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Dear Paula's Choice Research Team,
Would placing salicylic acid on the scalp help at all with the sebum on it? I went for a hair scan and the consultant showed where there are sebum plugs or blockages in my hair follicles. She said that this will, over the long term, cause more hair loss. Is this true? Do hair tonics work?
Lestari, via Facebook
Salicylic acid (in the guise of a well-formulated leave-on exfoliant) can help restore a normal flow of oil on the scalp, just as it can on the face and body. What it cannot do is make the scalp produce less oil, as oil production is controlled by hormones. It’s important to note, however, that although salicylic acid can be helpful for clogged hair follicles, it can also damage your hair . That’s because to unclog the follicles you must apply the salicylic acid to your scalp and leave it on (not quickly rinse as you would a shampoo). Thus, your hair is exposed to the salicylic acid for a period of time, and it is an acid, and so can damage the hair’s cuticle layer, in turn causing your hair to become weaker and to break more easily.
What to do? The answer is to occasionally—not routinely (only occasionally)—use a leave-on salicylic acid product to deal with the oil buildup of clogged follicles. Also, make sure you’re using a non-conditioning shampoo and keeping your regular hair conditioner away from your scalp. Those last two tips will automatically lead to better hair days!
If an oily scalp is your concern, and this condition persists even after trying the above methods, see your doctor for a blood test to rule out a hormonal imbalance.
Note: Despite the hair scan, hair follicles blocked by sebum wouldn’t be completely blocked, and would not be a causative factor for hair loss or increased bouts of hair shedding.
Dear Paula's Choice Research Team,
I keep reading lately about the "no poo" movement, not using hair shampoo anymore and washing your hair with conditioner instead. What are your thoughts about this?
We're not big fans of this method, because conditioners simply cannot cleanse the scalp and remove product buildup from the hair like most shampoos can. Still, there's no harm in trying it and seeing how it works for you. All of us on staff who’ve tried this method had good results at first, but within a couple weeks our hair was feeling and looking heavy, limp, and lifeless—plus it was increasingly difficult to style.
The bigger issue is the misinformation these articles often present about shampoos. Shampoos are not terrible for your hair and, in our experience, using a good, gentle shampoo is preferable to any cleansing conditioner, especially if you use styling products like pomades or hairspray.
If your regular shampoo seems to be drying or stripping your hair, switch to a conditioning shampoo, which is a good compromise for cleansing plus added shine, smoothness, and softness. These types of products, and ones we like, include Shiseido’s Tsubaki Shining Shampoo (sold on Amazon.com) and Neutrogena’s Triple Moisture Shampoo.
I'm in my 60s and my face is covered with short, downy white hair. I have sensitive skin and am afraid to use depilatory creams. A friend recommended threading, but the person she normally sees for this has since moved and she hasn't found another person who's as good. Can I do anything else or should I just live with it?
This issue is one many women face and it tends to become a more noticeable problem as hormone levels shift post-menopause. Despite that, women of any age can have facial hair that is exactly as you described. Unless you want to shave your face daily, which I don’t recommend, a chemical depilatory is the best, least expensive, and fastest fix. Although the ingredients in depilatories can be harsh on skin, if you follow the label directions exactly and use it with care, you should see great results with minimal risk of a reaction—don’t be afraid to give these a try!
One thing you should do is patch test the depilatory in a small area prior to applying all over your face. Place a dab along the jaw line, let it work, and then remove as indicated on the label. Next, follow your usual skin-care routine and leave the treated area undisturbed overnight. If the area looks fine the next day, you can proceed with treating the rest of your face.
Products to try: SurgiCare Cream Hair Remover for Face, Extra Gentle ($4.99 for the 2-piece kit, but toss the Surgi-Soothe Cream, which is a boring, overly fragranced moisturizer formula) or Olay Smooth Finish Facial Hair Removal Duo Kit ($21.99).
As for threading, it’s an option if you can find someone skilled in this process, but it takes longer than depilatories, and it hurts—each hair is individually plucked out and this process will need to be repeated regularly because the hair will grow back. This is true when using depilatories, too, but at least then the process is quick and can be done at your convenience at home.
I have an itchy scalp. I also have color-treated hair, so my hair can feel dry. I used Aveda Brilliant Shampoo for many years. I loved the way it gave fullness to my hair but then I learned it was not wholly organic so stopped using it. I am so confused about shampoos. I have coarse hair that's thinning (another problem at my age, which is 55). I used to have very thick hair; it's still fairly thick but I don't want to keep losing it. I have tried Scalpicin for itchiness, which helps some. I like organic stuff and have tried olive oil, rosemary oil, and vinegar for itchy scalp, but am frustrated and just don't know what to look for anymore. Help!
First, you need to let go of the idea that natural and organic products are better for your hair and scalp. Although I understand the pull organic products have, the truth is such products typically contain ingredients that are likely what caused some of the problems you’re dealing with now, especially the itchy scalp.
A great shampoo should be a blend of synthetic and natural ingredients, but even then the natural ingredients often do little other than look good on the label. Natural ingredients cannot do a very good job of cleansing the scalp or removing styling product buildup from hair—one reason shampoos with mostly natural ingredients tend to leave hair feeling worse, not better.
Using highly fragranced hair-care products, whether the fragrance is natural or synthetic, often leads to an itchy, flaky scalp. Even products you’ve used for years without incident can begin to cause problems. Aveda and lots of other natural-themed brands seem safe and pure, but can end up causing irritation that leads to an itchy scalp.
I do think you should try a fragrance-free shampoo and conditioner, and Paula’s Choice offers both. I also like the Free & Clear line from Pharmaceutical Specialties.
For the thinning hair, the best option is to begin using Rogaine (minoxidil, also available as a generic) at 2% or 5% strength. I’ve used minoxidil for years and it has saved my hairline. Minoxidil must be used daily to maintain the results—and it takes a few months of daily use to see results, so don’t become discouraged.
No matter what, stay away from natural ingredients for an itchy scalp unless they do not have any detectable fragrance. Rosemary oil is out. Vinegar is out. Olive oil is an example of a good option, yet this plant oil can be very difficult to shampoo out, so apply sparingly or consider lighter oil like borage or evening primrose. Also, at night, you can try massaging a fragrance-free hydrocortisone cream into the itchy areas (stop using the Scalpicin, as it contains irritating ingredients). Aveeno makes a great hydrocortisone cream that costs about $6.
I have been using your shampoo and conditioner but I ran out before my order arrived so I used another (fragranced) brand for a few days and found my scalp seemed a little itchy. I used other fragranced brands for years before I used yours, without noticing any itchiness. I am wondering why this is; did my scalp just get used to the fragrance, or could it be that it always made me itchy, but I just never noticed?
I am also wondering what you think about perfume. Do you advise against the use of perfume altogether because of the potential for irritation? Do you use perfume? Would you advise maybe using it on the outside of one’s clothes?
Isla, via email
Great questions! For the hair care issue, I suspect that yes, your scalp became accustomed to the fragrance-free products so when scented shampoo and conditioner were re-introduced you noticed that they made your scalp itchy. As for your long-term previous use of fragranced hair care, it's possible your scalp got used to the irritant and stopped itching or, as you mentioned, perhaps it happened often enough that you saw it as normal. Either way, I am glad you are back to using fragrance-free shampoo and conditioner.
As for perfume, I think it's best used judiciously and not sprayed over large areas of skin. The fragrance ingredients can be irritating plus the alcohol most perfumes are mixed in can be a problem. I do like and occasionally use perfume, but I'll either spray my clothing or hair (away from the scalp) or dab a tiny amount on pulse points, such as inside of wrists or behind the knees.
I enjoy reading your Beauty Exclusives emails and have a comment on a piece you wrote titled "Styling Solutions for Problem Hair." I am a scientist for Procter & Gamble, specializing in researching healthy hair and how to minimize damage for those who don't want to forgo hazardous hair habits (myself included!). My comment is regarding the suggestion for adding volume to fine, limp hair.
I completely agree with your advice to cut it shorter, avoiding the weight that longer hair adds. Although coloring hair may add volume, there are healthier options for adding volume, such as using high-hold styling products (waxes, etc.) at the roots. Relying on roughed-up cuticles for volume may give good results initially; however, this is the first step down a slippery slope of hair damage that often results in hair breakage-especially for hair left unprotected (not conditioned). Rough cuticles lead to increased friction between hair fibers, which can lead to layer by layer removal of the cuticle, ultimately exposing the extremely fragile cortex. Before breakage is visible, the rough cuticle will have a negative impact on hair shine-a signature of healthy hair and synonymous with a natural look. Ultimately, I agree that the advice you offer should increase volume, but it comes at a price of which your readers may not be aware. Thanks for all you do to help women wade through all of the beauty choices out there!
