Saturday, April 24, 2010

Defining your product by what's NOT in it!

This is not my dog walking around the house with a conditioner bar in her mouth! 

I have a little thing I call my Trifecta of ARGH! When I'm on a webpage and it mentions that their products are "chemical free" or natural or they make an outrageous promise, I shut it down because I know it'll make me really annoyed. (I should clarify - when I say natural, I mean "all natural" as in no preservatives in water based products, which we know is dangerous!)

To enjoy your own screaming moment, I encourage you to click here to see the Kosmea Eighth Natural Wonder serum. It's not so much the serum that bothers me - although at $70 for 120 ml, it better make me look like I'm 12 again! - but the copy at the bottom of the page.

Here are their claims...
  • Kosmea Organic Body Care uses NO mineral oils
  • Kosmea Organic Body Care uses NO artificial colours
  • Kosmea Organic Body Care uses NO petrochemicals
  • Kosmea Organic Body Care uses NO artificial fragrances
  • Kosmea Organic Body Care  uses NO sodium lauryl sulphate
  • Kosmea Organic Body Care uses NO animal derived ingredients
There's no ingredient list so I can't tell you what they actually include for your $70. I know they don't use synthetic paraben preservatives - they use all natural GSE as a preservative, which we know only preserves thanks to the preservatives in the GSE. And apparently they don't use mineral oil or sodium lauryl sulphate (although why you'd use SLS in a leave on product I don't know!). And they don't use animal derived proteins - why would you bother when there are so many lovely vegetable derived proteins (oat, wheat, soy, corn, and so on)? Why are they telling us so much about what they don't use and very little about what they do? (The ingredient list on their home page comes up as a "line error" so I can only see it for a few seconds, but it looks like a very thin lotion filled with all kinds of extracts. It could be very nice...I'm more worried about the advertising than the product. Blame the podcasts for "Age of Persuasion" for this post!)

They're using every buzz word possible to define themselves as green or natural or whatever else is popular or scary this week. In this case, they're using those buzz words to tell you what they're not!

In the spirit of Kosmea Organic Body care, Swiftcraftymonkey's Awesome Natural, Organic, and Green Products promises you that we...

don't allow child molesters to mix or package our lotions or creams
don't allow our dog to lick every conditioner bar before we package it for you
don't bake day old bread into croutons and use those as exfoliants in our emulsified scrubs
don't use cyanide as a allantoin substitute
do use locally sourced, biodegradable, renewable resources, like our lovely baby seal pelt towels
do bless each product as it is poured or packaged by singing "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts" accompanied by some bawdy hand gestures
don't test on animals, unless you count that time Blondie ate that shea butter lotion bar (she was fine)

This reminds me of the Mr. Show grocery store wars sketch (one of my favourites)! "Our stores aren't constantly on fire!" Now that's a slogan you can trust!


Anonymous said...

Lol, SO funny. But it looks like your dog has a cob of corn in his mouth, not a conditioner bar! ;-)

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

She never steals the conditioner bars and hides them under the couch or in the pillows of our bed! (That's why it's a cob of corn. I don't make a guarantee about her not stealing corn.)

Hillary said...

My favorite brand is "100% Pure."

From their website (

Why not thickeners and emulsifiers?
Because those are just cheap fillers. 100% Pure products are never diluted with water, alcohol, thickeners, emulsifiers or any other “fillers”. Instead, 100% Pure products are totally concentrated, which means they are most effective.

Ummmm WHAT? How can a lotion exist without an emulsifier? Turns out they just call them "waxes." And instead of water, they use hydrosols. Ridiculously misleading!! ARG!

Anonymous said...

I don't know about this one. A lot of people who jump on the natural bandwagon do it SOLELY because they heard "XYZ ingredient gives you cancer". So what better way to advertise to those peopel than to say that your product doesn't include any of those "scary ingredinets". The type of people that they're marketing to are not informed about the real efficacy of certain ingredients and don't seem to care, they just want to know if the product doesn't contain "cones" or "proteins" because they're "protein sensitive". Or whether it doesn't contain "glycerine" because it makes their hair frizz or "waxes" because all waxes give them buildup.

