8 Secrets Cosmetics Companies Don't Want You to Know

Skin Care

Secrets are made to be found out with time. -Charles Sanford

I’m not one of those anti-establishment bloggers who hates companies.  Truth be told, I’m actually an avid reader of Entrepreneur, BusinessWeek, SUCCESS – you name it.  However, there are some interesting facts about the beauty industry I’ve learned through my writings and research over the past few years, and now it’s your turn to discover them:

1.  Some body products are virtually the same as facial products.

Some of my friends look at me as though I said the moon was square when I tell them this, but it’s true.  Take, for example, the ingredients in Olay Quench Age Defying Body Lotion versus Olay Regenerist Nighttime Recovery facial lotion.  The body lotion retails for just under a dollar an ounce, whereas the facial lotion is $13.52 an ounce.  Look at just the first five ingredients:  both contain a high concentration of the most active ingredient, niacinamide, which has been proven to do everything from hydrate to eliminate age spots to soften facial lines and wrinkles (Dermatologic Surgery, 2006).

While the body lotion contains more of the occlusive hydrator petrolatum and isostearate, these are also found in many facial lotions.  Petrolatum and a different form of isostearate are also ingredients in the facial lotion, though in lower concentration.  The only things you are paying for in the facial lotion are a slew of silicones (which give a formula a silky feel and temporarily fill in wrinkles), palmitoyl pentapeptide-4 (which firms the skin when you use it regularly), and fancy packaging (which is a million-dollar business, by the way).  My suggestion to a woman on a strict budget is to take a small sample of a body cream plus the ingredient list to her dermatologist and ask if it is suitable for her skin.  I say a small sample because dermatologists are people too, subject to the same initial bias the rest of us are about using any lotion coming from a big bottle on our faces!

Ingredients in Olay Quench Body Lotion:  Water, Glycerin, Niacinamide, Petrolatum, Isopropyl Isostearate, Capric/Caprylic Triglycerides, Panthenol, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Vitis Vinifera Seed Oil (Grape), Sodium PCA, Betaine, Sorbitol, Glycine, Alanine, Proline, Serine, Threonine, Arginine, Lysine, Glutamic Acid, Acetyl Glucosamine, Disodium EDTA, Cetearyl Glucoside, Cetearyl Alcohol, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Stearic Acid, PEG 100 Stearate, Stearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol, Behenyl Alcohol, Tocopheryl Acetate, PolyethyleneAluminum Starch Octenylsuccinate, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Acrylates Copolymer, C12 13 Pareth 3, Laureth 7, Benzyl Alcohol, Dimethiconol, Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate, BHT, Fragrance, Tin Oxide, Titanium Dioxide, Mica, Yelllow 5, Red 33

Ingredients in Olay Regenerist Night Treatment:  Water, Cyclopentasiloxane, Glycerin, Polyethylene, Niacinamide, Dimethicone crosspolymer, Dimethicone, Steryl dimethicone, Propylene glycol, Butylene glycol, Panthenol, Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-3, Tocopheryl acetate, Lavandula angustifolia (lavender) extract, arnica montana flower extract, camellia sinesis leaf extract, Alanine, Arginine, Betaine, Glycine, Lysine, Proline, Serine, Threonine, Glutamic Acid, Sodium PCA, Sorbitol, PEG-10, Dimethicone/Vinyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Sucrose Polycottonsedate, Allantoin, Petrolatum, BIS-PEG/PPG-14/14 Dimethicone, Cetyl Ricnoleate, Disodium edta, PEG-100 Stearate, Phenoxyethanol, PEG-10 Dimethicone, Benzyl alcohol, Butylparaben, Ethylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Red 40, Blue 1, Fragrance.

2.  They’re owned by the same parent companies.

Statements I’ve heard from friends:
“Oh, I only use M.A.C.  I won’t touch Estée Lauder.”

“Bobbi Brown is different.  It’s an independent. ”

Well, in case you’ve ever wondered why a lot of cosmetics companies adopt very similar marketing techniques (i.e., supermodels in the ads, a gift every few months, uniformed sales associates), it’s not only because these are tried-and-true methods, as many of them are actually sister-like subsidiaries under the same parent company.  Estée Lauder, for instance, owns not only Clinique, Prescriptives, Origins, and MAC, but also La Mer, Bobbi Brown, Aveda, and Jo Malone.  For a complete list, click here.

Now, for the sake of being thorough, I will say that each of these subsidiary companies has independent executive and business structures, but the point is still the same:  You really can’t say you hate Estée Lauder if you’re wearing Bobbi Brown makeup or lighting a Jo Malone candle.  Case closed.

3.  For maximum benefit, don’t always use products in the same line together.

File this one in the ‘often’ bin.  Sure, there are certain lines where the cleanser, serum, and moisturizer work together synergistically to provide excellent results – RevaléSkin, SK-II, and Olay ProX are just a few that come to mind.

