Whats in a Cosmetic?
and What do all the Terms Mean?
language can over-complicate and confuse those who are not using the
terms daily. This is why with the help of the CTPA, we are
working hard to provide
explanations of cosmetic ingredients and terms used to explain how, they
work in easy-to-understand language.
If you have a suggestion for a topic that you would like to see included please contact us.
Absorption of chemicals
products are carefully formulated to ensure ingredients are delivered
to the appropriate site on the skin or hair. The skin is an effective
barrier against penetration which is why even today most medicines have
to be swallowed or injected and very few can be absorbed through the
skin from topical patches.
Of course some substances do penetrate
the skin or may be ingested (from oral care and lip products) but these
are readily metabolised and harmlessly excreted. They do not accumulate
within the body to reach unsafe levels.
The ability of a
substance to enter through the skin is a complex thing and is down to
the characteristics of each individual substance, such as its ability to
be soluble in lipids
and its size (molecular weight). Just as our weight is measured by the
unit 'kilograms', the 'weight' or 'size' of each individual unit of a
substance (molecule) is estimated in the unit 'Daltons'. You may
sometimes come across a reference to the 'Dalton rule'. This is a 'rule
of thumb' and says that substances above about 500 Daltons in size will
not easily pass through the skin; substances below about 500 Daltons
will find it easier, but only if they have a low electrical charge and
are neither very soluble in lipids nor water. This rule applies to
undamaged skin; broken skin (cuts, grazes, inflammed areas) allows many
substances to gain access to the body which would not normally be able
to pass through the skin.
The safety assessment required for each
cosmetic product before it is placed on the market takes into account
any possibility of skin penetration, including as necessary any use on
damaged skin, to ensure there can be no harm caused to the consumer.
Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)
the UK advertised claims are subject to close scrutiny by watchdog
organisations; broadcast advertisements must be pre-cleared by Clearcast
and both broadcast and print advertisements are scrutinised by the
Advertising Standards Authority. These organisations require robust
scientific evidence to substantiate claims being made.
Advertising Standards Authority is the independent body set up by the
advertising industry to police the rules laid down in the advertising
codes. The ASA is committed to protecting consumers and creating a level
playing field for advertisers. To find out more visit: www.asa.org.uk
Top tips for using aerosols safely
Below are some top tips for using aerosols safely. Further tips on using aerosols safely
have been produced by the British Aerosol Manufacturers' Association
(BAMA) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
- Always read the instructions and precautions and make sure you understand them completely.
use aerosols in a well ventilated area. If using an aerosol in a
confined space, open windows and doors to provide ventilation.
- Aerosols are pressurised containers. Do not pierce or burn aerosols. Store them away from sunlight and heat.
are extremely flammable. Avoid spraying aerosols near naked flames and
potential sources of ignition (e.g. cigarettes, pilot lights).
- Ensure aerosols are stored out of reach of children.
- Aerosols should only be used in short bursts unless the instructions state otherwise. Deliberate inhalation of solvents found in everyday household products, including aerosols, can be harmful or fatal. Aerosols
are labelled with the SACKI warning "Solvent Abuse Can Kill Instantly"
as recommended by the British Aerosol Manufacturers' Association. This
is designed to be a general warning about the risks of solvent abuse.
Advice and resources on substance abuse are available from Re-Solv: the national charity dedicated to volatile substance abuse.
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)
in fruit such as grapes and lemons, as well as in sugar cane and milk.
Often known as fruit acids, they are used at low concentrations to
gently speed up the skin’s normal exfoliation process. The result is a
shedding of dry surface skin cells and an improved appearance and skin
feel. At concentrations higher than used in cosmetic
products, irritation and peeling can occur.
Aluminium in antiperspirants
contain ingredients called aluminium salts (sometimes referred to as
aluminium/zirconium salts) that dissolve in sweat and leave a thin
coating of gel over the sweat glands. This coating reduces the amount of
sweat on the skin for a number of hours after the antiperspirant is
applied. Alum, a salt of aluminium, is the crystal widely used in
“natural” deodorants/antiperspirants and works along similar lines.
is the third most naturally abundant element in the environment, found
in food, water and pharmaceuticals as well as a wide range of consumer
products. There is no safety data that suggests that aluminium presents a
health threat when included in antiperspirants.
is no evidence to prove it, some have questioned whether antiperspirants
could be linked in some way to breast cancer. Why? The answer is that
several studies have demonstrated a negligible potential for aluminium
salts to penetrate into (but not through) the skin. However, if a small
amount were absorbed from antiperspirant, this would be tiny in
comparison to the amounts we consume in the foods we eat daily. After
all, antiperspirants are designed to work by staying on the surface of
the skin, so the products would not work if a significant amount of the
active ingredient was absorbed into the skin itself.
A number of
leading cancer research organisations support this view, stating there
is no plausible biological mechanism by which antiperspirants could
cause breast cancer. Indeed, in the past, national cancer charities and
other authorities (including Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Cancer
Research UK) have seen false allegations as diverting attention away
from taking action on those factors known to be associated with a risk
of breast cancer, such as smoking and poor diet.
- Breakthrough Breast Cancer has produced a helpful factsheet on this issue.
2008 a panel of leading clinical oncologists concluded that there is no
scientific evidence that deodorants or antiperspirants cause cancer. Read more about this research.
It has also been suggested that aluminium may be able to mimic oestrogen
The strength of any such effect would be extremely low and only
detectable under experimental conditions that cannot apply to real life,
and there is no evidence that this can harm human health. Many
substances have the ability to mimic oestrogen – and these are found at
much higher concentrations in the foods we eat. In practice, just
because something has the potential to mimic a hormone (in this case
oestrogen), it does not mean that it can cause harm to human health.
Remember, aluminium is the third most common element in the earth’s
crust and most of what we absorb comes from food and drink.
Aluminium and Alzheimer's disease
researchers have speculated that there could be a link between
aluminium and Alzheimer’s disease; however, there is no proof that such a
relationship exists. There has been a lot of research into this area
over the past 40 years. In 1997, the World Health Organisation said that
it had found no evidence that aluminium was a health risk for healthy
people who were not in contact with aluminium because of their jobs, and
there was no evidence that aluminium was a primary cause of Alzheimer's
disease. Also, epidemiological studies show no unusual incidence of
Alzheimer’s disease in persons working in aluminium mines or smelters
where they could be expected to inhale the substance in large amounts.
overwhelming medical and scientific opinion is that the current
findings do not convincingly demonstrate a causal relationship between
aluminium and Alzheimer's disease.
