What Does It Mean When Your Label Says “Natural”?


How Toxic Are Cosmetics?

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We have to keep in mind that many chemicals that are used in cosmetics seldom cause visible signs of toxicity on the skin.

However, many of them contain strong toxins that can remain in the body for a long time. Since cosmetics are applied day after day for decades, the potential for problems is very real, even if the amount of toxin is small. As always, keep on the side of caution. If there are more than three toxic ingredients in a product, you should not use it, regardless of what FDA, HPFB, and some well-meaning scientists say.

The experts, including medical doctors, still insist that the absorption of chemicals through the skin is minimal, almost non-existent. Then how do they explain the existence of the patch (e.g., nicotine patch) as a very efficient way to get medication into the bloodstream? The patch is the proof that the skin works well in delivering chemicals to the whole body.

Natural and Hypoallergenic

Some terms like "natural" and "hypoallergenic" are used liberally by advertisers in spite of the fact that there are no legal, scientific, or accepted dictionary definitions of these terms as they apply to cosmetics. Despite the lack of definition, it is generally accepted that a hypoallergenic product is formulated to cause a fewer allergic response than a similar, non-hypoallergenic product. However, the consumer usually believes that hypoallergenic products are much superior to normal products because they have been scientifically formulated to be especially kind to sensitive skin, and that natural products contain mostly natural ingredients (usually extracted from plants) and are free from, or contain small amounts of chemical additives. This belief is often reinforced by the higher cost of hypoallergenic products and products that claim to be natural.

In the USA, the FDA tried to control the use of "hypoallergenic" and "natural" when used to describe cosmetics and toiletries, but the cosmetic manufacturers challenged the FDA through the courts, and the FDA eventually lost the case on the grounds that it had no authority to regulate the way products are advertised. The net result is that, in the USA, these words are completely meaningless and misleading. Words like "allergy tested," "non-irritating," "dermatologically tested," carry no guarantee that the products will not cause skin irritation or allergic reactions. In the USA, manufacturers can use these words without any supporting evidence.

Dazzles in Green is an educator, journalist, environmentalist, vegetarian and avid cyclist. She holds a master's degree in anthropology and a Juris Doctor in intellectual property.