Tag Archives: natural

Cosmetics; true claims or publicity?

Though the skin acts as a barrier to the “outside world”, a lot of the stuff we put on it will pass through and enter the bloodstream, influencing every cell of your body. In this day of enlightenment with information and knowledge, literally at your fingertips, more and more people are growing aware of the importance of what you put on, and in, your body. Later years there has been a great wave of new awareness of “the bad stuff”; chemicals, artificial flavorings, synthetic perfumes and manipulated foods. People stay clear of that which they know to be bad and try to make informed choices, especially when it comes to food. BUT when it comes to skin care, only the tip of the ice-berg has been scraped.

Catchy, but is it true?

Catchy, but is it true?

The cosmetic market is one of the largest in the world, turning over more money than we can even imagine and there have been almost no regulations whatsoever. Over the past few years new bodies of regulation have been formed and guide-lines are being set up. This is all good and well, but in reality it means nothing because the only regulations we are seeing are about certain (a very small percent) ingredients which have shown to be harmful to human health. There are still no guidelines in place about what you are allowed to say in terms of publicity. A producer can say anything he likes, even if it is a blatant lie. (see earlier post)

As a producer and manufacturer of botanical organic products, I have spent much time doing research among people and shops; How informed are people and what do they ask for? How informed are the staff in cosmetic sections? I have spent hours browsing cosmetic departments in many different countries and the picture is the same everywhere…The answer is; NOTHING! More people than ever are asking for “clean” cosmetics; no chemicals, no animal-testing, organic and natural. They trust the staff in the shop to know these things and help them, but the staff only knows that which they have been told when trained to sell specific brands. This is no knowledge at all, it is publicity. Staff as well as the common person don’t know how to read inci-list (ingredients) nor do they know what the words mean. On top of that the inci-list is printed on some obscure part of the packaging that you have to search for and in such tiny letters that I need both my glasses and a magnifying glass to read it. (see this post on inci) If you buy cosmetics over the internet, the inci is not always listed on the site, only on the physical product.

Clinically? I doubt it. Spread on that botox, no more shots...Seriously?

Clinically? I doubt it. Spread on that botox, no more shots…Seriously?

Animal testing is a huge arena and the world is beginning to understand the impact such testing has on millions, billions of animals. Most people are horrified and would never want to use any product that has been tested on animals. The majority of products on the market today claim that they have not been tested on animals which is probably true. BUT many of the different ingredients have been tested on animals, even though the finished product hasn’t been tested. Claims on skin care are seldom true, they are publicity.

With this I will leave you to inform yourself; what do you actually need for your personal hygiene and cosmetics? What is acceptable to you? If you want to know more and inform yourself so that you can make better choices, there are loads of sites on the internet where you can find this information very easily, I have put a few links on the right under “information & resources”. When you go shopping, ask questions and demand informed answers.

INCI revealed

I have a cream in my hand; “regenerating night cream, all skin types“.The cost of it is ca €20 for 50ml. It is ecologically certified by eco cert. The label states:” 99% of the total ingredients are from natural origin / 28% of the total ingredients are from organic farming.” Here is the inci-list: (I will break it down for you)

Aqua (water), Simmondsia chinensis oil* (jojoba oil), Alcohol, Glycerin* (moisturizer), Persea gratissima oil *(avocado oil), Rosa damascena distillate* (rose-water), Cetearyl alcohol (emulsifier), Theobroma cacao seed* (cocoa butter), Hippophae rhamnoides extract* (seabuckthorn), Lycopersicum esculentum extract* (tomato), Glycine soja oil and Tocopherol (soy bean oil and vitamin E), Hordeum vulgare extract* (barley germ), Algae extract (seaweed), Humulus lupulus extract* (hops), Cetearyl glucoside (emulsifier), Plantago major extract* (plantain), Calendula officinalis extract* (marigold), Chamomilla recutita extract* (chamomile), Stearic acid (emulsifier, stabilizer), Sodium hyaluronate (skin conditioning agent), Xanthan gum (stabilizer, emulsifier), Potassium hydroxide*** (pH-regulator), Aroma**, Citral**, Citronellol**, Geranio**l, Limonene**, Linalool**  (there is no indication if the whole essential oil is used or just isolated chemicals)

*ingredients from organic farming. **natural essential oils. ***inorganic substances.