Cosmetic products used daily by consumers are NOT tested on animals
Animal testing of both cosmetic
products and their ingredients has not taken place in the UK since 1997
(a voluntary industry initiative that led to all licences for such
testing being withdrawn). In Europe a complete ban on the testing of
cosmetic products was imposed by the European cosmetic laws in September
is certainly to be taken seriously. As more is learned about the
process of cell ageing, so this knowledge can be applied to products
designed to minimise the consequences. Whilst we may not be able
literally to turn the clock back (yet), we can minimise the impact of
normal cellular ageing and to 'make the best of what you have'. The
importance of slowing the signs of ageing is great - think back to the
days when we did not know about the damage from UV rays
, and now we can prevent this by taking care not to extend our time in the sun and by using appropriate sun protection products
. Free radicals
are another area of recent progress, anti-oxidants
are beneficial here too, AHAs
have been in use for many years in skincare products. The skill of the
cosmetic company is in getting the science to work in a
consumer-friendly product rather than in theory and making sure the claims
made for the product can be supported and are clearly explained for the user.
Substances which can help the body eliminate or fight the effects of free radicals
or which are used to prevent oxidation (i.e. degradation caused by
exposure to oxygen in the atmosphere) of other ingredients within the
formulation, especially lipids. Oxidation of lipids can lead to
rancidity and unpleasant smells.
Asbestos is not allowed in cosmetic products.
is a naturally occurring mineral made up of thin fibres. Exposure to
asbestos is tightly controlled due to the health risks associated with
Sometimes negative attention is given to cosmetic talc
because of confusion over the difference between talc and asbestos. It
is true that they are both hydrated magnesium silicates but cosmetic
talc does not have the same fibrous structure as asbestos. The
potentially harmful effects of asbestos come from its characteristic
fibrous structure. Talc used in cosmetics must be fibre-free to be
considered cosmetic talc .
Arsenic in make-up
Arsenic is specifically prohibited from being present in cosmetic
products. It is not used as an ingredient in any cosmetic product.
Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs)
Similar to AHAs
and used for a similar purpose. The result is a shedding of dry surface cells and an improved appearance and feel to the skin.
BBP in lipstick
Butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP) is prohibited from use in all cosmetics
throughout Europe. This includes both products made and sold in the EU
and products imported into the EU to be sold. The ban came into effect
in August 2006 after concerns were expressed over the safety of BBP. The
cosmetics industry fully supported proposals for the ban.
products are made to last a long time, although it is not always clear
just how long ‘a long time’ is. If a product has a limited shelf life
(less than 30 months - two and a half years) it is required to be
labelled with a ‘best before’ date.
“Best before” dating is not common as most cosmetic products are formulated to ensure they have a long shelf life.
an organism absorbs a substance at a rate greater than that at which
the substance is lost. Therefore it is not simply the 'presence' or
'detection' of a substance. It is also important to realise that neither
the presence of a chemical nor its bioaccumulation necessarily means
that any harm is being done.
Bisphenol A is banned from use as an ingredient in cosmetic products – and has been since November 2006.
A is used as the starting material of coatings for the inside of
packaging cans, including aerosol cans, to prevent corrosion. Although
most bisphenol A is used up in making the coating material, some usually
remains in the final coating agent. The prevention of corrosion is
essential to protect the contents from contamination and to ensure the
integrity of the can, avoiding the risk of harm to human health.
Bisphenol A is also used as a building block for some plastics.
however, acknowledges that unavoidable traces of some substances
(including those that are banned as ingredients in cosmetic products)
might be found to be present in products owing to their other possible
uses, such as in packaging for example. The law requires that any such
traces must be taken into account by the safety assessment
, and that their presence must not constitute a risk of harm to human health.
minute traces of bisphenol A that might be detected in some cosmetic
products, after migration from packaging for example, do not constitute
any risk of harm to human health.
Bleach/hydrogen peroxide in toothwhiteners
products will either whiten teeth through abrasion, where tiny, rough
particles help to rub off discoloration, or by using a bleaching agent
such as hydrogen peroxide. Where bleaching agents are used, the level is
restricted to 0.1% under European cosmetics legislation
the past some toothwhitening products have appeared on the UK market
containing higher quantities of peroxide. These are illegal so it is
advisable to purchase your product from a reputable retailer or your
treatments and any treatment involving injection under the skin are not
cosmetic products; Botox is a prescription-only licensed medicine.
Cosmetic products themselves are covered by strict cosmetic safety laws
Licensed medicines such as Botox are controlled through theMedicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency
which issues a marketing authorisation for each product. Patients
requiring Botox must be seen by a doctor or a suitably qualified
practitioner. We would advise anyone considering a treatment of this
nature to only visit a reputable clinic displaying the appropriate
So-called "off-label" uses of Botox
for "cosmetic procedures" does not change its classification as a
medicine and the requirement for the involvement of an appropriate
practitioner. Read more – the Department of Health have issued a guidance booklet
for people considering surgical or non-surgical cosmetic procedures.
It is often wrongly claimed that Botox is a cosmetic product and any animal testing of it therefore contravenes the strict animal testing bans
for cosmetic ingredients and products. This is just not the case. These
testing bans are supported and adhered to by the cosmetics industry.
Companies marketing treatments such as Botox must comply with the
appropriate regulatory requirements for injectable medicines.
A type of fat molecule used as an emollient
in skin and hair care products. Fats which help to give a shine to the skin and hair.
are substances no longer used in aerosols. They are man-made chemicals
that were developed during the first half of the 20th century. Because
of their excellent stability and non-flammable properties they were
widely used as aerosol propellants. However, during the 1970s and 80s,
scientists discovered a relationship between such substances and ozone
depletion. By the end of 1989 the UK aerosol industry had phased out the
use of CFCs in retail products and CFC use in Europe is now completely
In recent years some cosmetic
products have received a bad press owing to their “chemical content” –
but all the ingredients used in cosmetics are chemicals, whether natural
or man-made. Water is one of the most ‘natural’ substances on earth –
but of course it is a chemical.
