Safe Cosmetics, parabens and the Precautionary Principle
We believe that skin care should be safe for people and the environment.
We use the precautionary principle to determine whether an ingredient is acceptable in our organic health and beauty products. In other words, "if in doubt, do without" - if any research casts doubt over the ingredient's safety to humans or the environment, we will not use it. The precautionary principle also guides the Soil Association's Standards for organic health and beauty products.
Avoiding preservatives like Methylisothiazolinone (MI) and 'parabens' (methyl, ethyl, propyl, butyl) is a good example of the precautionary principle: Parabens have been used as cosmetics preservatives for many years, yet only in the last decade have scientists questioned their safety. Three published studies have shown that parabens can be absorbed into the bloodstream and disrupt the endocrine (hormonal) system. The study published in 2004 and a follow-up in 2008 by Reading University linked parabens to breast cancer (1). The safety evidence for parabens is currently being re-examined by the EU Scientific Committee, but in view of the possible risks - and our desire to use completely natural preservation systems - we would never consider the use of parabens.
Most cosmetics preservatives are synthetic and strong enough to allow a shelf-life of at least seven years. If there is no best before date on a product, its shelf-life is theoretically indefinite until opened which is a curious thought: Consider using seven-year old mayonnaise or tomato ketchup. For conventional cosmetics manufacturers this is great; it means that they can achieve excellent cost savings by making a one-off gigantic batch of a product and don't have to worry about it ever 'going off' on a shop shelf.
After around 1-2 years many plant extracts begin to lose their therapeutic and antioxidant value; for example, vitamin levels decline reducing the potency for healing and nourishment of the skin. Thus preserving a product for a longer period of time is fairly worthless, particularly for products such as ours where so much thought is given to their therapeutic benefit. Essential Care's natural and skin-friendly stabilisation systems allow our products to last for the duration of their useful life. Still though, not many products are conceived with skin health in mind and current regulation is only set up to analyse the safety of existing cosmetics ingredients after they have been in use for a considerable time. For example, methyldibromo glutaronitrile was used as a preservative for a good part of the last century, then in 2005, the EU Scientific Committee concluded that: "No safe level for methyldibromo glutaronitrile in cosmetic products has been established… it is recommended that it should not be present in any cosmetic product"(2).
Other than parabens, a huge number of potential endocrine (hormone) system disruptors are still also used in cosmetics. These include UV filters such as 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (3), and octyl-dimethyl-PABA, phthalates (see below), benzophenone-3, octyl-methoxycinnamate and others.
Even more concerning is that potential toxic effects of synthetic substances interacting in cosmetics, both within the same product and when several cosmetic products are used repeatedly every day, are barely understood. Some scientists have begun research into this "Cocktail effect" - Professor Kortenkamp of the Centre for Toxicology, University of London noted recently (4) that "Certain chemicals do not act in isolation in a woman's body, but in concert with natural oestrogens and a large number of other hormonally active chemicals and carcinogens. These include: chemicals released during the preparation of food ...; a growing plethora of man-made chemicals found as environmental pollutants (dioxins, certain PCBs and pesticides); those used in cosmetics and some synthetic fragrances."
The list below mentions more about specific cases of potential substance interaction and associated toxic risks, as well as some other ingredients that in applying the precautionary principle, Odylique / Essential Care never uses:
Alkyloamides; identified on product labels as:
Triethanolamine (TEA) and can be noted in various forms such as 'Cocamide-DEA'.
Alkyloamides contain a free amine that can combine with formaldehyde-releasing preservatives in cosmetics; there is concern that this interaction forms nitrosamines which are carcinogenic.
Artificial colour or fragrance "parfum" (if not qualified as an essential oil)
Many studies link rising levels of dermatitis in recent years with an increased use of fragrance chemicals (see e.g. (6)). To impart fragrance to our skin care, we use only the purest organic essential oils and each one has a therapeutic purpose.
