As I mentioned in my last post, the lovely people at Femme Fatale Cosmetics sent me a delightful little package of goodies to review for them. As well as a selection of foreign and local indie polishes, they also sent me a cuticle balm from Rainbow Honey to try. I was pretty darn pleased with this, because I've heard all sorts of good things about it, and since I got another cuticle balm from Powder Perfect recently, I've been doing a side by side comparison. The most obvious difference between these two is that one is a stick, and the other is in a little pot. For some people, a stick is FAR more convenient, especially if they have long nails and don't want to end up with a ton of product under your nails from trying to get it out of a pot. However, I personally tend to put on cuticle balm with a little eyeliner brush or a cotton bud, so the packaging actually doesn't make that much difference to me. So I decided to take a closer look at the ingredients, side by side, to try and determine which is superior.
I'm pretty rough on my hands for someone who takes so many pictures of them - I handle a LOT of paper at work, and changing my nails so often means my fingers are doused in acetone on quite a regular basis. Hand creams certainly help stave off the inevitable damage, but in the end they can only really do so much. Using it too often also means I end up leaving greasy hand prints all over everything, or having bottles slip out of my hands, neither of which are the most sophisticated of looks. Using cuticle balm in between dousing with hand cream seems to have done wonders for my cuticles - they previously had a tendency to split and develop little peely bits, which have more or less entirely cleared up once I got into the habit of using cuticle balm at least once a day.
While cuticle balm isn't actually technically hydrating, it can form a nice oily barrier over your cuticles, and helps protect them from drying out by preventing moisture already in your skin from evaporating. Contrary to popular perception, it's actually quite difficult to get oily, fatty molecules to absorb into your actual skin past the epidermis. The thing about skin is that it's designed to keep things out. It's more or less the bouncer for your innards, so it's important that the epidermis is pretty selective about what it lets in. Like most bouncers, it generally favours nice slim water soluble substances over big fatty molecules. Ideally, in a cuticle balm you want to have a mix of lighter and heavier oils, because you want some of it to sink in and some of it to stay on the surface to keep the water in. Michelle over at Lab Muffin has a great explanation of these two kinds of substances, properly called emollients and occlusives, over here.
The ingredients in both these cuticle balms are pretty darn excellent. There is a good mix of emollients and occlusives, and very little in the way of artificial additives. They feel relatively similar on the skin - the Rainbow Honey one feels a TINY bit greasier, but I'd be hard pressed to recognise them by feel alone. So let's take a look at the ingredients in each.
Rainbow Honey Cuticle Balm Ingredients
A relatively heavy oil - it can feel a little sticky or waxy on the skin before it melts at body temperature, and can leave a slight oily residue. High in monounsaturated fats and Vitamin E
Babassu Seed Oil
Vegetable oil derived from, unsurprisingly, the babassu plant. It has a melting point very close to average body temperature, so you can apply it as a solid and it will melt on contact.
Doesn't have any particular skin friendly properties, but is often mixed with other waxes and oils to solidify them without raising their melting point.
Quite a heavy oil, that can take a while to melt at body temperature, and will leave an oily residue. This is most likely due to the enormous amount of of saturated fatty acids in it.
I hadn't heard of this one before, and couldn't find a great deal of information that wasn't from people who were selling it, but apparently it has the ability to not only create an oily barrier with fatty acids, but also to attract water like lanolin, which would theoretically make it very good for dry skin.
Passion Flower Oil
This one has quite a light texture, and as well as being high in fatty acids, it's also apparently has some limited disinfectant properties.
As well as being good at keeping your skin soft, there is some actual scientific evidence that Vitamin E (in certain forms anyway) can actually act as an effective antioxidant, running around your skin cells gathering up the free radicals and rendering them harmless.
Looking at these ingredients together, you'll notice there are a fair few heavier ones, and a large proportion of ingredients that tend to remain solid easily at room temperature. This, I'm guessing, probably largely to do with the fact it's being sold in a stick. It needs the heavier ingredients to keep it from melting into a runny, useless mess. This also probably explains why it feels a tiny bit heavier on the skin.
