Lets Talk Cosmetics. Acne Cosmetics. Acne Causing Ingredients.

Lets Talk Cosmetics. Acne Cosmetics. Acne Causing Ingredients.

Let's Talk Cosmetics

James E. Fulton, Jr., M.D., Ph.D.

The war on the beauty and health of the human skin

The biggest campaigns ever waged
The beauty and health of the human skin is being undermined by one of the biggest campaigns ever waged in the history of merchandising. Every day on television, radio, magazine and newspapers, we are encouraged to put aside basic skin care ingredients like soap and water in favor of such complexion "aids" as cleansing creams, night creams, daytime moisturizers, face foundations and rouges.

While some people have skin capable of withstanding the damaging effects of cosmetics, an estimated 30% of all cosmetic users have skin which is acne prone. Women and men alike, in their teens, twenties and even early thirties, are potential candidates for cosmetic acne. The condition is characterized by many elevated small whiteheads appearing over the cheeks and chin and sometimes the forehead. While cosmetic acne seldom leaves scars, it can be unsightly, persistent and troublesome.

The skin's pores have a tough time dealing with the skin's own oil sebum, so rubbing in more irritating oils is one of the worst things you can do. Even people who are not acne sufferers can actually develop acne through the use of their cosmetics. Since cosmetic acne usually appears subtly after several months of repeated use of a comedogenic (acne producing) product, many women do not connect their outbreaks with the given product. The woman with cosmetic acne is in a vicious cycle; the more she breaks out, the more make up she uses to cover it up, which only leads to more blemishes.

How advertising confuses the issue

"Oil Free" the Darling of Madison Avenue
"Oil free" is fast becoming a favorite term of the cosmetic industry. Many cosmetic manufacturers are substituting chemicals which, legally speaking, are not considered oil free simply because they come from synthetic sources rather than from natural sources, i.e., animal, vegetable or mineral. These synthetic oils, however, are often more acne producing than a natural oil such as mineral oil. Advertising claims for many cosmetic terms such as "oil free," "dermatologist tested" and "hypoallergenic" can be very misleading. Hypo allergenic may mean the product is perfume free, yet it could still contain ingredients harmful to acne prone individuals. "Dermatologist tested" may be accurate but not entirely helpful. The product may have been tested for skin allergy or skin irritancy and it's effects on skin pores may have been missed.

The Oil Migration Test
Not all "oil free" moisturizers for cosmetics are oil free; some contain oil like synthetics that can provoke acne prone skin. How to tell? Dab moisturizer (foundation or sunscreen) on good quality stationery (imprinted 25% cotton fiber). Twenty four hours later, hold the paper up to daylight and check for oil rings. The extent of migration will correspond to the percent of oil in the cosmetic.The oil migration test is useful to deduct certain oils in cosmetics, but it is more important to learn to read the labels and avoid troublesome ingredients.

What ingredients in cosmetics cause acne?
After the frustration of watching cosmetics precipitate acne in many acne patients, chemists at the Acne Research Institute began testing the basic ingredients of more than 200 cosmetics to determine their effects on skin pores.

A word about sebum
Before we discuss cosmetic ingredients, we should consider the skin's own surface oil, sebum. Assuming that sebum is beneficial to the skin, cosmetic chemists duplicated this substance. Unfortunately, we know of no benefits to be derived from sebum. This oil is simply a vestige whose function has been lost in the process of evolution. The last known use of sebum was as a territorial maker for male gerbils and hamsters.

The claim that sebum is necessary for moisturizing the skin is a little bit absurd when you consider that the finest skin is found in eight year old boys and eunuchs, neither of whom have any sebum.

Sebum does not even prevent wrinkles. Wrinkling, or aging of the skin, is a reflection of accumulated sun damage, and no moisturizer in the world is capable of reversing this exhaustion of tissue. Although functionless, sebum is complex, composed of six or seven principle ingredients, including triglycerides and squalene, a precursor of cholesterol.

The triglycerides are broken down on the surface of the skin by bacteria to free fatty acids, which cause acne impaction's in genetically predisposed families.

As we shall see, many cosmetics also contain these acids (stearic acid is a favorite); but worse, cosmetics contain esters of fatty acids such as isopropyl mystrate or butyl stearate which are more potent even than our own fatty acids in the production of some acne lesions.

Three main categories of offending ingredients

1) Lanolins
In testing cosmetic ingredients, lanolin was our first consideration as it is, perhaps, the most common ingredient in cosmetics. Lanolin is no esoteric or magic ingredient; it is simply sheep skin oil extracted from wool.