Look at longhaircommunity for example, I love that forum, but I see MORE LHCers ask whether a product does not contain something (cones, waxes, glycerine, aloe, proteins, ect) than what it DOES contain.

Ecoscentric said...

You crack me up, Susan, I'm so with you :)

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Hillary. Thanks for bringing me a trifecta of ARGH website to read this morning!

Oh yes, e-wax, cetyl alcohol, and stearic acid are all cheap fillers that have no place in our lotions. It's our sneaky way of saving money by putting those ingredients into our lotions so we don't have to spend money on oils and butters! How do you make an emulsion without an emulsifier? You can mix it really really really well and pray...but I don't think that's a good business plan. (I'm wondering if the organic and natural waxes listed are the emulsifiers?)

And how do we get strawberry essential oil - no, wait, we're using strawberry flavour. Do you think that's 100% pure?

Interestingly, they are using honeysuckle extract as a preservative,an ingredient that contains natural parabens. Since parabens are such a big no-no with the purists, I find it fascinating they'd use this ingredient. (Having said this, the purists are trying really hard to define the parabens found in natural products as not being synthetic parabens. I'm not getting into this debate, I just find it interesting.)

Have to close this site down - my husband's trying to sleep, and he's having trouble with all my yelling!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Anonymous. Personally I think it's a terrible way to choose a product - what doesn't it have? If you're looking for a conditioner, better to look for one that has cetrimonium chloride, oat protein, and so on so you know what you're getting, rather than choosing one based on what you think you don't want. If you're choosing your conditioners (for instance) solely based on what they don't include, you're bound to choose something that isn't that great!

I think the problem is that we don't know our ingredients. We hear that something is bad for us, so we avoid it, instead of learning what is good for our skin or hair type and seeking it out.

How can someone be protein sensitive? Do they mean that proteins mess with their hair - because they're likely using the wrong one, like my hair and silk - or they are not able to use proteins in or on their bodies at all?

I have to admit I'm a little mystified by what some of the LHC people avoid. Silicones are awesome for most hair types and definitely make your hair feel more conditioned, reduce static charge (which reduces fly-away), and reduces friction, which reduces damage big time. Proteins are incredible film formers if they are high molecular weight or great moisturizers at low molecular weights. Glycerin is a fantastic humectant for dry or normal hair types. Waxes can be very good for very dry hair to trap in moisture. Panthenol does not cause build up of any sort. (BTMS does not create a waxy build up on your hair either, unless you're going no shampoo because you're never removing the styling products and conditioners with surfactants!) And aloe? I'm not sure why you'd avoid that for your hair!

I would love to hear from some people in this community because I can't find this information in the forum and I'm mystified!

Lissa said...

Screaming with laughter - love your post on Au'Natural products. I'm so over the "i only use natural products .... blah, blah, blah". Now i just say "Toxicodendron diversilobum (Poison Oak) is very natural- you gonna rub that on your face?" Nuf said.... use what works for your skin.
Happy Monday!

Lissa said...

Forgot to ask if I can lift your copy for my next Ad? LOL

"don't allow child molesters to mix or package our lotions or creams

don't allow our dog to lick every conditioner bar before we package it for you

don't bake day old bread into croutons and use those as exfoliants in our emulsified scrubs

don't use cyanide as a allantoin substitute

do use locally sourced, biodegradable, renewable resources, like our lovely baby seal pelt towels
do bless each product as it is poured or packaged by singing "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts" accompanied by some bawdy hand gestures

don't test on animals, unless you count that time Blondie ate that shea butter lotion bar (she was fine)"

I almost lost my coffee this am reading this

Anonymous said...

I don't claim to speak for all of LHC, but since I've been there for about 3 years, maybe I can answer some of the questions you posed?

