part 2: some contested ingredients…

Concerns about lab created ingredients run rife with many of us. In the last post I mentioned that there are a number of ingredients that occur frequently in skin care products that have raised a few eyebrows to say the least, and raised our chance of a fatal disease to say the most.

It has been pointed out to me that Over-The-Counter products cannot actually change your skin otherwise they would have to be labelled as a medicine. As one expert puts it, ‘No OTC cosmetic product is legally allowed to make ANY change to the skin because if it did, it would be a medicine and have to be bought on prescription, [that] is enough evidence in itself to show that the industry is not there for the love of beauty!’

Hmmm…this is immediately food for thought. Does this render the whole skincare business, at least at the level we are discussing here, utterly redundant?!? I will have to come back to this, clearly, but let’s press on for the time being and explore the products and the ‘reactions’ they do create, at least at the shallowest level, and see if we can make a bit of sense of this.

A common overall concern is that the ingredients that are in our everyday products might stay in our body and build up over time to reach unsafe levels. This process is called bioaccumulation. This has probably been around as a factor in our lives forever but of course we can actually detect these things now with our technological advancements. Well, that’s progress right…?

Arguably detecting the presence of an ingredient in the body is not evidence of bioaccumulation or of any harm being done subsequently. It simply shows that the person has come into contact with that ingredient at some point. The supporters of this theory will expound upon the miraculous efficiency of our bodies and say how our bodies are especially adept at eliminating undesirables from itself, but they also rely on us not questioning this…

The potential for bioaccumulation is one of the factors that scientists look for when assessing whether an ingredient is safe to use or not. As I said before, all products must be ‘rigorously assessed for safety’ by appropriately qualified and authorised personage before they may be placed on the market. The safety assessment is supposed to take into account all the different situations and conditions in which the products are likely to be used. This is all well and good for individual products but I am beginning to wonder what if the same ingredients occur in the many different products I use, and therefore the cumulative use of these so-called safe products might become unsafe? Is that possible? Do these super qualified scientists test for that too? Hmmm…it’s unlikely they do isn’t?

I was given this example and I add it here for us all to think about…

‘Let’s take Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate, for example, a preservative often used in ‘natural’ products. It is an inert salt distilled from soy glycine with one of the lowest reaction rates of any preservative used on skin care.

HOWEVER it is made with formaldehyde and can break down back into formaldehyde at 1% concentration. Bearing this in mind we’d use it at a maximum of 0.5% in the EU, and so this breakdown is highly reduced – apparently 1 in 2,500 applications, or using it once a day, every day for 7 years.

And so it is allowed. But what if we use face cream twice a day? And what if it’s also in our cleansers, our eye creams, shampoo and body wash? That’s just over a year before the ‘risk’ of formaldehyde build up occurs. And even if it’s 7 years, wouldn’t you rather not take the risk if an alternative was available?’

Hmmm…preservatives are the stickiest of these quandaries. A product pretty much has to have a preservative in it to last more than a day or two right? So we are on the search for a friendly one aren’t we? Right let’s get picking through the carcasses of these ingredients…

These are a few ingredients you may well have seen and heard denounced on the packaging of the ‘natural’ brands products. Conversely, the beauty industry justifies and substantiates these additions and blames the media for jumping on some flimsy new band wagon and vilifying them when in scientific tests they are safe and effective and have been passed by the EU as safe after rigorous testing. Who can we trust?!?

Here are some things to think about:

Dermatologically tested

There is no industry-wide or legal definition of any of the terms like ‘dermatologically tested’, ‘dermatologically approved’ or even ‘hypoallergenic’ when applied to a cosmetic product, nor are there any medical, scientific or regulatory standards. The phrases just mean tested for skin to a certain level of safety or effectiveness but, importantly, does not reveal what the tests were for or why or even if the tests mirror the way the product will be used! There is no enforceable requirement for the involvement of a medical professional or dermatologist…in fact there isn’t even a standard definition of what constitutes sensitive skin!

Mineral oil

Mineral oil is a term usually applied to a by-product of the distillation process of petroleum. It is a common ingredient in cosmetic products and has various uses. It is odourless and colourless and very cheap to produce. It is hotly contested by the two sides of the argument regarding its safety and, come to that, its actual benefit.

Mineral oil is widely used to soften and soothe the skin (an emollient) and also because skin reactions to it are almost unheard of. It provides a thin barrier on the skin which helps slow down the loss of moisture and re-hydrates the skin quickly, but it is exactly this ‘barrier’ that it’s detractors condemn, saying it doesn’t allow the skin to breathe as well as pointing out it is ‘made from petroleum’.

I’m going to be a little contentious here and just throw some thoughts about this out there for you to chew on and we can discuss anon. The environmental issue about products derived from petroleum I totally get. We are clearly in the throes of a problem. This prehistoric source is finite and has been linked consequently, by it’s uses, to global warming etc. But, he says tentatively, the problem is so much more massive than a beauty product. The same brands will undoubtedly be headed up by brow furrowing über concerned execs who drive and fly everywhere furrowing and concerning themselves with spreading the word about the lack of mineral oil in their products…but not about the car and the plane they are using…hmmm…well, whichever way you slice and dice it, I guess mineral oil is not a green item. Ever.

