Gleams & Notions

Good News and Bad News for the Cosmetic Industry

By Harvey M. Fishman, Consultant | September 30, 2008

When I read a newspaper or journal, I note articles pertaining to cosmetics or cosmetic chemicals. In recent weeks, several researchers, primarily those linked to universities, have issued results—some good and some bad—for the industry and its products. First, the good news.
Scientists at the Missouri University of Science and Technology compared washed and unwashed hair for its ability to destroy ozone from the air. They discovered that dirty hair, which usually contains hair and skin oils, consumed seven times more ozone on average than did clean hair. The explanation is that the oils covering our bodies, such as triglycerides, fatty acids and squalene, neutralize the ozone before we inhale it. However, the same reactions that reduce ozone also create by-products that include irritants such as formaldehyde and 4-oxopentanal. Researchers have yet to determine how damaging these chemicals are in the small amounts produced. Air pollution has been studied in depth, but less is known about the importance of the “microenvironments” that surround our body. We spend about 90% of our time indoors, where chemical reactions between the air and our skin are not well known. One of the researchers from the study says that even small changes, such as the use of hair products, can severely alter the air we breathe.
A microbiologist at the Connecticut State University has discovered a new weapon against that teen scourge—acne. Certain kinds of viruses, called bacteriophages, target and kill bacteria. He has isolated several of these viruses that are attracted to P. acnes, the bacteria strain that causes acne. By blending millions of virus cells into a lotion, he says, scientists will be able to clear people’s skin of acne blemishes without drying it out or harming the benign bacteria that live there. He is now seeking bacteriophages that have a 100% kill rate.

The Benefits of Algae

Another good news item is that algae samples are being studied as an alternative to jet fuel. With the price of oil near $100 a barrel, airlines are testing biofuels such as a mixture of babassu oil, which comes from a palm tree in northern Brazil, and coconut oil. However, many biofuels create more problems than they solve. Using edible feedstocks such as corn and sugar often raises food production costs. Harvesting palm trees for babassu and coconut oil could lead to the depletion of rain forests. The advantage of algae is that it is inedible so it cannot affect the price of food, and it has a relatively high yield compared to other crops. This information was culled from an Associated Press article.
Now, for some bad news. Four brands of moisturizing creams caused tumors to form faster and larger in hairless mice that had been pretreated with ultraviolet radiation, according to a recent article in the Journal of Investigative Dermatol- ogy. Rutgers University researchers don’t know what happens in humans, but they suggest epidemiological studies on people should be run. Beiersdorf, the manufacturer of one of the creans, stated “Eucerin Original Crème has been on the market for more than 100 years and is a highly respected dermatologist recommended brand.”
Beiersdorf also noted that the creme has been widely used by both individuals with normal skin and those with diseased skin under the care of physicians without any incidents of this nature. Researchers do not know which of the ingredients act as the mechanism that could promote skin cancer. They also stated that although mice have much thinner and more permeable skin than humans, the study is similar to humans who may be exposed to more sunlight early in life and less sunlight later in life, but still come down with skin cancers. The chief of dermatology at Hackensack University Medical Center disagrees with the article and has never found any problem with moisturizers during her 30 year career.
She called for more studies and advised people should not throw away their skin creams at this point.  This is a serious conclusion drawn by Rutgers, and certainly human studies are required to disprove it.

Harvey Fishman has a consulting firm at 34 Chicasaw Drive, Oakland, NJ 07436,, specializing in cosmetic formulations and new product ideas, offering tested finished products. He has more than 30 years of experience and has been director of research at Bonat, Nestlé LeMur and Turner Hall. He welcomes descriptive literature from suppliers and bench chemists and others in the field.
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