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Good Health and Bad Medicine:
 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 1

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 2

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 3

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 4

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 5

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 6

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 7

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 8

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 9

 Feminine Hygiene

 Read More Articles About: Good Health and Bad Medicine

Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 1

( Originally Published 1940 )

SKIN disorders are more often subject to self-treatment than almost any other disorder. Complexion irregularities are, of course, a source of great annoyance. And it is unfortunate indeed that the public receives virtually all its education about the skin, and even medical discoveries concerning it, from manufacturers of toilet articles and their henchmen, the advertisers. As a rule, the medical facts are twisted and distorted to promote the virtues of money-making creams, salves, lotions and shampoos. In this chapter we shall do what we can to separate the facts from the fancies, and to deter-mine when self-treatment is possible, and when expert medical attention is necessary.

Astringents and Face Lotions

No astringent or face lotion is of the slightest value in "re-fining enlarged pores," "removing wrinkles," or performing other advertised miracles. Most of them are simply mixtures of alcohol and water, with a little perfume and coloring matter. Most of them are harmless for normal skin, although they may have a drying effect. Others contain harmful ingredients which may cause serious irritation, particularly to sensitive skins. The actual cost of the ingredients in a bottle of astringent selling for as much as a dollar is generally no more than two or three cents.

The temporary "shrinking" of the pore openings which astringents produce can, if desired, be obtained much less expensively with ice-cold water, or such inexpensive alcohol solutions as witch hazel, bay rum or lavender water.


Although various creams are advertised either as cleansing or as special-purpose creams, the real function of both such kinds of cream is simply to remove dirt particles from the skin mechanically, and to give a slight lubricating effect. Creams do not serve as a satisfactory substitute for soap and water for cleaning the normal skin. They are helpful, how-ever, in softening skin which tends to dry.

Special-purpose creams include those products claiming particular virtues for themselves as skin treatments, skin foods and nourishers, wrinkle eradicators, "vitamin creams," "hormone creams," "alkalizing creams," "all-purpose creams," and so on.

The usual claims made for these preparations are false—whether they are sold in the most expensive Fifth Avenue shops and advertised in our "better" magazines and news-papers, or come from the five-and-ten cosmetic counter. There is no cosmetic substance which will nourish the skin when applied externally and locally, as are the cosmetic creams. A poor complexion may be due to an inborn unchangeable abnormality, such as moles or pigmented tumors; to a local skin disease requiring treatment, such as eczema or acne; or to injury of the skin through application of harmful cosmetic measures. A good diet, cleanliness, good general health and, if necessary, adequate local or general medical treatment will do more for the skin than any skin "nourisher" or "rejuvenator."

Vitamin creams, much advertised of late, may or may not contain the vitamin A or vitamin D claimed to be present. Whether they do or do not is, however, beside the point, since even if a small amount of vitamin A or D is absorbed, it has never been proven that the complexion or skin will benefit locally from such absorption. An amount of vitamin A, ample to meet the requirements of the skin and the rest of the body, can be obtained from a diet that includes dairy products, especially milk and butter, and green and yellow vegetables. Although the Iocal application of vitamin D is not known to have any influence on the complexion or health of the skin, even if it had, an adequate amount can be obtained by exposure to sunlight or by taking cod-liver oil.

No skin preparation at present available, no matter how much vitamin it is claimed to contain, can provide for the body and skin what a good diet does. If there were anything to "vitamin creams" they would have found a place in medical practice long ago -and would be widely used by skin specialists.

Nor are there any preparations that will remove wrinkles. The skin generally becomes thin, wrinkled and inelastic with age, and when this occurs nothing of lasting effect can be done about it. Stretching, as through plastic surgery, or local swelling after irritation sometimes produces apparent temporary benefit. But this is often followed by even more pronounced wrinkling.

Claims for "all-purpose" creams may be uniformly discounted. At best, they function as ordinary cold creams or lubricants, stepped up in price. "Hormone creams" should be avoided. If a cream does contain enough stable, active hormones to be locally effective, there is a strong likelihood that its continued use without medical direction can cause great harm. Hormones are useful in treatment of internal disorders by physicians, but they have no place in self-management of the complexion.

A currently popular variant of the acid bogey is "acid skin." For this, "milk of magnesia face creams" and "alkalizing inner-soled shoes," among other ingenious creations, are offered. The best that can be said for these flights of advertising fancy is that they will cause no serious harm.

