Will Wearing A Hat Make Me Go Bald? (Skeptical Inquirer)

10 minute read

While losing the hair on our heads doesn’t have any serious medical implications on its own, it can be seriously damaging to our psyches. Studies have shown that both women and men with alopecia, or hair loss, experience increased stress, diminished self-esteem, and other negative psychological effects.

Some of us live in fear of our part widening or our hairlines receding. Others have made peace with their eventual journey to becoming a Patrick Stewart lookalike. Either way, you’ve likely heard a lot of unsubstantiated claims about behaviors that can cause baldness. As usual, some can be dismissed outright (no, masturbating won’t make you go bald), but some bear further investigation.

Read the entire article here: https://skepticalinquirer.org/exclusive/will-wearing-a-hat-make-me-go-bald/

No Need to Shave the World: Why Your Beard Is Not a Problem in the Age of COVID

6 minute read
originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/health/no-need-shave-world-why-your-beard-not-problem-age-covid

In 1843 a letter to the editor entitled “The growth of the beard medically considered” published in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journalargued that beards were medicinally beneficial, and that “the practice of shaving the beard, and thus depriving the face, throat and chest of that efficient protection which nature has provided” was responsible for the “numerous diseases of the respiratory organs with which mankind are afflicted.”

Yet, by 1916 beards had lost their safeguarding status. Edwin F. Bowers (who would go on to invent the pseudoscience of reflexology) wrote in an article for McClure’s Magazine that “there is no way of computing the number of bacteria and noxious germs that may lurk in the Amazonian jungles of a well-whiskered face, but their number must be legion.”

It was only two years later that the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic hit, and any possible disease vector, including beards, was targeted in bids to quell the number of sick individuals. Given that we’re currently in the midst of what the United Nations is calling “a global health crisis unlike any” it seems inevitable that beards once again fall under the literal microscope as potential germ gardens.

Luckily, given the scientific advances that have taken place since the last few hundred years, we don’t need to rely on racially contentious observations like this one from 1843: “those nations where the hair and beard are worn long, they are more hardy and robust and much less subject to diseases, particularly of a pulmonary character, than those who shave.”

Let’s see what science has to say about how pathogenic your facial hair might be.

Does facial hair collect more germs than a smooth face?

The real question of hair’s cleanliness isn’t whether or not it can harbour microbes. Unfortunately, just like any other surface, it most certainly can. What we really care about is whether a beard contains more germs than a clean-shaven face.

A 1967 study saw four volunteers’ beards or clean-shaven faces sprayed with a bacterial solution and swabs taken from their skin 30 minutes and six hours after, either with or without letting them wash their faces with soap. They found that while there were more bacteria on clean-shaven faces than on beards before washing, more bacteria were removed by washing a clean-shaven face compared to washing a beard. So even though the beards didn’t accumulate more bacteria than the face, they did retain it through the wash.

A 2014 study reinforced the finding that facial hair doesn’t accumulate more bacteria than non-hairy facial skin. Researchers took swabs from the cheeks and upper lips of 199 healthcare workers who had facial hair and 209 who didn’t. The results showed that clean-shaved healthcare workers were actually more likely to harbour certain types of bacteria than their fur-faced coworkers. Similarly, a 2015 study of 118 mustachioed and 123 non-mustachioed men found that “nasal S. aureus [a bacterium] carriage is similar in men with and without a mustache.”

So even though beards may retain bacteria through a wash (highlighting the importance of washing your beard well), there’s no evidence that they accumulate or harbour larger bacterial populations than smooth faces.

Does facial hair spread more germs than a smooth face? 

The other piece of this facial hair puzzle is whether or not people with beards spread more microbes than those without. This question has been at the forefront of a debate over whether or not doctors, nurses, surgeons and other healthcare workers should be allowed to have facial hair. Some people fear that their beards and mustaches could be contaminated and lead to infected patients. Others worry that strict facial hair rules unnecessarily limit a doctor’s personal choices.

Part of why this debate rages on is due to some conflicting study results. A study published in 2000 by McLure et al. compared the bacterial shedding of 10 bearded, 10 clean-shaven and 10 female subjects. The researchers had the volunteers wear a surgical mask either while talking and moving their faces such that the mask “wiggled” around or while still. They held agar plates just below their chins to collect any bacteria that fell off and then cultured these colonies and quantitated them. The results showed that with or without mask wiggling, bearded subjects shed more bacteria than clean-shaven ones.