Remember, water is about 50-60%, and all the other ingredients will make up the rest; 40-50% of the cream. They are listed in percentual order; highest first. I have put the questionable ingredients in bold, these are the ones we are going to look at first. Let’s start at the top:

  • Alcohol: Moisturizers that contain a low molecular weight of alcohol fail to be effective because they quickly evaporate from the skin surface. In a cream alcohol speeds up absorption rate (how fast it goes into the skin.) Considering that this ingredient is in 3rd place, indicates a rather high %.
  • Stearic acid: This ingredient may be derived from animals. From PETA’s Caring Consumer: Fat from cows and sheep and from dogs and cats euthanized in animal shelters, etc. Most often refers to a fatty substance taken from the stomachs of pigs. Can be harsh, irritating. Used in cosmetics, soaps, lubricants, candles, hairspray, conditioners, deodorants, creams, chewing gum, food flavoring.   Stearic acid can be found in many vegetable fats, coconut. (Skin deep)
  • Sodium hyaluronate: Sodium hyaluronate is the sodium salt of hyaluronic acid, a naturally occurring polysaccharide found in connective tissues such as cartilage. This ingredient is listed in the PETA’s Caring Consumer guide as derived from animal sources. (Skin deep)
  • Potassium hydroxide: Potassium Hydroxide is a caustic inorganic base. Classified as medium human health priority. Classified as expected to be toxic or harmful. Not assessed for safety in cosmetics by industry panel. (Skin deep)
  • Cetearyl alcohol & Cetearyl glucoside are commonly used emulsifiers. Cetearyl Alcohol is a mixture of cetyl and stearyl alcohols that can come from vegetable or synthetic sources. Cetearyl glucoside is a surfactant and emulsifier produced from natural or synthetic ingredients. (Skin deep)

Now, let’s do the math: 28% of the ingredients come from organic farming; that’s the oils, fats, moisturizer and herbal extracts. Leaves 72% of other stuff; 50-60 % is water which leaves us with ca 10-20% for vitamins, some herbals and emulsifiers. 99% of the ingredients come from natural sources; animal or vegetable? And the last 1% is the Potassium hydroxide which is more or less the same thing as caustic soda – a highly corrosive agent. It is even higher in percentage than the perfume.

Another concern I have are the many different herbal extracts; how do they react with each-other? See my earlier post on blending too many ingredients together here. “All natural substances are alive, they react with each-other; sometimes they create a synergy that will do great things. Other times they enhance more negative aspects.

Source: Skin Deep

ISOLATES

In many products isolates are used for enhanced effect. Isolates are the main molecular constituents in an essential oil, such as menthol in peppermint-oil, linalool in lavender, methyl salicylate in wintergreen or limonene in lemon. This means that the main constituent in an essential oil has been isolated and removed to be used on its own. The problem is that some of these isolates can be harmful to the body as the synergy is lost.

Synergy is when different parts together make up a whole. In most plant-matter there is a natural balance between activating and calming substances. For example essential oil of Clove Bud (Syzygium aromaticum): Its main molecular constituent is eugenol, up to 77%. It stimulates circulation and is anti-infectious. It is also a known skin-irritant in high doses. In proper dilution the whole essential oil is very useful for sore muscles, painful areas and as an anti-infectious agent. Clove oil is used in dentistry thanks to its anti-infectious and analgesic properties. The isolated eugenol is corrosive and toxic to the liver.

IN PRODUCTS:

  • Nutrition: Isolates are widely used as flavour-enhancers.
  • Perfumes: They are mostly made up of synthetic aromas which are cheaper and more stable. Sometimes isolates are used. (eugenol in Kouros by Yves Saint Laurent)
  • Sports-products: To warm and stimulate muscles before training and to cool and sooth aches and sprains. Most widely used isolates are menthol, camphene, methyl salicylate. It is not always clear if isolates or synthetics are used. Most of these isolates are strong skin-irritants in high doses – hence the warming / cooling effect on the skin. There have been a lot of discussion about the use of methyl salicylate, found in Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) up to 98%. (Article)
  • Skin-care: Isolates are used as perfuming-agents in many skin-care products. Sometimes, especially in natural or bioproducts, both essential oils and isolates are used. Isolates are much cheaper to use than essential oils. Here is a list of perfume-agents in a hand-cream: Citral, citronellol, eugenol, farnesol, geraniol, limonene, linalool. All of these are noted to come from certified organic growers and from natural essential oils… (Check out earlier posts on natural & organic skin-care)

What is definite is that there is no way of knowing if the aromatic ingredients in a product are from natural sources (unless stated) or if they are produced synthetically…which means that there is no way to know if they will be harmful or not.

