Toxic Skincare – What To Look Out For

The world is hard enough to migrate without adding, “toxic skincare” to the list of concerns. We teach our children to trust their teachers, doctors while shying away from people they do not know. It is a complicated message to have both trust and skepticism and know where and when to draw the line.


While we navigate the complex issues in life, it is really ridiculous to add toxic skincare into the mix of untrustworthy. This clearly has to change. This is truly one “issue” we should not have to debate. We should be able to go into a store and know that what a label says is accurate. We should be able to get all the information we want in an easy accessible, reliable and understandable form about what we are putting on (in) our bodies and soaking in. This should not be a daunting task. However until we have regulations and or a universal seal/certification (such as CCOF in the food industry), in place, the consumer has to armed with proper information and until then treat cosmetic products as strangers.

Things you can do: Choose products in brands that have a mission that is in line with your beliefs. Take the unfamiliarity out of the equation and get to know the brand you are slathering on and soaking in. Call and ask any questions you have, read each label, and call again! Any company should be proud to stand behind their products and provide you with the information you are after.

Become aware of the catch phrases that can confuse you on the label such as:

A – 100% Natural Organic Eco friendly All natural ingredients Nontoxic Vegan Paraben free Does not contain XXX ingredient Contains organic ingredients

B – Environmentally safer Earth-friendly Wild sourced ingredients Environmentally sound harvested ingredients Green Sustainable

C – Hypoallergenic Dermatologist Tested Allergy Tested Non-Irritating Safe for you

D – Seals and certifications that you do not know the criteria for.

These are just a few examples of claims that can miss lead you.

The claims from the A category are meaningless in terms of communicating whether you’re purchasing toxic skincare. Unfortunately there is not regulation about these type of claims. As of yet, we have no defining criteria for stating them. This issue is extremely confusing and the consumer is being bombarded with tons of misleading and opposing information. The FDA’s website states, “Does FDA have a definition for the term “organic”? No. FDA regulates cosmetics under the authority of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA). The term “organic” is not defined in either of these laws or the regulations that FDA enforces under their authority. For more information about what the FDA does/does not regulate when it comes to cosmetic labeling visit their website.

The claims from category B imply that the product is not harmful to the environment. Since the term “earth friendly” has no legal definition and can be interpreted as we see fit, it becomes meaningless for purchasing non – toxic skincare. Unless there is some type of 3rd party recognizable entity that is backing these claims, they are pointless. Any ingredient claims such as how they are harvested; how they affect the planet need to be substantiated. If there is a food grade ingredient such as avocado oil and it is CCOF organic, that can be a legitimate claim. If you see CCOF avocado oil in the ingredient list you can find the criteria for CCOF and know what they are claiming for that individual ingredient only.

Category C pertains to how the product will affect you personally. Since everyone has different allergies and sensitivities these claims are again pointless. If it is allergy tested, what allergies is it tested for? Non-irritating, who to? One product can be non-irritating to one person, and cause redness on the next. Dermatologist tested… for what? They sound good on the label, but end up not providing much valuable information for the consumer. If you know you have sensitive skin, get a sample, do a patch test or check the ingredient listing for things you know you are allergic to.

Category D is a biggie! Current label “standards” include everything from Certified Natural Cosmetics, USDA cosmetic program, IOS Natural & Organic Cosmetic Standard, BDIH Certified Natural Cosmetics, Biodynamic, Whole Foods Premium Body Care Seal, NSF International, Ecocert, Soil Association (UK) to Certech (Canada). Consumers should not have to memorize tens of certification criterions in order to know what is in their cosmetic products.

Additionally the “seal” can be used to confuse consumers in many other ways. I was shopping at Whole Foods and looking for products to bring to a class I was teaching. I wanted to find products that illuminate all the issues and concerns the consumer needs to be weary of. I found a lotion that had the USDA organic seal on the front of the label, but when I read the ingredients, none of them claimed to be organic by any standards. I was confused as to why the seal was on the front. Was it a printing error that the ingredients on the back were not listed as USDS organic? What the company was trying to tell the consumer. When I called the company to ask them to clarify if indeed the ingredients were organic by USDA standards no one could (or would) answer. After several phone calls poking, prodding and not getting the information I was after they finally got over my calls and just hung up.