However, a 2016 study by Parry et al. using the same methods found no difference in the amounts of bacteria shed by bearded versus clean-shaven subjects regardless of whether they wore a surgical mask, a surgical mask plus a hood (shown below), or nothing.

Image source: http://www.healio.com/doiresolver?doi=10.3928/01477447-20160301-01

Unfortunately, this leaves us at the familiar scientific dead-end: more research is needed. Without another study, preferably one with a much larger sample size than the 30 and 20 of these trials, it’s difficult to know which results to trust. Both researchers present reasonable explanations for their results. McLure et al. suggest that beards “may act as a reservoir for bacteria and dead organic material which can be easily dislodged with movement of the face mask,” whereas the daily act of shaving helps to remove the “superficial layer of skin containing bacteria” and thus give clean-shaven men fewer microbes to shed.

On the other hand, Parry et al. suggest that daily shaving can cause micro-cuts on the face that can serve as hiding places for bacteria. They also pondered if their results could be due to beard lengths. They showed that longer beards shed less than shorter beards when the subjects wore masks and hoods, which they hypothesize is due to longer beard hair being less abrasive and therefore leading to fewer shed bacteria. Unfortunately, since McLure did not report their participants’ beard lengths, it’s not possible to know for sure.

But wait, what about viruses?

To throw another wrench in the interpretation of these results, allow me to point out that all these studies measured the amounts of bacteria on participants’ faces or beards. However, the current COVID-19 pandemic is being caused by a virus, not a bacterium. While this distinction may not seem important, there are a lot of differences between these two types of microbes: in particular, size! As you can see below, the size range for bacteria is roughly 500-5000 nanometres, but for viruses is only roughly 100-800 nanometres, making them quite a bit smaller. The SARS-CoV-2 virus (at the time known as 2019-nCoV) has been reported to be 60-140 nm in diameter, making it a particularly small virus, as viruses go.

Image source: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Relative-sizes-of-major-host-cells-and-their-components-versus-those-of-bacteria-and_fig4_325937574

In the end, there’s no compelling evidence that beards foster bacteria, but we cannot really say if they do lead to increased bacterial shedding. And as far as viruses are concerned, we have no evidence at all.

The good news is, that if you’re practicing proper social distancing, washing your hands often and not exposing yourself to others unnecessarily, you and your beard are unlikely to encounter the SARS-CoV-2 virus at all. So, if you’re doing your part to flatten the curve by staying home, keeping your beard should be fine. However, healthcare workers should consider the role that their facial hair may play in transmitting microbes and take care to wash it very thoroughly whenever possible. However, I do expect that, given that many facial hairstyles can interfere with special masks called respirators, many have already done a spring shave.

Image source: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/pdfs/FacialHairWmask11282017-508.pdf

Why Mosquitos Bite You and How to Make Them Stop

Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/health-technology/why-mosquitos-bite-you-and-how-make-them-stop
15 minute read

Summertime means hammocks, BBQs, fireworks, and mosquito bites.

At least it does for me. Those rotten little suckers seem to just love me. They’ll flock to me even when there are three other people sitting in my backyard. What is it about my blood that they seem to enjoy so much?!

Let’s take a look at the science behind mosquitos and try to answer two questions: Why do mosquitos bite certain people, and what should we do to make them stop?

Take-home message:
– Blood type may or may not play a role in attracting mosquitos
– Products using DEET, icaridin, PMD, metofluthrin, and some blends of essential oils are effective at repelling mosquitos
– Bug zappers, sonic devices, citrosa plants, B vitamins, and scent-baited traps are not effective at repelling mosquitos and should be avoided

Mosquito isn’t a Species, it’s a Group

Before discussing the nitty-gritty of mosquito attraction, we need to realize something. While we tend to think of all flying bugs with proboscises as mosquitos, in truth there are more than 3500 species categorized into 112 genera that fall under the moniker of mosquito.

With such variation in species comes a lot of variation in habitats, behaviours, and risks. For instance, malaria is transmitted to humans only by mosquitos of the genus Anopheles, while yellow and dengue fever are transmitted by those in the genus Aedes. Canada is home to roughly 82 species of mosquitos belonging to the genera Anopheles, Culex, Aedes, Mansonia, and Culiseta. Some mosquitos are anthropophilic, meaning that they preferentially feed on humans, while others are zoophilic and preferentially feed on animals.