Diazolidinyl Urea and Imidazolidinyl Urea
These are the most commonly used preservatives after the parabens and have been described by one report as "a hazardous substance with respect to skin sensitisation by skin contact" (5), yet still see wide use in skin care. These two ingredients, along with substances such as Quaternium-15 are thought to be formaldehyde precursors, in other words, they react with other chemicals in a product to form formaldehyde, a highly toxic (carcinogenic and neurotoxic) substance.
Dimethicone (or any other silicone products)
Silicones have no nourishing benefit to the hair or skin and are added to synthetic skin care for purely mechanical reasons; to provide 'slip' or a sleek feel.
Highly processed and refined, hydrogenated fats offer no value to the skin, and in the diet have been linked to heart disease due to hardening of the arteries.
A bi-product of sheep wool that, due to pesticide residue, has been linked to skin-sensitivity.
Not enough evidence is currently available to support their use. Concerns exist due to potential disruption to body chemistry.
Paraben preservatives (methyl, ethyl, propyl, butyl, also known as hydroxyl methyl benzoates) Other than being suspected as a skin-irritant, the paraben family of preservatives was recently linked to breast cancer and are readily absorbed into the body from skin care products.
Linked to allergies such as asthma and eczema and best avoided in skin care.
Petrochemicals such as petrolatum or mineral oil or liquid paraffin
They may come out of the earth originally as crude oil, but dead petrochemicals offer little benefit to skin and health. They create a surface film on the skin and block the pores, holding moisture in, but preventing the skin from secreting its toxins. Not only do they stop the skin breathing and absorbing oil soluble vitamins, which are so vital for skin health and repair, (a real problem in the case of eczema and dermatitis sufferers), they can actually accelerate the ageing process by encouraging free-radical generation.
The manufacturing process of petrochemicals is extremely polluting to our environment. Petroleum derivatives include: Propylene glycol and butylene glycol which have been linked to skin sensitivity.
Pronounced ("thal-ates"), phthalates are often added to cosmetics to provide flexibility, impart an oily "moisturising" film, and help dissolve and 'fix' other ingredients. In addition, phthalates serve as solvents in fragrances and as denaturants in alcohols. A growing body of research finds that phthalates are readily taken up through the skin and can affect the endocrine system, particularly in pregnant women.
Sodium lauryl(eth) sulphate (or other sulphate detergents)
Sodium lauryl sulphate is a fairly aggressive detergent which we believe has no place in skin care particularly if used on sensitive skin or babies; there are many more gentler alternatives available. Sodium laureth sulphate and ammonium laureth sulphate are slightly milder detergents, but are produced by a process called ethoxylation which is very damaging to the environment.
Substances extracted by artificial solvents
Environmentally harmful solvents are unfortunately sometimes used to make even the most natural-sounding plant extracts such as essential oils and rose wax. Not only are synthetic solvents damaging to the environment (hexane for example), but the final plant extracts themselves can retain harmful solvent residues. The Soil Association only permits natural plant-derived materials such as alcohol and glycerine or water to be used as solvents in certified organic skincare.
(1) Journal of Applied Toxicology, vol. 24, 2004 p.1-4, "The findings of parabens in tumour samples are in line with the general hypothesis that there may be a link between oestrogenic compounds currently used in underarm cosmetics and breast cancer"; and Paraben esters: review of recent studies of endocrine toxicity, absorption, esterase and human exposure, and discussion of potential human health risks, Darbre & Harvey, Journal of Applied Toxicology 2008 Published online (www.interscience.wiley.com) DOI: 10.1002/jat.1358
(2) EU Scientific Committee on Consumer Products, 15/3/05;
(3) e.g. Durrer et al in Environmental Health Perspectives 115 (Supplement 1), 42-50, 2007.
(4) Low-Level Exposure to Multiple Chemicals: Reason for Human Health Concerns? Kortenkamp et al, Vol. 115 Supplement 1 December 2007, Environmental Health Perspectives
(5) Australian Government Final Report on Hazard Classification of Skin Sensitisers, January 2005;
(6) The Pharmaceutical Journal, vol. 271, 2003; (8) Contact Dermatitis, vol. 48, p.59, 2003