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Here we explore some of the myths & legends!

Monday
Sep272010

Why A Carcinogen Scores a "0" in the Cosmetics Database

We at Bubble & Bee think the Cosmetics Database is a great place to start when it comes to researching ingredients. But because it is such a vast resource, some ingredients fall through the figurative cracks in the database. Like this one: magnesium silicate. 

Magnesium silicate is a synthetically-produced mineral compound also known as "activated" magnesium silicate. Sold under the trade name Florisil, it is used in chemistry labs as a testing medium in chromatography and other analytical testing. It's also used in other industrial applications, for cleaning up chemical spills (because it's so absorbent), filtering oils and as a catalyst in some chemical reactions. 

Florisil is actually a blend of two different compounds, SiO2 (silicone dioxide) and MgO (magnesium oxide). When exposed to any amount of water, the two powder compounds ionize and then crystallize in to what we know as talc [CAS 14807-96-6], or hydrated magnesium silicate.

According to the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) found here:

The substance is toxic to lungs. Repeated or prolonged exposure to the substance can produce target organs damage. [...] Workers must use an approved respirator, gloves, safety glasses and lab coat. [...] Consult a specialist before handling the product. [...] Chronic exposure can lead to accumulation in the lungs, as in the pheumoconiosis called "Talcosis" and exposure to fibrous forms might result in pulmonary fibrosis.

Florisil, or activated magnesium silicate is not used in cosmetics. US Silica, the company that makes it, doesn't even offer a cosmetic grade of it. Why? Because it is not safe for skin--it soaks up any kind of moisture, so it would be incredibly drying and irritating to anything it came in contact with. I even called them and asked if anyone ordered it for cosmetics use--the woman on the phone thought I was crazy just for asking. Companies looking for a powder to help disperse a makeup would just use hydrated magnesium silicate, aka, talc.

So, why is activated magnesium silicate even in the Cosmetics Database? And if it's harmful, why does it score a 0?

A System Based on Numbers

In the chemical industry, every chemical is assigned a number called a CAS (Chemical Abstracts Service) number. The Cosmetics Database started out as a list of chemicals and listed each chemical with its unique CAS number. This list was then cross-linked with other lists from governmental agencies and non-profits to create a comprehensive database. All of the chemicals were cross-linked using their CAS. Activated magnesium silicate isn't widely used and studied, so it wasn't in any of these databases. So, no data was pulled, so there was no score (thus, a 0). 

So, companies started taking advantage of this glitch in the database. They submitted their ingredients lists using magnesium silicate instead of talc, so they would get lower scores. While technically, talc is magnesium silicate, it's the wrong CAS. Companies knowingly do this so they get lower scores in the Cosmetics Database. 

The Dangers of Talc

PesticideInfo.org, a national non-profit organization lists talc as a known carcinogen because it increases the risk of lung cancer when it is inhaled. (Source) The National Toxicology Program ruled in 1993 that there was reasonable evidence that talc is a carcinogen when inhaled. (Source) Additionally, much evidence has been found that talc, when used as a feminine powder, can be absorbed into the body and cause ovarian cancer. (Source)

Let's Make a Change

We can make a change with your help! Let the Cosmetics Database know that we're not going to let companies cheat on this ingredient listing. Send an e-mail to skindeep@ewg.org and let them know that magnesium silicate should not be listed as a zero, and link to this article. Tweet this! Facebook this article! Let's get the industry to listen!

 

Tuesday
Jul062010

Manufacturer Opens up about Japanese Honeysuckle Extract

After months of my e-mailing them, the manufacturer of Japanese Honeysuckle Extract has finally responded to my questions.  This issue continues to get more complex and the reputation of the extract keeps getting lower and lower. 

I wrote to Dr. Bala, the owner of Campo Research that makes Japanese Honeysuckle Extract and asked him if parahydroxy benzoic acid present in all or any grades of Plantservative (the tradename for Japanese Honeysuckle Extract.)  His response was yes and no. 