We’re typically taught to remove standing water from our property and avoid boggy or marshy areas (good luck in Ontario) to avoid mosquitos, but some species of these bugs don’t exclusively lay their eggs in water. We tend to think of mosquitos being at their worst in the summer, at dusk and dawn, but different species are active at different times, and their behaviour can even change from season to season, making it hard to predict when we are at risk of getting bitten.

Something that is true of all mosquito species though is that only the females bite. They require a blood meal in order to produce their eggs. The nasty by-product of this reproductive cycle is that they transmit diseases, and actually kill more people per year than any other animal.

How Mosquitos Track You

Mosquitos home in on their dinner-to-be by following a few different signals. The first clue that something biteable is nearby is the detection of a COplume exhaled on the breath of mammals and birds alike.

The amount of CO2, however, does not affect the attractiveness of a specific target, so even if you’re a human who produces more COthan others (such as those who are larger or pregnant) that alone is not responsible for your irresistible-to-mosquitos aura. This makes sense since large animals like cows naturally produce much more COthan humans, yet many mosquito species still prefer to bite us.

Mosquitos will track a CO­plume until they encounter host-cues. These first of these clues that a target is close by is usually smells emanating from the skin, which we’ll discuss more in a second. As they get close to the source of a smell, mosquitos will then detect and head towards heat and moisture signals emanating from a body.

Source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S096098221500740X

We don’t know whether changes in body temperature affect how attractive you are to a mosquito, but we do know that sweating increases the volatile compounds on your skin that they love, and that anhidrotic people, or those who show decreased sweating, are less attractive to the pests.

The main mosquito-cues that can differ between humans are the olfactory ones. While it’s easy to swap your shampoo and soap for unscented varieties that won’t attract mosquitos like the sweet-scented ones do, a lot of the smells that mosquitos sense are innate to your physiology and sadly are not something that we can really change.

A few of these odorous chemicals include ammonialactic acidsulcatone, and acetone. For many of these compounds, however, higher concentrations don’t equal greater mosquito attraction. Instead, they modulate the attractiveness of other substances. For instance, lactic acid has been shown to increase mosquitos attraction to ammonia and CO2.

While an animal may produce similar-to-human levels of CO2, humans tend to produce more lactic acid than primates or cows. This lactic acid synergistically increases the appeal of CO2for anthropophilic mosquito species, while actively dissuading zoophilic species from landing on you. Conversely, ruminants like cows also exhale1-octen-3-ol, a substance that attracts zoophilic species of mosquitos. In a demonstration of this, skin rubbings taken from cows were made just as attractive to anthropophilic mosquitos as skin rubbings from humans via the addition of lactic acid.

The Role of Blood Type

There has been significant debate over the role blood type plays in attracting mosquitos. Initially, a 1972 study using Anopheles gambiae found that mosquitos preferred those with O type blood (O>B>A>AB). But a 1976 study using the same mosquito species did not confirm this.

1980 study examined 736 patients and found that while those with A type blood made up 17.6% of the control group, they made up 29% of the malaria cases. Conversely, those with type O blood made up 33% of the control group but only 22% of the malaria cases. While this alone does not tell us whether or not certain blood types are more likely to be bitten by mosquitos or contract malaria, it does point to blood type playing some role in mosquito attraction.

Some clarity came with a 2009 study done with Aedes albopictus that found a similar pattern to the original 1972 study: O>B>AB>A. The researchers also compared the mosquito-attracting ability of those who secrete substances corresponding to their blood type onto their skin, versus those who do not. Their theory was that these blood type-specific secretions could explain mosquito’s ability to find their preferred type O prey. Their results, however, showed an order of preference of O secretors>A nonsecretors>B secretors>O nonsecretors>A secretors>AB secretors>B nonsecretors, which do not correspond to the blood type preferences established.

Concerning blood type’s role in attracting mosquitos, we’re stuck with the often-written phrase more research needed. Given the conflicting results and relatively small sample sizes of these studies, we cannot make definitive conclusions. Not to mention that we have no idea how mosquitos are able to detect a target’s blood type from a distance.

If mosquitos do truly target those with type O blood, the authors of this study theorize that preference could have evolved due to the prevalence of type O blood in African nations. The three most populous African nations are Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Egypt, and the percentage of their populations with type O blood are 51.3%, 39.0%, and 52.0% respectively.