Yet, when I interview dermatologists, the vast majority – 9/10 – all mix and match products from different lines.  The reason?  Most skin care lines focus on a single ingredient.  However, different antioxidants work in different ways, and it is therefore best to cover your bases by using a mix of antioxidants.  Furthermore, ingredients like the most long-lasting UVA protection (Helioplex in Neutrogena products) are not typically found in lines with the most potent antioxidant (CoffeeBerry in RevaléSkin) or the most potent retinoids/retinol (retinoids available by prescription, retinol as 1.5% in Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM.  There is also a 2.0% retinol available from NCN Pro, which I have not tried).

Keep in mind that if you want to mix and match products, you need to consult with an expert, such as a dermatologist or aesthetician, first.  There’s a reason the derms do it so regularly:  they know what they are doing!

4.  “Hypoallergenic” means nothing.

“Hypoallergenic” technically means “below normal” or “slightly” allergenic, but there is no standard in any country that provides an official certification that an item must undergo before being labeled as hypoallergenic.  I’ll let you digest that one for a minute…

5.  The main ingredient (after water) in most shampoos is a known skin irritant.

Sodium lauryl sulfate is actually used by dermatologists to irritate the skin in ‘challenge patch tests’ to evaluate the barrier function.  Sodium lauryl sulfate strips natural lipids from the skin, disrupting the barrier and rendering it more susceptible to external irritants.  So if you’ve noticed your face (particularly the sides) feel extra dry after your shower, it’s probably because of your shampoo rinse.  I love the sulfate-free L’Oreal Ever Strong Sulfate Free cleansing system.

6.  Pregnant and/or nursing women are advised to avoid some skin care/cosmetics and supplements.

There are not one, or two, but seventeen ingredients pregnant women have been advised to avoid to be on the safe side.  This advice comes not from non-scientific alarmists but actual physicians, scientists, and the American Pregnancy Association.  For a complete description of why each of these ingredients should be avoided, visit the FutureDerm.com post on Ingredients Pregnant Women Should Avoid.

  • Accutane (absolute risk)
  • Retinoids of any kind (possible risk)
  • Oral overdoses of vitamin A (possible risk)
  • Oxybenzone, avobenzone (possible risk)
  • Oral salicyclic acid (possible risk)
  • Soy that is not “active soy” (possible risk)
  • Saw Palmetto – when used orally, has hormonal activity
  • Goldenseal – when used orally, may cross the placenta
  • Dong Quai – when used orally, due to uterine stimulant and relaxant effects
  • Ephedra – when used orally
  • Yohimbe – when used orally
  • Pay D’ Arco – when used orally in large doses; contraindicated
  • Passion Flower – when used orally
  • Black Cohosh – when used orally in pregnant women who are not at term
  • Blue Cohosh – when used orally; uterine stimulant and can induce labor
  • Roman Chamomile – when used orally in medicinal amounts
  • Pennyroyal – when used orally or topically

7.  Lots of common advertised ingredients have never been proven to work.

Let’s take amino acids and collagen, for example.  I have seen these advertised as doing everything from “rebuilding” to “firming,” but when applied topically, amino acids (such as glycine, alanine, serine, etc.) have only been shown to provide a source of hydration.  Similarly, collagen in a skin care cream only hydrates, as it is too large a molecule to even penetrate the skin!  So save your money unless an ingredient has strong research backing.  Remember:  Claims on skin care, cosmetics, and supplements are not regulated by the FDA, but unlike how supplements will label “this statement is not approved or regulated by the FDA,” the vast majority of skin care and cosmetics do not do this yet.  So be aware.

8. “Safe” cosmetics aren’t necessarily so.

Just as the FDA does not regulate many claims on skin care and cosmetics, they also do not have a standard for the word “safe.”  Many cosmetics companies now present their all-natural or organic products as “safe,” but this is not always the case.  Take, for example, lavender and tea tree oils, which were found to cause breast development in boys who used it before puberty (New England Journal of Medicine, 2007).  Pick up a bottle of lavender or tea tree oil anywhere, and what do you read?  “Safe,” “natural,” “organic” – not a caution at all about mixing lavender and tea tree oil together.  Again, stay on top of your own reading, be a smart consumer, and don’t trust the “natural” any more than you trust the non-natural.   (For more on lavender oil, please visit the FutureDerm.com post on Lavender Oil).

Bottom Line:  What Do YOU Think?

I’d love to hear what you have to say about these rather surprising, if not controversial, statements about the beauty industry.

While I love the beauty industry, a post like this reminds me of the importance to stay at the top of my own game in research.  While it’s never been easier to look better, it’s also never been easier to get completely duped in the skin care and cosmetics aisles.  Stay tuned for more posts like this one – and please, let me know your thoughts!

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  • I’ve wondered about using body moisturizers as face moisturizers. I haven’t tried it before, because I am prone to acne, and most of the body lotions I have contain pore clogging ingredients, but it has crossed my mind. I sometimes use of of my hand creams as an eye cream – I rub the excess cream on my face – it works great.

  • I have said something to this extent on your blog before-but the claims made about “natural minerals” in skin care and make up are the ones that are most controversial to me. Most of the “minerals” in mineral make-up and skincare are not the minerals found in nature, they are lab created. I understand this is for safety reasons or expense, but the presentation is all wrong! This is not to say some types of make up don’t use minerals in their formulas-but most do not or only use a small amount.

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