Every time I search for new products, it’s the same—I get a feeling of excitement as I start reading about a new product that looks useful, interesting or fun and that markets itself as being natural, eco friendly, healthy, or one of many terms that makes it seem potentially safe to use. I then immediately turn to the ingredient label and typically experience inevitable disappointment as I reach the middle or end of the list and start finding suspect ingredients. The mission of White Lotus Living is to offer only the purest of products to our customers.
Sometimes I resort to searching for new products on competitor’s websites. I haven’t found a competitor yet that goes to the same length we do to scour the ingredient labels of our products. I’m convinced that many of them feel the need to offer brand names people recognize because they are easier to sell. Many of the name brands, however, (and I would go so far as to say most of the name brands)—even if they are marketed as pure and natural—are still made from those nasty chemicals we want to avoid.
“Fragrance” is Our First Stumbling Block Today
I found a new product I like and want to check out. I hope it’s a good one! It has “Naturals” in the brand name in addition to a man’s first name. Based on past research, I know a word like “natural” in the product name means nothing. It has not been defined like the term USDA Organic has. There are no requirements to use this word. No entity consistently follows up on the use of this term in a way that can be relied on.
This product I found is a line of cleaners and polishes for furniture and other specialty items found in our homes. It would be a great line to bring to my customers if it’s pure—it’s something we could all put to good use. I’m always looking for great cleaning products.
But after downloading the list of ingredients from their website, I see “fragrance” is the last ingredient mentioned, following all the wonderful truly natural ingredients that had me hopeful <sigh>.
What’s Wrong with Fragrance?
Fragrance is a red flag because most fragrances, unless they are truly natural essential oils which have not been extracted using chemicals, are made from chemicals called VOCs (volatile organic compounds). VOCs are carbon-based chemicals that evaporate easily in the air (the common term is off-gassing).
They are petrochemicals that give off vapors. One clue that we are being exposed to VOCs is that there is a smell to the product (and not all VOCs have an odor). The smell can be fragrant and pleasing or it can be strong like ammonia. Many VOCs are known to be harmful to our neurological system, they are linked to organ damage, asthma and cancer.”
Wait, Maybe this Fragrance is Okay
Still hopeful since this is the only red flag I see on the ingredient list, I look further on the ingredient sheet that I downloaded and I notice at the bottom there is an explanation of what fragrance means to this manufacturer. This is actually a good sign—they realize fragrance is a problem—or at least they realize that discerning shoppers are interested in knowing exactly what is in the products they buy.
Here is what I find: “Our cosmetic grade essential oil and fragrance blends contain a natural essential oil complex and are custom designed for our products. All our essential oil fragrances use materials approved by RIFM (The Research Institute of Fragrance Materials) and follow the guidelines issued by IFRA (The International Fragrance Association).”
No—I spoke too Soon!
Sounds official enough, right? Wrong! My first thought is, “Hmmm—cosmetic grade—what does that mean?” What I do know is that neither the FDA nor any other agency is responsible for monitoring or even determining what ingredients can or should go into our cosmetics.
The U.S. is notorious for being slow on the uptake to protect consumers from our harmful cosmetics. As a result, entire books have been written to warn us how bad the cosmetic industry is about using everything from PEG(polyethylene glycol), SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) and lead to animal parts and insect extractions in our cosmetics (it’s true). So the phrase, cosmetic grade is another red flag that has me suspect.
Reading Between the Lines of Scientific, Official-sounding Information
Reading the fragrance description further prompts me immediately to search for both RIFM and IFRA on the Internet to learn about their policies regarding fragrance. Who are these organizations and what is their purpose?
The about us section in RIFM’s website is impressive: “…RIFM’s Database also houses an online collection of Flavor/Fragrance Ingredient Data Sheets (FFIDS) from 1985-present. FFIDSs are issued to assist with compliance for U.S. OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standards and the European Commission’s Dangerous Substances Directives.”
I like the reference to the European Commission’s Dangerous Substances Directives. I know Europe is ahead of the U.S. in banning dangerous substances for use in European-manufactured products.
But the last paragraph in this section begins to concern me: “RIFM delivers well-documented conclusions from comprehensive analysis that translates into enhanced Product Management for its members, resulting in safer and more life enriching products for the consumer. Membership in RIFM is open to all companies that manufacture, sell, distribute or engage in business related to the fragrance industry for at least one year.”
