Welcome to another informative post about labels and misinformation. Of course, I wrote this post to talk about why I don’t want people to say things like, “Happy Skin is 100% chemical free/organic/natural/made from unicorn oil”, but very quickly I realised I was writing in general terms. The information in this post is great information for anyone looking to buy “natural and organic skincare” for themselves or their loved ones.
You walk into a store and visit the skincare or cosmetic section of the store. You feel you are very ingredient savvy. You don’t want anything that has been processed on your skin for natural is best. You only use organic and natural and 100% chemical free products. You don’t want products that use any chemicals on your skin. Nothing touches your skin that has been tested on animals. And goodness, the thought of preservatives on your skin?
Now before we get too far, let me say, I was there too. I was in your shoes. I believed that if I couldn’t say the ingredients on a label, I refused to eat it or use it. I believed that only using natural based products was best for my oily+hormonal+cystic acne+acne prone+unhappy skin and on any skin of any age. Organic was the only way to go! Toxins would build up and kill me! That my skin was like a second mouth. If I put it on my skin, it would be the equivalent to eating it. Pretty much everything store bought that I needed to apply to my skin caused cancer. Preservatives were the devil. I believed the FDA was wrong about everything… I also for the longest time believed that if I couldn’t eat it, it couldn’t go on my skin. Anything synthetic or man made in a lab was unsafe and contained “toxins” that would build up in my liver and/or kidneys or both!. Oh and don’t get me started on what I used to think about GMO’s and organic foods.
Fun Fact: Your skin is designed to keep things out. It is not a second mouth that absorbs everything you put on it.
It turns out I was so wrong. Especially wrong about the FDA. It’s not their job to regulate the cosmetic companies as cosmetic companies are not a food or a drug (d’uh!). Now, if I were to say that a Happy Skin product cures acne or prevents ringworm or dandruff, then the FDA steps in and tells me I’m a naughty girl as I would be making a medical/drug claims and then I am no longer making a cosmetic but a medicine. And that is their territory.
And then? There are the issues with companies misleading people through their labels.
These days we want to look up any and all ingredients on a jar of that wickedly expensive night cream that promises us to remove those eye bags, tone our skin and tighten what needs to be tightened and will encourage the Tooth Fairy to come and sing us to sleep. So we go to Google and do a search of an ingredient. And we get hits like, “this ingredient is used in the manufacturing of yoga mats!”, “This ingredient causes breast cancer!”, “This ingredient will make your turn blue like a smurf!” “This ingredient is TOXIC!”, “This ingredient will build up in your kidneys!” Or we get the magical and miraculous wonders of Magical Mercozaxe beans. These are the types of searches that encourage clickbait where they cherry pick the information they share with you by giving you the extremes not the actual dosage used in cosmetics.
Let me repeat that. Many of these sites who use clickbait to get you to look at their page, are only giving you extreme dosages not the actual dosage that are used in cosmetics.
Let’s take a moment to look at something most of us have in our medicine cupboard: aspirin. There are the recommended dosage and you’d not think of going over that as they are the safety guidelines, right? I know, every single one of you will always stay in the safety limit of a pain pill. You’ve never taken one extra tablet because your weight is higher than the “average” adult. Well it is the same thing when it comes to making skincare/cosmetics. Each ingredient used has a recommended usage amount. Glycerine is generally 2-5%, vitamin E is .5-5%… these are the recommended usage amounts. Then there are the safety limits which are much higher than that. Propylene glycol is actually safe at higher concentrations than those actually used in consumer products in cosmetics. We learn from a young age, that just because something is good for you, does not mean you should drown yourself in it. Cosmetic ingredients are the same. So why the fear when they are used properly?
Think about titanium dioxide. Titanium dioxide (TD) is indeed now classified as an IARC Group 2B carcinogen in humans. Stop, wait. Let me finish. For me. Not for you. I work with TD on a regular basis in it’s powdered form which is the problem. And, if you sit there and snort up lines of titanium dioxide, it will probably cause you cancer if it doesn’t kill you first. But do you have titanium dioxide sitting around your house? No? I do. I wear a particle/dust mask while working with TD, I practice safety above all else. So unless you are actively working with nanoparticle TD or TD as a base ingredient, there is really no risk to you. Yet, you will see in the coming months, all the babe’s and mama’s talking about the dangers of your makeup, soaps, and blah blah blah. Anyways, we click because they are sensationalised and the fear mongering that goes on these days has us all scared of our own shadows. When in reality, there is no harm to you the consumer. But they forget to tell you that.