I was quite surprised by how different the Powder Perfect ingredients were. I had assumed that most cuticle balms would have more or less the same ingredients, but these only share two common ingredients - candelila wax, and Vitamin E.
Powder Perfect Cuticle Balm Ingredients
Organic Castor Seed Oil
I didn't realise until I looked into it just how many things castor oil can be used for. It used to be used as a lubricant in cars, and there is a processed form that is sometimes used in chocolate as a cheaper substitute for cocoa butter. Actual castor seeds are also incredibly toxic - you only have to eat four to die, and drinking a lot of castor oil is a pretty darn effective laxative. So effective it was actually used as an instrument of torture under Mussolini's reign.
ANYWAY, I'm going into all this back story because I couldn't find a lot of non woo-woo evidence that castor oil is specifically good for your skin, other than being generally greasy. I did come across a little snippet about castor oil making it easier for you skin to absorb other things it's applied with - which is bad if it's in cosmetics full of toxic chemicals. However, in this instance, I imagine it would help your skin absorb all the other nice oils in this balm, so that's all to the good. This one doesn't evaporate very easily, which is why it made such a good lubricant, so it does leave a film of oil on your skin.
Organic Sweet Almond Oil
Oil made from sweet almonds (side note: almost all almonds commercially available are "sweet". The bitter variety not only doesn't taste very good, it has alarming amounts of cyanide in it), that's a very effective emollient (the ones that sink into the gaps in your skin). It's quite light too, so it doesn't feel heavy on your skin.
Organic Jojoba Seed Oil
No only is this a nice squishy emollient, it also has a relatively long shelf life compared to other vegetable oils, and also can act as a fungicide, so it's a really handy additive to cosmetics.
Organic Candelilla Wax
Same usage as the non organic variety in the Rainbow Honey balm - it keeps the whole thing from collapsing.
Macadamia Seed Oil
Quite a rich, heavy oil, probably due to the fact it's 85% monounsaturated fats. It also has an unrefrigerated shelf life of up to two years, which is handy for something like cuticle balm that you really don't want "turning" before you've used it all.
Organic Shea Butter Fruit
I recently played with raw shea butter for the first time, and it's really quite fascinting stuff. It's totally solid at room temperature, so much so that unrefined shea butter sometimes has to be cut with a knife. But as soon as it touches your skin it melts into this lovely gooey liquid. Despite the "gooey" feeling of melted shea butter, it actally absorbs quite quickly, and only leaves a small amount of oil in the surface of the skin.
Organic Carnauba Wax
While carnauba wax does have some emollient properties, it's mostly used in cosmetics to thicken things and/or give them a nice glossy look.
Elderberry Fruit Extract
Elderberry is alleged to have antioxidant properties, but I couldn't find any scientific sources to really support this claim. Still, it's not going to hurt you either.
Fragrance or Organic Sweet Orange Peel Oil
These ingredients are purely to make the balm smell good. Considering one of the fragrances available is chocolate, I'm going to go ahead and guess these are artificial fragrances, but considering the amount of fragrance compared to all the other totally natural ingredients, I don't have any particular issue with that. Also, I am totally in favour of chocolate scented hands.
So after all that, I gotta admit, I still cant really tell you which one of these is "superior". They both have a good mix of light and heavy oils, and I've not observed either one being noticeably better or worse for my cuticles despite the difference in the ingredient list. For some people the fact the Rainbow Honey one is in a stick is an automatic win. For others the fact the Powder Perfect one is almost entirely organic (and actually, certifiably organic, not just "natural ingredients") will be an automatic win. Personally, the fact the Powder Perfect one smells like chocolate is an automatic win for me, but I'm pretty easy to sway when chocolate (or even chocolate scent) is on the table.
Rainbow Honey's cuticle balms are available in Australia from the Femme Fatale Cosmetics Emporium of Wonder, and the Powder Perfect cuticle balms are available from the Powder Perfect Etsy store.
Special Thanks to Michelle from Lab Muffin for letting me pick her chemistry filled brains.