Q & A With Beauty Expert Paula Begoun

Beauty expert, author and publisher Paula Begoun has performed extensive research on the cosmetics industry; she has just about seen it all — from wrinkle-vanishing claims that don't pan out, to "miracle" pills that fail to deliver what they promise.

Paula has appeared on a number of syndicated television programs and has written two ground-breaking books on the cosmetics industry: Don't Go to the Cosmetic Counter Without Me (in its sixth printing from Beginning Press) and The Beauty Bible (Beginning Press), which is in its second edition. She is also the author of Blue Eye Shadow Should Be Illegal (Beginning Press), and who could disagree with that?

We asked Paula to share some of her findings on a variety of beauty beliefs.

Q:  What made you decide to pursue the truth about beauty products?

A:  It's an interesting premise to take on the cosmetics industry. It's the notion of giving critical feedback and providing information that the cosmetic companies and the fashion magazines don't have any reason to tell you. I think that there is very little [critical feedback] — whether it's in the dermatology part of it [the industry] or the plastic surgery part of it or the cosmetic part of it — there is very little analytical or critical aspect to it . Dermatologists aren't critical of themselves, and plastic surgeons aren't critical of themselves, and Lord knows the fashion magazines and the cosmetics industry can't be critical of the cosmetics world. So you are inundated by all of this "latest and the greatest" and "oh, look at this and look at that," and then if you stand back and take a look, you end up not seeing the forest for the trees, so to speak.

Q:  What is in your background that makes you qualified to write on the subject of cosmetics?

A:  Education-wise, I had a science background in college, but I was a makeup artist and an aesthetician for several years and owned my own cosmetic stores. In the late '70s and '80s, my take on the industry was, "If astringents could close pores, we'd have negative pores," and "If wrinkle creams got rid of wrinkles, then we wouldn't have wrinkles," and they [the cosmetic companies] wouldn't have to keep launching them because the last one would have worked. Then I started doing beauty reports for KIRO-TV and became a reporter and got out of the business of beauty. What I learned as a reporter led me to write a book in 1984 called Blue Eye Shadow Should Be Illegal (Beginning Press). With the demand from readers and the number of books I sold, I kept writing about the cosmetics industry. I have spent the past 20 years researching the cosmetics industry. Interviewing cosmetic chemists, dermatologists, oncologists and reading journals and studies. So basically I do what a reporter does: find out if this ingredient is good, what is the research that says it is? Are they making it up? Is there research on it? I even take chemistry classes to keep myself up to date. But mostly I accumulate the information from many sources and put it together to form an opinion.

Q:  In your book, you say it's OK to squeeze blemishes? Isn't that bad advice?

A:  If you are a dermatologist or an aesthetician, you can do it. Because we all know the reason we do it: When you remove the swelling and the stuff that is causing the swelling inside the blemish, it goes down. We wouldn't do it if it didn't make it better. The key is to do it gently without damaging the skin. There is an edema in there — a cystic sac that has grown up around the contents — and that makes it feel like there is still something there; we are not patient. You can't push the whole thing out by continuing to squeeze. And then we don't disinfect afterward. You should use benzoperoxide or salicylic acid. There are many products on the market that contain those ingredients. Then we don't wash gently, and we scrub, which causes scabs. When you cause scabs, you're going to get scars.

Q:  Next, we asked Paula to play a sort of word association with us. Read on to get the skinny on the following products:

A:  The Product: Moisturizers

The Truth: We believe they can get rid of wrinkles. The second thing we believe is that dry skin and wrinkles are associated. So if you don't use a moisturizer and you don't use it religiously, you are doing something to cause wrinkles. The wrinkling process is unrelated to the dry state of your skin. I can't think of a bigger myth. If wrinkles were caused by dry skin, then 10-year-old kids with dry skin would have wrinkles. The major cause of wrinkles is sun exposure (about 70 percent), and genetics can play a role as well. So we focus on moisturizers instead of sun protection. I think there are some good moisturizers, but it's a myth to think that they can get rid of wrinkles. Also, when it comes to moisturizers, we think expensive is better. And we don't look for sunscreens for use during the day. There is nothing about a $50-100 moisturizer that makes it better than a $20-$30 one. But if the one you're using doesn't contain a sunscreen, then you're doing nothing to prevent wrinkles. At night it's fine [to use a moisturizer], and there are many wonderful moisturizers with antioxidants and all kinds of anti-inflammatories; some really beautiful formulations. But wearing them during the day without a sunscreen is useless.

The Product: Exfoliates

The Truth: The bottom line is that for most skin types exfoliation is a good thing. No question about it. Dead skin cells make your skin feel rough, and if you are over the age of 20 (given the number of adults who have sun damage, clogged pores and dry skin), you would most likely benefit from exfoliation. There are two types of exfoliates : mechanical (or manual) exfoliation, and alphahydroxy acids and betahydroxy acids. The former you have to manually move around your face. They are pretty much '80s-style exfoliates. I think that form of exfoliation is dated, and I don't think there is anything in a scrub that can't be replaced by a washcloth. What does make a difference is a well-formulated betahydroxy or alphahydroxy product. There aren't many of them around because they are tricky to make and there is a risk of irritation. But much of the objective research out there suggests that exfoliation is good for most skin types.

The Product: Foundation

The Truth: We often wear the wrong color. Your foundation should match your skin exactly. What you have to do is keep looking until you find the right one. Take the time to look in the daylight, instead of trusting the lighting in the department store. Stay with the one that matches your skin color, because across the board — for all skin colors — foundations colors have improved dramatically.

The Product : Eye Color

The Truth: I think the biggest mistake I see is that women forget what they are dressing for, so one of the things on the market is these intense, strange-colored eye shadows or very shiny iridescent eye colors. The problem with wearing those is that if you are not wearing iridescent clothing for daytime, why are you wearing iridescent eye shadows, with glitter spilling all over the place? So what I often see women doing is forgetting what makeup is for. Makeup — by my definition and how I write — is about empowering women; making women more beautiful. And part of being beautiful is being appropriate. Going to the gym in 4-inch high heels doesn't make sense. By the same token, if what you are wearing to work is a business suit, in a conservative environment, why would you wear iridescent, bizarre colors that don't go with your outfit?