How to Read Cosmetic Ingredient Labels IV

Today we’re in the store looking for a new facial cleanser.  There are so many options in [insert your favorite store here].  You remember what you’ve learned about Label Poise and decided to head to the natural product section instead.   Ahh, a safe haven–or is it?  There are several different options, what should you get?  You start using your Label Poise and pick a product.  Even though it looks a little ‘chemical-ish’ you are comforted by the fact that it is in the natural section.  Remember, I am teaching you Label Poise–how to walk the walk, talk the talk, and buy products that meet YOUR standards, whether natural, organic, or safe enough.

Here are the tips I gave you in my first three posts on how to read ingredient labels:

  1. Ingredients are listed by quantity in the formula, from greatest to least, based on standards by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
  2. Ingredients are listed using the International Nomenclature of Cosmetics Ingredients (INCI), therefore they are listed using scientific nomenclature, or    binomial nomenclature (latin; taxonomy) for ingredients derived from plants.
  3. How ingredients are derived is seldom listed on the label (the same chemical can be derived synthetically or naturally).
  4. Fragrances are generically listed because they are considered trade secrets; typically naturally derived fragrances do not use “Fragrance (Parfum)” but a specific naming system.
  5. If it looks like a “chemical” it probably is, if you don’t want chemicals don’t buy it!  **Everything is a chemical, I’m referring to ‘bad’ chemicals here

The Label:


Would you buy this product?


Ingredients marked with as asterisk (*) are Certified Organic.

Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice*:  Safe!

Water (Aqua):  Safe!

Decyl Glucoside:  Safe!  This ingredient is derived from the reaction of glucose from corn starch (GMO?)  with decanol (fatty alcohol) of coconuts.  Decyl Glucoside is a non-ionic surfactant that can be used as a foaming agent, emulsifier, or conditioner.  It is biodegradable and is not known to be toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, or teratogenic (MSDS).

Sorbitol:  Safe!  Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol which is produced naturally in various fruits, though it can also be produced synthetically from glucose (via corn syrup [GMO?]).  Sorbitol is typically used as a thickener and humectant in personal care products, though it also has various other uses.  Sorbitol is not known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, or teratogenic. It is not known to bioconcentrate in animals, though it can be a slight irritant upon dermal contact or inhalation in pure form.  (MSDS ; PubChem)

Coco-Glucoside:  Safe!  This ingredient is a non-ionic surfactant that can be used as a foaming agent, emulsifier, or conditioner.  It is typically derived from coconut oil, corn (GMO?), or fruit sugars, though it is dependent on the supplier.  This ingredient is biodegradable and is not known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, or teratogenic.  In pure form Coco-Glucoside can be a skin irritant or cause inhalation irritation. (MSDS)

Xanthan Gum:  Safe!  This ingredient is a polysaccharide (carbohydrate consisting of sugar molecules) secreted by Xanthomonas campestris (a bacterium).  It is not known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic, or cause developmental toxicity, though it can be an eye, skin, and lung irritant in pure form.  There is a risk of long term biodegraded products being more toxic than pure Xanthan Gum. (MSDS)

Citrus Aurantium Bergamia (Bergamot) Fruit Oil:  Safe!  Bergamot Fruit Oil is often used for its cooling and refreshing effects in skin care products.  It also has antiseptic properties, which may assist in healing acne.  This ingredient can also be used as a fragrance.

Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Oil:   Safe!  Orange Peel Oil is used as a skin conditioning agent and fragrant.

Citrus Limon (Lemon) Peel Oil (Lemon Bioflavonoids):  Safe!  Lemon Peel Oil is used for its astringent and skin conditioning properties.  In pure form it can irritate dermatitis and psoriasis, and can be a skin, eye, and lung irritant.  (MSDS

Arnica Montana Flower Extract*:  Safe!  This ingredient is also known as leopard’s bane or mountain arnica and is native to Europe.  It is used as a skin conditioning agent and fragrant.  It is not known to be carcinogenic or mutagenic, though it can be contaminated with toxins, such as propylene glycol, depending on extraction method.  (PubMed)

Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract*:  Safe!  This ingredient comes from the tea plant native to East, South, and Southeast Asia.  It is typically used for its anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties.  This ingredient is not known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic, or developmentally toxic.  In pure form it can cause slight skin and lung irritation (MSDS).

Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract*:  Safe!  Also known as German chamomile, this naturally derived ingredient is used for its skin conditioning and anti-inflammatory effects.  It is not known to be carcinogenic or toxic. (MSDS)

Citrus Limon (Lemon) Peel Extract:  Safe!  This ingredient is used for its astringent and antiseptic properties.  It is not known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, or teratogenic in humans, though it may be an eye, skin, and lung irritant in pure form.  (MSDS)

Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavendar) Flowe/Leaf/Steam Extract*:  Safe!  Lavender Extract is used for its fragrance and refreshing properties.  It is not known to be toxic.

Olea Europaea (Olive) Leaf Extract*:  Safe!  Olive Leaf extract is used for its skin conditioning, antioxidant, anti-inflamatory, and antimicrobial properties.  It is not known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic, or cause developmental toxicity.  This ingredient can be a skin, eye, lung, and digestive irritant in pure form (MSDS)

Ascorbyl Glucoside:  Safe!  This ingredient may act as an antioxidant, those these claims are not fully substantiated.  It is a form of vitamin C combined with glucose.  This ingredient interacts with skin to form Vitamin C.

