How to Read Cosmetic Ingredient Labels VI

You are back in the natural product section looking for a lotion, when you see one that catches your eye.  The ingredients look good, but after the last product you picked up in this section, you wanted to make sure you took extra care and used the Educate Yourself page to cross reference the ingredients.  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 five 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:



The Ingredients:

Aqua (Water, Eau):  Safe!

Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil:  Safe!  Sunflower Oil is comprised of triglycerides (esters of glycerol and fatty acids) and has a high Vitamin E content.  It primarily acts as an emollient and assists the skin in retaining moisture.

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

Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil:  Safe!  Coconut Oil is used for its nourishing properties.

Stearic Acid:  Safe!  This ingredient is a saturated fatty acid and is commonly derived from vegetable sources, though it can be animal derived.  It is used as a thickening and stabilizing agent.  It can be a slight eye irritant in pure form, but is not a skin irritant.  Other toxicity information is not known.  (MSDS)

Cera Alba (Beeseax, Cire d’Abeille):  Safe!  This ingredient is derived from worker honeybees within a bee hive.  It is used as a thickener and skin barrier.

Parfum (Fragrance):  Beware!  Fragrances are often synthetic. Though they are low in concentration in the product, there is still a small chance of having an allergic reaction.

Phenoxyethanol:  Beware!/Avoid!  This is a preservative.  You will notice it is very high on the list of ingredients.    It is used because it is safer than formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, though the FDA released a warning about how it can impact the central nervous system and induce vomiting in infants.  It is also suspected to be a xenoestrogen (mimics estrogen), a cause of contact dermatitis and skin irritant.  In pure form phenoxyethanol is toxic to kidneys, the nervous system, and liver; it is an extremely hazardous eye irritant and a very hazardous eye irritant, though information on carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, teratogenicity, and developmental toxicity are not available.  It is banned in the EU and Japan in concentrations over 1%.  Therefore, one would assume it is either greater than the EU concentration restraint or it is in accordance, and the remaining ingredients in this product are at very low concentrations.  This ingredient is made from 2 carcinogens (benzene and ethylene oxide), though it itself is not known to be carcinogenic.  People around small children should ‘Avoid!‘ this ingredient, others should ‘Beware!‘. (MSDS)

Royal Jelly:  Safe!  This ingredient is a secretion that is used to provide nutrients to honey bee larvae and adult queens.  It is primarily made of water, with some crude protein, amino acids, fatty acids, and trace amounts of various vitamins (A, C, D, E, K, B6, B5) and minerals.  It can cause allergic reactions if consumed.  It is not known to be toxic, however, little data is available. (MSDS)

CI 77019 (Mica):  Safe!  Mica is a mineral that is often ground and used for its reflective and refracting properties in various cosmetics, including moisturizing lotions.  In pure form it can be a slight skin and eye irritant, as well as act as a toxin to the lungs and mucous membranes.  Information on carcinogenicity, teratogenicity, mutagenicity, and developmental toxicity are not available.  (MSDSMSDS)

Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Wax:  Safe!/Beware! This ingredient is derived from orange peels.  It acts as a protective barrier against the environment, while allowing the orange to breathe and maintain a water balance.  It provides these same properties to skin, acting as an emollient and moisturizer.  This ingredient is believed to be phototoxic, therefore should be used in accompaniment with sunscreen.  (MSDS)

Salvia Officinalis (Sage) Leaf Extract:  Safe!  This ingredient is used as a skin conditioning agent, skin protectant, and antioxidant.  It is generally regarded as safe and is not known to be toxic.

Urtica Dioica (Nettle) Extract:  Safe!  This ingredient is used for its conditioning and astringent properties.  Depending on the concentration Avoid! if you have high blood pressure as it is believed to increase circulation.

Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract:  Safe!  It is used as an antimicrobial agent, fragrance, and skin conditioning agent and is generally regarded as safe. (MSDS)

Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract:  Safe!  This ingredient is used as a skin conditioning agent, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory agent.  The carcinogenicity, teratogenicity, mutagenicity, and developmental toxicity are not known.

Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice:  Safe!  This ingredient is used for its nutrient content and moisturizing properties.

Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract:  Safe!  Derived from the leaves of aloe vera plants, it is used for its nourishing, emollient, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Tocopherol:  Safe!  Also known as Vitamin E, Tocopherol is a chemical alcohol with antioxidant properties.  This ingredient is not known to have carcinogenic or toxic effects (via MSDS).  It can also be used as a preservative for oils.

