Have you ever felt in need of a chemistry degree when trying to decipher the ingredients listed on the back of skincare and beauty product containers?
You are not alone.
The long list of chemicals, additives, preservatives and colourants is baffling: why are they there? What purposes do they serve? What effect do they have on the skin, and more importantly, on the rest of the body once absorbed or inhaled?
When you are reading the label of ingredients of a cosmetic or skincare product, the first four to six ingredients are always the ones that constitute around 60-80% of the total volume of the product. So if water or petroleum derivatives are the first few ingredients, the product is unlikely to have any therapeutic effect on the skin. Many industrially made soaps, hand washes and bath products contain a mixture of parabens, synthetic fragrances, phthalates, triclosan, sodium lauryl sulphate, mineral oil, silicone, propylene glycol, ethanolamine, parabens and many more petrochemical derivatives that can irritate the skin, cause respiratory problems, allergies and toxic build up through absorption into the blood.
Emollient rich butters and oils and fragrant botanical extracts or essential oils have skin soothing and nourishing properties, but they are also expensive and without chemicals the shelf life of many skincare products would not be long enough for supermarkets.
The following chemicals are commonly used in a famous, bestselling industrially made soap which is dermatologically approved:
Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate – a surfactant used in detergents to create lather
Stearic Acid – C18H36O2 is a saturated fatty acid
Sodium Palmitate – saponified palm oil. (Palm oil is a very controversial ingredient as palm tree plantations have led to rainforest deforestation and loss of habitat for many endangered species, specifically orangutans, elephants, tigers and rhinos.)
Lauric Acid – a saturated fatty acid, like vegetable shortening
Sodium Isethionate – C2H6O4S is a salt commonly used in shampoos and soaps -
Sodium Stearate - C18H35NaO2 is the sodium salt of stearic acid. This white solid is found in the most common soaps, in many types of solid deodorants, rubbers, latex paints, and inks. It is also a component of some food additives and food flavourings.
Cocamidopropyl Betaine - C19H38N2O3 is a surfactant derived from coconut oil and dimethylaminopropylamine
Parfum - a perfumed liquid containing a percentage of fragrant oils that is lower than that in perfume but greater than that in eau de toilette. There could be anything from 200 – 300 chemicals in synthetic perfumes
Zinc Oxide - used in a wide range of cosmetics and personal care products including makeup, nail products, baby lotions, bath soaps and foot powders. Zinc oxide is also used in skin protectants, such as diaper rash ointments and sunscreen products as a bulking agent, whitener and mould inhibitor.
Tetrasodium EDTA - C10H16N2O8 (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) is a chelating agent, used to sequester and decrease the reactivity of metal ions that may be present in a product. It stops the growth of mould and the spread of bacteria. It also stops the formation of soap scum.
Alumina - the common name given to aluminum oxide (Al2O3). Alumina is produced from bauxite, an ore that is mined from topsoil in various tropical and subtropical regions. The Bayer process, discovered in 1887, is the primary process by which alumina is extracted from bauxite.
Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone - also known as 3-Methyl-4-(2,6,6-trimethyl-2-cyclohexen-1-yl)-3-buten-2-one, or cetoneAlpha-Isomethyl Ionone, is a colorless or pale straw-colored liquid. In cosmetics and personal care products it is used in the formulation of aftershave lotions, bath products, bubble baths, hair care products, moisturisers, perfumes and colognes, shampoos and skin care products.
Benzyl Alcohol - C₆H₅CH₂OH - an aromatic alcohol that consists of benzene bearing a single hydroxymethyl substituent. It has a role as a solvent, a metabolite, an antioxidant and a fragrance.
Betylphenal Methylproppional C14H20O - In cosmetics and personal care products, butylphenyl methylpropional functions as a fragrance ingredient due to its strong floral scent. It is used in aftershave lotions, bath products, bubble baths, cleansing products, hair care products, moisturizers, perfumes and colognes, shampoos and skin care products.
Hexyl Cinnamal - Hexyl cinnamaldehyde (hexyl cinnamal) is a common additive in perfume and cosmetic industry as aroma substance. It is found naturally in the essential oil of chamomile.
In industrially made soaps Polyethylene glycols are added as surfactants (making foam) and emulsifiers to make the dyes and perfumes blend evenly. Titanium dioxide is added to make the soap opaque.
Large cosmetics and toiletries companies claim that the dosages of phthalates (used in perfumes and synthetic fragrances), parabens, triclosan and formaldehyde used in soaps, hand washes, shampoos and creams are low enough to be legally permitted under EU law, but the fact that we use scores of products, often in layers, maybe several times a day, means we are absorbing, breathing and possibly ingesting hundreds of chemicals every day. They can affect fertility, disrupt normal hormonal patterns, create respiratory disorders, pollute waterways and, in some cases, they are suspected carcinogens.
Surely you are wondering why some of these chemicals could be used to make a soap bar, when you consider that Farm Soap Co. soaps contain just the following saponified ingredients:
Botanical essential oil
Furthermore, the natural saponification process results in about 75% soap and 25% glycerine – a skin softening emollient. In commercial soaps the glycerine is often removed and often sold to make skin moisturisers that will help soften dry skin. So why not leave natural glycerine in the soap to help moisturise the skin in the first place?
Farm Soap Co. was founded to make pure, botanical soaps and skincare from farm to face – you should not be a chemist to understand the making of a soap bar. It should only contain natural ingredients – ones whose names you instantly recognise and which can be seen growing in a garden or farm.