The other contention with  mineral oil is that it is harmful to skin because it doesn’t let it ‘breathe’ – blocking it from carrying out it’s detoxing processes. Again I find myself questioning this as the skin clearly doesn’t actually breathe but I assume ‘they’ are referring to the skin’s ability to absorb and expel, so we are entering into the area of questioning the ingredients of products that remain on your skin against those that are rinsed off. Detoxification is limited through the skin in fact (some through sweat) but I seriously wonder if the presence of mineral oil (unless in a thick lard like layer?) would truly prevent the skin from sweating or sloughing of its dead cells? My personal experience is that it doesn’t…make of that what you will…

So the only issue left is the possible safety breach caused by the absorption of the mineral oil whilst it stays on the skin. The skin is by nature a barrier so it is always trying to protect the stuff inside from anything attacking from the outside but there is provision for the skin to ‘allow’ molecules of external substances through – some researchers saying that up to 60% of what we put on our skin makes it’s merry way into our bloodstream and organs – can this be true though?!? If so wouldn’t we be a tad heavier and fuller from soaking in a hot bath?! (Some companies say mineral oil stops this completely and ‘prove’ this by dunking a cream cracker in mineral oil…let’s leave it at that I can’t even begin to explain and really can’t be naffed with such tosh).

BUT, on a mini tangent, I am discovering more and more that the reason the skin care and related products (and the nicotine patches and oestrogen etc!!) are actually penetrating the skin is not due to a natural process at all, but rather because a ‘penetration enhancer’ (no, not Viagra…) has been added to the product to breach the skin’s barrier and allow the product into the skin proper. These are often glycols (or other AHA’s) and it’s instantly apparent therefore that we could be allowing all sorts of synthetic creations to absorb into our bodies. The added ability to penetrate into the skin is neither a good or bad thing particularly as I see it…it’s the thing that’s actually sinking into our skin that we must be wary of, surely?

Anyhoo…in a nutshell, the data that claims mineral oil to be toxic is all based on ingestion and then in large quantities and, it seems from further digging, to be referencing a different grade of mineral oil all together! The purest grades are required for cosmetics and daily intake allowances (just like with foods!) are set for products most likely to be ingested like lipstick and lip balms. Industrial grade is the type that recent studies show block pores not cosmetic grade (that’s a bit of  no-brainer surely?!?) Alternatives are abundant and equally inexpensive so there shouldn’t be too much hardship in finding a product without mineral oil should you wish (although knowing it is there might be harder than it seems as I’ve been told of over 40 names for it’s varying forms to date…there’s probably more!)

So what’s the deal here? Research your products and keep mineral oil to a minimum in products that stay on your skin? Seems sensible…

Palm oil

I am adding palm oil here because it’s an issue I feel we are all going to have to face sooner rather than later. Those of you who also read my ramblings about nutrition (bless you for your tenacity) will know that I have voiced these concerns there as well because palm oil is also included in heaps of food products.

Palm oil and palm kernel oil are natural oils extracted from the fruit of the palm plant. Might be listed on ingredient lists as many things such as Elaeis guineensis, hydrated palm glycerides or anything with ‘palmitate’ or ‘palmate’ (and is often the vegetable oil when a specific isn’t listed in food – btw). The demand for this ingredient is huge and to supply the demand vast areas of forest are being destroyed to make way for the plantations. Indonesia is particularly at the centre of this storm as it has the fastest rate of deforestation, it is emitting carbon dioxide at the third highest rate (after USA and China) and forcing indigenous peoples off their land and pushing already rare creatures like orangutans to the brink of extinction. The food industry uses large quantities, using it in crisps, baked goods and ready meals (all worth avoiding anyway frankly) and the cosmetic industry (albeit in smaller quantities) as skin conditioning and viscosity increasing agents. Don’t get me wrong the oil has been used for thousands of years and has its benefits due to its high levels of vitamin A and E but with the demand so high from so many sectors (it’s even a bio-fuel being touted as a replacement for finite fossil fuels) we must make some effort in our small corners to ensure sustainable sources at least, right?

Take a look at these sites for more information:


Hmmm…I mentioned parabens in a post earlier and just how contentious the issue is. The many concerns are to do with allergic reactions and skin rashes, breast cancer, osteoporosis, the resulting imbalance of hormones as many parabens are said to mimic estrogen in the body and even links to autoimmune diseases. Bioaccumulation due to the huge amount of them used in a vast array of food stuffs and products this has led to fears of dangerous levels of build up. BUT the conclusive facts have remained a mystery to me even though I’ve read a whole heap of stuff on the subject.

Parabens are preservatives and are used to prevent the growth of bacteria, moulds and fungi and prolong the shelf life of products. After water they are the most common ingredient in cosmetic products. The Cosmetic Directive has approved a huge array of plant, animal and synthetic parabens for use in EU products and the industry claims they all have an excellent safety record. Here’s what the CTPA (Cosmetic, Perfumery and Toiletry Association) have to say on the subject:

‘Sadly there is a lot of misinformation about parabens, including allegations that they are linked to cancer. In fact, they are not a cause of cancer of any kind. A widely repeated allegation. Parabens are non-toxic to human cells. This is because our own skin cells rapidly and easily break parabens down into harmless smaller pieces. This means they are not able to cause harm and do not lead to skin sensitisation. It also means they won’t persist in the environment or harm wildlife in any way.  None of the extensive research carried out on the parabens has indicated a potential risk of harm to human health and parabens remain amongst the safest of preservatives in today’s cosmetic products.’

‘In fact, the European Commission’s own committee of independent experts, the Scientific Committee for Consumer Products (SCCP) (now known as the Scientific Committee for Consumer Safety (SCCS)), has issued an official statement on parabens’ safety. In it, the committee confirms that there is no evidence of any risk of breast cancer caused by the use of underarm cosmetics, including those that contain parabens.’