Recently I sourced a new ingredient and the company asked me what I thought about these seals. They told me a competitor had the Ecocert seal but were using GMO corn in their product, so it seemed pointless to them to even have it. I was so surprised they got the Ecocert seal I called and researched this my self, and it was indeed true!

In an effort to continue the pressure on the cosmetic industry, consumers need to continue to demand companies to be honest, transparent and give the information they are seeking. Guideline will help consumers on the path to making informed choices. Guidelines will take the guesswork out of what we are exposing ourselves to and allow us to make informed choices. So as we keep the pressure on for what we do not want in our skin care, pushing for guidelines and unity for clams and labels is also imperative.

What we can do

In my work at Sumbody, I see the effects of the consumer shifting their desire to purchase healthy products every day and demanding non – toxic skincare. My direct consumer contact offers me an insight into what the consumer is striving for and how to gain and retain their confidence.

In addition to working closely with consumers, I also source our raw ingredients and formulate our products. This constant contact with producers keeps me abreast of the issues and challenges of meeting the consumer demands while formulating natural products.

Sourcing ingredients for cosmetics is importantly different from sourcing ingredients for food products. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforces strict standards for organic products, and requires each food ingredient to be labeled according to these standard. In the cosmetics industry, no such regulatory agency exists. Due to this lack of oversight, companies can claim a product is “natural” or “organic” without having to substantiate these claims. For more information about what the FDA does/does not regulate when it comes to cosmetic labeling visit their website.

As I navigate the markets of raw ingredients, I have to personally ensure that each company adheres to a standard of quality with which I am comfortable. Consumers don’t have the luxury of being able to talk with each supplier for every ingredient that goes into their products. This makes it extremely arduous and confusing for the consumer to determine the quality of a product.

The need for a defining certificate

For the natural cosmetics industry to reach its potential, it will have to get organized as the organic food industry has. Only a meaningful (that is, held to a consistent and enforced industry standard) certificate will enable consumers to know exactly what they are exposing themselves to with each bottle of shampoo and bar of soap and feel confident that they are not purchasing toxic skincare.

Consumers are constantly bombarded with unreliable labels claims including “organic”, “green”, “natural”, and “sustainable.” The only way to help the consumers migrate the minefield of meaningless label claims is to have one industry standard certificate. While several label standards exist, their criteria and enforcement are so disparate that they often serve only to further confuse the consumer. Current label “standards” include Certified Natural Cosmetics, USDA cosmetic program, IOS Natural & Organic Cosmetic Standard, BDIH Certified Natural Cosmetics, Biodynamic, Whole Foods Premium Body Care Seal, NSF International, Ecocert, Soil Association (UK) to Certech (Canada). Consumers should not have to memorize tens of certification criterions in order to know whether they are using non – toxic skincare.

Luckily for the consumer, the need for a globally recognized certificate is becoming apparent in the industry and many are in the works, vying for a seal. These organizations agree that consolidation to a united certificate is necessary to provide ease of information and empower the consumer. An accomplishment of such a certificate will also increase sales of truly natural products. When the consumer can access and trust the information they are looking for, the purchases will follow. Without a globally recognized definition of claims such as “natural’ and “organic” in personal care products companies can continue to say what they want on the label and consumers will remain confused. When we as an industry define a strict criteria for a globally recognized seal that is in alignment with consumers expectations and desires is how we can strive to eliminate green washing from our personal care products. These strict criteria, if executed well, will have the potential to revolutionize the cosmetic industry, empowering and educating consumers while driving sales from toxic skincare to truly natural products.

December 01, 2019 — Deborah Burnes
Tags: Skincare