Thoughts from The Queen Bee

Archive for the ‘Cosmetic Ingredients’ Category

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.)

“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…..

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?

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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.

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