Contact: Lisa Powers, 202/466-0489 or Maiya Dacey, 202/454-0316
I have previously written about the undesirable existence of various “free from” claims in cosmetics but in this article I would like to concentrate on one very specific “free from” claim, and look at it in a little more depth:
“Chemical free”, aka “free from chemicals”, aka “does not contain chemicals”etc.
It has been stated many times before that everything is chemical, so it is a ludicrous statement to claim “no chemicals” – who wants to buy a vacuum?
The response, when pressed on this claim is usually – “well I meant synthetic chemicals”. OK – so SAY “free from synthetic chemicals” . . . . . . then check your ingredient list again, just to be sure you are not making a false claim.
Many people seem to make the assumption that, if a product is certified “organic”, then it does not contain synthetic chemicals. This is not true. Many organic standards allow certain synthetic processes to be performed on natural materials without them losing their “organic” status (without any particular logic being applied in terms of which ones are permitted and which ones are not, in many cases). Esterification is one common example of a permitted process. In this particular case, as far as I am aware, it is justified on the premise that esterification occurs in many natural chemical reactions.
However, let’s just ponder for a moment the status of the product of the esterification reaction between the natural alcohol and the natural acid – esterification is a reaction between an alcohol and an acid, resulting in the production of the ester plus water. There is no doubt that the two starting materials are natural; they have been extracted from nature, but what about the ester produced in this process? This SYNTHETIC process! The ester MUST be synthetic – it is the result of a process carried on outside of any biological (i.e. “natural”) mechanism. It does not matter one iota that a self-appointed certification body has arbitrarily determined that the ester thereby produced may be described as “organic” – it is unequivocally a synthetic chemical. Nor does it matter one iota if that particular ester actually exists in nature – it has still been produced synthetically, so it is still a synthetic chemical. OK, it may be acceptable to describe it as “nature-identical”, but synthetic it remains. The most common examples of “nature-identical” substances are the preservatives, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate. (Not only are these substances synthetic, but also they are manufactured from petrochemical feedstock, so any claim to also be “free from petrochemicals” is also false – they are both great preservatives, though!).
So, whilst a product may well be certified “organic”, some, or many of the “organic” ingredients may be synthetic chemicals. I am sure that there are many “organic” products on the market that do consist solely of materials extracted from nature without chemical modification, but the more robust products, “organic”, or “natural” will almost certainly contain some synthetic chemicals.
“Organic” does NOT mean “free of synthetic chemicals” any more than it means “safer cosmetics”; and it doesn’t always mean “free from petrochemicals” either! We should all have choices, but false claims lead to wrong choices.
(With apologies to Benjamin Disraeli who may have originally coined the first bit – or not, according to Wikipedia)
Anyone can start up a beauty blog on the internet – absolutely anyone. They could be a cosmetic scientist, a nuclear physicist, or they could be someone with an IQ less than their shoe size. Many of the beauty blogs I have encountered give no clue as to the real identity of the owner, or their background, or any reason why they should be treated as a credible source of information. In the past few years, I have spent time on many different blogs, trying to contribute and to offer good information where there were errors posted. Many blog owners don’t like this, and the comment never gets through “moderation” (a misnomer, if ever there was). Some blog owners DO appreciate good information or, at least, permit an alternative point of view to be shared.
The question is, how do “ordinary” (ie non-scientifically-minded) consumers decide what blogs to believe. Relax – the answer is here! This is Dangerous Dene’s Guide to Beauty Blog and (private joke, there – sorry).
There are certain signs to look out for, by which the credibility of the site, and the likely accuracy of the information may be assessed – these are various buzzwords and phrases:
1) “Toxic chemicals” (or “toxins”; “nasty chemicals” or anything that sounds similar) – one or two mentions are probably ok, but more than two or three should start the alarm bells ringing – hysteria alert!
2) A list of 7 (or more) ingredients to avoid, with a short paragraph on each ingredient. This is a piece of information that has been copied and pasted from blog to blog for several years. It doesn’t contain any accurate information, and there are never any scientific references to substantiate the claims made. At least ignore this list, if not the entire blog.
3) Any claim that the cosmetics industry is not regulated and cosmetics manufacturers can use any ingredient is a warning sign. It IS regulated; maybe not as closely as some would like, but it IS regulated!
4) Any mention of the Environmental Working Group, or the Campaign For Safe Cosmetics (and the Skin Deep database) is a warning sign, especially if there are repeated references. These are not scientifically credible sources of information, certainly not in terms of assessing the true safety of cosmetics.
5) If references to studies ARE given to substantiate any claims made, check to see how many different sources are cited. If there are many references to just a single source, this may not be credible information (see 4, above, especially).
