Toxic Beauty — Mascaras

are you using toxic mascara

are you using toxic mascara

When the ancient Egyptians first began using mascara thousands of years ago, the mixture they used was made of lead ore, charcoal, crocodile dung, and honey. Today, mascara is made from much cleaner ingredients and is less likely to give you lead poisoning. And yet, some modern mainstream mascaras aren’t all that safe either.

First, let me just say: I love mascara. It’s one of my “can’t live without it” makeup items.  It helps me look more awake and like I’ve made an effort. Mascara has the uncanny ability of taking any woman’s look from drab to fab (or at least less zombie-like!) within seconds. It’s fantastic. But before you swipe on another coat of mascara, you might want to look into which nasties could be hiding in your favourite tube.

What’s the risk with mainstream mascara?

I wasn’t always so concerned about the possible toxins in mascara. I thought because it doesn’t actually touch your eyeballs or your skin, and because I put so little of it on my lashes, the ingredients didn’t matter so much as that of, say, my eyeshadow or moisturiser.

But, as I have since learned, there are many dangerous chemicals in mascara and they can end up on your skin, your eyes, and in the oil glands of your eyelids. They can be absorbed into your bloodstream or cause problems like plugged ducts or dry eyes. This is especially true if you sleep with their mascara on, frequently rub your eyes, or use mascara daily. And even if the amount of harmful chemicals in the product is minuscule, the long-term, everyday exposure to toxins may be enough to cause problems.

What’s in mainstream mascara that’s so bad?

Some mascara ingredients are perfectly safe (water, oils, waxes), but many are irritants, allergens, hormone disruptors, carcinogens, and environmental toxins.

These are just a few of the nasty chemicals in mainstream mascaras:

Carbon black*

Carbon black is a powder pigment that gives your eyelashes that full and dramatic look. Unfortunately, it’s also a possible carcinogen and is classified as potentially toxic to human organ systems. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration lists carbon black among colour additives that are no longer authorised in cosmetics, particularly in those that will be used in the eye area. Nonetheless, it is still an ingredient in many eye liners, mascaras, eye shadows, and eyebrow liners. Carbon black has an EWG score of 6. It also goes by the names acetylene black, thermal black, lamp black, furnace black, pigment black 6 or 7, and channel black.

does your mascara have toxic ingredients


Because the moist environment inside a tube of mascara is the perfect place for bacteria and mould to grow, some sort of preservative is needed to keep the product safe to use. In mainstream mascaras, this typically means parabens. Unfortunately, though parabens keep microorganisms from multiplying, these chemicals are also pretty bad for us humans.   

Some parabens are known to disrupt hormone function, which has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, early puberty, and reproductive toxicity. Scientists have yet to find a causal relationship between parabens and breast cancer. However, because we’re exposed to these chemicals through so many different products on a daily basis, we could be overloading our bodies, which could lead to a wide range of health issues.

The most common types of parabens in cosmetics are propylparaben (EWG score of 7), methylparaben (4), ethylparaben (4), and butylparaben (7).


Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) control the growth of microbes in mascara and other cosmetics. BHT, which EWG gave a score of 4, is classified as a respiratory irritant and is considered toxic or harmful to human organ systems. BHA, on the other hand, is rated 5-7. It’s an endocrine disruptor and a possible carcinogen.

Formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasing chemicals

The International Agency for Research on Carcinogens (IARC) and the U.S. National Toxicology Program have both classified formaldehyde as a known carcinogen. The chemical, which EWG has given a whopping hazard rating of 10, is also an allergen and a skin toxicant. Despite the obvious risks, formaldehyde releasing cosmetic preservatives like DMDM hydantoin (7), quaternium-15 (8), and diazolidinyl urea (6) are still found in things like facial cleansers, moisturisers, toners, foundation, blush, eye liners, and — you guessed it — mascaras!

Retinyl acetate

Retinyl acetate is a synthetic vitamin A ingredient that lends its moisturising benefits to some mascaras. Unfortunately, it’s a human reproductive toxicant and is possibly carcinogenic. On the EWG hazard scale, it has a score of 9, which tells you that this one is really best avoided.


Phthalates have been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and developmental and reproductive toxicity. The European Union has banned the use of these chemicals in cosmetics, but they are still common in products from the U.S.

Aside from the word “phthalate,” look for “DEP,” “DBP,” and “DEHP” in labels. Be suspicious of products that list “fragrance” or “parfum” as an ingredient. Cosmetics companies don’t have to provide a list of the individual ingredients in the fragrances they use; therefore, consumers won’t be able to tell by the label alone if there are phthalates hiding under that umbrella.

Pigments (colourants)

Some pigments are safe for use in cosmetics, but many, like carbon black, pose a wide range of health hazards. Aluminium powder, a metallic substance made of finely milled aluminium, is another colourant that’s bad news. Aluminium powder is a neurotoxin and can damage the immune and respiratory systems. EWG has given it a score of 4-9.

