Hello my lovelies,
It’s coffee chat time! Grab a coffee and join me.
I’ve asked you on Instagram:
“Ask a Chemist a question and I might write a post replying to it” and here it is! Thank you so much for your questions, I will slowly get round to them all. If you haven’t managed to ask yet or you have a new question email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or DM me on Instagram.
Today I will be answering the question from the sweet @effy_tsal:
“Which ingredients do you always avoid in face/body creams?”
The quick answer is…drum roll….none. But keep on reading to find out why.
It’s natural to assume that as a Chemist I am very picky about my ingredients and if you read any of my posts, especially the ones under this section “Beauty In depth Reviews & Ingredient Analysis (all articles here)“, you will have noticed that I have something to say about almost every ingredient in a product.
However, exactly because I am a Chemist I also don’t fall for the marketing plays for certain ingredients or the public chemophobia (check out: The Chemical Misconception – Should we avoid chemicals?) risen by inappropriate extrapolation of scientific studies, wrong media messages, lack of scientific understanding and some marketing plays. Many ingredients have unfortunately fallen under this trap including: mineral oil, sulphates (or sulfates same thing – just old vs new fashioned spelling), etc and let’s not forget the most popular parabens.
Do you really think that all these natural ingredient companies or free from x ingredient products are created to look after you? A business is a business and it needs to make money and nothing makes more money than a trend. Alternatively, do you really think that the products or companies that include those ingredients want to harm you? That would be illegal to say the least.
Like you I am a human and a woman who enjoys cosmetics very much. So if you don’t want to take my professional Chemist verdict then take my verdict as a woman who wouldn’t want to use anything bad on herself. I’ve searched for scientific evidence on these ingredients, in peer-reviewed published scientific studies (that’s how scientists publish their results and they are accepted or declined by other scientists in the field), and the evidence around all these “bad reputation ingredients” is contradicting to say the least. I’ll use parabens as an example but the situation applies to all related “bad labelled ingredients”.
Parabens started out as preservatives and whether you like preservatives or not let’s face it, your cream won’t last more than a couple of days without them, so they are necessary. They used to be one of the most popular preservatives used in the cosmetic industry until some studies showed that they have a weak estrogen activity (one of the female hormones) meaning that they can interact in our bodies in all sort of complex ways and potentially cause unwated effects including breast cancer etc. It was also found that parabens can potentially react with UVB and cause damage to the skin in the form of ageing, skin cancer and even DNA damage. [see references below] However, there are also many studies that show the opposite to the above claims. [see references below]
Additionally, the CIR panel (stands for Cosmetic Ingredient Review Panel) has reviewed the published studies and concluded that parabens are safe to use in cosmetics, under the concentrations they are being used at. [see CIR reference below] It’s important to note that the CIR panel is an independent, neutral panel that reviews data for cosmetic purposes. A bit like an FDA for cosmetics if you like. Speaking of FDA, parabens are approved by the FDA to be used in cosmetics and food too. [see FDA reference]
Long story short, there is no solid scientific evidence to say that parabens or any of the other “ingredient badies” are actually 100% harmful and this is why they are also not illegal to use. Until proven guilty, they are innocent and so there is no real reason to avoid them.
But why can’t science make a clear verdict? Well, science is a complex matter and so the studies can be complex too. Studying the effect of a compound in our body (no matter which part) is an insanely complicated study, as our bodies contain millions and millions of molecules and active processes with which that ingredient can interact or be affected by. Just think of our body as a chemical machine, it’s doing hundreds of reactions as you read this article. It’s like you are putting the ingredients of 100 cakes all in one bowl and then adding a little vanilla and trying to figure out which cake will the vanilla have an effect on or will it have an effect on any at all? It’s complicated!
Additionally, not all scientists or science studies are equally good, for a couple of reasons:
1. not all scientists have the same training or skill or are as good as others in the same way that for example some makeup artists are better than others
2. there are no strict standards on how studies like these should be performed
3. some scientific papers are published because they have been reviewed by “buddies”, yes politics happen to science too
and even worse
4. some scientific papers have their results exaggerated because the researchers need ways to impress to get more funding
5. and let’s not forget that scientists are humans too and they can make mistakes.
What all of this means is that we need to be critical, even of science, and make sure that the studies were done correctly and that the majority of the science community, not a couple of people, agree with the results or even better, have come to the same results doing the same or similar studies. As a Dr in Chemistry, I don’t believe every single science paper I read, I check if the study was done correctly and then I look for more studies reaching the same conclusions.
To take this back to parabens for example (again this applies to all “ingredient badies”), some studies that prove them to be guilty are not complete or have missed an important step, like doing a control study, or used amounts that are much higher than those you would find in cosmetics (quantity matters, even water can kill you if you drink too much of it!) or even tested on animals which as you can imagine are different species than humans and can be affected differently etc. You get the point. A lot of those studies fail to prove their point without a shadow of a doubt and then you also have those studies that prove the complete opposite (not that those are perfect either).
In the mist of all this is you wondering “should I be avoiding these ingredients or not”. Well, since you asked what do I do as a Chemist here it is. I don’t avoid any ingredient, I will not throw away or refuse to use a cream because it has parabens for example, but when I have a choice I would take a product without them. Why? Because the cosmetic industry is so populated that we have THE CHOICE. We have the choice to have a peace of mind and going for a potentially “lower risk” option. Although with that being said, bear in mind that just because you are using a product with ingredients that do not have any “concerns” on them, it doesn’t mean that all the ingredients in that product are “safe”. Just like we didn’t think years ago that parabens were harmful, the products you might choose to use might end up containing something that we will choose to avoid in the future. Research takes time and unfortunately, the cosmetic industry is not a heavily researched area. We don’t know everything just yet and if you want the honest answer, everything you use has a potential risk, including everything you eat!
So, I don’t avoid them but if was to buy a cream for example, and both had the same ingredient goodies but one had parabens then, I can understand why you would go for peace of mind and I do the same. However, that is very different to saying that parabens or all the other “ingredient badies” give you cancer etc. There is no proof of that and until then you can avoid them if you wish but that’s A CHOICE, not because they will actually cause you harm. Bear in mind though that parabens and some of the other “ingredient badies” are also used in some food items. As a result, if you wish to avoid them do it properly, and don’t just avoid them in cosmetics. Cosmetics are so easy to blame but think about what you are ingesting first!
I do hope that more studies are done soon and we get a solid answer on all those ingredients once and for all. Although, something tells me that even then we will gain new “ingredient badies” because research will move on and and perhaps also because sadly, that’s just something that our society has made a habit of doing. Trends and fear sell. Check out: The Chemical Misconception – Should we avoid chemicals?
You cannot legally convict someone of murder until you have proof, why should cosmetics or ingredient judgment be any different?
Hope this helps. Lots of love,
Bonds of Beauty
To get a taste of what I’m talking about, here’s a small example of research papers on parabens, but there are many, many more.
Studies with evidence against parabens:
Studies with evidence showing that parabens are safe:
CIR Safety Assesment of Parabens used in Cosmetics
FDA Parabens in Cosmetics
I am not affiliated with any company or brand. These are my views and experiences.
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