The Osmia Tox Screen: The What and Why of Ingredients We Don't Use in Our Products

by Sarah Villafranco, MD /

When I worked in the ER, we ordered something called a "tox screen" on patients who came in intoxicated, confused, unconscious (see below), or otherwise non-communicative. The purpose of the tox screen was to see if a patient had any toxins, like barbiturates or cocaine, in his or her system, as it would help us understand the patient's condition more fully. (The patient below did not have any illegal drugs in her system, by the way.)

We now use this term, Tox Screen, on our packaging in a more positive way: it's a quick way for you to see what you will not find in our products. Below, I'll try to summarize the reasons why we don't use them. It's not just because we're avoiding negative buzz words: it's because there's some real science evolving about the effects of these ingredients on humans, plants, animals, and the environment, and we are committed to keeping all of those things as healthy as possible!

Why we don't use....

Parabens

Parabens are used as preservatives in most conventional personal care products. You'll find methylparaben, butylparaben, and propylparaben - all members of the paraben family. They are very effective in preventing microbial growth in products. This is why they're so popular, especially in companies with very large distributions, as their products can stay on shelf for years. Unfortunately, there is mounting evidence to show that the paraben family of preservatives interferes with natural hormone levels in humans and animals. Specific studies have shown decreased menstrual cycle length in women with high urinary paraben concentrations, and decreased birth weight and gestational age of babies born to mothers with high concentrations of certain parabens in their blood. (See articles 2-6 below.) Of course, it's important that your skincare products remain safe, but we prefer to do this in healthier ways than using parabens.

Phthalates

Phthalates are used in many pesticides, in certain plastics to make them flexible, and in fragrance to make it last longer. They can be absorbed through the lungs, the intestines, the skin, and through the blood stream via IV tubing. Even if you make a conscious effort to avoid them, you probably have detectable levels in your urine. It's a concerning phenomenon because phthalates are xenoestrogens, meaning that they act like estrogen in the body, disrupting our normal hormone cycles. They are being increasingly linked to obesity, breast cancer, thyroid dysfunction, and reproductive anomalies. (See articles 1,2,3, and 6 below.)

Sulfates

Sulfates in personal care products are used as foaming agents, prevalent in sudsy things like shampoos, laundry detergents, and even toothpaste. The main reason we don't use sulfates in our products is that they are often dermal irritants, especially sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). Then there's sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), which can be slightly gentler on the skin, but it's been ethoxylated, and that's a whole new can of worms - see below. Both SLS and SLES are on the no-no list for people with perioral dermatitis, and since that's one of our specialties, we think it's best to leave them out entirely.

Petrochemicals

Lots of petrochemicals, like petroleum jelly and mineral oil, are used in personal care products to protect the skin and prevent water loss. They are readily available as byproducts of the petroleum industry. We avoid petroleum-based ingredients, in part, because we'd like to do our share to decrease dependence on that industry. But, petroleum-based ingredients often have comedogenic (pore-blocking) properties. Since our skin is an exchange organ, and both mineral oil and petroleum jelly block that exchange, we don't think they are the healthiest choices. This category also includes phenoxyethanol, a preservative approved for use in organic products, but still a petroleum-derived and ethoxylated ingredient. We do use plastic packaging (BPA-free) for a few products where the ingredients needs to be protected from light and contamination, but we use an Ecocert-compliant pump that is all plastic (no metal spring) making it completely recyclable.

Ethoxylated Ingredients

Ethoxylation is a process by which a substance (like a fatty alcohol or a phenol) is treated with ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen. It's a process that has been used ubiquitously in the cosmetic industry to create ingredients that enhance penetration and help stabilize emulsions. One of the by-products of ethoxylation is 1,4-dioxane, which is another carcinogen, and a probable contaminant in any product that contains ethoxylated ingredients. It's readily absorbed through the skin and into fetal blood supply and breast milk, could affect developing cells, and possibly cause malignant transformation. It's also a significant environmental and groundwater contaminant, and causes mutations in multiple other species. (See articles 3 and 7 below.) It's hard to identify all the things that are ethoxylated (many of the ingredients are sneaky), but here are a few: ingredients with words that end in "eth", polysorbates, "emulsifying wax", phenoxyethanol, and ingredients that have "PEG" in the name.

Synthetic Color

FD&C colors, also called food coloring, are dyes that have been approved for food, drug, and cosmetic use by the FDA. Unfortunately, questions are starting to arise about their toxicity (see article 8 below) and most of them are petroleum-derived. Colorants serve no purpose in skincare products like lotions and creams, so we don't see a reason to use them at all in those products. In our soaps, we love using natural powders and clays, with exfoliating or skin-softening benefits, to create subtle and beautiful colors. We'll leave the technicolor rainbow soaps to someone else.