Make sure your mascara doesn’t contain heavy metals by looking for the specific colour index number of the colourants (such as CI 77491 for iron oxide or CI 77019 for mica).

toxic beauty mascara wand

What’s the alternative to toxic mascara?

While there’s a good chance that your current mascara contains harmful chemicals, you don’t necessarily have to ditch mascara altogether and compromise your beauty routine.

Not all mascaras are bad. Lucky for us, there are now heaps of green mascaras that really work and don’t contain a bunch of toxic ingredients. Natural mascaras are safer and are no harder to find than regular mascaras. Most of them even offer ingredients (like coconut oil, aloe vera, and sunflower seed oil) that help nourish your lashes. With all the lovely nontoxic mascaras out there, there’s just no good reason to still purchase mainstream mascara.

We recommend (and use!) these top natural mascaras:

And one last thing! Aside from the products you use, it’s also how you use them that’s important. With mascara, it’s best to stop after two coats, as more layers can clog the oil glands along your eyelids. Always store your mascara in a cool place — never in the car — as heat will degrade the product. Replace your mascara every three months. And never share or swap mascaras.

Trying to figure out which mascaras are okay and which ones are bad? Look out for our upcoming Safer Mascaras Cheat Sheet.

Have you made the switch from mainstream to natural mascara? Share your favourite brands in the comments below.

What Is Hyaluronic Acid? (And Why Does Your Skin Need It?)

hyaluronic acid in skincare

hyaluronic acid in skincare

Our Chemical Info series helps you decipher the ingredient lists of beauty, personal care, baby, and home products so you don’t have to worry about the chemicals you’re bringing into your home — and into your body.

This week, we’re taking a look at hyaluronic acid, which has popped up as a star ingredient in so many natural skincare products and even in makeup. It has been touted as a skin hydration hero and is said to moisturise skin and plump up wrinkles like no other.

But what does hyaluronic acid actually do? And will it work for you?

What is hyaluronic acid?

Hyaluronic acid isn’t actually an acid. It’s a sugar that naturally occurs in the human body. The viscous substance is an essential component of our skin, connective tissues, joints, and eyes.

Hyaluronic acid burst onto the beauty and skincare scene as a dermal filler in cosmetic surgery. It’s the main ingredient in the popular derm fillers Restylane and Juvederm. When injected into skin, hyaluronic acid fills in fine lines and wrinkles from inside. It has also been used to treat burn victims, heal atopic dermatitis, and create artificial tears for the treatment of dry eyes.

Hyaluronic acid used to just sit on top of skin, where its moisturising effect didn’t last long. But because science has found a way to offer hyaluronic acid with lower molecular weights, today’s version can hydrate the surface layers and plump your skin.

For use in natural skincare products and makeup, as well as in medical applications, hyaluronic acid can come from animal, plant or synthetic sources. It can appear in product labels as hyaluronan or hyaluronate.

Don’t be fooled by the “acid” in the name. Hyaluronic acid is actually very gentle and non irritating.

Why is it good for skin?

Hyaluronic acid is a hydrating powerhouse. It’s a humectant, which means that it pulls in moisture from its surroundings and holds it to your skin. It can bind up to 1,000 times its weight in water, to be specific. This is why it’s such an amazing moisturiser for those with dehydrated or ageing skin, and why it’s often prescribed for those who have undergone procedures such as chemical peels or laser treatments.

Though hyaluronic acid is a natural component of skin, our ability to produce the substance decreases as we get older. Fortunately, hyaluronic acid is an active ingredient in many natural skincare products today. As part of a skincare routine, topical treatments with hyaluronic acid firm up skin, even out rough patches, soften fine lines, and prevent sagging.

Which skin type is it good for?

Hyaluronic acid will do wonders for any skin type. Here’s what it can do for you.

  • Dry and dehydrated skin

Hyaluronic acid acts like a big drink of water for parched skin. According to a 2014 study, just one gram of hyaluronic acid can hold approximately six litres of water. That is insanely hydrating! Aside from alleviating dryness, hyaluronic acid also smoothens out coarse patches and gives skin a more supple, healthier look.

  • Oily and combination skin

Oily skin still needs moisturisers, but not the rich and heavy kind that can clog pores and make skin look even shinier. One of the best things about hyaluronic acid is that it’s super hydrating and yet lightweight. It’s perfect for those who can’t use creamy or oily moisturisers, like those with acne prone skin.

  • Mature skin

Hyaluronic acid is a godsend for ageing skin. Aside from erasing fine lines and wrinkles by plumping them up from within, it also replenishes the skin’s diminished hyaluronic acid content, leaving it looking younger, smoother, and softer.

  • Sensitive skin

If your skin tends to react to skincare and beauty products, hyaluronic acid could be your new best friend. Because hyaluronic acid is naturally found in our skin, it’s less likely than other skincare ingredients to trigger allergies or sensitivity.