In the Verification of the description, you may find a variety of phydroxyBenzoic Acid of the Salcyclic class (ie of Aspirin) slightly present in Campo Plantservative, of Which I believe is what Ms ****** ****** has confirmed as Phydroxybenzoic Acid. 

Let me clarify what he's saying. 

Parahydroxybenzoic acid, the chemical we've been talking about for all these months in my previous articles, is also known as 4-hydroxybenzoic acid.

4-hydroxybenzoic acidDr. Bala is saying that the parahydroxybenzoic acid present in the product is actually 2-hydroxybenzoic acid, which has the same combination of atoms, just arranged in a slightly different shape. 

2-hydroxybenzoic acid

You'll notice the OH group is just in a different place on the carbon ring. 

The common name for 2-hydroxybenzoic acid is salicylic acid.  This is the same salicylic acid that scores a 7 in the EWG Cosmetics Database.  So now, instead of containing an ingredient that's similar to methylparaben, which scores a 4, we find out that Japanese Honeysuckle Extract actually contains a chemical that scores much higher and is so strong that it's regulated as a drug when it's listed as an ingredient.  According to the database, it's a reproductive toxin, a neurotoxin, and a penetration enhancer.  See my Chemical of the Day analysis here.

A few other notes about Japanese Honeysuckle Extract that I found out in my research.  This is all from the materials that Dr. Bala e-mailed to me:

  • A small amount of butylene glycol is used as a solvent in its production, and it is present up to 2.5% of the finished product. Below is a screen shot of the product detail sheet. 

  • Once the product is filtered, it then undergoes a process called Collusion-induced Dissociation.  Basically, they take the extract and put it in a vaccuum and spin it around at an incredibly high speed---so fast that it actually breaks the molecular bonds of the original compounds to create new molecules that aren't present in nature.


  • Japanese Honeysuckle Extract uses nanotechnology.  Once the extract has been taken from the flowers, it is run through a nano-sized filter two times, resulting in biologically-based nanoparticles. 
  • They claim that Plantservative doesn't undergo any "animal testing" however, it is tested on embryonic stem cells.

Embryonic stem cells are usually taken from human fetuses that are just a few hours old, comprised of just a few cells.  They are typically created in a lab and then used for testing.  So, it's not as gruesome as it sounds, but, depending on your own personal beliefs, you can make your own decision if you accept the use of this practice by using this ingredient. 

The bottom line is, Japanese Honeysuckle Extract is not natural.  It is created using very sophisticated technology, (nanoparticles, Collusion-Induced Dissociation, etc) contains salicylic acid (a chemical with quite a few risks), contains a small amount of butylene glycol, and is made up of other unknown compounds that do not ocurr in nature.  Is it the worst ingredient in the world?  No.  Is it one that I personally avoid.  Yes.  Now that you have ALL the information on the ingredient, you too can make an informed decision. 

Japanese Honeysuckle Extract Quick Facts:

  • Contains Salicylic Acid
  • Created using nanotechnology
  • Unnatural molecules created using Collusion Induced Dissociation
  • Contains butylene glycol
  • Tested on human embryonic stem cells

Brands that use Japanese Honeysuckle Extract:

MyChelle

Thera Wise

Rare2B

Hugo Naturals

John Master

Rocky Mountain Soap Company

Raw Natural Beauty

Kiss My Face

Beauty without Cruelty

Elizabeth Arden

Jason

Larenim

Nvey Eco

100% Pure

Ava Anderson Non-Toxic

Shea Moisture

Friday
Jun252010

Hugo Naturals Responds to Japanese Honeysuckle Claims

By far, the most controversial topic in our "most controversial" section has been the subject of Japanese Honeysuckle Extract.  Maybe it's the hot-button topic of possible hidden parabens, or the angry responses from some in the industry.   We've thorougly established that Japanese Honeysuckle Extract (tradename Plantservative) contains a compound called parahydroxy benzoic acid, the chemical on which parabens are based, and one that has been proven to act estrogenically like synthetic parabens. 