Everything and everyone is made up
of chemicals – a chemical is any substance made up of atoms and
molecules whether synthetic (man-made) or of natural origin.
fact, nature is the biggest producer of chemicals, and one of the most
successful producers of natural poisons. So, whether a cosmetic is made
up of natural or man-made ingredients, it is still subject to the same
strict safety assessments, as required by cosmetics legislation, to make
sure it is safe to use.
See our section on chemicals
in cosmetics for further information.
The science behind innovative cosmetics, such as anti-ageing moisturisers
is carried out by highly qualified scientists from many different
specialist fields. To put just one new product on the shelves can take
up to five years or more, with a dozen senior scientists working on it,
each supported by their own team of scientists.
surrounding cosmetic products are very stringent and cover the manufacture, labelling, claims and safety assessment
of all cosmetic products supplied to the EU market. It is a legal
requirement that all claims made on-pack must be substantiated. This
information is open to review by the regulating authorities, in the UK
this is Trading Standards.
While a product is being developed,
many trials will be carried out on an appropriate number of people to
make sure the product does exactly what it says on the pack – but you
don’t just have to take the industry’s word for it. All advertised
claims made about products on the television must be pre-approved by Clearcast
, who ask for a robust body of scientific evidence before they’ll give the green light. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)
can also challenge any advertisement (broadcast, print or online) and
will respond to consumer complaints by reviewing the scientific evidence
before passing judgment on whether further advertising is permitted.
reviewing products and their claims, it has been alleged that some
journalists may feel under pressure to be complimentary about products
that advertise in their publications. Journalists are able to say
exactly which products they believe work for them and which ones do not
and why – that’s how they add value for readers. With many products to
review, only those which are being recommended to the readers are likely
to reach the pages of the magazine.
the UK advertised claims are subject to close scrutiny by watchdog
organisations; broadcast advertisements must be pre-cleared by Clearcast
and both broadcast and print advertisements are scrutinised by the
Advertising Standards Authority. These organisations require robust
scientific evidence to substantiate claims being made.
is the company responsible for the pre-transmission examination and
clearance of television advertisements. As part of their licensing
agreements with Ofcom, broadcasters are required to clear advertising
before it is broadcast and advertisements transmitted on UK terrestrial
and satellite channels should be submitted to Clearcast for
approval. To find out more visit: www.clearcast.co.uk
substances are chemicals that have been classified as Carcinogenic,
Mutagenic or Toxic to Reproduction (reprotoxic) under the European
Dangerous Substances Directive, but the classification will now be
carried out under the new European chemicals legislation, REACH
classification is based on the hazardous properties a substance might
have under a “worst case” situation and does not take account of whether
there is any risk associated with specific uses or exposures.
substances are classified as Category 1, 2 or 3. Category 1 and 2
substances are banned from use in cosmetic products. CMR substances
classified as Category 3 are banned in general, but may be used under
specific circumstances provided that use has been assessed by the
European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety(SCCS
) and found safe.
is not as strange as it may seem, and should not cause alarm. The CMR
properties may only be seen under specific circumstances or exposure
conditions and so it is possible to define conditions of use and
exposure that do not constitute a risk of harm to human health. It must
be emphasised that the classification system does not assess risk and
neither does it take account of potency.
The different categories may be simply defined as:
- Category 1: The substance is known to be carcinogenic/mutagenic/reprotoxic to man.
- Category 2: There is a strong presumption that these substances are carcinogenic/mutagenic/reprotoxic to man.
- Category 3: Substances, which cause concern for man owing to possible carcinogenic/mutagenic/reprotoxic effects.
There are stringent EU rules
that cover the manufacture of cosmetic products. These require that all cosmetic products must be safe.
common misconception is the so-called ‘cocktail effect’ – the idea that
when different chemicals combine, their total effect is greater than
might be expected. It’s called the cocktail effect because of the belief
that mixing alcoholic drinks can be more potent than drinking just one
type of drink on its own (actually, it isn't true). The reality is that
when we are exposed to a variety of chemicals at the same time, the
result can be simply additive, or it may indeed be enhanced, but it
might even be diminished with one substance cancelling out the effects
of another. Scientists can and do investigate whether substances will
have additive effects or synergistic effects or even cancel one another
out when devising their formulations. These findings are taken into
account when assessing the safety of a product.
Remember that even a simple cup of tea is in fact a cocktail of more than 200 chemicals, plus milk and sugar.
be thought of as a strong network of fibres that give skin its
underlying structure and ensures the skin stays in place! A protein in
the skin which provides structure; in effect, the scaffolding. Helps to
make the skin feel smoother.
The term “Cosmeceutical” is not an official, legal category of product.
“cosmeceutical” is a marketing term often used within the industry and
in the press to describe cosmetic products that are intended to have
actions and effects that go beyond the purely decorative, e.g.
A product is either a cosmetic or a
medicine and cannot be both at the same time. There are very clear legal
definitions for a cosmetic and for a medicine – and that’s it, there is
no ‘third’ category.
The manufacture of cosmetic products is highly regulated, and the EU rules
clearly state the definition of a cosmetic (and medicines legislation defines what a medicine is).
with many areas of life, there is a ‘borderline’ between cosmetics and
medicines. However, a company marketing a product near the borderline
between these two categories has to decide whether the product is one or
the other and then comply with the appropriate legislation.
The claims made for a cosmetic product are legislated for by at least three means:
the UK there is the Trades Descriptions Act covering all descriptions
made regarding a product or its attributes. This Act does not allow it
to be implied, directly or indirectly, that a product has
characteristics that it does not have;
- specific EU cosmetics legislation requires that claims made on the pack must be capable of substantiation;
- there is the control of print and broadcast advertising administered by the Advertising Standards Authority and Clearcast (see www.asa.org.uk).
one cosmetic product can be suitable for everybody, but all cosmetic
products should deliver the effect claimed. Personal preference, and the
fact that our bodies are all different, makes it important to have a
The European legal regime for cosmetics and medicines
is a modern, flexible system that provides a high level of consumer
safety and meets the demands of a modern economy, including a
competitive marketplace. The EU model of regulation for cosmetics is
highly regarded internationally and has been used as a model by other
countries and trading blocks when introducing their own cosmetics
legislation. We expect this situation to carry on in the future.
is no legal definition of the term "Dermatologically tested" when
applied to a cosmetic product. In general terms "Dermatologically
tested" means tested on the skin. A variety of techniques are available
for skin compatibility. The involvement of a doctor or dermatologist is
not essential, although the protocols used may have been reviewed by a
medically qualified person.
have long understood that our bodies absorb substances, whether natural
or man-made, from our environment. Today’s technology allows us to be
able to detect and measure extraordinarily low levels of many substances
in human samples.