A GIFT FROM NATURE: VEGETABLE OILS

Some of the absolutely best products nature offers are fats and oils. They are rich in all kinds of minerals, vitamins and pure life-force. We  use vegetable oils and fats in our daily life without even thinking about it as an essential part of health. Just as a pure, unadulterated cold-pressed vegetable oil can bring positive results to our health, so can “treated” oils be outright health-hazards.

There are oils and oils…

  • Mineral oils: Also called vaseline, paraffin. They are a bi-product from the petrochemical industry (together with diesel, plastic, asphalt and much more…). They are widely used by the cosmetics industry as they are cheap and stable. Most baby-oils are mineral-oil with a bit of perfume. Mineral oils clog the pores and halts normal skin-function. They might seem softening at first, but over time mineral-oil deteriorates the skin, leaving it dry and brittle. Mineral oils contain nothing whatsoever that is beneficial to humans and they come from a non-renewable source. This is NOT a vegetable oil!
  • Cold pressed vegetable oils: Seeds and nuts are pressed in mills without any added heat, though the friction of the mill can after some time create heat up to 70 degrees celsius, hence the different “degrees” of cold-pressed oils. For high-quality cold-pressed vegetable oils, smaller amounts are pressed each time, so as not to create friction-heat. The yield is lower than when heat is used and these oils are usually pressed by small growers or millers. The remaining pulp is used as animal-fodder. After filtering the oil is bottled. These oils have their own specific scent and color and they contain essential fatty acids, minerals and vitamins. If stored properly (cool and dark) the shelf-life is 1-3 years, depending on the amount of mono and unsaturated fatty acids in the oil.
  • Heat pressed vegetable oils: Seeds and nuts are ground to a pulp and heated to about 100 degrees celsius. The heated pulp is then pressed to extract the oil. By heating, more oil can be extracted. The remaining pulp is then re-heated and re-pressed to yield as much oil as possible. After extraction the oils are centrifuged to remove particles.
  • Extraction: This method is often used together with heat-pressing to extract the maximum amount of oil possible. A solvent, Hexane , is used to extract the oil. The raw material (pulp) is mixed with hexane, filtered and distilled. Since hexane has a lower boiling-point than the oil, it becomes gaseous and is distilled off, only to be collected and re-used since it turns into  a liquid once it’s cooled.
  • Refining: This is done with all vegetable oils that are used by cosmetics and  food-industry (heat-pressed and solvent-extracted oils).
  1. Lecithin and proteins are removed with the help of phosphor or citric acid.
  2. Fatty acids are removed with the help of lye (caustic soda), which creates a kind of soap that is washed out with water. Then the oil is vaccum-dried.
  3. Bleaching is done by mixing the oil with oxygen-activated mud which is then filtered off.
  4. Deodorising is done to remove scent and taste from the oil. It is done by low-pressure steam-boiling at a temperature of 200 degrees celsius.

There are a few more processes that the oil might go through before being sent off to its destination. Would you ever want to eat or use these processed products? Not only do they contain NOTHING of value, they might as well be harmful. Many years ago there was a scandal in Spain concerning vegetable oils, people died. The reason was that the lye used to refine the oil was not properly removed…the lye corroded the intestines of these people.

A cold-pressed vegetable oil will cost a little bit more, it will be less stable – going rancid with time or bad storage. It will have a taste and scent. Knowing this, do you really believe that you should use the oils you find in the supermarket? The ones sitting on the shelves in a warm and light environment? The ones with no taste, smell or color? I distrust everything that doesn’t go bad over time.