Jeni Thomas, Ph.D., Procter & Gamble Hair Care Research Center
Dear Dr. Thomas,
Thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts with me. Having had a tour of Procter & Gamble's Hair Care Research Center, I know the kind of meticulous and comprehensive work you are involved in. It is a state-of-the-art facility with some of the best cosmetic chemists in the country. Despite all the research taking place, the unavoidable, basic fact is that every aspect of styling hair to make it look attractive comes at a price, and not just in dollars, but in the overall health of the hair. Millions of women dye their hair. Almost every woman in the world uses brushes, combs (back combing hair being one of the worst offenders), or high-heat blow dryers, and many use flat irons (this can cook hair). Even washing hair on a regular basis (especially to wash out the wax and styling products you mentioned) causes irreversible damage. There are ways to mitigate the damage: wash hair less frequently, condition the hair, and use protective styling products and conditioners (ones that contain silicones are excellent-something Procter & Gamble invented), don't over-strip hair by overdoing hair dyes (e.g., changing from a dark hair color to a shade of blonde), and use blow dryers and flat irons intermittently and carefully. But no matter how conscientious you are, some amount of damage is inevitable.
Your suggestion of using styling products, particularly waxes, at the root to give hair volume can work, but it can also make fine or thin hair limp and heavy, and someone with an oily scalp will find they have an oil slick on their hair by the end of the day. Styling hair takes experimentation, and part of that is finding a great hairdresser to provide the perfect cut and instructions on how to get the look you want, while still keeping in mind ways to reduce damage.
As always, I patiently await the next product Procter & Gamble (or any other company for that matter) launches that claims to reduce or get rid of damage. Call me a romantic, but I am still hopeful there is some yet-to-be-discovered ingredient or formula that will someday really work for hair and not just be more of the same old marketing claims that mislead consumers into believing the impossible.
Although silicones themselves may not cause a scalp allergy, the sulfates required to remove them can. I know several people who cannot use sulfates, and therefore silicones, due to allergies. Silicones are only part of the equation. The real problem comes from using harsh sulfates, which are necessary to remove non-water-soluble silicones, not the silicones themselves. It is important to note that if one is not using sulfates, they should not be using silicones (unless they are water-soluble) because silicones will build up on the hair unless removed with sulfates. They also prevent moisture from reaching the hair, as well as causing numerous problems due to buildup, like frizz or dullness. I would suggest your readers check out the www.naturallycurly.com message boards. Many women on that site have no-sulfate, no-silicone hair routines for different reasons, including scalp allergies due to sulfates. Thank you to taking the time to read my input!
Lara, via email
Sulfates in and of themselves are not inherently "harsh." The harshness depends solely on which ones are being used and in what combination. And all silicones are non-water-soluble; there are no exceptions. Some are "heavier" than others, but their physical properties remain consistent, whether you see them listed as dimethicone, cyclomethicone, phenyl trimethicone, and so on. They don't rinse away (in fact they repel water, but water isn't all hair needs to retain moisture), and they are all removed the same way, with detergent cleansers, whether they contain sulfate or not. Sulfates are not required to remove silicone. You can wash your hands with soap and remove silicone from your hands and soap doesn't contain sulphates. If there are shampoos out there that don't use sulphates, that's fine, but assuming they are gentle because they don't contain "sulfates" would be false. Silicones do not block moisture from hair. Quite the contrary: you can put an entire container of silicone on your hair and stand out in the rain and your hair will still get wet, and humidity will absolutely get through (and cause frizz). Silicone is not impervious to moisture. Silicone's ability to allow moisture and air in and out is one of its superior properties, and is also why silicone is used to minimize the appearance of scars (i.e., with silicone bandages). Also, someone who thinks they are allergic to a shampoo would not know whether the allergy was due to sulphates or to the fragrance in the shampoo. Finally, not all sulphated cleansing agents are identified as such, which makes shopping for a sulfate-free shampoo tricky.
I have a problem that I am sure many other women share but that I rarely see discussed: body hair. My eyebrows are fairly well-defined, but I have stray hairs all around them. I have dark hair on my arms, upper lip hair, and very coarse bikini line hair. Over the years I have plucked, shaved, waxed, sugared, and used depilatory creams, lotions, and potions. It seems like a never-ending battle. I can't keep spending hours on hair removal, especially during the long Florida summer. I have considered electrolysis and laser hair removal, but quite frankly, I am a bit embarrassed. What are my options? What exactly is involved in having "professional" hair removal? How often does it need to be done, how do I prepare for it, and how in the heck do you get comfortable with another person removing hair in such a delicate and personal area of the body?
I have been a fan of your advice for years. Any help you can provide to make this topic less embarrassing would be greatly appreciated.
Kathy, via email
I'm not sure I can help you with your embarrassment other than to say that when you go to a spa or physician who does any kind of hair removal, you have to understand that you are not the first patient they've helped to remove hair in private areas, nor are you the one with the most hair. It's like getting used to seeing a gynecologist. As embarrassing as that can be for some women, you simply tell yourself, my private parts aren't the first he or she has looked at and this person is here to help me.
The only necessary preparation for any type of hair removal is to not have it done over freshly exfoliated skin. Products such as AHAs, BHA, retinoids (like Retin-A or Renova), or facial treatments like microdermabrasion can make the skin more sensitive and you can actually get a mild or moderate irritant or burn reaction if you try to remove hair from those areas too soon. In terms of efficacy and some level of permanence, there is no question that electrolysis and laser hair removal are the best options, but there are pros and cons to both. Electrolysis can be far more time-consuming, taking regular weekly visits for a year or more to obtain lasting results. Further, the practice of electrolysis is not standardized, and regulation of the procedure varies from state to state (Source: American Family Physician, November 2002, pages 1907-1911), which means you can't always rely on the quality of service or experience of the electrologist.
Laser hair removal also requires repeat treatments, but not as frequently as with electrolysis. The need for repeat laser treatments varies from person to person, depending on genetic makeup, related hormone activity, and the kind of laser being used (which varies from doctor to doctor). You may only need treatments once every three or four months or as little as twice a year. A review on laser hair removal in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment (April 2004, pages 72-83) stated that "From substantial clinical experience, it becomes apparent that in the ideal subject with fair skin and dark hair, a single treatment can reduce hair by 10-40%; three treatments by 30-70%; and repeated treatments by as much as 90%. These results persist for as long as 12 months. I hope this information helps you decide how to approach this "delicate" matter.
I have one question: If all of the cosmetics companies are privy to the same information as you are regarding ingredients, what works and what doesn't, and since they also employ researchers and chemists, why do some of these companies continue to add irritating and skin-damaging ingredients to their products, or leave out UVA-protecting sunscreen ingredients? This ongoing practice seems to defeat their purpose!
I have been reading your reviews for a couple of years. I've purchased all of your books and have been receiving your newsletter for the last two years, and I enjoy reading them.
Susan, via email
In the past I would have answered your question with a simple "I don't know." However, over the past several years, I have attended many seminars given by cosmetics chemists, and I have also worked with a number of reputable cosmetics chemists. Beyond that I have received letters from lots of cosmetics company owners, and that has all given me a new insight into how skin-care formulary decisions are made. I now have a few theories on why problematic products continue to flourish.
First, it's important to keep in mind that cosmetics chemists are scientists skilled in the mixing of cosmetic ingredients. As simple as that sounds, it is anything but. Cosmetics chemistry is a complex, multifaceted discipline requiring vast knowledge of ingredients, stability, compatibility, and testing procedures. In general, it is a science dealing specifically with the composition, structure, properties, and interactions of cosmetic substances. This highly specialized knowledge always impresses me. What this area of study lacks, however, is knowledge of the way these substances can affect skin. So while such chemists know all about the ingredients, their area of expertise is not skin care or skin physiology. Most cosmetics chemists rely on the ingredient manufacturer to supply information on the benefit of any particular ingredient. Having reviewed many ingredient studies provided by the ingredient manufacturers, what I can attest to is that the skin-benefit studies are often performed on a very small group of women (8 to 12) or are performed in vitro (a glass dish), and because they are rarely done double-blind, none of the studies are objective. Unfortunately, this type of information is exactly what many chemists base their formulations on.
In recent years, cosmetic ingredient manufacturers have made this cycle of equivocation more entrenched because of the pressure on them to create new, intriguing ingredients that promise the moon and the stars--and so cosmetics companies will buy from them. Claims made by cosmetic ingredient manufacturers top even the most exaggerated claims made by most cosmetics companies. Whether or not the science behind those claims can hold up under serious scrutiny is beside the point.