How to use hyaluronic acid

You can’t just buy hyaluronic acid and apply it to your skin. Look for it combined with other ingredients into products that are suitable for all skin types.

hyaluronic acid favourite products

Suggested products

We’ve got so many products with hyaluronic acid that it’s hard to choose our favourites! Lavera is particularly fond of hylauronic acid and sodium hyaluronate. They use a vegan source, too. Here’s some of our top picks:

Face: Skin Juice Multi Juice Micellar Cleansing (great for oily and combination skins), Andalou Naturals 1000 Roses Cleansing Foam (dry and sensitive skin), Lavera Firming Day Cream (for all skin types), Eco Tan Face Tan Water (all skin types), Andalou Naturals Hyaluronic DMAE Cream (dry and dehydrated skin)

Makeup: Benecos BB Cream

Hands: Lavera Anti-Ageing Hand Cream

Hair: Lavera Colour & Shine Shampoo, Lavera Colour & Shine Conditioner

Body: Lavera Basis 2in1 Hair & Body Wash

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What Are Baby Wipes Made From?

what are baby wipes made from

what are baby wipes made from

Baby wipes are something that you use an awful lot of when you have a baby. But what exactly is in those wipes? If you don’t know, how do you know what to choose?

Disposable baby wipes are basically made up of the same components.

  1. cloth
  2. cleansing solution

What is the cloth made from?

The cloth can be made of bamboo fibre, cotton fibre, or what’s known in the trade as non-woven fibre. Non woven is by far the most popular, and it’s generally made from polyester, but can also be made from woodpulp.

The most eco friendly cloth is bamboo, because it’s a sustainable resource that doesn’t need fertilisers or pesticides like cotton. And like cotton or woodpulp, bamboo fibre will break down. Polyester non woven fibre is made from petrochemicals, and won’t biodegrade. So if you can find bamboo based baby wipes, or organic cotton ones, grab some of those!

What’s in the baby wipes cleansing solution?

The cleansing solution is what keeps the wipes moist. Baby wipes solutions are generally made using a combination of the following types of ingredients.

Water – is the majority of the cleansing solution. It keeps the wipes moist and helps you wipe baby’s bottom more easily. Some wipes will have aloe vera instead of water.

Surfactants – are the cleaning agents or detergents that get rid of the muck. These are ingredients like ceteareth-25 and cocamidopropyl betaine.

Preservatives – because when you’ve got water in a product, you need to make sure that it doesn’t grow mould and bacteria. You’ll can find preservatives like phenoxyethanol, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, parabens and methylisothiazolinone, to name a few. While you definitely need preservatives in baby wipes, some are better than others.

Emulsifiers – help the water based ingredients mix properly with the oil based ingredients. Polyethylene glycols (PEGs) are often used as emulsifiers.

Humectants – are used to help keep the wipes moist, and can also be used to help moisturise the skin. You’ll find humectants like propylene glycol and glycerin, as well as mineral oils, lanolin or silicones to help soften the skin. Some natural wipes use oils like jojoba or coconut instead.

Perfume – used to make the product smell nice.

Stabilisers – can help get the pH balance right, so that the formula isn’t too acidic or too alkaline for baby’s skin. Citric acid, sodium citrate and malic acid are some examples that you’ll find in baby wipes.

You can also find other ingredients that are designed to soothe, like aloe vera or oat extracts.

Choosing the best baby wipes

When you know what goes into baby wipes, you’ll have a better idea of what you should be looking for on the back of the pack.

But if you’re still not sure, why not head over to Hello Charlie’s Safer Baby Wipes Cheat Sheet for our top picks and recommendations?


What Are Sulphates? (And Are They Safe?)

sulphates are they safe

sulphates are they safe

Sulphate free shampoos and other personal care products have become fairly popular in recent years. But what are sulphates (or sulfates) in the first place? And why should you avoid them?

What are sulphates?

Sulphates are inorganic ions that are both found in nature and synthesised for industry. In the natural world, they occur as aerosols from biomass combustion and as part of the sulphur cycle of some microorganisms.

Sulphates are also the salts and esters of sulphuric acid, a highly corrosive acid. These compounds are valuable in many industries because they are very good detergents, emulsifiers, and foaming agents.

Are sulphates natural?

Sulphates are either derived from natural sources or synthetically produced. Sodium lauryl sulphate or SLS, one of the most common types of sulfates, can be made from plant sources such as coconut oil or palm kernel oil. But they can also be synthesised from nonrenewable petroleum sources.

What do sulphates do?

Sulphates are added to many products to make them more effective cleaners. They’re surfactants — compounds that attract both oil and water. One end of a surfactant’s molecule is attracted to water and the other end is attracted to oil. This property allows surfactants to lift dirt and oil from your body. Sulfates break them down so that when you rinse, they simply go down the drain with the water.

