Lip Balm Law Suit – What the heck happened!
Have you seen those cute, spherical lip balm containers that contain cute, little lip balm from EOS? Look, I have one here in ‘Sweet Mint’ although this one has been hanging around for a while now so it isn’t looking its best:
The ingredients in this particular lip balm are as follows (as taken from their website today at 12.09pm)
Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil*, Beeswax (Cire D’abeille)*, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil*, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil*, Mentha Piperita (Peppermint) Oil*, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter)*, Stevia Rebaudiana Leaf/Stem Extract*, Tocopherol, Limonene**, Linalool**. *Organic. **Component of Mentha Piperita (Peppermint) Oil*. Certified Organic by Oregon Tilth
Well these natural lip balms are the subject of a class action lawsuit that has been filed in LA on behalf of a client of EOS who, after using the product developed a rash on her lips. Please note that this doesn’t mean that the lip balm CAUSED the rash, the relationship may be incidental. However, it appears that there are other people who have experienced rashes while using this product as you can see if you read through the law suit – possibly up to ten others are shown in the pictures but it is hard to tell if these are ten different individuals or multiple pictures of a smaller group of people. Based on sales figures for the product the class action lawsuit estimates that the problem may be huge although with what seems to be little evidence to prove that it may also be only a very small number of people who have experienced these rashes.
So what can we deduce from this? Should we all stop making lip balm?
So firstly I’d say that it is important to remember that many people develop rashes when using a cosmetic product and while these should be recorded and noted most rashes turn out to be at last somewhat circumstantial – the client left a product on for too long (if it was a wash-off product), the client is allergic to a particular ingredient, the client was coming down with an illness, the client used a couple of products together and they reacted, the client used excessive amounts of the product or used the product in an unusual way.
So one persons rash that is inconvenient rather than life-threatening and clears up leaving no damage is not grounds for a lawsuit.
A few people experiencing a rash is absolutely grounds for a company to re-formulate while at the same time working out whether there is something they could be doing better/ safer/ differently.
Maybe what is happening here is one of the above.
In terms of ingredients, whether this formula has any link to the reactions or not, this law suit is a good place to remind everyone that just because a product is all natural doesn’t mean that people won’t have a reaction to it or while using it.
Natural does not mean inert.
Indeed one of the reasons that people flock to natural ingredients is because they are not just ‘cheap fillers’ or ‘nutrient voids’. One simply can’t expect to have all the benefits without some risks.
So what is risky in a lip balm formula like this?
Well to put it bluntly everything. Our lips are live skin, they have no dead layer protecting them from the environment and this is because they act as the start of our digestive system. So when you put a product onto the lips you are treating live tissues. Our arms, legs and face are shielded by a layer of dead corneocytes that just need a bit of plumping, smoothing and TLC. So, if you are going to have a reaction to an ingredient it will most likely show up faster and in a more dramatic way on the lips.
Looking at this formula I can see several ingredients and potential issues that MIGHT cause issues in people prone to skin sensitivities or people that are ill or severely stressed – stress lowers the immune system.
- Olive Oil. This is a skin penetration enhancer so it can act as a vehicle for other ingredients to penetrate deeper into tissue. Using it alone is one thing but using it as the base for a lip product would mean that care must be taken around which other ingredients to formulate with. Not all oils enhance penetration, those with a low level of free oleic acid such as Apricot Kernel, Avocado or Camellia oil have less potential to enhance penetration.
- Beeswax. There is no mention as to whether this is a refined or pure beeswax and that does make a difference. Many people are allergic to bee stings and unrefined beeswax can be dangerous for those people due to proteins and sting parts that might still be present on a micro level.
- Any ingredient that is highly coloured or scented naturally is also a potential source of reaction as odour and colour molecules are quite volatile and prone to oxidation. Oxidative by-products can be irritating and this rancidity can trigger skin reactions. A simple stability test of a cosmetic product will help to determine if a formula is likely to experience these types of changes.
- Coconut oil is another one. Even in the nut allergy community (and yes I know that coconut is a seed and can also be classified as a fruit) coconut is a minor concern yet there are people who do suffer reactions from it. Indeed I remember one customer of mine from Singapore telling me that her child’s school had banned coconut from lunch boxes due to potential allergic reactions. So I’d say this is in the least likely box in terms of risk. I have only found one report of dermatitis with coconut oil and that was when the oil had been fractionated into its medium chain triglycerides.