6) Whilst I am not a fan of the “vested interest” tag, if the blog relies for its information on other sites that are selling a particular type of product (Dr. Mercola being a classic example), especially if there are a lot of chemophobic statements, think very carefully about the reason behind the statements being made.
7) If the comments on the blog are all very gushing and overwhelmingly supportive, there is a chance that the blog owner does not permit any negative comments to be posted. Ask yourself why (although it could also be the case that I have not yet found the site and tried to add my own comments).
8) If the blog contains a statement at all similar to “if you can’t pronounce it, it can’t be safe”, close the screen immediately and remove the link from your browsing history so that no-one need ever know that you looked at the particular blog, because you have just stumbled across the most moronic statement ever made in connection with cosmetics, and the blog should be awarded no credibility whatsoever.
These comments are aimed mostly at general blogs that are not actually directly selling product. If the site is engaged in selling product, take all of the above, and add the point that if the “does not contain” list of ingredients is longer than the list that a product DOES contain, then beware!
This list is not exhaustive, and I am sure that others can come up with more examples – please feel free to do so!
This is obviously (I hope) slightly tongue-in-cheek, but the real message is to not automatically believe all the scary stories on cosmetics blogs without checking elsewhere and (on PCT, of course).
The Compact for Safe Cosmetics (CFSC) is co-founded by Stacy Malkan, author of Not Just a Pretty Face, her blog which promotes her book by the same name. Stacy Malkan is the public voice and spokesperson for CFSC, who are fomenting fear that could push the evolution of sensible personal care product manufacturing into the legislative dark ages. Under the guise of protecting Americans from cancer and other unknown maladies contracted from using personal care products and cosmetics (currently one of the safest industries), the CFSC exhibits ignorance and short-sightedness to achieve a legislative agenda that if passed will undoubtedly result in grave unintended consequences for small, emerging personal care products companies.
Stacy Malkan may have started out a well-meaning advocate with a sad personal experience, but she and CFSC are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. This has been pointed out to her by those actively engaged in the personal care products industry; those who are aggressively promoting safety and efficacy while moving into the 21st century with sustainable, green ideas for the future. Admitting that she is not a chemist, nor educated at all in cosmetic ingredient safety or formulation, Stacy Malkan is attracting a host of celebrities and others to the cause, perhaps also well meaning, who have absolutely no depth of scientific knowledge to support what they are advocating. They primarily depend on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database. This database has been challenged as insufficient, erroneous, out of date and lacking clearly identified peer review by chemists, scientists and formulators in the industry, as reported here. EWG will call foul (not their scientists, but their lobbyists) that the people who challenge the veracity of their database are employed in the industry. Wouldn’t we expect that those of us in the industry would be educated experts in our respective positions? Likewise, in Stacy Malkan’s “Petroleum in Cosmetics” article on Huffington Post, she references a “new CFSC report” which has been thoroughly debunked by respected fragrance chemist Tony Burfield. In that same article, she uses a totally unrelated NY Times article about cancer causing food ingredients to support her Chicken Little agenda regarding products applied topically. It now behooves Huffington Post to allow a comprehensive rebuttal. And, although I am a great fan of Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now and allowing that she did host a debate on the issue between Stacy Malkan and John Bailey the chief scientist at the Personal Care Products Council, her coverage was not equally represented from both sides of the issue. I am hoping she will revisit with some of the colleagues I mention here.
Stacy Malkan and the CFSC are relentlessly bent on pushing for cumbersome and ineffective federal regulation that will surely thwart the emergence of eco-conscious entrepreneurs rising up with progressive ideas for sustainability, safety and efficacy in the personal care products industry. These are the very people who are already at the forefront of innovation and research to eliminate harsh synthetic chemicals, but who are also realistic about using good science in the process. Some of these entrepreneurs are unsuspecting company signers on the CFSC who do not know that the CFSC agenda is acting against their own interests because they have not been consulted as partners by those at CFSC, as they should be, especially in the current pursuit that could so gravely affect them. They are being used as pawns in a deadly game, much to their possible detriment. CFSC has been parroting the same tired old rhetoric that has failed to move the FDA Globalization act of 2008 out of committee, and more sensible minds prevailed. Their attempt to influence similar legislation at the state level in Colorado. failed as well. You can see my blog post at the time and links to other sensible personal care products companies who rallied to help defeat the Colorado bill. CFSC is relentlessly at it again in an attempt to achieve their goal of establishing into law the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010, recently introduced into the House by Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc.
Among those who will be adversely affected are myriad handmade soap makers, most of whom make soap like your grandmother did. The requirements to register and identify all ingredients (whether potentially toxic or not) would place an undue reporting burden on these small businesses (sometimes one or two-person operations), Even though they would be exempt from registration fees unless their business grossed $1M in annual sales under this new legislation, the cost of research and reporting could be too costly and force them to close their doors. Who wants to see this in our current economy? This smaller segment of the indie personal care products industry now supports an active Handcrafted Soap Makers Guild, whose president had this to offer regarding the proposed SCA bill.
