Napoleon’s Buttons and Pinterest

I love books on tape. They can make a car trip fly by and you listen to them while you do chores around the house.

Devin and I recently went to the city library on date night (which happens every Monday night) and checked out a few books and a book on tape: Napoleon’s Buttons. This book takes you through 17 molecules (or groups of molecules in many cases) that changed history. So far, so good. I have learned quite a bit about the history of the spice and dye trades, which I was not expecting. Since I am always looking to diversify my knowledge base I really enjoyed that.

I just finished listening to a story about the creation of aspirin by Felix Hoffman who was working for Bayer at the time. It had been known for centuries that Salicin (originally extracted from the willow tree Salix) could be used to relieve pain and reduce fever. Hoffman was specifically looking for a way to make salicylic acid (a derivative of Salicin) less irritating to the stomach lining. He discovered that by replacing the H in the OH group on salicylic acid with an acetyl group, irritation was reduced. This acetylated salicylic acid is what we call aspirin.

Vintage Bayer aspirin ad sepia

Knowing this, I was able to connect some dots from a pin that I had seen floating around pinterest lately. I had never actually clicked on the pin and followed it to the corresponding web page, but basically the pinner suggests using aspirin ground up with a little water to reduce the redness and swelling of blemishes. If you ever use a face wash for acne prone skin it is likely that the active ingredient is salicylic acid. It stands to reason then that the pinners suggestion of using aspirins as described is reasonable. Since aspirin is only a slightly modified version of salicylic acid and we currently use salicylic acid in acne medications to treat acne and its related effects on the skin, it stands that using aspirin will achieve the same desired effect.

Making this connection was cool. Finding out more about how things I use in my everyday life work makes me happy. Being the scientific person that I am, I immediately started questioning this aspirin mask technique for treating aspirin prone skin. Aspirin can be absorbed through the skin so dosing yourself regularly with 750mg (250mg/tablet from equate brand pain reliever I have in the cabinet) may not be a good idea. It also seems that this higher concentration would cause increased drying of the skin which is often seen with acne skin wash.

Admittedly, I am not an expert on the subject. I have no research to back up my idea that regular topical dosing with aspirin could cause toxicity problems. For now though, I will be sticking to my $7 Neutrogena face wash.



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