So RIFM’s members are companies that are in business to manufacture, sell or distribute (etc.) products with fragrances. That means the info provided by RIFM supports these companies, confirming the safety of the ingredients in the products they offer.
Let’s see who the RIFM members are for a final test. If the products of the members are pure, then I will give this organization an A+ and I will begin to carry the cleaning and polishing products of this company that I’m researching without hesitation.
I pull up their membership list and go right to the consumer product active members. They are: Chanel S.A.S, L’Oreal, SC Johnson & Son, Inc., The Procter & Gamble Co., and Unilever. Although this is enough information to cause me to turn away and say, “Next product, please,” I will go a few steps further to show you why I am no longer interested in the “natural” cleaning and polishing products I was so excited about this morning.
I am honestly walking through this process with you as I write this article…it is not something I had to stage in order to prove a point. This is an everyday occurrence, and I am confident I will find good reason to sidestep my new product find and move on quickly—well, it’s actually slowly, isn’t it—to another product.
Applying a Magnifying Glass to Product Ingredients
Let’s just arbitrarily go to Unilever’s website because I’m less familiar with them and do an in-depth look at some of the ingredient labels on their products. On this link you can find a list of all Unilever brands: http://www.unilever.com/brands/index.aspx.
I’m going to pick a home care brand and run with it. Surf looks familiar to me. It’s a laundry detergent. The Unilever marketing people wrote a cute description for it: “Surf gives multi-sensory satisfaction – the suds, the fragrance, the freshness, the colours, the feel, the clean…This is a brand that finds clever ways to give you more than you would expect.”
(Yes, I’ll bet it does.) I am searching for an ingredient list. Another interesting thing that catches my eye is a drop-down box on the bottom right side of the page inviting me to select my European country (I guess Surf is no longer offered in the U.S.). By selecting a country I will be presented with a list of ingredients in my products! (the drop-down promises: “Find out what’s in our European home and personal care products by selecting your country from the list below.”).
I select United Kingdom as an English-speaking country, and I go to Surf, since that’s the product I’m interested in (I see that Unilever also manufactures Brut, Dove, Pond’s, Sure and Vaseline Intensive Care among numerous other brands I do not recognize).
The info on the Surf page that pops up has all the Surf sub-brands, so I arbitrarily choose one whose name contains a nice herb that I have grown in my organic garden to brew tea: Bergamot. The product name is Surf Powder Sunshine Lemons & Bergamot. Doesn’t that sound clean and refreshing?
I arrive at the ingredient page I’m looking for (pay day!) and I am presented with a list of 42 ingredients in this product, from antifoaming and bulking agents and builders to optical brighteners and sequestrants (what is that?!?)…and…oh…wait…what do I see here? You’ll never guess! Fragrance—our old friend!!
But unlike we tend to find on an ingredient label, this time each chemical fragrance is specified separately. We have “Parfum, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, and Citronellol” Speed-reading down the list I also see a red flag I’m familiar with (you probably are, too): PEG-75. And here is the ingredient with the most letters in it just for fun: Disodium Anilinomorpholinotriazinylaminostilbenesulfonate (that is the optical brightener).
Next I will do a quick check for you of each of these ingredients on the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetics Safety Database which I often use as a first check of any chemical I encounter. This database rates chemicals (as well as products) with a ranking from 0 to 10. A rank of 10 means the chemical is highly toxic; 0 means it is relatively safe. The ranking is not perfect, but it is based on EWG’s extensive worldwide database of studies that have been done on these chemicals, and it’s a great place to get a high level idea of whether to stay away from the ingredient (or product) or to consider using it.
I enter “parfum” into the search box (parfum is the French word for perfume or fragrance). The EWG database pops up a ranking of 8 which indicates this ingredient is a high hazard. It is found in 11,376 products that have been entered into the database—quite a few items to keep out of your shopping cart. Its purpose is to mask, deodorize or perfume (translated: cover up odors in a product emanating from the mixture of chemical and other ingredients).
The Info that Leads to Our Decision to Move On
I summarized the results of the ingredients we want to look at in the table below so you can see them with a quick glance. Pay close attention to the partial problem list, because that is where you can really see the issues that have already been identified with these ingredients through testing. The issues range from allergies and dermatitis to immune system problems, and cardiac and renal (kidney) issues and cancer.
