ‘cure-all’ of sorts, antioxidant-rich sap is brimming with phenols and collagen-repairing proanthocyandins” (New Beauty).


While these things are true, that doesn’t mean that Dragon’s Blood works exactly as explained on anti-aging. When there’s a wound, there’s a “damage signal” sent out, releasing cytokins and chemotactic factors. This makes fibroblasts increase collagen production, along with other cellular processes. But wrinkles — which happen because of UV damage, environmental damage, internal stressors, etc. — happen more slowly and subsequently don’t have quite as strong a “damage signal” and thus fewer cytokins and chemotactic factors. So just because Dragon’s Blood has great wound healing doesn’t mean it’s as effective for healing wrinkles. More research needs to be done.


Bottom Line


Dragon’s Blood has potency as an antioxidant when it’s in large concentrations in products, but it’s not very effective in small concentration. It acts as a wound healing agent because it speeds up some natural processes that migrate fibroblasts and help produce collagen. However, just because it produces collagen effectively in wound healing doesn’t mean it does the same kind of work for wrinkles. We’ll need to see more studies before we can say that Dragon’s Blood is really effective for anti-aging.


The Truth About Petrolatum

petroleum jelly

One of the greatest problems in the U.S. right now is the fact that there is so much misinformation surrounding the health and beauty industry. One great example of this involves the ingredient petrolatum. Many dermatologists consider petrolatum to be one of the best moisturizers (Cosmetic Dermatology2002). However, a plethora of misinformation, including erroneous facts propagated by natural/organic skin care companies and the political Environmental Working Group, has caused it to be one of the most vilified ingredients around. Here, we clarify what is scientific and what is not, without bias.

Petrolatum clogs the pores:  FALSE.

Nope, not the case. In fact, petrolatum has been affirmed to be non-comedogenic and to not cause allergic reactions (American Academy of Dermatology Invitational on Comedogenicity, 1989).

The greasy, oily feeling of petrolatum leads consumers to believe that petrolatum makes them break out, yet what actually can actually cause break outs is what is used in conjunction with petrolatum. Because petrolatum traps moisture and water-based ingredients under the skin, it can essentially “trap” non-comedogenic ingredients used together with petrolatum under there, causing stronger reactions (Allergy, 2004). Be sure to avoid ingredients like lanolin, coconut oil, squalene, mineral oil, and isopropyl myristate when using petrolatum (Cosmetic Dermatology, 2002).

Cosmetic-grade petrolatum causes cancer:  FALSE.  

Belief that cosmetic-grade petrolatum causes cancer stems from the fact that impure petrolatum contains compounds known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). However, cosmetic-grade petrolatum must meet industry standards for purification, so, if anything, it contains extremely low to no amount of PAHs. Truth be told, the greatest human exposure to PAHs is through commercial-grade fuel burning, not cosmetic-grade petrolatum.

Petrolatum causes premature aging:  FALSE.  


Petrolatum is an occlusive moisturizer, so when it’s used in conjunction with irritants, it could make the resulting irritation even worse.

Actually, the opposite is true. Petrolatum is a type of compound known as hydrophobic, which means that it repels water. For this reason, petrolatum is used regularly following laser surgery (Dermatologic Surgery, 2001) to provide a protective barrier over the skin. It is also a superb moisturizing agent because it forms a film over the skin, making it an occlusive moisturizer.

Petrolatum rests on top of the skin:  TRUE.  

Petrolatum rests on top of the skin, forming a water-repelling film. On the one hand, this makes it is a great moisturizer. On the other hand, you have to be careful what you use with petrolatum, and it is obviously not a good solvent for delivering other skin care ingredients deep into the skin. On its own, however, it moisturizes well.

Petrolatum comes from a non-renewable resource:  TRUE and FALSE.  

Petrolatum is a hydrocarbon, traditionally derived from the distillation of oil. Due to growing concerns that petrolatum is sourced from non-renewable sources, some skin care and cosmetics companies have started to use “hybrid petrolatums” derived from a combination of vegetable oils and waxes. Most, however, do not.

