Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Do bull semen hair treatments work?

I was recently reading an article on my beloved Beauty Heaven website on the use of bull semen as a hair treatment and I thought to myself, I've got to find out more about this. Not because I am genuinely interested but because I wanted to know how someone could even come up with this as a hair treatment.  Did a farmer, after 'milking' his bull, accidentally ran his hands through his hair only to find that it left it super soft and beautifully shiny? We all know, thanks to Cameron Diaz in There's Something About Mary, that semen makes an excellent hair gel - but a treatment as well? This I had to investigate.

I have trawled through the Internet, trying to find more information on this treatment but all I came across was a plethora of blogs, each repeating the same information, commenting on how weird or out there this treatment is (which of course it is!). According to the bull semen is mixed with the high protein katira plant root extract and this is massaged into the hair for 45 minutes. In an interview with Reuters, Hari Salem, creator of this treatment said that he tried hundreds of products before discovering that bull semen was the elusive ingredient for making hair look gorgeous."The semen is refrigerated before use and doesn't smell," Salem told London's Metro newspaper. "It leaves your hair looking wonderfully soft and thick.". So that's it. No cool story of how this treatment came about, no accidental discovery by an unhygienic farmer - just a salon owner, looking for a protein treatment to repair hair, decided to use bull semen.

So, whilst I couldn't find any scientific evidence that this will work, did the theory at least have merit? Hair is made up of the protein keratin. The keratin forms rope like fibres and the are covered by the flat cells of the cuticle - which is what gives hair its shine. Damage to hair occurs when the cells of the cuticle are lost, leaving it dull and lacking shine. So, can bull semen replace these lost cells? Semen contains sperm, mucous, sugar solution and an alkaline solution. The majority of the protein in semen comes from the sperm, but sperm is designed to fertilise an egg, not a hair follicle, so it is going to do nothing to repair damaged hair. I really can't see any of the other ingredients having much impact either. The purported benefits of this treatment are most likely due to having your head massage for 45 minutes, allowing the cuticles to be smoothed down, and not the 'elusive ingredient', bull semen.

Now I know this is meant to be a scientific blog, but as hard as I look I can't find any evidence that bull semen does anything other than make baby bulls! You are more than welcome to give this treatment a try, you never know, it might just work. But personally, I am going to leave the semen with the bull for him to give to his wife to make future Big Macs for me.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Estee Lauder Re-Nutriv Ultimate Youth Creme Review

As a scientist, a large percentage of my time is spent reading journal articles for work and, being a bit of a nerd, I also enjoy reading scientific articles in the media for fun. So, I thought I was fairly on the ball as to what hot new research that was being conducted. Yet, somehow I had missed what was going on in the beauty industry. I always thought that research conducted within the beauty industry was a bit fluffy - that they would just survey 10 women, ask them if they thought that their skin looked better, fewer wrinkles etc and that was the extent of it. Estee Lauder Re-Nutriv Ultimate Youth Creme is the beauty product that really opened my eyes to just how seriously the beauty industry takes it's research.

The Claims
Estee Lauder Re-Nutriv Ultimate Youth Creme contains Resveratrate otherwise named “The Youth Molecule” by Estee Lauder. According to the company, this product is meant to extend the skin’s youthfulness so that time “stands still”. The skin will increase in its clarity, tone, and fine dry lines will be plumped by the moisturiser.

The Research Explained
Background to the research: Studies in mice and other organisms have shown that reducing calorie intake causes an increased life expectancy or longevity. Scientists have then found that it is the gene SIRT-1 that gets activated to cause this longevity. Genes are a bit like powerpoints, they don't really do anything until they get switched on, or activated. Often the hardest part of research is not discovering a gene but finding out what turns it on or off. When SIRT-1 gets activated, it increases the cells natural defenses and the repairing functions meaning that the cell is better at protecting itself from damage and if damage does occur it has more time to repair itself - this in turn allows the cell to live for longer.  Once it was discovered that SIRT-1 was responsible for longevity, scientists at Estee Lauder and two other labs worked together to find out how they could activate SIRT-1 in skin cells to make them live longer. This research took over 8 years to complete.

The research: The star ingredient of the Ultimate Youth Creme is Resveratrate. Resveratrate has been shown to activate SIRT-1. Scientists grew some skin cells in a dish (this type of experiment is called a cell culture) and then put some Resveratrate into the dish to see what would happen to the cells. The result was that survival rate of the skin cells doubled (ie after a certain amount of time there were twice as many cells alive in the dish that has Resveratrate than in the dish that didn't have Resveratrate) and that the skin cells had 6 times more protection from environmental factors.
Resveratrate works on the epidermal cells in the top layer of the skin. You may want to refer back to my blog, Understanding the skin, for a more detailed diagram of the layers of the skin but briefly, there are 5 layers of epidermal cells that divide and move their way up through the skin. Often skincare routines promote a product that speeds up cell turnover for a fresher looking complexion. However, each cell only has a limited number of times that it can divide. In the DNA of each cell is a telomere, which is a bit like a gate keeper - when a cell divides to make another cell the telomere makes sure that this new cell is identical to the original one. But each time a division occurs a little bit of the telomere snaps off. Eventually, after so many cell divisions, the telomere gets completely used up, meaning that the original cell can no longer divide and so it dies, causing thinning of the epidermis. So, because Resveratrate increases the cells natural defenses and the repairing functions it actually slows down cell turnover. Which, as Estee Lauder puts it, causes time to "stand still".
My Review
I have managed to get my hands on a few deluxe sized samples (7ml) of the Ultimate Youth Creme and so have been using this as a night cream. I think it would be most effective if it were used day and night; however, as it is so expensive and it doesn't contain a SPF I decided to save it just for a night cream. I am finding that the 7ml samples are lasting me over a month being used as a night cream so a 50ml pot would last over 6 months.

