Is it Cosmetic Science or Cosmetic Non-Science?

The Journal of Cosmetic Science published by the Society of Cosmetic Chemists is the premiere scientific journal and a great resource for finding out the latest developments in the field of cosmetic science. You can find new methods, new raw materials, and research in biology, chemistry, and physics. Some of the articles are incredibly useful and enlightening.

Unfortunately, some of them are not.

Recent JSCC Issue

The May/June 2011 issue of the Journal has the following articles. If you are a member of the SCC you can access the articles online, otherwise you’ll have to wait for 5 years or go to the library.

1. Enhanced female attractiveness with use of cosmetics and male tipping behavior in restaurants.

2. Tryptophan fluorescence in hair – Examination of contributing factors

3. Evaluation of anti-cellulite efficacy: A topical cosmetic treatment for cellulite blemishes

4. Luster measurements of lips treated with lipstick formulations

Article Evaluation

There are a number of good things to say in general about the journal. First, it is consistent in look and content. They cover a wide range of topics that would be relevant to cosmetic chemists. Next, the articles are readable, have relevant graphics and most importantly, are peer reviewed.

But the JSCC faces a significant problem. Most of the research being done in the cosmetic industry is paid for by companies that want to promote some product. This means that there is an inherent bias in almost all the articles. Sometimes this problem is less significant but other times, it’s just ridiculous.

Let’s look at some of the articles.

1. Enhanced female attractiveness and tipping behavior

This study purports to determine whether a waitress wearing makeup will garner more tips than one not wearing makeup. While it is an interesting question, it seems nearly impossible to control all the factors that would enable you to adequately figure out the answer. And indeed the researchers make an attempt but there are so many holes in this research it’s hardly worth publishing. Small sample size, no blinded controls, not controling for the psychological effect of wearing make-up versus not, no comparison of the waitresses normal tip generating ability, etc. This kind of stuff might be passed off as science in areas like Consumer Research or Psychology but come on, this is hardly science.

2. Tryptophan fluorescence in hair

Ah, finally some science complete with controls and a specific analyasis. This article looks at the fluorescence emissions in a variety of different types of hair. They control the chromophore emissions from different wave lengths, compare hair types, and look at the effect of various treatments. Now this, could be useful to cosmetic chemists. For example, if you get good at this method of hair analysis you can determine what effect your new formulation will have on hair. You could then set targets for which to exceed and use it to help steer your formulation efforts. A nice study. Of course, Janusz Jachowicz is one of the rock star researchers in cosmetic science, so it’s not unexpected.

3. Evaluation of anti-cellulite efficacy

Ugh. I still am trying to recover from having gone through this article. Now, on the one hand I appreciate the introduction which explains the latest thoughts on what is responsible for the development of cellulite. But after that, it goes down hill. This article attempts to demonstrate that a special concoction of herbal extracts can significantly reduce cellulite via topical application. Certainly a worthwhile study and one that would be of interest to any skin care cosmetic formulator.

Unfortunately, their study doesn’t support the conclusion that the treatment had any significant effect versus the placebo. Their argument essentially goes like this…

The formula with the acitve ingredient performs better than baseline.

The placebo formula does not perform better than baseline.

Therefore, the active ingredient works.

This isn’t how science works! You are supposed to compare the results versus the placebo and their own data shows that there is no significant difference. The conclusion of this study should be “our active ingredient works no better than placebo.”

4. Luster measurements of lips

This is another paper by the folks at ISP and they do a decent job with a difficult topic. In it they evaluate the luster (shine) of mannequin lips after the application of various lip sticks. They use computers and digital photography to rate the various treatments. Pretty good work although it would have been nice to see how the instrumental measurements compare to human evaluations. It would also have been nice to see this study repeated on actual human lips. I’m not sure how a mannequin lip compares to a human one. Perhaps that will be forthcoming in future research. Overall, this is a well-done study that could be useful to anyone formulating lipsticks.

Cosmetic science research

So 2 out of 4 research papers are worthwhile. I guess that’s not awful, but I sure would like to see a little better vetting of what gets published.

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