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515 Chemicals on our skin – The debate goes on

March 11, 2010

When Australia first got wind of  the “YOU PUT 515 CHEMICALS ON YOUR BODY EACH DAY”  article (UK’s Daily Mail November 2009) things went ballistic. How DARE they put chemicals in my products?  Why ARE people trying to kill us?   HELP!

The story was quickly picked up by bloggers and social commentators until as of today, there are 52, 300 articles citing this and most of them are taking it at face value.

Women (not men or children – just WOMEN) put 515 onto our skin every day.

I felt that this useless piece of non-information was worthy of a few harsh words,  I don’t like it when words are used as weapons of mass hysteria, it sucks. You can read more on that here.

So, the argument was put to bed until I stumbled upon a rather lively and interesting debate on Linked In discussing this very thing. In two weeks 91 comments have been posted in response to the post “Did you know that the average consumer puts 515 chemicals on their face/body everyday?”  The post leaves us with a kiss of death by telling us that most products are filled with junk and cancer. 

So it was no wonder that some of the worlds best cosmetic chemists have said NO to fear mongering.

Thank GOODNESS for that!

I am delighted that the cosmetics industry has finally found a social media voice in the form of a few brave souls who will risk life and limb to point out the folly in saying that a product is full of cancer.  It takes a brave soul to take on the “other” cosmetics industry.

In the early 90’s the cosmetic industry’s younger sister hit puberty and the naturals market was born.  It was and still is  a fab idea to make products that are all natural, have a low-carbon footprint, contain ethically sourced ingredients, are non-irritating (period), are more in-tune with our bodies, are simpler, are biodegradable and are packaged with sustainability in mind. 


A small minority thought that it would be good PR if a number of more ‘traditional’ ingredients were named and shamed – these ingredients would be the type that this NEW cosmetics industry wouldn’t use if you paid them a million dollars and threw in a night with Al Gore. They were 100% EVIL.

I am talking Parabens, Sulfates, Mineral Oil, Silicones,  Propylene Glycol,  Pthalates and possibly a few more.

But these ingredients ARE evil aren’t they?

Well, it is time to confess that there are issues with these ingredients.  Some of them are irritating, some of them can suffocate your skin, some will pollute waterways and some will block up your drain.

If you get enough of them in their neat, unprocessed form and either bathe in them or pour it into the garden /river.

 But who in their right mind would do that?

Well apparently I would and so would all of us other ‘dirty’  companies, chemists and consumers. We are all going to stew in our own cancer-filled juices after bathing too often in our oh-so-innocent  looking bubble bath while those in the natural camp chew on their carob sticks saying “I told you so”.

I am a cosmetic chemist, I have kids, I love the planet  and people and am passionate about protecting it, them and me.   I am always delighted to hear of innovation and I know enough to realize that some of the ingredients we currently use have a ‘could do better’ stick on them. However, I am sure that if used  AS INTENDED the cosmetics that we (natural and traditional) churn out are no more likely to give you cancer than your morning coffee, your afternoon apple or your evening tofu burger.

Let’s go green for all the right reasons.

“Top soil is one of the most valuable resources  so we should all stop the mud-slinging and start basing our product information on science fact, not marketing fiction”

PS:  I am writing this piece as a participant of the above linked-in discussion and while I don’t share the concerns of the person who posed the question, I am grateful that they were brave enough to start discussions.  These are my personal views based upon a 13 year stint in the industry and are in no way meant as a personal attack on the discussion initiator.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Linh permalink
    March 12, 2010 3:31 pm

    “Well, it is time to confess that there are issues with these ingredients. Some of them are irritating, some of them can suffocate your skin, some will pollute waterways and some will block up your drain.

    If you get enough of them in their neat, unprocessed form and either bathe in them or pour it into the garden /river.”

