Clean Ingredients: How to Research Cosmetic Labels

This is the fourth post in a series on how to do your own research into cosmetic ingredients in Australia.

In this post I give you some resources to research ingredients in the products you use on your body.   So you can make informed choices for yourself and your family. And manage your exposure to toxic chemicals.

How To Research Cosmetic Ingredients

So now that you know whether your product lists all the ingredients on the label.

And you know what naming convention it uses.

But where can you learn about what the listed items actually are and any potential issues with them?

Unfortunately there isn’t a single source of information in Australia.  It is often a bit of a detective hunt to figure out what a beauty product ingredient is. What it is used for and any potential health or environmental issues it may have associated with it.

Here are some good places to start.

Personal Care Products Council

My favourite source of general information is the Personal Care Products Council’s website .

It outlines

  • what the ingredient is,
  • what it is used for in cosmetic products,
  • safety info according to both EU and US

and lists it’s resources.

Paula’s Choice

Another good source of information in plain language is the ingredient dictionary on Paula’s Choice.

This gives a short description and simple rating.  You need to browse through the alphabetical list, rather than searching.

Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep Database

One well-promoted place to check for clean ingredients is US non-profit EWG.  Created in the early 90s in response to poor regulation of cosmetic ingredients in the US, the EWG

“provides information on personal care product ingredients from the published scientific literature, to supplement incomplete data available from companies and the government”.

The EWG created their Skin Deep Database as a resource on the safety of cosmetic ingredients.  Now it also includes products. And helps you “choose products and foods that are free of toxic ingredients, safe for your children and environmentally friendly”.

You can search for ingredients and compare them to different products on the market. It provides a ‘hazard rating’ to make it easy to determine what to avoid.

But the EWG comes under some criticism from chemists and professional product formulators.  Some see flaws in the information and inconsistencies in the rating system. There are also concerns about lack of scientific documentation behind some of their recommendations.

So use additional sources before you make up your mind.

Chemical Maze

The original Chemical Maze book aimed to make it easier to recognise irritating food additives and cosmetic ingredients. Written in 2001 for Australian consumers, it is now out of print.

A bookshelf companion with information on household cleaners was later introduced. Thisis still available from the Chemical Maze Website.

The “Chemical Maze Shopping Companion” smartphone app came out in 2011.  It is truely a clean ingredient checker.  It allows you to search both food additives and cosmetic ingredients.

Results include

  • a risk level,
  • function and uses of the ingredient
  • potential negative effects,
  • symptoms and
  • ailments.

It’s great to be able to whip out your phone to check label information while you’re shopping.

Technical Sources

The EU Cos(metic) Ing(gredients) database holds information on cosmetic ingredients in the EEC “Cosmetics Directive”.  It includes scientific evaluation on chemical substances including toxocological evaluation.

For details on INCI ingredients look at the Special Chem Cosmetics Ingredients Database.  It holds information on cosmetic ingredient products and suppliers. It also includes supplier datasheets which show the INCI name for each product.

You can filter the results in many ways including

  • by INCI,

  • application,

  • end user benefit,

  • physical form and

  • supplier or trade name.

Approved Australian Names used in therapeutic products are searchable on the TGA website.   Just select ‘Public Information’ and then ‘Ingredients’ from the menu on the left hand side.  The results will usually list the other names for the ingredient you’re searching.

They will also list the INCI and Cos Number, which you can then use to look up other sources.  You can also check registered (AUST R) and listed (AUST L) therapeutic products by their number on the Australia Register of Therapeutic Goods.

To find out if a product is listed or registered with the TGA, try searching by product name or brand.

How to decide what is best?

Once you know what is in your body care products, how do you decide what is okay?

Ultimately it is up to the you as a consumer to decide what is best for you and your family.

You might want to avoid synthetic ingredients.

Or use products only containing only vegan ones.

If you’re like me, you avoid ingredients you already know can cause issues for you or your family.  I also prefer to avoid ingredients that are not planet friendly.

But the important thing is that you can find the information you need to make an informed choice.

For my family I choose natural lifestyle-based solutions over body care products where possible for the benefit of our overall health.

Eating a nutritionally dense diet, free of unnecessary chemicals.

Growing our own produce when we can, and choosing local and organic where it makes sense and fits the budget.

Limiting exposure to damaging UV rays by

  • covering up,
  • seeking shade in the heat of the day, and
  • using cosmetic sun protection containing natural and nourishing ingredients

Maintaining healthy immune systems with natural vitamin D by enjoying the warmth of the sun on our skin. But limiting sun exposure to the mornings and evenings when UV strength is low.

Avoiding mosquitos and other biting insects by keeping doors and windows screened.  We stay inside when they’re most active.   When outside, we keep our skin covered with light coloured clothing. We sometimes use natural deterrents on any exposed skin.

This is not to say I would never use a high SPF product or insecticide-based solution. It’s just that I limit use to when it is necessary in addition to our normal choices.  In this way our exposure to potentially harmful chemicals is much reduced. Only on those occasions, instead of being a regular thing.

Green Foot Mama

For the record, Green Foot Mama balms are cosmetics labelled with both INCI and Common Names.  They contain organic food-grade ingredients and natural beeswax along with pure essential oils and botanical extracts.  (Did you even know there was such a thing as synthetic beeswax?).

Our Organic Sun is a SPF15 moisturiser. It uses non-nano uncoated zinc as the active ingredient.

Organic Defence is a outdoor moisturiser. It leaves a light scented barrier on your skin to protect you from small insects.  It uses pure essential oils associated with deterring biting insects and smells amazing.

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