In our endless quest for beauty, women have been known to buy some bridges. Note leech detox, human-placenta facials and Preparation-H eye treatments. Do they work? Who knows. We're not about to argue with Demi Moore, Jennifer Lopez, and pretty much every model in the 1970s, respectively.
It's easy enough to dismiss the leeches. If our blood were toxic, we'd be having bigger problems than dull skin. But what about all those seemingly reasonable treatments that bombard us with promises of perfection -- or at least dramatic improvement -- for the low-low price of $19.95? Would they be on the shelves if there weren't some logic behind them?
Of course they would, and they look a lot like the beauty products we can actually benefit from. It's not easy to figure out which jargon-filled claims of younger skin and massive lashes are pretty rational and which are just plain silly.
We sympathize. It's a quest.
So, a little help: Here, five products you can cross off your list of possible miracles, beginning with one that takes a good thing just a little too far ...
This is not to say that all anti-aging cosmetics are pointless (though many of them are). Liquid and cream makeups that have high-enough concentrations of proven ingredients like retinol and antioxidants (most of them don't) can potentially make skin look younger with consistent, long-term use. Powders, however, are a different story.
Products like finishing powders and powder blushes that claim to have anti-aging properties may in fact contain effective ingredients, but it doesn't matter much. For one thing, the necessary concentrations of those ingredients would likely turn the powder sticky. The format just can't support them. And then there's the fact that finishing powders and blushers go on over your other makeup; those ingredients are barely even touching your skin, let alone being absorbed in the quantities that would have any therapeutic benefit.
Next: 100 is not twice as good as 50.
As far as "anti-aging" goes, your best bet is sunscreen. (Let this sink in. Sunscreen is worth every penny.) But all those options! The ever-increasing numerals! What's the difference between an SPF 50 foundation and an SPF 100 one, anyway?
As it turns out, about 1 percent.
The numbers that describe sun-protection factors don't work like any normal person would imagine. Thirty is not twice as protective as 15: A product with SPF 15 blocks 94 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 30 blocks 97 percent. And as you move up the SPF ladder, the difference becomes even more negligible. An SPF 50 foundation blocks 98 percent vs. about 99 percent for SPF 100.
Most experts scoff at anything above 50. To protect your skin from the sun, SPF 15 is sufficient, and SPF 30 is a reasonable upgrade. Just be sure you apply the product liberally or else you won't get the full protection.
Next: When even SPF 15 is pointless.
Sunlight has taken some hits in recent decades. Skin cancer, age spots, wrinkles -- it seems there's little we can't blame on UV radiation.
And here's another: Excessive exposure to UV rays can potentially cause fingernail damage, including color change and brittleness. To prevent this, cosmetics manufacturers have introduced the SPF topcoat, a clear finishing layer that protects nails from the sun.
The thing is, nail polish -- any nail polish -- protects nails from the sun. A single coat provides a nice barrier to the sun's harmful rays. Three coats provides a fortress. A topcoat adds a moat. If you have a manicure, additional sun protection factors are superfluous.
On your nails, that is. Hands, feet and cuticles, presumably not shaded by three or four coats of enamel, need all the sunscreen they can get.
Next: It's the cinnamon!
Ever notice how your lips sometimes tingle after eating certain spicy foods? That's because spices can be skin irritants -- aka "lip plumpers."
Products that claim to make your lips bigger may in fact do just that (for about an hour or two), but this is not high science we're talking about. Most lip plumpers use ingredients like cayenne, cinnamon and ginger, along with other zingy additives like menthol and wintergreen, to irritate lips into swelling.
A few products use ingredients that dilate blood vessels, such as niacin or retinol, to achieve a plumping effect, but those are an even-more-expensive minority.
In most products, other than irritation it's about reflecting light. And you can do that with your plain-old lip gloss. Mix a tiny bit of red pepper or cinnamon in that gloss and voila -- plumper lips.
Next: Very few people are that lazy.
If you're going to the trouble of applying mascara, you're likely devoted enough to your lashes to wiggle the wand a little. What? It's really not much trouble at all?
Exactly. It's unclear exactly why a vibrating wand might make eyelashes look thicker and longer than a manual one, but whatever benefit there might be, it likely doesn't balance out the risk of poking yourself repeatedly in the eye with a stiff-bristled brush. Unconvinced? Try applying your mascara while sitting on a washing machine.
And we're skeptical about the benefit: The battery-powered wand is moving faster than a regular one, sure; but for most of us that means less control.
Mascara, like so many makeup essentials, is a good thing that doesn't need a high-tech upgrade. Sometimes, it's the products and techniques we're most comfortable with that help us look our best, not the newest, most expensive trend.
If that placenta mask guarantees we'll look like J.Lo in our 40s, though, bring it on.
For more information on cosmetics and beauty trends, check out the links on the next page.
When was the last time you cleaned out your cosmetics? HowStuffWorks talked to an LA-based makeup artist for advice on how often we need to toss it.
More Great Links
- "6 Products with SPF That Do Nothing to Protect You." Yahoo! Shine. Aug. 21, 2011. (Aug. 27, 2012) http://shine.yahoo.com/fashion/6-products-with-spf-that-do-nothing-to-protect-you-2529839.html
- "7 Lies on Your Makeup Labels." Total Beauty. (Aug. 27, 2012) http://www.totalbeauty.com/content/gallery/makeup-labels-ingredients
- Boyles, Salynn. "High-SPF Sunscreens: Are They Better?" WebMD. (Aug. 27, 2012) http://www.webmd.com/healthy-beauty/features/high-spf-sunscreens-are-they-better
- Brain, Marshall. "DIY – How to make your own lip plumper." HowStuffWorks. April 30, 2009. (Aug. 27, 2012) https://blogs.howstuffworks.com/2009/04/30/diy-make-your-own-lip-plumper/
- "Makeup That Does More." Good Housekeeping. (Aug. 27, 2012) http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/beauty/makeup/anti-aging-makeup
- Stern, Joanna. "Vibrating Mascara Wand Can't Do You or Your Makeup Well." Gizmodo. Sept. 2, 2009. (Aug. 27, 2012) http://gizmodo.com/5350743/vibrating-mascara-wand-cant-do-you-or-your-makeup-well