Another prevalent problem is that a cosmetics chemist's job is to provide the company he or she works for with the type of products it wants. If a company demands exotic plant extracts, packaged in elegant jars, with wafting fragrances, let me assure you these are the products the chemist will create. A cosmetics chemist would soon be out of a job if he or she couldn't comply with the caprice of the marketplace. You would be shocked at the lack of information most cosmetics company owners have about cosmetics. I know I always am. But this is where most of the product formulation pressure comes from--cosmetics company executives who are clueless about skin, skin care, or cosmetics formulation but think aromatherapy sounds nifty and have no idea what UVA or UVB sun protection is, much less what it involves.
The last piece of this puzzle is that cosmetics companies are at the mercy of their consumers. Most consumers don't have the time or the knowledge to make informed decisions about ingredients they don't recognize and can't begin to understand, much less determine what their skin really needs. It is far easier for a consumer to be attracted by an enticing aroma, a cooling effect (which is really irritation), elegant packaging, or ingredient buzzwords. Vitamin C, green tea, and aloe are all appealing and understandable to the consumer, while ingredients like superoxide dismutase, Centella asiatica, or nordihydroguaiaretic acid go unsung (and unpronounced). Skin care is a far more complicated process than any one ingredient can address, yet the single ingredient tends to be the focus. I'd love to have a dime for every woman who has asked me about the effect of vitamin E and vitamin C on her skin.
That's not a short answer to your question. But what it all adds up to is a lot of strange products being sold with ingredients best left off your skin while others are missing ingredients the skin sorely needs.
I'm a little confused about your recent high praise for Prescriptives' Redness Relief Gel. You wrote that it contains no preservatives, and I thought your position was that though preservatives might be irritating to some people, they were certainly better than nothing. Can you clarify this?
Lynn, via email
There is no question that in a water-based skin-care or makeup product a good preservative system is essential to controlling microbial and bacterial growth during the shelf life (and use) of the product. A product without preservatives runs a high risk of becoming contaminated and deteriorating long before it would have if preservatives were present. In the case of Prescriptives Redness Relief Gel, I double-checked the ingredient statement I have on file against the product packaging, and the formula is indeed preservative-free. I am not sure how they accomplished this since this product contains water, but I suspect the rosemary extract exerts a small amount of antibacterial activity. Interestingly, Prescriptives does not market this product as being preservative-free. I mentioned the preservative-free attribute in my original review of the product because it is meant for someone with easily irritated, reddened, or rosacea-prone skin. As essential as preservatives are to a product's stability, there is also the issue that, for some people, they can be a source of irritation. For those dealing with rosacea and its particularly intense sensitivity, a preservative-free product might be what's needed to prevent undesirable reactions. If you fit this description and decide to try Redness Relief Gel, try storing the product in the refrigerator to prolong its shelf life. If the idea of applying a cold moisturizer is not appealing, dispense a small amount of the gel into a separate airtight container, and keep the unused portion refrigerated until needed.
Thank you so much for your reply concerning continued use of an AHA product, and proving that my doctor's claim that it breaks down collagen had no medical research supporting her information/belief. I felt from the beginning that my doctor was only promoting one of her own products, which sold for $100, and that was what prompted her to say what she did regarding AHA and collagen. I won't be seeing her again anytime soon! So, thanks again. It's so wonderful that you're there for us when we have these questions.
Diane, via email
You're very welcome, although it's getting depressing how many letters I receive from women just like you who now find a visit to their dermatologist is not unlike visiting a department store cosmetics counter, at least in terms of sales pressure. When the products are sold in the clinical and professional setting of a doctor's office, it may be hard to resist them. However, my research shows that, outside of prescription options, skin-care products sold in a dermatologist's office hold no advantage over comparable products available elsewhere, and the latter products often cost far less.
I have a hair-color dilemma. Clairol has reduced distribution of their Lasting Color, a semi-permanent hair-color product. As a result, I cannot find it now, after using it faithfully for the past four years. I switched to their Natural Instincts brand and have been using it for the past four months (I color my hair every month). For the past two months I used a new color (#4 Medium Golden Blonde). Within eight hours of using this new color, my right eye became bloodshot, my vision was blurry, and conjunctivitis symptoms occurred to a minor degree in my left eye.
During the first month with this new color, I attributed my symptoms to an incident that occurred the same day I colored my hair, which was topical exposure to a super-glue-like product. A couple of weeks ago, I used the same color for the second time, and the conjunctivitis symptoms occurred again, this time with no prior exposure to super glue. I searched online and found that the para-phenylenediamine chemical in hair color can cause conjunctivitis. My homeopath says that I should take this as a signal, like the dead canary in the coal mine, and stop coloring my hair. I am 52 years old, am 50% gray, and am not ready to stop coloring. I read somewhere that two hair-color products on the market do not contain that chemical (Garnier Lumia and L'Oreal Open), but I cannot locate them in my small town.
I am concerned about environmental/chemical substances and their effect on each of us. What are your thoughts on hair coloring and my situation?
Nancy, via email
Just to be clear, Lasting Color and Natural Instincts are not technically called semi-permanent hair dyes, but rather Level 2 or Intermediate coloring products. Regardless, any hair dye capable of covering gray contains several chemicals that are necessary to permanently (or semi-permanently) alter one's hair color. You don't want to get any of these chemicals near (or in) your eye. Further, the chemical reaction that occurs in hair dye between the ammonia and peroxide once the two phases are mixed can produce an odor that is quite unpleasant. The vapors alone can indeed cause eye irritation, similar to the tearing that occurs when you slice an onion. This is why the directions for all at-home hair-color products recommend using them in an adequately ventilated area. However, this type of eye irritation is not the same as conjunctivitis (also known as pink eye).
Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva (the clear covering that coats the white portion of the eye and lines the inside of our eyelids), and is most commonly caused by a bacterial or viral infection, although it can also be brought on by allergies or exposure to irritating chemicals. It may also interest you to know that conjunctivitis is responsible for 30% of all medical-related eye complaints, and it is estimated that 15% of the U.S. population will endure this condition at least once (Source: www.emedicine.com/EMERG/topic110.htm).
In reference to the chemical para-phenylenediamine, it is a dye ingredient that has been around and in commercial use since 1890. This and other hair-dye ingredients have been the subject of much debate over the years, with particular emphasis on whether or not their use causes cancer in humans. After numerous studies throughout the last three decades, researchers say there is almost equal information on both sides of the issue, meaning there is no definitive answer. According to the FDA, "The findings so far are inconclusive. The studies raise some questions about the safety of hair dyes, but at this point there's no basis for us to say that hair dyes pose a definitive risk of cancer (Source: www.fda.gov). If you choose to err on the side of the studies that say hair dyes are a health risk, then you would have to follow your homeopath's recommendation and stop dyeing your hair, because I know of no "natural" products (despite many claims to the contrary) that can cover gray or change hair color.
It is hard to blame your problem on any one ingredient because there are other differences between the two products you used, and many ingredients can cause irritation or an allergic reaction. In addition, Clairol's Lasting Color also contained para-phenylenediamine. If that was the sole culprit, you likely would not have been able to keep using that product either. Moreover, the glue you got near your eye could still be lingering, creating an inflamed condition that easily flares up again.
If you wish to keep dyeing your hair with permanent (Level 3) or Intermediate (Level 2) color, you need to experiment. If you are more than 40% gray, a permanent (Level 3) color will give you the most complete and lasting coverage. A representative from Clairol confirmed that Lasting Color is discontinued and has been replaced by Natural Instincts. Calls to L'Oreal confirmed that both Open and Garnier Lumia hair-color products have also been discontinued. All of these products were Level 2 dyes.
Dear Paula, I just read your Web site article about mascara. I love your books on hair and makeup. Thanks for saving me money. My skin looks better with pHisoderm skin wash and a Neutrogena toner! The Mary Kay Purifying Bar I was using actually CAUSED my blackheads! They disappeared after I quit using it.
I'm a housewife, age 44. I have red hair, hazel eyes, and ivory skin. I've been wearing Max Factor 2000 Calorie Mascara for a couple of years, upon your recommendation. Although it's excellent mascara, and it doesn't flake or run, I'd still like fluffier, thicker (not longer) lashes. My thinking is that maybe false eyelashes would work for special occasions. I don't want to look like a bimbo, I just want to supplement my own very thin lashes. I've never actually tried them and would like your ideas before starting out. What are the dos and don'ts of false eyelashes?
