Natural Soap?Myth: Beauty products sold as “natural” and “organic” at health food stores and coops are truly natural and organic.
Facts: Some natural, organic beauty products are exactly what they claim to be; however, many of the trusted brands featured in health food stores and coops contain harmful ingredients and/or are not 100% natural. Anyone can claim their product is natural and/or organic, as there are no federal certifications or safety testing for beauty products. There are no official guidelines as to what constitutes a natural product, and even though a beauty product may contain certified organic ingredients, it may not be 100% natural. Some beauty products labeled organic, contain only a single digit percentage of organic ingredients.
Rebecca recently wrote about beauty products in Tip o’ the Day: Cosmetics that Cause Concern. She advised readers to visit the Environmental Working Group’s cosmentic data base Skin Deep, which provides analysis of many beauty products. When consulting this site, I became concerned when I saw many of the “natural” beauty products I purchased at our local coop were rated higher than I expected for toxicity. By reading labels, I discovered many of these brands utilize ingredients that are not natural or may only be derived from natural ingredients. According to Skin Deep FAQ, “It is often difficult for us to identify which ingredients in products are truly organic, since “organic” is a generally marketing term used by many in the cosmetic industry to imply that the product is natural.”
Let’s look closely at one such “natural” body product I use every day. Alba Body Lotion made by Avalon Natural Products received a score of 8 out of 10, according to Skin Deep. Here are the ingredients from the packaging, some of which are organically grown:
ACTIVE INGREDIENTS: OCTYL METHOXYCINNAMATE, BENZOPHENONE-3. INGREDIENTS: CERTIFIED ORGANIC HERBAL INFUSION OF CHAMOMILE (CHAMOMILLA RECUTITA), ECHINACEA (ECHINACEA PURPUREA), GREEN TEA (CAMELLIA SINENSIS), LAVENDER (LAVANDULA OFFICINALIS) AND ROSE HIPS (ROSA CANINA), ISOPROPYL PALMITATE, GLYCERYL STEARATE, SWEET ALMOND OIL (PRUNUS AMYGDALUS DULCIS), CETYL ALCOHOL, SILICA, VEGETABLE GLYCERIN, CERTIFIED ORGANIC ALOE BARBADENSIS, ORCHID EXTRACT (CYMBIDIUM GRANDIFLORUM), ALPHA-HYDROXY ACIDS OF GLYCOLIC (SUGAR), LACTIC (VEGETABLE) AND ASCORBIC (CITRUS FRUIT), BOTANICAL FRAGRANCE (PARFUM), METHYL/PROPYLPARABEN, TOCOPHERYL ACETATE AND TOCOPHEROL (VITAMIN E).
The fragrance is considered to be of the highest concern for hazard, but the ingredient that stands out as the most unnatural is methyl/propylparaben. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports methyl and butyl parabens and certain preservatives have been linked to metabolic, developmental, hormonal, and neurological disorders, as well as various cancers. “True organic personal-care products would not contain preservatives,” says Diana Kaye, cofounder of the organic care line Terressentials. According to Wikipedia, methyl/proplylparaben belongs to the paraben family, “Parabens are a group of chemicals widely used as preservatives in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries…. Their efficacy as preservatives, in combination with their low cost…probably explains why parabens are so commonplace.”
Another common ingredient used in “natural” beauty products is sodium laureth/lauryl sulfate (SLES/SLS). This surfactant is derived from coconut oil and fell victim to an Internet rumor as carcinogenic. It is commonly used in “natural” beauty products, as well as engine degreasers and antifreeze. Although SLES/SLS do not cause cancer, it is in fact an eye and skin irritant. In people with sensitive skin (prone to dermatitis, acne, eczema, psoriasis and chemical sensitivity), the drying property of SLS/SLES can cause flare-ups or may worsen existing conditions. This has been my experience with my son, who’s eczema disappeared after only three days on SLS free soap. As the Natural Health Information Center warns us, “Do not believe that just because a product is labeled as “natural” it is free from SLS or SLES. Most common brands of “Natural” or “Herbal” shampoos and cleansers still use these harmful chemicals as their main active ingredient – check your labels!” Many “natural” beauty companies stand by the use of SLS/SLES, such as Tom’s of Maine (now owned by Colgate/Palmolive). Other companies, such as Aubrey Organics, question its safety. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps has put together a video using a forensic drug test to demonstrate how many, “Companies mislead consumers in conflating their detergent-based products with ecological biodegradable soaps, even calling these synthetic detergent products ‘organic’. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps are real soaps made from real organic oils, while these other so-called ‘Soap’ products are detergents made from petroleum and conventional vegetable material. They are not soap, they are not organic, they are not natural.” Although SLS/SLES is derived from coconut oil, and many “natural” companies will place coconut in parentheses on the label behind SLS/SLES, it is not considered natural by all. In Germany, where there is an effort underway to label cosmetics and personal care products as certified natural, formulations containing sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate cannot be certified natural.
Read the Label!You can take action on this issue by signing EWG’s petition in support of government-mandated safety testing of product ingredients. Alternative products do exist that are truly natural and organic, but the consumer will need to read labels, research ingredients, and review Skin Deep to find the safest, natural beauty products. The advises, “There are still no regulations that keep unethical body care companies from making fraudulent ‘organic’ labeling claims outside of the USDA organic certification process… As a consumer, if you purchase a body care product that claims to be organic but does not have the USDA certified organic symbol, you have no way of knowing how much (or how little) organic content that product actually has.”