Further, as the Breast Cancer Fund states in their semi-annual State of the Evidence Report, it is not just the small amounts of the ingredients in our products that pose a health concern to us—it is the entire matrix of chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis (through multiple products and exposures).
This exposure leaves our health in danger when we use these chemicals. We must be aware of this and we must take the initiative to do something about it to protect our health and to sustain the planet. What we must do is to stop using products that contain these ingredients!
|Chemical Ingredient||EWG Rank||Scale||No. of products||Purpose||Partial Problem List|
Fragrances used in Unilever’s Surf
|Parfum||8||High hazard||11,376||to mask, deodorize or perfume||The word “fragrance” or “parfum” on the product label represents an undisclosed mixture of various scent chemicals and ingredients used as fragrance dispersants such as diethyl phthalate. Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system. Known human immune system toxicant, Moderate evidence of human neurotoxicity|
|Butylphenyl Methylpropional (ingredient Lilial)||5||Moderate hazard||962||Fragrance Ingredient; masking||A synthetic scent ingredient associated with allergies and contact dermatitis. Possible human immune system toxicant (an EU banned and restricted fragrance). Persistent or bioaccumulative and moderate to high toxicity concern in humans, Associated with endocrine disruption|
|Citronellol||4||Moderate hazard||1321||Fragrance Ingredient; masking||Citronellol is a naturally ocurring scent ingredient derived from plants such as rose, geranium and lemongrass. Possible human immune system toxicant: EU Banned and Restricted Fragrances. Primary skin and eye irritant. Brain, nervous system or behavior effect. It is restricted by IFRA!|
Other Chemicals in Surf
|PEG-75 (POLYETHYLENE GLYCOL 4000)||4-6||Moderate hazard||50||Binder; Humectant; Solvent||Violation of industry recommendations – Restricted in cosmetics; use, concentration, or manufacturing restrictions – Not safe for use on injured or damaged skin. Classified as expected to be toxic or harmful. Classified as medium human health priority. Suspected skin or sense organ toxicity hazard. Broad systemic toxicity. Primary skin and eye irritant. Cardio: Arrhythmias, BP lowering. Kidney/renal system: Hematuria. Reproductive cancer, etc.|
|Disodium Anilino Morpholino Triazinyl Amino Stilbene Disulfonate||Not found in the database|
What about IFRA?
I didn’t care to go any further in researching the new polisher/cleaner product I was interested in by looking at IFRA in addition to RIFM. I don’t have any information that leads me to trust the fragrance on the ingredient label, and I am not going to offer this product to my customers.
But if you are interested, the website of IFRA, the International Fragrance Association, leaves me with a similar impression to RIFM’s website.
IFRA has a downloadable Code of Practice that, according to their website, “supports the IFRA commitment to provide products that are safe for use by the consumer and to the environment.
The Code of Practice applies to the manufacture and handling of all fragrance materials, for all types of applications and contains the full set of IFRA Standards. Abiding by the IFRA Code of Practice is a prerequisite for all fragrance supplier companies that are members of IFRA (either directly or through national associations). The majority of client companies (including producers of toiletries and household products) expect their fragrances to comply with IFRA Standards as set out in the Code.”
Their membership is described on the website: “…members include fragrance ingredient and compound manufacturers and suppliers.”
I believe this is another self-policing association for fragrance manufacturers to show proof that their ingredients are safe when research by other independent agencies indicate they are not safe at all.
White Lotus Living’s Conclusion
So, my conclusion about this hopeful product is, I’m afraid, “Next!—” And it’s back to square one searching for cleaning and polishing products that will work well on your granite and marble countertops, stainless steel appliances, upholstery and wood. For now, I’m going to stick with my homemade liquid vegetable soap, baking soda, essential oil and a little elbow grease! How about you?
I hope this hands-on, day-in-the-life example of how White Lotus Living searches for suitable products to offer, gives you a better feel for the extent to which we go in order to protect our customers and the environment! Perhaps you can see that finding truly green products is a full-time job. We are here to find truly green products for you so you can find them easily in one place at www.whitelotusliving.com.
© 2011 White Lotus Living, Inc.