Simply 'Label Appeal'? Part 1.

Simply 'Label Appeal'? Part 1.

At Nooma Organics, we are hugely disenchanted by the widespread  ‘greenwashing’ of conventional skincare products: an extensive and misleading use of the terms 'natural' and 'organic' applied to products which scarcely meet the mark; intended to create ‘label appeal’ rather than identify genuine skin nourishing formulas. These terms have become so ‘common or garden’ that they have lost their potency; perhaps have become relatively meaningless... 

But we want to freely use these terms because they do aptly describe our skincare formulas. We would like to offer some additional information to help customers to have a shared understanding of why we are applying these definitions to our own products.

As producers of artisan Natural Skincare products, we have taken on board some of the exasperated comments made by chemists who blog that skincare manufacturers often use emotive language, hyperbole and erroneous scientific terminology when describing skincare ingredients which leads to misinformation, confusion and even scaremongering. (Source here)

And so, point taken and we will do our best to avoid touting ‘nonsense science!’

That said, this also has to be weighed with our ethical stance that underpins the production of our formulas; they are intrinsically crafted out of an instinct, even passion, to live holistically which largely determines our choice of ingredients - and yes, it is an emotive position but not from a desire to manipulate the public to enhance sales! 

Chemists also highlight consumer myths; perhaps perpetuated by some natural skincare manufacturers whose product descriptions may have contributed to the overall concern about ‘chemicals’ per sae. (Source here) We hope to address some of these issues below and offer our own current perspectives.   

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Chemicals...

We have noticed that some producers of ‘natural’ skincare products sometimes describe their products as “chemical free.” 

Chemists and pedants alike, argue that this statement cannot literally be true: for all ‘matter’ - our food, air, gases, water, all living things and inanimate objects are made of tiny particles called atoms and inherently have chemical structures. Source here. With specific regard to skincare products, every ingredient, including the packaging, is therefore comprised of chemicals!

To illustrate this point: one single ingredient, such as an essential oil, is a highly complex mixture of some 20 - 200 chemical constituents (Tisserand & Young, 2014, 2nd ed).  

Whilst we have established, then, that ‘all matter is chemical’, a further issue raised by chemists highlights how discussions about chemicals can become polarised: naturally occurring chemical constituents are generally perceived as beneficial whilst synthetic chemicals are often equated with toxicity:

“Some people associate the word ‘chemical’ with manufactured poisons. However, a chemical is not harmful just because it’s manufactured nor is it harmless just because it’s natural. Potentially poisonous chemicals can be synthetic (manufactured) or natural. For example, dioxins, some pesticides and nerve gases are poisonous manufactured chemicals, whereas, belladonna, botulinum and tetrodotoxin are poisonous naturally produced chemicals”. ("Chemicals Everywhere" sciencelearn.org 2012- click here).

Semantics aside, the sentiment behind the earlier statement ‘chemical free’, that we do concur with, implies an intention to reduce or exclude synthetic chemicals, particularly those which are deemed to be hazardous or are known skin irritants - often referred to as ‘toxic chemicals’ by concerned consumers, wishing to avoid them. 

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Controversy abounds on the internet, however, concerning the inclusion of these legally permitted synthetic chemicals. 

Sense about Science have created poster campaigns highlighting the misconception that synthetic chemicals are inherently harmful as opposed to naturally occurring ones. They protest that any substance  - all chemicals - if given in large enough doses can cause death and therefore “chemical toxicity is a sliding scale;” everything is poison in large enough doses.  

I think that further clarification is needed here, however, since this statement could be taken to imply that all chemicals are created equal and simply the dose commands the level of toxicity. Many chemicals have already been banned due to health risks and clearly, direct skin exposure to a pure extract of Madagascan Vanilla versus sulphur mustard (chemical warfare agent) are hardly comparable substances in terms of safety from the outset! Yet I appreciate that particular chemicals with a moderate health risk can be relatively safe, perhaps even beneficial, when used in very tiny, carefully diluted, amounts. This is certainly the case with particular Essential Oils known to be high risk for adverse skin reactions, such as Cinnamon Bark and Cassia and so developing a firm knowledge of specific individual oil dilution percentages is of paramount importance in order to handle them safely. (Tisserand Institute Survey and dangers of not diluting essential oils - here

This perspective focussing upon 'dosage' is commonly put forward by those manufacturers wanting to include ingredients which may hold particular skin irritation concerns yet strongly refute any association with ‘toxicity’.  They further suggest that even if these substances posed any risk, it would be negligible because these chemicals are usually included in relatively small amounts. 