My friend and mentor Jan Kusmirek has written a wonderful book on vegetable oils called “Liquid Sunshine“. You can find it here.

ORGANIC SKIN-CARE?

(Sorry about the bad picture, took it with photo booth and I don’t want to point at any brand in particular)

I have studied and formulated skin-care for almost 20 years; first for my own pleasure and then professionally.  I have always wanted to keep my products as natural and pure as possible which is quite easily done, but the “shelf-life” of the product is very short and it has to be kept in the fridge. Natural skin care is like fresh food – you need to use it within a certain time, depending on what you have put in there; Herbs, for example, naturally makes the product more sensitive to mold….you get the picture.

To make a creme or a lotion an emulsifier is needed to mix the fatty substances (oil) and water. The only purely natural emulsifiers are eggs and cream (compare it to cooking) which go off quickly…wouldn’t want that in your cream… All emulsifiers used are chemically changed to be able to combine oil and water. The ones I use are the same that are used by the food-industry for making ice-cream and bread. I figure, if you can eat it, you can put it on your skin.

Almost everything is natural; poo is natural, as is mineral oil (derived from the petroleum industry). That doesn’t mean it’s good for us. So the labeling of purely natural is misleading on 2 points: Natural does not necessarily mean good. If it is emulsified (oil + water) it is not natural, even if the original product for the emulsifier comes from a natural source.

BIO or organic is also interesting to find on products. I picked up a hand-creme (oil+water)  the other day which says: 95% of the plant ingredients come from organic farming (and how many % of the total product is plant material?) 17% of the total ingredients come from organic farming (so maybe that means that there is 17% of plant material in the product?) 100% of the total ingredients come from a natural origin (can be absolutely true – remember what I said about natural…?)

WHAT IS IN YOUR SKIN-CARE?

“The European Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (COLIPA) informed the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association (CTFA) that the Legal Services of the EU Commission has accepted the names in CTFA’s International Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary (ICID) without translation. These names, which are now designated as International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredient (INCI) names, will be used by EU members to identify ingredients in the EU Inventory of cosmetic ingredients and are expected to be the basis for ingredient labeling on products that will be required in the EU in 1997.”

(taken from a FDA document that you can look closer at here.)

Simplified, this means that until this time there were no regulations regarding the declaring of ingredients in skin-care. You could put anything you liked in there, and nobody would ever know. Because of, or maybe thanks to, increasing allergic reactions, the demand for clarity about ingredients in skin-care pushed the need of this law. To simplify the communication and understanding of ingredients, INCI (International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredient) was decided upon: This means that all ingredients by plant extracts are named by their Latin botanical names (according to Linneae) and for other ingredients the chemical names are used. These names are recognized world-wide. Regulations also stipulate that on the label the ingredients should be listed in falling order with the largest ingredient first. To give you an idea of the amounts: A cream consists of about 50-60% water, a lotion of 70-90% water. The ingredients way down on the list are in the proportions of 0,x% or even 0,0x%. So if you buy, for example, a product that is labeled with something special; lavender or Aloe Vera or something, check the list. Chances are that you find this ingredient among the last on the list, and then you know the amounts are around 0.x%. There is no law stipulating WHAT you can say, only that you list it. Following are the INCI-lists of 2 well-known, popular body-lotions. I have highlighted the pure natural ingredients.

This is the INCI-list of a popular body lotion: Aqua, Ethylhexyl Cocoate, Cyclopentasiloxane, Paraffinum liquidum, Glycerin, Cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 Dimethicone, Prunus Armeniaca Kernel Oil, Tocopheryl Acetate, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Vitis Vinifera Seed Extract, Linoleic Acid, Magnesium Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, Cera Microcristallina, Disodium Phosphate, Propylene Glycol, Parfum, Phenoxyethanol, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Sorbic Acid, Benzoic acid, BHT, Pentaerythrityl Tetradi-t-butyl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone, Benzyl Alcohol, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Citronellol, Coumarin, Geraniol, Hexyl Cinnamat, Hydroxyisohexyl 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde, Limonene, Linalol.

Several of these chemicals are known toxins.