Colleagues Kristin Fraser Cotte and Lisa M. Rodgers founded the Personal Care Truth website which contains myriad articles and information attesting to the diligence and integrity of companies in the personal care products industry with regard to product safety and scientific clarity and veracity. You’ll also find lively conversation between at least one lobbyist from EWG and some of my colleagues. The lobbyist is clearly factually outgunned.
You can go to Open Congress to register your support or nonsupport of the current federal bill, as well as read and rate the linked blogposts related to the bill.
Samara Botane is one of many aromatherapy companies who are passionate about safety and efficacy. Our own website is growing with factual scientific information about essential oils and related personal care product ingredients, and we make ourselves available to anyone who wishes to learn more. In addition to The Winged Seed, which is primarily aimed at our customers, we host and contribute to aromaconnection.org, a group blog which has more scholarly information relative to the worldwide aromatics industry. I see the same ethical passion among my indie peers engaged in the small indie personal care products industry. CFSC has, perhaps inadvertently, created an adversarial relationship, positioning themselves as experts when they are not and refusing to form cooperative relationships with the true experts in the industry and far more shameful, exploiting the companies who support them by not informing them of the surely damaging consequences of their agenda. Shame on them.
Guest post by Marcia Elston owner of Samara Botane. This post originally appeared on Marcia’s blog, The Winged Seed
Recent stories have circulated on the web about the average woman using more than 515 chemicals on her face daily implying that this was quite dangerous. This number sounded quite low to me so I thought I’d count what I use.
First thing in the morning I take a shower and wash my face with soap and water. Water is dihydrogen monoxide, the first chemical. My handcrafted vegetable oil soap will include the following oils that have been reacted with lye:
rice bran oil
These oils are made up of many triglycerides and their fatty acids. Fatty acids in palm oil include laurate, myristate, palmitatte, stearate, oleate, linoleate and linolinate. Coconut oil contains similar ones plus caprylic, capric, caproic and arachidic. Olive oil contains similar fatty acids plus many non fatty acid chemicals including squalene, a variety of sterols, esters of tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol, vitamin E (tocopherols), carotenoids and oleuropein. Besides the similar fatty acids listed above, shea butter also contains quite a few non fatty acid components collectively called unsaponifiables. According to wikipedia shea butter contains at least 10 phenolics including catechins. It also includes vitamins A and E. Rice bran oil again contains many phytoestrogens such as the gamma oryzanols. It also contains a unique fatty acid; behenic.
Typically I use lavender soap which contains lavender buds and lavender essential oil. According to Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical database, 76 different chemicals have been identified in lavender including nerol, linalol and limonene.
Adding all those up, I’ve applied over 107 chemicals to my face before even getting out of the shower.
What I put on my face after that can vary. But lets say I then use my parsley eye serum. The ingredient list is: organic macadamia nut oil, olive oil, meadowfoam oil, parsley extract, seabuckthorn oil and rosemary extract.
According to Dr. Dukes Phytochemical database, 204 chemicals have been identified in parsley including petroselinic acid and a mucilage (which identifies a class of chemicals rather than a specific chemical). Macadamia nut oil has many similar fatty acids as were already counted above but also contains palmitoleic acid as well as unique phenolics. Seabuckthorn oil has a wealth of chemicals including a variety of carotenoids. Some sites boast that sea buckthorn has over 30 different carotenoid types. Sea buckthorn also has vitamin K and a variety of phytosterols including beta sitosterol.
Dr. Duke’s database again helped me with rosemary showing that there are 240 identified chemicals in rosemary including cineole, betulin and carbone. Meadowfoam oil has a few fatty acids not found in the previous oils including brassic, erucic and gadoleic acids.
So this simple face treatments includes a conservative count of 581 to make a total of 688 chemicals just in the first 30 minutes of waking. I must so above average! Am I worried about applying these chemicals to my face? No. Some use the word ‘chemical’ to scare people implying that chemicals are bad. I however, know better. Yes, there are some chemicals that are toxic and should not be used.
You might notice that all of the ingredients I have put on my face are considered all natural by most people. All natural products contain more chemicals than any other products because they are so complex. If fact, the numbers stated above are much lower than they are in reality because all the chemicals found in plants have not been completely identified. Its not bad to use chemicals on your face although it may be bad to use toxic chemicals on your face.
Can you imagine using the precautionary principle and testing all the 240 chemicals found in rosemary? It could not be done. But I will not allow alarmist groups to scare me from using my skin care products and I have suffered no ill effects from this.
I’ll continue to take my chances and continue to use these safe and beneficial chemicals on my face. What about you??
