Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Is your lotion safe?

Brad Arsenault, Cofounder Shaw Treatment

Toronto, Ontario. Recently, we had the opportunity to visit the National Women's Show, which was held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre from October 27-29, 2006. As a guy attending the show, I found it to be quite enlightening. Attending a show such as this one, provides some wonderful insights into the female psyche and behavior. To site an example, the behavior of lining up for free things. Although, this is not a unique female behavior, the desire to line-up for some sample make-up, or Biore pore cleansing strips still baffles me.

Now that my wife and I are members of the beauty care industry and designing and marketing our own line of body care products through Shaw Treatment, we have become very aware of what many consumers may not be aware of - that is, exactly what's in the lotions, and body butters and other beauty care products women and men buy and use on a daily basis.

What first threw us, and certainly not just at the Women's Show, but at other shows as well, are the sheer number of product labels, producers and sales people that misinform consumers about the products they're selling. The phrases, "All Natural", "100% Natural", or "Organic" have become common marketing lines to grab our attention. But how true are those phrases? Are they simply marketing tricks designed to prey on consumers that may not otherwise know the difference? Besides, there are so many ingredients available to industry producers, how can consumers truly be informed about the products they buy and what's in them.

In an effort to understand the business and industry that we've become a part of, we've spent countless hours researching our ingredients and other competitors ingredients, visiting trade shows, talking with our supplier and reviewing the facts about the many ingredients that go into the lotions and other products that we all use everyday.

Let's start with SLS. It's so common to see products on store shelves and at local trade shows that love to add the phrase, "SLS Free" to their labels and advertising. But what is SLS? Its scientific name is Sodium Laurel Sulphate or Sodium Laureth Sulphate. It's found in a variety of different products in the beauty care industry. It's a surfactant. As a non-scientist, my reaction went like this, " a sur-what-ant"?

Here's the Wikipedia definition. "Surfactants are wetting agents that lower the surface tension of a liquid, allowing easier spreading, and lower the interfacial tension between two liquids." The term surfactant is the combination of the term (in case you care) - Surface Active Agent. In simple terms (mostly for me), what surfactants really do is allow oil and water to mix and stay together. They also allow the product you're using to spread over your skin evenly.

But are the rumours about SLS being a cancer causing agent true? For the answer we turned to a few sources. Our research included information from, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), our supplier, the Health & Beauty Association and a final source on-line that has been quoted by several sites, the PathGuy.com (a site devoted to Pathology by Ed Friedlander, MD). In a 'nut-shell', according to both the FDA and Dr. Friedlander, a nasty article was printed about SLS a few years ago. Thanks to the Internet the article was circulated to people all over the world. Unfortunately, the article was hoax and was based on a study that involved SLS. Although the study was real, the report itself perpetuated a continuing stream of misinformation that led to the hoax. There currently is no evidence to support that SLS is anything more than a harsh surfactant.

SLS may dry out our skin and may even cause some skin sensitivity, but that's about it. So those people who have skin sensitivities might consider staying clear of SLS.

The next set of ingredients include the various members of the Paraben family. They include; methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben. Less common parabens include isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, and benzylparaben. According to one of our suppliers as well product specifcation sheets and the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS's), the parabens are in fact carcinogenic or cancer causing agents. Parabens are commonly used as preservatives. They are in fact excellent preservatives, but unfortunately, the side effects won't preserve your skin. Consumers are probably right to avoid contact with products containing parabens. So why does the industry choose to use them so often? The answer is simple, they're cheap! That's the economics behind the use of parabens. Unlike other preservatives considered to be safe, or safer such as natural coconut oil or Vitamin E or C, in comparison the various parabens are quite cheap. In a business world where margins are everything and a few cents per unit can make or break a deal, parabens come in handy.

So where does this leave us? As we as consumers become more educated about the products we all buy, producers and marketers (including us) are going to be forced to acknowledge that ingredients are more than a 'skin deep' issue. When we at Shaw Treatment, set out to develop our line of products it became our goal to create as natural a line as possible where ingredients such as SLS and the various parabens were not used. So far so good. But there is a fine line producers and companies walk when it comes to claiming their products are "All Natural," or "100% Organic."

Although, there are some excellent all natural products available on the market, that contain very few or no preservatives at all, they tend to be rather expensive, since the natural and organic ingredients they use are often quite expensive. Consumers should also note that some of these natural or organic products may require refrigeration in order to keep them fresh. If it's organic you're hunting for, be sure to check whether the producer or company is marketing a specific ingredient that happens to be organic, or if all the ingredients are organic. Canada's Organic Products Regulations and various provincial regulations have all set some very strict guidelines and licensing for what can be called 'Organic.' If it's organic you want you should look for the ORGANIC Canada symbol when searching for products.

Whether visiting beauty care booths at trade shows or perusing the handsomely packaged products at a local body care shop, consider turning the product over to have a look at what's in it. After all, whatever is in your lotion, will eventually end up in your body! Our skin absorbs whatever we put on it - just like a sponge. So beware of labels and sales people that claim the product you just tried is 'All Natural' or 'Organic.' Flip that bottle and read it. If you don't know how to pronounce it - ask. Just as workers have a right to know what chemicals they work with through WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) education, we as consumers have a right to know what it is we're putting on our skin.

For more information on the above ingredients or on the general ingredients found in your lotions, visit www.shawtreatment.com

Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association - http://www.ctfa.org

US Food and Drug Administration - http://fda.gov

Canada Food Inspection Agency - http://www.inspection.gc.ca

Dr. Friedlander - http://www.pathguy.com

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