How to Read Cosmetic Ingredient Labels VII

Today you are looking for a general lotion.  Your Label Poise is increasing and you think you’ve found one of the better products outside of 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 six 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

Quick Tip:  Aside from avoiding synthetic chemicals as much as possible, have an idea of what ingredients do not work as well for you.  Pay attention to the ingredients in the products you use.  If you notice every time you use a product with [insert ingredient here] you get an allergic reaction or your hair/skin responds negatively, make a note and steer clear!

The Label


The Ingredients

Water:  Safe!  

Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter):  Safe!  This ingredient is derived from the nut of the Shea Tree and is used for its moisturizing properties.

Cetearyl Alcohol:  Safe!  Typically naturally derived from Coconut and Palm Oils (though it can be derived synthetically), it is a mixture of Cetyl and Stearyl fatty alcohols.  This ingredient acts as a thickener and moisturizer in personal care products.

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

Petrolatum:  Beware!  This ingredient is also known as Petroleum Jelly and is a hydrocarbon and is a distillate of crude (oil).  It is used in skin lotions as an emollient and protective barrier to prevent skin moisture loss.  Similar to mineral oil, it prevents moisture from entering or leaving the barrier.  There is no information on carcinogenicity, teratogenicity, mutagenicity, or developmental toxicity.  It can be a potential skin, eye, digestive, and lung irritant.  (MSDS)

Dimethicone: Beware!  Dimethicone is a synthetic chemical polymer derived from silica.   Silicones are not known to be toxic.  Similar to other silicones, mineral oil and petroleum, Dimethicone creates a barrier on the skin that prevents moisture from escaping or entering. Information on carcinogenicity, teratogenicity, mutagenicity, or developmental toxicity is not known.

Ethylhexyl Isononanoate:  Beware!  This ingredient is used as an emollient and is derived from esters of Pelargonic Acid (a fatty acid) and isononanoic acid (a fatty acid).  In pure form it is a skin, eye, and respiratory irritant.  This is no information regarding carcinogenicity, teratogenicity, mutagenicity, or developmental toxicity. (MSDS)

Ceteareth-20:  Beware!  A derivative of Cetearyl Alcohol (Cetyl and Stearyl Alcohol) and Ethylene Oxide (a known carcinogen), this ingredient is used as an emulsifier and emollient.  Ceteareth-20 is a penetration enhancer that can allow other (potentially) hazardous substances to enter your system.  This ingredient may also be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen, as well as Ethylene Oxide.  Carcinogen contamination depends largely on how well purified the chemical is.  Products with this ingredient should not be applied to damaged skin as it may result in kidney damage.  In pure form it can be a skin, eye, and respiratory irritant, however there is no information on carcinogenicity, teratogenicity, mutagenicity, or developmental toxicity. (MSDS; MSDS)

Hydroxyethyl Urea:  Safe!/Beware!  This product is used as a moisturizer similar to Glycerin and is believed to hydrate the deepest layers of the skin.  This product may be derived from animal urine excretions.  It is not known to be toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic, or embryotoxic in humans.  (MSDS)

Octyldodecyl Myristate:  Beware!   This ingredient is used in cosmetic formulations as an emollient.  It is a derivative of Octyldodecanol, a thickener, and Myristic Acid.  No information available about toxicity, carcinogenicity, teratogenicity, mutagenicity, or developmental toxicity. (MSDS)

Mineral Oil:  Beware!  This is a petrochemical typically derived from crude oil.  It can be found in high concentrations (One of the first 5 ingredients, more on this later) in a variety of products.  Mineral Oil prevents moisture from entering or leaving the skin.

Cetyl Esters:  Beware!  This ingredient is derived from vegetable sources, such as coconuts, and is typically used as a thickener in cosmetics.  It is comprised of various fatty alcohols and fatty acids.  It is typically 1 to 3% of the weight of the formula.  There is no data regarding toxicity, carcinogenicity, or mutagenicity.  (MSDS)

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)

Hydrogenated Polydecene:  Beware!  This ingredient is synthetically derived and is used as an emollient and skin conditioning agent.  Clinical studies have shown this ingredient to improve moisture in those with dry skin.  This ingredient should not be combined with oxidizing materials.  There is no information available regarding toxicity, carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, teratogenicity, or developmental toxicity.  (MSDS)

Methylparaben:  Beware!  This ingredient is synthetic and acts as a preservative with anti-fungal properties.  It is naturally occurring in fruits such as blueberries as p-hydroxybenzoic acid.  This ingredient is readily absorbed into skin and it along with other parabens have been at the center of controversy about its role in causing cancerous cells in breast tissue being that parabens are xenoestrogens (mimic estrogen).  There is not conclusive proof that states that use of personal care products containing parabens causes cancer.  Methylparaben is suspected to cause DNA damage and increased skin aging when it reacts to UVB rays.