How to Avoid Getting Bitten

Anyways, even if we knew what blood types attract mosquitos, you can’t change your blood type. So, what can you do to get some relief from these minuscule menaces?

First, it’s important to remember that just because you’re not forming welts doesn’t mean you’re not getting bit. Not all bites will lead to the familiar welts, so even if you’re not covered in itchy bumps, if you’re near mosquitos you should be using repellant.

Things That Work

Physical barriers should be your first line of defence against mosquito bites. Install screens on your windows, doors, tents, and RVs, and cover children’s cribs, playpens, and strollers with fine mesh to keep mosquitos out.

You can get specialty meshes and clothing treated with permethrin, an insecticide, for adults in Canada. The anti-mosquito effects of the chemical will last through several wash cycles, but permethrin-treated objects should never be used for or around children, including screens or mosquito nets that they may interact with, as their safety has not been evaluated.

In general, you should strive to wear light coloured clothing, and cover as much of your skin as the heat will allow. Mosquitos are better able to orient themselves towards darker targets, so skip the Nirvana t-shirt and try on a white tee instead.

Flowery and fruity scents will attract mosquitos greatly since they feed on flower nectar (in addition to us) but even non-botanical scented products should be avoided whenever possible. This includes (amongst many others): shampoo, soap, conditioner, shaving cream, aftershave, perfume, deodorant, hand cream, makeup, and even laundry soap and softener.

In terms of repellants, the good news is that you have more options on the market than ever. The bad news is that only some of them work.


N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, better known as DEET, has been the standard ingredient in commercial bug sprays since 1957 when it made the jump from military to civilian applications. While it used to be thought that DEET interfered with a mosquito’s ability to detect lactic acid, more recent research has found that mosquitos detect and avoid DEET directly. Much like I do with vinegar.

Misguided fears about DEET’s safety have spurred some to move towards other mosquito repellants, and while there are other effectual repellants, none work as well or for as long as DEET. In terms of its safety, DEET has been more thoroughly studied than any other repellant and when used according to guidelines is quite safe.

When utilizing DEET-based repellants it’s important to pay attention to the concentration of DEET in the product. The Government of Canada recommends that no concentration over 30% be used on anyone and that only formulations containing up to 10% be used on children aged two to twelve (up to three daily applications) and aged 6 months to 2 years (only one daily application). Babies under 6 months should be kept mosquito-bite free through the use of nets and screens rather than repellants of any type.


Icaridin, also known as picaridin, is a safe alternative to DEET popular in Europe and recommended by the Government of Canada for use against mosquitos and ticks on anyone over the age of 6 months. This study showed that products with 9.3% icaridin can repel mosquitos for up to 3 hours, while this study showed that a 10% concentration repelled mosquitos for more than 7 hours. This is comparable to the 5 to 7+ hours of protection provided by 7-15% DEET products, although DEET has been more widely studied. Contrarily this study found a 10% icaridin repellant rather ineffective. If you find them effective, icaridin-based products could be particularly useful for small children who have exceeded their daily recommended applications of DEET-based products but still need to remain outside.


Citronella has long been the standard of backyard BBQs and picnics in its candle form, but in addition to the coils and candles designed to keep mosquitos out of a particular area, there are also repellants that contain citronella oil.

Citronella oil is made mostly from 2 species: C. nardusand C. winterianus, and contains many different chemicals, the most notable in terms of their insect-repelling nature include camphor, eucalyptol, eugenol, linaloolgeraniol and citronellal.

While it’s citronellal that provides the flowers with their characteristic lemony scent, a 2008 study’s findings suggest that it is actually linalool and geraniol that provide the bug-repelling effects. The researchers compared candles made of 5% citronella, linalool, and geraniol, and found the geraniol and linalool candles much more successful at repelling mosquitos than normal citronella (85% and 71% versus 29% repellency rates over 3 hours). This study likewise confirmed straight citronella candle’s inability to effectively repel mosquitos alone.

This study examined three mosquito repellants that contained citronella and found them all significantly less effective than formulas containing DEET or icaridin, and this study examined 3 wearable bracelets that claimed to emit geraniol and found them as effective as using no repellant at all.

So while it could be useful to burn a geraniol or linalool candle while you’re sitting outside, you should probably still backup your protection with an effective repellent.