    But collectively as humans/consumers (using products and having a lot of it wash off) on earth..wouldn’t the effect but just the same? Or are you saying these products are only bad IF each everyone of us (in the billions) poured (enough that are neat/unprocessed) them into waterways and bathed? I see this one point being made all the time I’d like some clarification. What if our world population doubles in the following years (not sure how likely/unlike this is but for the sake of my curiosity lets go with it) and of course we have more people buying and using more products..would that effect be great enough to adversely effect our environment? I say this because it seems to me that enough evidence has come out against pthalates (nail polish..women keep inhaling this stuff and nail techs should not be forced to breath in the vile stench since it also contributes to deformities of the fetus) to convince me that cosmetic companies should not use pthalates and find better alternatives (one brand (Zoya, I think) of nail polish company took them out for which I commend them for.

    On other ingredients like silicones I am very much on the fence. I think more research and monitoring needs to be done so that we are as informed as possible. I am thankfully not as concerned with propylene glycol and understand its use and benefit in skincare.

    One other thing I’d like to point out is that you always bring up your work in the cosmetics industry and say something to the effect of “we wouldn’t do/use/make it if it were bad”. Well the tobacco industry was a big fat giant lie wrapped up in a conspiracy. While I don’t think you have bad intentions, nor am I accusing you of being involved in some crazy cosmetics conspiracy..this defense really just rubs me the wrong way. I think you should just present information matter of factly..without resorting to some industry pack mentality (although I am genuinely interested in how and why the industry/some companies use/do what they do)

    I think both sides (natural/synthetic “chemical”) are FRAUGHT with very bad marketing and complete LIES. As a consumer, I do not enjoyed being lied to. I hate when natural companies market themselves as completely wholesome “good for you skin and the environment” when they include very strong/undiluted and irritating ingredients like essential oils (lavender in particular), especially when some ingredients can apparently adversely effect sexual organs and hormones of young children (boys). And all too often I come across seemingly good products that don’t have preservatives because they’re “bad chemicals” which really drives me crazy. I am not putting moldy cream on my face thankyouverymuch.

    Both industries really need to talk to each other and find balance to see the best of both worlds and get rid of the worst. The scientists are stubborn and so are the green granola crunching hippies. All I want are good ingredients and formulations that work.

    Another thing I hate seeing are the scientist types who always decry ‘natural’ ingredients and how it COULDNT POSSIBLY be effective (like say Aloe vera or honey). Annoys me to no end. Theses scientists wouldn’t have a leg to stand on without ancient and old timey knowledge of ingredients like kaolin clay, honey, aloe, and tea tree. And vica versa! Circle of life man! These two industries should be leaning on each other..they should be ONE industry. But whatever, most are too stubborn to see through the stupidity.

    This turned into a longer post than I expected. I was only going to ask a question but well..oops? Hope I made some semblance of sense!

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      March 12, 2010 3:57 pm

      Dear Linh,

      Thanks for writing such an epic!

      It seems that you have taken my bait a little without then reading all that I said about natural products. I am saying that some of the ingredients used in cosmetics are not great for the environment when used in large amounts. I am fully aware that as individuals we only use a little bit of everything which is why I say that the cosmetics industry makes ‘safe’ products for humans. However, I am 100% in favour of the cosmetics industry using ingredients that are safer for the environment.
      This is NOT quite the same argument as for the individual we look at a single dose but for the environment you are right to be concerned about a cumulative effect.

      I support what you say and have been writing in this vein for the last year.

      With regards to the cosmetics industry I can’t help and don’t appologise about where I come from. I mention it so that people can have an idea of where my information comes from and where my experience lies. I am also an environmentalist, a mother, a mountain bike rider and a philosopher. I think it is all relevant. I don’t use it as a means of saying that I know everything there is to know about the industry as that is untrue. However, I do have some insights that other people may not due to my experience. Further to that I have been a self-funded researcher for the last two years and am not paid by ANYONE to say ANYTHING. I mearly submit my articles to people and if they like it they read it. The blog is the same – self-funded and done to open debate.