I have to say that it is honestly the most beautiful moisturiser I have ever tried. My skin felt satin soft after applying it, it has never felt like that before. I just wanted to keep stroking it! It absorbed easily, was not in the slightest bit greasy and a little bit went a long way, hence why my sample lasted so long. It had light reflecting particles in it that gave my skin a real luminosity (which is fantastic if you are planning on using it as a day cream as well). It plumped out the fine lines, and the lines that are beyond plumping were well disguised by the light reflecting particles. When I'd get up in the morning my skin looks so good after using this - so fresh, hydrated and honestly quite radiant.

It is lightly fragranced, which I found to be very pleasant, and I don't think the fragrance would be strong enough to offend anyone. The only thing I didn't like about this was the container it came in. As you can see from the pic it comes in a jar. Now, while there is something quite satesfying about sticking your finger in a tub of moisturiser and taking a big gloop I do worry about potential contamination. And at $AU410 for 50ml you do not want this to become contaminated. I would much prefer it to come in an airless pump pack, for both contamination reasons and it would make it much easier to ration out exactly how much cream you use.

This is such a beautiful moisturiser that I think that this cream would be ideal for anyone. However, the best age group to start using this cream would be those in their late 20's, or early 30's (or even 40's if you are blessed with a youthful appearance) who are only just starting to show the first signs of ageing. This cream would then slow down the ageing process.

When I was researching this article I discovered that the Ultimate Youth range has been discontinued which is quite disappointing. I debated not posting this article but I have a bit of a sentimental attachment to the Ultimate Youth range as it was the first beauty range that blew me away with the scientific research. I decided to post it anyway, and have also contacted Estee Lauder to find out why it was discontinued and to see if there is an equivalent range out there. I'll post my findings once I get a reply.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Understanding the skin

To describe the science behind skincare, a lot of my posts are going to be referring to the structure of the skin so I though I'd give a quick anatomy lesson on the composition of skin. 

The deepest layer of the skin is called the subcutaneous layer and it is located just below the dermis (cut off in this diagram). It is a layer of fat cells, that keep the skin looking plump and bouncy, and blood vessels which provide nutrients to the upper layers of the skin.

The dermis middle layer of the skin. The dermis is made up of collagen and elastin which maintains the structure, strength, flexibility and elasticity of the skin. Fibroblasts which are the cells in the dermis responsible for producing new collagen. The dermis also contains blood vessels, sweat and sebaceous glands and hair follicles.

The uppermost layer of the skin is the epidermis. This consists of five layers of cells and is responsible for the appearance of the skin. The deepest layer of the epidermis, the basal layer, is comprised of immature skin cells that divide then mature and move their way up through each skin layer to the surface where they then die and become part of the horny layer before they are shed. It generally takes about 4 weeks for the cells to move from the basal layer to the horny layer. The epidermis also contains melanocytes which are what gives our skin its colouring and Langerhans which are the cells that tell the body when foreign substances such as bacteria have entered the body.

Cross section of the skin (courtesy of

Hopefully, by understanding the composition of the skin it will make it easier to understand the science behind new skin care products or the latest must have ingredient that companies are raving about.


Friday, 25 March 2011

Welcome to my blog!

I have been obsessed with beauty products for as long as I can remember, most likely since I first read an issue of Dolly as an impressionable tween. I started off buying what I thought was 'the nicest' Vitamin E moisturiser from Franklins. It was only $1.99, which I thought was the best beauty bargain ever! I then progressed to spending my pocket money on the Ten-0-Six range or Avon's Clearskin line, before graduating to other Avon ranges as I got older. As my disposable income increased so did the amount I spent on beauty products. When I got the first payment from my PhD scholarship, did I spend it on textbooks or something equally studious? Of course not - I rewarded myself with my first ever high end beauty purchase, a mask that cost $50. For the life of me I can't remember the brand but the price has stuck with over the years as it was a truly decadent purchase for a student. Unfortunately, this was not a one off treat but the start of a pretty serious addiction to luxury beauty products. Soon dropping $60, $70, even $100 on a single beauty product had become the norm. When my sister went on her first European adventure, it was not souvenirs that I asked she bring me back but La Prairie's Skin Caviar. And when I got engaged? Well, that was the green light to exclusively use high end products - SKII, Priori, La Prairie - I mean my skin had to look its best, after all! But this lavish life of beauty was soon to come to a grinding halt. I got a mortgage, then fell pregnant. My income was no longer disposable.

For the last few years my beauty addiction had been causing me some guilt. I wasn't feeling guilty about the $$$ I was rubbing into my skin (or washing down the sink), but rather that I was letting my vanity overpower my scientific training. I have done a PhD in wound healing, so know the skin inside out, therefore should be skilled at picking out which marketing claims were a load of crap and which ones may be true. But I so desperately wanted them all to be true that I would block out the voice telling me not to buy this product or that. Inevitably, I would end up disappointed when my miracle potion didn't work. My new found lack of disposable income has come as a blessing, albeit in an excellent disguise, as it has forced me to really assess the claims made by beauty companies before investing in skincare.

So, the purpose of this blog is to discuss my thoughts on claims made by the beauty industry, translate the scientific studies into plain English, and review products that I have tried. I hope to update my blog weekly with a science related beauty article as it takes me a while to read through the research, but I may pop in more frequently to post my thoughts on other beauty issues.

I hope you enjoy reading what I have to say.