Thoughts from The Queen Bee

Archive for June, 2013

Ingredient Claims for Soap & Other Cosmetics

obesitysoapAlthough I didn’t realize it while writing it, my post a couple of days ago, ‘Watch out for green washing’ appears to have been the first in a series on ingredients, labeling, and advertising, so today I’m going to talk about what is supposed to be on a cosmetic label. Since I’m based in Canada, I will focus on that, but much of it applies to the EU and the U.S. as well. I will try to point out where they differ as I go.

Also, I am going to speak specifically about products that have only one label, such as a bottle of shampoo, or a bar of soap. If you are looking at a bottle of facial cleanser, for instance, that is sold inside a box, all of the requirements listed below are still in effect, but their are some differences between what is required to be on the outside (box) label and the inner (bottle) label. I won’t go into all of these, because this post would turn into an epic. If you’re looking for this information, visit Health Canada, and read the Guidelines for the Labeling of Cosmetics

The first requirement is the product identity. In Canada, this must be listed in English and in French.

Next, the ingredients. Simply put, if it’s in it, it has to be on it.

Ok, right off the bat, I’m going to point out an exception. In the United States, if a bar of soap is simply labeled as soap, without any claims such as moisturizing, deodorizing, antibacterial etc, then no ingredients are required to be listed.

Back to Canada, where all ingredients must be listed on the package, in descending order of their predominance in the product, regardless of whether it is soap, lotion or lip balm. So far, so good.

The next requirement is that the ingredients used be listed using the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients, commonly known as INCI. INCI was developed with the intent of making it easier for consumers to identify what was in the products by standardizing descriptions around the world, so that coconut oil, for instance, would be listed the same way in Germany as it is in Canada. In theory, this is a great idea, but in practice it falls a little short of its’ intention to provide clarity to consumers. The problem is that the average consumer reading the package does not know that sodium cocoate is the INCI for saponified coconut oil, which means coconut oil that has been mixed with lye to form soap, or that butyrospermum parkii is Shea butter. At BumbleBee Lane SoapWorks we have added a Glossary of Ingredients to our website to help customers figure it out. If you are unsure of an ingredient in a product that you have purchased, contact the manufacturer for clarification.

Next, the product must show the net weight of the contents. Pretty simple, right? However, have you ever seen this character in front of the weight on a label?


This little guy is called an ‘estimated sign’ or ‘e-mark’, and it signifies that the weight of the product is not less than the stated amount. Who knew?

The name and address of the manufacturer must appear. This is to ensure that the consumer can contact the manufacturer if they have any questions or concerns about the product.

Finally, the product must list any Avoidable Hazards and Cautions. This is where you will find indications that the product is flammable, or ‘may leave an oily residue on the bathtub’, etc.

So this is the list of what must appear on the label. How about what is not allowed to appear on the label? This is a much longer list!

Health Canada states: “According to the definitions of the terms “cosmetic” and “drug”, the key consideration for the classification of a product is its proposed use. The claims made in package inserts, in advertisements, and especially in product labels, indicate the intended use of the product.”

Products such as soap, body lotion, aftershave lotion…all of the products offered by the handmade bath and body industry are classified as cosmetics, and as such, are not allowed to make any claims that the product is in any way therapeutic, which is defined in the dictionary as “of or relating to the treatment of disease or disorders by remedial agents or methods.” What does this mean? It means that any claim that a product treats or relieves a condition, from eczema and psoriasis, to aging skin is not allowed.

So which of the following statements are allowed?:

“A must for treating Eczema and many other skin conditions.”

” It has been used in traditional medicine for the treatment of tetanus, eczema, scrofula and erysipelas.”

” I have used your Tea Tree Oil soap everyday and have not had one occurrence of fungal infection.”

The answer is, none.

Any claim as to the healing properties of a cosmetic, whether it is a statement made by the manufacturer, a testimonial by an existing customer, or a reference to the traditional or historical uses of an ingredient within the product, are illegal. If the manufacturer makes any such claims, they must declare the product as a drug, submit it to Health Canada for testing, and will receive a DIN, or Drug Identification Number which must be displayed on the product.

So what claims can be made?

A manufacturer can say that their soap is soothing or moisturizing. They can also say that it changes the appearance of the skin. For example, a soap that contains oils that are good for aging skin cannot be said to reduce lines and wrinkles, but it can say that it reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. A soap cannot claim to eliminate eczema or psoriasis, but it may be said that it helps soothe and moisturize dry, itchy skin, which is associated with eczema or psoriasis.

We are allowed to say that a product is an antibacterial or antimicrobial cleanser, but cannot say that it kills bacteria, germs, pathogens, etc. We can say that it kills odour causing bacteria, but cannot say that it kills bacteria.

Most of the name brand soaps, cleansers and skin treatments adhere to these rules of labelling. Unfortunately, where you will find the majority of the offenders is in the handcrafted bath & body and cosmetic industry. Do a quick Google or Etsy search, and easily 8 out of 10 products listed will make either a completely outlandish and insupportable claim, or will state healing qualities for their product that are completely contrary to the Health Canada regulations.