Chemists first added sulphates to shampoos in the 1930s. Before their introduction, soaps and shampoos weren’t very good at cleaning. The addition of sulphates to shampoo thus changed the world of hair care forever.

Aside from making soaps and shampoos better at removing dirt and grease, they also gave these products the ability to lather. Foam isn’t really necessary for cleaning. But since the addition of sulfates, people have come to associate suds with getting clean.

What kind of products contain sulphates?

Because sulphates are inexpensive and have many uses, they’re in countless products. They’re in a lot of personal care items, including soaps, shampoos, conditioners, body washes, toothpastes, and facial cleansers. They’re in laundry detergents, dishwashing liquids, surface and carpet cleaners, car wash liquids, and other cleaning products that foam up.

Because they are such powerful surfactants, sulphates are a vital ingredient in the products used to remove grease from heavy machinery.

Body sprays, fragrances, sunscreens, lotions, and makeup may also contain sulphates. In these products, sulphates act as dispersal agents that allow the ingredients to come together properly.

sulphates in personal products

How do you recognise sulphates?

There are many kinds of sulfates. The most common ones are:

  • sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS),
  • sodium laureth sulphate (SLES), and
  • ammonium lauryl sulphate (ALS)

When you see the “sulphate free” label, it usually means that the product does not contain any of these three. However, now that the public has become more aware of the potential harm from these sulphates, manufacturers have begun swapping them with lesser known types.

Unfortunately, these other sulphates (and related chemicals) may be no safer than SLS, SLES, and ALS.

Look out for these other kinds of sulphates: sodium lauryl sulphoacetate, sodium capric sulphate, sodium caprylic sulphate, sodium monododecyl sulphate, sodium oleic sulphate, sodium myreth sulphate, sodium stearyl sulphate, sodium dodecanesulphate, sodium lauroyl isethionate, sodium cocoyl isethionate, sodium lauroyl sarcosinate, sodium lauroyl taurate, sodium lauroyl methyl isethionate, and disodium laureth sulphosuccinate.

What the experts say about sulphates

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel says that SLS is safe for use in cosmetics. SLES and ALS are also labeled safe, but the CIR recognises that these two can cause eye and skin irritation.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Toxicology, SLS and ALS are irritants at concentrations of 2% and greater. The study shows that the severity of irritation increases with the concentration of the sulphates. It also concludes that the longer the ingredients stay on the skin, the greater the chances of irritation.

The study notes that SLS did not prove to be carcinogenic in experimental animals. However, it also says that “severe epidermal changes” were observed on the areas of the skin (of mice) on which SLS was applied. The study concludes that both SLS and ALS may be safe in products that will only be in contact with skin briefly and that will be followed by thorough rinsing. It recommends a concentration of less than 1% for products designed for prolonged skin contact.

SLS has an EWG score of 1-2 (depends on usage), SLES has a 3, and ALS has a 1. EWG notes that SLS and SLES can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs, and that there is moderate concern for organ system toxicity with all three sulphates.

Both ECOCERT and NATRUE have approved the use of SLS, ALS, sodium cetearyl sulphate, and sodium coco-sulphate in natural and organic cosmetics.

All of the above are on the COSMOS Raw Material Database, as are other types of sulphates, including zinc sulphate, zinc coco-sulphate, ammonium coco-sulphate, and magnesium lauryl sulphate. Australian Certified Organic uses the COSMOS database.

Are sulphates safe?

Sulphates may be considered safe (in certain formulations), but that doesn’t mean that they have no damaging effects or that they should be in the products you use. These harsh chemicals are so good at cleaning that they can really dry out your skin and hair, stripping off the natural oils and proteins. Without these substances, your skin and hair lose their first line of defense against disease-causing bacteria and allergens, becoming vulnerable to infection and irritation.

In addition, sulphate shampoos can ruin hair’s cuticle, resulting in split ends, dullness, and breakage. Sulphates are anionic surfactants, which means that they leave the hair with a negative electric charge, increasing frizz and friction. When people switch to sulphate free shampoos, their hair gets a break from these damaging effects and suddenly becomes softer and more manageable.

To sum up, sulphate free skincare products are gentler and don’t strip away the protective oils on your skin and your hair. They don’t disrupt the delicate balance of proteins and peptides that provide vital protection from microbes and environmental pollution. And they don’t leave your hair dry and frizzy.

alpaca using too many sulphates
Dry, frizzy hair? Could be too many sulphates in your shampoo!

Alternatives to sulphates

With consumers becoming increasingly knowledgeable about sulfates, chemists have turned to milder alternatives. Look for these gentler surfactants in your next soap or shampoo:

  • cocamidopropyl betaine,
  • disodium lauroamphodiacetate,
  • sodium cocoamphoacetate,
  • coco glucoside, and
  • lauryl glucoside

Castile soap is a great natural alternative to sulphate soaps and shampoos. This gorgeous multitasking product is made the traditional way from olive oil and other plant oils. Use it on your hair, face, and body, and even on your pets, dishes, laundry, and floors!