Cathy, via email
Thank you for your kind words about my books. It is always gratifying to know my readers are benefiting from the information I provide and have found products that work well for their skin without causing irritation.
Although I am not opposed to using false eyelashes (there is no danger except irritation from the glue used to put them on, or pulling out your own lashes when you take them off, or the risk of looking like you're wearing falsies), I am inclined to suggest you experiment first with some of the newer thickening mascaras. Depending on your skill with the brush and how many coats you apply, you can achieve false eyelash-like results without having to resort to the tricky application process false eyelashes call for. Some of my favorites include L'Oreal Lash Architect 3-D Dramatic Mascara ($7.99), Clinique High Impact Mascara ($13.50), and M.A.C. Zoom Lash Mascara ($9.50).
If those suggestions don't get you the results you're after, then experimenting with false eyelashes is a cautioned option. When shopping for false eyelashes (the M.A.C. counter has a great selection and there are makeup artists on hand to show you how to apply them), you need to determine if you want a full or partial set. A full set is placed (via a special adhesive applied to the strip of false eyelashes) against your upper lash line on the skin, as close as possible to your actual lashes, but not on your real lashes (which indeed is as tricky to do as it sounds).
If needed, the false eyelashes can be trimmed, before applying them, to whatever length or style you prefer. Once the adhesive has set (typically 30 seconds), you can leave them as is or apply mascara so your own lashes blend in with the false ones you applied.
Partial sets, or small clumps of false eyelashes, are meant to enhance your own lashes and may be applied wherever you need extra emphasis. Most women who use partial false eyelashes apply them at the outer corner and in the center of the lash line. Each lash (or grouping, if that is how they're sold) is applied individually, and you use tweezers for precise application. Again, once the adhesive sets and you are satisfied with the placement, you can apply mascara over your own lashes to make the false ones less noticeable. Lining the eyes before or after applying a full or partial set of false eyelashes helps conceal the strip, too. A non-greasy eye pencil or powder eyeshadow works best.
Removing false eyelashes must be done carefully so you don't pull out or damage your real lashes. If you applied a full strip of lashes, lightly lift up the edge of one end of the strip and slowly pull it off. Partial lashes must be removed one by one (or one grouping at a time if the lashes came that way) in the same manner. After removal, wash the false lashes in warm water with a mild cleanser or shampoo. You need to remove the excess dried adhesive before you use the lashes again. Once they are clean and dry, false eyelashes should be stored in their original container to keep them sanitary.
Note: The most common false eyelash adhesive is made by Duo, and contains rubber latex. If you are allergic to latex, you will not be able to use this adhesive. A latex-free alternative is Andrea Mod Perma-Lash Adhesive, available online or in beauty supply stores.
In a recent newsletter you gave a good review to Neutrogena's "Triple Moisture Deep Recovery Hair Mask." I used this product once and have to agree it is wonderful. It leaves hair so soft and silky, I love it! The directions on the jar state that it should be used weekly. I emailed Neutrogena to find out why because I was hoping to use it as my conditioner each time I wash my hair (every second day). Neutrogena advised me that this hair mask is too moisturizing and powerful to use every day. Your review states that this product does not contain any ingredients not found in hundreds of other conditioners, so why would Neutrogena say it can only be used once a week? Is there a particular ingredient that is too harsh to use on the hair every day? Neutrogena suggests I buy their Triple Moisture Daily Deep Conditioner for daily conditioning. I would love to hear your evaluation of this situation. I am not used to a manufacturer, particularly of cosmetics, saying their product should not be used more frequently! What gives?
Gail, via email
You are an astute consumer to question Neutrogena's advice, because, as it relates to the Deep Recovery Hair Mask formula, it is faulty, at least in terms of what is best for your hair. I can't explain why Neutrogena would say what they did, unless perhaps (and this is just a guess) they're saying it to reinforce their marketing plan for this particular product and at the same time encourage you to buy another Neutrogena product, their "less powerful" Daily Deep Conditioner. Buying two products is better for the company than just one, but not for your hair. From just a cursory look at the ingredients, two products aren't necessary in the least. There are no ingredients in the Deep Recovery Hair Mask that are harmful to hair or too "powerful" to use daily. In fact, the ingredients are rather standard (but good) conditioning agents. And what do they mean by "too powerful"? That your hair will be too strong or too conditioned?
If you are enjoying the results from the Triple Moisture Deep Recovery Hair Mask product, there is absolutely no reason why you cannot use it after each shampoo. Comparing the two formulas, the Triple Moisture Daily Deep Conditioner does have a greater silicone content (it's the second-listed ingredient), which is better for drier or damaged hair, but that's about the only difference. Both are excellent conditioners and there is no reason not to use them every day, if that's how often you wash your hair. This is a case where your hair type is more significant than some mysterious treatment taking place. The Daily Deep Conditioner is best for dry hair that is coarse or thick, and the Hair Mask is preferred for dry hair of any thickness.
I am in my early 30s and have recently begun obsessing about my thinning hair. Through research on the Internet, I've found information about the possible link between stopping birth control pills and hair loss in women. This possibility would fit my situation and, of course, I am most curious to see if restarting the birth control pills will help to regrow some of the hair I have lost. Have you found research that would support the theory of hormone-related hair loss? If so, wouldn't hair be easily regrown with hormone supplements?
You have also mentioned saw palmetto, and I would like to try it. However, I can't find any information on this supplement, other than that it's geared toward men. Is it safe for women? Thank you so much. Unbiased beauty information is nearly impossible to find! What would we do without you?
Michelle, via email
Birth control pills definitely affect hormones, but there are many conflicting opinions about their effect on hair loss or hair regrowth. Regrettably, there are few scientific studies on female pattern baldness, and even fewer when it comes to the effect of birth control pills on this condition. The small amount of research that does exist shows that some birth control pills have more testosterone-like activity, which can possibly promote hair loss by increasing the likelihood of testosterone being converted to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the hormone by-product responsible for most hair loss. That would cause a number of hair follicles to lapse into the telogen phase (shedding) and then not begin the anagen phase (growth) again.
However, there are birth control pills that contain minimal amounts of testosterone or that have anti-androgenic properties (meaning they inhibit testosterone). These formulas can therefore reduce hair loss and may actually help hair grow on the head, while also reducing the risk of acne. When birth control pills contain estrogen, they can help reduce hair loss because estrogen makes hair stay on the head longer (Sources: Obstetrics and Gynecology, May 2003, pages 995-1007; Drugs, 2003, volume 63, issue 5, pages 463-492; and American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 2002, volume 3, issue 8, pages 571-578).
Because there are so many other complicated and significant health issues related to taking birth control pills, hair loss and hair growth should not be the primary reason for taking them. It is essential for you to discuss all the pros and cons of these drugs at length with your physician.
Saw palmetto is a popular herbal supplement sometimes recommended for hair growth. However, there are absolutely no reliable studies that have investigated saw palmetto in relation to hair growth (the only one that does exist was performed by the company that sells a saw palmetto supplement, and it only studied ten people; given the special interest and the small sample number, this is not a reliable study). There are abundant studies for saw palmetto in relation to its ability to improve benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Saw palmetto got its reputation for hair growth inadvertently due to the relationship between BPH and male pattern baldness, both of which are affected by the production of DHT. It was assumed that if saw palmetto could affect DHT, it was only a short stretch to believe it might be effective in treating male pattern baldness, too. But theory isn't always good medicine. There is also research suggesting that saw palmetto does not affect DHT and that it exerts some other action that may be the reason for the improvement in BPH symptoms. Further, there is no reason to assume that saw palmetto is safer than the prescription drug for hair regrowth Propecia (active drug ingredient finasteride). In fact, there are reports of similar side effects (Sources: www.naturaldatabase.com; Journal of the American Medical Association, November 1998, pages 1604-1609; American Family Physician, March 2003, pages 1281-1283; Urological Research, June 2000, pages 201-209; Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2002, volume 3; and www.hairlosstalk.com).
For the past couple of years due to health problems (and I'm sure some of the medications I've been taking) my hair has started to fall out, mostly in the front and [on] one side. Can Rogaine for Men be used by women? I have heard very negative comments about this. I'm 56 and have had a hysterectomy; does this make any difference? Any information you can give me would be greatly appreciated.
Annie, via email
We were just having this very discussion in my office, so how appropriate your letter came across my desk. First, let me encourage you to ask your physician about any possible problems with using over-the-counter products that might have interactions with the medications you are taking or be a concern in relation to your health.
