Wednesday, June 23, 2010

THE DEBATE OVER NATURAL VS. SYNTHETIC

After I posted that tid bit on micas, oxides and ultramarines not being natural I received a comment from Bubble Works that I wanted to respond to. Since my response was quite long (only a portion was written under the original topic) I thought I would dedicate an entire blog post to what I have to say on the subject of natural vs. synthetic ingredients in body products.

I don’t know if this was intentional or not by Bubble Works but it reads like it was. The post implies that those of us who promote natural over synthetic ingredients not only lack the education to be doing so but also that we are incapable of differentiating biased research from those based on credible evidence.

Bubble Works post quoted below:

“thats why I have 2 ranges - all natural with EOs and only Herbs and Spices and Clays for colour and "nearly natural", with FOs and Pigments. That way the consumer can chose. But on the point of synthetic being worse, it is a shame that you had an allergic reaction to Micas, but in this case synthetic is better than natural. Pigments and Oxides in nature are heavily contaminated with heavy metals and other poisons (natural, but still bad for you) which is the main reason they are now made synthetically, so they are pure and safe. And natural colours are very nice, but if someone is allergic to hibiscus it wont be so nice for them? Alkanet is another example. Very nice natural colourant and I love the way it changes and is unpredictable. It is currently under investigation in the EU and may be withdrawn from allowed cosmetic ingredients soon, I believe it already has been withdrawn in Germany. It's all natural, but looks like it may be causing cancer. There you go...my argument is usually, Poison Ivy is natural, but you wouldn't want to rub it all over your body.” Bubble Works


So before I share my view on this, know this about me:

I’ve not only been making body products for a good part of two decades, I’ve been selling to the public for almost half that time. I learned very well how to do research when working towards my bachelors in psychology in the early 90’s. Although the use of essential oils and herbs may be new to those who have hopped on the handmade body product bandwagon in the past few years, they aren’t new to me. In fact, the use of some herbs as medicine and colorants goes back generations in my family (this includes North American and European herbs). I’ve also spend half my life collecting and reading books written on the use of essenial oils and herbs and the last 10 months I’ve been studying under professionals like Jodi Baglien (clinical essential oil therapist), Lise Wolff (registered herbalist), Matthew Alfs (clinical herbalist) and continue to do so.
With a portion of my educational background out there for my readers to digest and analyze I’ll say this about natural vs. synthetics in body products.

SYNTHETICS:

“But on the point of synthetic being worse, it is a shame that you had an allergic reaction to Micas, but in this case synthetic is better than natural. Pigments and Oxides in nature are heavily contaminated with heavy metals and other poisons (natural, but still bad for you) which is the main reason they are now made synthetically, so they are pure and safe”


The above quoted statement is absolutely FALSE. It may appear to be true because minerals contained harmful metals such as lead (remember, lead was once consider safe as well) but mica is anything but pure and safe when it contains synthetics that have their own associated hazards. But aside from the “safe and pure” rhetoric, bubble works is suggesting that synthetics are created because there is no safe alternative which is completely untrue. There is one main driving force behind the creation of synthetics and that is the cost factor. A good example is essential oils and fragrance oils. Fragrance oils weren’t created because they were “safer and purer” than essential oils, they were created because they were an affordable fragrance (as oppose to costly essential oils) and manufacturers lured the public with the variety of scents an FO offered. The synthetic is almost ALWAYS the cheaper alternative. When the public can “afford” a product, the manufacturers make more money. Supply + Demand! Don’t ever be mistaken, profits are high for those invested in synthetics. The following quote says it best:

“But the manufacturers of mass-produced cosmetics won’t use exclusively natural materials; they’re too expensive, and all-natural products are too unstable to withstand the long shelf lives they expect from their products. Most synthetic chemicals are used in cosmetics either because they’re cheaper or because they make some phase of mass-manufacturing or distribution possible.”
http://www.ecomall.com/greenshopping/aubrey4.htm


Synthetics also gave the industry the ability to provide products that lasted 3x’s as long and at a fraction of the cost as something entirely natural. All that was needed was to convince the public it was safe and you have yourself a billion dollar industry.

With the manufacturers of synthetics the research dollars are always saved for promotional purposes. You never hear about a study until they need to do damage control. Parabens are a good example. Study after study sponsored by those invested in parabens are being released now to convince the public of their safety. Where were these studies ‘pre” exposure to the public? All of the studies on parabens are CURRENT, not LONG-TERM, don’t involve examining “the cocktail affect” of absorbed chemicals and in the end prove to be nothing more than an industries way of keeping the public buying their product.