Image credit: BigStock

Baby Wipes: Toxic Ingredients You Should Avoid

toxic ingredients baby wipes

toxic ingredients baby wipes

I’ve been examining a LOT of baby wipes recently, as I update our Baby Wipes Cheat Sheet.

Although baby wipes manufacturers have cleaned up the ingredients in recent years, we’re not there yet. There are still wipes that have ingredients that you need to avoid, especially when you’re using them around very sensitive areas like bottoms and mouths.

And what makes me really cross is that big brands are still not telling us the whole truth. Indeed, in some cases, it’s outright lies. Don’t read the front of the pack, where it’s all marketing talk and meaningless words like ‘hypoallergenic’ and ‘dermatologist tested’. Read the back of the pack, the ingredients list. That’s where the truth lies, my friends!

When you’re reading baby wipes ingredients lists, keep your eyes out for the ones we’ve listed below. If you see them, put the pack down and walk away. And to make life even easier, why not download a free copy of our Baby Wipes Cheat Sheet ebook?

Ingredients to Avoid in Baby Wipes


Preservative also known as 2-Bromo-2-nitro-1,3-propanediol. Like DMDM hydantoin, below, this is a formaldehyde donor. It releases formaldehyde as it breaks down, and it’s got a big red number from the EWG. It’s a known irritant, and it’s an ingredient that really shouldn’t be used in baby products.

DMDM hydantoin

This is another preservative. The problem with this one is that it’s a formaldehyde donor, so it releases formaldehyde as it breaks down. The EWG has a big red flag on this one. It’s also an irritant, so that’s yet another reason to keep it away from baby.

Fragrance or perfume

The problem with fragrance is that you don’t know what’s in it. Manufacturers don’t have to disclose fragrance ingredients, so you could be putting phthalates, neurotoxins, endocrine disrupters, allergens or irritants onto your baby’s sensitive skin.


These are a group of common preservatives. There are a lot of them, but the common ones are butlyl, ethyl, methyl, and propyl (and they all end in paraben). I’ve written about them before in this post, and the main problem with them is that they are suspected endocrine disrupters and may interfere with the body’s hormones.

PEG’s (polyethylene glycols)

PEG’s are a penetration enhancer, so they help other ingredients penetrate more deeply into the skin. PEG’s can be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. They also should not be used on damaged skin (which means nappy rash).


Another common preservative, and is becoming even more common as manufacturers try to avoid parabens. It’s an irritant, and shouldn’t be used around the mouth. According to the FDA, It can also depress the central nervous system in infants, so really shouldn’t be used on babies.


These are rarely used in baby products these days as an individual ingredient, but may be found in perfumes or fragrances. It’s why you should always avoid scented baby products, unless the scent is made from essential oils and that’s all. Phthalates are a concern because they’re thought to be endocrine disrupters, changing the way hormones work in the body.

Propylene Glycol

This is a humectant, and while it’s not toxic, it is an irritant and a penetration enhancer. That means that it helps other ingredients penetrate more deeply into skin, which is not always ideal. You can read more about propylene glycol in this article.

Methylisothiazolinone (MIT)

Another common preservative, although it’s less widely used in baby wipes after media coverage in the last few years. It’s been widely associated with contact dermatitis. It’s still being used in big brands like Huggies, though. Even though their website says their wipes are MIT free, I found MIT and parabens in Huggies wipes packs in my local supermarket only last week.

We’ve listed other preservatives to avoid in this post, along with the good preservatives.

Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate (SLS)

Sulphates are detergents that help to clean up messes. But they’re irritants, and there’s some concern about organ toxicity.


Can be found in antibacterial wipes. I’ve written more about triclosan here, and it’s another chemical that’s a suspected endocrine disrupter. It’s also contributing to the rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Confused? Don’t be! Download a copy of our Baby Wipes Cheat Sheet and you’ll know exactly which brands to look for!

Image source: BigStock

Quick Guide to Preservatives in Organic Skincare

preservatives in organic skincare

preservatives in organic skincare

I’ve written about preservatives in skincare before. But I had a query this week about which preservatives are okay, so I thought I’d write you a quick guide.

EcoCert, the international organic inspection and certification body, approves a number of preservatives:

  • Benzoic acid and its salts
  • Benzyl alcohol
  • Salicylic acid and its salts
  • Sorbic acid/potassium sorbate
  • Sodium benzoate
  • Potassium sorbate
  • Phenethyl alcohol
  • glyceryl caprylate
  • sodium levulinate
  • Benzoic acid
  • Ethyl lactate

So if you see any of these preservatives on your skincare label, you’ll know that these are okay.