While it might be cute to see kittens, puppies and other baby animals to be scared of their shadows, or do something because they don’t know better (baby animals at a full run trying to stop… hilarious!) it’s not so cute in adults. And because we hear these partial truths so often from Facebook Meme’s, from our mothers, co-workers, from various magazines, our friends that we end up believing it for we hear and see it so often. Why? Because there is a tiny grain of truth in there; in the extreme and not the full story.
And as soon as we believe it, it is hard to see that perhaps, we have been lead astray.
Let’s try to get through each of these wants you have one by one without needing to create a Part II to this post! Because this post is already ridiculously long.
You don’t want anything that has been processed on your skin for natural is best. I have a hard time when I am asked if Happy Skin products and ingredients are unprocessed. Everything we eat, drink and apply to our skin is processed. Here in China, we all buy water in bottles as drinking any water from the tap is wickedly unsafe. Our water has been processed to be safe to drink and bottled. Every single Happy Skin ingredient has been processed. Otherwise, how could we use them? To make any of Happy Skin products, requires ingredients to be brought together, and that is what processing a product is all about. Potatoes are processed to become mashed potatoes.
We really cannot spread an olive over our skin in an attempt to get the oil or squalane from an olive. We cannot take a handful of rose petals hoping to get some rose essential oil either. Shea butter for example, is extracted from the shea nut using a manufacturing process by separating and cracking, crushing, roasting, grinding, separating and collecting the oils, then purified. And we use refined shea butter. No one wants to use unrefined shea butter as it smells like smoke, contains some funny granules/peel/shells/other things, is sometimes a dead body grey colour and doesn’t really spread all that nicely on the skin (but feels fantastic!). And you cannot get rid of that smoky scent no matter how hard you try and no one wants to buy a smokey scented product. So why would I want to use unrefined shea butter when refined is what customers have requested?
You only use organic and natural and 100% chemical free products. You don’t want products that use chemicals on your skin.
Do you remember what I said above? About fear mongering? Yeah, even the dictionary doesn’t really put your mind at ease when you decide to actually look up the word, chemical either. Take a look.
Rather than using at least one less fearful example like, “Chemicals are all around us. We eat them, drink them, breathe them and use them often. The air we breathe is comprised of 71% nitrogen, 20.9% oxygen and 1% trace gasses.”
Flour, wheat grass juice, that awesome green smoothie that keeps you regular, that cookie pie and blondie brownie I love so much, coffee… these are all chemicals. Coconut oil too! Kombucha, kefir, olive oil and everything in and around us are chemicals too. And processed. And to top it all off, what the hell does, “The government had pledged to reduce the amount of chemicals used in food production.” mean anyways? Are they trying to say that the government wants everyone to go on a diet? At least in the second example they gave an adjective to describe which type of chemicals they are talking about. But, even water can be toxic and there is such a thing as toxic levels of oxygen.
The word chemical has gone from being a truly remarkable word to describe such wondrous things, to one that is utterly and completely negative and a word that many have come to fear. Which is just sad.
When a customer asks me if our products are chemical free, I honestly do not know how to answer them. Usually, I ask them a question in return, “What is your definition of a chemical?” This could possibly be why Scrub Me Down- Happy Skin is not more popular. People don’t seem to like it when you answer a question with a question or just assume everyone has the same idea of the word. How do I explain without sounding like a lecturer or a teacher or arrogant when I say, “Scrub Me Down- Happy Skin- all products, all food, the air you breath, the water you drink, your fingers, your hair, your desk, phone etc… are made from chemicals?”
How can a product be labeled, “chemical free” if there is anything in it? Even if the bottle or pump were filled with air, it would still not be chemical free. How is this kind of labelling possible? Take for example, you visit a shop and spy a 100% organic hand lotion. Turn it over. Does it contain water? Water cannot be classified as organic.
I love and adore niacinamide and panthenol. These two chemicals go into almost every face product I make. They are in almost all my personal skin care products and my skin drinks them up. Niacinamide increases keratin, helps with a reduction of transepidermal water loss, they help to increase collagen synthesis, reduce hyperpigmentation of sun and age spots, reduce damages from environmental causes, and helps fight the redness caused by inflammation. AND helps to reduce sebum production. Are you amazed yet? Panthenol is a skin conditioning agent, improves hydration, reduces redness and inflammation, increases wound healing, improves the skin barrier and behaves as a humectant. They are both chemicals. They are both made in a lab using. They are both manufactured. They are both synthetic. Perhaps you might know them better as Vitamin B3 and Vitamin B5 and not by their International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients name (or INCI for short). And both, are chemicals and are not organic.
