It’s often said that “everything is new again”. Or “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Sometimes that past is far in the distance, but sometimes it’s painfully close.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: There exists a device that, with a single droplet of blood, can diagnose any disease. Many of us might recognize this as Theranos, but it was first invented a century prior, with similarly worthless results.

So forgive my skepticism when it’s said that someone is going to use epigenetic data to generate a “customized” skin care routine to cure all our skin care woes. Or microbiome data. Or anything other than the long process of trial and error that we’ve all been using and should resign ourselves to continue using for the foreseeable future. I’m sure one day we’ll reach that skin data and product personalization Nirvana, but not today.

I made a handy flowchart for folks wanting to know if a product is “Reef Safe”. I hope you find it helpful.

Reef Safe

More activity announced today by the FDA around sunscreen labeling, product forms, and ingredients in the form of a (as of yet unpublished) proposed rule. While these are correct actions by the FDA, it’s absolutely maddening that this is where we’re at FORTY YEARS after this process started. Only TWO sunscreen actives have sufficient data to demonstrate GRASE status. TWO!!!

Another round of label changes, 8 years after the last one. Okay, fine, I can deal with that, but how did it take the same amount of time to figure out that nobody had data supporting efficacy in alternate dosage forms? And TWELVE YEARS since asking for data on combo sunscreen/insect repellents, they’re finally getting the axe?

This is a public safety disaster that nobody seems to care about.

One would think that the revered dermatologist should be able to speak wisdom to the masses, right? There have certainly been a lot of mixed messages in the news recently and the ones that have been most glaring to me are those around “clean beauty”. Last weekend the editorial board of the NY Times told us cosmetics are really bad and we need to watch labels ourselves to make sure we’re not getting poisoned. On the other end, we have this article saying that “clean beauty” is nonsense. Now, I would hope that folks would pay more attention to the dermatologist than a newspaper editorial board, but “clean beauty” is a lumbering behemoth, crushing everything in its path right now. Fear sells, and some folks conveniently have the solution for all your chemophobia.

This study was quite preliminary and the article here points out its flaws, but some researchers in China demonstrated the use wheat gluten to prepare a concoction which could reduce combing force and smooth hair cuticles.

Given the prevalence of “gluten-free” claims in cosmetics, I’m sure anyone looking to leverage this technology will be looking for an alternate protein source. But what if there’s something special about the wheat gluten and it’s the only thing that works? Will marketers rethink their “free-from” claim to offer a functional product? I think we know the answer is a resounding “YES”. Many brands are already sacrificing performance to maintain their “clean beauty” credentials. This may be another opportunity to do so.

Let’s be clear: less harmful is not the same as safe. There are no established test methods for determining if a product is “reef safe”. I’m not even aware of any good models which would avoid testing on live coral to establish such a claim. The safest thing for reefs is for all of us to steer clear. Otherwise we’ll be rushing to replace one problem with another. In the meantime, is it so bad to take out a few dubious actives and additives? Maybe if we had a rich palette of actives to choose from, but things are sparse and going from bad to worse all the time. Lives are at stake here.

This caught my eye. I’m not going to say Mr Chave is wrong; in fact I agree with most of what he says. But I don’t think that a shrinking palette of ingredients is inherently bad. The important thing is that the available ingredients effectively serve the function they’re marketed for. With the exception of preservatives and sunscreen actives in the US, the palette of ingredients available to formulators is greater than ever.

Can limited ingredients and a lack of fact-based regulation threaten the beauty industry?


I think the biggest threat to this industry is the decline of brand R&D. I see many companies cutting back on R&D to the point that chemists have little to no time to devote to bench work. So where does the responsibility of product ideation and development fall? On raw material suppliers who have a vested interest in promoting their products and their products alone. That doesn’t sound like a win for anyone.