Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Game of Threads: Costume Analysis (S1E2: The Kingsroad)

Saddle up! This is a long one.  I was actually worried if I would find much to say about this episode (since most of the costumes are ones we've seen before) but...I really didn't need to be concerned.  Let's go!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Game of Threads: Costume Analysis (S1E1: Winter is Coming)

So, I happen to like the Mad Men, rather a lot.  Lots of people do: it’s easily one of the most acclaimed shows on air in the last few years, and there are scores of blogs offering critiques, recaps, and analysis.  Some of the most enjoyable takes on Mad Men crit are the “Mad Style” posts from Tom and Lorenzo, a series which has more or less catalogued and critiqued every costume worn by a female character—and many of those worn by the guys, but since it’s set in the real-world, they’re limited to a more restricted range of suits and are consequently less tappable for analysis.  Anyway, they’re fascinating posts, and beautiful to look at. 

Game of Thrones is no less known for its gorgeous costume work, and I recall Tom and Lorenzo remarking at one point—sorry, I can’t find the exact post—that it is one of the few shows that comes close to Mad Men’s level of sophistication regarding costumes, but that they were simply not going to give it the Mad Style treatment.  Well, why not try to produce the content I would like to see?  I may not be up to TLo caliber, but surely it’s better than nothing? The costuming of Game of Thrones has some key differences too: Mad Men is somewhat constrained by the actual fashions of the 1960s; Game of Thrones has more creative leeway.  Part of the job of the fashion on Mad Men is to evoke the era; on Game of Thrones, it’s world-building from the ground up.

          We'll see how this goes; I'm not making any promises.... Let's begin at the beginning with Season 1 Episode 1: Winter is Coming, shall we?

Friday, February 21, 2014

"It's Toasted"

I never really "got" the famous "It's Toasted" scene from the first episode of Mad Men until I started taking haircare science more seriously.

I'm not a smoker, and nowadays we have so much more information on how and to what extent cigarettes cause those "certain fatal diseases".  Any slogan is going to seem nonsensical when smoking seems like such a fundamentally crazy thing to do.

This line, though:

"We have six identical companies making six identical products...We can say anything we want."  

That IS the beauty industry, once you cut through the comforting, marshmallowy, beglittered layers of marketing and bullshit in which it's wrapped.

Please don't misunderstand me: I am in no way comparing the toxicity of tobacco with anything you'll find in conventional cosmetic products.  Smoking demonstrably causes a nightmare-carousel of diseases, and the modern beauty industry is regulated to be broadly safe, if not perfect.  There are similarities, however, in the massive levels of consumer distrust towards certain common chemicals: sulfates, parabens, whatever the flavor of the month happens to be.

Let's re-imagine the conversation taking place between Don Draper and, say, Lush executives regarding their I Love Juicy shampoo:

"How do you make your shampoo?"
"We start with surfactants, thicken it, scent it, color it, use natural extracts and safe synthetics..."
"There you go: 'safe synthetics.'"
"But everybody else's shampoo uses the same safe synthetics."
"No, everybody else's shampoo will ruin your hair.  Yours is made with safe synthetics."

Lush drives me absolutely up the wall with the sheer amount of garbage they peddle in their marketing.  I mean, look at the first five ingredients in that shampoo: water, two sulfate surfactants, one more foaming surfactant, and propylene glycol (which has several functions).  That is a bog-standard shampoo right there, with a couple potentially-irritating fragrances tacked on.  Then they have the absolute nerve to suggest that it's the "fresh fruit juices" in the product that are doing the heavy lifting of removing oil, rather than the three surfactants at the top of the list.

Flames, ladies and gentlemen, flames on the side of my face.  It's not that the product is necessarily bad, but the advertising is so weaselly and insulting.  The Beauty Brains once said that greenwashing in particular (I would add most beauty marketing in general) is "the art of storytelling", and Lush are particular masters of it, but they are far from the only ones.

It's made with safe synthetics!
It nourishes!
It's hydralicious!
It quenches!
It's got marine extracts!

It's f*cking toasted.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

No Feels, Only Reals: Baking Soda, pH, and Dilution Edition

Hello everyone.  So an article was posted recently that caused a bit of a kerfuffle on r/NoPoo: it showed that when raw baking soda is added to water, the pH remained more or less the same, regardless of the amount of water added.  Only when she took some of the baking-soda water solution (i.e. AFTER the solution is in equilibrium) was dilution possible.

