All ingredients are bad.

The more research I do the longer the list of “evil” ingredients I find. This guidance was published by University of California (“reputable source”).

This isn’t about cosmetic chemistry specifically, but there’s an ingredient overlap.

D-limonene is naturally occurring... are concentrations used significantly higher than what you could be exposed to while peeling an orange? Why is it an ingredient to “avoid” besides irritation/allergies? In this context I almost feel like it can be thought to cause cancer, does it?

Quaternary ammonium compounds. Bye bye conditioners? It only talks about Benzalkonium Chloride in the example, but is the concern growing bacterial resistance as with triclosan?

Bleach. A friend did his PhD on the impact of bleach in waste water and how it increases the chances of recombinant bacteria from free plasmids in the water. Long story short, if the concentration of sodium hypochlorite is not high enough, it does not kill the bacteria but simply increases permeability of the membrane allowing for recombination. Sounds like a 1 in a trillion type of event, but fine. 

And the list goes on. That document feels alarmist to me. Should we just go back to cleaning our bodies and our house with true soap and disinfecting with alcohol?  I can see why there are so many natural brands selling “serums” that are nothing but an overpriced mix of oils and nothing else (saw one for a whopping $150).

What is interesting though is that regardless of how terrible these ingredients are, they have been in use for decades and the life expectancy is at an all time high. 

I’m from Mexico, and I just recently learned that Merthiolate wasn’t as popular everywhere else as it was there. My great grandma used that and iodine tincture for wounds and she just recently passed at 96.  I see now that Merthiolate is a Benzalkonium Chloride solution (in the US and Mexico). Of course, I will not argue that Mercury is safe to use, the point is: are all the compounds that are being vilified now going to find a similar fate? Will we look back and say, wow how blind were we? Or are we turning into hypochondriacs with a never-ending quest for immortality, regardless whether the planet can sustain the growth.


  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    I agree this list is alarmist.  Listing parabens is ridiculous. While the University of California is presumably a reliable source, you also find lots of people in academia who are easily manipulated by groups like the EWG. I don't find this information passed on by them to be reliable.
  • @Perry as a consumer, this kind of information makes me nervous. Even having the education necessary to dig deeper and read studies about those ingredients there’s always a seed of fear planted by these. 
  • I agree this sort of thing is very worrying for two main reasons:

     - It instils fear in the consumer. The consumer starts to wonder what other ingredients might be bad and starts to research them to try and educate themselves. The problem is the consumer has no way of determining reliable sources of information, so is likely being further misinformed.

     - As the consumer develops a fear of certain ingredients, this gives brands longer lists of what they want to exclude, and therefore formulators have a much shorter list of ingredients to work with, making our job far more challenging!

    The problem is a combination of articles like the above which spread fear where there is no need to do so, as well as brands themselves listing what they are "free-from" on the packaging. There are even companies out there who claim to focus on formulating using "safe, natural ingredients", when that statement itself manages to suggest that synthetic ingredients are not safe. Wording is incredibly important. Unfortunately this means our own industry is also fuelling the problem with poor wording and advertising.

    However, there are movements to re-educate the consumer. I have recently come across and followed multiple influencers on social media who aim to bust myths and educate by sharing their own scientific knowledge. However this tends to stay in the industry, so brands could really help out formulators by sharing more reliable science with consumers! We just need to publicise this reliable content to make sure this is what people see.

    One such influencer recently, and rightly, pointed out that EVERYTHING is toxic if you have a high enough dose of it. Toxicity cannot be decided by the specific ingredient, but by the dose it is used in. For example, you can drown by drinking too much water, yet we need it to survive.

    Also, people are quick to accuse ingredients in cosmetics, but they don't think about food, drugs, cleaning products, paints, chemicals used in processing to produce cars, all the building materials their houses are built from, etc...

    What a topic!
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    @klangridge - I agree with what you've said.

    One thing I think you are missing is that much of this problem originates with the beauty design. 

    Numerous brands build their entire brand around fearmongering. Drunk Elephant has nothing unique if it didn't use fear marketing to set itself apart. Credo beauty offers no special benefits once you strip away their fear mongering. 

    And now that it has been demonstrated to work, big companies are getting into the fear mongering business. L'Oreal makes it a point to avoid sulfates, parabens, etc. and they put it in advertising further misinforming consumers. 

    I think this is an inevitable result of what happens when the technology in an industry gets stale. The products we use today in cosmetics are not much different than things that were sold 20 or 30 years ago. The only thing that sells products is story. And stories that scare people are effective and will continue to be propagated.  

  • @Perry I'd never thought of it like that, actually! Brands do well based on trust, but by that logic, those which are trusted and respected by consumers but encourage fearmongering don't deserve said trust :(
  • @Perry I listened to MWSCC Preservative Webinar and it is so frustrating that instead of thinking how to make the product formulators have to think how to preserve it with these new preservatives and build your entire project around it. 
    And some of those anti parabens/silicones etc researches do sound scary. I came across this nonsense recently and almost had a heart attack. Then I turned my critical thinking on and thought, how on Earth they could isolate the use of parabens from other factors? And if even those with a good amount of critical thinking and ability to understand how the researches are conducted get doubtful, I can't blame the general public.

  • ozgirlozgirl Member, PCF student
    That original document is alarmist and if you look at the list of resources it is no wonder why (EWG!!).  Whilst there is some basis to the inclusion of many of the items on the list  it is certainly not clear what the concern is with each item leaving the reader to assume they all cause cancer / cause burns etc. 

    The oxidation products of D'limonene can cause a skin irritation reaction and sensitization (not d'limonene itself). D'limonene was used in high concentrations in many cleaning products mainly by companies trying to become more "natural" as a replacement for petroleum based solvents. There are also concerns about aquatic toxicity which is more of a concern for cleaning products that may bypass water treatment facilities.

    Quaternary ammonium compounds used in disinfectants (such as benzalkonium chloride) have been linked to occupational asthma and also have concerns about aquatic toxicity.

    The inclusion of dyes, parabens and fragrances is very much alarmist as it does not specify which particular item in these broad categories they take issue with.

  • @ozgirl I did read about occupational asthma from quaternary ammonium compounds. I suspect at the low concentrations used in household products the risk is incredibly low? I would be most concerned about bacterial resistance. I have more to read and learn about these compounds obviously.

    @Perry do you think the technology is stale because of lack of research or because we are approaching a “saturation” point? Similar to other industries: Moore’s law for computer processors, and uncanny valley for graphics. 
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    @letsalcido - No, I don't think it is necessarily stale because of a lack of research. I think technology is stale because we've run out of impactful questions. Just look at cleanser technology. We used to have soap. For centuries we didn't know why it worked, just that it did. Then people would vary the starting oils or the lye source and see what they got. But there are only so many natural oils so eventually they ran out of soap options.

    Then we figured out soap is a surfactant. And that opened up the world to liquid cleansers. We learned to vary the hydrocarbon chain lengths and the counterions. And now, we pretty much have tried them all. 

    Couple that with the fact that consumers aren't very good at noticing subtle differences, and you've got a stale industry. It's hard for me to see any amount of extra research that will fundamentally change most cosmetic product technology.

    Research now is focused on creating sustainable/natural ways to do the things we're already doing. It's not focused on finding how to do new things.

    So, maybe this is a saturation point as you suggested.
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