Specifically about the parabens in cosmetics they say this though…

‘The safety of all cosmetic products and their ingredients is governed by strict European laws.  As well as this, cosmetic ingredients and their safety are kept under constant review by the European Commission and Member States, assisted by the SCCS.  The committee has, in 2010 and 2011, confirmed the safety of four parabens used in cosmetics.  For other, less used parabens, the SCCS found insufficient data to set a safe limit and additional data were not generated in their support.’ and their consumer information website is

The initial research that triggered much of the cancer scare link to parabens was rubbished at the time (mostly due to the fact that there was no conclusive proof that the parabens were in anyway linked to the disease – they were just present), so for now perhaps the defendants of parabens can still feel that they are wholly vindicated but there are factors still to erase completely before they can rest on their laurels. However weak the case against parabens may seem to be I think it’s substantial enough to warrant a few watertight answers.

So, we now know there are only a small set of parabens allowed (methyl, propyl, butyl, ethyl) and, although lack of data for the others doesn’t mean they are unsafe, it does muddy the water about their definitive safety. So read up and be thorough but don’t be alarmist! The beauty business is a vast money maker for many different companies and so it’s important to be aware who is saying what and why. Also consider that until any research is conclusive (about lots of ingredients actually in many things) there are people who eat unhealthy stuff, smoke and carry on and seem to live for eons, my point being that some people will react to these things and some people simply wont.

Just before I go and leave you to think these things through (ready for the next lot in the next post!) a word about paraben replacements. Obviously, to be thorough, we cannot just accept that things are good or bad because someone else says so, and with this in mind I turned to wondering what the alternatives to parabens were and why they aren’t simply just used instead? One that is mentioned all over the place is Phenoxyethanol.

Phenoxyethanol is itself now under the critical scrutiny of many. It is a oily colourless liquid (glycol ether family) that seemed to be the answer to the paraben free question. Already used as a fixative and stabiliser in perfume it was found to be adept at keeping many bacterias and moulds at bay too. Incidentally it can only be used up to 1% so if you see it high on a ingredient list then ask questions! Because, as with many research findings, the claims are made based on isolated use at higher concentrations it does mean that it is not conclusive evidence of any danger to us but the lit of things it is linked to doesn’t make pretty reading. Contact dermatitis, increased eczema and deadening of the central nervous system.

And finally (yes, really!) remember that products that have an ingredient that is susceptible to bacteria such as water, milk, aloe vera etc will need a proper, sturdy preservative in it if it is to last more than a few days without exposing you to potentially much more harmful lurgies than a the preservatives themselves.

I don’t know the answers any more now than I did before I started but I think we need to arm ourselves, as ever, with information…so we shall keep our wits about us and keep investigating…!


What’s all this natural product business…?

As I have confessed before (without pride) I could be perceived as a tad cavalier in my attitude to the products I use on my skin. This is partly because I cannot bear to throw things away and, unless it’s utterly repellent, I will use it till it is done…although more liberally! But with all this recent posting regarding men’s skin, and its differences from women’s and subsequent possible need for special attention, I thought perhaps I should consider the facts and rethink my so-called regime. I say facts because I know that there are strong arguments in many directions that counter attack, discount and sneer at whatever ‘truth’ might be proclaimed. After all, the beauty business is mega and worth a kingly sum to those that corner it.

We’ve all seen the bold exclamations emblazoned across a myriad of products (gifted to us by Hathor and Aphrodite themselves you’d have thought by the adverts accompanying them) announcing the lack of something or other that is therefore apparently better for us. Now you may be savvy in the world of product ingredients and read the packaging and nod sagely at the inclusions or exclusions boasted there. I, I’m not embarrassed to admit, have not a flipping clue. Paraben? Er… Glycol…? Erm… Well, I can have a pretty standard guess at what these things are and I’ve definitely heard of mineral oil but what’s the fuss?! In the name of Venus will someone please just tell me what the deal is?!? But can I find a straight forward answer?? Can I peptide!! Maybe there isn’t one…

I took a quick poll of my friends (all skin types, ages and both sexes) and discovered that the range of knowledge and the divide between the attitudes to synthetic lab created products and natural was quite a spectrum. Also in the understanding of what actually constitutes either of these and how much they might overlap in any single product etc. There were those who almost shrieked at the mention of a high street product, wailing and keening about the chemical toxins contained therein and really sticking the boot into those brands for their lack of humanitarian and environmental care. Their arguments were so convincing that I totally believed them and wanted to instantly change my ideas. I vowed to whip up a batch of home made organic herbal cleanser the minute I’d finished my goats milk latte with hand ground ‘chicory coffee’. Then I spoke to the other end of the spectrum, to those who literally swear by the big name brands anti-ageing products, have no beef whatsoever about synthetic (‘it wouldn’t be allowed if it wasn’t safe!” they’d exclaim), as long as they see results (immediate gratification!) and apply them like a religion and with the strictest of regularity. Such is their belief in the brilliance of the scientists behind these skin regenerating products that I believed them too! So, I immediately vowed to rush out and buy every chemical laden, lab created masterpiece product irregardless of my future or the planet’s – I knocked back my bourbon and thumbed my nose at the crunchy granola naturals. Argh…I’m swinging wildly between the two sides!! But I also encountered those who don’t even sling anything on their skins…at all…and thoroughly poo-poo the exorbitant weekly changing claims of the beauty industry (‘well, they would say that wouldn’t they!’ kinda reaction) and only daub a bit of ‘own brand’ moisturiser on when absolutely necessary – usually literally a minute before their skin cracks open! And when I say ‘moisturiser’ I mean it in the loosest way…