I thought it might be instructive to look at why that is.  Not entertaining, particularly, but instructive.  There's a metric butt-ton of equations in here, which is why I changed from just posting on reddit to the blog.

–Let’s do some conversions and define some terms–

1 tablespoon = 0.0148 L
1 cup = 0.237 L
2 cups = 0.473 L (Not dodgy math: the values of 1 cup and 2 cups were calculated independently and rounded to three significant figures)

Baking soda  = NaHCO3 (Take heed! Baking soda is a chemical.  It's not really even a natural one most of the time.)

–There are a few factors that complicate this reaction–

First of all, pH is the measure of acidity or basicity in aqueous solutions.  That is to say, before we can talk about what the pH of NaHCO3 “is”, we first have to make a solution with water.

Furthermore, NaHCO3 is a weak base, which means it does not dissociate completely in water (Rats! This means loads more work for us).

What happens when you mix NaHCO3 with water?

The Na+ ion is a “spectator ion”, leaving us with HCO3. This gets even trickier because HCO3 is amphiprotic, meaning it can act like an acid OR a base, depending on the reaction.  HCO3 can react to form its conjugate acid H2CO3 (carbonic acid) and OH- (what makes a solution basic), and vice-versa, although the system will eventually reach equilibrium.  We need to know the acid dissociation constant (ka) and base dissociation constant (kb).

The ka of a weak acid can be used to find the kb of its conjugate base, using ka*kb=1x10-14.  The ka of carbonic acid is 4.45x10-7, so the kb of HCO3 is 2.25x10-8.

–Let’s get started!–

We have to do a few preliminary calculations.

First, we need to know what the molarity of our baking soda solution.  Let’s assume that we are making the standard 1 tablespoon of baking soda to 2 cups of water no-poo mix, since this is the most frequently-given ratio, the one that people are advised to try first and then adjust based on results.

We need to know what 1 tablespoon of baking soda is in grams, which is a bit of a pain, because one is a measure of volume and the other of mass.  There’s no clear conversion.   If you try and find out by googling, you’ll find kind of a range of answers.  So, I figured I’d just measure a tablespoon for myself and see what I got.  It came to 12.6 grams, which is in range, so this is the figure I’ll be using for the calculation.

The molar mass of NaHCO3 is 84.007 grams so to find how many moles in a tablespoon:

Now, we need the molarity of the solution so:

We will get one mole of HCO3 from NaHCO3, so we can say that the pre-equilibrium concentration of HCO3 will be the same as above.  The OH- concentration is so small that it can, helpfully, be regarded as 0M (technically speaking it’s 1.0x10-7M).  Since there is no H2CO3 before reaching the equilibrium state, it is also 0M.

After reacting with water, one mole of HCO3 will form one mole of OH1 and one mole of H2CO3.  So, given that, let’s make a table to chart these changes:

0.315 M

Now we get to use the equilibrium equation:

Now we have something we can work with!  We know that the Kb of HCO3 is 2.25x10-8 from earlier.

It looks like here we have to use the quadratic equation to solve, but it turns out that since x is likely to be much, much smaller than 0.315, you can drop the x from the denominator without affecting the outcome too badly (you can double-check that this is a valid approximation later on--just put it back into the equation for Kb above and make sure it all checks out).  So:

Since “x” stands for the molarity of OH-, we can now use this value to solve for the pH of our solution!

So you can see that 1 tablespoon in 2 cups of water will have a pH of 9.9.  This is very high, and exactly what the other blogger demonstrated with universal indicator paper.

You can also see why adding more water doesn’t really do much to the pH of the solution.  Adding more water will only change the initial M-value that we used.  Let’s look at this equation with 20 cups (= 4.73 L) of water.

Almost no different!  So, what value of M value do you need in order to have a pH of 7?  Well, let’s work backwards.  If our pH is 7, so is the pOH.  Then, we can use the definition of pOH to find that we need x=10-7 to get a neutral solution.  Now our equation looks like this:

This is a tiny, tiny number!  Let’s keep going to see how many liters of water you need to add to a tablespoon of baking soda to get this result:


1 tablespoon of baking soda in 2 cups of water has a pH of 9.9.
1 tablespoon in 20 cups has a pH of 9.4.
You need 1418439 cups of water to make a solution with a pH close to 7.

