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Deciphering Organic, Part 1

By: Leslie Lyon and Marilyn Patterson
Posted: January 29, 2010, from the February 2010 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
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Patterson: Parabens are a group of molecules that act as preservatives in cosmetic and skin care products. They have been grouped together by the media, but each type of paraben has different properties regarding solubility and shape/binding properties. Some forms can exist in nature; for example, blueberries contain natural parabens. Parabens hit the news when a study was released that found parabens in breast tumor tissue. The extrapolation was made that the parabens must have migrated into breast tissue from underarm deodorant or antiperspirants, and that they had a causal effect on the tumor formation. The study was small and not definitive, so there has been much controversy about it. Some parabens are very weakly binding to estrogen-binding sites in tissue. The worry is that they will exert an effect on breast tumor cells or any other estrogen-sensitive tissue to increase tumor growth. It could be that in the future, there may or may not be a scientific basis for this health scare. The data is not clear at the present time.

Much of the marketing of natural products is based on what they do not contain, although this practice is often frowned upon since it gives the impression that the materials are bad, stirring up hype and often giving a negative impression about safe materials. “Paraben-free” is one example. People have recognized that preservatives, fragrance and color ingredients have the highest potential for allergenicity, so marketing professionals target these types of ingredients, as well.

Lyon: What is biodynamic farming, and what is the difference between it and organic farming?

Patterson: Organic farming is concerned with the chemicals that are used to help grow crops, prepare fields and control pests. Only natural and environmentally safe chemicals can be used, and composted material plays a large factor in the preparation of the field. Biodynamic agriculture considers the farm to be a self-contained entity. There is a strong correlation between the crops, livestock, careful maintenance of the soil and recycling of nutrients in order to maintain an ongoing, pristine quality compost and astronomical sowing and planting calendar based on the phases of the moon.

Lyon: How do you decide if an ingredient can be used in a natural or organic skin care product?