Cosmos (Cosmetic Organic Standard) is the standard that is used by a number of European organic labels. All these organic labels use ingredients that are approved by Cosmos:

  • BDIH from Germany
  • Cosmebio from France
  • EcoCert from France
  • ICEA from Italy
  • Soil Association from the UK
  • ACO (Australian Certified Organic)

If you’re wondering whether a preservative is certified organic, you can have a look at the Cosmos database, here. Enter ‘preservative’ in the function field, and you’ll be able to see a list of approved preservatives.

NaTrue is another European certified organic and natural skincare label. You can also search on NaTrue’s database, but they don’t list the function of the ingredient, only the name. It’s a little trickier to navigate, but still very useful.

Preservatives with commercial names

You may also see commercial names like:

  • Naticide
  • Rosamox
  • Aminat-G

All three of these are approved by EcoCert. Strictly speaking, you shouldn’t see these in an ingredients list. All ingredients names should conform to the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI). Naticide’s INCI name is fragrance, so that’s what manufacturers should list on their ingredients.

But as fragrance isn’t always well received by consumers, sometimes manufacturers will use the commercial name.

Other ingredients you may see

You may also see these ingredients in natural or organic products:

  • grapefruit seed oil
  • honeysuckle extract
  • Rosemary extract
  • Vitamin E

These are not preservatives, but antioxidants. They’ll stop the product oxidising, like when your apple goes brown. However, they’re little to no help when it comes to inhibiting mould and bacteria.

Grapefruit seed extract and honeysuckle extract can be problematic ingredients. Because of the way that they’re processed, they can become contaminated with chemicals like formaldehyde, and benzethonium chloride.

You may also come across other preservatives in ‘natural’ skincare:

  • phenoxyethanol
  • sodium hydroxymethylglycinate

Ecocert doesn’t approve these two. Phenoxyethanol scores a 4 in the EWG database.

Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate scores a 6 in the EWG database, because it may release formaldehyde. Although it is derived from a natural source, but it’s synthetic, not natural. Neither of these are ingredients that I would choose to use.

The preservatives you don’t want in your skincare

Here’s a quick list of preservatives to avoid in your skincare:

  • 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bronopol)
  • BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)
  • C12-15 alkyl benzoate
  • diazolidinyl urea
  • disodium EDTA
  • DMDM hydantoin
  • EDTA
  • formaldehyde
  • imidazolidinyl urea
  • methylchloroisothiazolinone (CMIT)
  • methylisothiazolinone (MIT)
  • Parabens: propylparaben, methyparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben
  • polyoxymethylene urea
  • quaternium 15
  • tetrasodium EDTA

Some ingredients listed as ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ can also be hiding preservatives. If you choose certified organic skincare, you’ll know that the fragrance used is okay.

Image: Depositphotos

What Is Propylene Glycol? (And Is It Safe?)

propylene glycol is it safe

propylene glycol is it safe

This is the next instalment in our ongoing series about chemicals often found in home and personal care products. Here, we make an assessment of ingredients, so you can make informed choices about the products you buy.

Today, we’re looking at propylene glycol.

What is propylene glycol?

Propylene glycol is a colourless and nearly odourless liquid with a slightly sweet taste.

It is traditionally a petroleum derivative. But today, propylene glycol is also available as a biobased derivative of 100% renewable resources like yeast, corn, vegetable oils, and miscellaneous carbohydrates. Most propylene glycol is, however, still the synthetic petrochemical kind.

What is propylene glycol used for?

Propylene glycol is incredibly versatile — in just one product, it can have a variety of functions. It is also relatively cheap. For these reasons, propylene glycol is valuable in many industries.

It is a humectant, which means that it attracts and locks in moisture via absorption. This is why you will find propylene glycol in moisturisers, hair styling products, wrinkle fillers, and such.

It is also an emulsifier and a solvent for things like food colours, flavours, and fragrances. Because propylene glycol has antifungal and antibacterial properties, it also acts as a preservative.

What kind of products contain propylene glycol?

Propylene glycol is an ingredient in many food products, medicine, supplements, and other edible items like liquid sweeteners.

You’ll find it in the ingredient lists of personal care products like antiperspirants, deodorants, shaving creams, hand sanitisers, body lotions, moisturisers, conditioners, shampoos, and sunscreens. It is also in things like paints, varnishes, polyurethane cushions, plastics, and tobacco products.

The e-liquid used in electronic cigarettes and the artificial smoke or fog used in theatrical productions both contain propylene glycol.

You may have heard that propylene glycol is a main ingredient in antifreeze. This is true. The chemical lowers water’s boiling point, which is why it is an active ingredient in antifreeze and in aircraft deicing fluid.

However, there are a lot of misconceptions about propylene glycol. Because of its association with antifreeze, many think that it is a harmful ingredient. But antifreeze contains the more concentrated industrial grade propylene glycol. What we are concerned with here is the food grade and cosmetic grade kind.

