Australia’s Bath Milk Controversy
Here in Australia the regular milk price is pretty low and a few enterprising dairy farmers have branched out into other markets to make a bit more money. It has become popular to sell unpasteurized milk as ‘cosmetic’ or ‘bath’ milk, a product marketed to those looking to re-create Cleopatra’s beauty – only she bathed in Ass (as in Donkey) milk, not cows and unpasteurized was the ONLY milk.
Sadly this week one child died and four more are said to be sick after drinking said beauty milk, a product that is sold in milk bottles in the fridge section of health food stores. The product does state that it is not edible but I doubt that many three-year-olds would read the label before gulping some down. However, I don’t want to jump to conclusions and whether or not it was actually the milk that caused the death of the child or the sickness of the others is still being investigated. That said, as all children tested positive for typical milk-borne microbial infections it can’t be ruled out.
This is, of course a terrible state of affairs. A child has died and at the end of the day the child did drink a cosmetic product and that should not be encouraged. It is that I want to focus on today.
There is a growing trend towards beauty products that are ‘good enough to eat’, raw, unprocessed, whole-foods etc. I absolutely get why this is the case, people are sick and tired of processed junk and want to have a relationship with the food that they eat and the products that they buy. The trust level of the masses shrinks with every additional step in the supply / processing chain until it reaches a point when an ingredient or product feels totally alien and is ultimately rejected. Raw, natural and pure just sounds so much more appealing.
But cosmetics are not food and should not be confused with food. Do note that I am not saying here that food ingredients should not be used in cosmetics, that is different and could not be further from the truth.
Our digestive system is very different to our skin – they are different organs, designed for different purposes and as such they have different requirements. If we take oxygen as an example all of us understand that without oxygen we suffocate, our lungs can’t manage without it but inject it into the blood and you die. Blow it onto the skin and nothing really good or bad happens. We must get over this simplistic way of thinking about chemistry, biology, nutrition and of course skin care.
So why would milk be used as a cosmetic?
Milk is quite a nice moisturiser containing a lovely mix of both oils and water – just like the skin cream you might buy at a shop really although it probably contains way less fat than you need to feel REALLY moisturised.
Some figures from here state that ‘average’ milk has around 87% water and 4% fat – If I was making a moisturiser for dry or eczema prone skin I’d have at least 10-15% fats and maybe up to 30%! The fat in milk is not unlike the fat we might find in a coconut, almond or olive in as much as it is based on triglycerides (glycerine plus three fatty acids) that vary in Carbon content from 8-20. Just like these vegetable fats milk also contains some fat-soluble vitamins which can also be good for our skin, these include Vitamin A, D, E and K plus Carotinoids which give milk its creamy yellowish tint.
As milk is a mixture of water and oil it needs something to hold them together – emulsifiers. Milk’s emulsifier consists of phospholipids, lipoproteins, cerebrosides, proteins, nucleic acids, enzymes and trace elements (metals), the best known proteins in milk are casein and whey protein. Proteins are based on amino acids and in skin care terms, amino acids bind moisture and help moisturize and condition the skin (or hair) surface and as such they are pretty good things to use. However, if someone is going to be allergic to milk, these proteins are usually the culprit and sadly for people with a damaged skin barrier (such as those suffering from eczema or psoriasis, are elderly or very young) applying proteins topically can cause irritation and can even lead to sensitisation.
The final missing big piece in the milk puzzle is lactose, this is a type of sugar and again something that people can be sensitive to when ingesting although lactose is probably less likely to cause reactions via the skin. Sugars are also generally quite moisturising so again I can see why applying that to the skin (skin is 2/3rd’s water) would be a reasonable thing to do. However, sugars are sticky and most people don’t really like feeling sticky so this lactose might not be any good after all. But of course we all know that lactose has another feature, Lactose can turn into lactic acid and lactic acid is an AHA that is lovely and regenerative for the skin but sadly for many milk bathers, the lactose has to ferment in order to release its AHA goodness. In other words it has to turn sour. This process of souring actually turns the milk from a homogenous mixture to a lumpy mess thanks to what happens between the lactic-acid producing bacteria Lactobacillus and a milk protein Caesin.
