Earth Mama Angel Baby Head of the Class – What is Natural?

Are you ready for college? You will learn about “Natural” for your college level course. And, of course, enter to win Earth Mama Angel Baby’s purely natural, naturally safe Angel Baby Bottom Balm, Mama Bottom Balm, C-Mama Healing Salve and Natural Nipple Butter!

So many products, so many labels! The label says “natural,” but does that mean safe? What’s really organic? What’s a toxic ingredient? You almost need a degree to decipher label claims!

That’s why Earth Mama Angel Baby® is giving you the chance to go to the head of the organic class, win prizes and learn about the five levels of Organic and Natural. You’ll get product label information a concerned consumer can really use, plus earn your Mama U. diploma and a chance to win fantastic prizes all along the way, including a ginormous Grand Prize worth over $650! Earth Mama Angel Baby and five respected bloggers will take you from grade to grade: once you pass one level, you can move on to the next. You can do all five in a day or take your time and do it in a week. Just make sure you go to Mama U. Graduation by midnight Sunday, May 1 to pick up your diploma, your special graduate coupon code, and enter to win the Mama U. Graduates Grand Prize bundle of honestly organic goodies, valued at $650!! That’s the grand prize in the picture below:

Welcome to College! With all your education, this should be a snap, but if you need to take some refresher courses, no worries, it won’t take you long. You’ve learned about USDA Certified 100% Organic, Organic, Made With and Contains Organic Ingredients. So this college level course on “natural” should be a snap, right? Wrong!

Here’s the problem. When it comes to beauty products, there is no regulatory or legal definition for the word “natural”! Without a regulatory or legal definition, the word natural means whatever the manufacturer or labeler wants it to mean. So, figuring out what is meant by “natural” on a label is the most difficult of all.

Studies show that most consumers trust the word “natural” on a label over even USDA Certified 100% Organic. But, as we just learned, without a regulatory or legal definition, when a label says natural, it can mean anything the company wants it to mean, or it can mean absolutely nothing. If you trust the brand, you might be able to assume it means that every product occurs naturally, and that there are no harmful ingredients. But the word “natural” on its own is a bad indicator of the purity or safety of the product.

In other words, in the cosmetic world, natural can mean anything.

For most consumers, the word natural results in a very visceral reaction. Take natural on a shampoo label with pictures of coconuts and coconut derived ingredients. The word will evoke an idyllic tropical scene featuring a lovely woman with her long tresses tied back and her brightly colored dress fluttering in a warm breeze, perfumed with tropical flowers. Most of us will picture her gently mashing coconut meat, and then adding it to some other gathered ingredients to make the shampoo.

That may be exactly what we mean when we use the word natural. We probably mean the opposite of synthetic and we believe natural equals safe. But that probably isn’t what the manufacturer means.

First, and most importantly, natural doesn’t mean safe. Lots of things that are natural are unsafe. Just think of lead. Lead is a naturally occurring element which is poisonous. It damages the nervous system and causes brain disorders. Or arsenic. Or mercury. Or some of the toxins produced by plants and animals, like tetrodotoxin, synthesized by the Japanese globefish. Tetrodotoxin is 10 times more poisonous than potassium cyanide. Or cyanide in apple seeds. Or aflatoxins, naturally occurring mycotoxins produced by many species of Aspergillus, a fungus.

And the flip side is also true. Synthetic doesn’t mean unsafe. Synthesized water isn’t more toxic than its naturally occurring counterpart.

So, the real issue is whether you are getting what you think you are getting when you buy a product because it has natural on the label. Our lovely coconut masher isn’t how the naturally derived coconut ingredients get into your shampoo. Nope. Most of them get into your beauty products courtesy of men and women in white lab coats.

