As you may have heard, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has recently introduced the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010, HR 5786. I’m sure you want safe cosmetics as everyone does so this bill probably sounds good. However, it has nothing to do with safe cosmetics and you can read this bill here.
I wanted to address what this bill would mean for the many small scale cosmetics companies like myself that already make safe, non-toxic and natural cosmetics; many of whom initially signed and now regret signing the Safe Cosmetics Pledge.
Plants such as herbs are tiny chemical factories making hundreds or thousands of biochemicals; many of which are beneficial to us, many others that have little or no effect on us, and a few that are toxic to us. Plants however have the tendency to balance these characteristics of toxic and non-toxic and tend not to be so black and white about it as we are.
Take for instance caffeic acid. This molecule is made in most plants including herbs such as rosemary, sage, and parsley. Caffeic acid and caffeic acid phenethyl ester are part of the shikimic acid pathway of plants that forms flavonoids, tannins, and lignin (wood). Caffeic acid is considered a carcinogen by the International Agency for Cancer Research appearing on its list 2B of “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. This is because of a few small studies showing that ingestion of high amounts of caffeic acid caused stomach and kidney papillomas (pre-cancer) in rodents. There is no data available regarding cancer in humans. You can read the summary from IARC here.
With just this information you may say, “of course, I do not want this chemical in my skin care products or in my food as I’d rather be safe”. However, further investigation shows that caffeic acid is also considered an anti-carcinogen, an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory. As an anticancer agent it modulates many aspects of carcinogenesis including stimulating phase II enzymes to detoxify carcinogens entering the body and it stimulates cancer cell death, Topically, it can protect cells from damage caused by UV radiation (such as skin cancer). Many research labs are now studying its effectiveness as an anticancer agent.
Also found on the IARC list 1A of ‘known human carcinogens’ are things like jet fuel, gasoline, radioactivity and aflatoxins; things that would never go into cosmetics in the first place and are already prohibited as being toxic substances. However, there are other chemicals commonly found in natural cosmetics that are on various IARC lists of carcinogens. Here are some, followed by which list they are on:
coffee (2B), alcohol (1), eugenol a constituent of many essential oils (3), mate (Peruvian tea), kojic acid (3), d-limonene (3), microcystin (2B), microcystis extracts (3), progestins (and estrogens) (2B), quercetin (3), tannic acid and tannins (3), tea (3), theobromine (3), theophylline (3), vitamin K (3), stress and titanium dioxide (2B). Estrogen such as in birth control pills is ranked on the 1A list of ‘known human carcinogens”. Keep in mind that use of birth control pills is the number one contributor to the build up of estrogens in the waterways.
A few of these chemicals that I am personally quite fond of in my products include tea, tannic acid, theobromine, theophylline, vitamin K and eugenol. Tea such as green tea is rich in tannic acid, quercetin, theobromine and theophylline. Studies have found that the flavonoids in green tea can prevent signs of aging, inhibit formation of skin cancer and block damaging effects of UV light.
Vitamin K (phylloquinone) is of course an essential chemical necessary for human life and is necessary for blood clotting. Because one study showed that when injected into the peritoneal cavity it caused cancer it is on the list of ‘carcinogens’. Vitamin K is found in many herbs and oils including parsley, basil and sea buckthorn oil.
Quercitin, a flavonoid found in many herbs, has been found to be anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It is found in a wide variety of plants including tea, red wine, berries and herbs.
Microcystis is a blue green algae that produces microcystin. Although it is indeed toxic, it also contaminates some blue green algae extracts making it necessary to test these ingredients.
Kojic acid is derived from a mushroom and used in many products as a natural way to lighten age spots. Eugenol is found in many essential oils including clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, basil and bay leaf. These oils are commonly used in natural perfumery. Many herbs and vegetable oils are rich in phytoestrogens and progestins that are good for moisturizing the skin, providing antioxidants and giving skin that youthful look. Oftentimes these phytoestrogens are referred to as ‘nonsaponifiables’. Oils rich in phytoestrogens include olive oil, rice bran oil, soy oil, wheat germ oil, pumpkin oil, pomegranate oil, sea buckthorn oil, raspberry seed oil and the list goes on and on. If you use vegetable oils in your skin care products, regardless of whether or not they are organic, they may be prohibited by this bill because they contain phytoestrogens.
Because ingredients of vegetable origin are more complex than synthetic ingredients all of their components could not possibly be tested for safety leaving the only ingredients allowable in cosmetics to be highly processed and purified synthetic chemicals unfortunately.