Here we explore some of the myths & legends!


Japanese Honeysuckle Extract Discussion Continues

Today I received some questions that I thought I'd share with everyone, as it has to do with Japanese Honeysuckle Extract, the controversial preservative I've written about before.  It's been a while since I've weighed in on the topic, so I thought this might be an interesting follow-up.  

One of the companies that uses Japanese Honeysuckle Extract was defending their choice of this preservative. Here is an excerpt from their statement:

From existing research, the part of Japanese honeysuckle in question, the p-hydroxy benzoic acid that is being compared to a paraben, is not the same. It is as chemically similar to paraben as theobroma is to caffeine. Today P-hydroxy benzoic acid is a powerful antioxidant that is not only in japanese honeysuckle, but also found in cranberries, plums, acai berry, and many other berries. In order to believe that Japanese honeysuckle is a paraben, you would also have to consider these fruit parabens since they contain the same component in question. 

The questions posed to me were:

  1. Based on your research, does it make sense to try to steer clear of acai berry extracts and cranberry extracts as well? Their comment caught me a bit off guard, and I would appreciate any thoughts you may have.
  2. Secondly, I was just thinking, have you found any research on the xenoestrogen levels of synthetic parabens versus JHE? I assume that the estrogen-mimicking nature of JHE is lower than the synthetic parabens, but was wondering how much lower it may be. 

So...should we steer clear of acai, cranberry, blueberry extracts ? What about eating these berries? 

No. These are all beneficial fruits and can be consumed and used in extract form without reservation (of course, unless you have an allergy or medical condition that prevents you from doing so.)

P-hydroxybenzoic acid may ocurr in these and other foods and fruits, however, first of all, it's at a much lower concentration than what would be used to preserve a cosmetic (otherwise the fruit would never go bad!). Additionally, one has to look at the overall effect that the fruit has.  The whole fruits and extracts of the fruits contain a host of beneficial compounds, including tannins and flavonoids that create an overall benefit in the body. The healthy antioxidant powers of fruits such as acai, cranberries, blueberries, and plums are well established.

One thing that we have to remember is that Japanese Honeysuckle Extract is not a true extract. It undergoes advanced processing that alters the original compounds in the true plant extract. It is true that lonicerin, a beneficial flavonoid, is present in the original plant extract, however, after processing it becomes a blend of unknown substances (listed as "lonicerin ester A, B, C & D" Source) The safety of these altered substances have not been established, and the only information available about it is that which the manufacturer provides. 

Synthetic parabens vs JHE. 

No one has ever studied the estrogenic effects of Japanese Honeysuckle Extract.  P-hydroxy benzoic acid has been studied and found to be weakly estrogenic. (Source) However, the manufacturer stated to me that it's actually "p-hydroxy benzoic acid of the salicylic class" (See the article here).  In other words, JHE doesn't contain the p-hydroxy benzoic acid from the study above, but the isomer (molecular mirror image) otherwise known as salicylic acid. According to a 1973 RTECs study, salicylic acid does act as a xenoestrogen, however, more recent bioassays have not been done. Salicylic acid has been found to inhibit an enzyme called SULT1A1, an enzyme that helps flush estrogen-mimicking chemicals (phenols) out of the system. (However, its effects on estrogen levels are unknown.) Salicylic is known to be a reproductive toxin shown, when taken internally, to cause developmental abnormalities.  (Source 1) (Source 2) (Source 3) (Source 4

Some have asked me if there's an update to the Japanese Honeysuckle Extract debate. Unfortunately there is no new information since my original articles. It's not widely used enough in the industry to warrant independent studies, so the only information that anyone has access to is based on what the manufacturer, Campo Research, provides. 


"Organic" Shampoo Company Responds

Recently I called in to question the published ingredients of a popular "organic" shampoo.  (See my previous post.) The ingredients listed on the product just didn't add up.  They listed water, oil, glycerin, potassium lactate, and some herbal extracts. From a scientific standpoint, I knew it couldn't be true, as oil, water and glycerin just don't mix, let alone lather and clean hair.  I stated that there had to be something that the company wasn't disclosing on the label, and today my assertion was proven correct by a statement that the company made. Their response to my article. Here is an excerpt:

With over 30 years experience and practical application in the skin care field, and with the advantage of highly advanced technology, our chemist is capable of achieving end results based on specific ingredients used in precise amounts. The oils used in our shampoo are carefully chosen for the character they impart to the final product. Coconut oil creates glycerin and produces a great lather. Olive oil has natural antioxidants and makes the lather creamier.