The silicons issue is mostly for those who don't use shampoo to wash their hair. They don't want to use a "cone" conditioner because it would build up on them and not be "cleansed" by the conditioner they are using as a very mild cleanser in a Curly Girl hair routine or a modified CG.

Those of us who use shampoo to cleanse our hair don't have a problem using cones because they wash out.

waxes are the same theory as the cones. If you are CG then you want to avoid build up.

All of the humectant (aloe, glycerin for example) avoidance is for those who live in dry climates where the humectant works against you instead of for you. Since it will grab water from either the air or your hair. Some people only avoid them during the winter when it's more dry in their area. and some are allergic to those things and wish to avoid them.

As for proteins, well, some people have had violent reactions to their hair if it got "over proteined" it dries it out and tangles it like nobodies business. And one would then assume, by only personal experiences to go by, that, protein as a whole, was the culprit.

Since only a very few people on the LHC are chemists or anything like it, one would view it only as the higher level, rather than the molecular. so, to them, a protein would be a protein. And frankly, if you've ever had one mess your hair up, you'd avoid them like the plague too. However, since finding this blog, and having had chemistry in college, I'm able to acknowledge that all proteins are not alike. And therefore, I just need to see which one would work for me.

but to be very fair to the people at LHC, they try very hard to figure out what works and doesn't work for their hair. And most people can't read chemistry analysis of things at a molecular level. Therefore, they are simply trying to do their best to figure out what works and what doesn't. And most words on the back of the bottle are a bit daunting for most people.

I'm not sure how articulately I have answered your mystification of the LHC, but I hope it helps.

I think the LHC could really use you Susan to help people understand what and more importantly WHY things do and don't work. And to that end, I started a thread telling people about your blog. But I do have to tell you, that even though I have some chemistry sometimes I have to think through some of the things you say and let is sink in.

Again, please don't count me as "speaking for the LHC" I'm just sharing some of the reasons I've heard.

Hope this helps. :)

Gracie said...

Great post! I, too, am irked out of my gourd by the "all natural" claims that usually go hand in hand with some snake oil promise.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Lissa! Did you know that thousands of people die from using dihydrogen monoxide every year? Too much can kill you. Too little can kill you. We have to ban this evil chemical now!

By all means use my copy for your next ad, although I think you'll have to insert your own song of blessing in there (I like "Flight of Icarus" by Iron Maiden or the odd Christmas carol as well.)

Hi Anonymous. This is why I'm such a big fan of knowing your ingredients! I have below my waist length, frizzy, coarse hair and it hates silk, but loves oat protein. Aloe isn't really a humectant in the amounts you'd find in commercial products - you'd need it around 10% and I would be surprised if they used 5%!

I get where the LHC people are coming from: I started making my own products when I couldn't find things for oily hair. I have had my share of bad hair days, and I have had more than my share of frustration. For years I thought I needed a ton of conditioner for my hair - now that I've switched to very little, my hair feels much nicer!

If someone hears from somewhere that so-and-so is bad for your hair and lives by it, you're missing out on a ton of other great ingredients! I know there's the whole "Pantene builds upon your hair" thing, which simply isn't true. L'Oreal is building an entire line based the concept of sulfates equal bad - the Everstrong line - and my local supplier has eliminated Bioterge 804 because people are fussing about sulfates. Yes, SLS isn't a great detergent - it's very harsh on our skin - but the others are very mild and kind to skin and hair.

I'd be happy to join the LHC - I'm sure I'd learn something! - but it won't let me because the image is wrong. But there's no image!

Anonymous said...


Again, not speaking for the LHC, just having hung around for 3 years.

I have to say it's much easier said than done to understand the ingredients list. :) People that follow your blog are mostly predisposed to make their own products and therefore think on a more ingredient specific way. A person who has only ever bought commercial products, sadly, doesn't have the luxury of being able to find something custom made to their hair. Often, you learn as many ingredients as you can, as you become aware of them. Which actually the LHC, by highlighting things like cones and such, has attempted to do. In fact, thanks to the the LHC I started reading the backs of the bottles instead of just the fronts. LOL

After I decided I'd had enough of all the stuff that didn't help my hair, I wandered into the DIY of hair products. But it's been quite the learning curve for me. I had just enough Chemistry to know there was a why for each thing, but not enough to be able, without a lot of studying, to figure it all out.