Is propylene glycol safe?

This is what cosmetic chemist Tonya McKay has to say about propylene glycol:

“Unlike its dangerous and frequently lethal cousin, ethylene glycol, [propylene glycol] is easily metabolised by the liver into normal products of the citric acid metabolic cycle, which are completely nontoxic to the body. Approximately 45 percent of any ingested [propylene glycol] is excreted directly from the body and never even comes into contact with the liver.”

Propylene glycol is in the US Food & Drug Administration‘s “Generally Recognised as Safe” list, which means that it is deemed safe for use as an additive in food. However, the European Union has not approved the chemical’s use as a general purpose food additive.

EWG gives the chemical a score of 3 and an overall hazard rating of low to moderate. The group reports that propylene glycol is not likely to be a developmental or reproductive toxicant. However, it may cause skin irritation. The EWG Cosmetics Database notes that the chemical is associated with allergic contact dermatitis and contact urticaria, and that these were observed with concentrations of as low as 2%. 

Still, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel found that propylene glycol is safe for use in cosmetic products at concentrations not exceeding 50%.

Propylene glycol is EcoCert certified and is recognised by Australian Certified Organic, which uses the COSMOS raw materials database. NATRUE has not approved the chemical’s use in natural and organic cosmetics.

What Are Super Absorbent Polymers (And Are They Safe?)

truth about super absorbent polymers saps

truth about super absorbent polymers saps

I had a question about the safety of super absorbent polymers last week. I’ve been asked this question before. So, I thought it was time to write a post about it in case anyone else was wondering.

What are super absorbent polymers?

Super absorbent polymers (SAPs) are substances that can hold a huge amount of liquid in relation to their size.

The US Department of Agriculture first developed SAPs back in the 60’s. They were trying to improve water conservation in soils. However, SAPs have a myriad of uses, and not just in the agricultural sector.

Today, a large range of products contain SAPs. Water retention products is just one. The largest demand for SAPs is in nappies and hygiene products, but you can even find SAPs in toys.

What do superabsorbent polymers do?

Because SAPs can hold so much liquid, they’re incredibly useful in hygiene products like nappies. They can hold between 50 and 500 times their own weight, depending on the liquid they absorb. In contrast, cotton and fluff pulp (from wood fibre) can hold just 20 times their own weight.

So a disposable nappy containing SAPs can absorb much more liquid than a nappy containing only fluff pulp. That means that nappies with SAP are thinner, more absorbent, and use less raw materials.

Without SAPs, nappies would be much bulkier. That means more volume going into landfill.

Nappies without SAPs don’t have the same ability to wick moisture away. With SAPs, baby’s bottom is drier, meaning less chance of nappy rash, and fewer nappy changes. Healthier bottoms, better for the environment, and lighter on your wallet.

Superabsorbers aren’t biodegradable. However, new research into nano fibres may mean that a biodegradable alternative will be available in the future. And even if current superabsorbers aren’t biodegradable, they keep so much volume out of landfill, it’s worth using them.

Are SAPs safe?

I’ve written about this before, in this post. There’s been a lot of research done in this area, and the conclusion is that they’re safe.

SAPs are considered to be non toxic, non sensitizing, non irritant and non mutagenic.

All in all, superabsorbent polymers are a good thing. They’re non toxic and safe, and they help to keep nappies thinner, so there’s less landfill.

Image: DepositPhoto

What Is Potassium Sorbate? (And Is It Safe?)

potassium sorbate safe

potassium sorbate safe

This is the next instalment in our ongoing series about chemicals often found in home and personal care products. Here, we make an assessment of ingredients, so you can make informed choices about the products you buy.

Today, we’re looking at potassium sorbate. It’s a natural preservative with a wide variety of uses.

What is potassium sorbate?

Potassium sorbate is a salt of sorbic acid. It’s a natural organic compound found in the berries of the mountain ash. It acts as a preservative in foods, drinks, dietary supplements, personal care products, and cosmetics.

Potassium sorbate comes in two forms. It occurs naturally in certain fruits, and can also be nature identical. Nature identical is chemically the same as the version found in nature, but is made in a factory. Commercially available potassium sorbate is mostly of the nature identical kind.

potassium sorbate chemical

What is potassium sorbate used for?

Potassium sorbate prevents the growth of moulds and yeasts in foods like jams, cakes, cheeses, maple syrup, and dried meats. It increases the shelf life of herbal dietary supplements and is a wine stabiliser. In addition, the milkshakes you get at fast food chains usually contain potassium sorbate as a preservative.

Manufacturers add potassium sorbate as a preservative to many personal care and beauty products. It helps prevent the growth of bacteria and mould.

You’ve probably heard that contaminated makeup can cause infections. This is why makeup has a shelf life. It’s also why you should throw out your mascara after three months. Even if makeup doesn’t have visible mould growth, it may already be contaminated with harmful germs.

