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This series is about all the stuff we just can't live without.
Whether it's products for personal hygiene, home cleaning or DIY,
it's about those bottles, cans, sprays, jars and tubes
crammed into our cupboards, drawers, handbags, sheds and cars.
I want to know what's in all this stuff!
I'm Jane Moore. I'm out to decode the magic hidden in my supermarket shopping list,
to throw away the packaging and get to the brilliant wonderstuff inside.
'My journey has seen me stumbling around in the dark...'
It's like Raiders of the Lost Ark!
'..and facing my worst phobias.'
'But ultimately rewarded with some genius in action.'
That is absolutely astonishing!
Once finished, I'm expecting to go down the supermarket aisle
with a new-found confidence in what I'm looking for,
having discovered what really does the job.
My task is to hunt down the unexpected wonderstuff in our lives.
Those genuinely clever substances lurking in the stuff we use every day.
This time, I'm out to find the hidden brilliance
behind three of the things most of us slap on each morning.
Face cream, antiperspirant and sun screen.
I have to say, I've got a bit of a personal motive on this new leg of my quest.
At my age, I need all the moisturising I can get!
Not only do I get to test them,
but also I've been promised we'll be learning the identity of its magic bullet.
Later, my materials maestro, Mark Miodownik,
does a demo which really is the pits!
I wouldn't like to meet a man who sweated that much!
But first on my shopping list is a little bottle
that we Brits secretly hope we're going to need lots of.
When I was growing up, suntan lotion seemed to be sold as glorified cooking oil,
designed to roast you quickly to a nice leathery brown.
But now that we know more about sun damage,
we count on products that use science to guard us from over-exposure.
But how do we know whether the ingredients in these products give us the right protection?
And if so, what's the wonderstuff that's doing it?
I'm heading to the HQ of one of the UK's biggest developers and sellers
of sun protection products, to find out.
Blimey, it's like arriving at the Swiss frontier!
Which way now?
This place is absolutely huge!
It's like a town in itself!
This is where Boots develops its potions and puts them to the test on human guinea pigs.
So I've come to the perfect place to shed some light on how sun creams work.
Skin specialist Ian Marlow has got the kit that can tell me whether I've been giving my skin
the right sun protection.
When I read a bottle I'm thinking of the words SPF factor,
-or SPF - the F is the factor, isn't it?
-It is, yes.
It's the sun protection factor. That's been the standard claim on some products for many years.
Sun protection factor is primarily measuring the ability of a product to protect against burning.
Burning is caused mainly by UVB rays.
We all know that we need some sunlight to get our dose of Vitamin D.
But too much ultraviolet light will harm us.
Apparently, there are two different types of UV light.
UV-B, which burns the skin's surface,
and the equally dangerous UV-A.
95% of all the UV light that hits our skin is actually UV-A.
UV-A works much more indirectly
by attacking molecules in the skin
that we know can go on then and cause other damage to DNA
and also result in a break-down of the collagen and elastin in the skin
that leads to that loss of firmness and more wrinkling in the skin.
Unluckily for me, Ian has a machine that can measure the effects of this invisible UV-A.
In the interests of science, and because it's in my contract,
I volunteer myself for a check-up!
-You need to take your make-up off before we start.
-Now he tells me!
It's like asking me to run naked round Trafalgar Square,
taking my make-up off on national television!
'I hope you're happy, Mr BBC Commissioner!'
I'm not taking my eye make-up off for anyone!
Right, there we go.
'My face is scanned with ultra-violet light.'
I'm still alive!
'The images are processed
'to reveal exactly how much UV damage I've subjected my skin to over the years.
'But I'm not worried. Surely my use of sun cream has done its job, right?
What we can see here, all the dark spots on the image
are actually areas where your skin has responded to ultraviolet light
and has produced melanin.
Particularly, we often find this when we look at the nose or the forehead
you can see a higher density of dark spots.
-That indicates that your nose and forehead has had insufficient coverage...
..over the years and we know that that correlates closely to lines and wrinkles in later years.
'Thanks, Ian. Do you have any good news for me today?'
