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Be wary of brands that claim an allowed cosmetic ingredient is too toxic for them to use but provide no evidence as to why.

January 23, 2018

A question came up yesterday and without giving too much away I will tell you a little story about it.

So apparently there is a brand out there with a brand owner who is a well qualified (by the looks of it) scientist. This scientist has a whole list of relevant credentials and they are displayed on their website in the ‘about me’ section, as you would.  After reading this section you would be forgiven for thinking they are ‘Da Bomb’ with regards to what is and what isn’t good for your skin.

Now the question that I got came from a client of mine for whom I am formulating.  I’ve popped an ingredient into my formulations that this other brand think is toxic and now there is concern that someone is wrong.  Usually when there is concern that someone is wrong,  the person with the lowest level of confidence about the ingredient wishes to take it out ‘just to be sure/ just in case’ – a kind of ‘precautionary principle’ attitude which could be fine if the ingredient in question was performing no role in particular, but in other cases it could change the entire formula.  My client had that thought going through their head but they wanted to check with me anyway and they did.

When I get a question like that, rather than assume I’m always right (as I too have some impressive credentials hahahahaha), I assume I am wrong.

Assuming you are wrong has an amazing effect on the mind as if I’m wrong I could end up in trouble and at the very least have to re-think and re-do my work which is costly in terms of time and energy so being wrong is something I wish to absolutely avoid.

In this situation what I tend to do is detach my emotions for a bit, put them on the shelf and not worry about what I might find, and go off in search of what I guess you could call ‘the truth’. Below is an example of where not to start searching for the truth……

OK so we are dealing with a potentially toxic chemical, I need to work out quickly if this is or isn’t true. My first stop (the easiest place) is the Safety Data Sheet.

So I googled the safety data sheet for this material, yes GOOGLED it. It took all of one or two seconds for me to locate and open said document and lo and beyond it contained no dire warnings that would lead me to conclude that yes, this is indeed the sporn of the devil and something to be avoided at all costs. I also went on to check the listing for this material on the EU database (COSING) and again, found no issues, checked the supplier data and my formula and found that I’d used it appropriately so I felt happy enough with this material but I wanted to go back to the original nay sayer’s website and try to work out where they were coming from and, more importantly, whether they had found an even safer way to formulate than me- continuous improvement is very important to a cosmetic chemist.

Onto the brand in questions website I go and in a few more minutes I find a couple of products that contain ingredients that I know are dermal irritants.  Now dermal irritants are allowed in cosmetic products as long as specific usage limits are respected.  The most common ingredients to be irritating are surfactants, emulsifiers, essential oils and preservatives just to give you a bit of an idea.

What I did next is look for the Safety Data Sheets for the two ingredients that this brand does use so that I could compare the risks between these and the ingredient that this brand strongly suggested to avoid.  The comparison was interesting as based on that data alone it clearly showed that the ingredients that this brand DOES use were more irritating on balance than the one ingredient this brand suggests leaving out.  All things being equal I’d be advising neither brand to make a song and dance about any of these ingredients as, if used correctly they pose no problem to the consumer and all perform useful jobs in the formula.

So I went back to my client and told them all this and most importantly advised them to be wary of brands that claim an allowed cosmetic ingredient is too toxic for them to use but give no evidence as to why and to be especially wary when, that same brand actually uses ingredients that are, on balance, more problematic than the ingredient you are using.  This is especially important when customers want to change the formula after reading things like this because sometimes, in changing the formula we may replace something that was relatively safe with something that is relatively less so or take something out entirely and leave the formula worse off for it.

Toxicity is always relative and should be qualified with some context and evidence. Without those things it is just another bit of marketing spin!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Ric permalink
    January 23, 2018 10:26 am

    Well said!
    This was the case when Sodium Lauryl Sulfate was discredited many many yesrs ago. The brand that said SLS was bad actually used/recommended a material that was more eye and skin irritant. It was only done for marketing purposes and look where we are now.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      January 23, 2018 11:34 am

      It’s crazy really but it keeps us on our toes.


  1. Be wary of brands that claim an allowed cosmetic ingredient is too toxic for them to use but provide no evidence as to why. | Pretty Random Health and Beauty Blog

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