This is because many cosmetics and personal care products contain water that can become breeding ground for bacteria. A preservative prevents this from happening and helps ensure that these products stay safe to use.

Is potassium sorbate safe?

Scientists began chemically synthesising potassium sorbate in the early 1900s. It first became a food preservative in the ‘40s. Because it’s been around for years, scientists have heavily tested it for safety. Studies indicate that potassium sorbate has almost the same toxicity as table salt. When it’s used in the recommended dilutions, it is non-sensitising and non-irritating.

EWG gives potassium sorbate a score of three and reported that its overall hazard rating is low. Additionally, it doesn’t persist in the environment and doesn’t become concentrated in the bodies of living things. The main problem with the chemical is that, in its pure form, it is a skin and respiratory irritant.

The Centre for Science in the Public Interest labels potassium sorbate as safe. So does the US Food & Drug Administration and the Natural Products Association. A study in the Journal of the American College of Toxicology found the natural preservative safe as a cosmetic ingredient.

Potassium sorbate is EcoCert compliant and is found in the Handbook of Green Chemicals. Also, Australian Certified Organic (ACO) approves its use in organic skincare products.

Problems with Optical Brighteners (And What You Can Do About It)

optical brighteners problems

optical brighteners problems

Many laundry detergents promise to make your white clothes whiter than white. How do they do this? Using chemicals called optical brighteners.

What are optical brighteners?

Optical brighteners are chemicals that absorb ultraviolet light and reflect back blue light. This helps to hide the normal yellowing of white clothes, and makes them appear whiter and more vibrant. Optical brighteners add chemcials to your clothes, rather than removing stains from your clothes. You could call it an optical illusion.

What are optical brighteners used for?

Optical brighteners are most commonly used in laundry detergents. But they’re used for lots of other things as well. You can find optical brighteners in small amounts in products like cosmetics, cotton balls, and fabrics. Paper products, like food packaging, printer paper and toilet paper often use optical brighteners. You can find optical brighteners in just about anything that you might want to look bright white.

What’s the problem with optical brighteners?

In the 1970s, scientists studied the effects of optical brighteners on the environment, and on humans. This research showed mixed results.

Skin Allergies: One study found that contact with optical brighteners can cause an allergic reaction called contact dermatitis. The symptoms are red, itchy, irritated skin.

However, further studies on this effect were inconclusive. Researchers found no immediate danger, but they haven’t ruled it out. To confirm whether the material is completely safe or not, scientists need to do further research.

In 2002, one study found a skin reaction to optical brighteners in less than 0.7 percent of over 3,000 participants. So, a reaction may be possible, but it’s very rare. This study also had inconclusive results.

Environmental Effects: One Swedish study claimed to have found that optical brighteners cause genetic mutations in fish and plants. Later studies were unable to replicate these findings, and the results were, again, inconclusive.

We do know one thing for sure about optical brighteners: they’re not biodegradable. Bacteria can’t break down optical brighteners in the environment. Non-biodegradable materials can stick around for hundreds of years, polluting the environment and leaching toxic chemicals into the soil and water.

Optical brighteners are so commonly found in wastewater that scientists use them to detect whether bacteria is contaminating community water supplies. This water flows into rivers, streams and oceans, and into the ground, and optical brighteners go right along with it. And because they’re not biodegradable, they won’t go away.

Inconclusive Studies: Meanwhile, scientists are still conducting studies to decide if optical brighteners are safe or not. In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration sets limits on the amounts of brighteners allowed in food packaging products. The FDA cites inconclusive studies as a reason for these precautions.

How can you avoid optical brighteners?

If you’re not willing to take your chances on inconclusive studies, don’t worry. You can avoid using optical brighteners that might irritate your skin or pollute the environment.

Eco friendly Detergent: Laundry detergent is by far the most common place to find brighteners. It’s easy to find brands of laundry detergents without them though. All Hello Charlie laundry products are free of optical brighteners.

Oxygen Bleach: But what if you still want your white clothes to look whiter than white? One way is to use an oxygen based bleach. These products use no optical brighteners, and instead whiten clothes through a process called oxidation. Instead of hiding stains with an optical illusion, oxidation actually changes the color of the fabric, making it whiter.

Household Whiteners: Hydrogen peroxide can also whiten clothes through the process of oxidation. Most homes have some hydrogen peroxide. If not, you can find it at the supermarket. Many people also swear by lemon juice, baking soda and vinegar. Just add half a cup of any of these ingredients to your laundry to help keep your white clothes white.

Sun Bleaching: Another way to naturally whiten your clothes is to do what your grandmother used to do: hang them out to dry. Before the invention of modern bleach and laundry detergent, people used sun bleaching to brighten white clothes. It also helps to conserve energy by avoiding the dryer.

Image source: Depositphoto