Take sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which is sometimes indicated to be derived from coconuts. You find SLS as an ingredient in a lot of beauty products today. SLS is synthesized by treating lauryl alcohol with sulfur trioxide gas or chlorosulfonic acid to produce hydrogen lauryl sulfate.  The lauryl alcohol comes from either coconut or palm kernel oil, so SLS does come from coconuts sometimes. Once hydrogen lauryl sulfate is produced, it is neutralized by adding sodium hydroxide or sodium carbonate.

Not really the naturally coconut derived ingredient you envisioned, right?

Other coconut derived ingredients that are routinely found in “natural” beauty products but come courtesy of people in white lab coats, and not our coconut masher, are cocamidopropyl betaine (derived from coconut oil and dimethylaminopropylamine) and cocamide DEA (made from reacting coconut oil fatty acids with diethanolamine).  There are many others on the market.

So what did we learn? That natural has meaning different meanings. That natural has no regulatory or legal meaning when it comes to beauty products. When it comes to beauty products, what natural means is up to the manufacturer.

College Exam (see Crib Notes here)

Post your answer to the question below in the comments by May 1, 2011 no later than 11:59 pm Pacific time, and you’ll get a chance to win one each of Earth Mama Angel Baby’s purely natural, naturally safe Angel Baby Bottom Balm, Mama Bottom Balm, C-Mama Healing Salve and Natural Nipple Butter!

Q. What is an example of an ingredient that is “natural” but is actually not very safe? (And to clarify this question, we are looking for substances that are commonly used as ingredients in today’s beauty products such as shampoos).

Congratulations, you can now graduate with full Pomp and Circumstance from Mama U. at Earth Mama Angel Baby! But first, march over to Earth Mama Angel Baby’s Facebook page to let everyone know, “I just graduated from Organic College at The Smart Mama!”

Check Earth Mama’s Go to the Head of the Organic Class page for blog locations, prize information, and the Crib Sheet for your open book tests. Earth Mama will announce locations, prizes and winners on Facebook and Twitter too.

Disclosure – Earth Mama Angel Baby provided the prizes.

Another instance of greenwashing? A Beautiful Life “All Natural” Nail Lacquers

Okay, I suppose I’m going to piss of yet another company. And a PR person too.

But I really, really don’t like fake “all natural” claims.

I got a PR pitch for an “all natural” nail lacquer. Which excited me. I’m always excited to learn about new natural products especially when it comes to a relatively tough product like nail polish.

So, I read the email PR pitch and noted that it said “all natural” nail lacquer. I then checked the attached one pager on the product, and it also said “all natural.” Finally, I checked the website, and it says the nail lacquers offer “amazing wear and incredible colors – WITHOUT any of the nasty chemicals. They’re even safe for kids!” A review by Beauty Snob repeats the “all natural” claim, and enthuses that the polish is worth the price because of the ingredients.

So, of course I look for the ingredients – and they are right on the website for A Beautiful Life Natural Nail Lacquer:

butyl acetate, ethyl acetate, nitrocellulose, acetyl tributyl citrate, glycols copolymer, isopropyl alcohol, stearalkonium hectorite, adipic acid/fumatic acid/phthalic acid/tricyclodecane dimethanol copolymer, citric acid and colors, which may contain: D&C Red #6 Barium Lake, D&C Red #7 Calcium Lake, etc.

For each of the ingredients, an oh-so-helpful description is provided, which makes it sound like each one of the ingredients is naturally sourced without actually saying that it is. Take butyl acetate. It says “an organic compound common [sic] used as a solvent. Colorless, soluble found in many types of fruit.” Well, it is true that butyl acetate is found in many types of fruit – apples get their flavoring in part from butyl acetate. But it does not mean that this ingredient comes from fruit – butyl acetate is not derived from fruit for industrial production. Butyl acetate is manufactured by a chemical reaction (esterification) of a butanol isomer and acetic acid in the presence of sulfuric acid as a catalyst. I’ve asked the PR person which isomer of butyl acetate is used, or, more importantly, which isomer of butanol is used to derive the butyle acetate. Which isomer is used will tell us how it was derived – grain or petroleum – but I haven’t heard back. I’ll guess a plant based source to give the company the benefit of the doubt in this case because the PR person now will not return my emails.