One of the brands that uses Japanese Honeysuckle Extract is Hugo Naturals.  One reader, Lisa B wrote to them and posted their response in the comments section of our previous article.  I have a lot to say about what she's posted here, so I'm posting the comment and my full response here in this article.  Here is the statement:

I emailed Hugo Natural's about their use of Honeysuckle Extract and this was their reply to me, anyone have any thoughts about what they have to say??? This is what they said:

Hello Lisa,

Your request for clear and understandable information is completely reasonable. You want to make informed decisions about the products your use, and their potential health effects. I also hear you saying you believe that we are not providing this information, and that we are not being forthright with our customers about this specific ingredient. I want you to know we understand your outrage, and would feel the same way if we only had a limited amount of information available, such as what is found on some websites.

Fortunately, Hugo Naturals has access to a wealth of credible experts on the subject, and we have spent countless days and weeks investigating this ingredient, as we do all ingredients in our formulations. I will attempt to provide some important information which we have complied for our own use.

Below is a statement from Dr. Balasubramaniam. Dr. “Bala” is not an industry pundit, or a scientist of questionable credibility, but is the actual creator of Campo Plantservative (Japanese Honeysuckle Extract). He is the guy, so to speak. The other statement we have included is from our own Organic Chemist and Technical Advisor, John Mizialko. John is well-respected in the natural personal care industry.

Dr. Balasubramaniam:

“Natural Parabens” do not exist, and especially not in Campo Plantservative WSr...The anti-microbial influence of this plant extract CP WSr is not of paraben at all, nor of natural Benzoic Acid, and is due to complexities of Loncerin and side-lined enzymatic chains that are highly anti-microbial (ie. natural preservation properties).

Below are additional comments from John Mizialko (Hugo Naturals Organic Chemist and Technical Advisor):

“Japanese Honeysuckle Extract does not contain chemicals commonly known as parabens , however, it does contain small amounts of natural Benzoic Acid (less than 5 ppm), which is also found in some common fruits and vegetables, and is used widely as a food preservative. It is completely false that natural Benzoic Acid is a natural paraben. There is class of chemical compounds called esters that can be made (synthetically) from derivatives of Benzoic Acid, and these esters (Methyl Benzoate, Propyl Benzoate, Butyl Benzoate) are also known as Xeno-parabens- or their more commonly known names of Methylparaben, Propylparaben, and Butylparaben. These synthetic compounds do not exist in Japanese Honeysuckle Extract. In addition, independent analytical testing using PDA (Photo-Diode-Assay) HPLC (High-Pressure-Liquid-Chromatograph) instrumentation have conclusively shown that Japanese Honeysuckle Extract contains no “parabens” whatsoever.”

We sincerely appreciate this opportunity to provide needed clarity and address your important concern. I want you to feel free to contact me at the direct number below if this response does not answer your questions. Hugo would be happy to speak to you personally, and can arrange a phone meeting with our organic chemist, at your convenience. We are incredibly proud of our formulations, and the use of this preservative.

David Greenbaum

VP of Sales

20727 Dearborn Street

Chatsworth, CA 91311

1.206.396.6896 (direct)

1.888.642.5024 (fax)

1.818.576.9917 (Customer Service)

First of all, I want to applaud Hugo Naturals for their professionalism in which they apparently responded.  I do however, have a few things to say in direct response to Dr. Bala and their chemical advisor, John Mizialko. 

I have tried e-mailing "Dr. Bala" numerous times and have yet to hear anything back from him.   That's why I went to the distributor of the product for my latest fact-finding mission to confirm the presence of parahydroxy benzoic acid.  I have sent Dr Bala another e-mail and will post anything that I hear back.  So, let's take a careful look at his statement that Hugo Naturals reportedly used:

"Natural Parabens” do not exist, and especially not in Campo Plantservative WSr." 