P-Menthane-3,8-diol (PMD)

Products with p-Menthane-3,8-diol, a chemical found in small amounts in oil extracted from the lemon eucalyptus tree, have generally (studies 1,2,3) show it to be as effective as DEET and icaridin. The Canadian government recognizes PMD’s repellency effects on blackflies and mosquitos but recommends against using PMD-containing products on anyone younger than three.

Soybean and Essential Oils 

Soybean oil is perhaps the strangest bug-repelling ingredient on this list, but repellant formulations containing mixes of soybean oil and various essential oils have been rapidly making their way onto the Canadian market. While the soybean oil itself does not repel mosquitos, it works in tandem with the essential oils also included in the repellants to stabilize their volatility.

This study found that a formulation including soybean oil, coconut oil, geranium, and vanillin repelled mosquitos for more than 7.2 hours. However, the same study, and another, showed that other formulations also containing soybean oil, as well as other various essential oils (menthol, eucalyptus, lavender, rosemary, sage, etc.) worked very minimally.

This points to the particular essential oils and other ingredients in the repellant making the difference rather than the soybean oil itself. This makes sense when you consider that the geranium included in the effective soybean repellant was likely citronella, and that vanillin has been shown to increase the repellency effects of citronella.

The Government of Canada doesn’t place any age restrictions on formulas containing soybean oil but recommends not using essential oil formulations on those younger than 2. So, you’re free to experiment with different products using different ingredient blends and see which works, but make sure to turn to something a bit more reliable when actually venturing into the woods.


If you’d rather wear a clip-on device than use a mosquito repelling lotion or spray, your only good option is those that emit metofluthrin. This 2017 study examined the efficacy of 5 wearable anti-mosquito devices and found that only the metofluthrin at a concentration of 31.2% effectively repelled mosquitos. Much like citronella candles, however, clip-on devices work by creating a fog of mosquito-repelling chemicals around you. This means that they will only be effective for times when you’re sitting still.

Things That Don’t Work

While components of citronella oils may be effective repellants, citrosa houseplants are not. Nor are the sonic mosquito repelling products that claim to play sound at frequencies that will drive mosquitos away. I’ll let the authors of this paper sum up the evidence for these products: “We are not aware of any scientific study showing that mosquitoes can be repelled by sound waves and therefore we consider these devices as the modern equivalent of snake oil”.

While synthetic mosquito lures that attract the bugs just as well, if not better, than humans have been developed, in practice mosquitos continue to be attracted to humans even when these devices are used. Thus, their use is not recommended by the Canadian Government. Likewise, handheld or mounted bug zappers certainly exist and can be quite satisfying to use for revenge on the bugs that stole your blood, relying on them for protection is not a good idea.

You may have heard that eating bananas can alternatively make mosquitos more or less attracted to you. The claims of banana’s repelling power stem from their high vitamin B6 content, but a 2005 study tested the effects of vitamin B consumption on mosquito attraction and found absolutely no effects. In terms of bananas attracting power, those claims come from octenol content, a chemical that does indeed attract mosquitos. But, octenol isn’t unique to bananas, it’s found in many foods, and no studies have been done that prove consuming bananas does make you a bug-target, so keep on munching.

A subtler mistake you may make when selecting your mosquito repellant is to use a product that combines sunscreen and bug spray. While certainly convenient, the problem lies in sunscreen’s need to be reapplied much more frequently than mosquito-repellants. If both products are needed for an outing, it’s recommended that you wait 20 minutes between applying sunblock and repellant.

Basically, to avoid being a mosquito-target you should stay as scent-free as possible, wear light clothes, avoid bogs and use an effective repellent (such as those containing DEET or icaridin). Or, you could always stay inside- I hear its quite nice this time of year.

Is Himalayan Pink Salt Better For You?

3 minute read
Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/health-and-nutrition-quackery-you-asked/himalayan-pink-salt

We were asked what to make of the many claims circulating about Himalayan pink salt, whether there is any truth to the ideas that this salt will help respiratory illnesses, increase bodily hydration or strengthen bones. There are a lot of claims about Himalayan salt, but let’s start with its origin. 

Himalayan salt is mined primarily at the Khewra Salt Mine in Punjab, Pakistan, and is a result of ancient seas being covered by lava. All the water evaporated, the fish died, but the salt remained, covered by rock. Thus, technically, Himalayan salt is a sea salt, even though it’s mined like rock salt, as it is the result of ocean deposits.