Attempting to explain something as intricately complex as a chemical process is difficult, but in a nutshell, these two oils are saponified using new, advanced technology which does not require the use of harmful solids. Instead, potassium salt is used and is converted into potassium lactate (a moisturizing agent). The process is similar to using precursors and initiators that allow reactions to take place but do not become consumed within the reaction.

Your confidence in the quality and integrity of the ________ brand is important to us. Be assured that we accurately list the active ingredients on our labels and that ________ Shampoo does NOT contain SLS. Cocomide Betaine was in the original formula but was removed when our labels were updated several years ago.

If their product is so natural and organic, why does it undergo such a "intricately complex chemical process" that's difficult to explain? 

If the shampoo was truly made from saponified oils, the product would have the same physical properties of soap. It would turn milky in water (which it doesn't) it would leave soap scum in hard water (which it doesn't) and it would have an alkaline pH (which it doesn't.)  And, if they were saponified oils, why not list them as such on the label? But, as they've described, the oils are not truly saponified, but are undergoing an "intricately complex chemical process." These are not raw or saponified oils; they have undergone sophisticated processing, using "advanced technology." In other words, the oils have been chemically altered and turned in to a new substance.  A substance that's not disclosed on the label.  

Then, something else stuck out at me. They say: "Be assured that we accurately list the active ingredients on our labels." First of all, "active ingredients" is a term that's relegated to a product that's a drug, not a cosmetic. The only time a shampoo would have an "active ingredient" legally would be when it's considered a drug, as in a medicated dandruff shampoo. Cosmetic products must disclose all of their ingredients (with exceptions for chemicals listed under "fragrance.) How they're defining "active" ingredients is unclear, but I find it suspect that they wouldn't say "we disclose ALL ingredients" and not just those that they deem to be "active."

So, the bottom line remains: their shampoo label does not accurately reflect the actual ingredients in the bottle. And now their own statement has confirmed it.    



An "Organic" Shampoo Exposed

Organic fakers can be very tricky and hard to spot. There's a certain brand of shampoo out there (which shall remain nameless) about which we have received a lot of questions over the last two years. Me and my team are on the case; wait to you see what we found out!  

At first glance, their ingredients look fine. 

Ingredients: Purified Water, Olive Oil (and) Coconut Oil (and) Potassium Lactate, Vegetable Glycerin, Peppermint Oil*, Fennel Extract*, Hops Extract, Balm Mint Extract, Olive Leaf Extract*, Ginger Extract*, Mistletoe Extract*, Allantonin (Comfrey Root), Citric Acid, Niacin (Vitamin B3), Lemon Grass Oil*, Burdock Root Extract*, Sage Extract*, Rosemary Extract*, Grape Seed Extract*. *Certified Organic Herb

Just some oils, water, and a bunch of extracts.  But, looking more closely at this ingredients list, one problem stood out at me. How does this product lather?  It's seemingly just a blend of herbal extracts (none of which are known to have saponins or any natural lathering agents), water, and oil. It should look and act like salad dressing! 

The shampoo is a thick gel-like consistency with a slight pearlescence.So, I decided, it was time to investigate.  I ordered some of their shampoo.  The consistency was that of a typical shampoo, a thick gel-like consistency with an interesting pearlescence.  It lathered moderately (not as much as a conventional one would) and rinsed well.  But, the ingredients were still baffling.  What was the active cleansing agent?

I thought initially that perhaps the coconut and olive oil were saponified oils (soap).  If they were, the pH of the shampoo would be alkaline, so I tested it: slightly acidic.  If you try to make a soap acidic, it turns in to a goopy, mushy mess.  A soap has to be alkaline in order to act like soap.  So, that ruled out it being a soap.

Potassium lactate is a salt that is sold in a water-based solution. It has no lathering or cleansing properties.The company claims that the potassium lactate works together with the oils to create lather.  So, I got my hands on a bottle of potassium lactate so I could do some experimenting. But first, I needed to figure out how much to add.  I sent a bottle of the shampoo to my friend who works as an environmental chemist.  He was also baffled by the ingredients list and how they didn't match up with the physical properties of the shampoo.  He suggested doing what they call a full metals test.  This would test all of the levels of metals (potassium is considered a metal.)