      Read back over some of my other posts and you will understand better where I am coming from. If I still rub you up the wrong way then I accept that.


  2. Linh permalink
    March 13, 2010 5:15 am

    Noo! I think its great that a scientist is finally giving some credence to natural products. You spotlighted at least 2 (brands) that I remember and while I am a very poor college student I was very very tempted to try the products. I guess my ranty length post seemed a bit more crazier (and not as well though out as I had wanted it to be) than I had intended it to be. I read/have read three other blogs: one is dermatologist, another one is dermatologist and another are cosmetic chemists. Of those three one is always recommending one thing..and posting about products that are the complete opposite (like saying moisturizers are really basic and we shouldn’t spend too much but then reviewing and giving like 9 out of 10 to a product with the exact same ingredients). One is always open minded like you are (synthetic/natural, articles are fairly and most important objectively written) and the last are a complete headache because of their absolute rejection of natural ingredients.

    Hope I didn’t offend you or get you mad, I’ve spent many hours procrastinating by reading your (insightful and well written) blog entries (thank god you post almost every single day). I should have made it more clear that I really do think more scientists (bloggers) should be as open minded and rational in their thinking as you are.

    I guess my above post was written rashly without thought that not ALL scientists had written this post without the context that the rest of this blog provides, rather than just ONE scientist who has obviously not written otherwise. Foot in mouth disease! I apologize. (You don’t rub me the wrong way, but I just am not very trustful of ‘industries’ in particular after reading about the tobacco industry and also recently the food Food Inc). And yes I took your bait like it was the last twinkie on earth!

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      March 13, 2010 7:22 am

      Dear Linh,
      You are so sweet. Long live readers like you as you make it all worthwhile.

  3. Carol permalink
    November 22, 2010 12:15 am

    Dear RealizeBeautyEd,

    I found your Blog today morning when I googled about Parables. Thanks for some info I found here. I read your discussion with Linh also. And couldn’t leave it without comment.
    You know, I always try to see the whole thing (not always successful ;)). So what do I see now?
    Sick people. Yeahh, you are right if you say – people just live longer in our times. But I see…
    Sick children.
    Infertile families.
    And no one’s fault is it. Scientists are researching, writing their papers, getting degrees and Nobel awards. Journalists are researching, writing their articles and even blogging. All others are reading, sighing and fighting against being sick. Of course with a lovely help of pharma.
    We realize somehow the cause (adding all the constituents together) and sequence (being sick and unhappy), but lack courage to name particular components what are our wrongdoers. Why?
    Do we breath clean air? NO!!! Are our rivers and sees with all fauna and flora healthy? NO!!! Are we healthy? NO!!!
    And what do the wise aunts and uncles telling on TV every day? Pollution, stress are fault. Who is Mr. Pollution? Never met. And Mrs. Stress? Never saw.
    Well, no one is responsible. Because, estrogen are coming not only from parabens. They are not fault. Also phthalates alone would not cause infertility. And if you breath-in your Lancôme perfume, you will not die right now.
    You said, no one pays you for writing. And that you are mother, environmentalist and philosopher. Well, maybe it would be just the right time to write, that NO ONE needs that cosmetics?
    And that there is a big difference between unsanitary, cleanness and sterility. That the skin is not the floor ground for scrubbing and washing and foaming.
    That sterility psychosis softened our brains into foam-soap and brought allergies. We breath in ‘things” with perfumes, hair sprays and deodorants, we absorb them via skin from creams, soaps, shower gels, make-ups, toners, we even eat them because they stick on our dishes.
    And if you would think a few minutes about it, maybe you could come to the conclusion, that if you not wash away things, you don’t have to put them back with parabens and co. And clean comes from water, clean is not sterile.
    And few drop of essential oils would make the same job, if you are so convinced that the clean body of human being’s smells so bad (don’t you find it funny? We buy perfumes with pheromones and that same pheromones we want to destroy with soap and false flavors).
    And there are so maaany of dishwashing remedies, natural and washing out even without lather so much. Because not foam washes out but we are good trained on TV to believe it.
    I just miss it very much, miss the whole true.
    I miss people, helping to find solutions. I miss the independent explanations what we don’t really need cosmetics, even if they are natural and self-made. Explanations for people not experts, that beauty is health, not cosmetics. That cosmetics make us sick and addictive.
    And for victims of our industries – how to minimize the harm, how to move to better decisions. And how to teach our children not to fall in the same trap of advertising.
    My thoughts. I guess it is pretty heretical for the cosmetic consulting site. But you said, you are independent 🙂