Anyway, the key point of all of this is, because of the nature of the reaction that NaHCO3 has with H20, it takes an enormous amount of water to dilute even one tablespoon of baking soda down to a near-neutral pH.

No-Poo People who use baking soda (or those who are considering it) may want to take this fact into consideration when constructing their hair care regime.  It’s certainly true that pH is not THE ONLY important factor when it comes to hair health, but it’s also a fact that the scalp has an acid mantle that will be disrupted by having a high-pH solution onto it, and there are a number of people who say that hair itself is strongest when slightly acidic.

Furthermore, the pH of 1 tablespoon : 2 cups solution is starting to approach 10, which is the range where the cuticle of hair can becaused to lift.  This is very undesirable.  As the linked page says, the hair cuticle is not hinged, it cannot open and close freely!  Repeatedly lifting and smoothing it will damage it.

Those of us striving for a scientifically-sound hair care regime would do well to leave the baking soda in the kitchen.

If you'd like to know more about alternatives to baking soda, I'll be testing out common choices for a month at a time. So far: rye flour.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

No Feels, Only Reals: Essential Oils Mythbusting Edition

*I originally posted this to reddit, but figured I would reproduce it here (with minor edits for clarity) on the blog, so that everything is all in one place.*


People start looking into no-, low-, and natural-poo for a variety of reasons.  For whatever reason, we do have a tendency to let our beliefs and emotional reactions (feels) get in the way of facts (reals).

One of the key sources for No-Poo info is the NoPoo subreddit.  It and Haircare Science are the two places where I actually posted this first, and are major sources for information.  There’s a link in the sidebar of r/NoPoo to a page about “Essential Oils and Haircare”.  This set off crazy warning bells: essential oils are not something with which to be tinkering around.  This is about 7000 times more true if they are being used topically, rather than for aromatherapy, which is how the linked website (and many of this subreddit’s users) recommend using them.

Just because something is “natural” or derived from a plant does not mean it’s a-okay for your skin.  There’s no market out there for poison ivy tea rinses, after all.  I want to work through (for now) the oils specifically mentioned on the linked page, since that is what the subreddit “advocates” or is, at least, what most users will find when looking into essential oil use.


