The annual Global Industry Report that came out in February looks at what trends are consuming cosmetic manufacturers. Contrary to what some conspiracy theorists believe, in order to sell their product a manufacturer must obey cosmetic regulations and this report outlines their challenges and focal points. Compliance may sound like one big snooze fest but it can mean big bickies if a company fails to comply with international regulations. Fines from $25,000 to $250,000 can put small companies out of business, however, it would barely be a hiccup in their bottom line for a company like L’oreal. The report surveys ‘industry leaders’ in cosmetics and their stakeholders to ascertain their concerns within manufacturing compliance and regulation challenges.
Some areas of concern for manufacturers were investment priorities like logistics and testing and exporting and importing ingredients and products. Interestingly, the majority of suppliers reported that while exporting a majority of their products to North America, the European Union and Asia, they also reported the greatest challenges to compliance were also in these regions, meaning it was the most difficult to supply these products to this region according to their safety legislation. When I hear journalists screaming from their soap boxes that shampoo is trying to kill you, reports like this demonstrate the insanity of these claims.
Other challenges companies focused on were: safety assessments, testing and ingredient regulations, claim substantiation and labelling of ‘natural’ products. The reason labelling was such a concern, is according to this report, due to the rise in popularity of natural and organic cosmetic products and that there currently is ‘no formal definition for natural cosmetic products’. Why you might ask? For the most part, it is because ingredients are not merely plucked from the ground in all their earthly splendour and shoved into your favourite slap. They need to be processed which can include being extracted, refined, milled, sterilised, distilled, titrated, preserved, combined with other ingredients, may undergo chemical processes that change their structure, appearance, scent or behaviour and are therefore not the raw element or compound they were when they were sourced. Not only are they processed to perform better, many natural unprocessed ingredients do not perform as anticipated such as lemon juice. Lemon juice is highly acidic and cause mild to significant irritation up to blistering burns if topically applied. Just because it contains vitamin c does not necessarily mean rubbing it directly into your face will transfer the one desired element you require. It usually is accompanied by a host of other ingredients like citric acid that while helpful in the correct quantities, when unprocessed and unmeasured, can cause issues.
What also struck me as a point of interest, was at the upcoming summit in April, a session was being held about Natural and Organic products and how to navigate compliance with said product claims. As in, how to make sure your natural or organic product passes muster to be FDA approved. The blurb states that, “consumers want products that are ’from the earth’”. This is a blanket statement that all consumers want this, however, I am not surprised that this public demand is still popular. This statement was followed up with “many organic products can be toxic or allergenic”. Now, I’m not happy that any ingredient used in cosmetics are in anyway harmful, but I am surprised to hear the admission that many organic ones are. A quick peak on the FDA website confirms both the issue with labelling and the acknowledgement that any ingredient can be toxic or allergenic regardless or if being labelled ‘organic’.
The main reason that I am unsurprised in the surge of natural or organic consumer demands is a very commonly held notion known in academic circles as the ‘appeal to nature’ fallacy. It is the belief that things that are natural are good and things that are artificial or unnatural are bad.
Anyone who is familiar with this argument will be all too aware of several examples proving the above statement to be misleading at best. Without pressing this point too hard, here are some of my favourite reminders that not all natural things are good:
- Cyanide is a natural chemical compound found in many plants and algae, including bitter almonds, apples and peaches (mainly in their seeds), it is also highly toxic in sufficient quantities which can kill you. Although, I have never heard of anyone dying from an apple overdose, I’m not about to try it.
- Formaldehyde is a naturally organic chemical compound found in eggs. It is also used to embalm/preserve tissue (yes, the same chemical they embalm bodies with) and according to the IRAC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) Carcinogenic Classification is in class 2B (second highest carcinogenic group). To be fair the concentration required to cause harm is highly unlikely to be in anything cosmetic or eating too many eggs for that matter. The only exception might be in knock-off cosmetics, but I’ll detail that doozie another time.
- Sunshine (more specifically solar radiation) is a proven class 1 carcinogen. In moderation it provides the body with required and necessary Vitamin D.
Just to balance the argument here are some things that are unnatural or synthetic that are good:
- All modern transportation which allow us to travel great distances very quickly, to connect to people overseas, relocate and trade with foreign lands. They have their drawbacks but they can be lifesaving. Not cosmetic based but a pretty strong point.