Your blog has been a Godsend with all it's information and explanations. I finally have the why's of things.

In the past I was pursuing moisture for my hair because the length was dry. Not an unreasonable assumption, but incorrect nonetheless. And frankly, I had bought at least 30 different conditioners trying to solve the problem. After, talking to you, I realized I had been chasing the wrong thing.

About the Pantene. The people at the LHC have discussed it at length, of course, and there are those, by experience who love it and others by experience who hate it. And actually, most of us have discovered that it's been largely hair dressers that spread the myth about Pantene. In my own experience, I was warned by more than one hair stylist to stay far away from Pantene. I guess because it would prohibit their sales of the expensive salon care stuff???

We had a thread on the LHC about "dihydrogen monoxide" and how you have to be careful to not listen to alarmists, because you can make anything, even water, sound horrible. Most of the people who don't like SLS types of shampoo, is again experiential, because it is too drying to their hair. But there are just as many on there that SLS/SLeS works great for.

I think the protein thing is an easy example of how a person gets the wrong idea. I had a horrible experience with a protein. You know the typical fried hair feeling and knots that takes a week to make your hair feel normal again? Anyway, since I didn't know what had happened I went on LHC and gave the ingredients that were in the conditioner. Since that is a typical response to hair that doesn't like that particular protein, someone quickly suggested that my hair probably didn't like protein. A reasonable assumption IF you don't know that not all protein is created equal. Of course, from there I looked for protein free conditioners... but that created another problem. My hair didn't like a no protein routine. Next assumption, my hair likes "light proteins" meaning farther down on the list. So, then I looked for that. So you can see how easy it is to be "reading the ingredients" but making some wrong assumptions if Chemistry is not applied to the specific situation. And frankly, before your blog, even if I looked up the ingredients, the way it was explained did not always seem comprehensible to me.

Very strange about you not being able to get on LHC.... If you'd like I'll send your email to a moderator and they could help you through the process? Let me know. :)

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Anonymous. I hope I'm not coming across as bashing LHC - I am a little mystified by what most people avoid in hair care and skin care products in general. I understand it's not easy to know your ingredients, but if it's so important to someone to avoid x or y, I would hope they would take some time to learn why x or y might not work for them.

And don't get me started on the people who somehow think they don't have time to learn but have time to spread it all over the 'net, put bad information on their sites, or argue it on forums then flounce away!

I get e-mails all the time from people looking to help with frizzies (for example) but they refuse to use silicones. They want alternatives to silicones. But there really aren't any identical alternatives that will do everything a silicone will, and there's no convincing them to try the silicones because someone said something somewhere and now they avoid them. (There are people who avoid silicones for cogent reasons - I'm not referring to them.)

Bath and body products are complicated things, and it's really hard to isolate why something didn't work for my hair or skin type without doing a little research. And who knows how much of something is in a product? Take, for example, aloe vera. I know some people avoid it for hair because it's a humectant and could increase moisture, but it's also a film former and great anti-inflammatory for our scalps. But this is probably irrelevant for commercial products because they aren't using enough to make an impact on your hair! So the point is kinda moot...

If you're only looking for what's not in a product, you'll miss what's in it. How much conditioning is in this conditioner? What conditioning agent(s) are they using? Is the protein before or after the preservative or fragrance amount (which means it's less than 1% in the product)? Does this contain silicones?

I think of all the people spending a fortune on something like the Wen Cleansing Conditioner ($28 at least) when you could use something like Neutrogena Triple Moisturizing Conditioner for almost 1/5 the price if you compare the ingredients (which actually looks a lot more conditioning than the Wen product).

