You're putting what on your face? - (4/16/2019)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

The pharmacist enjoys browsing the cosmetics aisle of her pharmacy because it lets her see which products are shiny and new. The definition of a cosmetic is clear: a product applied to the body, especially the face, to improve its appearance. The phrase “improving appearance” is code for looking younger. Everyone wants to look younger – and if we could revert to our fetal state, we would be ecstatic. But alas, time marches on. So does the cosmetic industry, which turns out novel products as fast as the calendar changes.  

For example, remember when everything – shampoo, face cream, conditioner – had to have green tea in it? That was so 2018. This year, activated charcoal is the “thing.” Manufacturers have added the carbon ash to cleansers, face masks, and toothpaste for its ability to absorb toxins and pollutants. While it might be fun to spend the day in blackface, your dentist may draw the line on using charcoal as toothpaste, since it can cause enamel abrasion. A 2017 study from the American Dental Association suggests that dental clinicians advise their patients to be cautious when using charcoal-based dentifrices with unproven claims of efficacy and safety. 

Feeling rich? You will when you use a 24K gold face mask, many of which have diamond dust for extra glam. While its users rave about its cooling effects, avocado oil, vitamin A, seaweed extract, vitamin E, and caffeine are also included to give it some pharmacologic heft. With your 24K gold mask, you may feel like June Cleaver vacuuming the living room in heels and pearls, be careful if the Sisters of Mercy come knocking on your door. A hefty “face-saving” donation along with the $700 price tag for the mask could break the bank. Noxzema is cheaper and probably just as good. And the nuns will feel your pain.

One breakthrough in the anti-aging race appears to be a long chain of simple sugar molecules called hyaluronic acid (HA). The body makes and uses it to provide connective tissue such as cartilage. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can cause skin cells to reduce their production of HA, making the skin look older and more wrinkled. HA is now a common ingredient in skin-care products. HA is used to fill in wrinkles in cosmetic surgery. Surgeons typically inject HA using either a classic sharp hypodermic needle. Complications include the severing of nerves and microvessels, pain, and bruising. But wait! A liquid version is available right down the cosmetics aisle. HA is combined with other skin-healthy substances such as olive extract and vitamin E. Or it can be purchased in its pure form, as either a 1% or 1.5% concentration.

Let’s not forget the hair. According to the Richmond Institute for Continuing Dental Education, Americans spend twice as much on hair products than they do dental care. So we know where our priorities are. Johnson’ Baby Shampoo just does not fill the bill anymore. Shampoos must be clarifying and volumizing! They must contain ginger, vitamin B7, collagen, and any fruit you can imagine. One interesting product that has set fire to the hair world is Moroccan oil of argan. In northern Africa, argan oil is used to dip bread in at breakfast or to drizzle on couscous or pasta. Yet, it is a cool new product for hair because it contains all the vitamin E and fatty acids one’s scalp needs to look and feel healthy. 

What cosmetic treasures are in store for next year? Hummingbird saliva creams? Concrete masks? Oil of tilapia? The pharmacist can’t wait to stroll down the cosmetic aisle next year!  

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Read more at

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