What came back from the lab surprised us both.  Only 34 parts per million of potassium.  That's .0034% potassium.  To give you perspective, for a 16 oz bottle of shampoo, that would be .016 ml.  Practically 1/5th of a drop! First of all, potassium lactate isn't a lathering agent. Second, there's no way that something in such a miniscule concentration would cause a product to lather up.

But wait.  There's more.  

The test also found 9180 ppm of sodium, and 4170 ppm of sulfur. In practical terms the formula is 1% sodium and .5% sulfur.  Where is this coming from?!  None of the other ingredients would provide sodium or sulphur. (E-mail me if you're interested in my detailed analysis, I have an ingredient-by-ingredient breakdown that is too long to publish here.) Well, without an answer to the sodium and sulphur mystery, let's move on to another issue.  

One thing that our test told us was that the formula was 60% water.  Let's assume that everything is correctly labeled from the most abundant ingredient to the least.  Peppermint essential oil, like I mentioned, would be used at around 1%.  That means that all of those extracts listed after the mint only make up a very small amount of the formula, at less tan 1% each. Let's say that peppermint eo is 1% and the rest of the extracts and additives after it comprise a total of 5% of the formulation.  

We know that the potassium lactate is .0034% of the formula...1/5th of a drop.  That leaves the remaining 33.99% of the formula to the olive and coconut oils and vegetable glycerin.  

I took all of the ingredients listed on the label and blended them together; this is what they really look like. Note the separated water and oil. It is a runny liquid consistency and has no lathering properties. Also note the difference in color. Vegetable glycerin is a water-loving, water-soluble ingredient.  So, the glycerin would dissolve in the water. However, water and glycerin do not mix with oil. Without some kind of emulsifier, these ingredients, no matter how much you mixed them, would separate in minutes.  None of the extracts or ingredients listed on the bottle act as an emulsifier. I have had a bottle of this shampoo for two years now and there is absolutely no separation; it's completely stable.  

I found a listing of their shampoo from a few years ago before a labeling redesign.  The formula was exactly the same except for one thing: it listed cocamidopropyl betaine after the water. So, according to their label, they took out the one agent that lathered and emulsified, and instead added "coconut oil and olive oil and potassium lactate."  It just doesn't add up.  Coconut oil, olive oil, and potassium lactate just can't do the job of a detergent.

There is one thing, though, that would explain all of these mysteries: sodium lauryl sulfate.  Or another surfactant. The presence of SLS would explain the presence of the sodium and the sulfate we found in our testing.  Sodium lauryl sulfate would lather.  It would be able to combine the water, glycerin, and oil. Perhaps it's not sodium lauryl sulfate that they're using, but sodium coco sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfoacetate, or one of those related surfactants. Maybe they're still using cocamidopropyl betaine, and the sodium and sulphur we found were just contaminants. The metals test showed only 1% sodium, and using 1% sodium lauryl sulfate wouldn't be enough to make everything lather, so perhaps it's a combination of sodium lauryl sulfate and another surfactant. We don't know for sure. But the bottom line is this: there is no way that the ingredients on the label of this shampoo are an accurate and full disclosure.


Dangers of Aluminum


It still floors me every time when I walk in to a health foods store and, while they wouldn't dream of selling an aluminum-based anti-perspirant, they will sell several brands and forms of "crystal" deodorants: sprays lined up, crystal roll ons, the crystal in the pink tube, the crystal in the blue tube. These stores are supposed to be beacons of health, of wellness and yet they're selling the smallest, potentially most absorbable form of aluminum you can put on your skin, period. Ionic aluminum, the same form of aluminum found in the crystal deodorants and has been found to create oxidative stress on skin and breast tissue. Most people don't realize that they're slathering on aluminum when they use these crystals.  Manufacturers will say that it doesn't contain "harmful aluminums."  But is there such thing as a safe aluminum, or a beneficial aluminum?  No.  As I've outlined below, aluminum is aluminum.  It has no benefit or place in the human body, and only creates a state of toxicity within.

What is aluminum?