Natural is best. For some people sure, natural is best and I envy the hell out of you. But unfortunately, the vast majority of us, our skin is much more demanding. I went through a phase where I only would use unrefined oils and butters on my skin and I would only mix them with other unrefined oils and apply to my skin. Yeah. Gross. We’re talking an oily mess here. And I shall ever be envious of those people who can run to the kitchen, scoop out some oil and slather it on and their skin will thank them. I’m not one of those people. I wish I were, but I’m not. I tried to force my skin to be able to take it and from sure force of will tried my damndest. But I eventually realised, my skin was looking old. Tired. Dull. My skin was not happy. My skin had countless complaints going on. And I realised, slathering various oils on my skin was actually causing my skin to become dehydrated, dry, chapped, cracked, acne everywhere, itchy, scaly and just not happy. I was uncomfortable most of the time for my skin was just not healthy. And my clothes were gross as they absorbed more of the oils from my skin than my skin did.
And I found I wasn’t alone.
Now, Mother Nature can be a royal bitch. There are so many things that can kill us found in nature. Our planet has an endless wealth of what many could classify as natural death threats. The American Museum of Natural History has a whole display of poisons found in nature. From cashews, scorpions, the cutest tiniest little frog. Here is a list of eleven foods that can actually kill you: nutmeg, kidney beans (I know right?), mushrooms, apples, puffer fish, tomatoes, brazil nuts, potatoes, rhubarb, cherries, raw cashews. But we all eat them. Because we have learnt that as long as we properly cook, spit out the seeds/pits, don’t eat the various leaves and such, we will be ok. We had to learn this from our parents and grandparents. Proof, that sometimes good information lives on.
When it comes to skincare, people these days seem to learn most from the fear mongers as there is not a lot of information that has been passed down throughout time that is safe to pass on down the line. Throughout history, women have done some real stupid things in the name of being beautiful. Would you really want to eat a tapeworm? Or desire to contract TB so your pupils dilate a little and your complexion gets nicer for a bit before you die? Arsenic baths anyone?
These days, there is so much that has not been distorted by marketing campaigns and the babe’s and mama’s agendas. We wrote a blog post two months ago about the need to get the facts from science and not pseudoscience. Mother Nature might be a cruel bitch in her original and natural form, but break open those original and highly evolved murdering forms down, and you get a medical advancement. Using things like animal venom for various medical uses like pain relief. And that is what we do in skin care as well. Take castor oil. The ricin found in castor beans is toxic and has been used for a long time as a poison. But, castor oil is fantastic on the skin and for the hair. Adds intense shine to lip products, helps thicken hair, and helps to stabilize bubbles in soaping (if you’ve ever used our soaps you’ve used castor oil!) helps to dry the skin. And, castor oil is also a nifty laxative too! Proof that society has the ability to evolve its way of thinking through trial and error.
Now as we all know, I love my niacinamide. But the niacinamide I use in cosmetics is a white powder. That is no longer natural in my opinion as it has been refined in a lab, packaged and sold to me. If I want a natural source of niacinamide, I should be rubbing my skin down with a turkey breast. I would be so loved by cats and dogs! But I’d be one stinky mess. And who would actually rub a turkey breast on their skin? That turkey might take issue with that. But through a lab using various processes, what we need are extracted or created, purified, packaged and sold to be bought by companies and people like us.
Nothing touches your skin that has been tested on animals. Well, um… how do I put this lightly? Everything at some point has been tested on animals. The comedogenic study that came about in the 1970’s and was conducted on rabbit ears. Cosmetic ingredients were applied to the rabbits’ inner ear then observed if there were any blackheads or acne forming as rabbits ear skin is more sensitive than human skin and scientists could see results in a matter of weeks rather than months. Currently, in the EU the rabbit ear testing is forbidden, and in other countries it is slowly being phased out.
Here is something you might be very sad to learn. We live in China. And if you buy anything from a store in China that has been imported, it has 100% guaranteed been tested on animals. In order for international cosmetic companies to sell in China, their products MUST BE tested on animals. This is a Chinese federal law. At the moment, the Chinese government is thinking of loosening this law for some of the larger companies, it is still not across the board and not fully implemented. So when you buy your awesome, organic and natural product in Shanghai’s Sephora (or Dior, Channel, Burberry, MAC et al), it won’t pass the never been tested on animals. And this is why some companies like The Body Shop aren’t open in Mainland China (side note: although at the moment, The Body Shop has Duty Free shops in Beijing and Shanghai and it is still unclear if the Chinese government randomly tests them. There is speculation that they do, but the company says differently so this one is iffy). And if you live outside of China and want only cruelty free products, and the brand sells in China, isn’t that sort of an ethical dilemma?