It has been known for many years that the greater part of the normal skin is covered by a thin protective layer of slightly acid secretion known as the "acid-mantle." However, in certain regions of the body where evaporation of the secretions and sweat is hindered—the armpits, the genital and anal regions, the greater part of the soles of the feet and between the toes—the reaction of the skin is slightly alkaline. And it is believed that these sites, because of their alkaline reaction, furnish favorable conditions for the growth of bacteria.

Although no startling skin remedies have been developed as a result of this knowledge, it nevertheless destroys any shred of scientific pretence in claims for alkalizing creams and inner-soles. It would be much more logical—and we offer this suggestion in a friendly spirit—to advertise acidifying creams and acidifying inner-sole shoes, since the normal reaction of the skin is slightly acid and an alkaline reaction is actually undesirable. In fact, in some skin disorders an alkaline cream or soap is distinctly harmful or inhibits healing.

It is not possible to expose all the claims made for various cosmetic preparations. A partial list of unwarranted claims was recently provided by the Federal Food & Drug Administration which enforces the new (1938) Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The official release states:

"The extent to which the use of such claims which may be regarded as false and misleading prevails suggests the propriety of a general notice to the trade to encourage appropriate label revision. It is, of course, not practicable to list all the claims that may be unwarranted; the following, however, are typical examples of some [cosmetic claims] that are regarded as false or misleading:

Contour cream

Crow's-foot cream

Deep pore cleanser Depilatories for permanent removal of hair

Products represented as depilatories but which merely bleach the hair

Eyelash grower

Eye wrinkle cream

Hair color restorer

Hair grower

Hair restorer

Nonallergic products

Peroxide cream

Rejuvenating cream

Scalp food

Circulating cream

Enlarged pore preparations

Hair revitalizing preparations

Muscle oil Nourishing cream

Pore paste

Skin conditioner

Skin food

Skin texture preparations

Skin tonic Stimulating cream

Tissue cream Wrinkle eradicator

Cosmetics represented as valuable because of their vitamin content"

Advertisements for "nonallergic" cosmetic preparations are also false, because even the simplest substances incorporated in a cosmetic may cause a reaction in a susceptible person.

The following creams are listed as "Best Buys" and "Also Acceptable" from the point of view of their cleansing, lubricating and softening effect on the skin. Other claims made for these preparations in advertising should be disregarded. The ratings are based on tests made by CU in 1939.



(In order of increasing cost per oz.)

Belle Fleur Cold Cream.

Hollywood Extra Theatrical Cleansing Cold Cream.

The Owl's Theatrical Cold Cream.

Lander's Olive Oil Cream.

Emporium Certified Cleansing Cream.

Macy's Cold Cream.

CD Cold Cream E600g.


(In order of increasing cost per oz.)

Max Factor's Theatrical Cold Cream.

Lady Esther Four Purpose Face Cream.

Grapefruit Cleansing Cream. Embassy Cold Cream.

Pond's Cold Cream.

Armand Cold Cream.

Ruth Rogers Avocado Cleansing Cream.

Varady of Vienna Face Cream.

Woodbury Cold Cream.

Boncilla Cleansing Cream.

Pompeian Cleansing Cream.

Usola Cold Cream.

Squibb Cold Cream.

Gladys Glad Cold Cream.

Princess Pat Skin Cleanser.

Albolene Solid Skin Cleanser.

Daggett & Ramsdell Cold Cream.

Phillips' Milk of Magnesia Cleansing Cream.

Johnson's Baby Cream.

Max Factor Melting Cleansing Cream.

Cashmere Bouquet Cold Cream.

Edna Wallace Hopper's Cleansing Cream.

Max Factor Normalizing Cleansing Cream. Luxor Cold and Cleansing Cream.

Matilda Hartman's Viennese Formula Cleansing and Massage Cream.

Elmo Cleansing Cream.

Pasteurized Face Cream.

Marvelous Cold Cream.

Luxuria Cleanser.

Three Flowers Cleansing Cream. Salon Cold Cream.

Coty Liquefying Cleansing Cream. Fricke's Cleansing Cream.

Marmun Cleansing Cream.

Cara Nome Cold Cream.

Almay Cold Cream.

Drezma Cleansing Cream.

Yardley Cleansing Cream.

Agnes MacGregor Rejuvenating Cleansing Cream.

Cosray All Purpose Cream.

Barbara Gould Cleansing Cream.

House of Westmore Cleansing Cream.

Doleith Cleansing Cream.

DuBarry Cleansing Cream.