The fatty acids in lanolin, like fatty acids in our own oil, tend to aggravate some acne in the skin of individuals with genetic tendency toward the disease. Many lanolin derivatives currently being used in cosmetics are harmful to acne prone individuals, i.e., etoxylated lanolins and acetylated lanolins. The partially synthetic lanolins are able to penetrate skin pores even better than natural lanolin. Lanolin oil, itself, is acceptable.

2) Isopropyl Myristate and its Chemical Cousins
One of the worse offenders is a penetrating oil called isopropyl myristate, the major ingredient in a can of penetrating rust remover, Liquid Wrench. Isopropyl myristate helps cosmetics apply more smoothly and gives them a slicker, sheer feel. This particular penetrating oil is so aggressive that if left over night in a beaker will actually migrate over the top, down the sides and onto the table top. There are many chemicals similar to isopropyl myristate in cosmetics.

The most common are: isopropyl palmitate, isopropyl isothermal, putty stearate, isostearyl neopentonate, myristyl myristate, decyl oleate, octyl sterate, octyl palmitate and isocetyl stearate and PPG myristyl propionate. All must be avoided, as must other surfactants such as laureth 4.

3) D & C Pigments
Perhaps one our most troublesome recent findings is the acne producing potential in the red tints used in blushes. Some of the D & C (Drug & Cosmetic) red dyes are comedogenic, which is not surprising considering they are coal tar derivatives. Ever since doctors noticed that acne was an occupational hazard of chimney sweeps, coal tar has been known for it's acne causing properties. An acceptable substitute for red color is carmine, a dye derived from insect wings and discovered by the Aztecs.

Currently acceptable cosmetics, moisturizers and hair pomades

* Almay - Fresh Look Oil Free
* Clinique - Pore Minimizer
* Elizabeth Arden - Oil Free Make up
* Flori Roberts - Dermablend
* Lancome - Maqui Controle
* glō™minerals - non-comedogenic makeup
* Alboline Lotion
* Shepard' s Cream
* Lubriderm Lotion
* Mineral and Petroleum Oil
* Safflower and Sunflower Oil
Hair Pomades
* Drest
* Dep
* Mineral Oil and Petrolatum

These are samples of currently acceptable cosmetics for use on acne prone skin. Although they may contain minute amounts of troublesome ingredients, they are small quantities as these products produce acceptable results when applied to the skin.

Problems with Cosmetics and Moisturizers
Results may even vary within a product line. For example, one patient was using Elizabeth Arden's Illusion Foundation, Arden's Velva Cream Mask and Arden's Moisture Oil. The predominant problem was the Arden's Moisture Oil. This could be eliminated from the daily routine without any loss of cosmetic elegance. Many of the popular moisturizers are also acne producing. This is probably due to their content of stearic acid, cetyl alcohol, acetylated lanolin and other acne causing ingredients. According to dermatologic research, the best moisturizing ingredients are petrolatum and mineral oil. We recommend these.

Even acne preparations are suspect
Our tests have turned up many problem ingredients not only in certain cosmetics but also in a number of preparations especially formulated to control acne. For example, ingredients in Retin-A® Cream, Hytone®, Desquam X® and Xerac® are known to be comedogenic. Avoid all products that contain ingredients such as laureth 4, isopropyl myristate or acetylated lanolin. The best medications currently available to beat acne utilize benzoyl peroxide in a pure water based gel lotion such as Vivant's BP 5% for mild acne and 10% for more severe acne of the face, back and chest.

The Solution
Obviously, the best way to protect your skin from acne is by avoiding cosmetics completely. This, however, is an unattractive, if not impossible, solution for many. We suggest, therefore, a simple liquid make up of pigments, water, glycerin and/or propylene glycol or loose powders. As a rule, the simpler the cosmetic, the better it is for you.

In Summary
Avoid cosmetics and treatments that contain deviates of lanolin, analogs of isopropyl myristate, laureth 4 and D&C red dyes. Read labels carefully as cosmetic manufacturers change their formulas frequently.

Reference to Chart Below
Comedogenicity or ability of test substance to product follicular hyperkeratosis. Irritancy or ability to test substance to produce surface epithelial irritation.