- Soap, detergents and cleansers are at least partially synthetically derived and/or manufactured and without them, we and our possessions would be dirty and greasy, susceptible to infection and illness… like… in the middle ages. While there are ‘natural’ variants of these products they are usually less effective, more expensive to produce or more damaging to use – See link – Why There’s Nothing Wrong with Some Supermarket Shampoos.
- Retinols and other Retin A derivatives such as Differin and Trentoinin, some of which are completely synthetic. They lessen our wrinkles, reverse sun damage, lighten pigmentation, reduce scarring and keep our pores in check. Awesome sauce!
However, I can understand the appeal to nature fallacy. There are a great deal of good things in nature or ingredients that are naturally derived. It just does not simply mean that that belief can be blindly blanketed across all natural sources in all areas of use.
There are a number of natural ingredients that are perceived to be good for everything, because they are generally beneficial in one area of use but are not necessarily suited to another. The one class of product I hear the most reluctance to accept from beauticians to consumers because they are so widely used and so broadly promoted are: essential oils.
While essential oils can smell divine, set the mood, improve your mental state and are regularly incorporated into massage therapy, there are a myriad of scientific journals describing the negative connotations of direct application of essential oils to the skin (or via ingestion by mouth – lip balms and lipsticks). There is almost a longer list of known irritating varieties than there are non-irritating ones due to the fact that most aromatic natural or synthetic compounds can cause skin irritation. Even aromatherapy sites stipulate they are not to be used undiluted on the skin nor taken internally. Several aromatherapy sites display the burns that are possible from direct contact with essential oils or effects caused by exposure to the sun afterwards, known as photo-toxicity.
There are three main types of skin damage that can be caused by the use of essential oils: irritation, sensitisation and photo-toxicity.
Irritation is somewhat more immediate. The reaction begins with redness and can follow through to mild or intense burning sensation, sometimes the burning is immediate and other times delayed.
Sensitisation is the most insidious as first exposure (or the first few or many) may have no reaction whatsoever but subsequent application can result in rashes, welts, sneezing, breathing difficulties, swelling and itching. This is a form of contact dermatitis and the only way to prevent further outbreaks is prevent further exposure. As a(n ex) hairdresser I can tell you all my teachers in hairdressing were allergic to one hair colour brand or another (or several) which took years of exposure to develop, but they could not use those particular brands on their clients because of it.
Warning the following images may be alarming
Below is an image of a woman who used multiple oils all over her body daily as well as ingesting them. Along with swollen eyelids she has developed a stinging, hot red rash over her face and neck.
Photo-toxicity is the exposure of essential oils on skin to UV radiation resulting in anything from mild pigmentation to blisters and burns. The below image of an example of this says it all. The left images shows the initial reaction and the right images are the healing scars left behind. You can read the story here: https://www.medicaldaily.com/dangers-essential-oils-womans-viral-photos-reveal-painful-burns-416779
As a make-up artist and educator in the field of make-up artistry, I have been advised and do advise my students to avoid essential oils and fragrance in the products they use on clients. This is for several reasons:
- Fragrance of any kind can irritate skin especially around the eye area. Essential oils are often included in a formulation for fragrance, either to mask an unpleasant scent from other ingredients or as a marketing gimmick.
- There are many reasons a client may have sensitive skin and it is not always apparent (visible). Sensitive skin conditions are the most likely to be irritated by fragrance.
- 99% of people may not have a reaction but that one person who does will not be impressed. A key statistic I was told in hairdressing was that a happy client will often tell one or two people but an unhappy client will tell 5-10 people. Now factor in social media… Whether they believe the issue is your fault or not a bad review/post can ruin a reputation and a career.
On a personal level, you know what your skin is capable of tolerating and if not you will most likely test the boundaries of that tolerance by trying the latest skin care superstar. As I often say, if it works for you and you do not experience any negative reactions (including a more empty wallet than necessary), keep doing what you are doing.
However, as a thought experiment, how often have you thought something is natural and therefore it must be better for you? Considering the regulations manufacturers must adhere to in order to get their product on the shelves, are they really trying to hurt consumers? Considering the sterile, laboratory processes ingredients must endure in order to be used in a product, it is unlikely any product you can purchase is going to be 100% natural. Personally, I prefer function and reliability over marketing claims that skim the truth and sycophantic slogans.
At the end of the day the best damn argument I could ever give to support that manufacturers are not trying to kill their consumers with synthetic poisons is that : manufacturers don’t want to kill us ‘cos then there wont be anyone to buy their products.
What do you think? Do you think natural is better? Give me an example of a synthetic product that is worse for you than the natural one? Have you ever tried herbal toothpaste? Let me know in the comments below!