The main thing to remember about most synthetics in body products is that their usage has a fairly short history, going back no more than 2-4 decades. Ironically, their usage coincides with the rise of several cancers, learning disabilities, and hormonal disorders. As I’ve noted before on this blog, there are about 10,500 chemical ingredients used in personal care products in the U.S. And only 11% of them have been tested for safety. Unfortunately, most consumers aren’t aware of this but if they knew I’m positive they would care. It never hurts to avoid synthetics but it can hurt if you don’t.

NATURALS

In the quote from bubble works herbs are being addressed so I will focus on that.

“And natural colours are very nice, but if someone is allergic to hibiscus it wont be so nice for them? Alkanet is another example. Very nice natural colourant and I love the way it changes and is unpredictable. It is currently under investigation in the EU and may be withdrawn from allowed cosmetic ingredients soon, I believe it already has been withdrawn in Germany. It's all natural, but looks like it may be causing cancer. There you go...my argument is usually, Poison Ivy is natural, but you wouldn't want to rub it all over your body.” Bubble Works


Yes, if someone is allergic it isn’t very nice for them. Just like the woman with the mica in the article I linked to. Anyway...

Herbs, unlike synthetic ingredients, have been around for thousands of years. We might as well say since the beginning of time. And again, unlike synthetics, their usage and level of safety is well documented (I call it "time-tested). How does one know that poison Ivy CAN cause a severe skin reaction? Because we have a long history of human exposure (BTW/not everyone is allergic to poison ivy, I’m not ).

First of all, anyone can be allergic to anything. An allergy can develop at anytime in a persons life, whether it be to food or something external (natural or synthetic). With that said, yes, herbs can be dangerous but only when used by uneducated individuals. Alkanet root (commonly known as Alkanna Tinctoria) used as a COLORANT does NOT CAUSE CANCER. There are some studies that suggest alkanet root can cause cancer if taken internally over LONG PERIODS of time and this is known by herbalists. There are no studies to suggest using alkanet as a colorant in soap or otherwise causes cancer. As a colorant it is NON-TOXIC!

Herbs and essential oils used topically can have a very different effect when used internally (doesn’t mean you stop using it externally). Just as with Alkanet root (first documented use as a colorant dating back to 300 b.c), there are others like Arnica, used topically for sprains and arthritis successfully (our family uses it and has for generations) but internally can be toxic. Essential oils, although absorbed into the skin and being very therapeutic can be something quite different if ingested. This is why you’d never swallow EO’s without being under medical supervision.

Are Botanical Ingredients safe?
In considering the safety of Botanical Ingredients used in cosmetics and personal care products, it is important to consider the specific botanical material, the amount of the botanical in the raw material and finished product and the route of exposure. Most applications of Botanical Ingredients in cosmetics are topical; they are applied externally to the skin.

In selecting Botanical Ingredients for preparation of cosmetic products, formulators take into account the extensive history of their preparation and use. Plant materials have been used for decades or even centuries and, based upon the human experience with these botanical ingredients, knowledge of their safety has been gained. Manufacturers of cosmetic and personal care products are required by law to adequately substantiate the safety of their products, including products containing Botanical Ingredients. There are many different references that describe the isolation, use and safety of botanical preparations.

http://www.cosmeticsinfo.org/HBI/3


To each their own on what they choose to put in their products, whether it be synthetics, naturals or a combination of both. The fact is no one should be creating a product that contains and ingredient they don't know anything about. If you don't know where an ingredient comes from, how it was processed, and what it's safety record (really) is, then it shouldn't be in your formulation. I also had to learn this valuable lesson along the way and will make damn sure I live as I preach!


As for something being “nearly natural” - I’ve already shared my opinion about that under the Mica, Oxide post.

Alkanna Tinctoria
(Alkanet Root) EWG safety report



A little history of synthetics (vs. naturals)

A very interesting and informative book on the history of synthetics in cosmetics:
Inventing Beauty by Teresa Riordan

update:I was checking out burts bees and look what I found on their site:

Do your products contain artificial colors?
We use only natural colors in our personal care products and cosmetics. Some examples are beta-carotene, chlorophyll, titanium dioxide, mica, iron oxides and carmine. These natural colors have a long history of safe usage unlike many artificial colors that have been banned by the FDA over the years.


This is a good example of why people are no longer trusting labels.

As for the FDA banning artificial colors that aren't safe.

When I was a child I developed this chronic case of hives that it took doctors months to figure out the cause. At times the hives would be so troublesome that it almost felt like I had them on the inside. It turned out I was reacting to artificial coloring. Many years later when I became a mother my oldest daughter had the same issue. This time in the form of what "professionals" called ADHD. Once the artificial colorants were eliminated from her diet she became calm and more focussed. She went from struggling in school to finishing out each year of school with A's and B's. Does that sound like a safe colorant?

4 comments:

Jennifer Young said...