So milk is moisturising which is great, milk can also turn sour and produce the skin friendly AHA but does it matter if it is pasteurised or not?
The process of pasteurisation kills off some of the Lactobacillus meaning that pasteurised milk lasts around three times longer than unpasteurized. Maybe that is why the bath milk people like or need unpasteurized milk. That said it is fairly easy to ‘turn’ milk, especially in Australia where it is often hot and muggy and you are left with a null argument really. Keep your bath milk on the side for a couple of hours before you bathe and voila – lactic acid aplenty along with some yucky curdling milk bits. Great!
Where does this leave the milk-bottle full of bath milk?
From a scientific perspective there seems little point in paying extra for ‘bath milk’ that has not been pasteurised. I can’t find any studies that show unpasteurized milk being superior in moisturising to pasteurised although that might just be because nobody has done the work as milk pasteurisation has been a legal requirement for food use here in Australia since the 1940’s. The pasteurisation process its self involves heating the milk up to 72C for a number of seconds to kill off any pathogens while preserving the milks goodness. 72C is about the temperature we make regular cosmetic emulsions at and generally speaking we would add ‘actives’ such as vitamins and proteins once the mixture had cooled down to below 50C so as not to risk damaging them. That said a cosmetic emulsion is kept at these high temperatures for a heck of a lot longer than a few seconds, you are talking at least 30 minutes for a small batch and possibly a couple of hours for a larger batch as this is how long it takes to cool a cream made in a water jacketed mixing vessel. Therefore I would suggest that the vitamins would be more likely to survive pasteurisation than cosmetic cream emulsification although again, I don’t have statistics for this vs that (I would have thought they exist though if you are really interested). Again I can see little reason why unpasteurised milk would be of benefit vs regular milk.
And what about the packaging?
This is where I feel that there is something that should be done. A cosmetic is a cosmetic, a food item is a food item. Yes it is great to make soaps look like cup cakes, lip balms taste like ice cream and exfoliants that look like a caffeine hit but when these food-inspired goodies are packaged exactly like something edible then sold in the food section they are pushing their luck. I know that there are cosmetic brands that promote themselves as containing edible or food grade ingredients and while I think that some people would find this confusing the majority would take that for what it is -food grade ingredients in a cosmetic and not FOOD full stop. People do accidentally eat cosmetics, people who are too young to read labels, who get up for a midnight feast, who are very drunk or who just can’t resist the smell of coffee and orange so using food grade ingredients has to be better than using ingredients that go into drain cleaner.
But I feel that this is different.
Here we have milk, plain old milk. It looks like milk, tastes like milk, is sold in milk bottles and kept in the fridge. Yes the words say ‘cosmetic’ and ‘don’t drink’ but nothing else computes. This, I feel has to change and change fast as people should not be lead to believe that they can eat or drink their cosmetics.
The risk factors for raw milk lie in its potential to harbour pathogenic bacteria that can cause life-threatening sickness. Cosmetics do have to be safe for their intended use and yes, safety does include microbially and as such cosmetics have to meet cosmetic micro standards but these standards do not include all microbes and certainly do not single out the microbes that cause the worst disease from unpasteurised milk. It is impractical to test all products for all conceivable microbes – cosmetic products are tested to cosmetic standards, food products to food standards (which vary depending on what food is being tested). This begs the question – was this milk tested as a food or a cosmetic?
Confusing the issue.
It is pretty likely that people are buying bath milk to drink because they want access to unpasteurised milk. After some consideration I believe that this is a completely separate issue to the one above and it must be tackled that way. If the product truly is a cosmetic it should be treated as one and just like cosmetic grade alcohol, should be tainted with something un-palatable. I believe it should also be sold in more cosmetic looking packaging to avoid confusion. However, if this is just a way to get around the pasteurisation laws that is wrong. There are safer ways to drink and distribute unpasteurised milk but this isn’t one of them.
The bottom line.
Let cosmetics be cosmetics and food be food.