  • BASIL: first up, this essential oil has some compounds that are going to be old friends by the time we get through this: linalool and eugenol.  This are BOTH documented irritants that you should avoid in any skin care product. (, (, (
  • CHAMOMILE: this one checks out; it doesn’t appear to be widely irritating in general, though some people with allergies to the daisy family may have issues. (
  • CEDARWOOD: this is a fragrance, and like many fragrances, can be irritating and allergenic.  There is also, apparently, some research which found it to cause tumors on mouse skin.  The evidence is far, far from conclusive, and even if there were more studies with similar results, “correlation is not causation” would still apply.  However, if you’re going to freak out about parabens or whatever, it doesn’t make sense to use cedarwood oil. (
  • CLARY SAGE: this is tagged with the Risk Number* R38, marking it as irritating to the skin.  Don’t put it on your scalp, fer Pete’s sake. (
  • EUCALYPTUS: this is a fragrant oil which, as the sidbar-linked website says, may well have some anti-fungal and anti-microbial effects.  HOWEVER, some of its components are known irritants.  "Truly a mixed bag, because this oil, like rosemary oil, is one that has benefits and risks. Because the risks are primarily with topical application to skin, eucalyptus oil is an ingredient to avoid” (
  • LAVENDER:  STOOOOOOOOOOOOP putting lavender essential oil anywhere near your skin. The “tingling” feeling that many people describe isn’t lavender oil stimulating your bloodflow or anything, it’s the oil irritating and damaging your skin.  You do NOT want to experience tingling with any product you apply topically: it is your body sending you distress signals.  Lavender is so, so misunderstood, so I’m going to quote the whole article: "Of particular concern is the lavender oil, which smells great but causes havoc on skin. Research indicates that components of lavender, specifically linalool, can be cytotoxic, which means that topical application causes skin-cell death (Source: Cell Proliferation, June 2004, pages 221–229). Lavender leaves contain camphor, which is a known skin irritant. Because the fragrance constituents in lavender oil oxidize when exposed to air, lavender oil is a pro-oxidant, and this enhanced oxidation increases its irritancy on skin (Source: Contact Dermatitis, September 2008, pages 143–150). Lavender oil is the most potent form, and even small amounts of it (0.25% or less) are problematic. Although it’s fine as an aromatherapy agent for inhalation or relaxation, it is a must to avoid in skin-care products. (Sources: Psychiatry Research, February 2007, pages 89–96; and"(
  • LEMON: this provides no demonstrated skin care benefits, but can be both irritating and photo toxic, i.e. reactions may result following exposure to sunlight.  (
  • LEMONGRASS: this is another fragrant, volatile oil which contains the same compounds that make lemon oil (above) irritating to the skin. (
  • MYRRH: another one that contains limonene, an irritant also found in the two oils above, as well as pinene (see “volatile oil" description below) and eugenol, which you also don’t want on your body. (, (
  • PATCHOULI: this is derived from mint, can sensitize skin, and contains eugenol (see myrrh, above) which is an irritant.  Patchouli is considered a “counter irritant”, for which see below for a full explanation. (
  • PEPPERMINT: it’s another counter-irritant; move along. (
  • ROSEMARY: this one kind of almost barely checks out.  In very, very small quantities rosemary EXTRACT can be okay, but if you look at the main constituents of rosemary OIL, it’s a whole lot of known irritants: pinene, borneol, linalol, camphor, etc. (, (
  • SAGE: I feel like this is starting to get repetitive: it’s a fragrant oil, and all the usual, skin-annoying compounds are there, including camphor.  Nope.  (
  • TEA TREE: Fiiiiiiiiiinally!  This one kind of checks out too!  It can have anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal effects and seems effective at treating certain skin conditions.  However, that doesn’t mean you should go whapping it all over your head: it still contains components that can cause issues, so it should STILL be treated with caution.  (
  • THYME: once again, fragrance compounds found in thyme oil are undesirable on your skin.  Billionth verse, same as the first, no?  (
  • YLANG YLANG: allllllllllll together now!  It’s a fragrant oil made up of compounds known to cause skin issues!  Skip it!  (


Many people who avoid shampoo do so because they feel it contains too many “harsh” or “irritating” chemicals.  Swapping out a rigorously-tested, carefully-formulated shampoo only to start smearing essential oils (chemicals) over your head is, however, nonsensical.  Not that you can’t do it, of course; it’s your body.  If, however, you’re going to invoke science in defense of any part of your regime (often done in no-poo-land), why not apply that standard consistently?  “Diluting” these oils with carriers may help, but these compounds can be problematic for skin even in tiny quantities in professionally-made products.  If you’re avoiding shampoo to limit your exposure to chemicals and irritants, why risk the above-listed essential oils


  • VOLATILE OIL: "Group of volatile fluids derived primarily from plants and used in cosmetics primarily as fragrant additives. These components most often include a mix of alcohols, ketones, phenols, linalool, borneol, terpenes, camphor, pinene, acids, ethers, aldehydes, and sulfur, all of which have extremely irritating and sensitizing effects on skin.” (
  • COUNTER-IRRITANT: "Ingredients such as menthol, peppermint, camphor, and mint are counter-irritants (Sources: Archives of Dermatologic Research, May 1996, pages 245–248; and Code of Federal Regulations Title 21—Food and Drugs, revised April 1, 2001, CITE: 21CFR310.545, Counter-irritants are used to induce local inflammation for the purpose of relieving inflammation in deeper or adjacent tissues. In other words, they substitute one kind of inflammation for another, which is never good for skin. Irritation or inflammation, no matter what causes it or how it happens, impairs the skin’s immune and healing response (Source: Skin Pharmacology and Applied Skin Physiology, November–December 2000, pages 358–371). And although your skin may not show it or doesn’t react in an irritated fashion, if you apply irritants to your skin the damage is still taking place and is ongoing, so it adds up over time (Source: Skin Research and Technology, November 2001, pages 227–237).”(
  • RISK NUMBERS: an explanation can be found here (