So the truth is in the middle somewhere isn’t it? Has to be! I hope…

As I am particularly exploring the skin care and product possibilities for men I thought it best to ask their thoughts – on specific products, beauty regimes, the outlook for the future of their skin etc. I tried to be as inclusive as possible and asked a range of chaps of all ages, colours and sexuality (genetics, lifestyle, stress etc are factors too, of course). The obvious stereotypes didn’t really play out and it seemed the men that used the most products were usually those with the most awareness or, at least, contact those others who used products! Men with partners that are using products tended to use some too (often the exact same product and usually purchased by that partner also). Most men felt they ‘should’ be using something but many felt it was a palaver at best and certainly weren’t about to begin some three step pre-bedtime regime! The willingness to ‘put up with’ something was greater than I had anticipated. For instance shaving rash was just accepted as part of it all and, even though they admitted they’d like to not have the rash, didn’t take steps of prevent it. Those who used products confessed that vanity played a significant part (therefore a sudden urge to moisturise after the wrinkles began…or a divorce…) or being nagged by a partner who was, after all, the one who had to look at the dry, flaky or rash-y skin! Interestingly very few were bothered about the ingredients, again faith and an  assumption of safety, but when pressed did think that natural would be better. Why?! I challenge…just to earn my investigative journalist stripes (I know, it’s hardly gonna challenge Donal McIntyre but stay with me). ‘Dunno really…’ was the usual reply and further questioning revealed that the definition of natural wasn’t remotely clear either. Oh, and it wasn’t to be prohibitively expensive (they’re happy to spend £50 on a liquid night out that’ll rinse straight through them but not on a product that might save their skin…literally). All of them, however, were clear on one thing, they wanted speed and a single procedure – a wonder product that did everything. Oh like self polishing shoes or a pill to create a six-pack, I enquire? No answer was the firm reply…

I’ll level with you, but don’t you dare tell them…if I were to be mean (oh go on then…) the ones who do bog-all (the same ones who apply shampoo and then use the lather on ALL areas of themselves…) looked rougher (but hot in that Hans Solo kinda way) and, at the other extreme, the blokes who spend endless hours smearing some unguent or other on every mentionable and unmentionable part of themselves, looked better (but in a Luke Skywalker kinda way…almost bordering on Princess Leia actually in some cases!) We could spend a good few posts on the psychology of that alone but let’s return to the investigation of the products themselves…shall we?!?

OK, we know we are looking for a product with the least confirmed nasties, that will perhaps do the job of a couple of separate ones and won’t break the bank. Hmmm…

So, the ultimate question we need to answer first is: ‘What’s it to be? Natural or…’…er…hold on what’s the opposite? Not unnatural obviously so…synthetic? Science based? Lab created…? Well, you get the idea…! I’ll run with ‘synthetic’ and you’ll know what I mean. Come to think of it what does ‘natural’ even mean? Well, apparently, a natural product is deemed to be something that has been derived from its organic form without any synthetic additions and then suspended in ‘neutrally occurring medium’ (eh?) to preserve and emulsify it. A ‘natural’ product of one sort or another has been used on the skin for thousands of years. There is abundant evidence the prosecution for the defence could quote to show this. For example, the ancient Egyptians used all sorts of potions derived from all sorts of natural sources (if a little unnerving – crocodile dung and donkey milk as a body wash anyone…no? Just Cleopatra then…awkward…) in an effort to cure all sorts of skin issues. However, I’ve discovered there is currently no official international standard for cosmetics as to what is natural (or organic) and the criteria for natural (and organic) are not legally defined. Hmmm…

To be fair, people aren’t dropping dead from using synthetic hand creams or wiping their faces with lab made cleansers but it does seem logical, at least, to err on the side of caution bearing in mind how much of the many elements that make up a product could potentially enter our bodies, from the lipstick that gets eaten to the nanomaterials (micro particles that can be naturally occurring or synthesised as such) that penetrate your skin’s barrier. Skin largely acts as a waterproof, protective, temperature regulating wrapping but it does absorb substances too (consider nicotine and contraceptive patches). However, more about the truth behind this in a later post…

A word about chemicals though. Everyone is bandying about words like chemicals as if the devil himself has possessed them but don’t be fooled into thinking that a product that says ‘chemical free’ and ‘all natural’ all over the packaging doesn’t contain chemicals – it has to – everything is made up of chemicals technically so it’s just divisive semantics drawing your attention away from where your eye should be – on that ingredient list. Another very important similarity with food consumption! There are rogue chemicals of course but the mere presence of them does not definitively signal something bad. Think on…

Let’s be systematic about this and start with the products that are synthetic – pretty much, at least. Synthetic, by the way, is interestingly defined as ‘made by chemical synthesis especially to imitate a natural product.’  There are, of course, many products on the market that use organically derived plant elements as their base but it is the added supporting ingredients that are the ones the critics are potentially against. We are asked by these companies to bear in mind that many beauty products are very complex and difficult to make and each of these extra ingredients have very specific roles to play and they are all tested and passed as safe. Also, the reputation of these companies is on the line and with over £500 million at stake (and that’s just the estimated yearly spend in the UK on moisturisers alone!) you can imagine they don’t particularly want to put a foot wrong! Just look at the horse meat scandal and the damage it caused to the reputation of many household names and the trust of their buyers…

All cosmetic, toiletry and perfumery products placed on the market in the UK (and throughout the EU) are regulated by European legislation – it’s called the Cosmetics Directive. The purpose of these laws is to protect us and make the manufacturer or supplier of the cosmetic product responsible for ensuring that their products are safe for us to use. The Cosmetics Directive controls what may or may not be put in a cosmetic and only items pre-approved may be used. The controls in the EU are much tighter than the USA (where the industry largely self regulates) and there are over 1100 ingredients banned from use in beauty products by the EU, compared to only 10 banned substances in America.

