Saturday, January 5, 2008

Understanding Ingredient Labels – Clearing Up The Confusion

How many of us have gone to our local drugstore, picked up a package of makeup, turned it over only to discover you need a magnifying glass to read the ingredient label? I ask myself, “is it my eyes or are these product labels shrinking?” as I dig through my purse for my spectacles. What also makes this frustrating for me and others is, if you go to these large companies’ websites, in most cases they do not offer an ingredient list on their site to assist with researching their products. You usually have to locate a reseller of the brand on the web in order to locate an ingredient list before you buy.

It seems as though the ingredient lists are not only getting longer, but the type is getting smaller due to the size of most packaging. To further add to the confusion, what some of those ingredient names are and mean. Some of these synthetic and chemical ingredients are scary and can have accumulative effect on the body and still offer little or no research as to their long term effects. Some Organizations are working diligently to remove some of this confusion and to explain products in simple language to the consumer without all the hype and puffery. FDA of Colors and Cosmetics provides many ingredient terms and what is allowed and to be considered safe for cosmetic use.

In accordance with the New Year, and wanting to address a concern I have had for a number of years I chose to write this article. As we head into an era of reducing chemicals in our skin care, diet, and overall everyday lives, this article is important as more and more of us demand companies disclose what we are using throughout our day. Going Green is the wave of our future.

Basically, the way to interpret an ingredient label is to understand FDA Regulations for cosmetic labeling. It is simple and concise but can still allow for vagueness in product labeling. Here is a list of the simplest ways to understand what you are actually purchasing.

Ingredients must be listed in descending order in terms of highest ratio to the lowest. They must list an ingredient as “Active” if it is considered an OTC drug, so in other words, a claim is made to treat or cure a condition.

Any ingredient used less than 1% can be listed in any order on the label after main ingredients are listed, or it can be listed as “and other ingredients”.

May Contain Ingredients: Is an easy way for the manufacturer to cover their bases without having to get specific with pigments including Titanium Dioxide. Also pigments can be in any order after the main list of ingredients regardless of ratios used. This further explains the non-inclusion of essential oils and preservative, and how the manufacturer can simply leave off the list the individual oils or preservative used, and be noted as "Fragrance". This leaves the consumer to speculate what is actually in the product.

Trade Secret Ingredient: A manufacturer may apply for an allowance of an ingredient to remain confidential to protect their formulations if only the ingredient has been proven to have some benefit to the product that no other company has used or has knowledge of. This can also be categorized under item 2, “and other ingredients”.

Last but not least the often confusing Incidental Ingredient. Some manufacturers leave off an ingredient based on a misinterpretation of an FDA Description feeling they fall into this category such as in coated or treated minerals or pigments. They should be listing these coatings since they are used to create an effect on the finished product and aid in the cosmetics’ performance. The Definition is as follows for exclusion from an ingredient list:

According to FDA Regulation: An incidental ingredient is defined in § 701.3(1) as:

  • A substance added during manufacture and removed from the cosmetic in accordance with good manufacturing practices before the cosmetic is packaged in finished form. Example: Filter aid.

  • A substance that is added during manufacture of a cosmetic, is converted to an ingredient declared on the label, and does not significantly increase the concentration of the declared ingredient. Example: Sodium hydroxide added to a sodium stearate and stearic acid-containing cosmetic (example: for making Soap. Or another example: Borax combined with Nitrogen to create Boron Nitride.) BN powder would be on the list, not the ingredients that it took to create it.

  • A substance added to a cosmetic during manufacture for its technical effect in processing but present in the finished cosmetic at an insignificant level and not having any technical or functional effect in that cosmetic. Example: Defoaming agent.

  • A substance added to a cosmetic as a component of a cosmetic ingredient and having no technical or functional effect in the finished cosmetic. Example: Preservative of a raw material added to a cosmetic as an ingredient at a concentration which reduces the preservative to a level at which it is no longer effective.

In Terms Of Mineral Makeup Powders:

Coatings such as Carnauba Wax, Dimethicone, Perfluoroalkyl Phosphate and Magnesium Myristate to name a few, are commonly used to create better performance to a main mineral ingredient, yet are rarely seen on mineral makeup ingredient lists. Or you will see them explained in obscure locations on websites and left off the label altogether. This is what some companies assume is an Incidental Ingredient. However, since these coatings are used to enhance performance and create an effect within the makeup for better skin care, then it would not qualify to be left off of the label.

Mineral powders are silken in nature and are not typically creamy, yet you may feel a creamy texture when rubbed between your fingers. Certain oils can be added for a variety of reasons but making a powder feel creamy is not one of them, and the oils can certainly enhance a powders performance and be beneficial to the skin. If a powder has a creamy, almost oily texture then it has been coated with one or more of the ingredients stated above. Some of these coatings may or may not cause further problems for the skin. We add Jojoba Oil to our Foundations and Evening Rose Veil to aid in soothing skin and healing acne yet it will not change the structure of the mineral powders.

In terms of ratios this can also be confusing for many.

Some experts’ advise to pay attention to the first 3-4 ingredients in a product since this will be the primary ingredients in terms of ratios. This is true to a point.

For Example: Titanium Dioxide may be the first ingredient on the list followed by a number of other ingredients. Does this mean Titanium has the highest ratio of overall product? Not necessarily! And same goes for any ingredient that is considered a primary ingredient. The ratio of Titanium could be equal to Mica or Zinc Oxide or any other ingredient on the list. But which one do you list first? This is strictly left to the manufacturer.

Another Example: Base powder formulations that consist of a multitude of other minerals and botanicals could be higher in ratio, but the individual ingredient in the base powder has a lower ratio than the primary so it must be listed in descending order. So in descending order Titanium would be the larger ratio in comparison to all individual powders, yet once combined within the formulation it may actually only be 5-25% of the total mineral cosmetic.

Final Advice: In lieu of sensitivities and to avoid ruling out the potential of using a great product for the face, when in doubt, contact the manufacturer to have them clarify at what percentage of an ingredient is being used in the overall products. First in line on the ingredient list doesn’t necessarily make this the highest overall ratio in a formulation. In fact, one mineral makeup company where they have received an SPF rating, the ratio of “Active Ingredients” for Titanium is 14% and Zinc is 3-6%. This is very low in terms of a complete formula, yet they must be first on the list due to being declared an OTC. And sensitivities are rarely a problem if any ingredient falls in less than the one percentile ratio. But when it comes to fragrances (essential oils) or coatings, wouldn’t you like to know exactly what it is you are applying to your face at all times? I certainly would, especially since I have sensitive / sun damaged skin. And many women have extreme sensitivity to certain essential oils, so at less than 1% of ratio, if the ratio is that of times 10 or 20 different oils, that can become a huge percentage of allergic reaction. This is why I always make sure all ingredients are disclosed on our product labels despite FDA allowances for certain ingredients.

So to understand product labels, even in all their clarity of list of ingredients, true ratios are still considered to be vague and are not required to be formally listed in this manner. I sincerely hope this has assisted those that were still not quite sure how labeling works for the cosmetic industry. Happy Hunting, Be Well and …….

Happy New Year!

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