Aluminum is the world's most abundant metal in the earth's crust.  It is a versatile metal that is lightweight, relatively soft, and durable.  It is a fairly reactive element that combines with negatively charged ions or elements to form compounds such as aluminum oxide or aluminum sulfate.  

How does aluminum enter the body?

We're exposed to aluminum in many ways:

  • Trace amounts in drinking water
  • Baked goods that contain alum-containing baking powder
  • Foods with artificial colorants (aluminum lakes, example: yellow 5 aluminum lake)  
  • Cooking acidic foods in aluminum cookware (the acidity causes the aluminum to leach)  
  • Over-the-counter medicines such as Maylox and Mylanta
  • Vaccines
  • Topical products such as deodorants or anti-perspirants 

How does aluminum affect our health?

Unlike some other metals such as potassium, sodium, or magnesium, aluminum has no benefit or function in the body.

  • Aluminum creates oxidative stress on cells throughout the body, causing damage to DNA and aging on cells.  (Source)  
  • Aluminum-containing anti-perspirants keep the body from sweating and properly releasing hormones out of the body.  This is a suspected cause of breast and prostate cancer. (Source)
  • Aluminum accumulates in bone tissue, thus weakening it.  (Source) It is a suspected cause of osteoporosis.  
  • "Once absorbed, Al accumulates in bone, brain, liver and kidney, with bone as the major site for Al deposition in humans." (Source)
  • Aluminum robs the body of magnesium, calcium and iron, and accumulates in the brain.  "Trace aluminum levels cross the blood-brain barrier and progressively accumulate in large pyramidal neurons of the hippocampus, cortex, and other brain regions vulnerable in Alzheimer's disease. More aluminum enters the brain than leaves, resulting in a net increase in intraneuronal aluminum with advancing age. Aluminum is responsible for two main types of toxic damage in cells. As a pro-oxidant, aluminum causes oxidative damage both on its own and in synergy with iron. Aluminum also competes with, and substitutes for, essential metals-primarily Mg2+, iron and Ca2+ ions-in or on proteins and their co-factors." (Source)
  • Aluminum has been found to cause granulomas. (Source)
  • Aluminum is toxic to skin and creates oxidative stress (Source)
  • Aluminum is absorbed highly by abraided or irritated skin. (Source)
  • This study found that ionic aluminum created oxidative stress in breast tissue. (Source)

The Vitamin A Controversy

Recently, the EWG Skin Deep Cosmetics Database increased their hazard score for two forms of Vitamin A, Retinol and Retinyl Palmitate to an eight (high hazard) for both ingredients.  Is there science behind this decision? Should we be concerned about Vitamin A?  Let's get to the bottom of the Vitamin A controversy. 

According to EWG, "a 2009 study by U.S. government scientists suggests that a form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight, may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions (NTP 2009, 2011)."  While they do say that these are preliminary animal studies and human studies have not been done, EWG is pushing the industry to discontinue the use of Retinyl Palmitate in sunscreens, and pushing the FDA to ban or regulate its use.  The FDA claims that more studies need to be done to conclusively verify any risks. 

In 2005, the molecular mechanism whereby retinyl palmitate possibly creates free radicals was discovered.  It was found that in visible and UV light, retinyl palmitate broke down to create two free radical species, anhydroretinol and 5,6-eposyretinyl palmitate that were able to mutate DNA. Other studies have verified that these decomposition products are photomutagenic.

So, now what about retinol, the more natural form of vitamin A?  While this 2010 study did find that retinol was photomutagenic, it was in mouse lymphoma cells, which obviously have a different metabolism that of human skin.  This study found that "sunlight-induced photodegradation of retinyl esters proceeds much faster than that of retinol, and it has been suggested that cellular retinol binding protein (CRBP) protects retinol from photodegradation."  In other words, a protein in the skin is able to bind retinol so that it doesn't break down and create free radicals like retinyl palmitate does.  So, I would deem retinol to be a safer form of Vitamin A than the synthetic retinyl palmitate. (In my opinion it should score maybe a 4 instead of an 8.) However, Vitamin A creams should be used with caution, as the studies are still conflicing and the subject is still being studied. 

[Other forms of vitamin A, such as beta-carotene (as found in rosehip seed oil) were not found to create photodegredation-induced free radicals.]