This is the INCI-list of a natural body-lotion: Water/Aqua, Rose (Rosa Canina) Hip Extract, Rose (Rosa Gallica) Petal Extract, Sweet Almond (Prunus Dulcis) Oil, Alcohol, Glycerin, Quince (Pyrus Cydonia) Seed Extract, Shea (Butyrospermum Parkii) Butter, Carrot (Daucus Carota) Extract, Jojoba (Buxus Chinensis) Oil, Cetearyl Alcohol, Beeswax/Cera Flava, Rose (Rosa Gallica) Wax, Rose (Rosa Damascena) Essential Oil, Fragrance/Parfum (Essential Oil), Citronellol*, Geraniol*, Limonene*, Linalool*, Citral*, Coumarin*, Eugenol*, Benzyl Benzoate*, Propolis Wax/Propolis Cera, Lecithin, Xanthan Gum


I leave it up to you to make your decision about what kind of stuff you want to put on your skin. Remember though that if molecules are small enough, they go straight through your skin and into your bloodstream from where they can access every cell of your body.

If you want more information on different chemicals or skin-care ingredients, you can check out this website: http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/

WILD VS ORGANIC – LAVENDER

Lavenderfield

Cultivated lavender

Essential oils for aromatherapy come from three different sources; wild, traditional cultivation or organic/bio. There is quite a debate going on about which oils are the best. At the end of the day, the growing format is only one of the things that ascertain how good the oil will be. As I said before, other factors such as harvesting, distillation, transportation and storage will play its role as well.

  • Traditional cultivation: Most herbs are grown this way. Usually in aromatherapy there is a demand for natural fertilizers and a minimum of pesticides. This is possible when it comes to growing herbs, since they have a built-in repellent-system. (essential oils) The plants are normally all the same in chemical make-up sometimes even genetically so.
  • Organic or bio cultivation: No pesticides are used and only natural fertilizers. Weeds are controlled manually. The yield can be slightly smaller so the price is often higher. Again, the plants are more or less identical in chemical make-up.
  • Wild: The plants are not cultivated at all, they are harvested in the wild where they normally grow. The chemical differences between the plants can vary and the plants are not identical. They are much harder to harvest, since the harvester needs to move over a large area to collect them. The plants are smaller than their cultivated cousins.

Wild lavenderWild lavender

My absolute favorites are the oils from wild plants, they hold the very essence of their origins. They are organic from nature, they are not genetically identical and in some ways they have more of an intrinsic power. When I still lived in the forest I always preferred to harvest my herbs wild from the forest. The ones I couldn’t find wild, I cultivated as “wildly” as possible on my farm.

LavenderGarden lavender

Some years ago I went to France, Provence, to study herbs and distillation methods etc. One day was spent harvesting wild lavender. This is incredibly hard work; August in Provence means relentless hot sun and dry, dusty air. (the soil is so dry as to turn to dust) We were given huge sacks which was tied over the shoulders (it was bigger than me), and a moon-shaped small “scythe” or “lavender knife” (I don’t know what it is called, see picture below). The final goal for the day was to each harvest 25kg of lavender. (This is for beginners such as myself) Wearing sturdy shoes, even sturdier gloves and a hat we set off up the hillside. You always start cutting from below, as it is easier to harvest going uphill. Wild lavender grows in tufts here and there that are rather small and hard to cut. You grab a handful of lavender-stems and cut the top 1/3’rd of the plant, then throw it over your shoulder into the sack as you climb for the next bush. Hard work indeed, and 25 kg is an enormous amount. At the end of my kilos, both my hands were sore, my whole body was aching and my head was spinning as if I had downed a bottle of wine!

Lavender harvest knife

Lavender knife (if anybody knows what it is called, please tell me)

dried-lavender_12118

Dried lavender on market in Provence

Finally: The best lavender grows on high altitudes. Wild lavender is often called “Alpine lavender” since it grows higher up on the mountain; 8 000-15 000 meters above sea-level. The bushes are smaller and carries less flowers the higher up on the mountain you come, which makes harvesting a real chore.The nicest lavender I ever met is a high-altitude lavender, lavandula augustifolia. It has an energy so high and pure that its scent truly carries the song of the angels. This is the only lavender I ever used for my children. The high-altitude wild lavender oil will always be more expensive than other lavender oils, but remember;

“You get what you pay for”.