Thoughts from The Queen Bee

Posts tagged ‘ingredients’

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!

“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…..

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: http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/2011/lousylabels/

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