Using minoxidil (the active ingredient in Rogaine) at any available strength is considered safe (Source: Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, July--August 2003, pages 322-329). There are two concentrations available, a 2% concentration labeled for women and a 5% concentration labeled for men. Despite the labeling distinction, it seems the 5% strength does work better than the 2% version. A study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (April 2004, pages 541-553) looked at 381 women who used either the 5% or 2% minoxidil solutions for hair loss. Both the 5% and 2% solution were superior to using nothing, which means they helped hair grow back, but the 5% topical minoxidil group demonstrated better hair growth than the 2% topical minoxidil group. Despite the success, there is concern for women that both the 2% and 5% strengths can cause hair growth where you don't want it, namely on the face and other parts of the body.
A study published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (May 2003, pages 271-275) found that in a review of 1,333 women who were using either 2% or 5% minoxidil, 4% experienced unwanted hair growth, with those taking the 5% strength having the higher incidence. The study also pointed out, however, that a large percentage of women in a part of this study (27%) reported facial hair growth before they began using the minoxidil; thus it is possible that the women who reported the unwanted hair growth were more prone to the potential for unwanted hair growth when using minoxidil. It is important to note that the unwanted hair growth isn't permanent and is reversible when you stop treatment.
The question is: would you fall into the 4% group who experienced hair growth in annoying places, and is that worth the risk to you? If you already have a problem with too much hair growth in unwanted places, perhaps minoxidil isn't right for you. I should mention that personally I use the 5% strength. I had been using the 2% strength and didn't see the improvement I was hoping for. I changed to the 5% strength and the receding areas at my hairline grew back in just under four months. I also found that I was allergic to Rogaine (it made me itch and flake terribly). I then changed to the generic version of minoxidil and it worked just fine (and it's definitely less expensive) with no problem in the several months I've been using it.
Can you recommend a good leave-in conditioner that I can put on my hair after swimming either in our pool or out on the lake in our boat? I need something for my somewhat dry and flyaway hair. I know it's best to wash and rinse your hair after swimming, but what would be good for the in-between times?
Also, when I get a "weave" in my hair (four times per year), my hairstylist has me sit under some very strong lights for about 15 minutes to bring out the color. I noticed the light uses 250-watt filtered bulbs. Is it bad for my face to be exposed to such strong light? I worry about age spots!
Pam, via email
There are many good leave-in conditioners but almost all are formulated for normal to slightly dry hair that is fine or thin, which would not work well for your hair type. Leave-in conditioners marketed to African-American women almost without exception contain mineral oils and other plant oils that just make hair greasy. I think your best options are Soft & Beautiful Botanicals Moisturizing Braid Spray ($5.19 for 12 ounces), which you can use whether or not you have braids, or you can also consider using Citre Shine, Shine Mist Anti-Frizz Spray Laminator ($4.99 for 3 ounces). While the Shine Mist isn't labeled as a conditioner, it performs that function beautifully and can make hair feel like silk.
It's apparent that you know the "spots" you're worrying about don't happen because of age, but because of repeated, unprotected exposure to sunlight, or you wouldn't have asked the second part of your question. Light bulbs do emit some ultraviolet (UV) radiation, but not much, so there really isn't anything to be worried about. But let me get a little more technical about this topic before I leave it at that.
UV light (damaging light) is not visible to the human eye (meaning that visible light is not UV light). The energy that is in sunlight does include a high percentage of UV radiation. Ordinary light bulbs are technically called incandescent lamps. They emit very little UV light and do not require UV filtering or concern. However, tungsten-halogen lamps emit significant UV light and do require filtering, which some bulbs indicate on the label. Some UV light passes through fluorescent lamps, but not much (Source: Protection From Light Damage, Northeast Document Conservation Center, nedcc.org/plam3/tleaf24.htm).
Without knowing the type of bulb your stylist is using, the good news for your skin is that the light is "filtered," so it would be reducing or eliminating the UV rays. My question to your hairstylist, though, is why you need to sit under light bulbs to bring out the color of your hair? That doesn't help color, or much of anything other than drying, unless it's emitting heat to help process dye when it is applied to hair.
I have naturally curly hair that is very frizzy. Even though I try, I am not able to straighten or smooth it very well with my blow dryer so I have to also use a curling brush to smooth some of the frizzies. But it still doesn't do the job. I also have highlights in my hair which only makes it drier, I'm sure. Can you suggest any products, including shampoos, conditioners, smoothing gels, or pomades that may help my hair? A lot of products make claims about taming the frizzies but none seem to do anything. Also, are there any that I should stay away from?
Tina, via email
Most of the anti-frizz styling products out there work very well but as you've learned it takes more than just products to get hair to behave. Aside from finding products that work for your hair type, it is essential to use the right kind of round brush and a blow dryer that produces enough heat to affect the natural form of the hair. Be sure your blow dryer has a rating of 1875 watts, anything less will not be able to control frizzies. Your round brush needs to be a boar bristle brush with firm, but not too firm, bristles. The goal is for the brush to be strong enough to hold your hair around the brush so you can maintain tension while using the blow dryer. Synthetic round brushes can be great for someone with smooth, wavy hair but it won't work if you have frizzy thick, coarse, or chemically treated hair.
For product choice it is difficult to suggest exactly which ones would work best for you, as the smallest nuances between products often make or break how any given person feels about them, but these personal preferences wouldn't affect my review. For example, you may like a lotion smoothing product while someone else may like a gel, and another a styling spray, or a combination of all three, depending on the thickness of your hair. As a general rule, and this is only a general rule, after washing your hair and towel drying it gently (don't rough up your hair with the towel) be sure to use a silicone serum such as Neutrogena Triple Moisture Healing Shine Serum ($6.99 for 1.8 ounces) or Citre Shine Shine Miracle, Anti-Frizz Polishing Serum ($6.99 for 4 ounces). Follow with a smoothing lotion such as John Frieda Frizz-Ease Step 4 Style Straight Wind-Down Relaxing Creme ($5.00 for 3.5 ounces); Physique Keep It Straight Lotion ($7.99 for 5 ounces); or Pantene Pro-V Anti-Frizz Creme, Moisturizing Curls Shaper ($7.99 for 3.5 ounces). If you want to try a gel, which will provide somewhat lighter hold than the lotions, consider L'Oreal Studio Line Anti-Frizz Styling Gel, Medium Hold ($3.99 for 6 ounces) or Pantene Pro-V Get It Straight Gel ($4.99 for 7.1 ounces). All of these are excellent choices.
Once you are done drying your hair, apply a hair balm or pomade over stubborn flyaways or areas that don't look smooth. The trick with these types of products is to use just the tiniest amount; too much can make hair look greasy or weighed down. Got2B Smoothed Over Straightening Balm ($5.99 for 4.2 ounces) or So Smooth Style It Smooth Shine Pomade ($5.99 for 2 ounces) are two great options.
You may also want to consider changing from a blow dryer to a flat iron. When used correctly these work miracles to smooth the frizziest hair. The new ceramic-style flat irons are superior to other types because they distribute even heat to the hair and eliminate pulling or snagging, which reduces the risk of damage. Conair Instant Heat, Ultra-Hot Ceramic Straightener ($30); Revlon Hair Appliances Perfect Heat Professional Ceramic Straightener ($30), or Vidal Sassoon Professional Gold Series, Ceramic Touch High-Heat Straightener ($30) are excellent options and are identical to the overpriced versions sold at salons!
Overall, even the best products may not be able to compensate for environmental conditions that can destroy any hairdo. No matter what the products or tools you use claim, high humidity can cause hair to frizz.
I've read so much about all sorts of hair-care products that can repair split ends. Is there really something out there that can get rid of my raggedy looking ends, other than cutting them off?
Terry, Miami, FL
There are products that can help split ends look better, and if the damage isn't terrible, can actually make it look like they don't exist. However, making split ends look like they don't exist isn't the same as getting rid of them. To eliminate the problem, the ends need to be cut off; they can't be repaired. Hair is dead and it can't be restored. Pomades are the perfect product for just this sort of problem and many of them can work brilliantly, particularly the new forms of pomade, which are less waxy and greasy and have a far lighter texture and silkier feel than some of the traditional versions. There are many to choose from, but Got2B Playful Texturizing Creme Pomade ($5.99 for 2 ounces) or TRESemme Hydrology Smooth & Shine Moisture Pomade ($4.49 for 3.5 ounces) will get you started on the right track. The trick with pomades is to apply them after your hair is dried and styled, and then apply only the tiniest, thinnest amount, just on the ends of your hair. You can always add more product if needed to get the effect you want.
