Thoughts from The Queen Bee

Archive for July, 2013

What does certified organic really mean?

imageI have been doing a lot of reading lately about this subject, as I try to determine whether BumbleBee Lane SoapWorks should go through the process to be certified as an organic manufacturer, and this is what I’ve discovered along the way.

1) There is no single organization which certifies cosmetics as organic. While a company can apply to the USDA, (or their government body) for certification, the USDA does not control the certification process in general, and any company can set themselves up as a certification “body”. Since all of the requirements for organic certification exist officially only for food, each organization is free to adopt their own definition or interpretation of these requirements as they apply to cosmetics.

So, the first thing to consider when you’re assessing a certified organic product is who is doing the certifying. Look for a reputable company that has the resources required to adequately audit the manufacturing processes of the applicants, and read their specific requirements. Any company that has gone through the certification process should be happy to provide you with this information.

2) The USDA has identified three categories of labeling organic products, which most certification bodies adhere to. It is important to note that the only place where these are legally binding is in food production. At this point, the organic cosmetics industry is self-regulating, which means a company can market its products as organic with no certification in place.

100% Organic: Made with 100% organic ingredients

Organic: Made with at least 95% organic ingredients

Made With Organic Ingredients: Made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30% including no GMOs (genetically modified organisms)

Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may list organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package, but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package.

Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Not so much….

Where it gets tricky, and what many people don’t realize is that a 100% organic certification does not mean that the food has never been subjected to non-organic treatments, or that the cosmetic contains nothing but organic ingredients. Doesn’t even mean that the food or cosmetic contains no synthetic ingredients. Say what?

Every organic certification out there allows the producer/manufacturer leeway on certain ingredients or processes, if they are deemed to be necessary to the production of the item, and an organic alternative is not available. If you want to check out the full list of what is and is not allowed in organic products, you can find that here. Scroll down to Subsection G: Administration. For cosmetic purposes, we need to look at § 205.605 Nonagricultural (nonorganic) substances allowed as ingredients in or on processed products labeled as “organic” or “made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s)).”

This is a list of all of the synthetic ingredients that are allowed to be in a product and still be classified as 100% organic according to the USDA. Of particular note is sodium hydroxide, more commonly known as lye. As I keep harping on, no lye=no soap. When I first started researching the subject, I couldn’t understand how soap could ever be certified as 100% organic. Even though there is no lye left in a properly made bar of soap, it was definitely a required ingredient. This list is the answer. So to be clear, 100 % organic means 100% organic plus anything on the list of allowed exemptions

So what does this mean? It means that 100% organic products may not be 100% natural. This was a shocker to me, especially when it comes to food. I thought the first criteria would be that the product was all natural, and that the organic label was an increased level of “goodness”!

So when you are bopping your way around the Internet looking for natural cosmetics, keep these things in mind.

Here is a ‘cheat sheet’ to use in evaluating claims you may find on cosmetic products:

a) Soap – can be “100% organic”, can never be “100% natural” or “all natural”

b) Emulsified lotions and creams (water as an ingredient) – can be “100% organic”, “100% natural” or “all natural” . CAUTION: this designation means they are not using a preservative, or they are relying on a form of natural preservative, or they are mislabeling their product. (See below)

c) Whipped butters and scrubs, balms, salves (no water included) – can be “100% organic”, “100% natural” or “all natural – these require no preservative as there is no water in them to provide an environment for yeast, mold, and bacteria to grow. However, many formulators, including myself, will add preservative to a product such as a scrub that is designed to be used in and around the bathroom, due to the high likelihood that you are going to accidentally splash or drip water into the container while using it. A tiny amount of water is all it takes to make the nasties happy!

A word on preservatives: To the best of my knowledge, there are no natural preservatives which have been proven to be effective in preserving a product for any significant length of time, so please be cautious. Do not expect that you will be able to identify when a product has “gone bad”. Yeast, mold and bacteria can multiply and thrive in your lotion with no visible signs. Do not expect to be able to treat an “all natural” product the same way you treat one with a synthetic preservative. A product made without preservatives may have a shelf life of up to 6 months IF IT IS NEVER OPENED, assuming that they used fresh ingredients. Ask the seller when it was manufactured. Once it has been opened, refrigerate it and toss it after a month. Don’t be deceived by the fact that it still “looks fine”! Take a look at it under a microscope and it could be teeming with life, and unfriendly life at that, such as staph, eColi or botulism….things that can make you very sick, or could kill someone with a weakened immune system. It is just not worth the risk.