The main claims about Himalayan salt speak to the various ways it is good for you due to its superior mineral content when compared to sea or table salt. While it’s true that table salt is often baked and treated such that all minerals except sodium chloride are removed, most sea salt is left untreated and also contains minerals. Pink salt enthusiasts claim that Himalayan salt has a lower sodium chloride composition than sea salt, meaning it has higher amounts of other minerals like sulphate, magnesium, calcium, potassium, bicarbonate, bromide, borate, strontium, and fluoride.

The actual percentages in Himalayan salt depend on what article you read. This article claims 85.62% sodium chloride and 14.38% other trace minerals, whereas this article claims 87% sodium chloride and 13% other trace minerals. In truth, the number is closer to to the high end, with sodium chloride content being 95-97%, leaving 3-5% composition for other minerals. It’s true that minerals are found in higher abundance in Himalayan salt, but when you factor in how little salt you tend to eat in a day (at least salt you directly add to your cooking or meals) the difference is unnoticeable. In the quantities consumed, minute differences in composition between sea, table and Himalayan salt just don’t matter.

Now to address the many other claims beyond increased mineral consumption. In truth, many of the claims have merit, but almost all of them are the same no matter the kind of salt consumed, and certainly, all of them have been exaggerated. Articles claim that Himalayan salt will ‘create an electrolyte balance’, which is true, but so will sea salt, or even Gatorade. As for the claims that Himalayan salt will lower your blood pressure, that is quite the opposite of reality.

Outside of consuming Himalayan salt, there is some belief that inhaling diffused salt, or bathing in salt baths can be beneficial. There is limited evidence that salt inhalation may help certain conditions, largely due to the intrinsic drying properties of salts. For those suffering from conditions in which bronchial secretions are increased like pleural effusion or COPD can benefit from salt drying these secretions. For those without chronic lung problems, however, halotherapy isnon-effective, and can even aggravate asthma.

In the end, there’s no more health benefit to Himalayan salt than there is to any salt, and in general, salt poses much more of a risk than a reward to our health. By all means, however, continue to use pink Himalayan salt, it’s no worse than sea salt and much prettier! 

Sulfates in Shampoo

2 minute read
Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-general-science/sulfates-shampoo

As someone who likes to routinely dye my hair bright pinks, blues and purples, I’m often told by my hairdresser to use sulfate free shampoos. He often talks to me about how multiple bleachings and dying’s will leave my hair damaged and brittle, and how sulfate free shampoo will be gentler, both on my damaged hair and on the colour. It seems like every time I take a shower it occurs to me to look into why that is, and whether or not it’s true, but somehow by the time I’m dry, dressed and sitting at the computer I’ve forgotten again. Finally though, here is what I’ve found about sulfates in shampoos. 

Shampoo as we know it was invented somewhere near the 1920’s and 1930’s. It was in 1930 that Procter and Gamble made the first sulfate-based shampoo, and since then the formulations haven’t changed all that much. It’s important to remember that ‘sulfate’ isn’t one compound, it’s a common name for any compound containing a sulfate. The ones commonly used in shampoo (historically and currently) are sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, or ammonium laureth sulfate.

So what do sulfates do anyways? Well, a couple of things. Primarily they are surfactants, which means they can attract both water and oil molecules, and it’s this property that makes them good for cleaning. They attract the oil on your scalp, then wash away down the drain. It’s also their surfactant status that allows sulfates to create the lather we all know and love in our shampoos. 

The problems with sulfates really are that they’re a bit too good at their job as surfactants. Their ability to effectively strip dirt and oil out of our hair means that we also lose a lot of natural oils that protect our hair and scalp, which can leave our heads feeling dry, or even getting irritated and red if you have sensitive skin. Sulfates are also irritants, so if you get shampoo in your eyes a lot (like me), you may notice that sulfate containing shampoos sting a bit more. If you dye your hair (again, like me) you likely will want to use sulfate free shampoos, as sulfate’s efficacy at stripping oils will also strip colour. 

Outside of being a bit intense, there are no other problems with sulfates. The myth that they cause cancer is just that, a myth, and they have been studied and approved many times for use in hair products. Shampoos need surfactants to work (they’re made up of 5-30% surfactant), and sulfate-based surfactants are the most effective option getting the job done, but there are other options if you find these shampoos drying your skin out or causing rashes. Do not, however, buy into the media hype that normal shampoos are dangerous or unhealthy.

