There’s a lot written about so-called “no-no” ingredients in our business. In recent times, brands have built huge profits based almost solely on what’s not in their formulas versus what is. Recognizing such successes, we now see other brands jumping on the same bandwagon. And perhaps, it’s likely, even these brands don’t know why they are, outside of following what’s tried-and-true or (unfortunately) standard in terms of cosmetic marketing. The problem is that brands simply saying “no” to certain ingredients is not the same as being truly transparent and consumer-centric.
Consumers are getting stuck on what I call “The Label Game.” In this piece, we’ll explain why things aren’t always crystal clear when you read ingredient labels. That is if you can read them at all. And while you very well may end up more confused than before, you’ll learn how crafty marketers spin their labels to extract dollars from your wallet.
It's why I spend so much effort selecting the fewest, and best, ingredients for our 3-in-1 shampoo, body wash and bubbles. As you will see, we stripped down our formulas to eliminate confusions and let you say YES to Dabble & Dollop!
“Yes” to natural - and equally important - “yes” to sustainable. How could a nature-loving consumer use a natural ingredient if it’s not sourced sustainably? While it’s wonderful that there is a strong preference for natural ingredients, being or buying “natural” is not enough.
The best brands should ensure their natural ingredients are being derived from sustainable sources. I think it’s unethical how many brands simply throw in endless extracts and natural products just to boldly claim NATURAL on their packaging.
Having spent over two decades witnessing how raw material suppliers operate in this space, I can tell you firsthand that, more often than not, these natural ingredients are extracted with absolutely zero regards for the environment.
(By the way, you know what's good for the environment? This Easter Egg. If you use this discount code IREADTHEBLOG25 you will receive 25% off your entire order! Thanks for reading my blog!!!)
A light often goes off when I explain this issue to people. Many people love natural ingredients because they love Mother Earth. I can’t blame them; I do, too! Lavender, aloe, olive oil, etc. can all be wonderful and effective ingredients and generally preferable to their synthetic counterparts, but consumers must demand that these ingredients be harvested and planted sustainably and that these products are produced by humans making sustainable wages.
We already demand it for our morning coffee, so…let’s demand it for our skin.
Essential Oils & Fragrance
Many brands have swapped traditional fragrance for essential oils, and then cleverly like to tout “no synthetic fragrance” on their labels. Sadly, this practice isn’t based on any real logic. Both essential oils and fragrance are volatile aromatic compounds, hence why you can smell them!
So, even though essential oils are technically “natural,” they can sometimes be equally irritating to the skin. It’s ultimately difficult for a consumer to know whether fragrance or essential oils will be gentle on sensitive skin. The only real way to find out is if the brand you are using starts with quality material from a trusted supplier (essential oils or fragrance or a combination thereof), ensuring that they contain no known allergens.
A trusted reference list can be found published by the atopic dermatitis association or within the European Union’s Annex III Guidelines. Then, the final product should be HRIPT (Human Repeat Insult Path Test) tested to see if either, neither or both irritate. But how do you know if the brand you love conducted HRIPT testing? That’s not typically mentioned on product labels (I wonder why?). However, if you don’t have sensitive skin or a skin disorder, there’s no need to worry about aromatic compounds.
As long as whichever synthetic fragrance or essential oil you are using is free of allergens (and free of phthalates if you have any concerns). Synthetic fragrance is not always bad, nor are essential oils.
How do you make a product seem like it is utilizing a panoply of ingredients that seem wonderful in the Whole Foods organic section as they are in CVS? Drop the names of extracts! Extract of Heirloom Roses. Extract of Maine-grown Blueberries. Extract of Angel Tears. I’ve seen it all, and I’ve also clearly seen how the extract business label game works. Take seven to 10 water-based extracts and then put 1% of that mixture into 99% water. Then, throw 1% of that 1% into a formula. Voilà, you have gone from Plain Jane to Angelina Jolie!
Extracts often end up being the ingredients that are called out as some special complex on the front of an expensive skincare line. This practice has always really upset me. Smart people buy these products! How beneficial is Rose Hip extract when used at a fraction of a percent in a formula? Your guess is as good as mine. Based on what I’ve seen, it’s unlikely that extracts are being used at any real substantial percentage such that they would be truly efficacious. So, why bother using extracts in a rinse-off product when it’s eventually headed down the drain? Unfortunately, the chance of any of that 1% of 1% doing anything for you is strictly wishful thinking.
Speaking of natural ingredients, say “NO” to palm oil derived ingredients unless they are Certified RSPO. What’s RSPO? RSPO stands for “Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.” Established in 2004, RSPO’s objective is to promote the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards and its engagement of stakeholders.
This is a huge issue that, again, most people don’t ever think about, and even if they did, they wouldn’t be able to tell whether an ingredient was palm-sourced simply by reading an ingredient deck. The same companies that are super excited to tell you all about how they don’t use bad ingredients are secretly using palm oil derivatives and getting away with it. Learn about the devastating effects the palm oil industry is having on the rain forests of SE Asia, the species who live there, native peoples’ rights, and our atmosphere.
We should demand a halt to our over reliance on what is, of course, a “natural oil” that is responsible for emissions rivaling those of fossil fuel combustion. Start asking. Are your ingredients palm free or Certified RSPO? Maybe that should be the next thing being called out on labels. I mean, it is kind of important!