What is Bio-Oil?
The cosmetics and personal care industry is a huge behemoth which takes in and spends billions and billions every year. A lot of its activity is focused on sales and marketing with the ultimate objective of getting money out of your pocket and into theirs. Sometimes this involves providing you with a good product that meets a genuine need or gives you a real benefit – but profit is the motive.
But sometimes a product becomes successful for no other reason than that people like it, tell their friends about it and create a word of mouth reputation. One example of this is the product Bio-Oil made by a relatively small Swiss company. The company makes a range of claims for their product, but the one that seems to have struck a chord is that it works for stretch marks.
Bio-Oil and Stretch Marks
Now stretch marks are a tough thing to treat. I have never given birth myself but I was present at the birth of my children and I couldn’t help notice that it is quite a traumatic process. Its not surprising that there is some damage to the skin which can be quite severe. Only the very optimistic person would expect stretch marks to be easy to treat. But the body itself does have some pretty good regnerative processes, so one strategy which might pay off is to try and create the optimum conditions for the skin to heal itself. This would probably be simply keeping the skin as well moisturised as possible, maybe encouraging blood flow to the area and avoiding further stress. Maybe massaging to encourage a bit of extra enzyme activity.
Bio-Oil seems to be nothing more than a blend of oils. Lets have a look at the ingredient list.
Paraffinum Liquidum – or mineral oil as we are more familiar with it in the UK. This seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable base for this kind of product. It is safe and very effective. I know some people have issues with mineral oil (I must do a blog about that) but I see nothing wrong with it. In the context of a stretch mark product, it is going to give a very good barrier action.
Triisononanoin – I had never heard of this, but a quick Google reveals that it is a branched member of the ester chemical family. These are often used to give a silky feel to formulations and also help the oil spread over the skin. This again sounds like quite an appropriate material to use.
Cetearyl Ethylhexanoate and Isopropyl Myristate are also branched esters with similar properties to the above, but these ones are better known and I have used both of them.
Retinyl Palmitate is a form of vitamin A which might well help with the body’s regenerative processes.
Tocopheryl Acetate is a form of vitamin E which is a useful anti-oxidant.
Anthemis Nobilis Flower Oil is the latin name for chamomile oil, an oil with some reasonably well documented health benefits.
Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil is well known to everyone and its health benefits are very well documented.
Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Oil – rosemary is supposed to have some positive health benefits, though I haven’t checked them out personally.
Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract is extracted from the flowers of marigolds, and these have been shown to have a mild anti-inflammatory effect.
Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil – I don’t think there is anything particularly beneficial about sunflower oil but there doesn’t seem to be much of it given how low down the ingredient list and it is probably simply there as the carrier for one of the other ingredients, and likewise for the Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil.
BHT – is a chemical antioxidant. There have been concerns raised about whether this material is totally safe but I don’t think the case against it is very strong at the moment and in the case of a product like this it is likely to be used at a negligibly low level in any case.
Bisabolol – is a natural anti-inflammatory agent and is thought to be the active agent in Calendula. I imagine what is going on here is that they are adding some synthetic bisabolol to boost the calendula – but they might have simply chosen to list it as it would be present in the Calendula anyway. Either way, it is a safe mild anti-inflammatory agent.
CI 26100 is a synthetic colour – a red coloured one. This must be present at a very low level and probably makes the product look richer, but won’t have any other effect.
Parfum is what it sounds like – a perfume and the rest of the list of ingredients is simply components of the fragrance that legally need to be listed. The fact that it contains so many suggests to me that it is a reasonably expensive fragrance containing lots of natural ingredients.
The results of a clinincal trial are reported on the website. The term clinical trial is stretching it a bit as there were only 12 people involved, and there is no indication that a placebo was used. Only 50% of users saw an improvement after 4 weeks. There isn’t any indication of how much of an improvement they had. I don’t think this trial on its own is particularly strong evidence, but when you put it into the context that a lot of people who have used the product speak highly of it I am prepared to believe it is doing something.
At the end of the day, Bio-Oil offers three benefits. Far and away the most important is aiding moisturisation by putting a thin layer of oil on your skin. It also has some actives that have anti-oxidant effects and others that are anti-inflammatory.
Bio-Oil – Does it Work?
So what is my overall conclusion? Bio-oil has plenty of ingredients that might be expected to help clear up stretch marks, and the general approach of regularly applying an oil to hold in the skin’s moisture should be beneficial. I am pretty sure it works mainly by helping the body’s own repair mechanisms to function. I suspect that all it does is speed up what is going to happen anyway. I would also be surprised if its effects were dramatic. I think you probably need to use it for a prolonged period of time before you really get anything much out of it.
£4.99 for 60ml isn’t cheap but it should go a long way so I think it is reasonable purchase. But please don’t expect too much from it. It will take a while before you see any benefit. And there is also an alternative you might want to consider. My friends over at Beauty Swap Shop have found a product called Rescue Oil. This is the same basic idea, but it doesn’t have any of the natural active ingredients. The ingredient listing is about half the length. I have a feeling that most of the benefit of these products comes from moisturisation. Both should work about the same for this. The Rescue Oil has vitamin E as an anti-oxidant but doesn’t offer any anti-inflammatory action. I think you might have a hard job to tell the efficacy of the two products apart. But if you have skin that is prone to becoming inflammed, the Bio-Oil might be the better bet.
You can read some personal experiences on the Makeup Alley, where Bio-Oil is quite popular.
And see the next post for my reaction to the ASA upholding complaints about Bio-Oil’s advertising.