What this machine also allows us to do is compare you to people of a similar age.
Here we can see you're at the 33rd percentile.
So you're within that middle range.
-Am I below average?
-A bit below average.
Am I better off than them, or worse?
Worse, I'm afraid!
I'm never coming here again!
I've had too many holidays.
'But what's puzzling me is I've been so careful to use sun cream when I'm on those sunny holidays.'
What this really emphasises now is it's not just about protecting your skin
from the sun when you go on holiday.
-It's about protecting it all year round.
-But I shouldn't have to wear something in November, should I?
-About a quarter of the amount of incident UV-A hits your skin between October and May.
That's it. Enough humiliation for one day.
So where's the wonderstuff that's going to save my skin?
These clever people combine a variety of different UV blocking
or reflecting substances,
each one doing a different job.
I'm told that three of these cutting-edge ingredients
do the job of stopping UV-B burning our skin.
But there's one more that's really crucial because it blocks out the ageing UV-A. Sounds good!
That magic ingredient is...
How easy is that to say? B-otty... No, forgotten it already!
It still says on our packs. But if you got a pack in the US,
it would be given a snappier title of avobenzone.
That'll do for me!
The green line shows just how significantly
avobenzone blocks out those nasty deep-down and damaging UV-A rays.
All of that cleverness wrapped up in one cream. Pretty impressive.
'Ian decides that to see just how effective a sun cream with avobenzene really can be,
'it's back to the ultra-violet face scanning thingy machine.
'But this time, it's only good news.
'With half my face creamed up and half just bare skin,
'the difference is striking.
'The dark half with avobenzone covering me up
'is absorbing almost all the UV light
'before it gets to my skin.'
It's clever stuff, isn't it?
Ziggy Stardust, there I am!
Medical advice varies on whether we should be slapping on sun screen all year round.
But if avobenzone helps to reduce wrinkles,
then it makes it onto my wonderstuff list.
While other parts of sun cream take care of the burning,
this invaluable little chemical can protect us from premature ageing.
It turns up in lipsticks, foundations and skin creams.
I'm suddenly feeling less guilty about all my cosmetic clutter!
'So, after that wake-up call, I'm anxious to find out more about my skin.
'And if there's anything else I should be rubbing in to help look after it.
'Mark Miodownik, my friendly materials expert, is on hand to help.
'His first gift for me is a surprising close-up view of my skin. Not keen on this!'
I know this is a laptop, but what's with the travel hairdryer?
It looks like one, doesn't it, but it's a microscope.
You can zoom in to anything. So I can have a look at your skin.
-Don't panic! There we go.
-Oh, my word!
-That's you under the microscope. You look amazing!
-It looks like a dry river bed!
No, I've looked at a lot of people's skin and that's very good.
-The structure isn't kind of disturbed.
-It's got a very good colour.
-I like you!
'Mark tells me that the thickness of our skin varies from around 4mm on our palms
to half a millimetre on our eyelids.
We can look on your face. This is going to be completely different.
Can you see down? Isn't that wonderful?
-That's your make-up. Nice glittery make-up!
It's your best asset, your skin. It's 16% of your body weight.
-The biggest organ in the body.
It allows you to cool and also protects you from losing too much water.
Your skin is your most precious asset. It protects from bacteria, viruses, everything.
It's your first barrier against the world.
Keeping it in good nick is the thing to do!
'Phew! I didn't come off that too badly.
'Or maybe Mark's just being nice!
'But is there a wonderstuff that can keep my skin barrier in peak condition?
'As a nation, we slap on £3 billion-worth a year
'of something that we think will do the trick -
'So what's in it, and does it work?
'To find out if there is something in moisturisers that makes them worth it,
'I'm going to meet Dr Mike Bell, who's an expert on the subject.'
Tell me, what is dry skin?
I think of skin as a bit like play putty.
When water's within play putty, it looks very much like this.
Everybody's familiar with that, with children playing with it.
You can mould it. It's flexible.
That's all because of the water in it.
-But as soon as it dries out, if the children leave the tops off...
