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Originally Published NO January/February 2010
Creating products that are natural, ethically sourced, safe, and efficacious is challenging-but rewarding. At Save Your World, we rely on experts and watchdogs like Environmental Working Group (EWG) for guidance. We also challenge our manufacturers to explain every ingredient and source. Through research, we know to avoid the following common culprits.
Phthalates, as agents that help deliver moisture and allow chemicals to absorb into the skin, also help bind fragrance in body care products. However, their side effects have been shown to include kidney, lung, and liver damage; early onset of puberty in girls; polycystic ovarian disorder; and infertility. Continued exposure can trigger miscarriages and birth defects. Studies also show that prolonged use can increase risk of asthma, allergies, and type 2 diabetes.1
Triclosan, an antimicrobial agent used to kill bacteria on the skin and other surfaces, is found in a variety of personal care products used daily: bar and liquid hand soaps and toothpaste, for example. However, it is actually no better at killing germs than regular soap and water, and long-term use has been linked to thyroid disorders. Moreover, triclosan can form toxic byproducts in tap water. Runoff into local lakes and streams is lethal to aquatic life. Despite these risks, exposure to triclosan is widespread; its presence has been detected in the blood, breast milk, and urine of more than 75% of Americans.2
Parabens typically make up a very small percentage of an overall product formula, generally ranging from 0.01% to 0.3%. FDA's official take has been to allow their use, as studies have been inconclusive about their risks. However, parabens have long been thought to have an effect on estrogenic activity and to be environmental contaminants. When combined with chlorinated tap water, paraben byproducts form unsafe water known to kill aquatic life.
Synthetic fragrance: The term fragrance might conjure images of fields of wildflowers. But did you know that the average perfume or cologne contains between 400 and 600 synthetic chemicals? Often these are musks that are used in air fresheners, fabric softeners, soaps, and lotions. Long-term use of musks can lead to hormone and reproductive disruption in women and interfere with immune function.3
Surfactant byproducts: Perhaps one of the biggest challenges in formulating natural personal care products is finding a surfactant base that contains no harsh chemicals but that is effective from a consumer perspective-which usually means that it needs to provide a nice lather. When using cheaper surfactants, the byproduct 1,4-dioxane can creep in, typically when processed with petrochemicals.
*Note: As a surfactant, the use of palm oil is expanding in the green, organic, and natural markets due to its lathering properties. However, growing demand has caused some unease. In the underdeveloped, poverty-stricken countries of Indonesia and Malaysia, which provide 86% of the world's palm oil supply4, the cultivation of this "green gold" has been an economic boon. However, the cutting down of rainforests has become commonplace as a means by which to expand plantations.
Finding a natural preservative system is complicated but worth pursuing. One alternative is the use of proper packaging (PET 1, 2, and 5) to eliminate the absorption of phthalates.5 Another is using antioxidants and pure essential oils. These ingredients do not eliminate spoilage, but they greatly slow the process. Plus, antioxidants have a positive effect on the skin, and essential oils can scent products and have aromatherapy benefits.
Common alternatives are:
Rosemary extract: Also known as rosemary oleoresin, it is perhaps the most effective antioxidant of its class.
Vitamin E (tocopherols): Perhaps the oldest and well known of all antioxidants, vitamin E is also a moisturizer. Oil soluble, it adds to the creaminess of blends while providing skin protection. There are two types: natural (d-tocopherol) and synthetic (dl-tocopherol). Only the natural version has antioxidant value, and it is what our company uses.
Grapefruit seed extract (citrus grandis and glycerin): A newcomer to the natural preservative category, this ingredient has natural antifungal properties and some antimicrobial activity-thus, it's possible that it is even more powerful than rosemary extract or vitamin E. One concern with grapefruit seed extract is that it is extracted via synthetic compounds, including methylparaben, creating a dilemma over natural sourcing.
Pure essential oils: They come in many forms, but the most effective and commonly used are lavender and sandalwood.
*Also: Requesting that a surfactant manufacturer share product test results can help ensure that your formula has no 1,4-dioxane, even in trace amounts. Avoid any surfactants processed with petroleum-based products and these ingredients: PEG, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, and polyoxynolethylene.
Finding sustainable palm oil is also of utmost importance. The Philippines and Brazil typically provide sustainable, fair-trade alternatives. If you are uncomfortable with these origins, it might be best to avoid this ingredient altogether. Public opinion on sourcing of this ingredient is mixed, and manufacturers may want to avoid having to explain their supply situation.
Bad Chemicals, Daily Use
While the European Union has banned the use of phthalates, parabens, triclosan, and musks in commercial products, U.S. regulations lag behind, with usage of these chemicals largely unchecked and unregulated. In fact, according to EWG, FDA has assessed the safety of only 11% of the 10,500 ingredients found in hair and body care products.
If consumers used just one product containing questionable chemicals a day, we might not worry. But Americans use between 10 and 15 such products each day. Based on EWG's recent statistics, those products represent 126 to 178 unregulated ingredients that are applied to the skin daily, with a hazardous cumulative impact.6
We also avoid the "Dirty Dozen," which includes coal tar, diethanolamine (DEA), formaldehyde, lead, mercury, nanoparticles, petroleum distillates, p-phenylenediamine, and hydroquinone. See National Geographic's The Green Guide at www.thegreenguide.com for more information.
Taking the high road in the formulation process is often not easy-or inexpensive. However, to Save Your World, we think it's worth it.
View article references at www.NutritionalOutlook.com/1001/saveyourworld
Kim Eidson is vice president of marketing for personal care brand Save Your World (www.saveyourworld.com).