Chemical free, toxin free, clean, green, chemical laden, synthetic, natural and organic are all common buzz words in the world of beauty and skin care products. Is it true to claim a product is 'chemical free' because it contains only naturally derived ingredients...or is this a myth?
What is a cosmetic?
A 'cosmetic' is a substance or preparation that is for use on any external part of the human body—or inside the mouth—to change its appearance, cleanse it, keep it in good condition, perfume it or protect it. Cosmetics include soap, shampoo, moisturiser, hair dye, perfume, lipstick, mascara, nail polish, deodorant and many other products.
Nearly all cosmetic ingredients [in Australia] are regulated as industrial chemicals under the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989 (ICNA Act). This includes ingredients described as 'natural', such as oils, extracts and essences of plants.
What is a Naturally Occurring Chemical?
A naturally-occurring chemical is defined in Section 5 of the Industrial Chemicals
(Notification and Assessment) Act 1989 (ICNA Act) as:
- an unprocessed chemical occurring in a natural environment; or
- a chemical occurring in a natural environment, being a substance that is extracted by:
- manual, mechanical, or gravitational means; or
- dissolution in water; or
- flotation; or
- a process of heating for the sole purpose of removing uncombined water; without a chemical change in the substance.
Chemicals extracted without a chemical change
This refers to chemicals that occur in nature but which have been extracted without changing their chemical composition.
Only the following processes comply with the definition of a naturally-occurring chemical.
1. Manual, mechanical or gravitational
- Filtration—solid and liquid phases of a mixture are mechanically separated by passing it through a porous medium.
- Centrifugation—liquid phases or solid and liquid phases of a mixture are separated by mechanical/gravitational means.
- Sedimentation—solid and liquid phases of a mixture are gravitationally separated by enabling the settling of solids in liquids.
- Cold pressing—liquid of a liquid-solid mixture is separated by squeezing it to obtain the liquid.
- Sieving—solids in a mixture can be separated on the basis of particle size.
2. Extraction by dissolution in water (for water-soluble chemicals)
- Water is the only solvent that can be used to extract the chemical from other components in a mixture.
- Examples include:
- extraction of sugar from sugar beets using water
- leaching of soluble tea from tea leaves, and
- extraction of a water-soluble chemical from a mineral ore.
- Dissolution by any other solvent or mixture of solvents (or mixture of water with other solvents) disqualifies the chemical from being naturally-occurring.
- Flotation is a separation process used in mineral processing to separate minerals from waste rock or solids.
- Mineral ore is pulverised and mixed with water and chemicals that cause preferential wetting of the solid particles.
- The unwetted particles are carried to the surface by air bubbles to obtain a mineral concentrate—for example, lead, zinc, and copper concentrates.
4. Heating for the sole purpose of removing uncombined water
- Heat can be used to purify or concentrate chemical compounds by removing uncombined water, for example the drying of a wet clay or mineral, where moisture is not chemically bound to the substrate.
- Using heat for any other purpose, such as steam distillation, disqualifies the chemical from being naturally-occurring.
Steam Distillation - is a separation process based on the difference in composition between a liquid mixture and the vapour formed from it. Steam is used to lower the distillation temperatures of high boiling organic compounds that are immiscible with water. The temperature and pressure of the steam need to be carefully controlled to prevent burning of the plant material or the essential oil.
Natural does not always mean safe
We can see that oils, waxes, butters and plant extracts are all chemicals, the differential is only whether is is naturally derived of synthetically created. To claim because a product contains natural ingredients and therefore is chemical free and safe is very misleading. Botanical plants comprise of some of the most deadly chemicals known to humans:
Castor Bean (Ricinus communis) is a plant native to Africa. The seeds are the source of castor oil, they naturally contain the poison ricin and are deadly in small amounts. It only takes one or two seeds to kill a child and up to eight to kill an adult.
Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) is the most widely grown commercial non-food plant in the world. All parts of the plant, especially its leaves, contain the toxic alkaloids nicotine and anabasine, and can be fatal if eaten. Despite its designation as a cardiac poison, nicotine from tobacco is widely consumed around the world and is both psychoactive and addictive. Tobacco use causes more than 5 million deaths per year.
Rosary Pea (Abrus precatorius) the seeds contain abrin, an extremely deadly ribosome-inhibiting protein. Rosary peas are native to tropical areas and are often used in jewelry and prayer rosaries. While the seeds are not poisonous if intact, seeds that are scratched, broken, or chewed can be lethal. It only takes 3 micrograms of abrin to kill an adult.
Oleander (Nerium oleander) is a beautiful plant known for its striking flowers.all parts of the oleander plant are deadly and contain lethal cardiac glycosides known as oleandrin and neriine. If eaten, oleander can cause vomiting, diarrhea, erratic pulse, seizures, coma, and death, and contact with the leaves and sap is known to be a skin irritant to some people.
Cosmetic ingredients - can cause sensitivities in some people, as we are each genetically unique and can have reactions to a mirriad of products. Dermal limits have been set by the International Fragrance Industry (IFRA) for this very reason with the use of Essential Oils because they contain chemical compounds to which people can experience skin reactions. Essential Oils within a formulation are used at very low limits commonly between 0.1- 3% (Read 'Dermal Limits for Essential Oils' BLOG here)
Everything natural or synthetic is comprised of chemicals, whether it is derived from a natural source or developed synthetically in a laboratory (man made) To say a natural product is chemical free is scientifically incorrect, a chemical free MYTH! Everything in nature is a mixture of many different chemicals. Some natural ingredients are incredibly harmful to humans. To read more about specific potentially harmful chemicals in everyday cosmetics click HERE. Natural and synthetic chemicals can both be safe and toxic to humans, I am a strong believer in choosing Certified Organic products as they are better for the environment due to sustainable farming practices, not sprayed with potentially toxic chemicals which are not safe for human health or the environment. I believe our skin recognises and readily assimilates the active ingredients from plant cells, rather than treating them as synthetic foreign bodies. I do not agree with fear based marketing of natural cosmetic products by labelling them as 'chemical free' it's simply not true.
Until next time..
be human | be kind | be you
Department of Health: -Naturally occurring chemical
International Fragrance Industry:
LOVE this post, I think we all just get swept up in the cleaver marketing of companies and we assume what they are is fact, they are the ones making the products so they should know if something is a chemical or not! I enjoy your honest approach in your blogs and feel I am learning so much.
Thank you H&KO
Thank you for reading the Blog and taking time to comment. Sesame oil is an excellent choice being high in Vitamins A B and E along with some minerals, great for moisturising and helps keep skin soft too.
Very interesting. I am super sensitive to many perfumes, cleaning products, sun screens, preservatives etc. I don’t use many cosmetics as I have severe allergic reactions to almost everything.
I’ll be very interested in your blog.
ps. I have been using cold pressed, organic sesame oil for three or months now and I absolutely love it. I mail ordered it for ‘pulling’ after my braces were removed. To help with gum repair but, I’ve found it really nourishing for my skin too.