Why Vetting Cosmetics Ingredients is a Bad Idea

Over the years, a lot of questions about cosmetics ingredients have been put to me. Being a curious souI, I ask quite a few myself. One of the reasons I started blogging was to collect the results of my research and experiences into a LisaLise Library of Cosmetics Ingredients.

It seemed like a useful thing to do.

"Panthenol? Why yes, you can real about panthenol on my blog" I would find myself replying to ingredients-inquisitive folks.

Having a rudimentary understanding of what you're putting on your skin or hair is not at all a bad thing.


Somewhere along the way – over the past decade or so – it became trendy to hunt for and expose toxins, 'nasties' and 'undesirables' in cosmetics products and place them on watchdog cosmetics ingredients lists.

Some organizations have capitalized on this and created their own 'scientific' databases where consumers can search for almost any ingredient and discover all kinds of 'horrifying truths'.

But let's just stop for a moment.

When you pick apart an entire formula (be it cosmetics or consumables) and focus solely on the possible hazards of individual ingredients, you're really asking for trouble.


Because neither the dose, the synergy of the other ingredients in the formula, nor the production process is taken into account.

This can make for a very very skewed picture.

Allow me to illustrate.

Are You Sure Those Are Safe?!

Let's examine the ingredients for these crispy orange cookies using the 'ingredients-list-watchdog' method.

Ingredients (INCI): Triticum Vulgare, Cocos Nucifera, Sucrose, Aqua, Sodium Bicarbonate, Modified Citrus Pectin, Citrus Aurantium

Here's What We Find When We Check The 'Database'

Flour (INCI: Triticum vulgare)
Ground and processed kernels from the wheat plant. Contains gluten – intolerable by some. Can cause serious health issues if inhaled.
Overall hazard: generally safe, but possible irreparable lung damage with long-term exposure

Coconut Oil (INCI: Cocos nucifera)
Edible oil extracted from coconut meat. Presently undergoing testing for use as possible biofuel, engine lubricant, and transformer oil. Acids derived from this oil are used as herbicides. Commonly used in manufacturing of soap.
Overall hazard: comedogenic. Not suitable for everyone.

Sugar (INCI: sucrose)
Disaccharide of the chemicals glucose and fructose. Crystals can be abrasive to skin, causing micro-scratches on surface layer. The byproducts of production are used to produce paper and insulating board.
Overall hazard: abrasive. Avoid use on face.

Water (INCI: Aqua)
A common chemical also used in industrial cleansers. Prolonged skin contact can cause wrinkling of the skin. Overdose can result in serious bladder conditions and even death.
Overall hazard: generally considered safe, but use with caution

Baking Soda (INCI: Sodium Bicarbonate)
Bicarbonate of soda. Abrasive. Used in garages and households as a cleaning agent. Prolonged skin contact can cause redness, rash and irritation.
Overall hazard: possible allergen, possible cause of contact dermatitis

Pectin (INCI: Modified Citrus Pectin)
Structural heteropolysaccharide extracted from citrus fruits. A bioploymer of d-galacturonic acid used as stabilizer and gelling agent. Regular exposure to the dust can cause asthma.
Overall hazard: likely safe

Orange Peel (INCI: Citrus aurantium)
Contains d-limonene and d-linalool: both possible allergens. Phototoxic: can cause sun sensitization. May cause high blood pressure if mixed with caffeine.
Overall hazard: phototoxic, possibly allergenic

None of the above is incorrect, but the information has been cherry-picked in order to paint a specific picture. 

I'm pretty sure you agree the picture is a little unsettling.

This is the picture being painted by a heck of a lot of the 'ingredients watchdog' organizations I have come across in recent years. The worst part: they are clever enough to throw in a bit of real science here and there to create an overall impression of trustworthiness and reliability.

I have a term for this kind of behavior.

Deliberate Misinformation

Deliberate misinformation is both nasty and dishonest. It manipulates innocent people who are merely looking for guidance and relevant, useful information.

As you can probably gather, I'm not a fan of the practice of purposefully misleading, confusing and scaring the crap out of people.


I find the use of deliberate misinformation abhorrent, utterly unethical, and downright evil.

Now What?!

Should we be conscious of what we apply to our skin and hair (not to mention consume)?


But looking to a 'watchdog database' is a sure-fired path to utter confusion and fear of everything on the planet.

Reject deliberate misinformation!

What to do if you're not a scientist and don't plan on becoming a full-time researcher?

I can only offer a couple of general tips.
  • If you cannot get satisfactory answers about ingredients or production methods from your chosen manufacturer (or their representative), then shop with someone else and kindly let them know why you plan to switch brands. 
  • If you come across a brand promising chemical-free cosmetics: walk away. They either do not know what they are doing or are trying to sell you their products using fear tactics. Everything in a cosmetic is a chemical: even water. 
  • Buy from a company you feel you can trust – and can ask questions. Then ask your questions.

Finally, please take a moment and consider this: what sense would it make if cosmetics companies were trying to kill off their customers by producing and selling toxic products?

None whatsoever.

