Makeup developer and small business owner, Kerrie, and I live in the same town, but I'd never met her until she commented on my recent post about my beauty routine. The conversation that developed there was highly informative, and I asked Kerrie if she would allow me to interview her for the blog.
A lot of us in the eco community trust small product lines to make safe, natural products, but Kerrie told me that some of the products I currently use - and some of the ones recommended by readers - were potentially dangerous after prolonged exposure. Today, she's here to break down some of the myths surrounding both natural beauty and the beauty industry at large so that we can be informed, smart consumers.
Hello! My name is Kerrie and I am the owner and maker behind Kitsune's Closet.
The idea of giving lip balm for gifts one year got me started on this path, and after a lot of experiments and research, here I am. I sell my products at Darling Boutique in Charlottesville, Live Trendy or Die in Lynchburg, and on my website, www.kitsunescloset.com. I make my products as natural as possible, trying to keep my formulas simple and gentle, yet effective.
Kitsune's Closet also features my hand bags and accessories, some featuring upcycled fabrics and many fabrics for the comic book/fantasy/sci-fi inclined. I also love to spin, knit and bake, and collecting (and wearing) vintage clothes and sewing from vintage patterns.
StyleWise: When it comes to beauty, I'm familiar with the Dirty Dozen - ingredients such as parabens, petrolatum, and formaldehyde - that natural brands leave out of their product lines. But what are some of the most common harmful ingredients found in all natural products?
Kerrie Pierce: After the "Dirty Dozen" I don't really believe there are other major or minor common toxic/harmful ingredients in natural products. I think there are ingredients that can cause people irritation depending on the sensitivity of their skin, but that can come from a natural ingredient like shea butter, or a synthetic ingredient like SLS. Sodium Laurel Sulfate is an ingredient that often gets called dangerous or toxic on blogs, but really is a synthetic organic compound that is used as a surfactant (a compound that lowers surface tension for cleaning purposes) and has been tested extensively for safety. All surfactants can be irritants however, and it can be more of an irritant than other related compounds.
Many natural companies use SLES (sodium laureth sulfate) as an alternative as it seems to be less of an irritant than SLS. Here is where research and personal choice comes into play. Being aware of what can irritate your skin can help you make personal choices, however, simply because something irritates your skin, doesn't mean that it is harmful or toxic, it is just not the best product for you.
You have to keep in mind even natural ingredients can be toxic in large enough doses: we need water, but too much can kill you. We need our breathable air to have roughly 21% oxygen; 100% oxygen can be toxic.
If you want to be technical, everything is a chemical, and not all chemicals are bad.
When you read a label and see a long, hard to pronounce chemical, look it up it the Cosmetic Ingredient Review and learn about what it is and how it works. Many ingredients used in cosmetics and body care can be derived from natural ingredients like coconut and sugar, but to be effective undergo some form of processing.
SW: Many people equate the "all natural" label with something healthy or inherently good, but in reality, it's not a regulated term. How are companies allowed to include harmful ingredients and still label them in a way that makes them seem eco-friendly and health conscious?
KP: Again, I don't believe companies are allowed to include purposely harmful ingredients. When further testing and research have shown ingredients to be unsafe, certain preservatives, colorants and solvents have been pulled and are no longer permitted for use. We have ingredients like the "Dirty Dozen" that many people including myself like to avoid, because why use them when there are more natural alternatives and preliminary studies have shown there is the potential for them to be harmful? (Further research may add them at some point to the above mentioned ingredients.)
So I would like to steer this question more to the point that it isn't that companies are allowed to use harmful ingredients and label them in a way that makes them seem eco-friendly and health conscious, but that often companies, in an effort to seem more natural and eco-friendly, don't follow proper procedure in labeling and are not transparent about their ingredients and smaller companies in an attempt to be all natural may do more harm than good.
For example, some brands say they use no artificial colors, but technically iron oxides used in cosmetics are synthetics. Iron oxides are produced in labs for safety reasons since naturally produced varieties often contain impurities like arsenic, mercury and cadmium. There is no reason not to be transparent about that!
Micas are also commonly used in natural cosmetics, and some only contain oxides and some are a mix of oxides and dyes. Again, these colorants are produced in labs and rigorously tested for safety. Where this can be potentially unsafe is when companies misuse colorants either by amount in the product or in an inappropriate product. Some colorants can be used in all products, some may not be used in lipstick, and some may not be used around the eyes. I have seen natural cosmetic companies do this and it could be out of ignorance or a feeling of disregard for the FDA; it's hard to say.
This is why it is important for customers to educate themselves.