Daggett & Ramsdell Golden Cleansing Cream.

Ardena Cleansing Cream.

Perspiration and Body Odor

The subject of body odor is a complicated one. No fundamental clinical investigations on this subject have ever been undertaken. Consequently, the cosmetic manufacturers have had no inhibitions about exploiting the field. The alarmist exhortations in anti-perspirant and deodorizer advertisements are intended to produce an exaggerated fear and self-consciousness:

". . somehow Ed seems to avoid Helen now—no longer loves to take her in his arms. And Helen is worried, unhappy! She never dreams, of course, that under-arm odor could be keeping them apart."

If Helen's underarm odor is sufficiently strong and unpleasant to threaten her marriage she probably would have been conscious of it herself long ago and consulted her family physician. If the odor is due to excessive sweating, a medical examination would disclose whether it comes from nervous or mental factors or from a general disturbance such as hyperthyroidism. If it is due to local (nervous) causes, more frequent bathing with any good toilet soap and the application of talcum powder may be all that is necessary. That is all that is necessary, also, for anyone who does physical work and sweats profusely. If these measures do not suffice, then the use of a so-called deodorant or anti-perspirant may be called for.

The subject of deodorants and anti-perspirants—the terms, while technically not identical, may be used interchangeably -has never received the attention by medical investigators that it deserves. A deodorant is a substance that removes or destroys offensive odors. The powders (talc, zinc stearate and kaolin) are often effective deodorants, acting as mechanical adsorbents of sweat and volatile odors. Boric acid powder or a saturated solution of boric acid (one teaspoonful to a glass of water) has a mild antiseptic and astringent action which inhibits the action of bacteria, and thus tends to prevent de-composition of the sweat and sebaceous material. In fact, boric acid powder may be mixed with equal parts of talc or zinc stearate or kaolin to make an excellent deodorant.

Potassium permanganate solution is a deodorant that is particularly useful for sweating, bad-smelling feet. The feet should be soaked twice daily for 20 minutes each time in a basin containing a quart of tap water in which a single 5-grain tablet has been dissolved. After the bath, the feet should be dried and a dusting powder liberally applied. The powder may be reinforced still further by the addition of 1% salicylic acid and/or 1% alum. (The brownish discoloration caused by potassium permanganate solution can be re-moved by lemon juice or vinegar.) Preparations containing salicylic acid may be very irritating; they should be used cautiously and the applications discontinued immediately if irritation occurs.

Excessive perspiration of the hands may be treated by frequent sponging with a mixture of equal parts of saturated boric acid solution and rubbing alcohol. Boric acid solution and alcohol are among the blandest of that group of chemical solutions known as astringents. Astringents (or anti-perspirants) diminish perspiration by causing a tightening of the skin and a constricting of the sweat pores. They apparently do not affect the sweat glands themselves.

The most common astringents used in proprietary antiperspirants or deodorant lotions and salves are the aluminum salts—particularly aluminum chloride and sulfate. Others contain zinc and iron salts, salicylic acid or benzoic acid. All these astringents are potential irritants and many instances of boils, furuncles and eczema have been traced to the use of a proprietary deodorant containing astringent chemicals. Some deodorants are so strong or so perfumed that the B.O. is replaced by a more penetrating or unpleasant odor of a chemical or a perfume.

A 10% to 15% solution of aluminum chloride prepared by a pharmacist is cheaper and will do just as well as a proprietary lotion. But one must watch for signs of irritation, and reduce the percentage of astringent if redness or burning appears. Solutions or salves containing strong astringents, such as aluminum salts, should not be applied to the skin within a day or two after removing hair, in order to avoid irritation. Aluminum solutions have a further disadvantage in that they tend to harm fabrics. This may be avoided by allowing the solution to dry and then sponging with boric acid solution, alcohol or water.

According to tests made by CU in 1938, the following preparations contained aluminum chloride in less than 25% solution:

Instant Dew Deodorant (Marion Lambert, St. Louis). Hush Liquid Deodorant (Hush Co., Philadelphia). Instant Odorono (Odorono Co., NYC).


Ultra Dew Deodorant (Marion Lambert). Contained more than 25% aluminum chloride.

Heck Deodorant (Heck-Conard Co.). Contained 50% aluminum chloride.

Non-Spi (Nonspi Co.). Contained three powerful astringents. Effective, but not considered entirely safe. Claims were false and misleading.

Regular Odorono. Contained more than 25% aluminum chloride.

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