Imagine, you have eczema, and are shopping at a farmers’ market looking for a new soap. Two vendors, each with an all natural calendula soap.

The first soap advertises that it will “heal, moisturize and soothe all your skin problems”, and lists the benefits of calendula as “Calendula officinalis, also known as pot marigold or garden marigold, has been used for centuries to heal wounds and skin irritations. Calendula has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, astringent, antifungal, antiviral, and immunostimulant properties making it useful for disinfecting and treating minor wounds, conjunctivitis, cuts, scrapes, chapped or chafed skin, bruises, burns, athlete’s foot, acne, yeast infections, bee stings, diaper rashes, and other minor irritations and infections of the skin. Plus, it stimulates the production of collagen at wound sites to help minimize scarring.”

The second soap states simply that it is “Soothing.Gentle. Moisturizing.”, and speaks only of the quality of the ingredients.

Which soap are you more likely to purchase? This is an illustration of the power of marketing, and the very reason that Health Canada mandates what can be said on labels. Swept away by the miraculous qualities of the first soap, you may be disappointed when you get home and find that it does not live up to its marketing.

This leaves the percentage of us who work hard to comply with all legal and government requirements in a bit of a tough spot. Do we make the claims that our competitors are making and clinch the sale? Or do we do what’s right, and watch the customer purchase from the other guy?

So the next time you find yourself choosing between two handcrafted soaps, lotions, or balms, look past the claims, and ask questions. If you are buying from the person who made it, ask her/him about the ingredients. A good Soapmaker or formulator should be able to tell you why they chose all of the different oils and butters in the product, not just the sexy ones.

Don’t expect them to tell you about the healing powers of the essential oils and herbal extracts…they are not allowed to. Do your own research before you leave home. There are some excellent sites which discuss the properties of the various ingredients, and do not rely on information found on websites that are trying to sell you something. Always look for independent sources of information.

Choose some that you think would be beneficial in your particular situation, and go look for them. Will they be effective? Some will, and some won’t. Like all products, not everyone’s results will be the same. Try different products until you find one that works for you, and keep in mind that the amount of essential oils and herbal extracts in soap, lotions etc. is minimal. Do not expect the same therapeutic effect from a lotion or wash off product that you would get from treatment by a certified aromatherapist, but respect the ingredients….use the products as directed, and take note of any contraindications listed.

In closing, also keep in mind that a soapmaker who has taken the time to research the advertising and labeling regulations, and chosen to comply with them, is also more likely to be complying with other things such as good manufacturing practices, and maximum safe usage levels for ingredients, ensuring that you are purchasing a safe, quality product.

Hemp? Isn’t that illegal?



Way back in 1961, the UN Convention of Narcotic Drugs recognized the difference between industrial grade hemp and marijuana. So what exactly is the difference? If you look at the Latin name, both plants are known as Cannabis sativa, the difference would be in the hybridization of the plant.

The industrial grade hemp plant has been hybridized to drastically decrease or remove the active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, which renders it incapable of providing the ‘high’ that comes from the unaltered plant. So the products for sale are made from industrial grade hemp, are completely legal, and pose no danger.

So why do we care about hemp? The hemp plant and its’ various products are extemely useful. Hemp can be used to make paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, construction materials, body products, health food and bio-fuel.

BumbleBee Lane SoapWorks is interested in hemp for its’ amazing oil, produced by cold pressing the seeds. Hemp seed oil is high in Omega Fatty Acids, which makes it a very nourishing oil for our skin. It also is a light, dry feeling oil, which makes it perfect for summer body butters and lotions, such as our bare legs whipped body butter. It has a slightly nutty, earthy aroma, which blends well with various essential oils, giving depth to the fragrance.

So, next time you see a product made with hemp oil…give it a try!

Watch out for green washing !

Recently while browsing the Internet doing research for a new product, I stumbled cross a couple of products that started me thinking about ingredients. Health Canada and the FDA have put in place regulations requiring that manufacturers of skin care and cosmetic products list all of the ingredients on the package, either on the container or as an insert in the package, depending on different variables.

A big concern in the handcrafted cosmetic, soap and skin care industry is the number of manufacturers that are obviously not conforming to these regulations, but the reality is that there are not enough bodies employed by these government agencies to adequately “police” the industry, so this will continue.

Check back in the future for a post on how you can spot the “non-conformers”, but today I want to look at some issues that exist with the companies who do disclose their ingredients.

I’ve chosen 2 popular products to illustrate my point, but they are representative of the industry as a whole, and are not being singled out as being undesirable in any way. To the best of my knowledge, they are in full compliance with all government regulations as they pertain to labelling.

Moroccanoil Treatment

Ingredients: Cyclopentasiloxane, Dimethicone, Cyclomethicone, Butylphenyl, MethylPropional, Argania Spinoza Kernal Oil (Aragan Oil), Linseed (Linum Usitatissimum) Extract, Fragrance Supplement, D&C Yellow-11, D&C Red-17, Coumarin, Benzyl Benzoate, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone.

