Saturday, March 15, 2014

Weekend Wonderings: How do I research ingredients and make decisions about what ingredients to use?

In this post, Newbie links, Shawna asks: Is there a post on how/why you started making your own beauty products? If not I was just curious as to what started your journey. Just because... or did you want control over the ingredients in your skin care? I've noticed that you include some ingredients that are included in 'naughty/bad' lists out there. (As a newbie I have no idea what's hype and what's good information.) You seem to be well informed, educated, and logical, how do you decide/learn what products are safe to include? So overwhelmed and frustrated by all the contradicting views!

I find almost all of us start out on this journey of making our own bath and body products wanting to make something more natural, and a lot of us change our minds when we see that we can't get the skin feel we want using the narrow field of ingredients available with the descriptor "natural" attached to them. I didn't really get into it because I wanted to control the ingredients; I got into it because I wanted to control the product. I couldn't find a good greasy hair shampoo anywhere I went, so I had to make my own. I started off with a good recipe from the Dish forum and tinkered from there.

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while knows that I have no idea what natural means and it frustrates me. Is stearic acid natural? It's found in our butters and oils as well as our own bodies. What about citric acid? It's found in our bodies as well as fruits and vegetables. What about glycerin? I'm seeing this one demonized, yet we find this in our body, in all our oils and butters, and as a by-product of soap making. What the heck could be more natural? Yet people shun these ingredients because they perceive they aren't. So I've given up on trying to find some kind of definition of natural...

I don't frequent sites like EWG, Skin Deep, The Suzuki Foundation, and so on because their opinions are rarely based on current studies or data. When I want information, I turn to the EBSCO search at my school or the library to find studies, or turn to my textbooks. I feel very comfortable using these peer reviewed resources to make decisions about what I'll use.

It's hard to avoid the hype, but I have a few rules about it. If someone uses the word "non-toxic" - run! They're implying everything else is toxic! If they use the words "chemical free" - run again! Everything on the earth is a chemical, so they have a very poor understanding of the topic. If they make claims to cure something, run away. And be cautious about the term "derived from..." because everything is derived from something, but it says nothing about the process or how far from the original ingredient it might be. (And I find natural products are filled with that term, but they really aren't that different from the "non-natural" products. Seriously. Go look at some labels...)

I was listening to CBC recently and an oncologist commented that we are so worried with not getting cancer that we obsess over minutiae and forget the big stuff like eating right, exercising, not smoking, getting enough sleep, maintaining a good body weight, and so on. I think of this when I think of our use of alcohol. There's a link between alcohol consumption and some cancers, but you don't see huge warning labels on the bottles or in the bathrooms of pubs. I don't understand how we can ignore something that has serious data behind it like this link, but we worry about parabens, the fear of which is based on one so-called study that has been discredited repeatedly. (Click here for more on that...) I'm not saying people shouldn't drink, but I don't understand how we can have a glass of wine with reckless abandon yet stress out about the possibility there might be propylene glycol in a lotion. 

As an aside, did you know that parabens occur naturally in various plants, including Japanese honeysuckle? If you see this listed on your product, be aware that it's a paraben! Not that we're scared of parabens, right?

But here's the great thing about making our own products - you can make whatever choices you want based on any reasons you want. If you want to avoid any oil costing more than $10 a litre, leave it out! If you want to avoid something because it doesn't seem natural to you, leave it out! If you want to include the most man made products ever, then do it! It's up to you. All I hope is that you're making those decisions based on your own thoughts after doing your own reading!

If you want to know more about my background, click here! It's an exciting read filled with pirates, monkeys, and advice on how to take a chemistry class! And if you're interested in learning more about researching ingredients, click here! 


Aljonor said...

Hey Susan:
I remember when I started to make products; it was to make a product for me and to see how to create it. As I was surfing other sites, I become scared and wanted to go green. I spent so much money changing my ingredients only to realize that natural products are not consistent; which means the weather can change the natural product and you are not guarantee the same results within you total product when you needed to make another batch. 100% natural? I don't know about that anymore. I know that people are concerned and that is understandable. But I think, when you do your research and view your percentage amount you will see that we apply less on your body.

Anonymous said...

I agree 100% with Susan, people are so worried about ingredients on a lotion and they don't care about so many harmful ingredients they put into their body many times a day that causes cancer way more than what goes on our skin.

Dharma Davies said...

I'm new to this blog, and so happy I've found a community of people who share my views. The is a *lot* of misinformation about ingredients of all sorts, in our beauty and personal care products, as well as our food. Each of us has a responsibility to educate ourselves and make decisions based on truth, not fear mongering by ill-informed "experts".

I recently read a review for some pre-waxed strips (the kind you use to remove hair). The reviewer said that these strips are bad! They're made from plastic! Like the kind in grocery bags! Putting them on your skin will cause serious medical issues! These should not be sold because they are dangerous! I had to laugh. I'm picturing someone in a hazmat suit carrying home her groceries for fear of coming into contact with the dangerous plastic bags. It's not a laughing matter, though, that there are people who will read her review and buy into the craziness.

Thanks you, Susan, for providing this bastion of common sense and for promoting personal responsibility in educated decision making.