I. Lanolins and derivatives       VI. Oils *    
Ingredients Comed Irrit   Ingredients Comed Irrit
Acetylated lanolin 4 0   Cocoa butter 4 0
Acetylated lanolin alcohol 4 2   Coconut butter 4 0
Anhydrous lanolin 0-1     Sesame oil 2 0
Lanolin alcohol 0-2 2   Corn oil 2 0
PEG 16 lanolin (Solulan 16) 4 3   Avocado oil 2 0
PEG 75 lanolin 0 0   Evening primrose oil 2 2
        Mink oil 3 1
II Fatty acids and their derivatives       Soybean oil 3 0
Ingredients Comed Irrit   Shark liver oil 3 2
Laurie acid 4 1   Apricot kernel oil 2 0
Myristic acid 3 0   Castor oil 1 0
Palmitic acid 2 0   Squalane 1 0
Stearic acid 2 0   Safflower oil 0 0
Behenic acid 0 0   Sunflower oil 0 0
Ascorbytl palmitate 2 0   Mineral oil 0 0
Buytl stearate 3 0        
Decyl oleate 3 0   VII. Pigments    
Diisopropyl adipate 0 0   Ingredients Comed Irrit
Isopropyl isosterate 5 0   D&C red #6 1 0
Isopropyl myristate 5 3   D&C red #9 1 0
Isopropyl palmitate 4 1   D&C red #19 2 0
Isostearyl neopentanoate 3 3   D&C red #27 2 0
Isostearyl isostearate 4 1   D&C red #30 3 0
Myristyl lactate 4 2   D&C red #36 3 0
Myristyl mysristate 5 2   D&C red #40 2 2
Octyldodecyl stearate 0 0   Ultramarine violet 0 0
Stearyl heptanoate 4 0   Iron oxides 0 0
Tridectyl neopentanoate 0 3   Cafmine 0 0
        Titanium dioxide 0 0
III. Alcohols, sugars and their derivatives            
Ingredients Comed Irrit   VIII. Silicones    
SD Alcohol 40 0 0   Ingredients Comed Irrit
Isopropyl alcohol 0 0   Sirnethicone 1 0
Cetyl alcohol 2 2   Dimethicone 1 0
Cetearyl alcohol 2 1   Cyclomethicone 0 0
Stearyl alcohol 2 2        
Cetearyl alcohol + 2 2   IX. Sterols    
ceteareth 20 4 1   Ingredients Comed Irrit
Propylene glycol 0 0   Cholesterol 0 0
PG dicaprylate/caprate 1 0   Soya sterol 0 0
PG dipelargonate 2 2   Peg 5 soya sterol 0 0
Sorbitol 0 0   Peg 10 soya sterol 0 1
Sorbitan laurate 1 1   Choleth 24 0 0
Sorbitan sesquinoleate 0 0   Sterol esters 0 0
Sorbitan stearate 0 1        
Polysorbate 20 0 0   X. Vitamins and herbs    
Polysorbate 80 0 0   Ingredients Comed Irrit
Glycerin 0 0   Tocopherol* 2 2
Glycery stearate NSE 1 0   Tocopheryl acetate 0 0
Glyceryl stearate SE 3 2   Black walnut extract 0 0
Pentaerythrital tetra capral caprylate 0 0   Chamomile extract 0 0
Wheat germ glyceride 3 2   Vitamin Apalmitate 2 2
Polyethylene glycol 1 0   Panthenol 0 0
PEG 20 stearate 1 0        
Laureth-4 5 4   XI. Preservatives and additives    
Laureth-23 3 0   Ingredients Comed Irrit
Oleth-3 5 2   Methyl paraben 0 0
Oleth- 10 2 1   Propyl paraben 0 0
PPG 30 cetyl ester 0 0   Allantoin 0 0
PEG 40 castor oil 0 0   Hydantoin 0 0
        Sodium hyaluronate 0 0
IV. Waxes            
Ingredients Comed Irrit   XII. Miscellaneous    
Candelilla wax 1 0   Ingredients Comed Irrit
Camuba wax 1 0   Octyl dirnethyl PABA 0 0
Beeswax 0-2 0   Oxybenzone 0 0
Lanolin wax 1 0   Octyl methoxycinnamate 0 0
Jojoba oil 0-2 0   Octyl salicylate 0 0
Emulsifying wax NF 0-2 0-2   Lithium stearate 1 0
        Magnesium stearate 1 0
        Zinc oxide 1 0
V. Thickeners       Zinc stearate 0 0
Ingredients Comed Irrit   Triethanolamine 2 0
Carboxymethylcellulose 0 0   Stearic acid: TEA 3 2
Hydroxypropylcellulose 1 0   Sodium PCA 0 0
Magnesium aluminum silicate 0 0   Hydrolyzed animal protein 0 0
Carbomer 940 1 0   Adamosis stearate 2 2
Bentonite 0 0        
Kaolin 0 0        
Talc 1 0        

* Results depend on source of raw material.

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