Substances may enter our bodies through eating,
breathing, drinking and direct contact. After the substance enters the
body and is distributed and metabolised, the body usually gets rid of it
(‘excretion’). The chemicals we are exposed to in our daily lives,
including in cosmetics and foods, are so well-studied and measured that
their combined effects are largely predictable and the cosmetic
industry’s assertions of the safety of its products are based on robust
scientific data that adheres to strict safety guidelines.
cases, substances remain in the body in trace amounts. However, just
because something can be detected in the urine or blood, doesn’t mean it
is going to cause us any harm. It is possible that all chemicals in our
environment may be found in our blood, urine or tissues at some point
In a similar fashion, analytical chemistry can now detect
very small traces of many substances in products too. The safety
assessment carried out for each cosmetic takes into account any traces
to ensure they are not at a level that could possibly cause any harm.
UK and European safety regulations
for cosmetics forbid the use of 1,4-dioxane as an ingredient in
cosmetics; it must not be deliberately or knowingly added. However,
unavoidable traces, even of banned substances, that cannot reasonably be
removed during the manufacture of ingredients or the cosmetic product
itself, are allowed as long as there is no risk to health. All cosmetic
products must undergo a safety assessment
by a qualified safety professional. Any such traces will be covered by
the safety assessment to ensure the levels do not present any health
risk to consumers.
material that makes up the elastic connective fibres underneath the top
layer of skin that give resilience and elasticity to the skin.
ingredient which softens and smooths the skin. Many emollients are
oils that have an occlusive (air tight) action that provide a barrier
against water loss from the skin.
disruptor’ is the term given to certain chemicals which allegedly act
as, or interfere with, human hormones in the body and lead to harmful
effects. These include chemicals that are alleged to interfere with sex
hormones (specifically oestrogen), and are sometimes known as
‘gender-bender’chemicals. This is a broad group that includes some
substances classified as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as
PCBs, dioxins, DDT and chlorinated pesticides.
is the study of how often diseases occur in different groups of people
and why. A key feature is the measurement of the incidence of disease in
relation to the population at risk. The population at risk is the group
of people, healthy or sick, who would be counted as cases if they had
the disease being studied. In concluding the 'risk', researchers
calculate the level of increased risk according to their findings.
Because many factors cannot be controlled in epidemiology studies, a
risk level of 2.0 or lower is usually rejected as background noise and
not a true increase in risk.
about making sense of mixed messages in the media.
The outer or uppermost layer of the skin.
reactive and potentially destructive molecules that have been shown to
contribute to the ageing process of the skin and other tissues in the
body. Free radicals can be neutralised by antioxidants.
and certain related substances which liberate formaldehyde
(‘formaldehyde releasers’), are listed as approved preservatives under
the Cosmetics Directive
and have been assessed by the European Commission’s independent expert
scientific committee. Formaldehyde is also regulated under the Cosmetics
Directive for use in nail hardeners.
Formaldehyde occurs widely
in nature: it is part of our human metabolism, it occurs naturally in
the air that we breathe, and plants and other animals also produce
formaldehyde - it is even emitted as a by-product when certain
vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts and cabbage, are cooked.
Formaldehyde was first used as a biological preservative more than a
has recently (23rd December 2009) been classified as a Class C drug by
the Home Office in order to control the illegal and abusive use of GBL.
the Home Office recognises the safe use of GBL in cosmetic products.
The cosmetics industry worked with the Home Office during the proposal
stages of the new legislation to ensure the objectives of the new drug
classification were met, i.e. legitimate uses of GBL are not affected
while legislating against the illegal use and supply of the substance.
GBL may be legally and legitimately used in cosmetic products.
part of a responsible cosmetics industry, manufacturers of products
containing GBL have recognised that, even though it is highly unlikely
that the level of the substance present in the products would cause a
drug-like effect, there may be the potential for possible product abuse.
Consequently, such products also contain high levels of the ingredient
denatonium benzoate which is commonly used as an alcohol denaturant to
make it unsuitable for ingestion. Denatonium benzoate has been added to
products containing GBL to ensure the intensely bitter taste renders the
are substances produced by the body as part of the endocrine system,
and they act like a ‘communication system’ for the body. There are lots
of different types of hormones, and each one has its own particular
function within the body. Hormones affect our growth, how we react to
situations, how we metabolise sugar and how we develop sexually.
Hormones are present in the body at different concentrations – some of which are really low levels, such as in the order of ‘parts per billion’ or ‘ppb’
(1 ppb is the same as 1 second in 30 years); but you also have to consider how ‘strong’ the effect of the hormone is.
Hormones travel around the body and when they get to where they need to work, they do their job.
An example of a natural hormone present in the body is oestrogen
(for example, progestogens, oestrogens and anti-androgens of steroidal
structure) are prohibited from being present in cosmetic products, so
any cosmetic product containing hormones would be illegal in the EU.
An ingredient which holds and retains moisture.
Hydrogen peroxide in toothwhiteners
Hydrogen Peroxide – safe use in hair products
Peroxide is a pale blue liquid that has many uses including bleaching
agent, disinfectant and antiseptic. It has been safely used in the
hairdressing industry to lighten hair for decades in products such as
permanent oxidative colorants, hair lighteners, lightening (bleach)
products, permanent waves or straighteners and colorant remover.
use of hydrogen peroxide in cosmetic products is covered by strict
safety laws. Home-use products that contain hydrogen peroxide, such as
hair colorants, typically contain low concentrations of around 3% and
professional (salon) products tend to contain higher levels – up to a
maximum of 12%.
