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Posted by 05.05.14

“Formaldehyde-free” hair straightening treatments remain popular among many frizzy-haired folk who want the benefits of the “Brazilian Blowout” and other straightening treatments—without the harmful risks associate with formaldehyde. But these treatments aren’t necessarily any safer than their formaldehyde-based counterparts, cautions Nicole E. Rogers, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. She spoke during the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology in Denver in March 2014.

Formaldehyde-free is a clever marketing term, not necessarily a chemical one, she says. These treatments often contain chemicals that convert to formaldehyde with heat. “The formaldehyde is what binds with the hair’s keratin to makes it stick straight,” she says. “Any product that has a dramatic straightening effect must contain some kind of formaldehyde derivative.” The FDA classifies formaldehyde as a chemical known to cause cancer. It also may cause nosebleeds and nose and eye irritation, especially among those who are frequently exposed to it or who have underlying respiratory conditions.

It’s not clear who is most at risk from these chemicals, Rogers adds. “There is a chance that consumers and hair dressers or even people who live or work in buildings that share ventilation with hair salons may be at risk.”

Questions about Ingredients remain and there is no way of knowing for sure if formaldehyde-free hair straighteners provide a safer alternative than previous products, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at New York City’s Mt. Sinai Medical Center.

“Despite their name, formaldehyde-free straighteners may contain trace amounts of formaldehyde [and] there is little regulation over these treatments, so it is up to the manufacturer to ensure that the levels are low,” he says. In some cases, chemicals similar to formaldehyde, such as biformyl, also known as ethandia, and glyoxal are used as a substitute. “While these are not classified as a carcinogen, they can be very irritating or cause allergies,” he says. “The only way to avoid formaldehyde altogether is not to get the treatment at all.”

Another possible ingredient in some “formaldehyde-free” treatments is methylene glycol. The Independent Cosmetic Ingredient Review looked at its use for hair straightening several years ago and concluded that it was unsafe. There are many straighteners on the market, and it’s difficult to know what is used in each of them, says Halyna Breslawec, PhD, Chief Scientist at the Personal Care Products Council, a Washington, DC-based trade group representing the cosmetic industry.

“Consumers looking at long term straightening treatments should ask the salon what is in the product and whether or not the chemical produces formaldehyde,“ she says. “Be very cautious.” Rogers adds that the safest way to straighten hair is to use blow dryers or straightening irons on the lowest possible temperature as little as possible. That means keeping temperatures 300 degrees Fahrenheit or below, she says.

Special shampoos, styling products, and flat irons can all give you smoother, straighter locks, but the effects are usually temporary. According to Teresa Probst at Varin Salon in New York City, “If you want straight, frizz-free hair that lasts from three to six months or even longer, chemical straightening is the only way to go. A keratin straightening system applied by a professional can make hair more manageable and add shine. If used incorrectly, or if the wrong product is used on the wrong hair type or texture, the result can be damage and breakage.” She also recommends against having color and straightening done at the same time.

A flat iron will help keep hair straight, but as Probst said, “Be sure to protect your cuticle with a heat protectant before you pick up a flat iron.”

We love Kerastase Fibre Architecte to seal in shine.


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Posted by 04.24.14

April is Earth month. To acknowledge the emerging importance of green beauty, Cosmetic Executive Women recently announced the CEW Eco Beauty Awards Finalists.

Six amazing green beauty brands have been recognized as leading examples of products that are moving toward a goal of total sustainability. The brands are judged by CEW members on four core principles: less use of materials extracted from the earth’s crust; less accumulation of man-made substances; less physical degradation of nature; and more consideration for peoples’ needs and rights.

CEW has taken some of the guesswork out of choosing organic brands that are committed to saving the planet. Not all eco-friendly brands are the same. BEWARE of fake so-called ‘organic’ or ‘all natural’ products that abound at beauty counters and drugstore shelves.

This year’s Eco finalists are:

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Stay tuned for the announcement of the winner on May 16, along with the winners in all Beauty Award categories. For more info about the CEW Beauty Awards, visit

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Posted by 03.21.14

Pregnant women need to know that anything they put in or on their bodies can affect their baby’s well-being. This goes for food, supplements, alcohol, cigarette smoke, and caffeine, as well as the lotions and creams they rub onto their skin. Basically everything a pregnant or nursing woman comes in contact with is of concern.

Some topical ingredients will get absorbed into the bloodstream, and dermatologists as well as OB/GYNs alike may warn you about certain prescription medications and potent ingredients to avoid. According to Beverly Hills Dermatologist Zein Obagi, MD, pregnant women should avoid applying any form of retinoids, including Avage, Differin, Renova, tretinoin, retinols, retinyl palmitate, Tazorac and any other variations.  “Some pediatricians even recommend waiting at least 30 days after you discontinue use of retinoids to conceive. Pregnant women should not use hydroquinone for skin lightening and melasma.” He added that Tetracycline has been shown to cross the placenta, which can cause staining of the baby’s teeth and affect the way the skeleton develops so it should be avoided as well.