Keep all of this in mind when you’re comparing products, and don’t assume a statement is accurate just because its coming from a name brand. I was shocked just this morning when I dropped by the Burts Bees website and found that they are marketing their soap as 100% natural! I guess they found some magical, natural lye to make their soap with, or they are basing the statement on the fact that there is no chemically identifiable lye left in the finished bar. That’s like saying there is no sugar or flour in a cake because you can’t see it! Nonsense….

As always, keep asking questions…..

Don’t believe everything you read (Part 2)

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In Part 1 of this post, which was published yesterday, I raised the subject of the misinformation which is spread daily on the Internet, as well as in magazines and advertisements, and mentioned two of what I consider to be the biggest offenders. They are probably not significantly worse than many others out there, but because they have been so widely quoted, they are now regarded by many people as ‘authorities’ on the subjects of what is good and bad for you.

The first of these is Skin Deep, which is a cosmetics database run by the Environmental Working Group, which lists 66,000 ingredients and assigns a rating for each between 0 and 10, with a lower score being better than a high one. This sounds great on the surface, but the problem is in how they assign their scores, which has no basis in logical assessment, and is also completely inconsistent.

Their rankings are based on a dual rating system which comprises a Hazard (Concern) Rating and a Data Availability Rating. I’m going to link to a couple of posts that explain things far better than I could ever hope to, but the problems that I see are as follows:

They are using a Hazard rating, but not a Risk rating. For example, if there is a pothole on your street corner, that represents a hazard, which could seriously injure you. However, if you always drive past that corner and never walk, then your actual risk of stepping in that pothole is zero, so it doesn’t really present much of a hazard. The Skin Deep database takes into account every possible hazard, but never takes the actual ‘real life’ risk into account in their assessment.

However, the thing that really worries me is their Data Availabilty Rating. Under each score, you will see a notation as to the amount of data compiled on the ingredient, such as Poor, Fair, or Limited. The one that really causes the problem is None. As an example, search ‘paraben’ in the database, and you will find two pages of results, most with rankings between 4 and 7 based on Fair to Limited Data. Then you will see 9 parabens listed with rankings between 0 and 2, based on Data:None. Think about this for a minute….they are assigning a safety rating to this ingredient based on NO INFORMATION! They might just as well pull numbers out of a hat! To be clear, ratings between 0 and 2 are ‘green’ ratings, which means that Skin Deep has assessed them as safe for you and your family to use, but in many cases, they have made this assessment based on nothing.

If you are stating that it is your “mission….to use information to protect human health”, then you have no business assigning a favourable rating to an ingredient you know nothing about. It should either be excluded, or be assigned a big red 10, and a comment to use at your own risk because there is not enough known about the ingredient.

The danger is that Skin Deep has become so well known as the people’s watchdog, that some companies are now checking the list of ingredients and making choices for their products from those that have been given favourable ratings, just to insure a thumbs up from Skin Deep. That would be fantastic, if all of those favourable ratings were based on actual data, but in choosing an ingredient with a favourable rating based on NO data, they could very well be choosing the next thalidomide.

There have been many eloquent posts on the pitfalls of Skin Deep and the EWG. Two particularly good ones are Robert Tisserand’s post on the flaws in their assessments of essential oils, which you can find here. I’ll warn you, this is a lengthy article, and he doesn’t get to Skin Deep until about two thirds of the way through, but the article is an excellent analysis of the confusion surrounding fragrance in cosmetics, and well worth the read.

The second article is done by Personal Care, and you can find it here.

Do yourself a favour, Google EWG, and don’t stop with the first couple of hits. In order to get past all of the glowing endorsements and see the other side of the story, search “Environmental Working Group + criticism”, and sit down for a read.

Okay, moving on to Livestrong. Like many of you, I have occasionally seen an article from Livestrong pop up in my daily wanderings online and not given too much thought or credence to their musings, until last week a post on Robert Tisserand’s Facebook page caught my eye. He referred to a 2011 article as “mostly nonsense”, which prompted me to do a little exploring on his website, where I found this blog post on Essential Oils and Eye Safety, which he was inspired to write after another article on Livestrong caught his eye. Pretty scary stuff. If this kind of misinformation and unsafe advice is being put out on essential oils, why would I think it would be any different for sunscreens, or vitamins?

