I have been involved in the formulation and manufacturing of skin care, nutrition, olfaction and health products since 2005.  My staff and I have been fully vertical including the purchasing and importing of raw ingredients, owning and running manufacturing plants, creating and marketing top selling consumer products and brands, etc.  Few people alive have our varied experience and none will be willing to share with you the truth about the products that you use.

Skin Care and Beauty Product Labeling

Most every person alive uses a variety of skin care or beauty products daily.  These products include soaps, shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers, etc.  In fact, studies show that the average woman uses 12 separate personal care products daily containing a total of 168 unique ingredients.  Most everyone will be shocked to learn the truth behind the labeling and claims of these products.

The entire story begins with the FDA, which is an acronym for the United States Government’s Food and Drug Administration.  The FDA’s primary responsibility is to assure the safety of the food and drugs that are on the market.  The FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors is responsible for all personal care products including beauty and skin care products yet they have none of the regulatory authority they have with food and drugs.  In fact, skin care, beauty and cosmetic products are probably the least regulated consumer products on the market today.  The reality is that the FDA largely ignores personal care products and their actual ingredients.  In practice, the only thing it really has jurisdiction over are a small portion of the product labels.

According to the law, every label must bear the name of the manufacturer or brand, the quantity of the product in the bottle, the intended use, and a declaration of the name of each ingredient in descending order of predominance.  In general, that is the limit of the FDA’s authority. 

As long as a product does not declare itself to be a drug or promise to cure a specific disease, the FDA has little other authority. While the spirit of the law guards against false or misleading labeling and claims, if there are no accepted scientific definitions of common buzz words so deception is impossible to prove.  And since everyone in reality is guilty of misleading consumers, accepted practice wins out over consumer protection.  In reality, that means that any product can make virtually any claim they choose without fear of reprisal.   As a result, virtually all packaging is complete fiction.  Let’s deal with some specific examples that you commonly see.

Hypoallergenic:  Everyone looks for hypoallergenic products believing that they are somehow more pure.  The truth is that there is no such thing as hypoallergenic.  It is a fictional word made up by the personal care marketers.  The reality is that most hypoallergenic products contain all sorts of known skin irritants including Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Quaternium-15.  Further, many of the ingredients create measurable byproducts which are not by law necessary to list.  For example, Quaternium-15, which is an ingredient in most bath products, create measurable amounts of formaldehyde – even in prominent seemingly gentle baby products!

Natural:  The term “natural” means containing carbon and covers basically everything, including most synthetic ingredients.  Even gasoline is a “natural” ingredient although not many of us would want to use it to clean our face.  The truth is that natural is basically a nonsense word when it comes to personal care products, since no ingredients come from magic.  The word is constantly used even by highly reputable labels as if it is absent, potential buyers will get the wrong idea. 

The truth is that even if an ingredient is “organic” or natural in the sense you might think the word is being used, it isn’t necessarily better as these products often grow bacteria more easily over time than synthetic products and are as a result often more problematic for the skin.

Fanciful Words:  And then there are there are the more fanciful words such as “volumizing,” “moisturizing” and “luster,” among hundreds of others used on labels.  These words have no real meaning and the uses of these are completely unregulated by the FDA.  Shampoos that insist that they are volumizing, moisturizing or creating luster – well those words are as silly and useless as hypoallergenic.

As any personal care chemist or guru will tell you, the only useful information you will find on a bottle is the ingredient list and the price.

The truth is that most ingredients listed on the average bottle will be “greek” to most people.  In fact, most won’t even be able to pronounce the ingredients let alone evaluate them.  While it is difficult for the average buyer to evaluate the actual ingredients in each product, there are resources available on line to help.  One resource I like for the average consumer is The Environmental Working Group’s Chemical Index at http://www.ewg.org

As far as the price is concerned, the truth is that higher prices are normally more a reflection of “brand image” and the amount of advertising dollars spent rather than the actual quality of the product.  In reality, often a $3.00 moisturizer is every bit as good, or better, then a $30 or $50 moisturizer.  There are times, however, when there is a high priced ingredient contained in products, such as the new prebiotic products entering the marketplace, where higher prices do in fact reflect better quality products.  Again, knowledge of the ingredients in your product will answer the price question definitively for you.

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