There is a three tiered process in place in the EU designed to regulate the industry and set the buying public’s mind at ease. The initial multi-level laws and legislation (Cosmetic Directive) followed by rigorous safety assessments. These safety assessments are only allowed to be done by qualified professionals and must assess not only the finished product and all of the ingredients, but also how the product will be used. The criteria and knowledge base these professionals must meet to become assessors are so stringent that there are only around 400 in the the UK. They must be medically qualified, registered pharmacists, Chartered Biologists or Chartered Chemists. And finally, the Trading Standards people can assess the assessors at any moment potentially forcing the cosmetic industry to be accountable for every decision it makes and at every stage. In addition, there is an independent expert scientific committee (SCCS – Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety) that advises the European authorities on safety assessment and the safety of individual ingredients…

..AND there is a EU law (REACH) that governs all chemicals made in or imported into the EU as well as many natural substances used in beauty products, which evaluates and registers them all and records all data regarding their safety in regard to us and the environment.


It is law that all ingredients used in a product must be listed on the ingredients list for our benefit. This list uses a common naming system so that it can be recognised worldwide, especially for those with specific allergies. I bet very few people do actually read them though…! It’s hardly surprising when the items listed are as unknown and unpronounceable to us as a foreign language.

Synthetic creations are the product of science and new things are constantly being created. Innovations and new technologies have transformed our every day lives and will undoubtedly continue to do so – some great, some arguably not. The benefit of synthetic compounds is found in the stabilisation of some compounds that would ordinarily just deteriorate, or in the reliability of quality and effectiveness and in the ability to use a synthetic version of a compound that would ordinarily be derived from animal sources. Science can replicate some elements perfectly well and the controlled conditions under which they are made can ensure a purer more reliable source. However, as with all these aspects the careful selection and sifting of the truth from the rhetoric is vital.

Natural is still considered better though by the brands that celebrate these sources due to the fact that even though science can replicate some things perfectly well it cannot quite always capture the complexity of nature’s molecules. The scent of a flower in the wild is often sited as an example of this as it is always better (more multi dimensional depth and subtlety) than the lab created version. Some of nature’s compounds used in products have complex multi functions allowing them to have two or more benefits at once – a natural synergy that is hard to replicate.

The sustainability of an ingredient and the environmental issues surrounding this are becoming more high profile. The aggressive harvesting of a certain plant (palm oil is a key example – see following posts) can have dramatic and irreversible consequences on the biodiversity of a natural habitat. Quality control to ensure a reliable source of an ingredient (i.e. from nature or from a laboratory) which does not get produced in a damaging or exploitative way is a factor we all must take some responsibility for.

I asked the most noticeable names on the high street L’Oréal, Clarins, Clinique, Dove, Nivea and Boots No.7 what their position is on these arguments for or against natural and lab created ingredients and, even after lovely chats and positive discussions, not one of them actually answered the questions. The PR departments all just sent me product details and ingredients (which I could get from the Internet anyway so they’re really earning their money aren’t they?!?) but no stance or defence for their products, no supportive evidence of what they are doing, testing, or their ethos/attitude, in any way shape or form, to the actual human element of the business. Why not? Is it because they just think this is small fry and they are far too busy to bother? Maybe. Is it because they simply don’t know or perhaps care? Maybe. Is it because they are in a business to make money and most certainly are and will continue to do so regardless of what I say? Most definitely…

As always and ever the staff at the front line are the most useful. They are always willing to discuss their products but of course can only serve me the party line. I understand this completely and see that their sales, and therefore their jobs, depend on it. Whatever their personal opinions they give me the full pitch. Some frankly admitted they didn’t know the pluses or minuses of the ingredients (outside of the designed product use) and spent time instead describing the way the company plows back into the communities. You know, the usual things, fair-trade programmes, sustainable plantations etc. but all this is harder to investigate because we are not always aware of the complexities of the trade world that brings our desired ingredients to our shopping baskets. (Questions like exactly what have these proudly sustainable plantations replaced? Whose and what’s habitat has been stripped and destroyed?) These salespeople  assumed that all the used ingredients are safe (well, the EU says so…), well tested and brilliant to keep us ageless and glowing until death us do part…which is of course exactly what we do isn’t it?