Since hydrogen peroxide has the ability to cause
skin and eye irritations it must be handled carefully. It also readily
reacts with the air and other materials which can result in explosions,
so it is important to keep it in an airtight container and out of the
light. At all times keep away from naked flames, from any sources.
is extremely important for all salons, and those hair professionals
with mobile businesses, to follow any instructions issued with all
products and to take account of the handling, storage and reactivity
information for hydrogen peroxide. It is also important to follow the
manufacturers’ Health and Safety instructions, including that for
suitable storage, transport and spillages.
means ‘less than’ or ‘decreased’ so, when used to describe cosmetics,
the term hypoallergenic means ‘reduced potential to cause allergic
reactions‘. Manufacturers will have made special efforts in the
selection of ingredients and by product testing to reduce further the
already low incidence of adverse reactions to cosmetic products. These
products may still contain fragrance, identified in the ingredients list
The technique of performing experiments in a controlled environment outside of a living organism, e.g. in a test tube.
The technique of performing experiments in a controlled environment using a living being, e.g. human volunteer testing.
A structural protein found primarily in skin, hair and nails.
Lead in lipstick
the past, stories have circulated in the media and on the internet that
lipsticks contain lead and are harmful to health. The use of lead in
cosmetic products is specifically banned in the European Union by the cosmetics legislation
It must however be recognised that lead is a naturally occurring
element that is found everywhere in the environment and it is possible
that minute traces are carried into cosmetic products from the
environment or during manufacture. These extremely low levels are taken
into account as part of the safety assessment
to ensure their presence does not pose a risk to human health. Given
the ability of today's analytical technology to detect extremely low
levels, it is to be expected that some studies claim to have found
traces of lead in some products. Such reports resurface periodically
often with claims that the products are dangerous.
the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has developed and validated a
new method for the analysis of lead in lipsticks and has applied the
method to the same selection of lipsticks evaluated in one of the
reports. Contrary to the original report, the FDA does not believe that
the lead content found is a safety concern. See the FDA website
for further details.
An old internet rumour is routinely re-circulated via e-mail alleging
that lipsticks contain lead and may therefore cause cancer. The message
goes on to name various brands and even suggests you can test for the
presence of lead by using a gold ring. Finally, the message asks you to
pass the information on to friends. The allegations in the e-mail are
false and the gold ring test simply does not work.
is the substance that makes lemons smell of lemon. Limonene is a common
fragrance ingredient used widely in many cosmetic and homecare
products. It has been claimed that limonene is a carcinogen - this is
not the case. It has not been classified as being carcinogenic either
by IARC, the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for
Research on Cancer or by the European legalisation on carcinogenic
substances. If any substance is classified as a known carcinogen then
it is simply not allowed to be used as an ingredient in a cosmetic
product. Limonene is perfectly safe as used in cosmetic products.
name for fats, oils and other substances that are not miscible, or do
not mix, with water. The main constituents of fats.
Microscopic hollow fat bubbles used to transport ingredients to the layers of the epidermis
name macrophage means 'big eater' and aptly describes these, the
largest of the white blood cells which form an important part of the
body's defences. Their job is to wander through the bloodstream and
tissues of the body engulfing and removing unwanted debris. The debris
might be dust, such as house dust, from DIY activities or even talc,
pollen etc. we have breathed in to the lungs, it might be bacteria or
parasites that have invaded the tissues or it might be damaged and dead
cells of the body itself. Once engulfed, the macrophages kill any
bacteria and break down the particles of debris and ensure the remnants
are removed from the body via the faeces. They are the dustbinmen of the
body, are essential for health and can even remember past encounters to
help the body respond more efficiently to the same foreign material
A statistical technique for combining the findings from independent studies.
is the name given to a series of minerals based on silicates
(substances made out of the elements silica and oxygen). Mica has unique
physical properties because of its structure – it is formed, in nature,
as layers that can be split into thin sheets. It can also be ground
into a powder.
It is added to powdered cosmetics, such as
eyeshadows, as a filler because it has excellent smoothness and so makes
the eyeshadow easy to apply and also gives sparkle.
It is added
to other cosmetic products - such as mascaras, lipsticks, body lotions,
shampoos and bath oils - because it provides a beautiful lustre and
sheen. Mica can also provide further ‘depth’ to certain pigments, and
it gives a highly pearlised effect.
Mineral Oil is a liquid mixture of hydrocarbons obtained from petroleum.
are the group of compounds containing only the elements carbon and
hydrogen. Hydrocarbons are generally derived from petrochemicals by a
refining process, but some of them are found in the plant and animal
Mineral oil is widely used as an emollient
and vehicle in cosmetics because of its oily feel and movement on the
skin. It provides products with the ability to enhance suppleness and
gloss in hair-care products and, by its ability to remain on the skin
surface, it can act as a lubricant to reduce flaking and to improve the
Rumours frequently circulate regarding the
safety of mineral oil because it is sourced from petrochemicals. But
petrochemicals are the source of a whole range of substances, some of
which would never be used in cosmetics and some of which are used in the
food industry. In fact, the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives
(JECFA) of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has set values for the
Acceptable Daily Intake* of those hydrocarbons likely to be ingested. It
all comes down to knowing which substances are safe to use.
the purest grades of mineral oil will be used to make cosmetic
products, and where the products are likely to come into contact with
the lips (e.g. lipsticks and lipsalves) then the JECFA Acceptable Daily
Intake values will be adhered to.
In the US, some products
containing mineral oil require child resistant closures. In Europe,
personal care products containing mineral oil have been used safely for
decades and, when stored properly, are safe in the home. As an added
precaution and to facilitate normal use, UK baby oils are packed with a
cap which limits the amount of oil dispensed. To avoid accidental
swallowing, care should be taken to ensure that all products are stored
out of the reach of young children.
* Acceptable Daily Intake or ADI is that amount that you can safely consume each day for life without appreciable risk of harm.
A means of increasing the water content of the skin which helps keep it soft and smooth; a key function of face and body moisturisers
odours have always been very important for the fragrance industry.
Musks were once only obtained from a gland in a particular species of
deer which was in danger of extinction. Synthetic musks were developed
by the fragrance industry as an alternative to the natural musk derived
from animal sources. In fact, musk ingredients were one of the first
synthetic materials used in perfumery. Musks are now synthesised in a
sustainable way. Scientists have been able to identify the molecules
that make the essence of the natural smell and replicate these exactly.
to their widespread use, synthetic musk ingredients have been the
subject of extensive testing, examining both human and environmental
safety. Minute traces of musks have sometimes been detected in human
breast milk and this led to a full review of their safety in cosmetic
products by the European Commission’s independent committee
of scientific experts. This committee concluded on the basis of a full
package of safety data that the synthetic musks which are used in
cosmetic and personal care products are safe for use. In particular, the
opinions of the committee take into account the studies relating to
traces found in breast milk. Those musks typically used in cosmetics are
the synthetic polycyclic musks - HHCB and AHTN, and the nitromusks -
musk xylene and musk ketone.
