I want safe cosmetics. It is a simple question to ask about an ingredient but harder to quantify:
The simplistic way of thinking says that SAFE is Natural, problem solved. However, we have been looking into all of the above and have found on more than one occasion that some synthetics outperform their natural counterparts.
Before we go on and show you the examples we would like to make it quite clear that as a company we sympathise with the natural way, not least because of the sustainability argument - fossil fuel usage isn't good on any level and is used as a feedstock for most if not all 'synthetic' ingredients we looked at - but also emotionally.We enjoy taking our clients onto journeys of discovery and bringing their brand ingredients philosophy to life. It is easy to picture that natural surfactant based on sugar once growing in a field or that our natural preservative was once a rose in bloom. It sounds much more romantic, free and liberating than 'this was once coal or dirty, dirty oil'. But romance isn't helpful when it comes to planetary health and safety and it doesn't seem to make it any safer either.
We took a look at some examples of naturally (plant) derived ingredients and their traditional, more chemical counterparts in order to better evaluate the natural vs synthetic safety argument.We started off by taking some very common ingredients, those that might be used to hold an emulsion together, to solubilise essential oils or to preserve a product and noted their environmental safety rating alongside their human safety scores.It is important to remember at this point that the data in the table below is from material safety data sheets and as such represents the material in its raw form.Ingredients are never used neat on the skin and so many of the human hazards are reduced to a manageable level when in use. However, environmental risk is still highly relevant in the world of safe cosmetics as these ingredients have to be manufactured and shipped across the world and surely an ingredient that is damaging to the environment will eventually come back to bite us!
It is still important to think for a moment about the 'safer for me' claim.People instinctively feel that natural ingredients are inherently safer and better for people with problem skin and formulate using these ingredients.However, very few products, especially by niche, small brands have the budget to test their claims and only a tiny percentage will get their product that apparently cures or relieves eczema, psoriasis or acne TGA approved.The reality is that for most brands on the market they simply don't know if their products are better or not.
A look at some commonly used natural vs synthetic ingredients.
|Function||Ingredient||Eye Irritation||Skin Irritation||Biodegradability||Acute Aquatic Toxicity||Symbol|
|Solubiliser||Decyl Glucoside||Causes Serious Eye Irritation (category 2A)||Mild Irritant (Category 3)||Low persistance and readily biodegradable||Harmful to aquatic life with long lasting effects(Category 3)||(GHSO7) GHS07 NEW Indicates some chemicals formerly classified as HARMFUL or IRRITANT (X) and includes skin
sensitising chemicals as well as high hazard and may cause damage to genetic material, be CMRs(carcinogens,
mutagens and reproductive toxicants) or aspiratory hazards (related to breathing) and may target specific organs.
This symbol also applies to substances that target specific organs
|Solubiliser||PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil||May cause Mild Irritation||May cause slight irritation||Low persistence level, readily biodegradable||no specific hazards, as with all chemicals avoid release into rivers and oceans||none|
|Solubiliser||Polysorbate 20||May cause Mild Irritation||May cause slight irritation||Low persistence level, readily biodegradable||no specific hazards, as with all chemicals avoid release into rivers and oceans||none|
|Emulsifier||Cetearyl Alcohol vs Cetearyl Glucoside||May be irritating||may be irritating||Low persistence level, readily biodegradable||none available but suspected to be similar to cetearyl alcohol||none available but suspected to be similar to cetearyl alcohol|
|Emulsifier||Cetearyl Alcohol and Ceteareth-20||Serious Eye Damage (Category 1)||Causes Skin Irritation||Low persistence level and readily and rapidly biodegradable||Toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects (Category 2)||Corrosion GHS05; Exclamation mark GHS07; Environmental hazard GHS09|
|Emulsifier||Cetearyl Olivate, Sorbitan Olivate||no information||no information||Low persistence level and readily and rapidly biodegradable||no information||none|
|Emulsion Stabiliser||Cetearyl Alcohol||Causes Serious Eye Irritation (category 2A)||Category 2||Low persistance and readily biodegradable||Toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects (Category 2)||Exclamation mark GHS07; Environmental hazard GHS09|
|Surfactant||Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate||Irritating to eyes (R36)||Category 3||Readily and Rapidly Biodegradable||not regulated but avoid pollution to rivers, soils and ocean||none|
|Surfactant||Caprylyl-Capryl Glucoside||Causes serious eye damage (Category 1)||Category 3||Low persistence level and readily and rapidly biodegradable||May cause long lasting harmful effects to aquatic life (category 4)||Corrosion GHS05; Exclamation mark GHS07|
|Preservative||Glycerin, Aqua, Levulinic Acid, p-Anisic Acid||May cause serious eye damage. Category 1||May be irritating||Low persistence level and readily and rapidly biodegradable||none available||Corrosion GHS05; Exclamation mark GHS07|
|Preservative||Phenoxyethanol Ethylhexylglycerin||May be irritating||may be irritating||Low persistance and readily biodegradable||none available||Exclamation mark GHS07|
|Preservative||Benzyl Alcohol, Salicylic Acid, Glycerine, Sorbic Acid||may be irritating||may be irritating||Low persistance and readily biodegradable||none available||None|
|Preservative||Naticide||causes serious eye irritation (category 2A)||causes skin irritation (Category 2)||Low persistance and readily biodegradable||none available||Exclamation mark GHS07|
|Chelating Agent||Sodium Phytate||May be irritating||may be irritating||Low persistance and readily biodegradable||none available||none|
|Chelating Agent||EDTA||irritating to eyes||irritating to skin||Low persistance and readily biodegradable in alkali soils||none available||none|
|Solvent||Propylene Glycol||May be irritating||May be irritating||Low persistance and readily biodegradable||Avoid pollution to rivers and oceans. LC50 conc||none|
|Solvent||Ethanol||irritating to eyes (R36). Vapours may irritate the eyes||Irritating to skin (R38)||Low mobility in the soil||Avoid pollution to rivers and oceans. LC50 conc||Flamable Liquid|
|Essential Oil||Lavender Australian Oil||May be irritating||May be irritating||Low persistance and readily biodegradable||none available||Health hazard GHS08; Exclamation mark GHS07|
|Essential Oil||Lemon||Severe Irritant||irritant, may cause contact dermatitis||Low persistance and readily biodegradable||Avoid pollution to soil, rivers and oceans. LC 50 fish||Flame GHS02; Health hazard GHS08; Exclamation mark GHS07; Environmental hazard GHS09|
|Fragrance||Lemon/ Lime Fragrant Oil||May be irritating||may be irritating||Low persistance and readily biodegradable||none available|
What the above show us is that we must stop with this over-simplistic mindset of 'natural' is safer as it is clearly more complex than that. It is possible that over time scientists could replace the petroleum feedstock for something else to produce things like Polysorbate 20, Cetereth-20 or Phenoxyethanol making these things completely natural and more sustainable too. However, the bad publicity given to many cosmetic ingredients over the last fifteen to twenty years has left many INCI (International Nomenclature of cosmetic Ingredients) names saddled with fear and loathing.
It may well be time to dig a little deeper, to get back to basics and think about ingredient safety at a much deeper level so that we might finally start to make natural products that really do safeguard our future.
That is our mission and you are welcome to join us.
24 December 2014