How To Research: Just Reading The Abstract Isn’t Good Enough

Abstracts are a short summary covering the background, methods, results and conclusions of a scientific paper. While abstracts are easy to find, sometimes they are the only information from a paper that’s accessible. It’s important that our knowledge is accurate, as this informs our purchasing decisions and our understanding of skin care.

We assume that the information in abstracts is accurate…right? Well, not all the time.

A study examined six peer-review journals and found inaccuracies in 18% to 68% of the abstracts.

Two conditions were considered inaccuracies in this study:

The first kind of inaccuracy was when data was mentioned in the abstract that differed from the data contained in the full paper – rounding of numbers weren’t considered inaccurate if the full paper contained the correct number.

The second kind of inaccuracy was when data was mentioned in the abstract, but couldn’t be found in the full paper itself.

Keep in mind this study only looked at numerical inaccuracies. It’s entirely possible to have factual inaccuracies, where the abstract states or exaggerates a conclusion that the data from the full paper disagrees with.

Another study examining dermatology journals found varying levels of quality among abstracts.

It’s worthwhile to take the time to read the full paper, especially since researchers take the time to expand on their conclusion in the ‘Discussion’ section as well as point out the weaknesses or gaps in their paper. You can also glean important information such as whether or not the subjects in the study are representative of you. If the language or information is daunting, focus on annotated charts and graphs as these can provide a clearer idea of the results.

This also extends to references! If a researcher references another paper they often try to summarize the results, but sometimes in the simplification they can leave out vital information.

For example, while I was researching the skin benefits of consuming green tea and its extracts on human skin, I came across a cosmetic dermatology textbook which cited a 2 year long study that showed that green tea extracts were beneficial for reducing photodamage and wrinkles. Great! I thought.

Once I pulled up the actual reference the actual conclusion was that at the end of the 2 years there was no difference in the group that received the green tea extract, and those that did not. At the 6 month and 12 month point they did find an improvement in the group that received the extracts – for overall sun damage as well as erythema (skin redness) and telangiectasias (broken capillaries), but no differences in wrinkling.

I’m sure the textbook author had not intended to misconstrue the research, and it was perhaps editorial oversight – but it also highlights why if you find something that strikes your interest, you need to spend the extra time and read it in greater depth.

OK, But What If I Don’t Have Library Access?

There are online journals that provide open-access to the public:

The Cochrane Library – Skin
Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology
International Journal of Cosmetic Science
Archive of the Journal of Cosmetic Science
Clinics in Dermatology
Cosmetic Dermatology
Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications
Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology
Dermatology and Therapy
Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dermatology Research
Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology
Nature: Communications

There are also databases that catalogue open-access papers:

Google Scholar
Directory of Open Access Journals
Highwire – Stanford University
PMC

Research can be incredibly confusing and non-conclusive, but that’s also what makes it so interesting and dynamic!

A second skin made from silicone!

 

This was in the news last month and was heralded as a “second skin” that could make you look 20 years younger.

As you can see the effects are quite dramatic!

 

 

Here’s how it works:

First a layer of reactive silicone is spread thinly on the skin, then a second solution containing a platinum catalyst is applied. A chemical reaction (hydrosilylation) occurs crosslinking the silicone forming a cohesive network which compresses the skin. The network is also very elastic (stretching up to 250%), lasts up to 16 hours, and is waterproof.

The technology can then be further enhanced by embedding active ingredients into it, which may provide longer term benefits to the skin.

This specific composition was chosen because it reflected light like healthy skin, so it’s invisible once applied and dried.

The research was performed at MIT through a joint effort with Living Proof and their new spin-off Olivo Labs  – which will commercialize the product.

Yu B, Kang SY, Akthakul A, et al. An elastic second skin. Nat Mater. 2016

How much powder foundation you need for the labelled SPF

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— Figure 29-5 from Cosmetic Dermatology: Principles and Practice, 2nd Edition by Leslie Baumann

All products with an SPF or UVAPF are tested at the exact same amount, 2 milligrams per each square centimetre of skin (2mg/cm2). If you’re just dusting on your foundation or powder with SPF, to matte the skin or provide minimal coverage, you’re not getting the SPF/UVAPF on the label.

I’d recommend that you use a sunscreen (about ½ a teaspoon for the face and neck), let it dry (about 15 minutes), and then apply your powder for best protection.

There are newer sunscreens that contain primer ingredients like silicones and hydrogenated polydecene built-in.

P.S. Where’s the ½ a teaspoon for the face and neck recommendation coming from? Estimations – two of them. The first estimation is the density of an average sunscreen, and the second estimation is the average area of a face. It’s not accurate for everyone, but the exact amount (2mg/cm2) is difficult to translate!

Alyson McGregor: Why medicine often has dangerous side effects for women

You know, we have this saying in medicine: children are not just little adults. And we say that to remind ourselves that children actually have a different physiology than normal adults…

…And I know the same thing can be said about women. Women are not just men with boobs and tubes. But they have their own anatomy and physiology that deserves to be studied with the same intensity.

Pretty interesting, and very applicable to skin care studies as well. This is why I always try to look for cosmetic studies that have been performed on humans.

In vitro and animal studies can provide very valuable information and are often useful for understanding mechanisms, safety limits, and possible effects.

However, as a consumer, a study with the greatest relevance would ideally be performed on a group of people that are similar to me.

This is also why a genetic health risk analysis service like 23andMe may not be super useful for someone like myself – most of the studies were performed on white, European or American, males.

Thanks for reading!

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This is the clearest image of Telomerase so far

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So what is telomerase? And why is this important?

Telomeres are junk attached to the end of chromosomes. Each time a cell replicates, its chromosomes replicate as well. Because the process isn’t perfect, the end of the chromosome gets cleaved off – the telomere. Eventually the telomere runs out, and the cell enters a state of senescence (”old age”) or dies.

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Telomeres are like a health bar for our cells and all cells undergo this process – including the ones in our skin.

Telomerase can extend telomeres by adding back junk to the end of the chromosome. This allows the cell to replicate longer than it normally would have without errors.

Great right? Unfortunately, cancer cells also benefit from telomerases, which is a big problem.

By understanding the structure of telomerases, scientists can begin to research how it functions. This could eventually lead to understanding how to control its function and use it (or develop similar structures) as a treatment.

As one of the researchers, Juli Feigon, put it:

 “If telomerase were a cat, before we could see its general outline and the location of the limbs, but now we can see the eyes, the whiskers, the tail and the toes.“

One day we may never have to worry about skin ageing again.

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As Lisle Von Rhuman says in Death Becomes Her:

“This is life’s ultimate cruelty. It offers us a taste of youth and vitality, and then it makes us witness our own decay.”

If you haven’t seen it and you love camp, Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn, Bruce Willi–I think I’ve said enough, just go watch it!

P.S. If you see a skin care product or a beauty supplement claiming it can lengthen telomeres…RUN. Run far, far away – while giving it a dirty eye.

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Read the discussion on /r/Science