-Next day in my house.
..it becomes a bit like this.
It can be torn apart, it cracks, and actually, it's fit for the bin.
That's exactly what happens with dry skin.
That's all because of the water content in the outer layer of skin called the stratum corneum.
It's about as thick as a piece of paper. Literally no thicker than that.
The water content in this determines how dry or not dry the skin is.
'This paper-thin protective outer layer
'is apparently the main barrier to help my skin drying out.
'And there's a test
'to show me exactly how important it is to keep this layer of skin healthy.
'First, Mike's assistant Clara measures the rate my skin is currently using water.'
Your skin in its resting condition
probably loses about 100 to 150 ml of water each day.
Because outside, it's much drier than inside the skin.
'This graph is showing the catchily-named "trans-epidermal water loss".'
What we're looking for is when it actually plateaus.
That's the resting level of water leaving your skin.
'That done, it's time to see how much water I lose when my skin barrier is damaged.
What we're doing here is stripping off ten layers of your skin.
It's painless, really!
What's coming off? Like dead cells?
Dead skin cells.
But basically, you're taking off the stratum corneum.
Some of the layers that are so important for the barrier function of your skin.
-Will I get it back?
-You will get it back. It'll take a few days for that bit to repair completely.
But it's quite quick.
Do you get pleasure out of this, Clara?
-I try not to!
-I worry about people like you!
'Then the probe is applied again and the results are in.'
And now the reading is at about 11.3.
Previously, it was at about 8.9.
So the water loss has been increased from your skin.
'Damaging our precious outer barrier means the skin below
'will dry out and fall apart quicker. Not what we want.
'So now I know how precious my stratum corneum skin barrier is,
'how best to keep it strong and healthy?'
Lots of supermodels in particular swear by drinking two litres of water a day,
saying it makes their skin look better. Is it true?
Absolutely, because the water comes from your blood vessels.
So if you're dehydrated, you have less water coming from those blood vessels
that then percolates through the skin.
So yes, you need to be hydrated yourself.
'But well as hydrating your skin from the inside,
'I'm told there's a quicker way to hold on to that water.
What a moisturiser can do, by putting back in that moisture into the top layers of skin
and actually cementing it better,
it means that the skin maintains a better barrier.
'I know Mike's bound to extol the virtues of something he's dedicated to developing here at Boots,
'but he promises that once I've seen some moisturiser made from scratch, I'll understand what the fuss is.
'First into the mix are oily emollients like soft paraffin wax.'
The wax is important to giving the skin feel a richness to it. It conditions and softens the skin.
The aim of emollients is to try and hide some of the stickiness or greasiness.
'Then there's an emulsifier.'
It allows this emulsion, as we call it, to form.
Oil droplets dispersed in a water phase.
'But here comes the truly magic ingredient!
'A colourless, odourless, viscous and devilishly clever liquid
'added to the water, glycerine.'
As in glycerine that I make icing with?
Absolutely. It has similar properties used in cosmetics as in cooking.
It's a fantastic water binder.
'Mix all the ingredients together and you have a basic yet highly effective moisturiser.
'But it's the glycerine that's grabbed my attention.'
The glycerine in the moisturiser is what would form that sort of barrier
-to stop the water releasing as quickly?
So it's probably the most important ingredient for a moisturiser
because it will bind water at the surface of the skin.
'OK. This I have to see!'
So here we have a weighing balance. We've got some glycerine here.
I'm going to pour this glycerine, a certain amount, into the balance.
As you can see, it's actually increasing in mass
and the only way it can do that is by grabbing water molecules
as they pass over the surface of the glycerine.
Shows how fantastic a humectant it is.
Humectant means grabbing humidity? Is that where it comes from?
Grabbing water and holding on to it. That's what glycerine does.
It's important that when the conditions get drier,
and the humidity gets lower,
it's still able to hold on to that moisture.
How is it actually doing that?
Well, glycerine has a quite simple structure
which enables it to form bonds, links, with water.
So that's all it does.
It forms bonds with water to grab it to its structure.
-Like a spider in a web?
