Cosmetics and Reality

By Bardbard, Laura | FDA Consumer, November 1993 | Go to article overview

Cosmetics and Reality


Bardbard, Laura, FDA Consumer


This article is part of a series with important health information for teenagers.

A sea of cosmetics crowds the drugstore shelves, luring you with claims of romance, popularity and beauty. To be happy, you must use these products1 Or so the advertisers would have you believe. Do they work? Will you be the most beautiful, the most successful, and the most radiant person if you use these products? Where does the hype end and the help begin?

Cosmetics are defined in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act as "articles (other than . . soap) intended to be applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance without affecting the body's structure or functions."

The following are all considered cosmetics:

* skin care creams, lotions, powders

* perfume, cologne, toilet water

* makeup (lipstick, foundation, blush)

* nail polish, polish remover, cuticle softener

* hair coloring preparations

* deodorants

* shaving cream, aftershave, skin conditioner

* shampoos (except dandruff shampoos)

* bath oils and bubble bath

* mouthwash and toothpaste (with whiteners it is considered a drug)

Skin Care

Cosmetics can't work miracles, but they can help keep your skin clean and looking moist and soft. They also can temporarily close pores, plump up skin to make it appear smoother, and give you a rosy glow or blush.

Many cosmetic products are designed to protect the skin of people over 30 against dryness and the accompanying wrinkles. But these aren't the concerns of most teens. The biggest skin problem for most teenagers is acne. Some studies show that all adolescents have acne to some degree because when puberty hits, your skin starts secreting more oil. This contributes to blackheads and pimples, which cause your pores to stretch a little bit. Although acne cannot be avoided simply by washing your face, the oils on the surface of your skin can be diminished by frequent washing with cleansers made for that purpose. And there are many treatments available for acne both in over-the-counter and prescription strengths (see "Acne Agony" in the July-August 1992 FDA Consumer).

If, while trying to decrease the oily shine on your face, you make your skin overly dry, or if you're spending a lot of time outdoors in very cold weather, you may want to use a moisturizer. "Teens really should only use a water-based moisture lotion labeled 'non-comedogenic,' which means it doesn't clog pores," says Dr. Barry Leshin, M.D., associate professor of dermatology at the Wake Forest School of Medicine. "Heavier oil-based moisturizers can cause acne cosmetica-- an [acne-like] skin condition directly attributed to the use of cosmetics."

Ingredients

What cosmetics can or cannot do for your complexion is determined by the ingredients of the cosmetics and your own complexion. Cosmetics contain ingredients from nature and from the laboratory. Some work well for cleaning, others are good for lubricating--and some don't do very much at all.

It's a good idea to read the labeling on cosmetics to find out what the product contains. Some ingredients, such as alcohol and mineral oil, are fairly common. Others seem more unusual and may require some explanation. Here are some examples.

* Liposomes: Microscopic sacs manufactured from natural or synthetic fatty substances which include phospholipids (components of cell membranes). When properly mixed with water, phospholipids can "trap" any substance that will dissolve in water or oil. Manufacturers say that liposomes act like a delivery system, depositing product ingredients into the skin. When the liposomes "melt," the ingredients, such as moisturizers, are released.

* Aloe vera: A plant from the lily family, aloe vera in large amounts has anti-irritant properties. …

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