A Closer Look at Triethanolamine (TEA)

Triethanolamine (TEA) is a clear, viscous liquid used to reduce the surface tension in emulsions. This allows the water-soluble and oil-soluble ingredients in a formula to blend better. It is a strong base, which makes it useful in adjusting the pH of a cosmetic formula. TEA is completely soluble in water and is rapidly biodegradable.

TEA neutralizes fatty acids and solubilizes oils and other ingredients that are not completely soluble in water. TEA combines the properties of both amines and alcohols and can undergo reactions common to both groups. As an amine, TEA reacts with acids because it is mildly alkaline, and forms soaps. When TEA acts as an alcohol it is hygroscopic and can cause the esterification of free fatty acids.

TEA can solidify or crystallize in cool temperatures because the freezing point is 70.9 °F. If your TEA is not a viscous pourable liquid when you receive it, simply give the container a warm water bath.

The FDA includes TEA on its list of indirect food additives, which means TEA may be used in adhesives in contact with food and to assist in the washing or peeling of fruits and vegetables. The safety of TEA has been assessed by the CIR Expert Panel and they concluded that TEA is safe for use in cosmetics and personal care products designed for discontinuous, brief use followed by thorough rinsing from the surface of the skin. In products intended for prolonged contact with the skin, the concentration of TEA should not exceed 5%.

TEA is lumped in with some other ingredients that have earned it the warning, “should not be used in products containing N-nitrosating agents to prevent the formation of nitrosamines.” However, because TEA is a tertiary amine, it does not react with nitrosating agents to produce nitrosamines. Using very sensitive analytical tools, a study by the Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology found when TEA was ingested with sodium nitrite, no significant nitrosamine formation was found. The CIR Expert Panel also recognized that TEA is a mild skin and eye irritants and irritation increased with elevated concentrations, which again is why formulations should not exceed 5%.

TEA is a good example of how animal testing, where animals are given large doses of an ingredient, does not translate accurately to human topical application. In one study by the National Toxicology Program, there was in increased occurrence of liver tumors in mice that were dosed dermally with TEA over their lifetime. However, in another study it did not cause tumors in rats treated the same or in mice that were genetically engineered to be more sensitive. It also did not damage genetic material. Research has now proven the most likely cause of tumors in the mice that formed liver tumors was due to the TEA causing a deficiency in choline. Humans are resistant to the development of choline deficiency and test animals are not. In addition, cosmetics that use TEA are not ingested, nor is it applied dermally at 100% concentrations over your lifetime.

Bismuth Oxychloride – What is it and is it Safe?

In today’s day and age, many people are choosing to go as “natural” as possible in regards to food, household products, and health and beauty items. This is a worthwhile endeavor, as switching to non-toxic substances can be quite beneficial to one’s health and overall well-being. However, in some cases consumers may be finding themselves spending more time and money than necessary in their efforts to avoid certain products deemed “unnatural” and therefore unsafe. This does indeed seem to be the case when it comes to the controversy over bismuth oxychloride, a chemical compound taking quite a bit of heat from opponents though it is found as a harmless ingredient in a variety of cosmetics.

In fact, bismuth oxychloride can be found on the ingredient list of cosmetics ranging from nail polish to bronzers to blush and eyeshadow. But where it is found in highest concentration levels, and therefore meeting the most controversy, is in mineral powders. Bismuth oxychloride is a synthetically-prepared powder created from bismuth, oxygen and chlorine that is used in cosmetics because of its abilities to create a white pigment, shimmery look, and silky feel in addition to its exceptional ability to adhere to the skin.

Though it is synthetically prepared, bismuth oxychloride is derived from natural elements. Everyone should be familiar with oxygen and chlorine, chlorine being approved for use up to certain concentration levels in numerous products, including cosmetics, so the element in question is bismuth. Bismuth is a natural metal, number 83 on the periodic table. It is actually the only non-toxic heavy metal, and thereby approved for use as a color additive in cosmetics by the U.S. FDA.

So, if bismuth oxychloride has been approved for use in cosmetics, why all the contention? Well, there are two main issues that opponents like to raise. First, bismuth appears in the same family of elements as arsenic, and thus “resembles” it. Obviously no-one wants to be putting a “relative” of arsenic on their face, but this is a ridiculous claim at the face of it. Nitrogen is just as closely related to arsenic, but the gas is a part of our atmosphere and we breath it every day with no ill effects.

The second concern touted by opposers of the compound is that they’ve read in Material Safety Data Sheets that bismuth oxychloride can cause irritation of the skin. This is an unlikely event that is probably worsened by the fact that mineral powders can irritate the skin sometimes anyway, regardless of inclusion of bismuth oxychloride. Add to that the fact that many users of powder foundations reapply the powders multiple times per day in order to “freshen up,” and there is bound to be redness or irritation by those who already have skin sensitivity. If there is a problem, the easy solution to this problem is for those with sensitive skin to either avoid foundations containing bismuth oxychloride or reduce the number of applications per day, but it is important to keep in mind that it may not be the bismuth oxychloride to which one is sensitive. Mica and other compounds found in cosmetics are also known to cause irritation to sensitive skin. Just because a small group of people have a mild reaction to a compound does not mean it should be outlawed- if we were to do that we may as well kill all stinging bees, for surely the great danger they pose some people outweighs the usefulness of their pollination.