SW: You mentioned in your original comments that all natural brands often make the mistake of leaving out preservatives and other synthetics that add to the long term efficacy of the product. Can you go into more detail about the types of preservatives and other ingredients that actually make beauty products safer?
KP: Preservatives absolutely make body care and cosmetics safer. Broad spectrum preservatives help keep molds, fungi and bacteria from taking over your product and potentially making you sick or giving you an infection. There have been cases where consumers have been effected and products have been pulled.
Some natural cosmetics companies will give you the idea regular products are heavily laden with preservatives, but from what I've learned since making my own products, that is false. Broad spectrum preservatives are very powerful, and for example, in a 100g (about 4oz) recipe for, say, a lotion, the preservative (depending on which you choose) will be 1 gram or less.
On the other hand, some of the more "natural" preservatives like Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, in order to be effective, you must use much more, upwards of 4% of your ingredient total in your recipe and many supply companies recommend a co-preservative for maximum safety. It also is only good at Ph levels between 4-6 so you must test your formula to make sure it is suitable.
Some companies will argue that Grapefruit Seed Extract is a preservative, but it is not. It is an antioxidant, and often times when a company attempts to use it as a preservative it is the preservatives that are in the product itself (to preserve the extract) that is sort of preserving the product, but that is not safe, nor reliable, and oft times the preservative used in the extract has the undesirable elements you are trying to avoid!
SW: When shopping for cosmetics, what are the red flags I should look out for?
Look beyond the buzzwords and alarmist hype.
Go beyond all the claims of what are not in the product and look at what is. On body care and cosmetic labels, the ingredients list goes in order from greatest to least in the product. Ingredients also generally must be listed by their botanical and INCI name (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) and as I've mentioned those names can sound "scary" and unrecognizable. Look them up and then you can start to breakdown the label and recognize what makes up the product.
Generally lotions are water, oils, emulsifiers, thickeners and a preservative. Depending on what kind of lotion or cream, there may also be extracts, fragrance, etc.
One thing I would like to see be more transparent is the labeling "fragrance" or "parfume". Companies are allowed to use that term and it can be a composition of many ingredients, including preservatives. Make sure colorants listed are approved for the use are being used properly (ultramarine and chromium oxide green are big no-nos in lipstick), see if they are transparent about what preservative they are using and be skeptical if they say they aren't.
Learning what cosmetic ingredients are, learning to break down a label and decide if it is a product you want to use or try gives you great power as a consumer.
Also, consider price. As with many other things we shop for, marketing makes up a huge part of the final cost of a product and does not necessarily mean a better product.
SW: What are your favorite safe, hypoallergenic brands to use?
KP: I do make many of my own products now for my husband and myself, but for commercial brands I have enjoyed:
SW: You mentioned that you make your own product line and sell locally. What are your favorite ingredients to work with? What are your favorite products to make?
KP: Honestly, it's hard to pick a favorite! I do like working with oils and butters - so many combinations possible for lip balms and uses in lotions and creams. I also really love making nail polish and lipstick: with my background in art and painting, I love mixing up new colors!
SW: What resources and blogs do you recommend for those interested in doing more research and/or making their own products?
KP: One blog I highly recommend is Swift Crafty Monkey. She talks a lot about cosmetic chemistry, formulating, safety and the myriad of ingredients available. I recommend brambleberry.com and makingcosmetics.com for supplies and great information and formulas.
EcoCert, Cosmos-standard, Cosmetic Ingredient Review, EEC Cosmetic Directives, IFRA, and the Journal of the American College of Toxicology are all solid science-based resources for learning about cosmetic ingredients. In general, I try to avoid alarmist websites, because they don't always use the best research and studies for their conclusions.
Lastly today, I want to dispel a myth that just won't seem to die.
I'm sure most have heard the myth that an average woman eats six pounds (or more) of lipstick over her lifetime.
The idea, therefore, is that using lipsticks with dye is bad because dyes contain lots of lead (also not true) and eating all that lipstick will kill you. This is just ridiculous. Let's break this down logically:
A lipstick bullet that goes in the tube weighs about 3 grams. There are 28 grams in an ounce, and 16 oz in a pound. That right there is about 149 lipsticks. Six pounds would be 896 lipsticks. You would have to use every single lipstick including scooping out the cup at the bottom, apply it upwards of 30 times a day and lick all of it off without getting any of it on a coffee or tea cup, on anyone when you kiss them, or wipe any of it off.
How many of us buy more than 10 lipsticks a year and use every bit down to the nub and never get it on anything and apply it upwards of 30 times a day?
There is not a single medical case of lead poisoning through lipstick.
Lead based paint and air, soil and water contamination are the leading causes of lead poisoning. Check out this link for an expanded breakdown on lipstick usage.