When I worked in the ER, we ordered something called a "tox screen" on patients who came in intoxicated, confused, unconscious (see below), or otherwise non-communicative. The purpose of the tox screen was to see if a patient had any toxins, like barbiturates or cocaine, in their system, as it would help us understand the patient's condition more fully.
We now use this term, Tox Screen, on our packaging in a more positive way: it's a quick visual element for you to see what you will not find in our products. Below, I'll summarize the reasons why we don't use them. It's not just because we're avoiding negative buzz words or trying to be on trend. It's because I've reviews the medical literature, and there's some real science evolving about the effects of these ingredients on humans, plants, animals, and the environment, and we are committed to steering clear of ingredients with too many questions marks around them.
WHY WE DON'T USE PARABENS
Parabens are used as preservatives in most conventional personal care products. You'll find methylparaben, butylparaben, and propylparaben—all members of the paraben family. They are very effective in preventing microbial growth in products. This is why they're so popular, especially in companies with very large distributions, as their products can stay on shelf for years. Unfortunately, there is mounting evidence to show that certain members of the paraben family of preservatives interfere with natural hormone levels in humans and animals. Specific studies have shown decreased menstrual cycle length in women with high urinary paraben concentrations, and decreased birth weight and gestational age of babies born to mothers with high concentrations of certain parabens in their blood. (See articles 2-6 below.) Of course, it's important that your skincare products remain safe, but we prefer to do this in healthier ways, and skip the parabens entirely.
WHY WE DON'T USE PHTHALATES
Phthalates are used in many pesticides, in certain plastics to make them flexible, and in fragrance to make it last longer. They can be absorbed through the lungs, the intestines, the skin, and through the blood stream via IV tubing. Even if you make a conscious effort to avoid them, you probably have detectable levels in your urine. It's a concerning phenomenon because phthalates are xenoestrogens, meaning that they act like estrogen in the body, disrupting our normal hormone cycles. They are being increasingly linked to obesity, breast cancer, thyroid dysfunction, and reproductive anomalies. (See articles 1,2,3, and 6 below.)
WHY WE DON'T USE SULFATES
Sulfates in personal care products are used as foaming agents, prevalent in sudsy things like shampoos, laundry detergents, and even toothpaste. The main reason we don't use sulfates in our products is that they are often dermal irritants, especially sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) can be slightly gentler on the skin, but it's been ethoxylated, and that's a whole new can of worms (see below). Both SLS and SLES are on the no-no list for people with perioral dermatitis, and since that's one of our specialties, we think it's best to leave them out of our products.
WHY WE DON'T USE PETROCHEMICALS
Lots of petrochemicals, like petroleum jelly and mineral oil, are used in personal care products to protect the skin and prevent water loss. They are readily available as byproducts of the petroleum industry. We avoid petroleum-based ingredients, in part, because we'd like to do our share to decrease dependence on that industry. But, petroleum-based ingredients often have comedogenic (pore-blocking) properties. Since our skin is an exchange organ, and both mineral oil and petroleum jelly block that exchange, we don't think they are the healthiest choices. This category also includes phenoxyethanol, a preservative approved for use in organic products, but still a petroleum-derived and ethoxylated ingredient. We do use plastic packaging (BPA-free) for a few products where the ingredients needs to be protected from light and contamination, but we are always working to evolve our packaging as new and better options emerge.
WHY WE DON'T USE ETHOXYLATED INGREDIENTS
Ethoxylation is a process by which a substance (like a fatty alcohol or a phenol) is treated with ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen. It's a process that has been used ubiquitously in the cosmetic industry to create ingredients that enhance penetration and help stabilize emulsions. One of the by-products of ethoxylation is 1,4-dioxane, which is another carcinogen, and a probable contaminant in any product that contains ethoxylated ingredients. It's readily absorbed through the skin and into fetal blood supply and breast milk, could affect developing cells, and possibly cause malignant transformation. It's also a significant environmental and groundwater contaminant, and causes mutations in multiple other species. (See articles 3 and 7 below.) It's hard to identify all the things that are ethoxylated (many of the ingredients are sneaky), but here are a few:
- ingredients with words that end in "eth"
- "emulsifying wax"
- ingredients with "PEG" in the name
WHY WE DON'T USE SYNTHETIC COLOR
FD&C colors, also called food coloring, are dyes that have been approved for food, drug, and cosmetic use by the FDA. Unfortunately, questions are starting to arise about their toxicity (see article 8 below) and most of them are petroleum-derived. Colorants serve no purpose in skincare products like lotions and creams, so we don't see a reason to use them at all in those products. In our soaps, we love using natural powders and clays, with exfoliating or skin-softening benefits, to create subtle and beautiful colors. We'll leave the technicolor rainbow soaps to someone else.
WHY WE DON'T USE SYNTHETIC FRAGRANCE
Fragrance is a broad category that we avoid for several reasons. First, it can be listed as a single ingredient without listing all the components it comprises. This is concerning because most synthetic fragrance contains both petrochemicals and phthalates, and some have hundreds of components! Second, fragrance is highly allergenic, and can cause severe headaches and dermatitis for the chemically sensitive. There's a meme circulating on social media that says "Synthetic Fragrance Is the New Second Hand Smoke," and while the data is lagging behind a bit, I think we're going to find out about more and more negative health effects from synthetic scent. The speed with which I develop a splitting headache and nausea when I'm in an Uber with an air freshener is all the proof I need, especially when I work with essential oils all day and have zero side effects. Third, and a bit more ephemeral, is that the nature of synthetic fragrance is somewhat contrary to our whole philosophy here at Osmia: nothing in nature smells exactly the same for days on end, and we don't want to either! Our products are here to remind you to enjoy life's moments while they're happening. We hope you'll learn to be curious about the subtle shifts in scent as the essential oils in your products change with your body chemistry over time.
If this list makes sense to you, and you'd like to avoid the categories listed above, here's a quick-reference graphic of ingredients to avoid.
With love and a healthier world from us to you,