Sunday, August 21, 2011

Question: Are the ingredients I mention on this blog safe to use in beauty products?

Anonymous wrote in this post: Are phosphate esters derived from chemical or organic? Are they safe in beauty products?

As there are really two questions here, let's take a look at each one. The quick answers are no, and yes.

From the post: Phosphate esters are a category of anionic surfactants that include alkyl phosphates and alkyl ether phosphates. We don't use phosphate esters in our bath & body products much as they are generally used in household cleaning products due to their low pH. They are very mild to the skin and might show up in facial or body cleansing products.

To answer the first question - phosphate esters, along with everything in the world, is a chemical. It is composed of elements, and is therefore a chemical. Technically, because it contains carbon, it is considered an organic chemical.

But I don't think this is what you mean. I think what you mean is it is organic in the sense of being "certified organic", and my answer would be no. I wouldn't consider any surfactants as being organic because of all the processing they go through with various other ingredients, but I think there are some that might qualify under some standards (I don't know about these standards as it isn't something I've researched, but you can do a search online to see if you can find some information.)

As for the question about safety - yes, they are considered safe by the Cosmetic Ingredients Review by their standards.

I'm asked this question regularly - is this or that ingredient safe? - and I have two answers for you. Check the "safe as used" list from the Cosmetics Ingredients Review (link above) and see if it is and at what level. If it's safe as used, this means that a reputable body somewhere did a study and found it was safe or not unsafe.

The second part of this answer is this - I use the ingredients I write about on this blog. I use them on my mom, my husband, my dog (sometimes), my best friend, people I know, the kids in my youth group, and me. If I thought they were unsafe, would I let the people I care about use these products? If I thought they were unsafe, would I suggest that you, my wonderful readers, try them on the people you love?

I know we read all the time about the horrors of "toxic chemicals", "chemicals", toxins, and so on, but always question your source and why they're saying something is bad or good for you. I know that science can't explain everything, but we do know that neither GSE (grapefruit seed extract) nor love are preservatives and there is no evidence that SLS (sodium lauryl sulphate) causes cancer, for instance. (We don't know about 85% of the bacteria that is found in our intestines or every chemical found in garlic, two things I find fascinating!)

These are my sources, in case you're curious...The Handbook of Cosmetic Science & Technology (3rd edition), Chemistry for Pharmacy Students, Surfactants in Personal Care and Decorative Cosmetics, Poucher's Perfumes, Cosmetics & Soaps (10th edition), as well as Beginning Cosmetic Chemistry and Surfactants. I refer to the web (scholar or books) for more information, and use Ebsco and the search engine at the university and library. I also refer to the manufacturer's data bulletins. I supplement my research with visits to various cosmetic science sites.

I don't consider writing a blog post about something unless I've found the information confirmed in at least two reputable sources. If I'm wrong, I admit it and correct the blog post.

I feel that I do my homework before I write about an ingredient, and I like to know everything I can about it before I even consider a blog post. I like to experiment with the ingredients - although some are too expensive or too obscure for me to source - and I like to give you my opinion (which you can take or leave as you wish!).

Here's a past rant about defining your products by what's not in it and a post on how to research ingredients, which is less ranty.

Would I use phosphate esters in my products? Sure, if I could find them to buy, but I haven't been able to source them anywhere. I would want to raise the pH to a decent level, though.

Join me tomorrow for more questions!


magoo said...

I totally agree with you. There is a lot of people out there making crappy cosmetics products under the "all natural" label. I think excellent formulations can be made with both worlds ingredients, chemical and natural.

Cordy said...

Hi Susan,

I get what you're saying (and would tend to agree with you that there's a lot of "greenwashing" out there, or pseudo-science) but I have a question:

The website you linked to is funded by cosmetics companies*. Now, that may not mean that there's a conflict of interest there, BUT, and for me this is a pretty big "but", what do you do when a place like contradicts information on, say, the Skin Deep database?

Sometimes the EWG data can seem overblown ("In rat studies, this ingredient did bad things when the rats were forced to eat hundreds of pounds of it!") but on the other hand, to be honest, takes a very "there can be no possible downside" approach... and is funded by people who want me to buy their products, which isn't the case for SkinDeep.

So what's your approach here?


*From their "about us" page: is an information Web site that includes factual, scientific information on ingredients most commonly used in cosmetics and personal care products in the United States. The Personal Care Products Council (the Council) and its member companies sponsor this Web site to provide consumers with easily accessible comprehensive safety information on cosmetics and personal care products and to help consumers make informed purchases.

Mychelle said...

I know, the "safe" question can be a challenge. My family has finally abandoned the idea that they shouldn't use it if they can't pronounce the ingredients - I beat this by reading off the proper INCI names for olive oil and shea butter and asking if the knew what they were. Now they call me from the store to read off ingredient lists and ask if they should purchase the product. It's a step forward.

Araseth said...

I wish people would stop using the word chemical when they mean synthetic. Good post.

Birgit said...

Which ingredients you would have wanted to use, but didn't because of their environmental or long term health impact? I know you mostly use mild surfactants and only biodegradable exfoliants (so no microbeads), but I'm wondering if there's something that sounds like a good idea yet is not safe (and I'm not talking about crazy home remedies but actual cosmetic ingredients when used correctly at recommended levels)? So what I'm asking is, in your opinion, which ingredients that are out there should actually not be used by big companies or home crafters? I am aware of your policy of not preaching people (except for preservatives), and having people decide themselves on the ingredients they choose to use, so I just would be interested in your personal opinion(and because I know how much research goes to your opinions, I think it's very relevant).