- Jojoba Seed oil is one that I have only so far found one case of reaction to and that was in a 44 year old women in Vienna back in 1996. There might be more cases documented but I would say that again the chances of Jojoba causing problems are low.
- Shea Butter. This is another one that can be refined or not. The more refined an oil or butter the less allergic it becomes as any proteins, colours and odours are usually removed or denatured during processing. Generally speaking though Shea is not usually a source of allergy if it is clean and within shelf life (not rancid).
- Tocopherol. Ok so this is where I start to suspect a potential for problems. I will actually write a separate blog on this as it has been bugging me for some time. Vitamin E or Tocopherol is in EVERYTHING these days. It is an antioxidant so it helps to slow down rancidity (oxidation) and keep a product fresh. However, papers right back to the 1970’s have reported how vitamin E can cause contact dermatitis in patients. The very fact that the ingredient is now in so many cosmetics means that our daily topical dose is getting higher and we may start to hear of more reactions. So far the EU has no recommendations for limiting this ingredient and suppliers classify it as safe and non-sensitising based on existing scientific data but I would not be at all surprised if that doesn’t start to change. I can’t draw the conclusion that tocopherol is the problem here but it would be on my ‘look into further’ list for sure.
- Peppermint Oil. This has a GRAS status (safe) and my Tisserand and Young reference book says that 5.4% is a safe maximum for daily topical use. I would not expect this formula to contain more than 0.5% of peppermint oil although it could I guess. In Tisserands book there is reference to a 48 hour occlusive patch test on 380 eczema patients that showed 1% peppermint oil produced no adverse reactions. However, a reaction called ‘urticarial hypersensitivity’ has been reported for pharmaceutical products containing this oil (Tisserand page 388 quoting Wilkinson & Beck 1994 and Lewis et al 1995). Burning and other sensitivity style reactions have also been recorded where peppermint is used around the oral mucous membrane. However, these reactions are rare. This is the information for my particular EOS variant. I don’t know which variants are linked to this class action but it looks like peppermint is relatively safe.
- Stevia Extract. Stevia is a natural sweetener. I don’t know what it is extracted into or what that extract is preserved in. This COULD be another big red flag. Stevia is water soluble so I’d expect an extract to be in a preserved water mix or in a glycerin base. That said it could be a spray dried stevia that is just mixed into the hot lip wax. In any case this is the one ingredient in the mix that we know little about. I suspect it is common to most if not all SKU’s as it is what gives them their sweet taste. One thing I am thinking is if the stevia is in a water extract preserved with Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Sorbate THAT could be the problem. Also if it is spray dried and has some citric acid in the mix as a pH modifier THAT could be a problem. Top of the list for Stevia then.
- Lastly this variant lists the allergens Linalool and Limonene, these would have been introduced into the formula via the peppermint oil. As both of these are known irritants there is always the possibility that people prone to reactions from these allergens will react to this product. However, if a client has no allergy to these allergens prior to using the product they are unlikely to become sensitised while using it as the complexity of natural peppermint oil may have some shielding benefits from these allergens that a synthetic fragrance hasn’t got. That’s how come peppermint oil is generally safe even though it contains some allergens.
Is there anything else that could be at the bottom of this?
Well yes, maybe there is a bad batch doing the rounds or an ingredient supply change that has thrown up issues. These things should all be checked. Also once a story goes public there is always a case of people looking out for reactions. They might start to use their EOS products more regularly, watch out for itching, cracking or anything unusual and be more likely to complain. This isn’t because people lie or want to just see what they can get from the company, it is human nature. We can easily be conditioned and primed for a response. We are all open to the powers of suggestion.
And so what next?
Well I’ll be listening out to see what evidence is presented here and what the company has done to prove their products are actually safe and also what percentage of buyers have experienced an issue. Hopefully we can then quickly establish if the product is indeed fit for purpose and get this sorted out on an adult and civilised way.
And what have EOS said in their defence:
EOS did issue a statement on Social Media last month when this story first broke:
Some of you may have seen reports of a lawsuit filed against our company. We wanted to be sure that you, our valued customers and fans, know that the health and well-being of our customers is our top priority. Our products are safe to use, are made with the highest quality ingredients and they all meet or exceed all safety and quality standards set out by our industry. An independent laboratory puts each of our products through a battery of rigorous testing to ensure this is the case. For these reasons, we firmly believe this lawsuit is without merit, and we will continue to create new and exciting products that delight our customers. Thank you. EOS
So there you go.