The surfactants seem to be a hot topic of conversation lately, especially sulfates. SLS and SLeS aren't the same thing - SLeS is very mild and suitable for most hair types. This is a common misperception and I understand it completely. I mean there's SLS, SLSa, SLeS, SLES, and so on, and it's hard to keep them straight!

I'm not an expert on hair, skin, or products - I'm just a blogger who likes making her own products and shares what I learn or know - and I do make mistakes (and I'm always grateful when I'm called on them!). I don't think it's a difficult thing to learn how things work if one wants to take the time to do it. Yeah, I'm obsessed so I spend a lot of time on this topic, but there are plenty of websites out there for people to learn about myth vs. fact and what things do for our skin or hair.

I get that chemistry might not be in everyone's educational background, but there are sites that explain it in a way that's easy to understand (I strive for that, but I do love my chemistry so much I might get a little over-enthusiastic at times!) My hope that is that I'm offering just enough chemistry to make it interesting and understandable - and perhaps you'll want to take a chemistry class somewhere!

Anonymous said...


Forgive me if I sounded like I thought you were being critical of the LHC. I didn't mean it that way. I enjoy your blog and it has helped immeasurably in my understanding of ALL the ingredients in things.

And thanks to you, I'll be able to make my own conditioner and other things.

I was only hoping to give you a glimpse into the other side. And to let you know, that not everyone could pass a chemistry class if they did try to take it. :)

Nancy Liedel said...

My husky does not steal corn. That she steals roasts, is not germane to my product packaging and labeling. Just that she does not steal corn. Which is the same thing you said, only with my pretty princess involved. My princess who rues the day we started watching, Do Whisperer, back on topic.

I detest fear based sales of any kind and refuse to play into it. If a company starts defining itself as not using parabens in something that does not need preservation, I'm done. Of course a mmu company does not use gluten. There is no need for it in mineral makeup. I've seen several of those and shiver in grumpiness, every time. Yet, recent studies show fear in sales is effective. I will never understand how that's better than being honest?

dandlion said...

Wow, I know this post is old, but this blog is so uber- on point! I felt I was like 1 in a million, but obviously I'm not. Well, I can say that I have a niche clientele base that insists on no corn and no soy. Also, I cater to vegans, and all my agricultural inputs are certified organically grown.

The evil of the scaremongers actually got me into making my own recipes. I wanted "100% organic" everything! when I learned that is impossible, I got as close as possible, and got great feedback and enjoy making the items, AND telling people why it's impossible and why companies BS!

The last few wks, I've been referring people to your blog for exactly these reasons. Please ck my site, especially the blog and twitter. I am very vocal about "organic" fakers! But, I only do it to draw comparison to the reality of the situation. Like you said, people simply need to commit to spending enough time to get to the point where they feel empowered with an understanding with what they buy and use.

Great blog, keep it up!!!!!!

Sophia1105 said...

Late here, but very interesting and entertaining posts.

Misinformation in our age of (ueber-)information is the nature of the beast. It can be a tough balance to remain open minded yet skeptical enough to prevent buying into another scam that leaves you worse for the wear.

I appreciate all that you've shed light on, definitely helped me siphon out some of my former-favorite brands because they claimed to be "preservative free" yet sell a water-based product. (among the mass of information I have obtained from your site).

As someone who is on something of a white-rice program of the skincare/haircare world, there are ingredients I have found, that over time, accumulate on my skin and hair can cause problems *for me*. I know my vehement avoidance of such ingredients comes more from ignorant, pushy sales staff and the desire to not wake up yet another morning with either a rash or bout of flaming acne. I become very frustrated when I personally take time to inform myself, experiment on what works, only to have all of that ignored when I decide to browse through some products.

Thanks for all your info, esp these rants.

Storm Crow said...

ROFL! Oh god I haven't laughed so hard in ages!

drankid said...

i damn near pee'd myself reading this.

Tsquare said...

Oh lord! That is some funny stuff! Highlight of my day :)