In general, salicylic acid peels are on the no fly list too. If in doubt about any product you are using, consult your obstetrician and/or dermatologist. If you have been using something that is not advisable, ask your doctor or pharmacist for a suitable alternative that is safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

According to New York Dermatologist Dr. Francesca Fusco, “When my pregnant patients ask me what is ‘safe’ to use while pregnant or breast feeding, I always advise them to check labels, and clear it with their OB or pediatrician (if breast feeding).”

Her go to list of products includes oils. “Almond is my favorite. Weleda Stretch Mark Massage Oil helps smooth tight skin and prevent stretch marks and smooth stretching skin as your stomach expands. It nourishes, smooths and maintains great hydration.” She also recommends products that are ideal for pregnant skin. “I look for products that are allergy-tested and free of parabens, fragrance, and harsh chemicals, and perfect for even the most sensitive skin. The First Aid Beauty line hits the mark on all the above. Their cult favorite Ultra Repair Cream, and best-selling Facial Cleanser and Daily Face Cream are wonderful. Many pregnant women get itchy due to changes in hormones and the Ultra Repair Cream is thoroughly soothing. I tell patients to keep one jar in a cool place and when the ‘pruritus of pregnancy’ strikes, slather don’t scratch!”

Fusco also recommends maintaining your hair and scalp. “A healthy scalp is the foundation for beautiful hair during any season Clear Scalp and Hair Beauty Therapy Mask with cactus is a deeply intensive hydrating mask that nourishes and gives hair resilience.”

As any mother knows, pregnancy can be a wild hormonal ride resulting in acne and even melasma, sometimes called the “mask of pregnancy.” Florida Dermatologist Dr. Heather Woolery-Lloyd says there are definitely topical options, even antibiotic ones, for treating unwanted acne while pregnant. “Topical antibiotics such as clindamycin and erythromycin fall into pregnancy category B, which means there are no proven risks in humans. Topical antibiotics can be safely used in pregnancy,” she says.

On the other hand, oral use of antibiotics may carry more risk and some studies show a weak association with certain birth defects.  “Using oral antibiotics during pregnancy should be discussed with your physician and should be used when the benefits outweigh the risks,” Woolery-Lloyd advises.

She also recommends certain ingredients derived from natural substances for acne treatment. “Azelaic acid, derived from cereal grains, comes in a topical gel and cream formulas. This acne medication is also pregnancy category B,” she said.

Other natural ingredients that have been proven to be helpful in some acne studies and are safe to use during pregnancy are tea tree oil, a natural antibiotic; green tea, a popular natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory; and lactic acid, which occurs naturally in our bodies. “Specific Beauty Exfoliating Cleansing Cloths offer gentle exfoliation and have aloe and green tea for skin brightening,” says Woolery-Lloyd.

According to Wooldery-Lloyd, benzoyl peroxide, sulfur-based therapies, and glycolic, acid do not fall into FDA pregnancy category A or B, but most dermatologists feel comfortable prescribing these treatments, as no adverse affects during pregnancy have been reported. However, most dermatologists avoid glycolic acid peels during pregnancy.

When it comes to treating hyperpigmentation or melasma, Woolery-Lloyd says to save the big guns like hydroquinone for after baby arrives. Brightening ingredients that are safe to use during pregnancy include licorice extract, green tea, lactic acid, and niacinimide (vitamin B3).

As you can see, there is some controversy regarding what exactly is safe to use during pregnancy. “In general if is important to recognize that studies are not commonly done on pregnant women, which unfortunately leaves us in the dark with regard to product safety issues,” says New York Dermatologist Janet Prystowsky. “The products that I consider safe to use during pregnancy include: mineral oil, Vaseline, Aquaphor, Pond’s Cold Cream, sunscreen with only minerals in it such as Aveeno Mineralguard SPF 50.” Her go to for acne treatment during pregnancy includes benzoyl peroxide, glycolic acid pads, and azeleic acid in prescription medications Finacea® and Azelex®. Also for acne, she likes Blu-U light. “For eczema, Aveeno baby eczema cream is fantastic and phototherapy (not tanning parlors) is safe. Small amounts of over the counter hydrocortisone for itches appears to be safe, but in general steroids should be avoided unless under a physician’s supervision,” she said.

Products and ingredients to avoid during pregnancy, according to Prystowsky, also include sunscreens that may be absorbed into the body, cosmeceuticals with peptides, salicylic acid, Rogaine® for hair loss, hydroquinone, and BOTOX®, though it has been used safely to treat pregnant women with migraines.

While breast feeding, topical retinoids may be added back and A+D ointment, typically used for diaper rash, works wonders on cracked and sore nipples between feedings. “Otherwise, while nursing I would continue the rest of the pregnancy restrictions because of concerns that products may get into the milk and have an untoward effect on the baby,” she says.

With all of the things to worry about during pregnancy, keep your skincare regimen simple. Basic moisturizers and mineral based sunscreen will go far in maintaining that mother-to-be glow. After your child is weaned, discuss a new regimen with a qualified skin care professional.


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