Never have I come across a story that blends two of my passions so seamlessly: skin care and government paranoia. But that day has come.
The latest advancement in skin care is coming from an unlikely source: the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Intercept has revealed that the CIA is involved with a new skin care product called “Clearista.”
The CIA’s venture capital division, In-Q-Tel (did you know the CIA had a venture capital division?), has invested in Clearista’s maker, Skincential. Skincential has “patented a technology that removes a thin skin layer, revealing unique biomarkers that can be used for various tests, including DNA identification,” according to The Intercept.
In-Q-Tel was founded by former CIA director George Tenet, by the way.
I’ve never heard of this product but I’m content to resurface my skin with acids, retinoids, and expensive laser treatments performed by my very skilled dermatologist.
But not everyone agrees with me. Apparently the product has been featured in Oprah’s magazine, the gold standard for product placement. Clearista claims it has a “formula so you can feel confident and beautiful in your skin’s most natural state.” A press release explains ClearistaPRO will “safely and effectively remove biomarkers from tissue.” All you need is some water, a “special detergent,” and “a few brushes against the skin” to restore a youthful glow and turn over your biological information to some spooks. The process is described as “painless” — at least physically, not so much for your civil liberties.
“Our company is an outlier for In-Q-Tel,” Russ Lebovitz, the chief executive of Skincential Sciences, said during an interview with The Intercept. He conceded that the relationship might make for “an unusual and interesting story,” but said, “If there’s something beneath the surface, that’s not part of our relationship and I’m not directly aware. They’re interested here in something that can get easy access to biomarkers.”
“I can’t tell you how everyone works with In-Q-Tel, but they are very interested in doing things that are pure science,” Lebovitz said. The CIA fund approached his company, telling him the fund shares an interest in looking at DNA extraction using the method pioneered by Skincential Sciences, according to Lebovitz.
Honestly, this all sounds like something that might appear in an X-Files episode.
Lebovitz said he was unsure of the intent of the CIA’s use of the technology, but the fund was “specifically interested in the diagnostics, detecting DNA from normal skin.” He added, “There’s no better identifier than DNA, and we know we can pull out DNA.”
And it gets creepier.
In-Q-Tel also maintains a long-running interest in developing advanced genetic analysis, biological technologies for detection and diagnostics, as well as research into what is known as physiological intelligence, which, in a 2010 article, the fund described as “actionable information about human identity and experience that have always been of interest to the Intelligence Community.”
The Intercept writes that an article, which is only available via the Internet Archive, argues that “advances in medical research into biomarkers can be leveraged by intelligence agencies for a variety of uses, from airport security to next-generation identification tools.”
So what the hell is in this “Clearista”? Here are the ingredients in the Retexturing Gel:
Water, Jojoba Esters, Acrylamide/Sodium Acryloyldimethyltaurate Copolymer, Isohexadecane, Polysorbate 80, Potassium Chloride, Boric Acid, Phenylethyl Alcohol, Diazolidinyl Urea, Laureth-4, Polysorbate 20, Capryl Sultaine, Sodium Hydroxide
Here are the ingredients in the Refining Pen:
Water, Potassium Chloride, Boric Acid, Phenylethyl Alcohol, Laureth-4, Capryl Sultaine, Polysorbate 20, Diazolidinyl Urea, Sodium Hydroxide
As a skincare fanatic who knows cosmetic ingredients, I don’t see anything interesting in here other than Boric Acid, which I would not put on my face. Apparently the magic ingredient is “jojoba esters,” also called “Ecobeads.” These Ecobeads are apparently pretty hard to remove. Beauty blogger Mr. Wharff says: “You might find the product a little tricky to remove fully because of the Ecobeads; they do like to attach themselves to your skin if not probably removed.” Like I mentioned above, this is stuff from The X-Files.
Another problematic element of this “skincare miracle” is the pH level of the product, which the website states in its ingredients list is 8.5. That’s pretty high — the normal pH level of your skin ought to be between 4-6. This product may help exfoliate your skin but the high level of pH is going to damage your skin’s acid mantle after a while. Not only are your civil liberties in danger, so is your skin’s protective barrier. Not good.
So ladies, if you’re interested in the fountain of youth, the CIA has you covered, both literally and figuratively.