The first thing you might not know about the labelling regulations, is that ingredients must be listed on the label according to the percentage of each in the product, from highest to lowest, with the exception of ingredients that make up less than 1% of the product, which can be listed in any order.

The first three ingredients on this list are silicones. Silicones smooth frizzy hair, make it shiny and are an effective detangler. Although the next two ingredients are listed as two, it is actually one. Butylphenyl Methylpropional is a synthetic fragrance. Linseed extract is used to strengthen and increase shine. The balance of the ingredients are color and fragrance.

So if we look at this list, the maximum amount of argan oil that could be in this product is 2 %, but the product has become a best seller by promoting itself as being nourishing due to its use of luxurious argan oil. Here is the what they say about the product on their website:

” This treatment for hair completely transforms and repairs as its formula transports lost proteins for strength; fatty acids, omega-3 oils and vitamins for shine; and antioxidants for protection. It absorbs instantly to fill gaps in hair created by heat, styling and environmental damage.”

The only ingredients on this list which contain proteins, fatty acids, omega-3 oils and vitamins are the argan oil and linseed extract, and the maximum they could add up to is 4 % of the product. There is no mention of the other 96% of the product which is silicones, fragrance and colour. Since fragrance is usually restricted to around 2% of the total product, lets subtract 3% for fragrance and colour, leaving us with a product that is 93% silicones, yet they receive no mention at all in any product detail information or marketing, leaving the consumer to believe that it is the wondrous, magical, natural argan oil that is making their hair smooth, silky and manageable.

As I mentioned earlier, I am not saying Moroccanoil is a bad product…I actually use the leave in treatment as well as their shampoo and conditioner, and have no plans to stop. What I don’t like is the way consumers are left with the perception that the performance of this product is due to the wonderful, natural Argan oils. Do they come right out and say that? No. Could they do a much better job informing the consumer? Absolutely!

The next product I want to look at is Aveeno Baby Soothing Relief Moisture Cream. If you look at the product on their website, under Ingredients for this product they have listed Active Naturals Colloidal Oatmeal. Period. End of story.

The banner on their website is Aveeno Active Naturals, leading one to believe that this is a natural product.

No mention anywhere of the synthetic cocktail that makes up the majority of this product, in fact all of their products. I’m not going to pick apart this list….we could play ‘spot the synthetics’ but that would be like shooting fish in a barrel…there are so many of them!

Water, Glycerin, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Cetyl Alcohol, Dimethicone, Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Flour, Carbomer, Sodium Hydroxide, Ceteareth-6, Hydrolyzed Milk Protein, Hydrolyzed Oats, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, PEG-25 Soya Sterol, Tetrasodium EDTA, Methylparaben, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Benzalkonium Chloride, Benzaldehyde, Butylene Glycol, Butylparaben, Ethylparaben, Ethyl Alcohol, Isobutylparaben, Phenoxyethanol, Propylparaben, Stearyl Alcohol.

In 2011, CBC Marketplace named Aveeno to their Top Ten Lousy Labels, which was the result of their investigation into “green” labelling. When asked to respond, here is the official response from Aveeno.

Marketplace’s question for Aveeno: What percentage of the content of your products is natural?

Answer from Alicia Storey, Senior Account Executive, Edelman public relations

AVEENO(r) products are made with ACTIVE NATURALS(tm); natural ingredients that have been scientifically shown to deliver real, proven skin care benefits. Our definition of ACTIVE NATURALS(tm) references ingredients derived from nature and uniquely formulated by AVEENO(r) to promote skin’s health and beauty. These active naturals include colloidal oatmeal, soy, feverfew PFE, shiitake mushroom complex and southernwood extract, which deliver effective skincare benefits through breakthrough product formulations that are unique to the AVEENO(r) brand.
We do not disclose the percentage of ACTIVE NATURALS(tm) ingredients in our products for competitive reasons.

AVEENO(r) has been using ACTIVE NATURALS(tm) in our formulations for more than 60 years. We are committed to bringing the balance of science and nature to each consumer by finding the most innovative, clinically proven formulations for the best natural ingredients. As a result of this commitment, AVEENO(r) is the skincare brand with natural ingredients that is most trusted by dermatologists.

Hmmm, once again, no mention of the myriad of synthetics in their products, and can’t tell us how much of the product is natural because of “competitive reasons”. I am not going to tell you that all synthetic ingredients are the devil…some, such as preservatives, are necessary,

However, I strongly object to companies hiding behind the badge of “natural” in order to convince consumers to buy their product. Don’t talk the talk, if you can’t walk the walk.

So my message to you, the consumer is: be skeptical. When you see an ad on TV or in a magazine, remember that its’ sole purpose is to separate you from your money. Don’t buy into the hype – read the label…the truth is out there!

You can read more about the Top Ten Lousy Labels at:

Mike Michalowicz

Thoughts from The Queen Bee


Thoughts from The Queen Bee

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