Phenoxyethanol:  Beware!/Avoid!  This is a preservative.  It is commonly used because it is safer than formaldehyde-releasing preservatives.  It is also suspected to be a xenoestrogen (mimics estrogen), a cause of contact dermatitis and skin irritant.  The concentration in this product is likely low and 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.  This ingredient is made from 2 carcinogens (benzene and ethylene oxide), though it itself is not known to be carcinogenic.  The FDA released a warning about how it can impact the central nervous system and induce vomiting in infants.   People around small children should ‘Avoid!’ this ingredient, others should ‘Beware!’.  (MSDS)

Carbomer: Beware!  Used as a thickener, typically at very low concentrations.  This ingredient is not toxic, but can be slightly hazardous upon skin contact.  Concentrations likely not high enough to be hazardous.  (MSDS)

Mangifera Indica (Mango) Seed Butter:  Safe!

Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter:  Safe!

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

Propylparaben:  Beware!  Propylparaben is used as an anti-fungal preservative, typically in concentrations less than 1%.  It is commonly synthetically produced though it is produced naturally in fruits as p-hydroxybenzoic acid.  It is readily absorbed into the skin and metabolized, and has been found in urine in limited tests.  Propylparaben is suspected to be a xenoestrogens (mimic estrogen).  There is not conclusive proof that demonstrates that use of personal care products containing parabens causes cancer.

Dimethiconol:  Beware!  Dimethiconol is a silicone that acts as a skin conditioner and emollient.  It forms a protective barrier on the skin prevent moisture from entering or escaping.  It is unlikely to penetrate the skin.  Dimethiconol is believed to cause reproductive toxicity via inhalation, though it is not expected to be a skin irritant.  The concentration in this product is low so it is not a high concern.  (MSDS)

Sodium Hydroxide:  Beware!  Also known as caustic soda or lye, this ingredient is likely used to aid surfactants or increase pH.  In pure form it can be dangerous, toxic to eyes, lungs, and skin, though it is typically used in low concentrations in personal care products. (MSDS)

Caramel: Safe!  Caramel is used as a coloring agent, used from heating edible sugars at high temperatures.  It is generally regarded as safe by the FDA.  It is mutagenic to mammalian somatic cells, bacteria, and yeast.  It may effect genetic material after chronic exposure (inhalation or ingestion), and can be a skin, lung, and eye irritant in pure form.  This ingredient is very low in concentration and is fine to use.  (MSDS)

Tocopheryl Acetate:  Safe!/Beware!  Tocopheryl 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.

Methylisothiazolinone:  Beware!  This preservative is a known skin irritant, sensitizer, and allergen; lung and eye irritant.  Methylisothiazolinone has been linked to allergic contact dermatitis was named Contact Allergen of the Year in 2013.  It is also believed to cause burns in pure form.  This ingredient is also believed to be cytotoxic (toxic to living cells) and neurotoxic (toxic tot he nervous system) based on various studies, though information has been refuted due to the low exposure based on quantity in cosmetic formulas.  It is not known to be carcinogenic.  This ingredient is one of many that have been used to replace parabens, though they appear in conjunction with 2 parabens in this formulation.  Methylisothiazolinone is also very toxic to aquatic organisms in pure form. (MSDS)

Nature’s Pulchritude’s Verdict:  The first 4 ingredients of this product are a great foundation for a moisturizer.  This product is marketed as containing shea butter and it is the second ingredient after water, which is commendable as other products we have looked at did not have high quantities of the marketed ingredient.  The Mango Butter and Cocoa Butter could have been higher in quantity.  Even though this product contains petrolatum, dimethicone, and mineral oil, they are in lower concentrations than the key ‘Safe!‘ ingredients.  The biggest concern for this product are the large number of fillers and the presence of parabens and methylisothiazolinone.  This is a good option for a hand or foot cream.  Note:  This product has been reformulated and the Mango Butter and Cocoa Butter are the 9th and 10th ingredients.


Would you buy this product?

2 thoughts on “How to Read Cosmetic Ingredient Labels VII”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s