July 18, 2014 at 3:43 PM ET
They might be all-natural, but many ingredients used in cosmetics and hair products are also pretty unappetizing. Read on to learn how everything from fish scales to bird fat is being used to brighten and moisturize skin.
“Snail slime contains mucin extract, which is a complex of proteins, glycolic acids and elastin. Mucin is said to have regenerative properties and aid in moisturizing skin,” says dermatologist Dr. Gary Goldfaden. Sometimes used in facials, the ingredient is believed by practitioners to minimize scars and pigmentation.
Lanolin from the fur of wool-bearing animals is used in lotions, make up removers, and many lipsticks. “Studies have shown that the emollient action produced by lanolin is prominent and lasts for hours," says Smithtown, New York-based dermatologist Dr. Marina Peredo. "Applied directly to the skin, it can reduce roughness and cracking and continued use shows overall increased skin smoothness."
Nightingale excrement, most commonly featured in the infamous geisha facial, is said to cleanse the skin and give it a glow. The songbird's feces differs from that of most mammals because, like other birds, nightingales have only one hole, called the cloaca, through which they excrete both liquid and solid waste. “The poop contains nitrogen-rich urea and guanine, an amino acid,” says Goldfaden. “Urea helps to bind moisture to the skin, thus making the skin look and feel hydrated.”
Arguably the most shocking ingredient found in skin care products is infant foreskin. It’s been dubbed the a fountain of youth by some and Oprah Winfrey swears by a product derived from it. The use of beauty potions created using discarded infant foreskin remains controversial and Winfrey has received backlash in response. “The foreskin, obtained from circumcisions, promotes new skin growth,” says Tim Schmidt, CEO of cosmeticeutical company SkinPro. And it’s not cheap: SkinMedica’s TNS Essential Serum rings up at $260 per ounce.
In everyday life, you may know guanine better as fish scales. “Used in shimmery makeup like lipstick, nail polish and eye shadow, this helps add a shimmer to a number of cosmetics. It’s also been known to help hide blemishes,” says Peredo.
Oil from a shark's liver
Squalene is a fat naturally found in our skin, which serves to protect and hydrate our skin barrier. It is added into many moisturizers for this reason. While the squalene molecule in the skin is the same as others, the commercially used squalene is commonly taken from shark liver oil,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research for the Department of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
“It sounds crazy, but hyaluronic acid is not really an acid,” says chemist and beauty expert David Pollock. “Hyaluronic acid (HA) is found in almost every cell of your body. HA is a major component of our skin, in which collagen and elastin are embedded, and has the ability to draw moisture from the air, binding one thousand times its weight in water, acting as a reservoir for cells.” Hyaluronic acid was originally derived from rooster combs, but today it's actually made in the lab using plant sources and biotech processes.
Tallow is a form of processed fat from mutton. “It has soothing and hydrating properties, making it an ideal ingredient for skin care products,” says Zeichner.
Bird and mink oil
Some shaving creams, sunscreens and hairsprays contain oil from minks or from the giant flightless bird known as the emu. "The oil is obtained by scraping fat from the back of the hide of the animal,” says Schmidt. The ingredient contributes to the silky, conditioned feel you experience after applying the product.