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      November 22, 2010 11:06 am

      Very interesting and thanks for the long comment.

      I have never made anyone wear or use any type of cosmetic. I agree that we don’t need ANY cosmetic to make us feel beautiful and I agree that they are pretty much all superfluous. I also agree that the environment would be better off without cosmetics BUT that isn’t the reality that we live in.

      It is a matter of choice and personal responsibility.

      Just one other thing, I am sorry that you feel that you can’t get the truth from anyone. Maybe you need to re-think what truth means to you.


      PS: I am not sure what you mean by the last comment, it looks like a back-handed compliment to me….

  4. Carol permalink
    November 23, 2010 12:03 am

    Dear Amanda,

    I’m not sure what “back-handed” means, but it’s something negative? I didn’t mean anything negative with you. I read your article and wrote very emotional and after that looked that this site does some consulting for cosmetics. So I was confused, should I submit the comment or not, because to talk with a private person is one thing, to talk with business people – another, – yes, because their reality is paid.
    I was always assuming that the truth is undiscussible. Truth is just to know everything, when everything known is said. Am I wrong?
    Here in Europe, for example, baby-food advertising must to say – it is recommended to nurse baby with mother milk, your milk is the best for your child and only after that time we think our blablabla is so wonderfull.
    It is done, because advertising like everydays prayer is forming our life, especially young people, young mothers. So they (and we) get false reality understanding. And the advertising IS responsible for that, for its saying, even if it doesn’t make anyone anything.
    That same thing I mean with cosmetics. We can discuss until next ice-time about how dangerous or not are parabens, but it is nothing worth if we don’t state very clear, we shouldn’t use these creams at all (thank you for doing that!).
    Well I didn’t know about it before. That’s why I say – I feel like I was living in the lie all the time. It could be that in Australia, all women, news and advice press is full with articles and explanations that cosmetics shouldn’t be used or if, then very little. In such case I can only admire how honest and good life is there…

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      November 23, 2010 4:47 pm

      Hello Carol,
      Thanks again for the comments, the internet is not the best way to strike up a friendship or otherwise as it is so impersonal so I am sorry about that. I will just clarify where I sit with the cosmetics industry so that you know. I did a chemistry degree in the UK and after that started work for a chemical distributor that worked in the cosmetics field. I enjoyed that and ended up studying cosmetic chemistry and progressed my career through a couple of chemical companies in both Europe and Australia (I had moved here by then). I left the corporate world three years ago as I felt that I could do more in regard to spreading my love of ‘green chemistry’ and sustainable practices from outside of a corporate than I could do inside. I wanted to be free to pursue my agenda of making the cosmetics industry more equitable, sustainable and most of all understandable. For two years I have been working as a part time science teacher while I established my consultancy and have written over 300,000 words of blog articles pro-actively with no pay to spread my love of sensible science, sustainability and cosmetic chemistry. In the last year by consulting business has taken off and I can now pay myself a modest salary via my own business. My customers vary from people with their own brand to local councils wanting to educate their citizens about sustainable cosmetics to businesses who sell cosmetic ingredients. I also work with a perfumer to help them create fine fragrances that can be organically or naturally certified.

      I don’t push anyone elses agenda but my own as that is really what consultants get paid for, their experience, motivation and passion. I have the right to refuse to do things without the risk of loosing my job (as I have lots of other things that I could do). I have also now developed quite a platform from which to spread my passion for science communication and sustainability.

