For cosmetics fans, Paula Begoun's book "Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me" is addictive. It's easy to spend hours thumbing through the 1,200-page seventh edition, looking up every moisturizer, concealer and cleanser you've ever used.
Begoun came through Minneapolis last week to share some of her strong opinions on the industry over lunch at Basil's. She ordered beet salad with no dressing and walleye with no sauce: She doesn't embellish her food or her beauty advice.
Q You travel around the world to talk about beauty. Are there international beauty issues?
A I've traveled from Jakarta to Stockholm to Toronto. The cosmetics industry is so universally crazy, that it doesn't matter where I am, all women have the same questions -- what products work, what gets rid of wrinkles, what evens out skin tones and what gets rid of acne.
Q So beauty concerns are universal?
A If you're worried about it, a woman in Jakarta is worried about it. It's really that simple.
Q Any thoughts on the recent controversies over dangerous beauty products, such as lead in lipstick?
A The hysteria over natural ingredients and deadly ingredients is so blown out of proportion. I hate the natural industry. For gosh sakes, arsenic is natural. Poison ivy is natural. I still don't want that in my product. I see a lot of questionable plant extracts showing up in skin-care products all the time. Lavender and lemon are phototoxic. They increase the effects of the sun on the skin.
Q What about sunscreen?
A The only part of skin care that is not an option is sunscreen.
You must wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater 365 days a year. Diligently. Obsessively. Neurotically. The bad rays of the sun even come through windows. When we think of aging skin, it's really about sun damage, not aging.
Q I really need a new moisturizer. How should I pick?
A All skin types need certain ingredients to keep them healthy: antioxidants to reduce free radical damage and inflammation, cell-communicating ingredients that help tell a skin cell to behave healthier and skin-identical ingredients to repair the barrier that keeps the water in the skin. Any product other than a cleanser or a scrub has to contain a cocktail of these ingredients. My oily acne adult skin or your young dry skin need the same kind of ingredients. I get mine in a gel or liquid base, and you need yours in a creamy plant-oil base so that gets the dry skin soothed.
Q What's your biggest beauty pet peeve?
A We believe the claims. You know, you haven't seen a celebrity touting a mascara who isn't wearing false eyelashes. We believe the ads. The industry loves lying. They can hardly help themselves.
Q What's your top wrinkle-fighting tip?
A Don't get a tan, ever again.
Q What if you already have wrinkles?
A One of the things about sun-damaged skin -- the outer layer of skin gets thick, the underlying layer gets thin. The collagen, elastin and skin cell structure depletes. That outer layer of skin is what makes skin look leathery. When you remove calluses -- built up layers of skin -- from a pedicure, the heel looks less cracked and dry. Exfoliants do the same thing on top of the face. Ingredients like trentinoin (such as Retin-A) and tazarac have impressive research behind them, but not everybody can use them. Then use a moisturizer, toner or gel that's loaded with those state-of-the art ingredients.
Q Best tip for acne?
A Benzoyl peroxide. There was a study in 2004 in the journal of the American Medical Association that reviewed hundreds of studies about acne and said that it was the best option. It's gentle. You can't dry up acne. Pimples aren't wet. So drying them up hurts skin's healing process, meaning alcohol, because alcohol causes free radical damage and cell death. And again, exfoliation. A salicylic acid-based produces the best benefit. It exfoliates inside the pores and it's derived from aspirin so it has some amount of anti-inflammatory properties.
Q What can you do about dark circles and puffy eyes?
A Not much, which is why they can keep launching new products and making promises about that, just like wrinkle creams. Do you know how many wrinkle creams were launched in 2006 and 2007? Over 10,000.
Nothing works like any medical procedure. For all of the money you're going to waste on expensive products that can't do what's on the label, you could put that in the bank and then when you need it, do the procedure that, when combined with great skin care, doesn't have to be expensive. That is the best battle plan you can put together.
Q Do you use Botox?
A Of course. Botox has been around, off label, but it has been around for cosmetic use since the '90s. Years ago, a plastic surgeon said to me, if Botox was dangerous, half of Hollywood would be dead. You haven't seen an actress over 35 move her forehead. There wasn't a "Sex and the City" woman who could frown if her life depended on it.
Q Any other beauty secrets we should know about?
A The industry doesn't pay enough attention to gentle exfoliation. It's a particular bent of mine. They're all into these mechanical scrubs, which are not the most effective way to exfoliate as opposed to alpha hydroxy acid.
Q Biggest beauty scam of all time?
A [StriVectin's ad] Better than Botox. The FDA got after them when their ad was "Better than Botox!" They changed it to -- "Better than Botox?" Who noticed that?
Q Best beauty bargain?
A CeraVe, at the drugstore. They're excellent products, especially for the body and the cleanser for the face.
Sara Glassman is a Minneapolis fashion writer and blogger. (startribune.com/stylepoints).