If you follow us on Instagram (and you should), you know that our fifth post series was "How it works: Breaking down how common beauty and personal care products do what they do." This series explained the science behind 20 familiar beauty products. As a quick reference, we've composed all of these descriptions in this permanent article, How It Works. Click any of the images on the grid and each will guide you to its description. We hope this will come in handy for you.
Anti-Wrinkle Products: The anti-wrinkle products that actually live up to their claims do so by way of a few major types of ingredients. Antioxidants are great for reducing wrinkles because they help to repair and prevent skin aging. Hydrating ingredients, like hyaluronic acid, help to plump the tissue beneath wrinkles, helping them to appear smoothed. Exfoliating ingredients, like AHAs (see our post on AHAs!), rid your skin of dead cells so that new skin can better perform. Lastly, collagen *promoting* (not topical collagen) ingredients are aimed to reverse the main cause of wrinkles, which is the natural reduction of collagen in your skin as you age. But keep in mind, because these cosmetic, nonprescription wrinkle creams aren't classified as drugs by the FDA, they're not required to undergo scientific research to prove they do what they claim, or that the claim ingredients are in the formula at an efficacious level.
Antiperspirant: Antiperspirants slow down sweat production. The active ingredient found in antiperspirants, an aluminum-based compound, passes aluminum ions into the cells that line the sweat ducts at the opening of the epidermis (the top layer of the skin). When the aluminum ions are drawn into the cells, water travels with them. As more water flows in, the cells swell, squeezing the ducts closed so that sweat can't get out. So, long story short, you temporarily sweat less, if at all. Be sure to read our earlier post on deodorant too, since many antiperspirants and deodorants come two-in-one.
Bleach: Hair is lightened with "bleach," a product very different from what you clean with. The most common hair lightening ingredient is hydrogen peroxide, which is used in an alkaline solution. This solution opens the hair shaft to allow hydrogen peroxide to react with the melanin, the natural source of color in your hair. When hydrogen peroxide reaches the melanin molecule in your hair, it oxidizes so that it becomes permanently colorless. As new hair grows in, of course, it is not affected by the bleach that was applied to the pre-existing hair. The yellow color that bleached hair tends to have is the natural color of keratin, the protein of which hair is made.
Blotting Paper: Blotting paper is used in lots of industries other than beauty for its highly absorbent properties. They can be made from a variety of materials, such as linen, flax seed, and rice. In a cosmetic application, blotting paper is used to remove excess sebum in the skin or oils in makeup to reduce shine and help makeup stay on longer. The papers are often colored for branding purposes, and many are contain salicylic acid or minerals to actively prevent pimples and spots. Blotting papers are well known for their ability to quickly and imperceptibly remove oils without disturbing makeup, as they are designed to absorb oils but not pick up makeup. Blotting papers are a great alternative to applying more powder makeup to absorb excess oil.
Callus & Cuticle Removers: A callus is a localized thickening of dead skin usually seen on hands and feet. It's formed as a protective reaction against repeated pressure or friction. Liquid (gel, cream, etc) callus removers work by increasing the amount of moisture in the skin and dissolving the bonds that keep the skin cells together. This way it is way easier to remove or shed this skin. The active ingredients responsible are usually some pretty serious stuff, like salicylic acid and potassium hydroxide. A similar concept is used in cuticle removers as this is also a buildup of dead skin cells.
Dry Shampoo: Contrary to popular belief, dry shampoo does not actually "clean" hair. But it works by absorbing the oil and grease in hair, giving it a cleaner, fresher appearance. The ingredients responsible for this action are usually an absorbent powder like starch or silica. An aerosol can do a good job of blasting these ingredients evenly into the hair, but a shaker or pump also work.
Eyeshadow Primer: Eyeshadow primer works like double sided tape. It gives the shadow a tacky finish to adhere to, preventing the shadow from creasing and making it last longer. There are also special formulas to help with textures, lines, increase hydration, add illumination, color correct, etc.
Gel Nail Polish: Gel nail polish is special. It's not like ordinary polish. Gel polish has photoinitiators (light reactive compounds) in it that regular polish does not. When exposed to UV or LED light, the photoinitiators cause the polish to "cure" (turn from a liquid to a solid). Think of it as little dots moving around faster and faster until they form lines. Without the light, the gel would never "dry" completely.
Hair Dye: There are three types of hair color: Level 1 (semi-permanent), level 2 (demi-permanent), and level 3 (permanent). Level 1 adds color without changing your natural color dramatically. Because these color molecules are so small, they don't interact with your natural pigments and they will fade out completely after several shampoos. Level 1 color lasts for 6 to 12 shampoos. Level 1 won't lighten your hair color because it doesn’t contain ammonia or peroxide. Level 2 lasts through 24 to 26 shampoos. The color molecules in level 2 color are medium-sized, which means they take longer to wash out. Level 2 contains a small amount of peroxide, which allows for a subtle, but noticeable, color enhancement. Level 3 uses both ammonia and peroxide. This process lightens AND colors your hair. A tiny molecule enters the hair and enlarges itself to be so big that it can’t be washed out. So, level 3 requires touch-ups as it grows out, as growing out is the only way to have your hair return to its natural state after level 3 coloring.
Hair Toner: Hair toner’s job is to neutralize the brassy/yellow tones that occur after bleaching (see our post on hair bleach for why hair becomes yellow). The result is hair that is closer to white in color. Toner does not lighten the hair and can be in the form of an ammonia-based toner, purple shampoo, or even purple dye (used minimally). Most toners have a purple color to them, because using toner is really using color theory. If you take a look at a color wheel, you’ll notice that purple and yellow are opposite each other. This is because they cancel each other out. So, no matter which type of toner you’re using, if you’re canceling out yellow tones, you’re actually applying purple! That’s why toning often requires maintenance.