But what if you don’t trust them and the possibilities of rhetoric over substance concern you then you will be looking for the more ‘natural’ brands OR you may well be asking why should I use natural products at all then, when the tests are so rigid and thorough? OR maybe like me you are thinking there is a middle ground here where these two worlds collide and the ideal product is created (this does seem the most logical..captain…)? Perhaps as this question is huge and difficult to answer without emotion and the bias of opinion it’s best to look first at the substances that the pro-natural lobbyists are the most keen to avoid. The natural based brands are the ones who make a concerted effort to support and validate their choices and reasons for excluding certain ingredients. The most denounced are investigated next, in Part 2…

See you then…

Liz Earle – Brightening Treatment Mask…

I woke up this morning looking like a rat catchers kit bag (dang those Manhattans)…and thought well it’s a good day to try the Liz Earle Brightening Treatment Mask…silver lining! Hoorah…

I have the luxury of being able to ask the clever girls at the Liz Earle concession in, yes you guessed it, John Lewis, for some application tips. I honestly don’t work for JL…I just like the shop…not the bogs though as they are actually repellant…anyhoo…I digress…
‘The key thing is’, I’m told, ‘apply means smooth on but don’t rub. Apply a layer all over or just on a specific area you want to brighten up, like your cheeks, and feel free to mix and match masks using, for instance, a clay one on the t-zone at the same time.’
N.B: You can use it 1-2 times a week, ‘they’ say but it depends on what else you are using,of course,  because you mustn’t over stress or irritate the skin.
So, I ‘applied’ it kind of all over – I miss out my beard area as it gets a bit awkward trying to smooth product over stubble and anyway that area gets quite ravaged as it is skinned a few times a week by a razor! The instructions say leave it on for 30 seconds to 2 minutes but I got involved in a cup of coffee and got mithered by the dog for attention (she’s so demanding…and loves the taste of skin products…Labradors will actually eat anything!) so didn’t end up taking my (hand) hot cloth to it for a good 5 minutes. It says ‘you will experience a slight tingling sensation. This is normal.’ Fair do’s I did indeed, but its only like a tingly mint feeling (the camphor oil? Linalool?) and not weird or scary!
The muslin cloth is used to ‘gently wipe away’ the mask, so again no rubbing or exfoliation through abrasion just sweeping away the mask and rinsing away all product. A bit of exfoliation happens anyway because the cloth isn’t exactly silky soft which isn’t really a bad thing…you all know how I feel about exfoliation. A friend uses an old muslin nappy which has been washed to oblivion and is ultra soft and gentle…I know, I know…it’s perfectly clean and sanitary I just can’t shift that image you’re visualising right now either…however, her skin is amazing! Damn it…
…but I’m not sold on this hot cloth business I’ll be honest. It’s all a bit faffy face flannely for me but I feel I should try to persevere with it, after all it’s hardly a new concept to use a face cloth and it was the mainstay of many a historical beauty regime let alone a good way to clean yourself…hmmm….I just feel it in my water I’m gonna ditch it. It’s a question of conditioning myself to use it I think…argh another thing to fiddle about with…and then where do I keep it? Where do I dry it? Oh lord it’s a Pandora’s Box of OCD wrangle…
I’ll think about that later…in the meantime it’s time for a ‘brightness’ test! Hmmm, well, even if its just the effect of the warm water I do see a waking up of the skin. The patted dry face feels smooth and clean…okay, and bright!
A few hours later it still does actually. I’ve just been pottering about at home and not out in the skin ravaging London city air, and I didn’t ‘follow with Instant Boost Face Tonic’, as advised on the bottle, so maybe I need to do that for even better results. I would normally have flung a bit of moisturiser on I suppose but wanted to see how long this ‘brightening’ lasted.
So, I’d say its a pretty decent experience all round and it smells lush too. It’s really not suitable for sensitive skin though so be careful and if you’re not sure you know what to do don’t you? Go ask the ladies at JL!! They’ll tell you a thing or two (and you can test everything and wash it all off again in their built in mini sinks!) The starter kit (i.e with the cloth – there’s a brown edged one for the boys or anyone with an aversion to sea-green stitching) is only 14 and a bit quid which is comparably cheaper than other products and packed with these things which you will recognise:
  • Water
  • Aloe Vera leaf juice
  • Witch hazel
  • Silt
  • Sweet Almond oil
  • Camphor oil
  • Fragrance
and these which you may not:
  • Montmorillonite – a type of soft clay
  • PEG-20 stearate – popular synthetic emulsifier to combine oil and water
  • Panthenol – derived from vitamin B5 and used to retain moisture, lubricate and make the skin soft and pliable (it penetrates the skin easily)
  • Ceteraryl ethylhexanoate – another lubricating element
  • Cetearyl alcohol – another emulsifier
  • Citronellol – an oil used to add fragrance (restricted to low doses)
  • Hexyl cinnamal – another fragrance additive (restricted to low doses)
  • Hydroxyisohexyl 3-cyclohexene carboxaldehyde – a popular synthetic long lasting fragrance that easily penetrates the skin (restricted to low doses)
  • Butylphenyl methylpropional – another synthetic fragrance (restricted to low doses)
  • Linalool – naturally occuring chemical found in loads of herbs and other plants too but it can be a cause of irritation, even eczema, in sensitive skin
  • Lactic Acid – naturally occurring AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid) in milk, but synthetic in many products, used to help shed the surface of the skin
  • Potassium sorbate – common preservative
  • Phenoxyethanol –  A paraben alternative as an anti-bacterial and preservative but there’s a bit of argey-bargey over it’s safety. I see that under 1% is considered okay but many products (like this one) don’t list amounts.
  • Methylparaben – E218 – antimicrobial to prevent fungal growth.
  • Butylparaben – another antimicrobial
  • Ethylparaben – E214 – again an anti-fungal
  • Propylparaben – E216 – another anti-fungal and preservative
  • Isobutylparaben – another preservative to extend the shelf life but less commonly used
  • Sodium methylparaben – widely used antiseptic
  • Sodium propylparaben – another widely used antiseptic
The Great Paraben Debate:
Hmmm…I mentioned parabens in a post earlier and just how contentious the issue is. The concerns are largely about allergic reactions, breast cancer and imbalance of hormones as many parabens are said to mimic estrogen in the body; and due to the huge amount of them used in a vast array of food stuffs and products this has led to fears of dangerous levels of build up. BUT the conclusive facts have remained a mystery to me even though I’ve read a whole heap of stuff on the subject. So read up and be thorough but don’t be alarmist! The beauty business is a vast money maker for many different companies and so it’s important to be aware who is saying what and why. Also consider that until any research is conclusive (about lots of ingredients actually in many things) there are people who eat unhealthy stuff, smoke and carry on and seem to live for eons, my point being that some people will react to these things and some people simply wont. There’s a whole range of parabens in this product but in tiny doses so that’s an important factor too.  I don’t claim to know the answers but I think we need to arm ourselves, as ever, with information…so we shall keep our wits about us and keep investigating…