Musks have also undergone
comprehensive environmental assessments by the Commission’s experts. The
polycyclic musks have been shown to have no environmental impact.
However, despite many years of study and assessments no final decision
has yet been made on the impact of musk xylene. It is still allowed to
be used in consumer products.
Nanotechnology and Nanomaterials
is an exciting and dynamic area of science that offers potential
benefits for the future in many revolutionary ways.
“nano” derives from the Greek word “nanos”, which means dwarf or
extremely small. Today, in science, the term “nano” is used to indicate
an extremely small scale of measurement, the nano-scale, which is around
a billion times smaller than a metre.
- A typical bacteria cell is around 1000 nanometres in size
- The diameter of a human hair is 80,000 nanometres
- An ant is millions of nanometres long
general, a nanomaterial is a material with individual parts or
dimensions on the nano-scale. Certain ingredients used in cosmetics can
now be defined as nanomaterials. These ingredients have been safely used
for many years.
product that does not clog pores. Sometimes comedomes (blackheads and
whiteheads) may form following physical blockage of pores but more often
the reason is related to other factors including a person’s sebum
Created when pores become clogged and blocked with oil secretions and dead skin.
These are clogged pores that remain open and trap dirt.
with a known allergy to certain nuts may wish to avoid products that
contain nut derived ingredients. It is a legal requirement for cosmetic
products to declare their ingredients on the label. The name of each
ingredient has been agreed throughout Europe to help people with
allergies identify and avoid problem ingredients without the necessity
to learn a number of different names for each ingredient. A list is
available to download
of the agreed names for some specific nuts.
is a potent hormone occurring naturally in the body, that has a wide
range of effects in the body. For this reason both natural and synthetic
oestrogens are prohibited from being present in cosmetic products, so
any cosmetic product containing oestrogens would be illegal in the EU.
This ban is one of many strict regulations placed on cosmetic products
by the European Cosmetics Directive
to ensure only safe cosmetics are available on the market.
Orders of magnitude:
are present in the body at different concentrations – some of which are
really low levels, such as in the order of ‘parts per billion’ or ‘ppb’
(1 ppb is the same as 1 second in 30 years); but you also have to
consider how ‘strong’ the effect of the hormone is.
for example is a natural hormone present in the body and is responsible
for controlling sexual development in females. The “oestrogenic effect”
of oestrogen itself is millions of times greater than substances often
accused of being endocrine disruptors.
- Probably the most common
true artificial endocrine disruptors are the contraceptive pill and
hormonal therapies, both of which are readily ingested as a lifestyle
choice or for their therapeutic benefits. Even these substances are
actually much less potent than naturally occurring oestrogens to which
the human body is continually exposed, so they generally need to be
given in high doses in order to achieve their intended effects.
an example of relative strength, or potency, the UV filter
benzophenone-3, which has been accused of being an endocrine disruptor,
is 1.5 million times less potent in its oestrogenic effect than
ethinyloestradiol which is used in oral contraceptives. Looking at this
in another way, if aspirin were 1.5 million times lower in potency, you
would need to consume more than thirteen times your body weight of pure
aspirin at one time just to cure a headache. Clearly, that is not
possible. In exactly the same way, it is not possible to be exposed to
sufficient of these so-called endocrine disruptors to have any
disrupting effect; they are simply too weak.
- Many so-called
‘endocrine disruptors’ (actually endocrine mimics) are abundant in
nature. We ingest them in the food we eat in concentrations many million
times greater than in cosmetics and personal care products. Endocrine
mimics include phytoestrogens – oestrogen-like compounds found in
plants. We eat these in foods such as cabbage, soya beans and sprouts.
No adverse health effects have been associated with these dietary
Palm oil and palm kernel oil are natural oils extracted from the fruit of the Elaeis Guineensis (palm) plant.
2006, the world market for palm oil and palm kernel oil was estimated
to be approximately 40 million metric tons. The vast majority of natural
oils and fats are used in food and for cooking. In the last few years
the biofuels industry has become a major user. Palm oil and its
derivatives have become important ingredients in cosmetic and personal
care products due to the trend towards natural ingredients; but, in
terms of global production volumes of palm oil, our use is very small.
is increasing concern being raised about the global environmental
impact of the use of palm oil as a raw material and sustainable
development is a challenge involving the whole of society. In dialogue
with all social groups, viable and permanent solutions must be sought.
This is why the initiative “Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil” (RSPO)
aims at developing new solutions for sustainably harvesting palm oil
and preventing the destruction of rain forests, especially in Indonesia.
Our industry recognises its responsibility to foster sustainable
business practices throughout the supply chain and welcomes the fact
that such a complex topic is being discussed with all interested parties
in an international dialogue among experts.
For further information please see the RSPO website:
Parabens are a class of substances widely used as preservatives
foods, pharmaceuticals and other household products. They keep products
free from bacteria, moulds and fungi that would otherwise spoil the
product and could cause real harm to the user.
The family of
parabens, which are found naturally in plants and animals as well as
being man-made, are approved for use as preservatives in the European Cosmetics Directive
and have been endorsed by the competent authorities of all member
states. They are among the most widely used of preservatives, having
been in use for more than fifty years with an excellent safety record.
Parts per billion (ppb) and parts per million (ppm)
substances that are considered potentially hazardous when consumed in
large quantities are perfectly safe when used in the tiny amounts found
within cosmetic products. What it all boils down to is dose. Scientists
use units, such as parts per billion and parts per million, when
measuring tiny amounts. 1,000 parts per billion is the same as one part
per million and both equate to approximately one bucketful in 80,000
baths; or a part per billion is equivalent to one second in 30 years.
phthalates make up a family of substances each with its own, unique,
spectrum of properties, united only because they each have a similar
chemical group somewhere in the molecular structure. Some phthalates
will possess useful properties: some phthalates possess undersirable
properties. (In the same way, fungi as a family include both nutritious
mushrooms and poisonous toadstools.) It is therefore quite wrong to
consider all phthalates as the same: they are not.