-Absolutely. That's a good analogy.
'And this amazing chemical sponge is also highly abundant.'
Where does it come from originally?
This is vegetable-derived glycerine.
It comes from fatty acids and lipids
in vegetables, in plants.
It's a by-product of the soap industry as well in making soap and candles.
By chance, they discovered that was an end product.
It has many, many applications, thankfully for us!
-So glycerine is the key ingredient for anyone making a moisturiser?
In fact, it's the gold standard humectant in the cosmetic industry.
I had absolutely no idea about this.
I'm absolutely amazed by it,
that just a clear liquid can do this amazing thing.
I'm going to go and bathe in a bath of glycerine now!
I'll look like the incredible shiny woman!
'Glycerine, also called glycerol, is derived from fat -
any kind of fat will do.
It was discovered by accident by the German/Swedish chemist Scheele in 1779.
Its sweet taste and low toxicity make it ideal for use in the food industry
where it also goes by the name E422.
Glycerine is incredibly useful and has virtually no side-effects
unless it's combined with acid
to form the explosive nitro-glycerine.
When it comes to keeping up appearances, moisture can also be a problem
if you have too much of it.
I'm talking about the potentially embarrassing matter of sweat.
I want to know why is it that we do sweat
and also what's the magic ingredient in antiperspirant
that helps us to keep it under control.
I've come to Leeds University to sniff out Dr Mark Hetherington,
a physiologist with his own special climate chamber.
He runs tests in controlled temperature and humidity to learn the ways in which people sweat
and to give clues as to what we can do about it.
There are lots of differences in the ways individuals sweat.
Fit people sweat more than unfit, and those who are acclimatised sweat more than people who aren't.
The average person has got three million sweat glands.
Each of them produces a solution which it takes from the body's fluids
and secretes it onto the skin from where it evaporates.
It's the evaporation of sweat from the skin that cools you.
'So we need all those sweat glands to keep us cool.
'So why do some parts of our bodies become more of an embarrassment than others?'
Where do we sweat the most? I'd think it would be under the armpit?
Interestingly, there are more sweat glands per square centimetre of skin
on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
But probably when you're hot and sweating to cool yourself,
the majority of sweat will be produced in the chest, back, forehead and face.
'Hang on, if I pump out more sweat from my face,
'why do I associate the iffy smell with armpits?'
Because the sweat gets trapped in the armpit and can't evaporate. It accumulates
which is why you get wet armpits.
It's also partly because we have a different type of sweat gland in the armpit
to the skin on the rest of the body, called an apocrine sweat gland,
which tends to be activated more by emotion and fear
so if you've got a job interview and you get sweaty armpits,
it's those sweat glands that are active.
It's thought that that type of sweat contains more protein from the body
so it's not the sweat itself that smells,
it's the product of a bacterial breakdown.
It's that bacterial breakdown that causes the odours associated with smelly armpits.
'So it's healthy to allow the sweat from most parts of our body
'to evaporate into the air to cool us.
'A squirt of deodorant, basically just perfume, won't interfere with that.
'But when it comes to armpits and their potentially embarrassing smell,
'we need something much cleverer to stop us sweating altogether. Antiperspirant.
'So, how does it do that? As ever, I'm turning to trusty old Mark
'who, aside from his other skills,
'reckons he can build a makeshift model of a giant armpit in action.
'This I have to see!'
So here we have a piece of your skin, perhaps under your arm.
You've heard about my skin?
No, come on, it's very soft and smooth and clean.
And here's the gland, maybe.
This has got some water in it.
Put that there.
Then it gets hot. You're in the sauna, maybe,
or on a tropical island, preferably.
-And out you sweat.
There's the sweating.
Then the idea is that it evaporates and you get cool.
But what if too much comes out?
And you're, er...
And you get wet!
-Then you feel uncomfortable.
-I wouldn't like to meet a man who sweated that much!
This is obviously the problem.
So from a simple-minded point of view,
if you put something on this surface that could mop up this sweat,
and could attract it so it was less wet and became solid,
then that would perhaps be the solution.
