I thought I’d go into more depth as to why I think the Safe Cosmetics Act’s definition of “ingredient” makes it impossible for totally innocuous ingredients to end up on the list of safe, nontoxic ones.
Now take a look at this chemical: thujone. Studies on the pharmacological and toxicological properties of the thujones are complicated by the fact that many experiments involved the use of ill-defined mixtures of the two isomers. Since the isomers differ markedly in toxicity and convulsant activity, quantitative data on mixtures of unspecified composition have to be interpreted with caution.
The convulsant properties of thujone, and of thujone-containing plant extracts, have been recognized for a long time (see review by Pinto-Scognamiglio, 1967).
The thujone-induced convulsions are epileptiform in character and are preceded by general vaso-dilation, fall in blood pressure, slowing of cardiac rhythm and augmentation of respiratory amplitude (Pinto-Scognamiglio, 1967).
A commercial mixture of alpha- and ß-thujone was administered by gavage to groups of 20 male and 20 female weanling rats at doses of 0, 12.5, 15.0 and 50.0 mg/kg/day for 13 weeks. The dose was given in five increments daily as a suspension in aqueous agar…
No dose-related deaths occurred in the rats receiving 12.5 or 25.0 mg/kg bw but 37% of the males and 60% of the females in the 50.0 mg/kg dose group died under test.
No data from metabolic, reproductive or long-term studies were available. Much of the information reported related to unspecified isomers or mixtures thereof. It appears that ß-thujone is significantly more toxic than the alpha-isomer and that female animals are more sensitive to the toxic effects than males. It is not possible to establish an ADI for man on the information available.
OMG!!!!! This stuff causes convulsions. It could be toxic depending on which of the 2 forms of it predominate in the mixture. It hurts women more than men. There’s no known safe dose of it. It KILLS RATS. If there’s anything that should end up on a banned ingredient list, it should be this, right?
Well, you survived Thanksgiving, didn’t you? Other than having to listen to your grandpa and your great-uncle talk about politics, I mean. You see, thujol is a compound found naturally in sage. You actually ATE some of this awful stuff! In your turkey! You fed it to your kids! Your sisters and brothers and parents ate it too!
Why didn’t it kill you? Were you just lucky?
Not every compound is toxic in every dose. You ate a serving of stuffing, and in that entire batch of stuffing was a tiny bit of sage, and in that tiny bit of sage was a tinier bit of thujol. That tiny bit of thujol was enough to make your stuffing taste good, but not enough to give you seizures. So clearly there’s some level or dose of thujol that’s perfectly safe to eat for dinner, even if you’re a woman. Just because the precise safe level isn’t known, or isn’t consistent from person to person, doesn’t mean it’s unsafe at any level for anyone.
This is why I say that the “white list” of totally safe ingredients mandated by the Safe Cosmetics Act is only going to have fairy dust and powdered unicorn horn on it. Because if even food-grade sage isn’t safe in any dose, what is?
Question: next Thanskgiving, are you going to insist your stuffing be sent to a lab to be tested to make sure the thujol level isn’t too high? No? Why not? Is it because you know it’s very likely to be safe, given how small the dose is? Well, if you’re not going to send your turkey to the lab, why on Earth would you think cosmetics that contain similarly tiny amounts of sage essential oil need to go to the lab?
Sarah Natividad lives in Tooele, Utah, where she is a wife and mother of 4 and runs Curious Workmanship, a home-based microbusiness. Sarah has a M.S. in Mathematics from Utah State University and a B.A. in Mathematics from UC San Diego. Her personal interests include late medieval Spain and Portugal, food allergy cuisine, and the never-ending quest for a fridge latch her 4 year old can’t defeat.