Saturday, February 27, 2010

Thank Science for Synthic Fragrance

Unfortunately, this past Thursday was my last class, as the professor was subpoenaed to testify in a court case in another state (he won't tell us why, but I think it has something to do with one of his companies, since he owns several and develops products for several more). However, I do have a backlog of things I want to cover on this blog, though not much more, before I will probably turn it into a general makeup blog.

Anyway, out most recent lecture covered fragrance, and while he made some snide remarks about any fragrance that costs less than $100 being "toilet water" (which is literally true, but I will get to that in a bit), he also shed some excellent light on fragrances, which I will now pass onto you. Slight warning: This post is somewhat disorganized, since the lecture itself was disorganized, so I apologize for the somewhat jarring topic jumps.

The first synthetic fragrance (still sold today), was Chanel No.5, developed in 1921 by Coco Chanel's lover, when she expressed a desire for a lighter fragrance than those of the time. Now, by today's standard, Chanel No.5 is quite heavy, which just gives you an idea of how insanely strong perfumes of the time were. Apparently, the idea was that your essence should enter the room before you do, and linger when you leave. So pretty much, people wanted to majorly stink up the spaces surrounding them, and fill it with their "essence". Today, a majority of the perfumes on the market are synthetic, and once I tell you how much real perfume costs, you'll realize why.

Rose oil, which is oil made from actually rose petals, retails for about $3000/lb (and that's a conservative estimate). This is for highest quality rose oil, made from roses in Kazanluk, Bulgaria. Apparently, it takes 200lbs of roses to produce a mere 1lb of fragrance, which is why it is so expensive to produce. High quality Jasmine oil, on the other hand, hails from Italy, and tops the price charts at $8000/lb (which again, is a conservative estimate, since the notes he gives up are several years old). It takes 800lbs of jasmine to produce a single pound of jasmine oil.

Now, there are other ways to obtain natural rose and jasmine oil, that may still smell pleasing to us, but to the experts, the difference is night and day. This is what I would consider the fun part of the lesson. Perfumers are sometimes referred to as "Noses", for their excellent sense to smell, and ability to discern so many notes of fragrance. There are only three schools of the Nose, one residing in New Jersey, and it accepts 8-12 students per year. Apparently, students must be satisfactorily complete exams in science, math, and literature, and between each exam, smell and identify a set of 50 or so fragrances ranging from strong, to light. If they manage to get in, they need to be able to identify 5000 different fragrances by scent once they graduate (I guess there are around 15,000 known fragrances, but still, having to know a third of them is no laughing matter). Apparently, even once students get in, the completion of the program is low, most commonly because since the students spend so much time smelling things, they lose their sense of smell. Apparently, though, those who are able to pass their courses are worth their weight in gold, and can pretty much work anywhere.

Now, why is it that all the perfume I own (and probably all the perfume you own as well), is classified as "toilet water"? That has to do with the perfume oil content, versus the water/alcohol content. Here's the breakdown:
In order to be classified as "high quality", a perfume must contain 18-25% fragrance concentrate, and no water.
Eau de Parfum contains 10-15% oil concentrate
Eau de Cologne contains 5-8%
Eau de Toilette contains 2-4%
And, since companies generally want to turn the highest profit using the smallest amount of product, most perfumes (and colognes, actually) on the market are "eau de toilette". Now, since they're not literally made of toilet water, I doubt most of us care, as long as they smell pleasing (and they generally do).

And finally, I'm going to cover a bit about perfume notes. Most of us who read makeup blogs that cover perfumes know that there are three notes to perfumes: top notes, heart notes, and base notes. What's interesting, however, is that apparently, perfumes need all of these notes in order to provide a complete bouquet. If you leave out a base note because you think base notes are just too dark for the scent you want, your fragrance will likely turn out smelling incomplete, because it needs and anchor. Yet another breakdown:
Top notes provide the initial tang of a perfume. Usually a citrusy scent like orange, lemon, or grapefruit.
Heart notes (or middle notes) give a perfume richness and body, and tend to be floral notes, such as jasmine or rose.
Base notes are the anchor of a perfume, and what keeps it long lasting. Base notes are strange, because sometimes, they're not pleasing all on their own (such as musk), but when mixed into a fragrance, they transform. Other base notes (such as cedar, or sandalwood) smell find all on their own.

Remember folks, I am nowhere near an expert on this stuff. I'm essentially word-vomiting my learnings onto this blog, but if you have any questions, let me know, and I'll try to wrestle up an answer for you (whether it's from my notes, or outside research, whatever).

Friday, February 12, 2010

Suncreen and SPF

We should all know by know that sunscreen is vital when it comes to preventing photo-aging (which is aging caused by the sun’s rays), and keeping our skin looking younger and better for longer. I think some of us also remember the bit of controversy surrounding independent makeup companies claiming an SPF rating on their products, when SPF ratings can only be given obtained by extensive FDA testing. In this post, I will cover what UV rays do to your skin, how the FDA tests for SPF, what the FDA SPF recommendations are, and what those recommendations are based off of.

Let’s talk about sun, baby.
We’ve all been told that UV rays are bad for us, but what kinds of UV rays are out there, and what do they do? There are two types of UV rays that we need to be concerned with when it comes to our skin: UVA, and UVB. They’re both plenty damaging to our skin, but we tend to think of UVB rays as being worse for us, because those are the rays that cause our skin to burn. However, these rays are short-wave, and do not penetrate very far down into the skin’s surface. And while each sunburn your receive doubles your chances of getting skin cancer, what we really need to worry about are UVA rays, which are long-wave, and penetrate deep into the skin. Why do we need to worry? UVA rays account for 95% of the sun’s radiation on the earth’s surface, so those most damaging rays are also the ones that we are exposed to most frequently.

