Q. I have bought a moisturizer mist that has the preservative called "optiphen". I can't seem to find much information on it, do you have any information? Thanks!

A.  Thanks for your question!

If your product is listing optiphen as an ingredients, it's actually illegally labeled.  Product should be labeled with the proper INCI name, while optiphen is the brand name of the ingredient.  Optiphen is a blend of polysorbate 20, phenoxyethanol, and caprylyl glycol.  (Source)

Caprylyl glycol is pretty innocuous, with not many known risks.

However, phenoxyethanol is known to be a skin irritant and possible estrogen mimicker.  You can read my full analysis here.

Polysorbate 20 is an ethoxylated compound.  This means that it was created using ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen, of which the finished product can contain traces, and its carcinogenic by-product 1,4-dioxane. You can read my full analysis here.

Thanks for your question!



Q. Is TEPRONONE safe!!!??? I am a little uneasy since it has effects on cancer cells but I am not sure if it is safe to use topically for wrinkles?

A. My investigation on this ingredient was quite surprising.  I expected to find lots of information indicating that this ingredient was harmful.  But, after research, I found that it actually has many positive benefits with low toxicity.

Teprenone's other name is geranylgeranylacetone. 

These studies found it to have promise in fighting colon cancer:

This study found it to inhibit ovarian cancer:

Teprenone, aka, geranylgeranylacetone is what's known as a heat shock protein inducer.  When the body's cells endure stress, particular proteins are released to help protect these cells.  In the body, geranylgeranylacetone stimulates the creation of these proteins, thus giving cells resilience and protection from inflammation, free radicals, and other damage to DNA, and may be the mechanism whereby this chemical has its anti-tumor effects.  (Source) So, it's actually a chemical with some interesting promise. 

But, what does this mean for your skin, and does teprenone really delay or "correct" skin aging?

There is no medical or scientific evidence that suggests that teprenone repairs, protects, or has any benefit directly on skin.  The theory is that due to its DNA-protective effect, teprenone helps to protect skin from damage, and thus delay or repair ageing.  But, there have been no peer-reviewed studies on the subject, and no clinical trials to back up the claim. The only studies that have been done are those that the creators of this chemical did for the application of the patent.  Hardly an independent, non-biased source. That's not to say that it does or doesn't have these effects.  They just simply haven't been proven. 

Another thing to consider...Any product bearing an anti-aging claim is making a drug claim, and would be regulated by the FDA as a drug.  Any anti-aging drug must label and use an active ingredient that has FDA drug approval.  Teprenone is not an FDA approved drug ingredient, so a product claiming that teprenone has active anti-aging benefits is being illegally marketed. 



Ethoxylated Alcohol

Q. I recently noticed that my Planet liquid laundry detergent contains ethoxylated alcohol. I know that ethoxylated chemicals should be avoided in cosmetics because they contain traces of carcinogens, but do you think this is something I should be worried about being on my clothing? My gut reaction is that I don't want that anywhere near me, but trace amounts that are mostly washed out of clothing do seem negligible. Also, do you know if there are any environmental issues with this?

I saw that you recommend soap nuts for laundry; do these work as well as detergents such as Planet? Are there problems with them making white clothes dingy?

Thanks for your help.

A.  You hit the nail on the head--even though we don't know which exact ethoxylated alcohol they're using, we do know that it's ethoxylated, and that means it can contain traces of 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide, both known or suspected carcinogens.  Your exposure to these trace contaminants from using a laundry detergent would be quite low...however, downstream it could be a problem as the carcinogens leach in to the groundwater.  I'm surprised to hear that a brand that deems itself to be better for the environment would use chemicals processed with carcinogens!  While the amounts are small, there could be an accumulative effect from others using ethoxylated compounds. 

Soapnuts work great!  There are no problems with them making white clothes dingy, and they're a completely non-toxic, non-allergenic, non-polluting way to clean clothes.

I hope that answers your question!


Green Tea and Grapefruit Extract

Q. Hi Stephanie,
I recently bought some products that are certified organic, and noticed one of the ingredients is Grapefruit Extract. I was just wondering if this is different from GSE, or if it's the same thing? Also, I was wondering if you've done any research on green tea leaf extract and it's safety? EWG rates it a 2, but it definitely sounds harmless... Thanks for your help :)

A.  Thanks for your question!

Regarding the Grapefruit Extract...that's a tough call.  It could be a grapefruit extract that's extracted from the juice, but I highly doubt it.  I haven't ever seen a product like that on the ingredients market (although new ingredients come out every day so I may have missed them.)  It is most likely GSE, but I would contact the company in question and ask them directly.  (Let me know what they say!)  It's possible that they're using GSE and the certifying agency didn't realize that it's a synthetic chemical and not a natural extract.  If you want to send me more information on the particular product, I'll be happy to do some more investigation. 

As far as the green tea leaf're totally right.  I think that the elevated (although still low) score for green tea extract is a bit unjust. 

The only problem that the Cosmetics Database has with green tea extract is "use restrictions."  The International Fragrance Association Codes & Standar

ds states that it should only be used under certain concentrations.  But if you look further down the page in the section that says "Government, industry, academic studies and classifications" you'll notice that restriction only applies to green tea absolute. Which is completely different from green tea extract. 

There are three basic green tea extracts that could be used in a cosmetic formula.  First would be a simple green tea infusion.  This would mean green tea leaves steeped in water for a time, just like what you would do to make tea.  I have seen companies use this green tea in their products as their water phase. It's a pretty common form.  Second would be a tincture, where the tea leaves are steeped for a longer period of time in glycerin or ethanol and water.  This would be a slightly more concentrated form of green tea because more compounds are released from the leaves generally.  Green tea tinctures typically contain a lot of the great anti-oxidant properties of tea, rich in polyphenols that scavenge free radicals on skin.  Third, would be an absolute.  An absolute is a highly concentrated extract, somewhat like an essential oil, and is usually extracted using chemical solvents. It's thick and dark and grainy, and takes hundreds of pounds of raw material to create just ounces. Green tea absolute is used in perfumeries to add complexity to fragrances.  It is this highly concentrated extract that has restrictions, not green tea infusions or tinctures.  However, any product with any kind of green tea extract gets that elevated risk score in the Cosmetics Database, unjustly in my opinion. 



Hair Gel Question


Hi Stephanie,

I am looking for a hair styling gel. I found one from a local company called Carina Organics.

INGREDIENTS: Aqua, Acacia senegal (gum) extract, Pinus divaricata (pine) extract, Pinus banksiana (pine) extract, Chamomilla recutita (matricaria) flower extract, Blechnum spicant (fern) leaf extract, Urtica dioca (nettle) leaf extract, Taraxacum officinale (dandelion) leaf extract, Trifolium pretense (clover) flower extract, Lathyrus odoratus (sweet pea) flower extract, Olea europaea (olive) fruit oil, Curcurbita pepo (pumpkin) seed oil.

Would you recomend this product based on the ingredients?

Thank you!

A.  Thanks for your question!  It actually looks good to me ingredients-wise!  One thing that I would ask the company is if they have sent this out for challenge testing because there are no apparent preservatives.  It may be that all of those extracts are alcohol-based and the alcohol makes up more than 15% of the formula in order to keep the formula preserved.  But it may be something that you'd want verification from them on, because with water as the first ingredient, if it's not properly preserved it could be harboring bacterial growth. 

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