By definition, a "paraben" is a synthetic compound, an ester of parahydroxy benzoic acid.  So, technically, there is no such thing as a "natural paraben" because by nature, a paraben is a synthetic compound.  HOWEVER, there is such thing as parahydroxy benzoic acid.  When someone says there is a "natural paraben" they mean parahydroxy benzoic acid, because it is the natural compound on which parabens are based.  (For more on the topic, read this article.)

"..The anti-microbial influence of this plant extract CP WSr is not of paraben at all, nor of natural Benzoic Acid,"

Dr. Bala seems to be confused-- benzoic acid is not parahydroxy benzoic acid. 

Here is benzoic acid:

 

Here is parahydroxy benzoic acid:

Note that the parahydroxy benzoic acid has an extra OH group.  They are similar compounds, but they are not the same thing.  I'm not quite sure what the Dr. is trying to say here.  He's not addressing the issue of parahydroxy benzoic acid in his Plantservative product. 

"and is due to complexities of Loncerin and side-lined enzymatic chains that are highly anti-microbial (ie. natural preservation properties)."

Loncierin is a flavonoid that does have antioxidant powers but none that would be strong enough to preserve a cosmetic formula.  (source)   Some enzymes, like lactose peroxidase and glucose oxidase have been used as a broad-spectrum preservative, so I wouldn't rule out enzymes being the active component.  But then why would all the information on the ingredient when it came out state that the active ingredients were parahydroxy benzoic acid?  And why would the distributor confirm those claims?

So now, let's look at the statement from Hugo's formula advisor,  John Mizialko. 

“Japanese Honeysuckle Extract does not contain chemicals commonly known as parabens , however, it does contain small amounts of natural Benzoic Acid (less than 5 ppm), which is also found in some common fruits and vegetables, and is used widely as a food preservative. It is completely false that natural Benzoic Acid is a natural paraben.

Like Dr. Bala, Mr. Mizialko is also confusing benzoic acid with parahydroxy benzoic acid.  It IS completely false that benzoic acid is a natural paraben.  No one is claiming that it is.  Parahydroxy benzoic acid, however, is a "natural paraben."

There is class of chemical compounds called esters that can be made (synthetically) from derivatives of Benzoic Acid, and these esters (Methyl Benzoate, Propyl Benzoate, Butyl Benzoate) are also known as Xeno-parabens- or their more commonly known names of Methylparaben, Propylparaben, and Butylparaben.

Mr. Mizialko appears to be terribly confused here.  Methyl Benzoate, Propyl Benzoate, and Butyl Benzoate are not "xeno-parabens," nor are they methylparaben, propylparaben, or butylparaben. 

Methyl Benzoate is not used as a cosmetic preservative.  It is a strongly aromatic compound that cocoaine offgasses.  It is in fact, the compound that drug-sniffing dogs detect when they identify cocaine.  (Source)

Here is methyl benzoate

 

Here is methylparaben

 

They are completely different chemicals.  The full name for methylparaben is Methyl 4-hydroxybenzoate, not Methyl benzoate.

Propyl benzoate is not propylparaben.  Propyl benzoate is a synthetic fragrance and flavor compound with a nutty scent and flavor.  Here is propyl benzoate:

 

Here is propylparaben:

Very similar in structure, but not the same compound.  The full name for propylparaben is Propyl 4-hydroxybenzoate, not propyl benzoate.

The same applies for the butyl version.  The full name of butylparaben is not Butyl benzoate, but Butyl 4-hydroxybenzoate.   Mr. Mizialko appears to be misinformed or confused about parabens and their chemical structures.  

These synthetic compounds do not exist in Japanese Honeysuckle Extract. In addition, independent analytical testing using PDA (Photo-Diode-Assay) HPLC (High-Pressure-Liquid-Chromatograph) instrumentation have conclusively shown that Japanese Honeysuckle Extract contains no “parabens” whatsoever.”