The problem for me with Livestrong is that they are gathering and disseminating information to fill space for their subscribers, and to catch the attention of new readers. This puts them in the same category as a newspaper or magazine, needing to fill their pages with content to attract readers which attracts advertisers. The question is: how much fact checking is being done when new articles must be pumped out daily to keep the site fresh and active? So for me, if EWG has a big, red flashing light attached to it, Livestrong has a big yellow caution light…just because it is associated with a foundation that provides support for people fighting cancer, does not mean that it can be relied on for accurate information.

I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but my mantra when it comes to the information, or more accurately, data that I am flooded with every day on the Internet, in magazines, on TV, even on billboards, is ‘Question Everything’. It’s easier to let someone else do the legwork for you, but it’s you and your family that are affected by what you put in and on your body. Take responsibility.

Okay, it’s not fair for me to give you a list of places you shouldn’t go to for information without giving you some alternatives, so here are two sites to take a look at. NOTE: Just because I am recommending these sites, does not mean you should accept everything on these sites as gospel. The same rules apply….question everything!

Robert Tisserand – the “godfather” of aromatherapy in North America, a valuable site for anything to do with essential oils

Personal Care, Information Based on Scientific Fact – this site has just been recommended to me. What I like about it at first glance is that the articles are submitted by a panel of independent experts, and their conclusions appear to be based on concrete data, not sensationalism and scaremongering. Check back in the future for my comments, once I’ve had a chance to check it out more thoroughly.

I also really enjoy anything that Dr. Joe Schwarcz writes about. Dr. Schwarcz is a PhD in chemistry, is a Professor at McGill University in Montreal, and has a very low tolerance for what he calls “quackery” and misinformation. A very bright, articulate man who writes with passion and humor.

Ok, I’ve bored you enough for today! Go forth and question!

PS: If you like the cute little picture at the top of my post, I found this at Robin’s Edge, where you can find lots of helpful info on marketing with social media among other interesting stuff. Check her out!

Don’t believe everything you read (Part 1)

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Women’s Health magazine posted this little tidbit of “information” on page 50 of their July/August issue, and it has generated a lot of comments in the handcrafted soap industry.

Lets break it down, shall we?

“Bar soaps are more drying than liquid because the chemical sodium hydroxide is required to create the cleansing system.”

This is a quote from a chemist, who should definitely know better. Leaving aside for the moment the idea that bar soaps are drying, liquid soaps are made using the synthetic chemical potassium hydroxide. Both sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide are commonly known as lye. Bar soaps are not more drying than liquids.

“The upside is that most of today’s bars contain synthetic detergents (they’re easier to manipulate than natural ones which can be unpredictable), making them more skin-softening than they used to be.”

Today’s commercial bars contain synthetic detergents (syndets) because they are cheaper, resulting in higher profits for the manufacturer, and because they produce massive amounts of lather and less residue, not because they are easier to manipulate, or better for your skin! You can read more about synthetic detergents in my earlier post, What is Natural, Part 1.

As far as their “skin-softening” abilities, the only way that you can actually generate softer skin is by eating healthy foods, drinking lots of water, exercising, and using a sunscreen daily. There is no beauty bar, soap, lotion, cream or expensive serum that can give you softer skin. Soap is designed to cleanse your skin by removing dirt and dead cells, which may make your skin look softer. Lotions and creams make your skin feel softer, but the results are temporary, which is why you have to keep reapplying.

A carefully crafted and cured bar of handmade soap is usually “superfatted” which means that the soapmaker has included more oils in the soap than is required to fully neutralize all of the lye, leaving no active lye in the soap. These extra oils are then available to leave a light occlusive barrier on your skin to shield it from the elements. This also helps your skin to look and feel softer. Also, real soap does not strip your skin of its own natural oils. Synthetic detergents are also known as degreasers, and are designed to clean very well.

Some syndets will advertise that they have added moisturizing cream or glycerine, which supposedly gives you softer skin. If you look at the ingredients you will not find any exotic ingredients…..moisturizing creams are made by emulsifying oils and waters, the same oils that are already in handmade soaps. Syndet bars need to add them.