Some, but by no
means all, members of the phthalate family have been found to be
reprotoxic when tested at high doses in laboratory animals. These
phthalates have been banned from cosmetic
products even though there was no conceivable risk to human health from the low levels used.
phthalates are still allowed to be used in cosmetics and it must be
emphasised that these substances have no reprotoxic properties. The
safety of these specific ingredients is not in dispute amongst the
The main phthalate which may be used in
cosmetics and personal care products, which includes hairsprays, in
Europe is diethyl phthalate (DEP). All scientific reviews to date around
the world by key scientific experts and governmental agencies have
concluded that DEP is safe for use in cosmetics and personal care
products under the current conditions of use. DEP has been reviewed by
the European Commission’s independent scientific expert committee (the
Scientific Committee on Consumer Products, SCCP
most recently in March 2007. The SCCP has positively approved the safe
use of DEP in cosmetic products, and has not deemed it necessary to
impose any specific warnings or restrictions for its use. In fact the
SCCP, as well as confirming the safety of DEP, has acknowledged that
traces of other phthalates (including those that are banned as
ingredients in cosmetic products) might be found to be present in
products due to their other possible uses, such as in packaging for
example. The SCCP states that traces of up to 100 ppm
(parts per million) total or per substance do not indicate a risk to the health of the consumer.
(paraphenylenediamine) is the most widely used permanent hair dye as it
is one of the few dyes that can successfully colour light or grey hair
back to a dark colour. Permanent or oxidative hair colorant products
involve the mixing of the ‘hair dye’ substance (e.g. PPD) with another
substance called a ‘coupler’ immediately before applying to the hair.
The two then react to form the required colour inside the hair itself
and, because the new coloured molecules are too big to get out of the
hair, the colour is ‘trapped’ or permanent until the hair grows or is
naturally shed. These products tend to come in two separate containers
inside the packet.
PPD is the hair dye most often associated with
allergic reactions to hair colorant products. Sensitivity or allergy to
PPD may develop over time, which is why an allergy alert test must be
carried out each time the hair is to be coloured.
The safety of
PPD has been extensively investigated over decades. The European
Commission scientists’ opinion is that PPD is safe for use as a hair
dye, and its use is strictly regulated. At this time, PPD cannot be
replaced in hair colorants: nothing else is as effective and it is safe
when used as directed.
It is often mis-reported that PPD is banned in some European countries. This is not
the case. PPD is allowed for use throughout the European Union according to the requirements of the EU legislation
PPD is sometimes illegally found in temporary skin tattoos
. The use of PPD for this purpose is not
authorised by European cosmetics regulations and European Commission scientists have recommended that PPD should not
be used in temporary tattoos.
are ingredients designed to protect products, and so the consumer,
against contamination by microorganisms during storage and continued
Product safety is the number one priority for the cosmetics
industry and we therefore provide products that have been treated to
prevent contamination by microorganisms. Bacteria, yeasts and moulds are
always present on our skin, in the air around us and even in the water
we drink. These can get into products during normal use. Contamination
of products, especially those used around the eyes and on skin, can
cause significant problems if the level of contamination is high.
Preservatives can prevent these problems by stopping micro-organisms
from multiplying in the product.
Propylene glycol has a long history of safe use. It is used as a humectant
and skin conditioning agent in a very wide range of cosmetic, and
pharmaceutical, products. Its use in such products is without risk of
harm to human health . It is often quoted that this is an ingredient
used in antifreeze. This may or may not be true, but water too is a
component of antifreeze. Neither fact is relevant to cosmetic safety,
just as the corrosive nature of acetic acid is not relevant in its use
as the food ‘vinegar’. In fact this claim about propylene glycol is
often confused with ethylene glycol, which is the main constituent of
common anti-freeze mixtures for motor cars.
Retinol is the alcohol form of vitamin A used in some skin care products to boost cell renewal. It is related to vitamin A.
is the general term covering all forms of vitamin A. The acid
(retinoic acid or vitamin A acid) is prohibited from cosmetic products
under the EU rules
Other forms of vitamin A (retinol and retinyl esters such as retinyl
palmitate and retinyl acetate) are safely used in skin care products to
boost skin cell renewal.
esters such as retinyl palmatate and retinyl acetate are used in some
skin care products to boost skin renewal. They are related to vitamin
Siloxanes, also known as silicones, are synthetic materials with many uses and are found in a variety of consumer products.
basic structure is common to all siloxanes: a backbone of silicon and
oxygen with molecules of carbon and hydrogen attached, all very common
elements found in nature.
Siloxanes have been extensively
studied and safely used for decades, and are commonly found in cosmetics
and personal care products because of the excellent conditioning they
impart to both skin and hair. They may be found in antiperspirants,
sunscreens, shampoos, conditioners, moisturisers and lotions. They
provide important product performance benefits such as facilitating a
smooth texture and an even application. Studies have also shown
siloxanes to be
SLS and SLES
lauryl sulphate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulphate (SLES) are
surfactants (“surface – active agent”: a substance, like a detergent,
which enables a liquid to foam), which are used in many cosmetic
products for its cleansing and emulsifying properties.
old internet rumour is routinely re-circulated, and is often
perpetuated in media articles, alleging that SLS can cause irritation
and may even cause cancer.
Safety is the number one priority for
our industry. All cosmetic products are subject to a rigorous safety
assessment before being sold.
The safety of SLS has not been
questioned by the European Commission, nor its expert advisory committee
(the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety, or SCCS
), nor by any of the member states.
safety and toxicity of this ingredient was reviewed in 1983 by the
Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel of the USA. They concluded
that SLS was safe for use in cosmetic products. This conclusion was
re-confirmed by the CIR in 2002, after an additional 250 scientific
research studies were considered.
Although prolonged contact with
high concentrations may cause irritation, this is not seen at the low
concentrations of SLS used in cosmetics and personal care products, such
as shampoos and toothpastes; which have a long history of in-use
SLS has an excellent safety record and has never been
found to be carcinogenic even though it has been investigated many times
around the world. It is widely used because of its good cleansing
properties and because it combines safety with efficacy. Consumers may
continue to use and enjoy their cosmetic and personal care products with
Sodium laureth sulphate (SLES) is also is used in many cosmetic products for its surfactant
properties. This widely used cleansing agent is perfectly safe for use
on the skin; it is therefore not surprising that other industries would
choose to use this safe, effective and biodegradable cleanser too.