I believe it that the extract contains no synthetic parabens.  However, there is no credible evidence that it does not contain parahydroxy benzoic acid, and much evidence that it does.   It is strange to me that these chemists are so confused about the structures of these chemicals.  These are professional industrial chemists, and to not know the difference between benzoic acid and parahydroxy benzoic acid, or the true structures of parabens is quite odd.  Either way, they never really addressed the issue (although to the untrained eye, it may appear that they did). 

Throughout this controversy the only thing that my opponents could do were to try to knock my credibility by saying I'm not a "chemist."   Just because I don't have a degree in chemistry doesn't mean I don't understand it.  That's like saying "you don't have a degree in English, so you can't speak English."  If you're immersed in something enough, you understand it and can use the knowledge you attain.  So, the controversy continues...

Thursday
May132010

Confirmed: Aluminum in Crystal Deodorants IS Absorbed

This is a follow-up tidbit on the subject of Alum.  See my first article here and my second article here.

For a couple months now I've been talking about the crystal deodorants and how they still do contain aluminum even though most of them claim to be "aluminum-free."  I wrote about how crystal deodorants are made up of potassium alum, the nickname for potassium aluminum sulfate.  Once the potassium alum is wetted, as one would do using a crystal deodorant, it dissolves into ionic aluminum.  Ionic aluminum is the smallest form of aluminum possible.  My argument is that if larger molecules such as aluminum chlorohydrate pose a health risk by absorption, aluminum ions would as well.  Although I found a number of empirical studies that would suggest ionic aluminum is absorbed through the skin, I had yet to find a direct study stating that aluminum ions are absorbed through the skin.  Today I am glad to say, I found the research.

A French study published in the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research explored the effects of aluminum ions on collagen.  As stated in the study's introduction, "Heavy metal ions are capable of inducing crosslinking between peptide chains of collagen.  The metal ions improve the capacity of collagen to resist denaturization as well as the attack by enzymes, bacteria, and chemical agents." [p 1339]  In other words, metal ions have been found to stabilize collagen.  This is a process that is used in the leather-making industry (known as "tanning" hides) and in some medical devices/products. 

Chromium salts were already well-known to be a good collagen stabilizing agent at the time of the study.  The purpose of the study was to find if aluminum ions, as found in aluminum salts, had the same collagen stabilizing effects, and could be used in the same way industrially to tan hides and to create collagen-based medical materials. 

The researchers treated collagen with aluminum ions and found that it became significantly dehydrated.  They concluded that "the substitution of water molecules by aluminum ions on intramolecular hydrophilic sites is suggested to be responsible for this evolution." In other words, the aluminum ions substituted the water molecules in the collagen, thus drying it out.  This may explain why alum has a drying effect on skin-- as it robs the collagen of its moisture, aluminum ions replacing  water molecules.

The researchers studied the effects of aluminum ions on both extracted collagen and skin tissue.  The aluminum ions were found to affect the collagen in the skin samples.  Thus, we can ascertain that the aluminum ions were absorbed into the skin at some level.  The deodorant companies' claims that their aluminum molecules are "too large to be absorbed through the skin" are thus disproven. 

Aluminum ions, as found in crystal deodorants, are absorbed through skin, and do have a biological reaction therein. 

Thursday
Apr152010

Honeysuckle Extract & Parabens: What the Industry Doesn't Want you to Know

I recently received an angry phone call from the owner of a certain cosmetics company.  I had listed them in my last article about brands that use Japanese Honeysuckle extract.  They demanded I take their name out of the article, threatening that their lawyers would be giving us a "cease and desist" order if we didn't oblige.  Apparently they've received numerous angry e-mails from customers who found out their products contained parahydroxy benzoic acid, a chemical that, as I've written, looks and acts like parabens.  Yet they claim that their product is "paraben-free" and continue to stick behind their products.  So, I thought I'd respond to their claims today.

One of our readers wrote to the company, asking if their products contain parabens.  The company wrote back to her: 

The Japanese Honeysuckle Extract DOES NOT have parabens in it what so ever.  It has the same chemical structure as parabens.  But it does not have parabens.

