Seen this way, it seems that I have something against the painting, but no. 

The statement comes from a guy at the Imperial College of London, who published a kind of CSI-style article a couple of months ago. 

Before I read it, I never imagined that the Venus in question would suffer from thyroid problems. However, this conclusión was reached long ago by a group of researchers who thought that, no matter how plump she might have been, rather than a double chin, this girl must have had the goitre. 

Now it’s the maid’s turn, who also has the goitre. And what I could have sworn was a brushstroke effect turns out to be vitiligo in its entirety. 

But Rubens, if more than a painting this looks like a medical treatise! 

 The question is that if these two girls existed and coincided in time and place, they must have been exposed to some environmental factor that triggered all this. And I’m not saying it myself, but from the scientist of the Imperial College London, if he carries on like this, they will hire him as a scriptwriter in the already mentioned drama TV series.  

 Ruben painted the painting in 1615 in Antwerp in northern Belgium, an area historically linked to high iodine consumption. This could explain the origin of the goitre on the Venus and a type of autoimmune thyroid responsible for vitiligo with the maid’s goitre. 

In autoimmune diseases, the body’s somewhat disrupted defences attack the individual. 

In the case of goitres, the attack is directed at the thyroid gland, causing the front of the neck to swell, below what we commonly call Adam’s apple. 

In vitiligo, the attack affects the pigmentation of the skin and hair in an irregular way, which causes the appearance of very particular discoloured spots. In the maid’s case, you can see them in various areas of the face and neck, and in her white hair that is tied back. 

It is curious that “Venus in the Mirror” has become the first pictorial representation of vitiligo. Previously, only we can find small description in ancient texts. 

But more importantly, these findings could provide a historical overview of the distribution, frequency and the main factors which caused thyroid disease in northern Europe, known as epidemiology. 

That said, look at the picture again. Doesn’t the Venus have the goitre and her maid vitiligo?. 

We are familiar with the idea of good bacteria and bad bacteria for some time. Cosmetic industry is aware of this.

Terms like “microbiome friendly”, “mimics or stimulates the natural protection of the skin” and others that I do not want to repeat, have become more and more frequent.

Where did all this come from?

Well, there are scientific facts that almost everyone understands.

One of them is that the bacterias we have in our digestive tract are necessary, and if we wish to enjoy not only a good digestion but also good health we must take care of them.

That’s why there’s plenty of yoghurt in the supermarket’s fridge-freezer full of good bacteria that promises to keep the harmful ones away.

And also, for those who are not too keen on yoghurt, there are food supplements which have such a high concentration of friendly bacteria that you will not even find in a laboratory dish.

And you’ll think — yes, very well, but what does all this have to do with cosmetics?

The idea has its basis, the skin also has its micro-tenants.

As is the case of the intestines (oh my God, what an ugly word), they are very important to keep the skin healthy and act by preventing the entry of all the evil creatures that wish to make an appearance.

The microflora on the skin (the marketers like to use the term microbiomes) is made up of a lot of bacteria, each one originates from their mother and their father. In fact, there is such a diversity that it is a huge problem to “census” these bacterias. They vary from face to forearm, between the right and left hand, between men and women, young people and adults. And if we include hygiene habits, lifestyle and so on, the subject becomes real madness.

The fact is that the “why” these bacteria are on the skin is still not understood.

Technological advances are making it possible to give them names and surnames.

Still, it is difficult to fully understand their role as guardians of the skin or whatever their other duties may be.

So far, so good. But if you will insist on talking about cosmetics, beauty, looking good… And bacteria?

It sounds weird but yes. Acne or sunburn, for example, are being studied in relation to microflora and had already been studied before in relation to atopic dermatitis and dry skin.

But before continuing, do you remember PREbiotics and PRObiotics?

PREbiotics are food for good bacteria to grow well and work harder, but for bad bacteria, they are just the opposite. PRObiotics are good, living or dormant, bacteria that helps to balance the microflora of the intestine or skin.

Well, in 2005, the first cosmetic with PREbiotics was launched, included plant extracts of pine, blueberry and ginseng, capable of reducing the number of P. acnes, the bacteria responsible for the inflammation of the skin. Then came PRObiotics that pampered S. epidermidis, helping redness and sensitive skin.

Little by little, the market has grown and today these types of cosmetics constitute a tiny niche with enormous potential. Ugh, with this last sentence sounds as if I’m a salesman.

When you get this far, I’m sure you’ll have the million-dollar question in mind.

And yes, I like them. Mainly for three reasons.

Firstly, they are cosmetics designed to act on the outermost layer of the skin, the epidermis. And this makes things so much easier.

