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Controversial Ingredients: Setting the Record Straight

By: Ada Polla and Anne Pouillot
Posted: January 30, 2012, from the February 2012 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
skin cream

page 9 of 17

Butylene glycol or glycerin easily replace propylene glycol as a solvent to extract plants under the same conditions. Butylene glycol has been shown to have better skin tolerance.27 Oil extracts can also be used if formulating with plants steeped in natural oils, synthetic triglycerides or synthetic fatty esters. Of course, this extraction process should be reserved for plants with liposoluble actives. Solid extracts, obtained by evaporating the solvent, can also be used. These solid extracts remain stable when introduced in the aqueous phase of formulas, yet can lead to the appearance of more- or less-visible particles. A combination of glycerin, jojoba oil and solid plant extracts can be used.

Fragrances and phthalates

Phthalates are composed of a benzene ring and two carboxylate groups in ortho position; the size of the alkyl chain can vary. Phthalates are commonly used to soften plastics. In cosmetics, a single phthalate is used in the United States, Europe and Japan: diethyl phthalate (DEP). The use of DEP prolongs the scent of perfumes, and renders alcoholic products unfit for oral consumption. The use of DEP as an alcohol denaturant also continues to be approved by the U.S. Alcohol Tax & Trade Bureau.28 DEP is also used in nail polish so that the polish does not peel off. Another phthalate, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) is still sometimes used in nail polishes, but because it is prohibited in most countries, its use has been discontinued by many manufacturers.29

Phthalates have a bad reputation because they are accused of being endocrine-disruptors that reduce fertility. They probably should be replaced. Although the Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP) confirmed in 2002 and 2003 that DEP is not an endocrine-disruptor,30, 31 the suspicion of reduced fertility is concerning enough to replace them. Moreover, given that DBP is prohibited in some countries, there is a general mistrust of its use in cosmetic products. Finally, the regulatory environment may be changing. Indeed, the same French bill proposal that would ban parabens would also ban phthalates in all industries.

One available alternative, of course, is to offer fragrance-free products, but many consumers still prefer cosmetic products that smell good. For brand owners who choose to continue to use fragrance, natural fragrances and synthetic fragrances formulated without phthalates are available.32

Ingredient expectations

A number of ingredients have been vilified in the past few years by the media, as well as various activist groups perpetuating ingredient myths. Scientific evidence suggests that some of these ingredients, such as formaldehyde-releasers, should be eliminated from cosmetic formulations. Other ingredients, such as parabens, while safe according to the available scientific data, should be eliminated for commercial reasons, and replaced with less controversial alternatives that are as safe and effective. Finally, some ingredients, such as silicone or fragrances, are adequate for formulation. It is important to work with your skin care suppliers in order to ensure you are retailing and using products that meet your ingredient expectations, as well as those of your clients.


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