Plumping Lip Gloss: There are two ways to plump your lips topically (like with a lipgloss) -- irritation and vasodilation. By irritating your lips, you cause them to swell. There are ingredients that are known to swell the lips, like cinnamon oil, menthol, and capsaicin (hot pepper oil). This is what you're using if you experience a burning, stimulating sensation with your plumping lip gloss. The irritation aspect is not actually severe and is very temporary, so it's not a cause for health concern. Vasodilation means the widening of blood vessels. Wider blood vessels also lead to swelling, but this route is much more comfortable. It does not cause a burning feeling but may cause a sensation similar to vibration. Both irritation and vasodilation yield very temporary effects, lasting up to a few hours. Using a lip plumper with a super-hydrating ingredient, like hyaluronic acid, will have less dramatic immediate results, but provide increased plumping over time.
Pore Strips: Pore strips are essentially cloths, coated with adhesive, that are pulled off to remove dead skin, sebum, and blackheads. They work just like waxing, but they remove sebum and dead skin instead of hair. They don't remove hair because, unlike wax, pore strips don't wrap around hair. (Liquid/gel pore masks can sometimes remove hair.) The effectiveness of pore strips varies person to person and from a lot of circumstantial variables. They don't help to treat or prevent acne/blackheads, but they do help to lessen the appearance of pores and blackheads.
Setting Spray: Consider setting spray as kinda like hairspray for your face. It helps makeup last longer and smudge less. As opposed to facial mists, the main ingredient in setting sprays is usually alcohol. This serves as a solvent to deliver the "film forming" ingredients, but also evaporates quickly to not wet the face. Film forming ingredients leave a pliable barrier over the skin and makeup to protect it. Look for ingredients such as polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP) or acrylates copolymer.
Shampoo/Conditioner: A two-in-one shampoo/conditioner combo is essentially regular shampoo with 2 extra ingredients in it. A silicone and a suspending agent. The suspending agent holds the silicone in the formula until exposed to water. So, when applied to wet hair, the silicone separates from the shampoo. The shampoo will rinse out and the silicone will remain behind on the hair to condition it. But, a two-in-one shampoo/conditioner is not to be confused with a cleansing conditioner. A cleansing conditioner is just the opposite -- a conditioner with a small amount of shampoo ingredients.
Shaving Cream: The use of shaving cream aids in three main ways. 1) It lubricates the blade, making it easier for it to glide along the skin without dragging. This would be achieved using a surfactant ingredient. 2) It softens hair so it’s easier to cut. A combination of emollient and humectant ingredients help with this. These ingredients also moisturize the skin and help it to recover after the shave. 3) The active ingredient in shaving cream is potassium hydroxide. This makes the follicles stand up, allowing a closer shave. So, shaving cream lets you get a closer shave, prevent irritation, and moisture.
Skin Brighteners: Skin brighteners work by lightening, fading, or bleaching the skin. One way lightning/fading is accomplished is by increasing cell turnover. This way, the darker uppermost layers of the skin are exfoliated away, revealing lighter, healthier skin underneath. This is commonly done with the help of an AHA, or alpha hydroxy acid, like glycolic acid or lactic acid. In order to bleach skin, many different ingredients can be used, including hydroquinone, kojic acid, and melanozyme. Skin brighteners can also help to block the production of melanin, the skin's inherent pigment. For example, vitamin C and licorice extract help to inhibit melanin production, thereby whitening the skin.
Sunscreen: Sunscreens come in two major varieties - physical and chemical. Physical sunscreens reflect or scatter UV light and usually appear white on the skin, as the active ingredients are titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, both of which are naturally white and chalky. Chemical sunscreens are different to physical sunscreens because they absorb UV light, and are normally less perceptible to the naked eye. The most common active ingredients in chemical sunscreens are avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone.
Volumizing Shampoo (or other hair products): How it works: Breaking down how common beauty and personal care products do what they do. Volumizing shampoos are generally more effective than volumizing conditioners. This is because volumizing shampoos work in two ways. 1) They remove residues from styling products and conditioners that can lessen hair volume by weighing it down. 2) They can also deposit small amounts of polymers that stiffen the hair. Stiff hair *sounds* like it would be a bad thing, but actually, stiffer, less flexible hair will stand up more on its own, contributing to greater lift and volume. Flexible hair is limper. Volumizing shampoos are more effective when you don’t over-condition your hair after shampooing.
Water-Based Nail Polish: Unlike with traditional nail polishes, where the solvents are flammable (butyl acetate, ethyl acetate, etc.), water-based nail polishes utilize water as a solvent. Therefore, they are not flammable, have low or no odor, are more environmentally friendly, and are often non-toxic (in other words, you can drink it (please don't) and not become violently ill). Water-based lacquers require different color solutions to traditional nail polish as well. Again, these color solutions are water-based! Water-based polishes utilize unique resin systems too -- resin systems keep the formula durable and shiny. In fact, water-based polishes are so wholly different to traditional nail polishes, that they smell, look, feel, and act differently. The major downside to water-based nail polishes is that they typically have lower average wear and they tend to peel easily. But, every day, the world is innovating. We look forward to better versions in the future.
Waterproof Makeup: Waterproof makeup is used not just by synchronized swimmers but by anyone concerned about their makeup sliding off due to sweat, humidity, or excess oil production. But, in order to stand up to these situations, waterproof makeup is heavier, thicker, and more occlusive, so there are skin concerns associated, like clogged pores, skin irritation, etc. Waterproof makeup contains special ingredients to block out water so it can't be dissolved -- waxes, solvents, silicones, and polymers. These ingredients, therefore, are very difficult to wash off when you're ready to remove the makeup. So, it's important to be equipped with a cleanser up to the task in order to not end up with breakouts.