Putting Beauty Treatments To The Test


A senior woman scientist once told me that when she came of age in the 50s, women who wanted to look younger or who wanted softer skin could only choose lanolin compounds.  Lanolin — that stuff on sheep wool that makes your hands feel smooth after you have been — well, petting living sheep if you are the kind of person who gets to do that.

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Minnie Mouse Makeup

There have been lots of advances since then.  I do remember at least once, long ago, being shopping with a woman physician who had an interest in such products. In France, of course. Any docs I know here in the states are usually so submerged in the system, so overworked, that they are lucky if they have time to wash their faces. But back to France.  It was clear to me from her shopping habits that this woman, a distinguished scientific researcher, suspended her level of requirements for “good science” when she bought beauty preparations.

There was a good reason for this. There wasn’t any.

Oh, I had worked with her in medical school putting eye shadow on mice. Now although that may sound a bit bizarre, I must tell you that this was research.

Through a deal which I doubt anyone other than my glamorous professor could have put together, we got a contract to test cosmetics to make sure they were safe before the government would let them be put on the general market.

The way we did this was to take a bunch of genetically hairless mice and put eye makeup on their bare backs to see if they had irritation or allergies or worse. If the gentle mice skin was unblemished, then the eye shadow would be deemed safe to put on human skin.  So for a while, I served as a makeup artist for rodents.

You might laugh, but this research generated funds for an electron microscope – a huge investment, even for a national university. Yes, stranger than fiction, this was my initiation into clinical research.

No mice were harmed or killed in the process of testing makeup.

Although the mice in France might look glamorous in eye makeup, cosmetics for young medical students and lady doctors like me were something to be avoided (or at least minimized) – at least when I returned to practice in the USA.

The problem — which I later learned was quite common to young women trying to make it as doctors, scientists, professors, and such — was a simple one.  The more obvious it was that you were wearing makeup, the lower your status.  If you had the misfortune of being truly “cute,” then everyone assumed you were a secretary and they wouldn’t carry out your orders. Nobody could buy cuteness going with intellectual ability.

NOTE: Personally I lucked out and found a man who still tells me I’m cute after 20 years of marriage.  And people jump when I say jump!

Of course, as the years roll by, one does occasionally need a little cosmetic help.

A few years ago, a patient in my private practice told me I must be working very hard, because my face looks tired.  I thanked her for her concern, but no — I was doing just fine. I developed what some doctors call “allergic shiners” – those dark circles underneath the lower eyelid. They aren’t quite as pronounced as when the cartoon characters get socked in the face and get a black eye, but they are indeed similar to such “shiners.”

Since my tender youth, I’ve had numerous allergies.  The shiners appear when the circulation of blood in my face is going preferentially to my eyes themselves and nasal passages, but not to the skin beneath my eyes.  Oh, and some of it may have something to do with the ravages of age, but I am in wild denial about that.

I do believe that denial is the most underrated of the classical psychological defense mechanisms.  I mean, applied appropriately, it works great.

I started using some basic makeup, remembering back to my teens when the girls at my school all started to want to look grown-up.  I can also glean directions on makeup from the internet.  There is nothing you can’t learn on the internet.

But wait, there’s more. So I go to an upscale cosmetics store at the local fashion mall – internationally recognized as top-notch — and I ask for something to cover them, and the sales person asks me, “do you want to cover them, or would you like to treat them?” Well I got some good stuff to cover them first. Then, I looked at some treating stuff.

My poor husband – a fish out of water in such at feminine place – browsed the shelves to kill time while I consulted with the experts, and he pulled a jar off the shelf and asked if this was something I might use.

Please note that I have a husband who not only accompanies me to cosmetic shopping, but carried the bag emblazoned with the brand’s logo when we left the store and continued to walk through the mall.

I will write a great deal elsewhere on husband selection.  This man has even gone unaccompanied to a store to buy me false eyelashes for a photo-shoot.  He is obviously secure in his masculinity.

But back to the shiner-treatment — It seems to work kinda sorta but I have not pestered the company to request copies of their research, and I do not know where or if they publish it.  I wonder if their research is anything like what the older stuff was.  Are there mice running around somewhere with shiners, getting advice from their more glamorous relatives about this fabulous cosmetic treatment that they got for free?

Some basic truisms may be part of positive effects.  We do know for a fact that most of the chemical reactions that are visible as “aging” skin are oxidations, and when we talk about antioxidants, we are dealing with a class of compound that nobody’s body seems to have enough of. Maybe it has something to do with the modern food supply or cultural habits, but nobody gets enough antioxidants.

From a patent attorney I recently worked with while helping a company develop a nutritional supplement, I learned that a company only needs to provide “science lite” to convince the patent office — enough statistics show clinical significance, but usually from pretty subjective data.

The testing process is nowhere nearly as rigorous as the FDA requirements for clinical trials of prescription pharmaceuticals.

CONSUMER’S TIP: Don’t believe the hype when a commercial says that something was so terrific that it was awarded a US Patent.  The patent isn’t an Oscar – and the government has granted patents to some pretty goofy and weird things.  Unique – yes.  Useful and effective – not so often.

I’ve never been one to frequent beauty salons, but recently a colleague took me for my first pedicure. She was amazed that I had never experienced this.

And what an experience it was. You see, my feet are terribly ticklish and I amused my cosmetician no end with my squirming and giggling. But she was concerned about my thick nails, and the little bit of fungus beneath them.  Such is common in people as they age and no great shame unless you run around barefoot and take TV commercials that are meant to generate shame and sell prescription drugs seriously.

Things never change in advertising – In my mother’s day it was shame over “waxy yellow buildup” on the kitchen floor.  Today it’s yellow fungus under the toenails.

So not only do I not run around barefoot, but I have a low opinion of how medications are marketed.

My beauty operator called over another for a consult.  This was serious stuff. She then assured me that the “bad” fungus would be gone from my toenails after a couple more pedicures — no pain, no problem.  She applied something out of a squeeze bottle, with a label on which she had written something in Chinese characters.  I asked what it said and she said it was a fungus treatment, ancient and natural. I did not stop her.

She had made a lot more promises than any purveyor of prescription drugs ever would. She was lucky to get me at the time of life when I would trust an Oriental natural substance more than a prescription anyway. After my treatment, she covered my toenails with the brilliant red enamel I had chosen.

Imagine — A beauty treatment that really treats.

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