“Manufacturers are using lead in lipstick”. “Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) can cause cancer”. “Dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO) is toxic and must be banned”. “If you can’t pronounce it, it can’t be safe”.
Those are just some of the things you will read on the Internet about personal care products that instill fear in consumers. Are we being duped? We sure are. Can you pronounce ‘Butyrospermum Parkii’? What about ‘Dihydrogen Monoxide’? How about ‘Vaccinium Macrocarpon’? Even on a good day I have a hard time pronouncing them and I’ve been in the personal care industry for 10 years.
While the chemical or botanical name of an ingredient can be quite alarming, the ingredient itself isn’t necessarily harmful. Alarmists are working 24/7 to scare consumers into believing many ingredients are harmful to your health. Butyrospermum Parkii is not one of them. It’s shea butter. Vaccinium Macrocarpon isn’t a harmful ingredient either. It’s cranberry seed oil.
Last night on Twitter, I was reading the tweet “If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t use or eat it”. It wasn’t tweeted by one but many. Just to give you an idea of how alarmists can use lack of scientific knowledge and exaggerated claims to cause fear, let’s look at dihydrogen monoxide.
In 1997, 14 year old Nathan Zohner completed a science project titled “How Gullible Are We?”, which he won first place. Nathan gathered a petition to ban DHMO or dihydrogen monoxide. Nathan proved that an alarmist can spread the word of junk science to instill fear in people. Where’s the proof? Here is what his petition contained:
BAN DIHYDROGEN MONOXIDE!
Dihydrogen monoxide is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and kills uncounted thousands of people every year. Most of these deaths are caused by accidental inhalation of DHMO, but the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide do not end there. Prolonged exposure to its solid form causes severe tissue damage. Symptoms of DHMO ingestion can include excessive sweating and urination, and possibly a bloated feeling, nausea, vomiting and body electrolyte imbalance. For those who have become dependent, DHMO withdrawal means certain death.
- is also known as hydroxl acid, and is the major component of acid rain.
- contributes to the “greenhouse effect.”
- may cause severe burns.
- contributes to the erosion of our natural landscape.
- accelerates corrosion and rusting of many metals.
- may cause electrical failures and decreased effectiveness of automobile brakes.
- has been found in excised tumors of terminal cancer patients.
Contamination is reaching epidemic proportions!
Quantities of dihydrogen monoxide have been found in almost every stream, lake, and reservoir in America today. But the pollution is global, and the contaminant has even been found in Antarctic ice. DHMO has caused millions of dollars of property damage in the Midwest, and recently California.
Despite the danger, dihydrogen monoxide is often used:
- as an industrial solvent and coolant.
- in nuclear power plants.
- in the production of Styrofoam.
- as a fire retardant.
- in many forms of cruel animal research.
- in the distribution of pesticides. Even after washing, produce remains contaminated by this chemical.
- as an additive in certain “junk-foods” and other food products.
Companies dump waste DHMO into rivers and the ocean, and nothing can be done to stop them because this practice is still legal. The impact on wildlife is extreme, and we cannot afford to ignore it any longer!
The American government has refused to ban the production, distribution, or use of this damaging chemical due to its “importance to the economic health of this nation.” In fact, the navy and other military organizations are conducting experiments with DHMO, and designing multi-billion dollar devices to control and utilize it during warfare situations. Hundreds of military research facilities receive tons of it through a highly sophisticated underground distribution network. Many store large quantities for later use.
Do you know what dihydrogen monoxide or DHMO is? It’s the chemical name for water. Yep, water. “Water is composed of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Literally, the term “dihydrogen monoxide” means “two hydrogen, one oxygen”, consistent with its molecular formula: the prefix di- in dihydrogen means “two”, the prefix mono- in monoxide means “one”, and an oxide is a compound that contains one or more oxygen atoms”.
As reported on Snopes.com –
In March 2004 the California municipality of Aliso Viejo (a suburb in Orange County) came within a cat’s whisker of falling for this hoax after a paralegal there convinced city officials of the danger posed by this chemical. The leg-pull got so far as a vote’s having been scheduled for the City Council on a proposed law that would have banned the use of foam containers at city-sponsored events because (among other things) they were made with DHMO, a substance that could “threaten human health and safety.
Does that scare you? It scares me that organizations peddling junk science can spread that kind of fear. That legislation, regulations and the minds of free thinking people can be changed based on misinformation. Demand more from the people shoving half truths and false information down your throat. If the lobbyist organizations are asking for donations to fight the good fight, don’t give them a dime of your hard earned money unless you are 100% sure that what they are selling you is true, beyond a shadow of a doubt. Ask the hard questions. You deserve more than educated guesses, false information or scare tactics and fear mongering.
Time for me to fix a glass of dihydrogen monoxide.