Burnin’ up.
So, have you ever wondered exactly how it is that the FDA tests for SPF? Well that’s what I’m here for, to act as your font of knowledge, quenching your thirst for information. Sorry for the awful metaphor, sometimes I can’t help myself. Anyhow. The reason SPF testing is so expensive, and so time consuming, is that the FDA must perform it, and it isn’t a test of chemical composition of the product, it is tested on people. First, the FDA will gather a whole lot (that’s a scientific measure, y’all) of tests subject of varying ages, skin types, and skin tones. Then, one by one, they will test the product to determine its SPF rating. They divide a subject’s back in half with some sort of divider (my professor was not clear on what was used to divide), and on each side of the divider is a Xenon lamp. The way that they test SPF is by putting an FDA regulation control cream with an SPF of 2 on one side of the person’s back, and the test product on the other side, and turn on the lamps. When a burn becomes visible (presumably on the control side), they turn the lamp for that side off, and wait for a burn to become visible on the test product side, all the while, timing the procedure. Here he mentioned something about dividing the time it took the test side to burn by the time it took the control side to burn to determine the SPF, but the Wikipedia page on sunscreen provides a much more complex, and confusing equation. Either way, that’s how it’s done, and that’s why it’s so difficult, as well as expensive to determine SPF. So, word to the wise: if you see a small, independent makeup company who claims that their products have an SPF of “X”, you might want to reconsider before buying.

So, like, how much sunscreen should I wear, anyway?
Well, I’m glad you asked. You see, the FDA has a nifty chart for recommendations on how much sunscreen one should use for their skin type. I stole this one from my professor’s notes:

Now, it needs to be noted that these recommendations are based on you using 2 mg of sunscreen per cm² of skin, and re-applying every two hours. Now that might not make a lot of sense, but if you were using that much sunscreen, it would be a visible layer on your skin, and you know that you probably don't re-apply every two hours, especially if you're having fun at the beach or pool. Since we don't use that much and don't tend to re-apply frequently, my professor recommended doubling the FDA's recommended SPF, and going with that, so that you can achieve the maximum amount of protection possible.

More isn’t always that much better.
What SPF means is that the sunscreen will protect x amount times more than your skin would protect you with no sunscreen. More specifically, SPF 30 will protect you from 98.5% of the sun’s rays. However, since SPF suns on a bit of an exponential curve, meaning that the amount of harmful rays you’re exposed to decreases rapidly with sunscreen, but slows down a great deal as you reach further. So despite SPF 60 sunscreen being twice as powerful as SPF 30, it only blocks 1% more rays, at 99.5%. So really, there’s probably not a reason most people would need SPF 60 sunscreen, unless they are so intensely sensitive to the sun that they need that extra 1% of protection. However, since most of us don’t need it, it’s probably not a good idea to pay the premium that high SPF sunscreens tend to run, and just reach for the SPF 30 instead.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The FDA and Cosmetics

So, here’s the rundown on how much the FDA cares about regulating cosmetics in the U.S.: they don’t. They have no regulatory powers over the cosmetics industry, unless someone is harmed by a cosmetic product. And even then, lawsuits are, for the most part, civil, as opposed to criminal, because it’s almost impossible to bring a criminal lawsuit against a company. The closest the FDA comes to regulating the cosmetics industry is their Good Manufacturing Practices, which for smaller companies isn’t even required, only suggested. Cosmetics companies are also required to include net quantity of the product on their packaging, as well as the full address for the manufacturer/distributor, if they are not the same company.

Wondering why this post is so short? Well, that’s because I’m giving you the extent of the regulation of the cosmetics industry, as my pharmacy professor, who has been working in the cosmetics and pharmaceutical world for longer than I’ve been alive, presented it to me. While I think that the lack of regulation has allowed a lot of independent makeup companies thrive, I think we’ve also seen that a lot of companies take advantage of the lack of regulations, by selling products that don’t do what they say they do, or contain potentially dangerous ingredients.

However, there is a light shining at the end of the tunnel, as it were. While the U.S. has next to no regulations on cosmetics, many other countries (especially Japan, and France) do have strict regulations on cosmetics, so when a company is selling internationally, it’s more likely that they adhere to more strict cosmetic manufacturing guidelines than are required by the U.S., because even if they are operating out of the U.S., they need to meet those requirements in order to sell to other countries.

And lastly, this one is just because it intrigues me. I will start this with the disclaimer that I have no problems with companies who put the little “cruelty free” bunny on their sites, and in fact, buy from many that so. However, notice that nothing in the above post mentions anything about animal testing for cosmetic products. That’s because animal testing is not common practice for cosmetics. The only industry that requires it (off the top of my head), is the pharmaceutical industry. You might try to fight me on this one, and that’s okay, because I know where I stand in regards to this. Since animal testing is not required, cosmetics companies won’t do it, because it’s incredibly expensive, and time consuming. Not to mention, that France has banned animal testing on products, so if a company wants to sell in France, they must adhere to the French manufacturing laws. And really, why would a cosmetic company spend their money when they don’t have to? That’s why it strikes me as funny now, when I come across sites touting their “cruelty free” banner, as if it differentiates them from the rest of the cosmetics industry, when in fact, it does not. I appreciate the sentiment behind it, if the company owner is against animal testing, but it is not an indicator that a particular company is somehow morally better than another.

That’s all for now. I’m planning out another post on sunscreen and SPF, because I know that when the MMM started up, one of the big topics was about how only the FDA can establish an SPF rating for cosmetic products.