The Science Behind Murad: Does it Work?
A lot of people ask me about Murad; they hear all the hype from the people who sell it and they want to know if it works, and if it will help them with their acne.
While I've never tried Murad because it is not vegan (most products are vegetarian), I can take a look at its ingredients and the overall science behind the product in order to determine if it is rooted in anything remotely logical (we all know how subjective and anti-scientific anecdotes can be when they stand alone, anyway).
The first place I looked was, of course, Murad's website. I wanted to see what claims they make, and then compare them to scientific consensus and studies.
Murad has a couple different lines and dozens of products, but I was interested mostly in the acne products that they sell. I didn't bother looking at their other product claims.
Murad's Clarifying Cleanser
Murad claims that this product "penetrates deep to fight blemishes where they begin" and it "eliminates 99.9% of surface bacteria in 60 seconds" as well as "clears blemishes and prevents new breakouts".
This seems plausible, although I am skeptical of the 60 seconds that they had to throw in there. Perhaps because they know that cleanser ingredients are washed down the drain just as quickly as they are put on, and so anything that claimed to kill bacteria would have to work surprisingly fast. Even if that is the case, and it does work that fast, the second thing that sent up red flags to me was the fact that killing 99.9% of surface bacteria isn't exactly a good thing. Our skin is home to an array of delicate flora (the bacterial communities that populate the skin are some of the most varied human microbiomes) and disrupting it by killing off almost all the bacteria is not an ideal - after all, we do need some bacteria to maintain our barrier function.
These microorganisms directly protect humans from pathogenic invaders and help the immune system maintain that delicate balance between effective protection and damaging inflammation.
Staphylococcus epidermidis secrete antimicrobial substances that help fight pathogenic invaders and Propionibacteriumacnes use the skin’s lipids to generate short-chain fatty acids that can similarly ward off microbial threats. Meanwhile, these and other skin microbes may be able to alter the behavior human immune cells, and impact the local molecular environment.
These bacteria, when in check, are vital. Killing 99.9% of them off is not a good idea.
I was also thrown off by such a precise figure. 99.9% of bacteria. 99.9%. Where have I heard that figure before? Do you know what else claims to kills 99.9% of bacteria? Antbacterial hand soap. This doesn't mean that this product necessarily is equated to antibacterial hand soap - it may contain similar ingredients - it just means my interest was piqued, and I was paying special attention to the ingredients to see which ingredients Murad chose to kill these bacteria. Anything that claims to kill that much bacteria might have a high alcohol content, so I wanted to make sure I kept an eye out for that (putting too much alcohol into a product can be drying and damaging, while just the right amount can make other active ingredients penetrate more easily).
Pressing on, I read further below that "encapsulated Salicylic Acid continually releases acne treatment for hours even after rinsing."
Salicylic acid is one acne treatment that has a lot of science behind it. It works as a type of exfoliator, to remove dead skin cells and keep pores clear to prevent breakouts. In this particular product, salicylic acid is the active ingredient at 1.5%. Rarely is salicylic acid an irritant, although it can be drying in higher concentrations.
Another ingredient listed is Cocamidopropyl Betaine, which is a synthetic surfactant; it has been associated with irritation and allergic contact dermatitis, reactions that could be due to the ingredient itself or to impurities present in it. The hazard level is considered low to moderate for this ingredient, although it may be an irritant.
Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate is another ingredient; it is a cleansing agent that can be drying and irritating to the skin. It is one of the ingredients that makes a product foam up during use, which some people associate with a greater feeling of cleanliness; however, gentler cleansing agents can do just as good of a job without the added dryness and irritation. This ingredient may makes this product particularly irritating for anyone with dry, easily irritable or already damaged and sensitive skin.
Butylene glycol is a colourless organic alcohol used as a solvent (which helps other products dissolve in water), as a viscosity-decreasing agent (to thin products), and as a conditioning agent. Butylene glycol may also be irritating to the skin. However, it isn't a leading ingredient in any high concentration.
Another ingredient is Cimicifuga Racemosa Root Extract, or black cohosh, which you may be familiar with. Black cohosh is frequently touted as being beneficial for menopausal symptoms, and there are some stories of it being used topically to improve the appearance of the skin, but there is no data I am aware of on this. Based on this, it seems this is simply an ingredient included to excite customers over a product with little known application in a product you simply wash off after a few seconds. Perhaps an ingredient to "sell" the product or increase the price.
This cleanser also contains Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract, green tea extract. Green tea is well established as an antioxidant with a lot of potential in skin care products particularly pertaining to acne. However, an ingredient like this would be more useful in a leave-on product. Not to mention it isn't a primary ingredient.
The second *star* ingredient they list is Silver Citrate. Murad's website claims that "Silver Citrate provides powerful antibacterial protection to inhibit blemish formation".