I have often heard that using the same product over and over, for instance a shampoo and conditioner, facial cleanser etc., isn't a good idea because your hair/scalp/skin becomes used to them and they lose their effectiveness. I can think of legitimate reasons why this could be true but I cannot think of reasons it could be nonsense. Please set the record straight for me!
Kris, via email
I wish you had listed the "legitimate" reasons why you thought the hair, scalp, and skin can adapt to products to the point that they would lose their effectiveness because I can't think of one. Well, that's not entirely true. Because if you are using a topical antibiotic or antibacterial agent there is a risk that the bacteria will adapt and mutate into a resistant strain"”but that's about the bacteria adapting, not the scalp or skin. Skin doesn't adapt to skin-care ingredients and definitely not to cleansers. In some cases, such as with topical exfoliants, the skin goes through an adjustment phase, but that is about the skin acclimating to an ingredient (such as salicylic acid), which may mean a bout of side effects such as peeling or flaking as the skin sheds unhealthy skin, replacing it with a healthier layer. This is not an issue of skin adapting so well to a product and/or ingredient that it is no longer effective; rather it is about maintaining the results. For cleansers there is nothing to adapt to, because these ingredients are rinsed off and not meant to affect anything but the skin's outer surface, which is composed of dead skin cells. You would notice if your skin wasn't getting clean.
For other products, particularly for antioxidants and water-binding agents, it is their repeated use that has the most benefit for skin. The same is true for sunscreens, where repeated use determines their value for skin. (If only our skin would adapt to the sun's negative effect on it. Now that would be wonderful!)
In terms of shampoo and conditioner, hair itself is dead (when you cut it, you don't say "ouch!"), so hair can't adapt. And the scalp doesn't either, just like the skin on the face gets better with skin healthy ingredients so does the scalp.
I've never seen this question in your newsletter before, but I am 42 years old and within the last five years my hair has started to thin to the point that you can see my scalp (rather clearly) on the front top part of my head. I have taken extra vitamins, which probably haven't helped that much. Within the last five years, I also quit taking birth-control pills. I'm told that might also be a possible reason for the hair loss, but I don't care to get back on them just for my hair situation. I've also been using Rogaine for women for the past few months, which seems to have helped some, but nothing really significant. I'm wondering if I need to see a doctor or dermatologist to find any real answers. My hair is fine and oily, so I must wash it every day in order to look decent at all. By the end of the day, it looks almost like I haven't washed it in a week. My hairdresser recommends that I never use a conditioner, which I don't. I only use hairspray and occasionally some styling mousse. My Mom's hair is rather thin, but she is 73 years old and hers was not this thin at my age. Any suggestions?
Paula (another one), via email
Dear Paula (the other one),
I would love to say that there is a magic bullet for hair loss but there isn't. You might be surprised to hear that androgenic hair loss (male-pattern baldness) is something 40% of all women will go through. Rogaine is the only over-the-counter hair-care product that has any research showing it to be effective for restoring hair growth. There is some indirect evidence showing saw palmetto extract (an herbal supplement) can improve hair growth by blocking or reducing the hormones that cause hair loss.
Hair-care products you see advertising miraculous hair-growth results are not telling the truth, and they definitely don't have any published research proving otherwise (Source: Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, December 1998, pages 276-283). I would strongly encourage you to talk to your dermatologist to make sure there is no other possible cause for your hair loss and to analyze whether or not you are a candidate for other oral medications (such as finasteride). Let me just warn you, the enticement to try cosmetic hair-growth products will be seductive, and while their siren song will not hurt you, it can waste lots of money.
I have read that the Federal Trade Commission regulates "deceptive" and "unfair" advertising by cosmetics companies. However, in your book Don't Go Shopping for Hair Care Products Without Me, you intimate that there is no regulation for deceptive advertising and that "companies do not have to substantiate claims or prove efficacy of any kind." From what I have read, the FDA does not regulate unproven claims, but the FTC does. The major hair-care companies have legal and claim departments that accumulate evidence to substantiate their claims in a scientific and legal manner. However, I don't know if their information is based upon in vitro or in vivo data. Any further information you can provide would be helpful.
Tracy, via email
Your comments are well taken. Yes, the FTC and the FDA do differ in their regulations, but that doesn't necessarily help the consumer when it comes to claims about cosmetics. It is true that the FDA does not have efficacy or safety requirements for cosmetics, but neither does the FTC; they merely rely on information provided by the cosmetics company.
The purview of the FTC is to be concerned about deceptive or erroneous advertising claims. "When the substantiation claim is express (e.g., "˜tests prove,' "˜doctors recommend,' and "˜studies show'), the Commission expects the firm to have at least the advertised level of substantiation" (Source: FTC Policy Statement Regarding Advertising Substantiation, ftc.gov). That means all the FTC cares about is that some kind of "study" for claims does exist, but that doesn't have to be a published study and it doesn't have to meet any scientific standards; it just needs to comply with some level of "our studies show." A study showing a moisturizer reduces lines is often done by stripping the skin with alcohol and then applying the so-called astounding formulation. Any skin, after being dried up and irritated with alcohol, would look better when a moisturizer is applied. Or if a study states that skin looked 80% better, that is almost always the subjective opinion of the observer, who is someone hired by the company to conduct the study. That can pass the FTC standards for proof of claim, but it doesn't help the consumer in any way, shape, or form.
Further, an advertising claim (skin looks younger, repairs hair, non-irritating, reduces free-radical damage, broad-spectrum protection, contains vitamins, lifts skin, fights gravity; is all natural, etc.) is not the same thing as whether or not a product is effective, worth the price, safe to use (whether or not it contains irritating or sensitizing ingredients), really can protect from the entire UVA spectrum, how it compares to other similar products, or how much of an ingredient a product contains.
Plus, exactly what deceptive means is up for debate, which is why the FTC doesn't act on cosmetic advertising issues very often. For example, if a hair-care product claims to protect from sun damage, the FTC guidelines aren't concerned about whether the product does or doesn't contain an SPF, or whether the product only contains enough active ingredients to warrant an SPF of 2. When a hair-care product claims to repair hair or a skin-care product claims to repair skin, the FTC doesn't take issue that the "repair" claim is a temporary or aesthetic comment and that the actual structure of hair or skin hasn't really been changed. Even more to the point are claims that skin-care products can reduce fine lines or firm skin or that hair-care products can strengthen the hair. Exactly how firm, how reduced, or how much stronger is not enough to raise red flags for the FTC.
If major hair-care companies have legal and claim departments that accumulate evidence to substantiate their claims, I have yet to see any of that evidence. My team has called every cosmetics company whose products we've ever reviewed asking for proof of their claims, and over the years have received almost none (I can count on one hand the number of studies cosmetics companies have sent to me).
One more point: it is interesting to note that there are definitely times when the FTC has made companies alter their advertising claims (I read about these all the time in the industry newsletter The Rose Sheet). However, by the time the ad is pulled or rewritten, the consumer has already been deluged with the frivolous claims, which are neatly planted in their thoughts before the reaction and retraction takes place.
As an obstetrician, mother of two, and a beauty aficionado, I am writing in response to Liz's letter (featured in the September 2002 issue of your newsletter) regarding which cosmetic ingredients to avoid while pregnant. It is the published opinion of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology that using hair color is safe during pregnancy. Corresponding to that, it is common sense that anything you apply to your skin or scalp cannot be absorbed in any sufficient quantity to affect the fetus. Obviously, retinoids like Renova, Avita, and Retin-A should be avoided because of their relation to isotretinoin, which is a serious known teratogen. Beyond that, there is absolutely no evidence that hair-coloring products or any other topically applied product can cause any fetal damage. Therefore, with regard to over-the-counter cosmetics or pharmaceuticals, I wouldn't change a skin-care or makeup regimen one bit during pregnancy. Of course, the patient's own physician should evaluate any prescription medication prior to its use during pregnancy, but I can't think of any reason to veto most topical products. I hope this information helps your readers concerned with this issue!
Dr. Ellen Farkas, Roslyn, New York
Dear Dr. Farkas,
Thank you very much for your feedback. I concur with your statements, as evidenced by my response to Liz,. and I certainly appreciate the professional support for my comments. It's unfortunate that more obstetricians and gynecologists are not as self-assured as you are when it comes time to discuss this matter with their pregnant patients. The number of questions I receive on this very topic tells me there are a lot of expectant mothers out there who now approach their cosmetics with a great deal of confusion and/or fear. Although the majority of this fear is unfounded, it is immeasurably helpful when a pregnant woman can bring her concerns to her attending physician and be reassured that she is not doing anything in the name of vanity (or even basic grooming) that will negatively affect her baby. As I stated in my response to Liz, the issue of a pregnant woman's exposure to cigarette smoke and consumption of alcoholic beverages is of far greater concern than what cosmetics she applies to her skin and hair.