As it is approved by the FDA, cosmetic users and consumers will most likely continue to see bismuth oxychloride on the list of ingredients found on many makeup labels. It is up to each individual whether or not she will continue to purchase products found with the compound. Those with sensitive skin may want to avoid it, and those who truly want to be all-natural will probably continue to find fault with the ingredient as even though it is derived from natural elements, it is produced synthetically. Regardless, the vast majority of cosmetic consumers can confidently purchase products containing bismuth oxychloride, knowing that it is not only a preferred ingredient by a number of cosmetics manufacturers due to its numerous positive attributes, but more importantly, it is perfectly safe to be used as an ingredient in the products put on one’s face on a daily basis.

Activated Charcoal – Particle Sizes

OK so I’m going to keep this short and sweet in order to make it easy to read.

Activated Charcoal is VERY popular right now.

People are being encouraged to drink it (in water), brush their teeth with it and add it to their cosmetics including dry facial masks.

While these are all legitimate uses for this material there is something important that you should know.

Activated Charcoal particles are small, very small and as such they can get stuck deep inside your body, maybe even into your lungs and particles in lungs is not a good thing – think Asbestosis or black lung disease.

Here is a chart of particle size that I found on Wikipedia. It’s a good starting point for discussion as we all know what happens when an allergic person comes into contact with pollen or cat dander.

The grade of activated charcoal I use is from Coconuts and it has a mean particle size of 15 microns.

Mean = middle.

That means that 50% of particles are SMALLER than 15 microns and 15% are bigger.

Please note that this is the grade that I am using currently, there are SMALLER mean particle size charcoals out there and LARGER. It is important to know which one you are using. Very important.

The units in this chart at Microns so the 15 microns level is similar to what you would find in small pollen, cement dust, house dust and dust mites.

People who develop asthma medication need to get their medicine from the nose or throat and into the lungs. They say that particles of 10 microns typically get down as far as the oropharynx. This sits below the soft pallet and before the epiglottis so not that far down but far enough to make you cough and wheeze as your body tries to rid you of these invaders.

At 5-10 microns the particles can make it to the central airways while particles from 0.5-5 microns can get into the alveoli – we don’t want that at all!

I am concerned by two things here.

That people are purchasing activated charcoal online and feeling it is perfectly safe and lovely because it is natural (coconut) and because it is food grade and thus taking no precautions when mixing this.
That people are not accounting for the potential for inhalation of the powder when they are using their finished products – products made that contain dry activated charcoal.
It is reasonable to expect that for every 1% of the above I use in a formula 0.5% will be particles smaller than 15microns and therefore able to get down into the airways. It is not a stretch of the imagination to think that at least a small percentage of them could be as small as 5 microns and therefore able to make it into the lungs.

I don’t know how much activated charcoal a lung can handle but I do know that once these tiny particles get into the lungs there is no getting them out. They won’t dissolve or dislodge. Aerosol medicine that is given to asthmatics is designed to break down or dissolve at the site of the lung tissue.

My advise is this.

Treat your activated charcoal with respect, wear proper protective gear including a face mask that can protect against very fine particulate dust.
Do not sell or use a product that contains dry activated charcoal – make sure it is either in paste form or that it is non-dusting by some other means.
Do not leave this product anywhere near children.
Ask your supplier for the mean particle size of the grade you buy so you can decide if yours is more or less dangerous than mine.
Have this conversation with people.
I have had several conversations about this in this week alone with most people saying to me ‘but how come nobody mentioned this to me if it is so dangerous?’ Well the only thing I can say to that is it is because people either simply don’t know, haven’t been told, have never had it occur to them to check the SDS sheet or feel that it must be safe because it’s natural (as I said above).

I can’t see any reason why we can’t all use this ingredient safely once we appreciate the material for what it is.

Lung disease isn’t attractive.

Is Octocrylene Safe?

Yesterday, we asked what your sunscreen questions were. Here is the answer to one of the questions asked:

Octocrylene has been evaluated by the FDA and is considered safe for use up to 10% in the forumla. The European Union has allows its use up to 10% in a formula and Health Canada allows a maximum use level of 12%

I haven’t looked at the data and am not a professional toxicologist so am in no way qualified to dispute people who are. The question of safety is different from the question of whether something is an allergen. There are lots of “safe” ingredients that are used in cosmetics which also happen to be allergens that some people should avoid.

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A Closer Look at Sorbitol

Sorbitol, also known as sugar alcohol, is a naturally occurring polyalcohol. It is prepared for commercial use by the hydrogenation of glucose. It is also found naturally in berries, cherries, plums, pears, seaweed, apples and algae. It is commonly used as a sugar substitute in foods, especially for diabetics. In cosmetics it is commonly used in aftershave lotions, mild soaps and baby shampoos. Sorbitol is used as a humectant and skin conditioning agent.

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