Bisabolol:  Safe!  This ingredient is extracted from German chamomille, though it can also be derived synthetically.  It is believed to be an anti-irritant and skin soother, and can be used as a fragrant.  It is believed to cause contact dermatitis in patients that are bisabolol sensitized, though this is not a regular occurrence. It is not known to be toxic.  (MSDS; PubMed)

Citric Acid:  Safe!  This ingredient is naturally occurring in citrus fruits, but is typically produced by feeding sucrose or glucose to mold and additional chemical treatment.  It is used in cosmetics as a pH adjuster.  It is generally considered safe, though it is a skin and eye irritant in pure form. (MSDS)

Glycerin:  Safe!  Glycerin is a humectant that attracts moisture in the hair, if you are ‘glycerin sensitive’ avoid this product.  Glycerin can be derive from fats and oils or synthetically.

Glyceryl Oleate:  Safe!  This ingredient consists of oleic acid and glycerin.  It is used as an emollient, emulsifier, and fragrance ingredient.

Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein:  Safe!  This ingredient is naturally derived and contains wheat oligosaccharides (carbohydrates) and acts as a moisturizer and film former to nourish skin (or hair).  It is not known to be a carcinogen or mutagen, though it can cause eye and dermal irritation in pure form. (MSDS)  Avoid! if you have a gluten allergy.

Tocopheryl Acetate:  Safe!/Beware!  Tocpheryl Acetate is has antioxidant properties and can penetrate skin cells.  It is generally regarded as safe however I saw some information (not on a MSDS) linking it to cancer so use your best discretion.

Alcohol*:   Safe!/Beware!  This ingredient is likely used as a disinfectant, it can be used as a preservative though this product explicitly states the preservative.  This ingredient is listed as organic, though it is likely toxic in pure form.  It is very low on the ingredient list and should not be considered a serious concern.

Benzyl Alcohol:  Beware!  This ingredient is made naturally by many plants or can be synthetically derived.  It is typically used as a preservative and based on its placement on the list is in low concentration.  Benzyl Alcohol is not known to be a carcinogen or teratogen, though it is a mutagen in bacteria and yeast, and may be toxic to the liver and central nervous system in pure form.  Benzyl Alcohol can be slightly hazardous with skin contact, but due to its concentration it should be okay.  (MSDS)

Potassium Sorbate:   Safe!/Beware!  This ingredient is the potassium salt of sorbic acid, which is likely synthetically derived though it is naturally occurring in some berry species.  It is widely used as a preservative in food, wine, and personal care products.  It is known to be a skin, eye, and lung irritant in pure form, though it is not generally considered to be a carcinogen, mutagen, or teratogen in humans, however, additional research suggests that is is mutagenic and genotoxic in human blood cells (in vitro).  It is typically not used in concentrations above 0.2%, so it should be fine in this product.  (MSDS)

Sodium Benzoate:  Beware!  This ingredient is the sodium salt of benzoic acid, and is commonly used as a preservative in food and cosmetics.  This ingredient is typically synthetically derived.  The FDA mandates that this ingredient is not to exceed 0.1% of the formula by weight.  When combined with ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), sodium benzoate can react to form benzene, a known carcinogen–this product contains a form of Vitamin C.  These claims have been substantiated by the FDA, though the benzene levels are considered less than World Health Organization limits to be considered dangerous.  Sodium benzoate is not known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, or neurotoxic, though it can be teratogenic in embryos and fetuses.  This ingredient may cause skin and eye irritation in pure form.  (MSDS)

Limonene: Safe!  Limonene naturally occurs in the rind of lemon and other citrus fruits.  It is primarily used as a flavor and fragrance though it also has been used for industrial degreasing.  It is not known to cause cancer or gene mutations in humans and can have anti-cancer effects in pure form, though limonene and its oxidation products are suspected skin and respiratory irritants in some cases.  A product that has been sitting on the shelf for an extended period may oxidize, however, ingredients with antioxidant properties, such as Vitamin E (Tocopherol), may alleviate this.  This ingredient must be listed if it exceeds concentrations of 0.01% in rinse off products in the EU.  (MSDS)


Nature’s Pulchritude Verdict:  I was a bit skeptical of this product upon scanning the ingredients, but was sold while research each ingredient until I got to the second to last ingredient.  All but 5 of the ingredients in the product were rated Safe!, and none of them were Avoid! (unless you have a gluten allergy).  What concerns me about this product is the interaction of Sodium Benzoate and Ascorbyl Glucoside (Vitamin C), which react to form carcinogenic benzene.  Perhaps the ingredients cannot react in the bottle as the Vitamin C is combined with glucose, but in the event that they can is troubling, particularly because this product is marketed as containing Vitamin C and one must wonder if the combination of these ingredients is an oversight or if it is indeed safe chemically.  This product uses a number of corn products, which may be GMO contaminated, though this is not explicitly clear. I also am not fond that the brand that manufactures this product has the word “Organics” in its title, despite the fact that only 70% of the ingredients are organic–USDA organic must contain 95% organic material.  Aside from these factors, this product has quality ingredients, does not contain sulfates and might be a good cleanser.


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