Skin Lightening Products
colour of the skin is determined by a person’s genetic make-up, and it
involves the pigment melanin. Melanin is made by special cells called
melanocytes which can be found in certain layers of the skin. Melanin
production is a complex process. There are two main types of melanin;
that which is brown and black in colour and that which is yellow and
red. The amount of melanin produced, the type of melanin formed and how
it is distributed throughout the skin determines the skin’s colour.
Melanin is also the pigment responsible for the colour of hair.
Some people like to lighten their natural complexion for aesthetic preferences.
Topical skin lightening or whitening products are legally classed as cosmetic products in Europe.
Usually a liquid used to dissolve another substance. Water is a common solvent.
Sun Protection Factor (SPF)
Sun Protection Factor given as a number on the front of a sunscreen
product is an indication of the amount of protection a product provides
against sunburn, which is mainly caused by UVB rays. The SPF number is
an industry initiative that has standardised the way a product’s UVB
protection is indicated throughout Europe and much of the rest of the
The higher the SPF factor the higher the protection and SPF 15 is a recommended minimum.
Sun protection products
is recommended that you use sun protection products as part of a
package of protective measures when you are in the sun and that these
products should have both UVB (indicated by the SPF number and a
15 is recommended) and UVA protection (the UVA protection that a sunscreen provides will be evident on the label
). Never use sun protection products in order to spend longer in the sun.
Further information about damage from UV light and ways to protect yourself in the sun can be found on these websites:
'Surface active agents' are used in cosmetic
products to allow incompatible substances, such as oil and water, to mix together within a product or to dissolve one another.
have many functions including: cleaning agents to dissolve dirt;
suspending agents to keep solid particles from separating out of a
liquid product; boosting foam; and as emulsifiers, enabling oil and
water to mix.
or talcum, is a naturally occurring mineral; it is one of the hydrated
magnesium silicates. Cosmetic talc, which has been safely used for over
75 years, is not the same as industrial talc. Cosmetic talc is prepared
by milling talc from mines specifically selected for the high quality
and purity of the talc seams. In addition, the mined talc is repeatedly
checked for purity before being classified as cosmetic grade.
is no causal link, either theoretical or actual, between cosmetic talc
and cancer, although these unjustified claims are the subject of a
frequently circulated Internet rumour.
covering the manufacture of cosmetic products do allow for the presence
of unavoidable traces, even of banned substances, that cannot
reasonably be removed during the manufacture of ingredients or the
cosmetic product itself, provided they do not cause any harm to the
consumer. All products are thoroughly assessed
by a qualified safety professional. These assessments take into account any traces of substances, however tiny
, so that the products pose no risk to the health of adults or children.
Triclosan is an ingredient used in cosmetic and toiletry
products because of its excellent antibacterial qualities. It is proven
to help enhance oral hygiene through its use in toothpastes and
mouthwashes and personal hygiene through its use in soaps, hand washing
liquids and deodorants. It effectively inhibits the growth of bacteria.
This helps to prevent the spread of germs, reduces the risk of
infections, maintains the oral cavity in good condition and controls
Triclosan is approved for use as a preservative
in all cosmetics (including toothpastes and mouthwashes) by the laws
which control the safety of cosmetics. A full safety file has been
assessed by the independent expert committee of the European Commission
(the Scientific Committee for Consumer Safety, SCCS) and the SCCS has
issued two separate opinions (2009
) supporting the use of triclosan as a safe and effective ingredient in cosmetic products.
fact, triclosan has been studied more extensively than many other
substances, natural or man-made, in use today. Those studies cover the
safety of triclosan to man (including any possible risk of harm to
babies and infants both before, i.e. during pregnancy, and after, i.e.
when breastfeeding, birth), animals and the environment, including
questions about the risk of antimicrobial resistance.
past, however, scientific research into triclosan has been taken out of
context, which has put its safe use into question. One such experiment
artificially created a situation (not replicated in normal consumer use)
where large quantities of triclosan and chlorine were combined and
found to react together to create small amounts of chloroform. From this
it was suggested that the chlorine in tap water might react with
triclosan to produce chloroform. However chemical experts have commented
this type of scenario can be ruled out, and there is no risk to human
A substance that protects the cosmetic
product from the effects of UV-light.
substance that filters certain UV rays in order to protect the skin or
the hair from harmful effects of UVA and UVB rays. All UV filters
allowed for use in cosmetic products in the EU are listed on the
positive list of UV filters (Annex VII of the Cosmetics Directive
of the damage from the sun comes from UV (ultra violet) rays . UV light
is split into UVA, UVB and UVC rays. UVC rays do not normally affect
the skin as they are completely filtered out by the atmosphere before
they reach us. UVB penetrates into the outer layer of the skin and
damages the cells causing the skin to become inflamed or sunburnt. UVA
rays penetrate more deeply causing direct damage to supporting tissues
leading to ageing effects. Both types of rays are attributed to causing
skin cancers of various types.
Vitamin A is available in several forms and one, the acid, is specifically prohibited from use in cosmetics under the EU rules
of its side-effects at high doses. Other forms of vitamin A (retinol
and retinyl esters such as retinyl palmitate and retinyl acetate) are
safely used in skin care products to boost skin cell renewal.
acts on the skin to produce vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for good
health, in particular to maintain healthy bones.
The issue of
vitamin D in health is complicated. However, most people are likely to
have sufficient levels of vitamin D, some of which will have come from
normal exposure to the sun in their everyday lives. It is possible to
get all the vitamin D you need by eating a balanced diet and acting
sensibly in the sun whilst using sunscreens.
When exposed to the
sun it is still important to behave sensibly, and protect the skin from
the harmful effects of UV rays, including the appropriate use of sunscreens
. Cancer Research UK has a site called SunSmart
which gives lots of helpful information.
foods are a source of vitamin D (it is found in eggs, oily fish, fish
liver oils and some fortified cereals) - but this might not suit
everyone's diet. Vitamin D can also be obtained from dietary
Vitamin D exists in different forms. In Europe
vitamin D is not used as an ingredient in cosmetic products as the main
forms are not permitted under EU rules