Whilst this standpoint may hold some truth, it appears not to take into consideration the possible cumulative effects of frequent use of multiple skincare and household products, which together may combine into larger amounts of similar substances - yet further, it is unknown how these combined substances might negatively interact in the body. This is referred to as the 'xenobiotic load' (foreign chemicals accumulating in the body - such as food additives, heavy metals, biocides, preservatives, rogue hormones and various environmental pollutants to name but some). It has been proposed that subsequent 'xenobiotic effects' may then trigger all kinds of illness and allergies (Dr. Crisafi 2008 - click here).

As a counsellor previously for many years, I became curious about the possible interaction of the daily accumulation of so many synthetic chemicals (xenobiotics) upon the human body. I suspected they might play quite a significant, yet hidden, role in people's lives; perhaps impacting negatively upon psychological as well as physical health… 

An ethical stance, that we align ourselves to, upholds that any substance believed to be a skin irritant (like sulphate detergents such as SLS / SLES), a carcinogen, or a probable hormone disruptor, such as the paraben family of preservatives (click for research link), (and particularly in view of the impact of excessive hormones upon the wider environment) should never be included within skincare products, regardless of dose. 

Our field of work: the development of skin nourishing natural skincare, is immersed in contentious debate and whilst we take a reserved position with regard to the inclusion of synthetic ingredients ourselves, we do appreciate the importance of listening to and evaluating other perspectives. 

Unfortunately, we have come across scathing criticism of various research studies investigating the effects of some of these synthetic ingredients where some chemists are quick to identify flaws in methodology etc and therefore reject the study in its entirety rather than evaluate the findings for what they are. From our perspective, no science research, no matter how rigorous, can be ‘perfect’ ; the person of the researcher cannot be isolated as a neutral observer and inevitably will have some bearing upon the findings. Whilst 'flaws' do of course need to be understood within the context of the individual research project, it is equally important not to subsequently dismiss themes that may be emerging across the field in many studies which need attending to. 

The Soil Association acknowledges a lack of consistent scientific data verifying the ‘safety’ of particular synthetic chemicals, and as a precaution, has chosen not to allow manufacturers to use these ingredients until further research clearly indicates otherwise. This is a very helpful benchmark for customers; knowing that a screening process rules out some dubious ingredients from Soil Association certified products. 

Please look up 'Ingredients we never use' for a list of ingredients not permitted. Click here.

For a very useful site to check cosmetic synthetic ingredients that may pose health concerns, Stephanie Greenwood from Bubble and Bee.com writes a chemical blog that is definitely worth checking up - here. She has a background in chemistry whilst also manufactures a large range of USDA Certified Organic natural skincare products.  

(This is the first article of 3 parts - part 2 focuses on 'Natural & Raw' and Part 3 on 'Organic'?)

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References, articles, websites:

Purdel N, Sirbu A, Nicolescu F. (2015) "Estrogenic Burden of Parabens used in Child Care Products" : click here - FARMACIA, 2015, Vol. 63, 1 

xenobiotics-disease-and-detoxification- Daniel Crisafi 2008.

The following sites may offer useful scientific information alongside perhaps controversial conclusions of particular research studies. We do not believe that research findings of many harsh synthetic chemicals has been able to definitively prove general safe use and therefore prefer to take a reserved approach for the benefit of our customers.

http://chemistry.about.com/od/chemistryfaqs/f/whatchemical.htm 'What is a chemical?' - click here

http://icanhasscience.com/chemistry/what-is-and-what-isnt-a-chemical/ - click here

http://www.iflscience.com/chemistry/five-myths-about-chemicals-you-breathe-eat-and-drink - Mark Lorch 2014 - click here

http://sciencelearn.org.nz/Contexts/Toxins/Science-Ideas-and-Concepts/click here

http://www.senseaboutscience.org

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Article 1 of 3 parts written by © Na Smyth 2015 for Nooma Blog @ Nooma Organics Natural Skincare 

Photograph taken by Rod Smyth for © Nooma Organics Natural Skincare 



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