Secondly, the use of PRE and PRObiotics at the therapeutic level is long overdue, so building on this knowledge is a good start.

And thirdly, there are many scientists studying and publishing super interesting things.

Scientific evidence is a fundamental requirement for the success of a product, especially when it comes to cosmetics, as credibility in this industry is always in question. This is the main reason why I’ve started writing this blog.

In any case, many difficulties still to overcome. Such as transferring the results obtained in the laboratory to cosmetics that meet the consumer’s expectations, or keeping these “cosmetic yoghurts” in conditions away from the cold, and having a reasonable life in our bathrooms.

What is the most important issue to tackle, as soon as possible, is the lack of regulation in the terminology and in the advertising claims that these cosmetics use. In this way, it would be easier to avoid any kind of temptation that would lead to consumer distrust, which is what really annoys me the most.

If I could, I would ask for improvements and cheaper technology, so that in the future we can get to know who the micro-tenants are that each one of us has on our skin, and then design cosmetics with the most suitable PRE and PRObiotics.

How happy we’d all be with our skin.

It’d be cool.

“What you’ve just put on is killing the corals”

That’s how sure Pablo was, as we smeared sunscreen on ourselves just before getting into the water on a fabulous beach in the Indian Ocean.

Then he took another cream out of his backpack, and as if it were a TV advert, he told us that his cream could be used because it was REEF FRIENDLY.

Everybody there took note. The fact came from someone who has lots of experience in the sea. As a diving instructor has a moral obligation to point out to his or her customers not to touch or remove the corals, not to stand on them and to be extremely careful not to hit them with their fins, and now to avoid getting into the sea with sunscreen lotion on.

That was a real surprise to me. Sunscreens have always been very controversial because of their effects on our health, although their use is well regulated by the European Union.

But… I had no idea that they were responsible for the disappearance of the corals.

However, there are scientific studies that link the effects of sunscreens not only on corals but on a large part of the marine ecosystem that requires sunlight to live.

This is why it is a problem that affects us all, whether we have spectacular coral reefs on our coastlines like in documentaries or not.

This is because some sunscreens act as bioaccumulators, which means that these marine organisms absorb these toxic substances and then they are unable to eliminate them and end up causing something similar to stress, leading to coral bleaching and more viral infections.

In short, a clear decline in the population of these living beings.

The compounds responsible for such destruction are two, oxybenzone and octinoxate (in case someone is interested in looking for them among the tiny hieroglyphic names in the list of ingredients of a cosmetic, they appear as BENZOPHENONE-3 and ETHYLHEXYL METHOXYCINNAMATE).

They’ve just been banned in Hawaii. No solar cosmetics containing these ingredients will be sold or distributed by 2021.

As expected, the cosmetic industry is up in arms about it.

Their arguments are aimed at blaming the deterioration of corals on climate change and overfishing, among others issues, warning on the increased risk of skin damage due to the lack of sun protection, and the fact that in other countries the use of these filters is considered safe.

In Europe, the maximum amount permitted for oxybenzone was reduced in September 2017 to 6%. Octinoxate’s are still at 10 per cent. In short, we’re still using them.

So, what do you think are they good at or not?

It’s not an easy answer.

The European regulation on cosmetic products considers them safe for humans in the quantities indicated, and for the time being, there is no danger to other species either, since when these substances are analysed individually in a laboratory, the results obtained do not suggest otherwise.

However, how many people do you know who don’t use sunscreen when they go to the beach? I’m sure very few. Even my father who used to avoid using it recently surprised me when I found him spraying his bald head with it.

The thing is when we get into the water we lose at least a quarter of what we apply. Bearing in mind that we are paying more and more attention to the recommendations and putting on about 36 g of cream or similar per adult, the amount being washed off into the sea is high.

But the important point is not what an individual person puts on, but in what thousands of people do when they cram the beaches. Now the amount of sunscreen that’s staying in the sea is rising. This is the real problem.

Looking at it in this way, a decision like Hawaii’s is understandable. Coral Reefs are important not only for their ecological richness but also for the enormous income they generate from tourism, so paying attention to their conservation is a top priority.

What I criticize the most is the labelling of certain sunscreen products. Whether it is “biodegradable”or “reef friendly” does not guarantee anything. What the industry have done is replace the two conflicting sunscreens with others that have also begun to be questioned.

It is clear that much more research is needed to determine which sunscreens can certainly be considered good or bad for the marine environment.

Meanwhile, sunscreen cosmetics are and will continue to be fundamental. I don’t think I’d ever stop using them. But if we get used to wearing T-shirts with a protection factor or lycra (better than cotton), we would reduce the amount of cream left in the sea by at least half.

And this is a very simple gesture to start solving a big problem, isn’t it?