      I still don’t get paid for writing my blog although I do sometimes receive products from people to test and have a policy of not being disrespectful about their products in public – if I don’t like something that is sent to me or I think it could be improved I generally speak to the person submitting first before printing anything.

      So that is all that there is really. I just thought that it may help you to understand that I don’t have a big bad multi-national vetting everything that I say, I am free. It is true however, that I do get paid by people to help them promote their cosmetics which as I have said are products that are not entirely necessary. This is how I look at it, people don’t need to decorate their house but they do; don’t need to eat the variety of food that we have become acustomed to but we do; don’t need to work so hard but we do; don’t need to own more than a couple of sets of clothes but we do. I believe that the use of cosmetics and the art of beautification is not trivial, it can enhanse our lives and help us to celebrate what and who we are IF it is done in the right way. I see cosmetics as art or a finishing touch, they do not make a person, they celebrate a person.

      I am also anti fear based selling of anything as there is only one way for that to go and it isn’t pretty. Knowledge may be power but understanding is truth and our experiences shape our understanding.

      Thank you again and yes, I agree that baby food advertising can be quite sickening but what if you can’t breastfeed and don’t have another option handy?

  5. Carol permalink
    November 23, 2010 10:03 pm

    Dear Amanda,

    It would be a great text for “about me” site. I understand much better now and more than happy with your explanation.
    Yes, you are right – internet is impersonal. On the one hand, it is not your (or better to say – not my) business what some one is doing or writing, on the other hand – if you (me) find it and read, you (me) feel involved and affected. And no one from us knows anything about each other. Funny :]

    So let me give you also a small picture from me.
    I’m 33 and all my life I was using all the things, fuzzily understanding, it’s not so good but not knowing what else I could do, so, not to get crazy I just ignored it.
    This spring I lost my job and in the time I was looking for a new one, I spent a lot time on pc. Very accidentaly I got to the information, how dangerous our life is 😉 and, it’s the most important, how could I avoid a lot of things I shouldn’t use. Natural cosmetics. Ok, so I thought, it could be some kind of my own business – fair, fresh and natural – for people I love and like (hm, isn’t it a good slogan for my new enterprise? :]) . So I did a lot of research till I came to the information I wouldn’t do any favour to them, just because we don’t need all that cosmtics, or if, then in very small amounts.

    Very stressing realisation. So I’m trying to find out how can I live with it, how to adapt it to my life. And of course I was pretty angry about how manipulated we are.
    If all the docs are saying – we should eat more fruits, how can I know (or come to the knowledge), that fruits are nothing else than sugar (result of the selective work of over 100 years) and full with nitrates, which are not controlled anymore in EU? Ask my mom (and my husband too) – she would think I am crazy if I would tell her about this. She is so convinced that — there ARE all the vitamins — and if not, what can I do, we have to eat something.

    People are accepting this as their reality, because, they don’t know, what to do. Tired from work, stressed family members and media’s buuh!s – buuh!s without solutions.
    To give the knowledge, help to understand and show solutions – this is fair and honourable. Really sorry, if my unattentional blog-reading overlooked the job you are doing.

    With best regards,

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      November 24, 2010 11:26 am

      Hi there,
      Thanks for coming back for another read/comment. I guess that all I can say is that at some point we just have to trust, trust ourselves, our friends and the people who we interact with. Everyone is somebodies mother, father, sister brother etc and despite what others might think I still believe that love makes the world go around. We can’t hope to understand everything but it does help to understand that we are essentially all the same.
      Fruit is far better for you and the environment than cosmetics – eat a banana a day and stay young forever 😉

  6. Robert Geel permalink
    October 6, 2012 8:41 pm

    When using nail polish, make sure that it is made from acrylic because they make the best surface appearance compared to lacquer. “*:`.

    Newly released short article produced by our very own web-site


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