Ingredient Detective –Uncovering the Camouflage

[tag]Cosmetic labeling[/tag] regulations require that the names of the ingredients be either their common English name or their International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredient (INCI) name. The practice of listing cosmetic ingredients by their trade name is an intentionally deceptive practice to mislead the consumer.

We encourage anyone aware of such practices to report the perpetrator to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) or equivalent regulator in your country. One ingredient that is commonly listed by it’s trade name is the preservative sodium hydroxymethylglycinate which is almost always listed by one of it’s trade names: ‘suttocide’, ‘suttocide a’ or ‘suttocide glycerin’.

In an aqueous (water-based) solution such as a moisturiser or shampoo, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate decomposes to releases formaldehyde into the product. The total free formaldehyde content in a product containing 0.5% sodium hydroxymethylglycinate (the recommended usage level) corresponds to 0.118%, which is 1,180 parts per million (ppm).

The safety of formaldehyde was reviewed in 1984, by a panel of scientific experts commissioned by the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA), a trade association representing the cosmetics industry. They concluded that there was insufficient data to show that cosmetics containing more than 0.2% of formaldehyde were safe. A different body, the European Union’s (EU’s) Scientific Committee on Cosmetics, decided that formaldehyde was safe if used “at low levels”. As a result, cosmetics and toiletries sold within the EU may contain formaldehyde as a preservative but the following restrictions have been applied to its use:

  • It must not be used in aerosol sprays;
  • Oral hygiene products such as mouthwash must not contain more than 0.1% of formaldehyde;
  • Externally applied cosmetics and toiletries must not contain more than 0.2%.

However, these restrictions only apply where [tag]formaldehyde[/tag] is used as a preservative. Formaldehyde can also be added to antibacterial (antiseptic) hand wash to kill microbes on your hands, and as an ingredient in some types nail hardeners. EU regulations allow up to 5 percent of formaldehyde in nail hardeners (that’s 25 times more than the CTFA’s safe level) and there are no specific regulations concerning its use as an antibacterial. If a nail hardener contains more than 0.05% of formaldehyde the label must clearly display the following warnings: “Contains Formaldehyde” and “Protect cuticles with grease or oil.”

But these warnings are not required on shampoo, moisturiser or bubble bath, all of which can legally contain four times as much formaldehyde. Why have the regulating authorities decided that 0.05% of formaldehyde in nail hardeners is sufficiently dangerous to warrant specific warnings while more than four times as much in a bubble bath is safe? Why not set a standard safety level for all products? And just what are the save levels of these contaminants? The truth is, no one knows. We are the real guinea-pigs for the cosmetic industry. Many of the ingredients commonly used in the cosmetics and toiletries we use every day are increasingly coming under suspicion, and for good reason. In fact, 89% of the ingredients used today in cosmetics have never been assessed for human safety by a publicly accountable institution. If there is a risk, however slight, then these substances should be removed from our personal care products. In the mean time, how do we avoid exposure to potentially toxic, synthetic chemicals? The answer… use products that have been certified to organic food standards! They’re guaranteed to exclude synthetic chemicals, genetically modified ingredients, pesticide residues, artificial colours, fragrances and preservatives, petrochemical by-products and other undesirable ingredients.

Following is information obtained from the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for formaldehyde:

POISON! DANGER! SUSPECT CANCER HAZARD. MAY CAUSE CANCER. Risk of cancer depends on level and duration of exposure. VAPOR HARMFUL. HARMFUL IF INHALED OR ABSORBED THROUGH SKIN. CAUSES IRRITATION TO SKIN, EYES AND RESPIRATORY TRACT. STRONG SENSITIZER. MAY BE FATAL OR CAUSE BLINDNESS IF SWALLOWED. CANNOT BE MADE NONPOISONOUS. FLAMMABLE LIQUID AND VAPOR.

Skin Contact:
Toxic. May cause irritation to skin with redness, pain, and possibly burns. Skin absorption may occur with symptoms paralleling those from ingestion. Formaldehyde is a severe skin irritant and sensitizer. Contact causes white discolouration, smarting, cracking and scaling.

Chronic Exposure:
Frequent or prolonged exposure to formaldehyde may cause hypersensitivity leading to contact dermatitis. Repeated or prolonged skin contact with formaldehyde may cause an allergic reaction in some people. Vision impairment and enlargement of liver may occur from methanol component. Formaldehyde is a suspected carcinogen (positive animal inhalation studies).

Aggravation of Pre-existing Conditions:
Persons with pre-existing skin disorders or eye problems, or impaired liver, kidney or respiratory function may be more susceptible to the effects of the substance. Previously exposed persons may have an allergic reaction to future exposures.

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