Is Hyaluronic Acid All Hype?

3 minute read
Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/health-quackery/hyaluronic-acid-all-hype

A quick search of Amazon for hyaluronic acid turns up thousands of products, from liquid serums to pills to creams that make a variety of claims. Balms and serums seem to focus on hyaluronic acid’s ability to ease skin redness and reduce wrinkles while oral supplements focus on the benefits of hyaluronic acid on the joints. Some products, like this powder, make claims about hyaluronic acid’s benefits to both the skin and joints.

How can one substance have so many effects? And is there any truth to the ‘organic liquid facelift’ or ‘joint solution’ declarations?

Within the body, hyaluronic acid plays an important, albeit diverse, role. It is a major component of epithelial tissue, and seems to play a role in cell division and movement. It is also a chief component of synovial fluid- the fluid found inside a synovial joint (like a human’s hips or wrists)- and acts as a lubricating agent. Hyaluronic acid is also found in joint cartilage, where it coats all the cells, and it even plays a role in the body’s innate immune system (high hyaluronic acid levels can be used as a marker for prostate and breast cancers). The average person has ~15 g of hyaluronic acid in their body, and about 1/3 of it is degraded each day.

In short, hyaluronic acid does a lot of things, from skin repair to joint lubrication, so it makes sense that promoters hype it as a possible treatment for a wide variety of health problems ranging from osteoarthritis to sun burns. But what does the science say about its efficacy?

Studies have shown intra-articular injections (injections into the joint) of hyaluronic acid to be just as effective, and sometimes more effective, at managing pain than NSAIDS or placebos, often with fewer side effects, for patients with osteoarthritis. Likewise, studies looking at artificial tears containing hyaluronic acid, used to treat chronic dry eyes, have found it to be a safe and effective option. Same story with dry skin. The thing that begs investigation however, is the oral administration of hyaluronic acid.

There have been a few studies on oral treatments of hyaluronic acid, and they all seem to have quite positive results. This study found that daily supplementation with oral hyaluronic acid enhanced several markers of quality of life in adults with osteoarthritis of the knee, and this study concluded that oral intake of high purity hyaluronic acid is effective in the treatment of American patients of knee osteoarthritis. Some studies, like this one partnered oral hyaluronic acid supplements with exercise and also had positive results.

These results seem promising, and I’d be right on board the hype train with everyone else, if I hadn’t spent some time reading the methods sections of these studies. Each study used a daily amount of hyaluronic acid ranging from 60-200 mg. Most supplements recommend hyaluronic in the 100-200 mg range, but Novisyn, perhaps one of the best known supplements, contains only 17 mg of hyaluronic acid in its once a day packets. 

There is good reason to believe that orally administered hyaluronic acid is absorbed in the digestive tract and that it does migrate to the relevant connective tissues. There is also evidence that it can have a biological effect without even being absorbed. These functions however, depend on there being enough hyaluronic acid molecules present to interact with the relevant receptors, and in a 17 mg dose, this likely just isn’t the case.

So by all means, ask your doctor about hyaluronic acid for your osteoarthritis or chronic dry eyes, but make sure to read the package before you buy the pills. As Dr Joe always says, it’s all about the dose!

Did You Know That the Real Name for Eye Sleepies Is Rheum, and It Doesn’t Only Come from Your Eyes?

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Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know/did-you-know-real-name-eye-sleepies-rheum-and-it-doesnt-only-come-your-eyes

Sleepies, eye gunk, eyeboogers… Whatever you call them, the proper name for that gunk that collects in the corners of your eyes is rheum. It’s exuded from your eyes while you sleep (as you know) but also your nose and mouth. When it comes from your eyes it’s primarily made of mucus discharged from your cornea or your conjunctiva. It doesn’t only happen when you’re asleep though! During the day our blinking flushes the mucus away into the nasolacrimal duct along with your tears over the Habs losing again.

If you have more rheum than most, you may be suffering from one of a few different conditions. Conjunctivitis (pink eye), chlamydia, infection of the eyelid (blepharitis) and more can all cause an excess of rheum, especially in your eyes.

If you’ve ever woken up unable to open your eye for the amount of eye goop present, you’re not alone. Not only because it’s happened to me several times, but also because it is a very common side effect of pink eye.