The internet can be the best and worst thing for information.
Long before I became a formulator, I’ve been obsessed with cosmetic ingredients. I love researching why different ingredients were used and their benefits or detriments. I’m sure many of you are the same.
The good thing is that there are plenty of sites dedicated to cosmetic ingredients. But the bad thing is that many of them are not entirely reliable.
The usual suspects
You might have heard of how a study discovered the ‘dangers’ of an ingredient widely used in cosmetic products. The story spreads like wildfire and just like that, the (innocent) ingredient has now become evil.
How can we tell if a source is legitimate? Questionable sources have one distinct trait. It instills fear.
The are also polarising, having a rating scale for every ingredient. They give labels such as ‘toxic, used in making (insert scary noun)’ and ‘suspected to cause cancer. The offending ingredient, a chemical, is capable of severe skin/eye irritation. It is toxic to humans, linked to cancer and used in industrial anti-freeze. Inconceivably, it is often found in baby products!
If these ingredients are not really that harmful, then why deceive consumers?
Because fear sells. We tend to be more impacted by negative comments than positive ones as the former generally involves more thought- processing. The scaring tactic is a very effective selling method.
Vilifying others is also an easy yet powerful way to make one look better.
Out of context
Sometimes treachery is unintended. Things might be taken out of context and thus, misunderstood.
Most, if not all, of the supposed risks refer to the potential harm faced by people who handle undiluted or large amounts of that particular ingredient/chemical. They are taken from a document (or Safety Data Sheet), which is compulsory for every chemical. Those risks are irrelevant to consumers like us who are only exposed to the small amounts of the ingredient present in our products.
Did you know that dihydrogen monoxide causes suffocation and death, but yet is the most commonly used cosmetic ingredient? Dihydrogen monoxide is also known as water. Every chemical is potentially hazardous. But most are perfectly safe and even beneficial when used at appropriate levels. The amount of water present in our shampoo is not going to drown us.
What about those detrimental effects unveiled by studies? Such studies, in the form of scientific literature, are not always easy to comprehend. What happens most of the time, is that they are read by those not trained to analyse and correctly interpret scientific data. Incorrect conclusions are drawn and so the wrong message get out.
Where to look
So where should we go for accurate information?
Sources backed by selected specialists with the knowledge, resources and expertise to make assessments and draw sound conclusions on the safety of ingredients used in cosmetics. These experts are from multiple fields of microbiology, chemistry, dermatology and toxicology. Many of them provide guidelines for their region’s cosmetics industry.
These resources are objective and do not simply rate how good or bad ingredients are. This is consistent with the fact is that any ingredient can be good or bad. It really depends on how they are used and who they are used on.
Some of the most reliable places to check out cosmetic ingredients are
The take home message today is that context is everything. Don’t simply believe everything you read or hear. Get smart!
Water, PubChem Open Chemistry Database, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/water#section=Top