Silver is considered to be antimicrobial; it works by breaking down the cell membrane of the bacterium and denaturing the enzymes within, thus killing the cell. It's for these reasons that it has been touted as an alternative to antibiotics (which you know how I feel about). Regardless, there is little outside of anecdotes suggesting that silver helps with acne, although if bacteria is the problem it may be plausible. This ingredient isn't necessarily harmful when used topically, but it's not the most enticing ingredient.
Another ingredient that sparked my attention was Triclosan. Triclosan is one of the common ingredients with antibacterial handwash. Studies have linked triclosan to allergic contact dermatitis in some individuals. Additionally, triclosan has been associated with allergic sensitization. Not to mention there is the potential for cross-resistance or co-resistance to other antimicrobials, although evidence is limited for this.
There are also a ton of added ingredients. This isn't something bad on its own, but it also contains a lot of fragrant oils and perfumes, all of which can be drying, damaging and irritating. It contains things like bitter orange, sweet orange, and lemon oils, along with menthol. These oils are very fragrant, and they are what makes the skin feel tingly but they can also trigger allergic reactions, or irritation.
So, it seems that this product works by stripping the skin of natural oils, and drying the skin out - which has been established as a bad thing.
Reading the reviews it seems this product is "ideal" for people with oily skin types. This is no surprise, considering people with dry, acne-prone skin would experience extreme dryness with use of these products. Personally, this product appears much too drying and potentially irritating, and I would encourage people to seek out a gentler option - one that simply cleans without irritating. Afterall, these expensive and exotic ingredients are just washed away, down the drain, with all of your skin's natural oils.
Murad's Skin Perfecting Lotion
This product claims to moisturize without clogging pores. Simple enough! However it also claims to minimize pores and reduce redness and inflammation. While I believe it might help with the two latter, I doubt very highly that it minimizes pores unless it acts as a type of primer to temporarily fill them in.
It contains filipendula ulmaria, which is a plant extract that has the potential to be both antimicrobial and antioxidant. This possibly lends to any effectiveness as a skin-healthy moisturizer.
It also contains Arnica Montana Flower Extract which may also exert antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. However, this ingredient is known to be irritating; arnica creams or gels can cause burning and skin irritation. Arnica can also trigger allergic reactions in some people, including those who have allergies to plants like ragweed, daisies, marigolds, or chrysanthemums.
Retinol is a good active ingredient that has a ton of science behind it, which also makes it potentially useful. Retinols, however, can make your skin sensitive to the sun - so this wouldn't be a product you would want to use during the day.
Green tea is also found in this product, again, not in any high or useful concentration.
Algal extract is another interesting ingredient; algae has been tested and shown to be antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory. It is touted as one of the star ingredients in this lotion, except for the fact it is one of the last few ingredients on the list. Hardly a star ingredient in my opinion.
Overall the ingredients in this product may exert some anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, and since many plants are involved it may entice certain people. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that it is guaranteed to work for all people, all skin types, and many of its "best ingredients" are merely fillers in this formula. There are better, more potent options that will do the very same thing, for a lot less.
Murad's Acne Spot Treatment
This product allegedly kills acne bacteria with its 3% content of sulfur. While this may be true, the sulfur could also irritate the skin. Sulfur's strong chemical properties can cause skin irritation such as redness, warmth, itching or flaking, and irritation from sulfur is actually quite common.
This spot treatment also contains a small amount of glycolic acid to exfoliate the skin around blemishes, removing dead skin to relieve tightness that keeps sebum and bacteria trapped inside. The glycolic acid is at the right pH to do its job, but there are other treatments that cost less and do not cause as much irritation as this might with its sulfur content.
In all likelihood, this product will work - but sulfur is not the most ideal spot treatment due to how irritating it can be.
At the end of the day - might these Murad acne products work? Sure they might work, at least short-term - odds are once you stop using them you'll be left with the same acne you always had, or worse due to the drying and damaging ingredients. But that generally is the same story for any treatment like this - anything that works to clear your skin as a topical will only stop working once you stop using it. That doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't use topical products to help clear our skin - but it does mean that we need to be using topical products that are not only good for our skin right now, but also help to keep our acne at bay long-term by being healthy skin promoting. And with drying and damaging ingredients like the ones in these products, I don't know that they're an ideal option.
The consensus, overall, for the Murad product line is that it probably works. Of course, as with any skin care product, there will be those that it doesn’t work on, and this is the risk we take on when trying new products.
In my opinion, and based on the scientific consensus on the irritancy factor of some of these key ingredients, there are better options available, and options that don't contain any animal-derived ingredients. So unless Murad plans to ditch the honey, stearic acid and other animal-derived ingredients, I'm not interested. Hint hint, Murad!
For more information on gentle and effective treatment options without the gimmicks, check out my eBook.