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)

Sucrose Stearate:  Safe!  This ingredient is typically plant derived and is used as an emulsifier and skin conditioner.  It is table sugar combined with Stearic Acid (a fatty acid).  Information regarding carcinogenicity, teratogenicity, or developmental toxicity are not available. (MSDS)

CI 77891 (Titanium Dioxide):  Safe!  This is a white pigment used for various applications.  In pure form Titanium Dioxide is a potential human carcinogen when inhaled.  Its health impacts are dependent on size based on the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).  It should be fine to use in this topical product.  (MSDS)

Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil:  Safe!/Beware!  Soybean oil is used as an emollient and emulsifier.  Produced from soy beans, this oil may be genetically modified, contaminated with pesticides, and thus contain a lower linolenic acid content.  A source of origin would clarify this.  Other than GMO and pesticide contamination, soybean oil is not known to be toxic or carcinogenic.

Sodium Borate:  Safe!/Beware!  Also known as Borax, it is the sodium salt of Boric Acid.  This ingredient is used to control pH, prevent bacterial growth, and maintain an emulsion.  In pure form it can be a slight skin and eye irritant; information on carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, teratogenicity, and developmental toxicity are not available. It is not allowed in topical products in concentrations greater than 3% in the EU.  (MSDS)

Canola Oil (Huile de Colza):  Safe!/Beware!  This ingredient is derived from rapeseed and is used as an emollient and skin conditioning agent.  This ingredient can also be genetically modified and contaminated with pesticides as an estimated 87% of all canola grown in the US was genetically modified in 2005.

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.  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.  When combined with ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), sodium benzoate can react to form benzene, a known carcinogen–this product does not contain Vitamin C.  These claims have been substantiated by the FDA, though the benzene levels are less than World Health Organization limits to be considered dangerous.    (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)

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)

Linalool:  Safe!/Beware!  This ingredient is used as a fragrance and is banned in rinse off products above a concentration of 0.01% (or 0.001% in leave-on products).  It is naturally occurring in various plants and spices, though it may also be made synthetically.  It is considered a skin irritant (causing eczema) and allergen, though pure linalool can have anti-cancer properties.  Given that the concentration is likely quite low it should be fine unless you are allergic to it.

Butylphenyl Methylpropional:  Beware!  It is a synthetic fragrance (an aromatic aldehyde) that has a strong floral fresh odor and is listed as a potential sensitizer based on the International Fragrance Association (IFRA).  This ingredient is restricted to a concentration of 0.001% in leave on products by the EU.

Hexyl Cinnamal:  Beware!  This ingredient is a synthetic fragrance and is banned in rinse off products above a concentration of 0.01% (or 0.001% in leave-on products).  Though it is typically synthetically derived, it is found naturally in the essential oil of chamomile, but it is also synthetically derived.  Also known as Hexyl Cinnamaldehyde, it is a known allergen and skin irritant.

Hydroxycitronellal:  Beware!  This is a fragrance ingredient that has a moderate floral strength and is the primary constituent of many essential oils.  It is likely synthetically derived and is typically used in concentrations below 1% as it is an irritant at 5% concentration.

Hydroxyisohexyl 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde:  Beware!  Also known as Lyral, it is used as a fragrance and is synthetically derived.  It is a skin irritant, particularly to those with existing eczema (about 2-3% of patients), at low concentrations.  This ingredient is restricted to 0.001% in leave-on products by the EU. (PubMed)


Nature’s Pulchritude Verdict:  Overall, the ingredients in the product are clean.  Within the first 5 ingredients there are no ingredients to Beware! or Avoid!, however the 6th and 7th ingredients are cause for concern.  Fragrance and Phenoxyethanol (a preservative) can both be irritants and toxins.  Additionally, given the likely concentrations of these two ingredients it is unlikely that the remainder of the ingredients are in significant concentrations.  The last 4 ingredients are skin irritants, however, their concentrations are likely low.  This product is marketed as being natural and though it is not 100% natural (98.2% natural per the label), it has ingredients that are better than the majority of commercially available products, though it is low-moderately ‘natural’ amongst similar products.  This product is also marketed as a radiance lotion; based on the ingredients it does not look very moisturizing.  There are better products available on the market in terms of moisturizing, however, this is a viable option if you are looking for a ‘radiance’ lotion for glowing skin.

Would you purchase this product?

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