So, the company does admit, in writing, that their honeysuckle extract does contain a compound with the same chemical structure as parabens.  In other words, it contains parahydroxy benzoic acid, the compound that I've been talking about. 

Parahydroxy benzoic acid is the compound that inspired chemists to create parabens.  In fact, the name parabens comes from parahydroxy benzoic acid.  Methylparaben means parahydroxy benzoic acid with a methyl group.  Propylparaben means parahydroxy benzoic acid with a propyl group.  So, how can the company say that their product is paraben-free if it contains the original para-ben

The consensus in the cosmetics industry is that the term "parabens" only applies to synthetically-produced parabens.  When synthetic parabens were first created, they were the golden child of the cosmetics industry. Everyone was using them.  They're easy to formulate with, non-irritating on skin, "non-toxic," and cheap.  That was until consumers started learning of their estrogen-mimicking properties and possible link to breast cancer.  The word has spread, and now there's a huge market for paraben-free products.  So, cosmetic supply companies started coming out with paraben alternatives.  One of those companies is Campo Research: makers of Plantservative (Japanese Honeysuckle Extract). 

When a chemical company invents a new ingredient, they decide on a standardized name for it and submit it to the INCI database.  The INCI name for Plantservative products (there are three different grades) is "Japanese Honeysuckle Extract."  Campo Research decided on the name so they'd have a highly-marketable product: a preservative that has a natural-looking name on the label.  One that could hide among other natural ingredients, making the product look so very pure.  And, technically speaking, be "paraben-free."  And while the extract is indeed "natural," (for the most part--one grade of Plantservative uses phenoxyethanol as the extraction solvent)  that doesn't mean that it's harmless. Parahydroxy benzoic acid was studied in 2005 for its estrogenic properties.  The study says: 

It can be concluded that removal of the ester group from parabens does not abrogate its oestrogenic activity and that p-hydroxybenzoic acid can give oestrogenic responses in human breast cancer cells.

In other words, it doesn't matter if the paraben has a methyl, propyl, or butyl group, it's the parahydroxy benzoic acid itself that acts estrogenically.  But, because you technically (by the etiquette of the cosmetics industry) can't call parahydroxy benzoic acid a "paraben," these companies get away with saying that their products are "paraben-free." 

You know the old saying...if it looks like a duck, it quacks like a duck...then it's a duck.  But, even though parahydroxy benzoic acid looks like a paraben, and acts like a paraben, is the namesake of the word paraben, the cosmetics industry won't let us call it a paraben.  So that companies can continue to sell watered-down soaps and lotions at high profit margins and call them natural and "paraben-free."  

When I was on the phone with the owner of the other company, I told her that if her honeysuckle extract didn't contain parahydroxy benzoic acid, I'd be happy to write a new article and clear their name.  She continued to demand that I remove their name from the article.  I told her that parahydroxy benzoic acid acts estrogenically, just like parabens do.  She said "that's debateable."  I told her, okay, get me the information that proves otherwise.  I have data to back up what I'm saying.  If there's proof to the contrary, share it with me and I'll post a correction or even a complete retraction.  I'll even help promote their company (as I do in another article, recommending other products of theirs that don't contain honeysuckle extract.)  But she could only reply by telling me to remove their name from the list...or else. 

I haven't taken their name off the list, and I will not until they remove the ingredient from their products.  But these companies are unlikely to change their formulas. Mainly because they have found a way to basically sell cosmetic waters at a premium. Their water-based products make a higher profit margin than companies like ours that don't water down our products.  When you buy a shower gel of ours, it's all soap.  When you buy a body butter--it's all butter.  If we can't make something without water, then we don't make it. They can attempt to hide the fact that their products contains an ingredient with (their words) "the same chemical structure as parabens," and try to bully me in to submission. But I will continue my research and production of our USDA Certified Organic products, especially with the immense amount of support that Bubble & Bee Organic gets from our customers who have come to trust us and depend on us for the truth.