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. 


Tocopherol vs. Tocopheryl Acetate

Q.  Can you talk about the differences between the different types of Vitamin E? 

A. I'd be happy to!

There are two forms of vitamin E: tocopherol and tocopheryl acetate.  Tocopherol is naturally-occurring, while tocopheryl acetate is synthetic.  Both are used in cosmetics as antioxidants, keeping oils from turning rancid, and for their reported benefits on skin (healing, anti-aging).  

The term "vitamin E" actually refers not just to one molecule, but a family of molecules that are chemically similar.  That's why sometimes you'll see the words "mixed tocopherols" on a vitamin E label. There are multiple forms of tocopherol, including alpha and gamma, and a sub-family of compounds called tocotrienols.  All of these compounds have the same chemical formula (same amount and ratio of atoms) just in slightly different arrangements (called isoforms.)  To simplify, instead of listing out each and every isoform, we refer to these compounds collectively, as "vitamin E."  The most predominant molecule in the vitamin E family is alpha-tocopherol, and most of the time, when one says "tocopherol," they are referring to alpha-tocopherol.  (As I will be doing for the purposes of this discussion.)

Tocopheryl acetate is the ester of tocopherol.  On a molecular level it is an tocopherol molecule with an acetate group added.  It is more stable than tocopherol, typically giving products a longer shelf-life.  In order for the body to absorb and use vitamin E, it must somehow remove the acetate group. Thus, many claim that tocopherol is more bioavailable to skin and for internal use because it can be absorbed without additional metabolism. (Source)

(Alpha) Tocopherol

(Alpha) Tocopheryl Acetate [Note the acetate group on the far left of the molecule

Interestingly, both tocopherol and tocopheryl acetate can be made synthetically.  So, while tocopherol is usually touted as "natural tocopherol," it may still be synthetic.

Tocopheryl acetate requires more steps and ingredients for production:

Dichloromethane-->Sodium chloride-->Xylene-->Zinc chloride-->Isopropyl ether-->PASSION FLOWER OIL-->SOYBEAN OIL-->SODIUM SULFATE DECAHYDRATE-->Isophytol-->Trimethylhydroquinone-->Vitamin E-->(POLYOL) (Source)

Whereas synthetically-produced tocopherol requires fewer steps:

Acetic anhydride-->Isophytol-->Trimethylhydroquinone (Source)

You'll notice, though, that both of these processes use a chemical called trimethylhydroquinone. This is one of the biggest problems that the Cosmetics Database has with both forms of vitamin E, because the finished products can contain traces of hydroquinone.  Hydroquinone is in a class of chemicals called aromatic organic compounds.  This means not just that it's aromatic in the sense of it being fragrant, but it contains a benzene ring.  If you're a reader of this blog, you'll know that I view most compounds with simple benzene rings with caution for their possible xenoestrogenic effects.  Animal studies have found hydroquinone to alter immune function and to increase the "incidence of renal tubule cell tumors and leukemia in F344 rats." (Source)  While the Cosmetics Industry Review board states that cosmetic use is unlikely to cause these effects, they do recommend its use at less than 1% in a product, and state that it should not be used in leave-on products.  So, if one were cautious about what they put on their skin, hydroquinone and hydroquinone-contaminated vitamin E would be an ingredient that I would recommend avoiding. 

What to look for

Now that we know that even "natural tocopherol" can be a synthetic compound and laced with hydroquinone, does this mean that all vitamin E should be avoided?  No.  There are safe forms of vitamin E.  Unfortunately, you're not able to tell the difference just by looking at a label. You have to dig deeper and ask the manufacturer of the product you're using.

The best form of vitamin E when considering contamination concerns, is vacuum-distilled.  This means that they'll take an oil with naturally-occurring vitamin E and basically suck the vitamin E out.  Vitamin E has a different evaporation point than the fatty acids in the oil.  So, under certain pressures the vitamin E separates from the oil, evaporates up through a tube, and is thus completely extracted. 

The oils most frequently used for vitamin E production are corn, soy, and rapeseed/canola.  Unfortunately, in the US, 90% or so of these oils are from genetically-modified crops.  So, if you want to take it a step further, ask if the vitamin E in the product is certified non-GMO.  Certified organic products cannot contain any genetically modified material, so the USDA organic seal on a product would ensure that the vitamin E used is non-GMO. 

Is Vitamin E Safe and Beneficial?

Contamination concerns aside, the Cosmetics Database still gives tocopherol a little flag for "cancer," albeit the risk is low.  (See the listing here)   

The Database gives vitamin E a mark for cancer based on a 1985 study where vitamin E mixed with soybean oil were injected in to mice and tumors formed.  (Whether the soy was GMO or the vitamin E vacuum-distilled or synthetic, the study doesn't specify.)  Either ingredient injected separately did not cause this effect, but for some reason, the ingredients created these tumors when mixed together. The study was repeated again in 1991, researchers found that tocopherol acetate alone caused tumors to form when injected, but tocopherol alone did not. 

The particular tumors that were formed in this study are called fibrosarcomas.  Fibrosarcomas are cancers of the connective tissue, and typically form under the skin at sites where vaccines have been administered.  The exact mechanism whereby these tumors form is still unknown, but it is believed that an inflammatory response occurs at injection site and triggers the cell mutation.  (Source)  Ingestion or topical application of vitamin E do not cause these tumors; it is unique to areas where multiple injections have been made, and these tumorigenic effects have not been proven to apply to humans. 

So, is vitamin E safe?  The answer is yes.  It's not just safe, but highly beneficial and a vital nutrient the body cannot live without.  One thing that I see as a flaw with The Cosmetics Database is that they don't factor in any positive information when scoring ingredients.  An ingredient could be the cure for cancer, but if it caused an allergic reaction in a test study in 1945, it would still get a negative score.

Ingestion and topical application of vitamin E has proven to be a powerful force against cancer.  This study found vitamin E to help reduce lung tumors in animals.  This study found vitamin E to be anti-inflammatory in the lungs and colon.  This study found vitamin E to have a potential role in breast cancer prevention.  Applied topically, vitamin E also shows strong anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  This study found reduced inflammation and incidence of skin cancer in mice treated topically with vitamin E.  This study confirmed this potential in humans.  Additionally, very recent studies have found that tocotrienols may have the most health-promoting benefits. (Source) Tocotrienols are not found in tocopheryl acetate, and can be found in the highest concentration in solvent-free, vacuum-distilled vitamin E.

What about soy?

Most vacuum-distilled vitamin E is extracted from soybean oil.   There are many people who avoid soy based on hormonal concerns, thyroid issues, and allergies.  Only in cases of extreme soy allergy would I suggest avoiding a soy-extracted vitamin E.  Vitamin E extracted from soy does not contain any of the isoflavone phytoestrogens, so it is not a concern for the thyroid or hormonal balance.  (Isoflavones are largely insoluble in water and in oil, and are not found in soybean oil [Source].  The vaccuum extraction of the vitamin E from the oil further insures no isoflavone content in the finished vitamin E product, as isoflavones have a largely differing evaporation point than the mixed tocopherols. [Source][Source])  Naturally-extracted vitamin E is highly purified, and also lacks the most of the compounds that trigger allergies associated with soy.

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