'Green' skincare products can mean many things

December 1, 2010

No one knows what it means when a skincare product is "green," because this is an as-of-yet undefined marketing term. In general, it does not mean that the product is colored green, but rather that the product is environmentally friendly.

Key Points

Q What does it mean when a skincare product is "green?"

A No one exactly knows what it means when a skincare product is "green," because this is an as-of-yet undefined marketing term.

In general, it does not mean that the product is colored green, but rather that the product is environmentally friendly.

Some companies also use the word "green" to imply that the ingredients were obtained from natural substances and not chemicals (although the term "natural" is also loosely defined).

Finally, some companies use the term "green" to imply that a portion of the profits from their product sales go to recycling research or the conservation of rare botanical materials. The claim that a product is "green" does not imply any degree of efficacy, however.

Q How are products tested that reduce sebum?

A Sebum reduction is a hot topic in skincare, especially among women. Sebum decreases the wear time of facial foundations and lends an unattractive, shiny appearance to the face. Sebum reduction can be accomplished through oil-absorbing substances such as talc or kaolin. It can also be accomplished with oil-absorbing spheres that hold the oil inside a polymer sphere with van der Waals forces. But do these products actually work?

Evidence-based data regarding sebum reduction is obtained with a device called the Sebumeter (KOKO Kosmetikvertrieb GmbH & Co.). The Sebumeter utilizes tape in a cassette that is pressed to the skin for a specified time. The tape is pushed into the machine for a zero reading that activates an internal timer. The cassette is held on the user's face until the machine beeps, then is reinserted into the machine. As the tape absorbs oil, it becomes more transparent. The machine reads the tape transparency and determines the amount of oil that was absorbed. This technology has become the industry standard for sebum-reduction claims and translates nicely to patient-perceived efficacy.

Q Is it possible to slow aging?

A The only event that has been proven to slow aging in animal models is caloric restriction. Caloric restriction of 30 to 60 percent has been shown to prolong life both in mice and monkeys. More recently, a study from Weinrich et al, published in Nature magazine, showed that 30 percent caloric restriction in monkeys who were ad lib-fed up to age 10 resulted in improved health and longevity as compared to completely ad lib-fed age-matched counterparts. Age 10 in monkeys translates to age 40 in humans. This data suggests that reduced caloric intake at middle age may prolong life in humans, but an IRB placebo-controlled double-blind study will be hard to administer.

Zoe Diana Draelos, M.D., is a Dermatology Times editorial adviser and consulting professor of dermatology, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N.C. Questions may be submitted via e-mail to zdraelos@northstate.net