EVE LOM Rescue Mask Trial

Ok I’ll level with you. I’m obsessed with face stuff. Packs, masks, scrubs the whole shebang. So there’ll be a fair amount of this here I reckon.

I think the simple matter of cleaning and exfoliating your skin is the key to keeping it fresher, healthier and looking younger. Skipping this part of your regime is like skipping a meal, yeah, you can get away with it but ultimately its unhealthy and you will pay for it at some point! Be warned!

So I’m gonna start with my current most adored product, Eve Lom’s Rescue Mask. Even though Ms Lom herself seems a little sneery about men going thru all this saying, “I’m sorry but with all due respect, just shave, don’t smell, have a nicely ironed shirt. That’s a man.” Get her…

(Discussions about the differences between men and women’s skin and the related products are here and here)

At £35 for 50ml tube and £55 for 100ml jar it ain’t cheap but does last quite a long time. Most people I know you try it, love it…but there are some serious naysayers and they raise a few points regarding chemicals and the like that are always worth a listen and a bit of thinking about. As with everything in life we should just accept what we are told. I believe, especially, when it come to your health you should always, always do a little investigation. So here’s mine. Make of it what you will, but most of all make your own mind up.

I love all the clean white packaging and the minimalist writing (I’m so shallow) but pale grey writing on bright white paper for the instructions is a no-no. Glasses needed and an even brighter light to squint and decipher. I’ll warrant a large percent if the people buying this product aren’t slips of things with sparkly 20-20 vision but people like me of a certain age (!) who just want to be able to read the friggin instructions and get on with it. After all, the sleek, stark designer packaging has already won me over (shallow, see?) I already bought the product so now I just need to read how to use it, right?!? FYI tilt the instruction paper away from yourself and towards a bright light like a daylit window and it illuminates it something lovely! Anyhoo…it says this on the package:

‘Use as a regular weekly deep cleanse or as an emergency mask when your skin needs extra attention. Helps to reduce blotchy skin, and helps to minimise irritated and erupted conditions. At the same time enhances cleansing and exfoliation.’

Great! I’d agree. If you need to give our face a pick-me-up after a night of debauchery or just bad temper maybe? Or drinking or lack of sleep? Or over work or sadness? Then this will save you!

A trip to John Lewis is never wasted I say!! The more than fabulous lady at Eve Lom gave me a full and thorough going over! Hello vicar… She made a good point (good from her point of view, anyway) which is that I should try the mask as part of the process that EL suggest to truly test it’s merit. I agree under these circumstances of trialing and reviewing, BUT I do think that products should stand alone too, as not all of us want to use a single range and I think many of our routines and product choices have grown organically from trial and error. We like what we like however open we are to new things; the tried and trusted is our mainstay. But nonetheless in the spirit of fairness I’ll give the mask a go in conjunction with the recommended (legendary) cleanser and seven (seven?!?) step routine. Anyway the divine EL lady gave me the cleanser as a sample (complete with its own mini muslin cloth!) so it’d be churlish of me not to try it.

For EL it’s all about a seven step routine of pressure and the like – all outlined on the afore mentioned, impossible to read instructions. Quite jolly once you get into the swing of it and I like the idea that I might ‘drain my congested areas and eliminate toxins.’ Sounds terribly useful…!

The cleanser makes me nervous though as it’s basically a load of oils, clove (to purify), eucalyptus (to drain away toxins), hop (to tone) and chamomile (to soften and condition) and a mineral oil that I assume it’s all suspended in, and as I’m prone to a bit of greasiness it seems illogical to smear even more on my face. This is why the hot water and muslin cloth element is important. It’s this procedure that will minimize the residue of any oils. I have to say the cleanser did make my face feel good and really clean and not remotely oily (it is designed to completely rid your face of make up so had an easier job with my make up free face. What?!? No, the day for night cover up does not count! BUT I didn’t apply any nighttime moisturizer as I was nervous of the multiple grease possibilities. My face was far from dry in the morning so I think that may have been a wise move.

(The cleanser also has a fistful of parabens in it. These currently contentious preserving chemicals are discussed here)

So, back to the mask…the following night I used the cleanser again (seven steps need planning – it’s not for the impatient and time inefficient – but it is your health and dewy youthfulness we are safeguarding here so what is a few minutes effort worth to you?) and then applied the Rescue Mask. I then went to watch an episode of Modern family and, frankly forgot about it. When it dries out it is no longer working so no harm done except for the ‘face-dandruff’ that I was dropping everywhere! The lady at the John Lewis EL counter said I should I rub the dry mask off for extra exfoliation so I did that (I’m very biddable). And the results are in…the texture of the skin is smooth and soft, a brighter, more glowing colour is present (could just be from the rubbing and warm water?!) and everything looks chirpier and fresher, positively bursting with youthful healthiness! Hoorah.