Then, in regards to animals, there is the question: What about using products are made from various parts of animals? What about animal fats obtained from a butcher? These fats are rendered into tallow or lard (Soaps! Tallow and lard are the absolute best ingredients for anti-aging products!) and have the most amazing benefits on the skin. And tallow is found in a lot of beauty bars: Dove, Ivory, Neutrogena (except Neutrogena Naturals), Cetaphil, Dial, Lever, Tone, Jergens, Irish Spring. And even in quite a number of anti-aging products. Or what about if a product uses collagen? This is usually obtained from the fibers of various animal tissues. Squalene is from a shark liver (not to be confused with squalane which is from olives). If you use any anti-aging product there is a very good chance that there is something in there made from animals.
Preservatives. I am not going to spend time in this blog post talking about preservatives as we are already way past the long phase and are now into the “dear lord this is a novel phase”. They will be getting their very own blog post as to why it is vitally important for our safety to use them. To put it super simple: make some salad dressing. Mix water, oil, herbs and spices together, put some on the counter, some in the fridge, and some behind your water heater. Wait a week. Take a look see. Would you want to eat them? We will put safety first every single time. And preservatives=safety in many of our recipes. As I mentioned, more on the importance of preservatives in another post.
Here at Scrub Me Down- Happy Skin, you haven’t heard us say, “our products are chemical free!”, “our products are all 100% natural!”, “Happy Skin is organic!” and so on. We actually cannot say that. We refuse to make these claims. They are not chemical free, however; they are partially or mostly made from naturally sourced ingredients, that they are naturally based, that they are partially Ecocert certified organic, that they are made with mostly imported ingredients. We also work hard to be environmentally friendly by using PET plastic which is recyclable, we wrap our products in shrink wrap as they go through the mail and has been customer requested over the tape over the lid as we originally did to prevent waste and to ensure better tamper proofing.
Other things you will hear us say; they are skin safe, we use the exact same products you do, that they are high performance, spa like quality, safe, handcrafted, handmade, great, wonderful, luxurious, they will beautify you, hydrate you, never tested on any animals other than humans (the Chinese government believes that if a product was made in China it does not require animal testing)… we’re still working on the acceptable phrasing we are allowed to us for we really don’t want to find ourselves in any sort of trouble greenwashing or whitewashing (whitewashing: to gloss over or cover up vices, crimes or scandals or to exonerate by means of a perfunctory investigation or through biased presentation of data) our products. Or making labelling claims. Even here in China where no one seems to know anything about labelling claims, we want to make sure that we have our products at the highest international level we possible can. And this is why when people talk about our products, we actively encourage them to not use words like organic, unprocessed, chemical free.
One of the very best things about science is that the discipline is self-correcting. A scientist makes a set of observations about nature, and then devises a theory to fit those observations.
Other scientists then test the theory, and if it withstands scrutiny it becomes widely accepted. At any point in the future, if contravening evidence emerges, the original theory is discarded. At its essence, and though in practice it’s more messy, this is how science works.
Lastly, you will hear us talk a lot about the science of things. And science is cool and amazing for it learns and evolves based on what we know. As we advance technologically, socially, universally, we have more information available to help either prove or disprove what was thought previously. They more information you have, the more your opinion changes about something. Science is fact based and as the information supporting those facts change, so does science’s opinion. As does ours. The thoughts and opinions I believed in ten years ago are not the same as the ones I had when I was a teenager, and the opinions I had as a teenager are (thankfully) not the ones that I have today. Scientists are wrong all the time, and that’s fantastic!
Isn’t science neat?
As always, if you have any questions, or would like to know more about any of the information in this post, please feel free to get in touch with us in the comment section below or by WeChat.
Additional Reading you might enjoy not linked in the post:
Let’s Talk Natural by Marie of Humbleandme.com; sums it up perfectly:
If my hair looked and felt awful when washed with CP shampoo bars, you better believe I’d be backing off that particular “natural” track pretty fast. Nobody dives into this hobby thinking “I don’t care if my acne flairs up and my hair frizzes like mad—I just want everything I use to be natural!” We seem to hope and assume the opposite will happen (“my skin will be so much happier with natural oils and soaps!”), but if it doesn’t, most people go back to what was working for them before, and I can’t blame them.
LisaLise of LisaLise Pure Natural Skincare wisely gave her readers a word of advice:
If you come across a brand promising chemical-free cosmetics: walk away. They either do not know what they are doing or are trying to sell you their products using fear tactics. Everything in a cosmetic is a chemical: even water.
Here are a few further links from around the internet for further reading:
Ethical questions of using products that sell in the Chinese markets
Last Week Tonight– Scientific Studies (I strongly suggest watching this one!)