Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Guest Post on The Toast!

In case I haven't already managed to bombard you with this on other channels, an article I wrote was just published on The Toast, about surfactants and not being scared of chemicals. I'm very proud of it - click through here to read more!

(I have to add a special thanks to the lovely and talented Cassie of Reluctant Femme for helping me proofread and edit the article - she has my eternal thanks!)

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay and apple cider vinegar - a tale of pH

Apple cider vinegar and Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay are two budget-friendly, cult status beauty products that work beautifully together. Why are they such perfect partners? Well... it's got something to do with the magic known as pH.

What is pH?

pH is a measure of acidity or alkalinity - the amount of hydrogen ions (H+) in something. It's a log scale, which means something with a pH of 1 has 10 times the H+ of something with a pH of 2; something with a pH of 2 has 10 times the H+ content of something with a pH of 3, and so on. So if you dilute something with a pH of 3 by a factor of 2, you don't end up with pH 6 (you actually end up with pH 3.3).

For a more in-depth discussion on pH, check out my earlier post here.

Apple cider vinegar (ACV)

Vinegar is produced from alcohol by acetic acid bacteria. These bacteria basically eat alcohol and poop out acetic acid, the chemical which gives vinegar its sour flavour and its low pH.

Apple cider vinegar, as you might've guessed, is acidic. The exact pH will vary a bit between brands, and between batches. The last inch of my Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar sits at about pH 3-4 (ACV is usually cited as pH 4-5, so mine is a tad stronger (possibly due to it continuing to ferment in the bottle - it's been open for a fair few months).

Your skin is at around pH 5. While there are lots of skincare products with low pH - BHA treatments, for example, have to be at pH 3-4 to work - low pHs can irritate sensitive skin, and it's a good idea to let it adjust slowly and use diluted mixtures of ACV. It's also a good idea to spot test before using undiluted compresses of ACV to treat pimples - ACV's low pH level can cause chemical burns and scarring.

Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay

Passing over the awkwardly pre-PC product naming, Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay is a green calcium bentonite clay and is probably one of the best value clays on the market - a 1 pound tub will set you back $6 on iHerb (and there are frequent discounts too - you can use my code NUD131 for 10% off on your first purchase, if you haven't been sucked into the deep iHerb hole already, and it gives my more spending credit to sink further into the hole! Mutual enabling = the best kind of enabling).

I'm a bit weirded out by how the makers of the product seem to think "feeling your face pulsate" is the main selling point of this product, and I loathe having the word "impurity" in skincare marketing, but I love this product so much I'm willing to gloss over it.

The instructions specify mixing the clay with equal parts of raw apple cider vinegar or water. What happens in each case?

Sunday, 20 April 2014

What are the skin lightening alternatives to hydroquinone?

Recently we looked closely at the most famous of the whitening agents, hydroquinone – it’s the most studied and very effective, but has some serious (though often overstated) side effects, is irritating to the skin, and has been heavily restricted in some countries as well. Today let’s have a look at some of the other whitening agents on the market – how do they work, and what are the side effects?

The most commonly used topical treatments for treating hyperpigmentation are usually hydroquinone or retinoids, which are quite irritating to the skin. Therefore a lot of people turn to alternative whitening agents. Although many of these haven’t been studied extensively, they appear in many products and appear to be quite safe.

Note that clinical studies are almost always done on patients who have quite severe hyperpigmentation, such as melasmas and dyschromias – not the target audience of this post (if your hyperpigmentation is severe, you should discuss your specific situation and treatment options with a dermatologist). This means that the results mightn’t entirely translate to the mild freckling, acne scarring and sun damage that the average beauty junkie is looking to reduce.

How do lightening products work?

Whitening agents work in a number of different ways, and some work in more than one way. Lightening products generally slow down melanin production.

Most treatments for hyperpigmentation act on the first step of melanin synthesis – the conversion of tyrosine into DOPA and dopaquinone by an enzyme called tyrosinase. They can either:

(a)    act as a mimic of tyrosine, essentially keeping tyrosinase too busy to produce as much melanin as before (hydroquinone, mequinol, azelaic acid, arbutin, licorice extract)
(b)    block off the important copper ions in tyrosinase, preventing the enzyme from working (kojic acid, ascorbic acid)

Some other ways ingredients reverse or slow down hyperpigmentation are:

- slowing down the production of tyrosinase enzyme (N-acetylglucosamine)

- slowing down maturation of melanosomes (pigment producing organelles) (arbutin and derivatives)

- preventing melanin pigment from travelling from the melanocytes where it’s made, to the keratinocyte skin cells (soy, niacinamide, retinoids)

- dispersing pigment (licorice extract)

- increasing skin turnover, meaning there are more skin cells being produced, and less pigment to go around (alpha and beta hydroxy acids, retinoids).

In general, side effects are less of a concern for the less effective ingredients; however, combining different whitening agents results in a more potent product without too much irritation.

Mequinol (4-hydroxyanisole)

Mequinol is the main alternative prescription alternative to hydroquinone. It’s also known as methoxyphenol, hydroquinone monomethyl ether, and p-hydroxyanisole. 

How it works: It’s not entirely clear how mequinol works, but it seems that it’s similar to hydroquinone in that it mimics tyrosine and decreases tyrosinase’s ability to make melanin pigment.

Strength: Mequinol usually comes at a concentration of 2%, sometimes in combination with 0.01% tretinoin and ascorbic acid to enhance penetration. It’s been found to be as effective as hydroquinone.
Irritation potential and side effects: It’s supposed to be less irritating than hydroquinone, but can sometimes cause temporary postinflammatory hyperpigmentation. There has also been some instances of reversible depigmentation. 


Retinoids are analogues of vitamin A, used for treating many conditions such as acne and sun damage, as well as acting as a penetration enhancer for other treatments. Examples include tretinoin, adapalene, tazarotene and isotretinoin, as well as retinol, which is available over the counter.

How it works: Retinoids are thought to work in multiple ways to reduce pigmentation, including increasing skin turnover, interfering with transfer of melanin to the skin, reducing the amount of tyrosinase produced in the skin and dispersing melanin. Retinoids are usually used in combination with other treatments for hyperpigmentation – by themselves, they take several months to achieve results.

Strength: Commonly used strengths of retinoids vary according to the retinoid in question: tretinoin (0.05—0.1%), adapalene (0.1—0.3%), tazarotene (0.01—0.1%), retinol (up to 4%). They’re also commonly combined with corticosteroids to reduce irritation and the chances of postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Irritation potential and side effects: Different retinoids have different irritation potential – in general, the more effective the retinoid, the more irritating and more side effects it will have. Retinoid irritation is common and leads to redness, dryness and peeling (which is also why it works well as a penetration enhancer). Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation is also a risk, especially in darker skin. Adapalene is one of the less irritating retinoids.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Artsy Wednesday: Easter

Happy Easter! Here's my mani for Artsy Wednesday - since I've been unpacking madly and working, I've kept it simple. It's one of the new ulta3 speckle polishes for Easter, Egg-cellent, a pretty pale green, with an accent nail of Essence Gold Digger, which was part of the Metal Glam collection I reviewed here.

I'll have more swatches of the ulta3 speckles up soon!

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