I have seen several ads for hair dryers that claim to produce something called ionic conditioning. What in the world is ionic conditioning?
Caroline, via e-mail
According to the companies who market these hair dryers, they are intended to produce millions of extra positive ions (the very thing that all hair dryers produce anyway and that are supposedly unhealthy for you!). Purportedly, the research (unpublished by the way and unavailable for scrutiny) indicates that if you dry an individual's head with a regular hair dryer on one side and then use a positive ionic dryer on the other side, the side dried with the ionic dryer will almost always be shinier, softer, and smoother. The claims continue by explaining that using the ionic dryer will help eliminate frizz and flyaway ends. Finally, to clinch the sale, an ionic dryer is supposed to work faster than your everyday garden variety blow dryer by tightening the cuticle layer of the hair, causing it to look better.
Hair does have chemical bonds that are more accurately called ionic bonds. Not surprisingly, ionic bonds occur between ions. Ions and ionic bonds are relatively simple to understand, if you know that ions are molecules that have small electrical charges. These charges are positive (called a cation) or negative (an anion) and they either repel or attract each other. Opposite charges attract and similar charges repel. Hair has a negative electrical charge and so is attracted to things with a positive charge. Hair becomes flyaway when positive ions (static electricity) are conducted through the body (electricity can pass through people) and build up. The negatively charged hair responds by standing on end when the positive charge moving through the body and out the top of the head. If you diminish or eliminate the static charge flowing through the hair, your hair will calm down. If the surrounding air is cold (or you have the hair dryer set on "cool"), the second you shuffle over the carpet or some other fabric, static electricity will be generated again, and your hair will react as if you had never used the ionic blow dryer. At best, these can make hair temporarily smoother and less frizzy, but there are too many variables beyond our control to sustain this effect. Ionic hair dryers are an option, but their claims are based more on enticing marketing than on scientific reality.
I read your article today about the lady who is allergic to hair color. I realize that Paula is not a fan of natural products, but to not tell this lady to try some of the natural hair colors on the market is terrible. There are many, including Naturtint and Herbatint for full gray hair coverage. These are great for sensitive people. Please Paula, look into these. To tell this lady to get allergy testing rather than suggest a natural product is almost a crime. Is your goal to help the consumer or the big companies who likely provide kickbacks? If it is the latter then you should change your name from Cosmetics Cop to Big Company Employee. [I don't understand] your continued disregard for natural products and getting help to consumers (which may not always be with a natural product), [and] I am mad.
Vicki, via e-mail
I can't even get most cosmetics companies to return my phone calls much less provide products for reviews, (and money would just be a joke-that's reserved for celebrity endorsers, not critics of the industry). While I understand your concern about my recommendations, please understand that I did not overlook the options you mentioned, nor am I opposed to natural ingredients, as long as they are safe. However, the products you mentioned, Naturtint and Herbatint, are not natural in the least. In fact they are decidedly unnatural, and include as many problematic ingredients as you may find in any other permanent hair-dye product, whether from the drugstore or the salon.
Herbatint is a permanent hair coloring that claims to have "a natural herbal base and no ammonia that gently colors and protects hair structure while giving hair a deep natural gloss and brilliance. It is the only color that has the advantage of coloring without damaging the hair structure." Yet it only takes a quick glance at their ingredient list to notice that this is not gentle or natural and that there are ingredients that can damage hair. Here is the exact ingredient list for their hair-color products, with my bracketed comments about specific ingredient concerns: "Water, Nonoxynol-6, Nonoxynol-4 [these are forms of phenol], Ethanolamine [releases nitrosamines], Propylene Glycol [popularly referred to as anti-freeze], EDTA, Sodium Metabisulfite [a reducing and bleaching agent; it is extremely alkaline and potentially damaging to hair], Walnut Extract, Rhubarb Extract, Cinchona Extract, P-Phenylenediamine [this is the ingredient suspected of being carcinogenic in hair dye products-source: FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition], Resorcinol [a form of phenol, which is derived from petroleum and is irritating to skin; there is serious concern about its use in cosmetics], O-Aminophenol, M-Aminophenol [both are derived from phenol]." Naturtint's ingredients are just as problematic, at least from any natural perspective.
Although those ingredients pose concern, there are no alternatives for permanently dyeing hair (changing hair color or covering any amount of gray for an extended length of time) that do not contain an assortment of problematic ingredients. I wish that wasn't the case, but there is no way around it, except for not dyeing your hair.
Many consumers share your belief in the trustworthiness and reliability of products that call themselves natural. It is a misplaced conviction. I feel strongly that your anger at me is misdirected; your ire should instead be aimed at the companies who are asserting false information that is potentially dangerous to the consumer.
The information in your books has been extremely helpful for me and has immediately saved me a lot of money. I have androgenetic alopecia [male pattern balding]. I currently don't take anything for it. The information and reference Web sites contained in your book have been very helpful for me and I've learned a lot. I would like to know if a product called Avacor has any potential in the treatment of hair loss. The options currently available to women are very disheartening. Until they come out with a female version of Propecia, I think I will keep searching for something better than the current treatment.
Leslie from Toronto, Canada
I wish Propecia (finasteride) was an option for women as well, but regrettably it is not. Avacor, with its promises of miraculous hair regrowth (according to their Web site it works for almost everyone with over a 90 percent success rate!), is a fast-growing company advertising its products on television and radio. But hair-regrowth products abound, all with the same glowing (and growing) claims of scientific research and astonishing success. Whether it's BioFolic, Fabao 101, Folliguard, Folligen, Hair Factor PX-2000, Hair Prime Helsinki Formula, Nioxin, Nisim, Nutrifolica, Pro-Genesis, Regenix, Revivogen, or Shen Min, to name just a few of the product lines making claims about miraculous hair regrowth, their claims sound just like Avacor's. You'd think that with the abundance of these products it would be shocking to find anyone still experiencing hair loss. But clearly that is not the case.
To begin with, Avacor's claims are best described as questionable science. The study they showcase on their Web site was not done double-blind, it was not peer reviewed, it was never published, and, not surprisingly, the only study that exists is their own. The claim on their Web site states that "the ingredients in Avacor hair re-growing formula have been extensively tested by medical doctors at the Hair & Skin Treatment Center and New York Hair Laboratories in New York City. Other studies have been performed at leading universities and clinics in both the USA and Europe, on the active ingredients in Avacor." That is true, but that's only because the ingredients in Avacor are found in lots of products being sold for hair regrowth that cost far less and don't make exaggerated, absurd claims and promises.
What is perhaps most disturbing is that Avacor does not disclose that one of their products contains minoxidil, the same ingredient found in hair-regrowth products (most notably Rogaine) found at the drugstore for a fraction of the cost. Avacor lists minoxidil on their label as 2, 4-diamino-6-piperidino-pyrimidine-3-oxide. That is not only misleading, it is blatantly deceptive (not to mention completely "unnatural" despite their "all natural" claim). To make matters worse, Avacor answers the question on their Web site about whether or not their product is like Rogaine by stating "No. Our system contains three parts..." Yes, there are three separate products, but one of the three parts is just like Rogaine.
Even more suspect is the question-and-answer page on Avacor's Web site, which states that "There are no known side effects with the use of Avacor." However, on their guarantee page they post the warning that you should stop using the products if you develop "Chest pain, rapid heart beat, faintness, dizziness, suddenly unexplained weight gain, water retention, redness, or irritation." Obviously, they know that side effects exist, and these are the exact same warnings that accompany Rogaine and other products that contain minoxidil. For the price, you'd be better off buying generic 2% minoxidil at Costco or other wholesale outlets.
The herbal supplement that Avacor sells includes saw palmetto, a supplement that is readily available at health food and larger grocery stores. Saw palmetto is known to be effective for inhibiting 5-alpha reductase, which is believed to be responsible for male-pattern balding. Male-pattern balding affects almost 25% of the female population (that's 30 million women; source: Cosmetic Dermatology, October 2000). Whether or not saw palmetto is helpful for women is not known, but it is thought to be safe for women to take.
For more information about Avacor (distributed by GlobalVision, Inc.) call (877) 805-9743 or visit www.avacorusa.com. My strong recommendation, though, is to lose their number. For objective and well-documented research about hair loss, please visit www.keratin.com.
A co-worker has even thinner hair than mine. I told her you recommended Rogaine. She heard that once you use Rogaine and it works, then you need to always use it or your hair just falls out. Is that true?
