The Whole Foods Unacceptable Ingredient List is Wholly Unacceptable

This post will explore acids that are found on Whole Foods’ premium body standards list. For those that didn’t catch last week’s post, the idea behind this series started with this Whole Foods ingredient list post. I’d also like to elaborate a bit further on the purpose of writing these posts. Many formulators are faced with making products “Whole Foods Acceptable”. I hope to provide some good advice on how to get around these restrictions without compromising the quality of your formulations. A good example from the previous article is to simply switch out which oil or fat chain your betaines are made with to get around the restrictions.
whole food ingredients cosmetic

The following products are unacceptable for whole foods:

  • AHAs
  • alpha hydroxy acids
  • glycolic acid
  • lactic acid
  • salicylic acid

Above are the AHAs, and these I’ll classify as “other” acids:

  • kojic acid
  • myristic acid
  • PABA (Para-Aminobenzoic Acid)
  • Para-Aminobenzoic Acid (see PABA)
  • phenylbenzimidazole‐5‐sulfonic acid
  • Thiotic acid

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

Let’s start with the AHAs. First, is there a need to have a separate entry for the acronym and then spell it out? And who is putting AHA as an ingredient on their label? Perhaps this is an attempt to also thwart marketing companies to put it as marketing language on the front of the bottle. Now, let’s get to the fun part. OK, you are banning all AHAs, but *especially* don’t use the AHAs called out individually. That would really be terrible. It occurs to me that citric acid is an AHA, but not called out specifically as an unacceptable ingredient. Is that OK to use? Looking at their own products on their website I guess so…

365 Foaming Herbal Hand Soap.

Yes, I know they are just using it as a pH adjustment, but unacceptable is unacceptable (or is it?). The moral of the story is, go ahead and continue using citric as your pH adjustment. If anyone gives you grief, show them the link. That’s not the only product they have with citric acid, either. I found ten 365 Everyday branded products launched within the last four years with citric acid. My next trip to Whole Foods I’ll see how many are still on the shelf but guessing it’s more than just a few. 

Kojic Acid

They made several skin lightening ingredients unacceptable along with kojic acid, but they didn’t get good old vitamin C, so go ahead and use that.

Myristic Acid

There must be something magically horrible about 14 carbon molecules, because they sure made a lot of things with the “myrist” prefix unacceptable. Feel free to use the 12, 16, or 18 carbon varieties instead. They are fine. That would be lauric, palmitic, or stearic acid for the new chemists out there.


I don’t know why this needs to be on the list. According to GNPD, there have been exactly zero personal care products with PABA launched in the US since 1996 (as far as their database goes back). The industry formulated away from PABA as a sunscreen in the 80’s. Just to be sure, Whole Foods is all over it. We might want to bring it back and they’ll have none of that, by golly.

Phenylbenzimidazole‐5‐Sulfonic Acid

Also known as ensulizole, this is another sunscreen ingredient. This is a lot less common than some other sunscreens, but it is still used. They made a lot of other sunscreens unacceptable and I’ll probably cover in a later post. The short answer is if you want to do a sunscreen for Whole Foods use the inorganic sunscreens; titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. And I thought Whole Foods products were supposed to be“organic”… It also should be noted that their nomenclature for this ingredient is wrong. Phenylbenzimidazole‐5‐sulfonic acid is neither a proper INCI nor chemical name for the molecule I’m assuming they refer to. It’s either phenylbenzimidazole sulfonic acid, ensulizole, 2-phenyl-5-sulfobenzimidazole, or 2-phenylbenzimidazole-5-sulfonic acid depending on where you are referring to the molecule.

Thiotic Acid

I saved the funniest one for last. There is no such word or chemical. A simple Google search would have alerted them to their folly (Did you mean thioctic acid?). I knew the compiling of this list lacked rigor, and here’s another example. There were a few more examples in my previous post. And for those curious, thioctic acid is also known as α-lipoic acid. It is an antioxidant. It’s also found in a lot of the food you eat, but heaven forbid if you put it *on* your body.


This may start to sound repetitive after several posts, but what were the actual criteria they used to make an ingredient unacceptable? It is not readily apparent. Is it based on the safety of the chemical itself? Seems not to be the case because I can still use hydrochloric acid if I want to adjust pH, but not citric acid (wait, or can I?). Is it environmental impact? Myristic acid is bad at 14 carbons, but if I just take two away and use lauric acid or add two and use palmitic acid they are fine. This is a simplistic view, but you wouldn’t figure environmental impact spikes at 14 carbons…or health risk. I really think it’s something else. I already have my guess, and as I dig further into the list I think it will become a lot more apparent for everyone. Someone suggested to Perry that we ask them, so I did. Stay tuned and I’ll share any answers I get.

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