In any event, reading the description of the ingredients, I was struck by the fact that it sounded familiar.  I had heard the claims before. Verbatim. I realized that the description matches EXACTLY with Priti’s description of its ingredients for its Priti Non Toxic Polishes. With the same typo on the description of butyl acetate. So I’m not sure what is going on, but Priti doesn’t describe its polishes as all natural. Instead, Priti describes its nail polishes as free of the toxic 3 commonly found in nail polishes – formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). Which is fabulous but not quite the same as all natural.

And these products are that too – free of the so-called toxic 3 when it comes to nail polish.  But the claim of “all natural” is a much more significant claim. 

And, it appears that the ingredients aren’t all natural.

Take isopropyl alcohol. Which I use around the home to sanitize. But isopropyl alcohol comes from combining water and propene, and propene is derived from non renewable sources, petroleum or perhaps coal.

Stearalkonium hectorite is synthesized from stearalkonium chloride, a quarternary ammonium compound. Quaternary ammonium compounds are synthetic derivatives of ammonium chloride. 

The various colors can be from petroleum sources. Many are. Again, I have asked for information about the colors being used but the PR person won’t answer my emails. Her last email to me was:

Our nail lacquers appeal to the natural and green market.  We are not using the 3 main highly toxic ingredients that most all nail polish use and that is our focus.  

The thing is, the nail polish appears to be a better alternative than any conventional nail polish containing one or all of the toxic 3 ingredients. But the apparently untrue claim of all natural ruins the product for me. The focus may be on eliminating the toxic 3, but then advertise the product that way – don’t make a false all natural claim.

Greenwashing: Beaute de Maman not so beautiful. Or particularly natural.

Polyetheylene plastic beads

I just don’t get the popularity of Beaute de Maman. Or why the line won an Editor’s Choice Award from Pregnancy Magazine in December of last year.

I really don’t get it.

The line is expensive.

But people like it because it is natural. I’ve found it in very upscale boutiques, with sales people touting its benefits.

But, the line is guilty of greenwashing.

 The product advertising states that

Beaute de Maman was conceived by Dr. Brown, an obstetrician whose ongoing mission is to provide safe and effective remedies for the common problems women face during pregnancy. Her fine line of skincare products has been extensively studied and evaluated, as well as allergy and obstetrician tested. The entire line contains only natural and herbal ingredients proven safe for the mother-to-be, the fetus and the breastfeeding baby. 

Those natural claims are repeated in the Connecticut Post and other press about Beaute De Maman.

And therein is my problem. The entire line is supposed to contain “only natural and herbal ingredients” but that isn’t true. Well, at least by my definition of natural.

Let’s take the first product – the facial scrub. The ingredients are:

Water (Purified), Glycerol Stearate, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Butylene Glycol, Disodium Laureth Sulfocucinate, Sodium Cocoyl, Methyl Taurate, Polyethylene, PEG-100 stearate, Myristyl Myristate, Tridecyl Stearate, Neopentyl Glycol Dicaprylate/Dicaprate, Tridecyl Trimellitate, Phenoxyethanol, Acrylates/C10 30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, DMDM Hydantoin, Caprylyl Glycol, Triethanolamine, Iodopropynyl Butycarbamate

Okay, now realize that polyethylene is a plastic derived from petroleum. That means that this allegedly all natural and herbal facial scrub has tiny microbeads of plastic that pollute our oceans.

Guess what? Lots of the other ingredients are very, very far from “natural.” Take butylene glycol. It is produced by the petrochemical industry by steam cracking. In other words, saturated petroleum hydrocarbons are broken down into small hydrocarbons. Or take triethanolamine. Triethanolamine is produced by reacting ethylene oxide with ammonia. In turn, ethylene oxide comes from ethylene and oxygen, and ethylene is produced by the petrochemical industry by steam cracking.