Synthetic Fragrance

Fragrance is a broad category that we avoid for several reasons. First, it can be listed as a single ingredient without listing all the components it comprises. This is concerning because most synthetic fragrance contains both petrochemicals and phthalates, and some have hundreds of components! Second, fragrance is highly allergenic, and can cause severe headaches and dermatitis for the chemically sensitive. Third, the nature of synthetic fragrance is somewhat contrary to our whole philosophy here at Osmia: nothing in nature smells exactly the same for days on end, and we don't want you to either! Our products are here to remind you to sense your life's moments while they're happening. We hope you'll learn to enjoy the subtle shifts in scent as the essential oils in your products change with your body chemistry over time.

If this list makes sense to you, and you'd like to avoid the categories listed above, here's a quick-reference graphic of ingredients to avoid.

  

With love and a healthier world from us to you,

Sarah + The Osmia Crew 

References:

1.

Early Phthalates Exposure in Pregnant Women Is Associated with Alteration of Thyroid Hormones.

 

Huang PC, Tsai CH, Liang WY, Li SS, Huang HB, Kuo PL.

 

PLoS One. 2016 Jul 25;11(7):e0159398. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0159398. eCollection 2016.

2.

Cytochrome P450-inhibitory activity of parabens and phthalates used in consumer products.

 

Ozaki H, Sugihara K, Watanabe Y, Ohta S, Kitamura S.

 

J Toxicol Sci. 2016;41(4):551-60. doi: 10.2131/jts.41.551.

3.

Endocrine disrupting chemicals and endometriosis.

 

Smarr MM, Kannan K, Buck Louis GM.

 

Fertil Steril. 2016 Jul 15. pii: S0015-0282(16)61389-4. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2016.06.034. [Epub ahead of print] Review.

4.

Association between paraben exposure and menstrual cycle in female university students in Japan.

 

Nishihama Y, Yoshinaga J, Iida A, Konishi S, Imai H, Yoneyama M, Nakajima D, Shiraishi H.

 

Reprod Toxicol. 2016 May 14;63:107-113. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2016.05.010. [Epub ahead of print]

5.

Association of birth outcomes with fetal exposure to parabens, triclosan and triclocarban in an immigrant population in Brooklyn, New York.

 

Geer LA, Pycke BF, Waxenbaum J, Sherer DM, Abulafia O, Halden RU.

 

J Hazard Mater. 2016 Mar 11. pii: S0304-3894(16)30250-3. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2016.03.028. [Epub ahead of print]

6.

Association of environmental chemicals & estrogen metabolites in children.

 

Ihde ES, Loh JM, Rosen L.

 

BMC Endocr Disord. 2015 Dec 17;15:83. doi: 10.1186/s12902-015-0079-1. Erratum in: BMC Endocr Disord. 2016;16:6.

7.

Carcinogenicity studies of 1,4-dioxane administered in drinking-water to rats and mice for 2 years.

 

Kano H, Umeda Y, Kasai T, Sasaki T, Matsumoto M, Yamazaki K, Nagano K, Arito H, Fukushima S.

 

Food Chem Toxicol. 2009 Nov;47(11):2776-84. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2009.08.012. Epub 2009 Aug 22.

8.
Potera C. DIET AND NUTRITION: The Artificial Food Dye Blues.Environmental Health Perspectives. 2010;118(10):A428.

Leave a Comment

Thank you! Love your products SO much!!! Would love to know what hair and makeup products you recommend as well. I use cleaner brands such as Living Proof (for hair) and Josie Maran (for makeup) but any suggestions are welcome. Thank you for all you do!!

Danielle on August 23, 2016

Such an amazing article!!! Thank you for the precious information.
Love all things Osmia <3

Alex on August 10, 2016

I love that Osmia doesn’t use any of these potentially harmful ingredients – thanks for sharing more about them! I’m always learning so much from you guys!

please come visit me sometime :) http://storybookapothecary.com

Tianna on August 10, 2016

Wow! This is one of the best articles I’ve read on ingredients to avoid and why. Thanks Sarah!

Amy on August 10, 2016

FANTASTIC article! informative yet evidence based! Thank you Dr Sarah! I also just received my new Athleta catalogue in the mail and got a kick out of your feature! You and your girls look stunning! Thank you for all you do! Power to the she! (and paws :)

Danielle on August 10, 2016