Real handmade soap does not need to add glycerine. Glycerine is a by product of the chemical reaction that makes soap (saponification), and we leave the glycerine where it belongs, in our soap. Commercial manufacturers remove the glycerine and sell it separately to manufacturers of glycerine soaps, thereby increasing their profits.

While we’re on the subject, lets take a look at the Dove Truth Files campaign that was seen everywhere last year, and which claimed that Dove was gentler than other products. They placed cute little pink paper dolls on a Dove bar, and on their competitors, a variety of synthetic bars, liquid cleansers and body washes. In their commercial, the paper on their bar remained intact, while the others disintegrated, supposedly proving how harsh the other products were. The website http://www.dovetruthfiles.com, and the Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/dovetruthfiles are no longer active, but according to what I’ve read, they did not try this comparison with handmade soap, only with other syndets. Here is a picture from one of their PR events, and not a single bar of handmade soap in sight. What a surprise.

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Okay, back to business…

“Look for formulas that contain hydrating oils, such as sunflower seed oil and olive oil. Try Kiss My Face Olive Oil Bar Soaps.”

Now this is where I get really steamed! They start off their comments by saying to avoid bar soaps because they contain sodium hydroxide, then finish by recommending that you go ahead and buy a particular brand of bar soap, leaving the impression that this bar soap is better because it does not contain lye! WRONG!

Kiss My Face, like every other bar or liquid soap out there, is made with lye.

Bottom line is this. Consumers need to be aware that every manufacturer, whether they are a large commercial operation or a small handcrafted soapmaker, is ultimately trying to get you to open up your wallet and buy something, and many of them will go to outrageous lengths to do so. Every magazine is trying to fill their pages with content to make you buy the issue. You must educate yourself. Just because you read something on the Internet or in a major magazine, it doesn’t make it true. Don’t believe something just because its a major company giving you the information, or because its featured in a multi-million dollar advertising campaign.

Also, keep in mind that any fool can write a blog. Don’t believe everything you read. Many bloggers will simply regurgitate something they read on someone else’s blog, without doing any independent research. This is how misinformation gets distributed so thoroughly that eventually people start believing that it is definitive and proven.

Be skeptical. Ask questions.

(Unfortunately, Women’s Health is not the only one guilty of repeating misinformation. Two other websites that drive me crazy are Skin Deep, a database administered by the Environmental Working Group, and Livestrong. However, this post is already long enough, and your brain is probably full, so I will take a look at these organizations tomorrow in Part 2.)

The difference between men and women…..

….in soap, that is!

You could write an encyclopedia on how different men and women are, but recently I have seen some interesting discussions on how differently we look at soap and other skincare products.

Most women love to slather creamy, luscious goodness on their skin. Just look at the buzzwords in commercials for your favorite products….creamy, moisturizing, hydrating, emollient…you get the picture. I love getting out of the shower after using one of my luscious all natural salt or sugar scrubs and feeling the softly moisturized skin it left behind. My soaps are also generously super fatted to leave that same creamy feeling behind, and are full of yummy cocoa butter and shea butter. Love it….

Men? Not so, much….

I remember the first time I gave my business partner a bar of my soap to try. After a few days,, I asked him what he thought, and he complained that it left a film of something on his skin. I explained that it was not so much that it was leaving something behind, but that it was not over cleaning his skin, thereby stripping away the natural oils that protect the skin as commercial cleansing bars do. He got used to it, but still complains once and awhile.

Men don’t like lotions and potions and creams. They want to feel clean and fresh with nothing left behind.

So how to formulate a bar for men, that will give him the gentle cleaning of handmade soap without making him feel like he needs another shower? One solution I’ve found is adding kaolin clay to my recipe, either the white China clay, or French green (stay away from pink or rose, or you’ll defeat your purpose!). The clay seems to counter the superfatting and leaves a slightly less creamy feeling on the skin. Be careful with the amount you add to your recipe, as too much clay can kill the lather.

Another good option for men is a good salt bar like our wham! citrus salt bar. The salt added to this bar also cuts down on the creaminess, while gently softening the skin like a swim in the ocean. The punchy citrus scent doesn’t hurt, either!

I would also suggest a good scrubby, exfoliating bar, but one word of caution. Men who are blessed with a nice, hairy chest do not want to have things get caught in it while they are soaping up, so make sure you are using very finely ground ingredients that wash away easily!