Okay, how are those natural? Or herbal?

Last year, I tried to speak with Beaute de Maman about its products. I was specifically interested in the natural claim and also contaminants being present in ceretain ingredients. And I got a fairly snotty response from Laureen Schroeder, VP of Marketing, that kept emphasizing how the company has access to research not available to the rest of us.

First, and most importantly, she said that “we do not claim to be 100% natural – as we could not be effective.” Huh? Isn’t that at odds with the advertising?

She also said:

Our products have been researched using databases and reproduction toxicity reports available only to physicians. . . . According to Reprotox, which are physician only databases  . . .”

Okay Ms. Schroeder, hate to tell you, but Reprotox is a subscription service available to physicians and consumers. So, yes, I use the same databases that you do.

So, many of the ingredients in the facial scrub peaked my interest. Ethylhexyl palmitate, for example, is an irritant, and the CIR panel warns against using in products for use around the eyes or on the skin above a certain concentration. Butylene glycol has the same problem. Several ingredients are ethoxylated and can have the carcinogen 1,4 dioxane as a contaminant, including disodium laureth sulfocucinate and PEG-100 stearate. Phenoxyethanol is phenol reacted with ethylene oxide, which again is petroleum derived.

Now, Ms. Schroeder states that the “facial scrub has no dioxane or carcinogenic compounds. All ingredients used are pure with no contaminants. Again, Intertek, or the FDA of England, did extensive testing of all products and determined that repeated exposure to the ingredients will not cause skin irritation, even with prolonged or repeated use. The ingredients used are well known and present at typical concenetrations where they will not cause irritation or allergy and are deemed safe. There is no formaldehyde or carcinogenic ingredients.”

Okay, so it seems that perhaps the ethoxylated ingredients are vacuum stripped to eliminate the 1,4 dioxane. But when I asked about the detection level used (and we know that is important after the SIGG debacle), I didn’t get a response.

Obviously, formaldehyde isn’t an ingredient. But her statement that there is no formaldehyde doesn’t address whether there are formaldehyde donors. The thing is about formaldehyde donors is that they work by releasing small quantities of formaldehyde to make the environment – the product – less favorable to microorganisms. So how can she claim that there is no formaldehyde produced? I get it that the levels may be very small, but still. Formaldehyde, by the way, is a carcinogen. It also causes contact dermantitis. DMDM Hydantoin, for example, is a formaldehyde donor. Setting asside the whole formaldehyde issue, DMDM Hydantoin is also an irritant, a known human immune system toxicant, and is a human skin toxicant. It is restricted for use in cosmetics in Japan. It gets a 7 to 9 (depending on use) in Skin Deep’s Cosmetic Safety Database.

I’m also completely unconvinced by the reliance upon Reprotox. Beaute de Maman banks on its claims that the products are safe for pregnant women. (I have some questions about the specific claims because, well, they seem to cross into the product being a drug, not a cosmetic, but that is for the FDA. And the FTC.) But the thing is, we know that there have not be adequate toxicology reviews of most of the chemicals we use. Looking at the Reprotox entry for DMDM Hydantoin, for example, there is no information in Reprotox other than the CIR’s assessment from 1988. Hello? There has been more information since the industry-funded panel looked at it – and the CIR only considers irritant/allergen type responses for the most part, not developmental toxicity.

And, by the way, Beaute de Maman claims that “these products, cosmeceuticals, have medicinal propertiers in their ingredients ensuring the safety of both mother-to-be and baby.” That certainly sounds like they are super special, right? Just so you know, the FDA does not recognize any such category as “cosmeceutical”, as Beaute de Maman asserts that the products are. A product is a drug, a cosmetic, or a combination of both, but the term “cosmeceutical” has no meaning under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.