Even the next morning it still seems pretty damn good!

Here are the ingredients and a brief poke about into what the flip they mean for our faces:

Kaolin – sometimes called China Clay is a silicate mineral used in a vast array of everyday items like paper, toothpaste, light bulbs, ceramics, paint, cosmetics and to control diarrhea. It’s been a staple, stable basis for face masks for ages due to its excellent absorbent qualities that draw out the oil and impurities. There is no serious research on the clay, so, is it safe to assume that the hundreds of years it’s been in use at least point to it being okay? Hmmm…

Water – well…

Glycerin – used in many beauty products to create a smoother texture, soften the skin and attract water. It naturally attracts water so can be useful in keeping moisture in the skin and pulling it from the deeper layers to the surface. A mixed blessing I’d say. A little sounds good but too much can over dry the skin to the point of blisters even!

Denatured Alcohol – is a form of ethanol (basic alcohol) that is liquid at room temperature and evaporates very, very quickly! Therefore useful in hair products like hairspray and I suppose used here to cause the mask to ‘dry out’ on the skin. (Unlike ‘fatty alcohols’ that are solid at room temperature and are not drying but used to emulsify oils into water and condition skin and hair.)

Honey – is a natural antibacterial and antiseptic (but only truly if it has not been pasteurized or treated). For skin – It produces hydrogen peroxide when mixed with water and that is a mild antiseptic – great for minor cuts and the like. It hunts down free radicals, holds in moisture and has a mild AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid) in it, which is an acid that breaks down the chemical bonds holding the skins (dead) cells together making them easier to scrub and wash away. I’m guessing that’s why it’s included here…for all the above!

Sweet Almond Oil – generally considered a very useful and very safe ingredient in beauty treatments due to its rich vitamin content (A, B1, B2, B6 and especially E). It’s easily absorbed so it’s moisturizing and nourishing qualities are especially lauded. If true, all very good for the anti-ageing process!

Seed Meal – essentially ground up seeds. Which seeds it doesn’t say…

Phenoxyethanol – ooh now we are getting into the nitty gritty! I mentioned parabens ealier and this I reckon has been added as an alternative. Therefore I assume it’s here as an anti-bacterial (also anti mould and yeast) and preserver. It’s just about everywhere in products these days but there’s a lot of arguing over its safety too. So read up! I see that under 1% is considered okay but many products (like this one) don’t list amounts.

Camphor – it cools and disinfects and is used in moth repellent, Asian sweets, fireworks, embalming and is a mild anesthetic and antibacterial (think Vicks VapoRub). It’s used to soothe irritated or red skin, and it has a nice smell (if you like that sort of thing). I think it causes the slight ‘heat’ ‘menthol’ feeling as it’s rubbed into the skin and…er…it’s a little bit poisonous so don’t eat it!

Magnesium Aluminum Silicate – this is a mineral derived from clay and is often used, and considered safe, in beauty products as a thickener and filler. It’s large molecular structure means it doesn’t get absorbed into the skin (but do have a look at the wrangle regarding the dangers of Aluminum and other ‘heavy’ metals found in the products around us).

Calcium Chloride – similar to table salt (Sodium Chloride – see below) this ‘salt’ is used in food to preserve its texture and shape. It’s also used in sports drinks as an electrolyte and on the roads to stop the snow or ice sticking! In beauty products, and therefore I suppose here, it is used as an astringent (constricts the pores) and thickener.

Magnesium Chloride – is also used in de-icing the streets! Is there a correlation here?! And as a thickener in beauty products. Magnesium can be absorbed into the body through the skin so if, like me, you leave the mask on for a good half an hour are we getting vital magnesium as a by-product? Questions, questions…

Sodium Chloride – basically table salt to you and me, is used in SO many things. In beauty products it’s, again, often used as a texturising element and maybe here it binds and scrubs too. (I love a salt scrub!!)

Ethylhexylglycerin – is a preservative and conditioning agent therefore a handy paraben alternative maybe? It’s a relatively new chemical and there’s very little data on its safety. Again, see the great paraben war for more information…

Aluminum Chlorohydrate – is an aluminum based salt. Its primary use is as the anti-wetness protection element in antiperspirants. Hmmm…so it’ll tighten and tingle my face skin….? It is also used to clean water by making its impurities come together so maybe that’s its use here…?

Allantoin – is said to have a healing effect on skin. Skin that is sore, chapped, burnt, erupted and generally irritated! It encourages it to form new and healthy tissue and soothes and moisturizes as it goes. Subsequently it’s in loads of products from anti-acne and shaving to hair care, deodorants and foot creams.

Well, that’s something to think about isn’t it? I wonder sometimes if a little information is more dangerous than none. And regardless of the whole ‘products designed for women or specifically for men’ wrangle I’ll continue using this product, no doubt, but it does mean that now I’m a tad more armed with some knowledge of what’s what within this product I’m smearing directly on to my most sensitive skin (face that is…oh stop…) AND if a new study proves or claims that there are issues to consider regarding any of the above ingredients, at least I’ll know it applies to me and I’ll think on!