How to Read Cosmetic Ingredient Labels XXXIV

It is nearing flu season and you have been washing your hands more frequently. You are looking for a moisturizing hand lotion to combat the dryness of drying soaps. You came across a new brand in a health food store and wonder if this ‘natural’ product is worth a try. 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.  For instructions on Label Poise visit our Label Poise page.

The Label


The Ingredients

Purified Water: Safe!   Water is the ultimate moisturizer and is a key ingredient in many moisturizing products.

Aloe Vera Gel (Aloe Barbadensis)*:  Safe! This ingredient is used for its nutrient content and moisturizing properties.  (MSDS;MSDS)

Vegetable Emulsifying Wax:  Beware!  This ingredient is a combination of 4 ingredients, which may vary by manufacturer: Cetearyl Alcohol, Polysorbate 60, PEG-150 Stearate, Steareth-20. Despite its name it is not all natural.  Of its four components Cetearyl Alcohol is of minimal concern, nor is Polysorbate 60 at low doses.  However there is significant concern about  PEG-150 Stearate, which is a polyethlyene glycol derivative, may be contaminated with ethlyene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, and is linked to carcinogenicity, endocrine disruption, developmental toxicity, and skin irritation.   Steareth-20 is believed to be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane if not properly purified.  It is not listed as a skin irritant, though it may be an eye irritant.  There is no information on carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, teratogenicity, or developmental toxicity.  It is typically used as 5-10% of the formulation.  (MSDS)

Glyceryl Stearate: Safe!  Also known as Glyceryl Monostearate, this ingredient is typically derived from vegetable sources such as palm kernel and soy oil, and is the glycerol ester of stearic acid.  It is used as an emulsifier, stabilizer, lubricant, and decreases the ‘greasiness’ of oils.  It is believed to form a barrier on the skin to decrease moisture loss.  In pure form is is a slight skin irritant.  The is no data available on human toxicity, carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, developmental toxicity, and teratogenicity. This ingredient is considered “generally regarded as safe” by the FDA.  (MSDSMSDS )

Apricot (Prunus Armeniaca) Kernel Oil: Safe! Apricot Kernel Oil is high in linoleic and oleic acids, and also contains antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E. It can be used as an emollient and is easily absorbed into skin.

Avocado (Persea Gratissima) Oil: Safe! This oil contains Vitamin E and contains antioxidants.

Safflower (Carthamus Tinctorius) Seed Oil: Safe!  Safflower oil is made from safflower seeds and is high in monounsaturated fatty acids. Safflower oil helps the skin retain moisture and promote elasticity. It may be a slight skin and eye irritant, though it is not known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic, or a developmental toxin.  (MSDS)

Wheat Germ (Triticum Vulgare) Oil: Safe!   This oil is obtained from the germ of the wheat kernel and has the highest vitamin E content of any other vegetable oil. Wheat germ oil is also high in linoleic acid. It is used as a skin conditioning agent and moisturizer. (MSDS)

Glycerin: Safe!  Glycerin is a humectant that attracts moisture in the skin. Glycerine can be derived from fats and oils, or synthetically–which is not indicated here.  (MSDS)

Borage Seed Oil (Borago Officinalis): Safe! Borage seed oil is extracted from the seed of the borage (starflower) herb. Borage seed oil has the highest lineolic acid content of any seed oil. It is commonly used to treat skin conditions such as eczema and seborrheic dermatitis. It is used as a moisturizer and skin conditioning agent. (MSDS)

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

Cocoa Butter (Theobroma Cacaoseed): Safe!  Cocoa butter is used for its skin conditioning properties.  It is high in antioxidants and are high in saturated fats. It is also used as an emollient.

Dimethicone: Beware! Dimethicone is a synthetic chemical polymer siloxanes derived from silica. They are used as a skin conditioning agent and it forms a protective barrier on the skin the prevents moisture from leaving or entering, which can be harmful to skin. (MSDS)

Cetyl Alcohol:  Safe!  This is a fatty alcohol that is often used as an emollient and emulsifier in conditioners. It is typically derived naturally from coconut or palm oil.  (MSDS)

Vitamin E Acetate: Safe!/Beware!  Also known as tocpheryl Acetate, this ingredient has antioxidant properties and can penetrate skin cells. It is generally regarded as safe, however, there is limited information (not on a MSDS) linking it to cancer so use your best discretion. (MSDS)

Ethylhexyl Glycerin: Beware! This ingredient is a glyceryl ether and is the condensation product of 2-ethylhexanol and glycerin. This ingredient is typically derived from vegetable oil, but goes through various chemical transformations before becoming the final product. It is used as a skin conditioning agent, deodorizer, and very mild preservative. It is typically used in concentrations of 0.0003 – 2% by weight of a formula. Though it is used in the treatment of eczema, it is believed to be a skin, eye, and lung irritant. It is not known to be carcinogenic, a reproductive, developmental toxin, or genotoxin. No Individual MSDS. (CIR Report; MSDS: Caprylyl Glycol & Ethylhexylglycerin).

Natural Fragrance: Safe!/Beware!  This is a generic listing of fragrance similar to other labels, however, they clearly indicate that the fragrance is ‘natural.’ This is just as ambiguous as other fragrance listings so Beware! if you are prone to allergic reactions from fragrances.

Phenoxyethanol:  Beware!/Avoid!   Phenoxyethanol 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)


Nature’s Pulchritude’s Verdict:  Though this ingredient is marketed as being natural, it has several questionable ingredients (Vegetable Emulsifying Wax, Phenoxyethanol, Dimethicone, Ethylhexyl Glycerin, etc.).  There are lotions with better ingredients on the market, but this product should be just fine for a hand moisturizer.

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