Claudia from Seattle, WA
When you stop using Rogaine new hair growth (or any hair growth on your head) doesn't start falling out. What does happen is that over a period of time any new growth generated from the use of Rogaine will revert back to the way it was when you began, as the hair follicle is once again affected by dihyroxytestosterone, the male hormone that causes hair loss.
Short of going through an expensive dermatology visit with patch tests, etc., what do you recommend I do to get rid of my gray hair? I am extremely allergic to the ingredients in the permanent hair dyes that most beauty salons use. The first (and last) time I had my hair dyed, my face, neck and eyes swelled up. The doctor had me on Prednisone for a week before my face returned to normal. I have been to several stylists and they always do the same thing. They put a small amount of the dye mixture (each time a different product), that would ordinarily go on my hair, on my forearm. Every time it becomes red, swollen, and itchy. Needless to say, I am afraid to use any over-the-counter product. I'm only 52 years old with two teenage sons, years away from being a grandma! Help!
Mary, via e-mail
I am unsure of what to recommend for you, as it is quite clear that you are having strong reactions to the ingredients in hair dyes. You absolutely could (and probably should) see an allergist to test for specific allergic reactions to really narrow down the culprit, but you are already doing a patch test regime of your own and that is pretty reliable information. I would encourage you to continue testing different products on your forearm (including products from the drugstore) and see if there is finally a brand out there that doesn't contain your offending ingredient or ingredients. Beyond that, there is no special, nonallergic formula out there, since there's no way of knowing at this juncture what you are or aren't allergic to. In the long run, if the base formula for dyes ends up being the problem then your only recourse may be to learn to love your gray.
After finishing chemotherapy, I had a nurse tell me not to use any dark brown or black hair coloring anymore on my new hair. I read your book on hair care about this particular subject, but it seems to still be an issue in the medical world. Is dark hair color safe, or isn't it?
A Little Confused, via e-mail
Your confusion is understandable, as the issue isn't exactly settled or even remotely agreed upon. I would suggest that few if any of the 75 million women who color their hair on a regular basis even know an issue exists, because there are lots of women using dark-colored hair dyes. The best I can do is share some information from the FDA Consumer magazine, April 1993. From there you will have to decide what to do because, as with many health-related concerns, there is not a definitive answer. The article reads: "The decision to change hair color has recently become more complicated because some recent studies have linked hair coloring with an increased risk of contracting certain cancers. To make matters more confusing other studies do not support those findings. Most hair dyes also don't have to go through pre-market testing for safety that other cosmetic color additives do before hitting store shelves... In 1978, FDA proposed to require a warning on the labels of hair dyes containing the compounds 4-methoxy-m-phenylenediamine (4MMPD) or 4-methoxy-m-phenylenediamine sulfate (4MMPD sulfate), two coal-tar ingredients. This followed findings by researchers at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, that rodents fed either of the chemicals were more likely to develop cancer than animals not fed the substances."
The researchers put the compounds in the animals' feed rather than on the animals' skin because they were trying to assess the effects of hair-dye ingredients inside the body. (Other studies have shown that a small percentage of hair dye is absorbed from the scalp and passed into the bloodstream where it can travel to other organs and tissues.) To detect a cancer-causing effect of the compounds in a short period in a limited number of animals researchers fed the animals large doses of the hair-dye ingredients.
Some researchers say that extrapolating results from ingested hair-dye studies to hair dye absorbed when hair is colored cannot accurately assess cancer risk because the compounds being tested are altered or are absorbed differently in the gut than they are when applied to the scalp. Moreover, tests of individual hair-dye ingredients don't measure the health hazards of the highly reactive compounds that are formed when the various ingredients in a specific hair dye are mixed together and applied to hair.
In other studies, when investigators painted 4MMPD on the skin of rodents, there was no evidence that the compounds caused cancer in the animals. But critics claim that not enough of the chemical penetrates the skin from the small areas on which it's applied to accurately assess the compound's ability to prompt cancers in a limited number of animals.
After the FDA adopted the requirement of a warning about 4MMPD and 4MMPD sulfate, manufacturers stopped using the chemicals in their hair dyes. In addition, the hair-dye industry has stopped using several other ingredients found to cause cancer in animals. Since then some of the cancer-causing compounds have been replaced by similarly structured chemicals. However, some scientists feel that the similar structure of these ingredients makes it likely that their cancer-causing potential won't differ much from the chemicals they're replacing. The agency continues to monitor the situation and review studies as they are completed.
Several studies have tried to pinpoint the risk of various cancers to hair-dye users by calculating the difference in frequency of cancer in people who color their hair and those who don't.
Some of these studies found an increased risk of cancer associated with hair-dye use, but failed to consider the effects of other cancer-causing agents, such as cigarette smoke, when comparing the two groups. In other studies the numbers of people included were too small to lend much statistical credence to the findings.
Several studies found no risk of cancer. Few studies looked at long-term use of hair dyes, for example longer than 20 years.
The findings so far are inconclusive, according to chemist John Bailey, Ph.D., Director of the FDA's colors and cosmetics program. "The studies raise some questions about the safety of hair dyes," he says, "but at this point there's no basis for us to say that hair dyes pose a definitive risk of cancer. In the final analysis, consumers will need to consider the lack of demonstrated safety when they choose to use hair dyes."
I had someone ask me the other day about hair that's been turned green by well water or pools. I remember hearing a remedy, but I can't think of it to save my life. Have you heard of anything that works? I remember it being a household item-any idea?
Susan, via e-mail
Contrary to popular belief, chlorine does not cause the hair to turn green. The actual culprit is almost always copper. Copper can be introduced into the water in many ways. The primary sources are: (1) traces of copper in the water supply; (2) copper leeching from brass pumps or piping, copper fittings or piping, or gas heater coils (which are solid copper); and (3) copper in copper-based algaecides (used to keep pool water free of algae).
As far as the immediate hair problem is concerned, all it takes is using a shampoo with a slightly acidic pH that makes copper leave the hair. If you want though, the lower pH from lemon or vinegar can be even more effective depending on your hair type. Try shampooing your hair, then rinse with lemon juice or vinegar thoroughly, and then follow with a conditioner. Keep in mind that repeated use of vinegar or lemon on the hair can be drying.
Is it true that an apple cider vinegar and water rinse neutralizes the pH and locks in hair color?
Jay, via e-mail
If it were only that easy to lock color in hair by rinsing with a low pH solution of lemon or vinegar! But it isn't that easy, and hair's fickle nature is that it doesn't like holding on to dye, especially when exposed to sun or high-pH hair-care products (which is probably where the myth about low pH rinses being helpful started).
First, to neutralize hair dye (which is usually a pH of 9 or higher), a solution with a pH of at least 7 (which is water) is used. Once it's at a pH of 7 the processing is over and the hair shaft shuts down. From there, the hair will maintain its own neutral pH, and there is no way to change that except during a chemical process or very temporarily from hair-care products. Though keep in mind that the fear of high-pH hair-care products stripping hair of color is a thing of the past, because most all (except for sulfur-based dandruff shampoos) are formulated with a pH of 7 to 5.5. That can't strip hair.
A lower pH rinse, like what you can get from vinegar and lemon, can have benefits. For head lice, it can keep the nits from adhering to the hair shaft. There are some who swear that it helps reduce flaky scalp (though I think this is more myth than fact). But perhaps the most popular notion is that it shuts down the cuticle layer of hair, making it look more shiny. A low-pH rinse will shut down the cuticle temporarily, but a low pH is also drying in the long run, so that is probably why no one keeps up the routine of rinsing their hair with lemon or vinegar.
It is interesting to note that rather than locking color in hair, lemon has had the long-standing reputation (though it's not true) of being able to "bleach" hair if you sit in the sun. It can't do that; the sun strips hair on its own, and the lemon just causes it to be drier in the long run.
After years of wondering why all my days were bad-hair days, I read your book on hair-care products. What a revelation! The information you provided showed me why the 2-in-1 shampoo I had been using was exactly the WRONG product for my hair. Following the guidance in your book, I switched to a separate (and inexpensive) shampoo and light conditioner from the drugstore. After the very first washing, it was as if I had been given a totally different head of hair! The improvement in how my hair looked and how my scalp felt were nothing short of dramatic. Thank you for all your common sense advice in the areas of cosmetics and hair care. Your books have helped me tremendously in finding easy and inexpensive ways to look my best. Keep up the good work!
Margaret, via e-mail
What a great letter to receive. Thank you for the positive feedback. After working for so many years on a project it is great to know that it has been of help to people. It makes all this work very rewarding and immensely satisfying.
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Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:
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