If you are ultra big on the green movement, you may wish to avoid petrolatum. However, as cosmetic chemist Rebecca James Gadberry has noted, many people do not realize that more than 50% of the ingredients used in cosmetics are derived from non-renewable resources as well. So perhaps methods like avoiding plastic bags, buying reusable water bottles, and recycling are more sustainable, valid efforts than supporting the green movement through your choices in beauty products. Of course, every effort counts – this is your choice.

Bottom Line

Petrolatum is not petroleum – and cosmetic-grade petrolatum is, by and large, safe. The only two valid concerns, scientifically-speaking, are the fact that petrolatum should not be used with irritating ingredients like lanolin, squalene, isopropyl myristate, and mineral oil (Cosmetic Dermatology, 2002), and that it is likely not coming from an entirely renewable resource, though cosmetics companies are becoming increasingly better about doing just that.

What are your thoughts on petrolatum?  Let us know!

Related Posts

  • Perhaps a year ago, I read a comment where the author said something along the lines of: “I wish I wore sunscreen as a youth. I used to just slap on some petrolatum jelly before playing a long afternoon of tennis. Now I have…” This comment received multiple responses, one of which included something like:…
  • My friend Eric and me! Contrary to popular belief, skin is not just skin. Dermatologists even qualify different skin types on a scale known as the Fitzpatrick scale; different types denote different susceptibilities to skin diseases, treatment plans and options. In a prior interview of mine with African-American dermatologist Dr. Rosemarie Ingleton, M.D., she informed…
  • Thanks largely to the organic and natural product movement, there are a lot of well-intentioned people out there who say things like: Let thy food be thy skin care. If my eighth-grader can't pronounce it, I won't eat it or use it on my face. If I can't eat it, I won't use it on my…

Curly Hair Conundrums, Part One: Washing or Co-Washing

Big Hair '80s

Big hair may have been cool in the 80s, but when I was rocking it, straight strands were the reigning style. (Photo credit: chumlee10)

“I kind of like that big 80s look.” — My dad.

That’s what my dad said to me regularly when I was a child and would get upset about my Q-tip-poof hairstyle. Every morning I’d brush my hair and every morning it would flair out cartoon-style in a triangle of frizz. All I wanted as a child were long, luxurious locks of hair that felt to my waste in perfectly straight strands. And that was the exact opposite of what I had.

That’s because even though my hair should have fallen in shiny ringlets, I didn’t learn the right way to care for it for years. With a straight-haired mother and father who were devotees of short cuts, I had no one who could teach me how to work with my tresses and so I assumed I just had “bad hair.” Then a haircut changed my life. After some experimentation I realized my hair wasn’t naturally gigantic, just curly (and brushing it wasn’t doing me any favors). So I hacked it off and stopped brushing it dry and thus began my quest for learning to love curly hair.

Why is Hair Curly?

Party Curls and Curves

Much like ribbons being curled with scissors, when hair follicles don’t have the balance of a perfect circle, they curl. (Photo credit: cobalt123)

Curly and straight hair actually have different structures that causes them to hang straight or spiral. It’s the hair follicle, which is a tube that can be circular or oval and give hair its shape.

Straight hair follicles are circular, while curly hair has an oval shape. In this NPR article, Dr. Paradi Mirmirani, a California dermatologist specializing in hair explained it with the analogy of a gift-wrapping ribbon.

When the follicle is straight, it’s like the untouched ribbon, both side are equal and thus there’s a balance. When one side is made flat with the edge of the scissors, it disrupts that balance and creates a curling effect.

Curly Hair Is Drier Than Straight Hair

English: Leaving traces on soft sand dunes in ...

Because the natural oils don’t move down the follicle as readily in curly hair, it’s drier than straight hair. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those most part, you shouldn’t shampoo it every day. You just shouldn’t. The only people who really get a pass on that are people with extra fine hair that shows oil very quickly.