With an antiperspirant, some of the active ingredients do that.
So we'll put some on here. This is a gelling agent.
It's not what's actually in antiperspirant, but works the same way.
-It scavenges water and almost makes it into a solid. It's this gel.
-Oh, look at that.
-It's like a little sugar sweetie.
But of course there's still more water to come out.
That's not going to solve our problem.
You have to keep putting more on. So we want this gland to stop being so productive.
'According to Mark, the really clever trick
antiperspirants pull is by working their way inside our pores.'
All that sweat is becoming not so liquid any more.
It looks like a gel which is semi-solid.
-Then if I do that...
-It's not going anywhere.
So that's what happens inside the sweat gland when we put antiperspirant on?
Again, it's not quite clear whether it's happening inside the gland
or whether it's just a plug.
-But it works.
'OK, I've got the point that there's something in antiperspirants
'that plugs up the glands in our armpits and stops them from producing more sweat.
'So, what sort of wonderstuff is performing this magic trick?
'And where does it come from?'
It seems that the answer lies in a rather unusual place.
So, on the trail of the active ingredient in antiperspirant,
I've come to meet a man in the know at a quarry in deepest Yorkshire.
'Jack Walky is a chemist whose job it is to formulate ingredients for popular toiletries.'
Well, Jack, you really know how to treat a girl. Why am I in a quarry?
We're here to talk about a material that's the most abundant metal on the surface of the planet.
An extremely useful material, aluminium.
'Jack tells me that aluminium, which is present in the rocks and soil all around us,
has also been one of the key ingredients in antiperspirants for over 100 years.
In the late 1800s, particularly under the hot lights from the stage,
actors and actresses were using different products to reduce perspiration.
One of the ones they came up with was aluminium chloride,
which was a great antiperspirant,
but quite irritant and quite damaging to clothing.
'It wasn't until the 1940s that less acidic versions based on aluminium chloride were produced,
'such as the very popular Stopette.'
Then developments moved along and we got aluminium chlorohydrate that we know today.
Aluminium chlorohydrate that we know today is the basis of most antiperspirants in the West.
'It's amazing to think that metal dug up from the ground can be mixed with hydrochloric acid
'to give aluminium chlorohydrate,
'a substance we all rely on to keep B.O at bay.
'It's the wonderstuff that manages the balancing act of being a sweat-stopper
'that's still gentle on the skin.'
Aluminium chlorohydrate and its close cousins have been gracing our armpits for decades.
They're still the only substances that do the job effectively.
And contrary to a widely-held belief, there's no scientific evidence
that these compounds are linked to breast cancer.
My investigation into the stuff that we slather on in the name of beauty
has exposed some surprising truths.
Not least have I failed to protect my skin from ultra-violet rays,
but also that something as simple as the glycerine my granny used for baking
is still the number one substance for moisturising my skin.
But for me, the biggest revelation is that despite the dizzying array of antiperspirants on sale,
there's really only one substance we can rely on to combat sweat.
And that's aluminium chlorohydrate.
Think what you like about putting chemicals under your arm,
but it really does work.
And in my book, that really does earn it a place in our Wonderstuff hall of fame!
When I started this journey into the world of wonderstuffs months ago,
I had little idea what I was going to be in for.
But it's one that's taken me all round the UK
to meet some of our country's brightest brains
who've turned up some genuine surprises!
Wow! Science is really exciting!
It's a good job I've got a strong heart!
I'm never going to look at it in the same way again!
One thing I love about having gone to the source to find substances we just can't live without
is how it suddenly opened up this whole world of chemistry connections that surrounds us.
Like the fact that there's the same active ingredient in moisturiser and explosives!
Or that the silica in toothpaste that makes it a stain remover
also gives us hair dye and beer!
-It's made from the sand we're standing on.
Or that the chemical limonene extracted from the peel of citrus fruits
is Nature's powerful gift to us when it comes to shifting grease.
And it might one day turn up in anti-cancer medicine.
We can all be enticed by a clever marketing slogan
or eye-catching packaging.
But sometimes, the real genius lies inside.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd