Beauty Bullshit: Philosophy Time in a Bottle

Reader Alexis Stewart observed, “Sephora just posted on Twitter about philosophy’s DNA repairing anti-aging goop, time in a bottle I think it’s called… Anyway, would you possibly do a post on topical ‘DNA repair’ creams? Seems like bull to me, but I don’t know anything about it.”

Y’all know me. I’m always happy to poke holes in the claims of anti-aging goop! This post has been a long time coming, and I apologize for that. The main reason it’s been held up for so long is because I got a motherfucking sample of Time in a Bottle and I lost it. I fucking lost it. I have no idea where it is. I moved recently, and the last time I unpacked a box was like two weeks ago, so I assume it is probably in one of the boxes on my living room floor. Who knows, though. Some mysteries are never solved.

The Sephora release page for Time in a Bottle states, “Our scientists reached a new understanding of the source of skin aging: our skin’s DNA. Prior to this, we were aware of the symptoms of skin aging—fine lines, enlarged pores, wrinkles, lack of firmness—but we
never fully understood how this damage develops. New research was able to establish a direct—and, until now, missing—link between damage to skin’s DNA and collagen breakdown.” (YOUR scientists? I didn’t know that Sephora could personally lay claim on the various researchers who developed the DNA damage theory of aging…) So really, we’re looking at one big claim here: there is something about this product that fixes DNA damage and that will make you pretty.

The write up continues: “Our DNA renewal complex is blend of four unique enzymes exclusive to Philosophy that work to help repair the function of skin’s DNA.” Furthermore, “Vitamin C is the dermatological gold standard antioxidant. This vitamin C8 is a very new and modern form that enhances both stability and performance that works to help protect your DNA over time.”

For the sake of organization, then, I am going to break the big claim up into two little claims: ‘
1. The enzymes in the product repair DNA, which will make your skin look pretty and
2. Vitamin C8 protects from DNA damage, which will also make your skin look pretty.

Before we go any further, I want to clarify what DNA damage actually is, since this is a product that is specifically talking about repairing DNA damage. DNA damage is not the same thing as a mutation. A mutation is a change in a DNA sequence at the level of the base. For example, a sequence that goes AGGATCAA becomes AGGTTCAA. Once that change is made in both strands of the DNA, it’s in. The cell cannot recognize that anything has happened. The change either kills the cell or it doesn’t. DNA damage is a physical abnormality in the DNA. For example, a break in the DNA strand would qualify as DNA damage. The cell has a variety of mechanisms for fixing DNA damage.

Claim #1: The Case for Enzymes

I actually had to call Philosophy to find out what these enzymes were, and they initially didn’t want to tell me anything. The caller politely told me that they were not public knowledge but assured me that they would definitely ‘renew [my] DNA’. After I was annoying for long enough, though, she eventually broke down and told me the types of enzymes that were used. She would not tell me the specific proteins in question, but she gave me enough information to get a sense of what it is we are talking about.

The four enzyme classes in question are:

1. Some form of photolyase. Photolyases are a family of flavoproteins (proteins containing a riboflavin derivative). You may be able to get a hint of what these proteins do based on the name. “Photo-” means “light” and “lyase” means the enzyme in question is breaking bonds. Photolyases break up pyrimidine dimers, which are molecular lesions that form in DNA. The lesions can prevent polymerases from doing their job, stopping DNA replication. The photolyase gets rid of this problem. Light is necessary in order for the reaction to occur.

2.  Some form of endonuclease. Endonucleases are enzymes that cut the bonds on polynucleotide chains. Some of them are important for DNA repair, as they cut at AP sites. (DNA and RNA are made up of two fundamental types of nitrogenous bases: purines and pyrimidines. If you have DNA damage and end up with something that is neither a purine or a pyrimidine, you have something called an AP site. If an endonuclease cuts at the AP site, DNA repair can continue.)

3. Some form of glycoside hydrolase. Glycoside hydrolases are enzymes that help break down larger sugars into smaller sugars. They are pretty much used to help acquire nutrients. In E. coli, this may help mediate some DNA repair activities.

4. Some form of alkyltransferase. One form of DNA damage is DNA getting hooked up to an alkyl group (indeed, we do this intentionally during chemotherapy to fuck up cancer DNA). This DNA damage can be repaired by alkyltransferases.

As you can see, all of these enzymes are involved either directly or indirectly in DNA repair. (Is it sad that that makes me want to give Philosophy a pat on the back?)

There is a very, very, very teensy bit of research on topical applications for two of these enzyme families. Jans and colleagues proposed that, in theory, topical CPD-photolyase might help reduce the incidence of skin cancer. However, we don’t have evidence of its efficacy in humans. What’s more, it matters that this is CPD-photolyase and not some random-ass photolyase that Philosophy picked out of a lineup. Given that Philosophy declined to share what specific enzymes they were using, and given that they claiming exclusivity, it’s hard to conclude that they must have picked this one. (And even if they did, it’s anyone’s guess whether or not it would be effective.)

Yarosh and colleagues conducted an actual study on the efficacy of topical
endonuclease V! However, their participants were individuals with xeroderma pigmentosum (XP), an autosomal disorder that limits the skin’s ability to repair UV damage, meaning that individuals with this disorder can never be exposed to sunlight. For obvious reasons, the top cause of death in individuals with XP is skin cancer. People with XP also have a dramatically shortened lifespans. The researchers found that individuals who were treated with high doses of topical endonuclease V had a slight reduction in the development of new basal-cell carcinoma lesions. This is awesome for people with XP, but probably not super relevant to people with regular skin that they just want to be pretty.

I can find no evidence that glycoside hydrolase or alkyltransferase have ever been used topically.

Unfortunately, even the endonuclease and photolyase just don’t have the evidence to back the idea that they do anything in normal skin that isn’t already seriously damaged by a genetic disease. And please do not forget, Philosophy is trying to make some connection to a physical change in your appearance. There is just no way to build that bridge without a shitton more science. You can’t jump straight from “this enzyme might mediate some DNA repair activities in E. coli” to “put this on your face and you’ll be beautiful.”

Claim #2: The Case for Vitamin C8

The next claim centers around the implication that Vitamin C8 is somehow preferable to traditional Vitamin C for skincare purposes.

Yes, there is some evidence suggesting that Vitamin C may have beneficial topical effects. And yes, Vitamin C may help repair DNA in some circumstances (although it can be genotoxic in others). And, sure, given how absolutely shitty most evidence is for any supposed aging remedies, Vitamin C may set a very, very low standard that other potential products can’t even manage to hobble over because that’s how ineffective they are. (Unfortunately, “it’s not as crappy as other alleged anti-aging products” is hardly high praise.) However, once you start talking about how “modern” Vitamin C8 is, you’ve lost me completely.

Vitamin C8 is an ingredient that contains eight different forms of Vitamin C. It’s most notable for having been buffered so that it is less acidic. This is helpful because it can help prevent gastrointestinal problems in people who are easily affected by acidity. If you have, say, acid reflux, and are concerned about a Vitamin C supplement triggering additional inflammation, thumbs up for Vitamin C8. If you just want to smear it on your face and hope you look younger, there is no evidence that it’s special. Indeed, the only reason Philosophy brings up the fact that this is a “modern” form is as an appeal to novelty. An appeal to novelty is a logical fallacy in which someone claims that something is superior merely because it is newer.

Overall, the existence of this product isn’t directly insulting to my intelligence, but, sadly, the research just isn’t there to support its efficacy. For once, the claims are in the vague realm of science, but none of the science says anything meaningful for your face. You’re much better off buying a lovely sunscreen.


1. Great post as usual. Somehow I can’t remember the last time someone on the phone told me I’d definitely be getting my DNA renewed… that’s one for the scrapbook.

2. I forgot I had asked about this and was so excited to read it! Thank you so much for the post. I feel like I should pay you for the effort, and saving me money on trying the product! Very interesting that it is kind of based in fact, but not really in the way we want.

3. You are always free to send me money, haha.

4. Fantastic post as always! One thing I’m wondering about – it seems like anything claiming to penetrate far enough into the skin to repair DNA would have to be regulated as a drug by the FDA.

5. If it worked, it would definitely be regulated as a drug.

6. It wasn’t 4 hours ago that I walked away from a Le Métier de Beauté counter at Saks (yes, I am a hopeless make up junkie) where the SA was carefully explaining to me that THEIR product penetrates below the skin and then works from the inside out. I had to leave; it was beginning to sound like that Twilight Zone episode about the earwig eating through the guy’s brain.

7. It’s hard, because you don’t want to be like, “YOU ARE WRONG, SALES ASSISTANT”, since they’re just doing what they were trained to do…

8. My friend just adopted a little guy with XP!!!! He wasn’t getting the care he needed in China and I’m terrified that might be his fate. 🙁 But he is doing well in his family, and getting great medical care, so yay for that!

9. I’m glad he has access to better medical care now!

10. IS it bad that I almost want to give Philosophic brownie points for not COMPLETELY pulling this out of their ass? I mean it’s pretty bad, but not nearly as bad as others we’ve seen *Cough*UDBeautyBalm*Cough*

11. Haha, yeah, that’s how I feel, too.

12. So, this is more of a general suggestion for “beauty bullshit”, but I have recently started using Living Proof styling products and, while I like them, I’m skeptical of their claims. They invented new molecules? Is that a real thing?

13. The other thing that drives me nuts about this product is its packaging. The dump-the-little-vial-in packaging means either:

– it isn’t stable in its mixed form, degrades rapidly, and has a short shelf life (so, at best, the magic potion benefits have disappeared by the time you reach the end of the bottle, or at worst, it’s turned into something potentially harmful). Philosophy claims it has a 3 month shelf life post-mixing, which makes it pretty spendy at $74 every 12 weeks. For that kind of money (assuming the potion is magic), I’d rather have packaging like Prada skincare…small amounts of product in hermetically sealed packaging with expiration dates


– they’re secretly hoping that women will apply the contents of the little vial directly as a super-concentrated spot treatment, which it clearly hasn’t been designed or tested for.

13. Also, the FDA smacked Lancome for making similar bogus claims last year:

14. I bought my Time in a Bottle near the end of last year (October?), and starting in February I started to get bad rashes on my face. One eye was so swollen sometimes I could barely open it. Been testing my products ever since it cleared, one at a time, to see what it could be and sure enough it was my Time in a Bottle. I suppose I shouldn’t have ignored the three-month-shelf-life, but I assumed the mixing and the expiry was just a money grab since the bottle can clearly last twice as long (or more!) as those three months. Very disappointed 🙁