Whatever your excuse is, such as “I don’t feel clean.” Shush. Let me explain why washing your hair with shampoo everyday probably isn’t doing you any good.

When your straight-locked counterparts’ scalp creates sebum (a natural oil), it travels down their strands and make them soft and silky. It happens naturally, but it also happens when they brush their hair, when they run their fingers through their hair — essentially when they do things that people with curly hair don’t do — and is what inevitably makes their hair seem “dirty.”

That doesn’t happen as often for people with curly hair, which means they don’t have the same degree of natural moisturizing. So washing hair every day will undoubtedly lead to frizzy, unmanageable hair for most people.

The curlier and coarser your hair is, the less often you should wash it with shampoo. Think once a week for very curly and/or coarse hair, two to three times a week for medium curly hair, and every day for wavy or fine hair.

How Do I Wash it?

English: 1880~1889

Washing your hair every day can be detrimental to curls. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not actually a fan of showering every single day, because it can strip the skin and hair of its natural moisture and breaks down the skin barrier (though there are certainly parts of the body I’d recommend cleaning everyday). But you can shower every day if you use a conditioner and not a shampoo — something calls “co-washing.”

[Read More: The Great Shower Debate: Is Everyday Too Much for Your Skin?]

Essentially, you just use conditioner in the shower instead of shampoo and conditioner. Some women with curly hair never use shampoo and only condition. Some — like me — use shampoo just two to three times a week. To be perfectly honest, it’s kind of about getting away with shampooing as seldom because that gives you hair the most time possible to suck up natural oils. Just make sure to condition every single time you use shampoo.

But if you do decide to use the co-washing method, consider using a water-soluble, silicone-free conditioner. Silicones do great things to keep hair moisturized, but if you’re not using shampoo to cleanse you could end up with a silicone-build-up.

[Read More: Does Your Shampoo or Conditioner Really Make a Difference?]

Bottom Line

Curly top.

Learning to manage curly hair is the way to beautiful tendrils. (Photo credit: Cali4beach)

Curly hair happens because the hair follicle is oval instead of circular, as with straight hair. Curly hair can be particularly difficult to manage. One of the reasons is that the same system might not work for two people who seem to have similar hair. But there are a few tips that almost universally apply to curly-haired people. Don’t shampoo every day unless you have very fine or wavy hair that shows oil quickly. If you wash it daily, consider “co-washing” but watch out for conditioners with silicone if you shampoo minimally because they can cause silicone-buildup. And always be sure to condition after shampooing.

Some great washing products for curly hair are Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Rose Shampoo ($6.38, and Conditioner ($9.76, with coconut oil and soy protein in the shampoo and cetyl alcohol and shea butter, this shampoo/conditioner combo is super moisturizing.


WEN Sweet Almond Mint Cleansing Conditioner ($25.99,, as it name suggests, conditions without a shampoo, which can contain harsh ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate, which gives cleansers their suds.


Sources:,, NPR


Related Posts

  • As much as I hate to admit this, I'm really particular about my hair, to the point that if I'm having a bad hair day, I'm having a bad day. Period. So it goes without saying that I'm rather particular about what I put into my hair. After years of poorly straightening it, I finally came around…
  • beautiful young blond woman on the bed at home, a photo by HASLOO on Flickr.  Today’s question: What is Your Hair Care Secret? Tell us in Comments and you’ll be entered to win a full-size set of John Frieda Frizz-Ease products, including John Frieda Frizz-Ease Smooth Start Repairing Shampoo & Conditioner and the Frizz-Ease Original…
  • For August 2011, has teamed up with John Frieda to give away one full-size set of John Frieda Frizz-Ease Smooth Start Repairing Shampoo & Conditioner and the Frizz-Ease Original Strength Serum to one lucky reader! How to Enter  1.  Like the Facebook page. 2.  Click on "Discussions" (left hand side of page). 3.  Comment on the " and John…