Thank you for the very valuable information. Sounds like not only are you very knowledgeable about natural cosmetics but that you also continue to research. I am new to this and appreciate all your information and advice. One thing that I have very clear is that I want to use ONLY all natural things in my soaps. Can you tell me your opinion on Titanium Dioxide? I understand that some people use it to whiten soaps. I have not used it yet, but want to know if it is really Natural and if it healthy or unhealthy. Thank you! xo Jen

Michelle said...

Hi Jennifer,

I've only used Titanium Dioxide once on the suggestion of another soaper when I said I wanted to color my soap white like Ivory (lol!) but that was a long time ago. I've only learned the following about it since that time:

Here is a very honest write-up about Titanium Dioxide that you might find very helpful:

http://www.organicmakeup.ca/ca/titaniumdioxide.asp

It is chemically processed but with that being said,
here is a good explanation on the type of mineral it is and how it is transformed to be used in products:

http://www.icis.com/v2/chemicals/9076547/titanium-dioxide/process.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titanium_dioxide

Honesty though, the only compelling evidence I found when researching Titanium Dioxide that said anything negative about it was if it is inhaled. Even the EWG safety database refers to the dangers of inhalation, although some of the studies cited in the above article somewhat discounts that, I would agree that inhalation of this ingredient is not safe (which IMO would mean just wearing a facial mask , having proper ventilation and wearing gloves while using).

This article also suggests avoiding micronized particles of Titanium Dioxide which I agree with, since we can't determine how much of what we put on the skin will get absorbed.

BTW/I just checked the cosmetic safety database and the EWG has changed their rating on this product. It use to just have a hazard rating with no explanation (which annoyed me since the hazard was in relation to inhalation and as you already know is entirely different than absorption). They now specify that inhalation is the issue.

Here is the link: http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/ingredient/706561/TITANIUM_DIOXIDE/

Sunscreens are now being labelled as containing "sunscreen grade" Titanium Dioxide so that those who are aware of this micronized particles issue know that the particular Titanium Dioxide is not an issue.

If you go with Titanium Dioxide as a colorant for your products, I would suggest requesting your supplier assure you that the Titanium Dioxide is not micronized.

I'm not a saint in this business. I had no idea when I started out that some natural ingredients went through a chemical processing. Even with something as simple as honey, I learned in my beekeeping course that some companies process it in a way that we wouldn't be happy about as consumers if we knew.

Michelle said...

This is what the FDA has to say about Titanium Dioxide: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists Titanium Dioxide as a color additive exempt from certification.

"Colors subject to certification. These color additives are derived primarily from petroleum and are sometimes known as "coal-tar dyes" or "synthetic-organic" colors. (NOTE: Coal-tar colors are materials consisting of one or more substances that either are made from coal-tar or can be derived from intermediates of the same identity as coal-tar intermediates. They may also include diluents or substrata. (See Federal Register, May 9, 1939, page 1922.) Today, most are made from petroleum.)

Except in the case of coal-tar hair dyes, these colors must not be used unless FDA has certified that the batch in question has passed analysis of its composition and purity in FDA's own labs. If the batch is not FDA-certified, don't use it.
These certified colors generally have three-part names. The names include a prefix FD&C, D&C, or External D&C; a color; and a number. An example is "FD&C Yellow No. 5." Certified colors also may be identified in cosmetic ingredient declarations by color and number alone, without a prefix (such as "Yellow 5").

Colors exempt from certification. These color additives are obtained primarily from mineral, plant, or animal sources. They are not subject to batch certification requirements. However, they still are considered artificial colors, and when used in cosmetics or other FDA-regulated products, they must comply with the identity, specifications, uses, restrictions, and labeling requirements stated in the regulations [21 CFR 73].

http://www.fda.gov/ForIndustry/ColorAdditives/ColorAdditivesinSpecificProducts/InCosmetics/ucm110032.htm

For labeling purposes, titanium dioxide is chemically processed but so are many other natural ingredients. Example: some essential oils and carrier oils go through chemical processing (petroleum ether is used in the solvent extraction of some EO's). BTW/I avoid EO's that are processed that way.

From most points of view Titanium Dioxide is seen as a natural substance and is still marketed as such. Some of the EWG's top 10 sunscreens for 2010 contain Titanium Dioxide and are labelled all natural and those who support an all natural approach to products tend to stick Titanium Dioxide in the all natural category.

As far as I know, and I'll admit that I haven't done a lot of research on this product in this area, I've not found where Titanium Dioxide contains any additives like I did with Mica (mica contains color additives and sometimes other synthetic ingredients as noted on some supplier websites). But, on the flip side, although Titanium Dioxide is considered natural by many in the cosmetic industry it is regulated by the FDA and almost all of the suppliers I've looked at online sell it as a "synthetic pigment."

I hope this information helps you determine whether or not you want to include it in your formulations.

Jennifer Young said...

Thanks you again for your research and information! Wow. xoxo Jen