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.

Revisiting Lavender and Tea Tree Oil & Breast Development in Young Boys

Okay, so I’m reading Samuel S. Epstein, MD’s new book Healthy Beauty: Your Guide to Ingredients to Avoid and Products You Can Trust to review it.  (BTW – If you buy the book from the link, I get some change, and I mean just a little bit of change, because it is linked through my Amazon affiliate account). This isn’t the review because I’m not done with the book yet.

Nevertheless, I got a little annoyed at a paragraph in the book. And when I get annoyed, I am compelled to blog.

Why did I get annoyed?

First, because a citation wasn’t right. The citationwas in Chapter 5, endnote 36, which was the wrong reference. It should have been endnote 37. Okay, no big deal (I shouldn’t even quibble since my own book, Smart Mama’s Green Guide: Simple Steps to Reduce Your Child’s Toxic Chemical Exposure, has some typos not to mention a big mistake in the summary on the back cover). But the fact that the citation was wrong leads to the second reason. 

So the second reason, and the more important reason, is because lavender and tea tree oils are presented conclusively as posing a “hormone disruption dilemma.” Dr. Epstein writes that they cause breast enlargement in young boys. Which is why I was even looking at the citation to see if there was some new medical study other than one from several years ago, which I talked about in a blog in 2008.

And there isn’t one cited – just the same article as before. And that article – a brief report – links lavender and tea tree oils to prepubertal gynecomastia (breast enlargment) but it isn’t conclusive. Also, it isn’t clear whether the products contain true lavender and tea tree essential oils, or synthetic versions.

The article cites 3 incidents of enlarged breast development. The first case reported using a compounded “healing balm” containing lavender oil with no more information. The second case reported using a styling gel and shampoo containing lavender and tea tree oils, but no information on a stay on skin product. The third case reported using lavender-scented soap and intermittent use of lavender-scented commerical skin lotions, both of which may well not have been lavender essential oil but a synthetic lavender scent.

Now, laboratory testing has confirmed that lavender oil and tea tree oil possess weak estrogenic and antiandrogenic activities. So I don’t dispute the possibility that lavender and tea tree oils may be linked to unwanted breast development in young boys.

But it is a possibility. And I think that it is more honest to state that it is a possibility, instead of scaring people. With the information that it is a possibility, many may choose alternative skin creams and lotions that don’t contain such ingredients.