So ladies, if you’re shopping for your man, clays and salts are the things to look for in a good bar of handmade soap.

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Alternative Financing

I think one of the biggest stumbling blocks for anyone in the handcrafted industry is in getting banks and other financial institutions to take you seriously, especially when so many of us get our start in kitchens, basements and spare bedrooms.

What do you do when you get to the point where you are rapidly outgrowing your allotted space, but you not have the capital required to make the jump to the next level, whether it be a bricks and mortar retail location, or the craft and farmers’ market circle?

For many years, people in underdeveloped countries have been able to take advantage of micro loans through organizations such as Kiva. In North America, there have been few such alternatives until recently.

A new funding model has arrived, spearheaded by organizations such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Unlike Kiva, which solicits loans from visitors to the website on behalf of the applicants, Kickstarter and Indiegogo invite users to launch campaigns to raise funds for their projects. These funds are not loans, and are not repaid.

Since I have decided to make the move to all natural ingredients, and include organic whenever available, I have been finding it difficult to make this move without increasing my price per bar. The problem is that organic ingredients are two to three times more expensive than non-organic, and to get a break in the price you need to be able to buy in bulk.

I decided to give Indiegogo a try, and launched my campaign, Go Organic!.

There are two funding formulas: under the Fixed Funding model, Indiegogo keeps 4% of your contributions, but you only get the money if you meet your financial target. The Flexible Funding model charges you 4% if you reach your goal, but if you don’t reach your goal you receive any money that was contributed, but they charge 9%.

In order to really get noticed on Indiegogo, you need to increase your gogo factor, which means you have to actively promote your campaign through social media. This is what gets you moved up the ladder and on to their front page and in their feeds, where you have a better chance of being noticed.

So, this is an experiment….honestly, I think I will fall flat on my face if my campaign gets noticed at all among the thousands listed, let alone generate any funds, but you never know! At the very least it is encouraging me to be more diligent in my social media marketing!

Check back later for an update!

“If you can’t pronounce it, it must be bad for you!”

imageAlong with the proliferation of ‘natural’, Eco-friendly’, ‘organic’, ‘green’, ‘earth-friendly’ and other declarations appearing on product labels over the past few years, I’m also seeing this catchy phrase more often on blogs, Facebook posts and websites.

Often enough that I felt compelled to take a closer look at this statement. There are several assumptions that are being made here:

a) natural is always better for you
b) natural things have simple names
c) chemicals always have long, unpronounceable names
d) all chemicals are bad for you

So lets take these one at a time.

a) Natural is not always better. The world is full of natural things that are very bad for you, and could kill you, starting with nasty germs, mold and fungi, which will appear in your lovely natural water-based lotions if the manufacturer is irresponsible by not including a possibly unpronounceable preservative. It is lovely to buy a lotion that waxes on eloquently about including fresh fruits and berries….have you looked at fresh berries forgotten in the fridge for a couple of weeks? Eewww! That is exactly what may be growing unseen in your unpreserved lotion.

Other natural things that could harm you: belladonna, wild mushrooms, comfrey, snake venom..the list is endless.

b) c) and d) Natural things do not always have simple names. Salt is really sodium chloride. Water is dihydrogen oxide. Steviol glycoside is also known as stevia, and thiamine mononitrate is good old Vitamin B1. Everything we eat or drink is a chemical, and has a complicated name…we just don’t use them.

So why are there so many long, complicated, unpronounceable names on products? They are there because the government says we have to put them there. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re either synthetic, or bad for you.

Next time you find yourself assuming a product is full of synthetics, (which is what you really mean, not chemicals), just because the ingredients are hard to pronounce, stop and take the time to ask yourself “what is sodium bicarbonate, anyway?” It’s plain old baking soda. In the end, it’s not about being able to pronounce the ingredients, it’s about understanding what they are, and why they are there.

Personally, I’m not too worried when I see unpronounceable names…a quick Google search will help you figure them out. What worries me more is when the list is a mile long, and its just a bar of soap! BumbleBee Lane SoapWorks, as well as many other amazing soap and cosmetic makers I’ve come to know, believe that it’s better to have fewer, higher quality ingredients than to throw in the kitchen sink just because you can!

Something to think about…..

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