No one – not the big guys and not even the companies who work solely with petrochemical ingredients – are out to poison their customers.


Now, go forth in peace.

Some Reliable Sources of Information About Cosmetics Ingredients and Manufacturing Processes

Still dead set on vetting ingredients? It's ok, just choose reliable sources. I've listed a few below.

You will probably note some of the most commonly known and widely used cosmetics ingredients databases are not anywhere in sight on this list.

That's not because I forgot them.

It's because they don't belong on this list.

Colins Beauty Pages
Beauty Brains
Realize Beauty

If you want to read more from me, here is an overview of the cosmetics ingredients I have written about on this blog

Do Tell

Do you feel you have to vet every ingredient in your cosmetics products? Do you have any additional (reliable) sources of cosmetics ingredients information? Please share in a comment below. 


Marianne said…
Thank you for the great links!
Pepper7 said…
Lisa, I love this article ! I couldn't agree more. I shared the link on FB and twitter. Thank you for another well written, insightful post ! Margi
Unknown said…
Amen! I have suspected this all along. I'm sharing this information. Thank you `<3
Unknown said…
Lisa, you make many good observations. Though I doubt any company is trying to kill is consumers. More likely some try to maximize their profits with little concern for the potential risks created as a result.

Chidi Beauty | Green beauty for all skin tones
LisaLise said…
@Marianne - Thank you! I hope they help!

@Pepper7- Thanks for sharing this Margi! I appreciate it. :)

@Jackie Mayse - Wonderful! Let's spread some good news around - much better than fearmongering!

@ChidiBeauty - While I agree that companies are trying to maximize their profits (anything else would not make good business sense), I cannot agree with your standpoint of them taking 'little concern for potential risks'. Companies NEED to consider the potential risks as they want to put a successful (safe and effective) product onto the market. It's OK to go green with cosmetics (I've been calling myself a greenie for ages), but it is NOT OK to diss others to sell your own products. Perspective, please :)
Unknown said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said…
Oh yes, of course they must consider risks! The law requires it to a certain extent. Once that threshold is met, anything more is left to the discretion of the brand. I look forward to the day when brands stop using fearmongering as a marketing tactic.

Chidi Beauty | Green beauty for all skin tones
M Konnerth said…
Thank You Thank You Thank You!! I couldn't agree with you more and Applaud the brilliant way you wrote this article!
I hope it's ok with youvif we share!!
LisaLise said…
Hi M Konnerth - thank you for your very kind words! You are welcome to share :)
Beauty Botanica said…
Thank you so much for this post, I had to share it to a skincare group I belong to, I'm sure a lot of the members need to read as well.
Linda Jakubus said…
It's so heartening to see such a well-written and balanced piece! You shed a lot of light on the ugly side of skin care: fearmongering. It's rampant and never backed by credible science.
Unknown said…
Great article and it is very timely.

As a Formulator, I will often create a product for a client that complies with an accepted natural standard using ECOCERT materials. The client will love the product and we will go forward toward manufacturing.

Then weeks later I will get a harried email. "Blogger123 says that the raw materials we are using don't sound natural" or "I want to know everything about the materials and so, can you get the company to send me information about how they are produced?"

All this detracts from the true focus of marketing a safe and effective product. I enjoyed your breakdownof the cookie as it really shows how quickly this "research" can get out of hand.
LisaLise said…
Hi Beauty Botanica - you are welcome to share this post far and wide, and thank you for your kind comment.
LisaLise said…
Thank you kindly Linda. I hope it is of help to folks! :)
LisaLise said…
Hi Mark - thanks for your comment. I feel your pain about the production problems and hitches because of misinformation!
Unknown said…
As usual, I agree with everything you said. Great article, Lise. I'll be sharing this on my "other" FB page!
LisaLise said…
Thank you Michelle - I hope the information is helpful!
Kirsten Connor said…
Hi Lise-
I love everything about this article. The tone, the simplicity and the fact that it really shows once and for all how silly it is to pick apart ingredients without having the full picture.
May I share?

LisaLise said…
Thank you for your kind words Kirsten. You are welcome to share this article by posting a link to it. Sorry to put up rules here, but this entire article was recently plagiarised by someone who thought it was ok to copy paste it and put their own name on it, so I would request it be shared by posting a link to this page. Thank you for wanting to spread this message. :)
sgopalak said…
Hi Lisa
While I commend the spirit with which you have written this article, I still think it is very important for consumers to become smarter in choosing both food and bath and body products. A couple of examples: artificial food coloring. There are now a ton of products that have food coloring. Three of these dyes that are used widely in the US have benzidene which a study published in an NIH paper shows to be a human and animal carcinogen. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2957945/

The FDA of course approves of this to be used because the concentration is too low to cause harm. Which is the same argument used to permit the use of lead acetate in a men's hair product to cover grey. There are scientific papers written that conclude there is NO safe level of exposure to lead.
Although most of the Questionable ingredients are present in low concentrations, the lack of transparency in labeling products and the absence of audits in the bath and body industry, exposes consumes to risks - and given that the combination of multiple food and bath and body products consumed, concern about the cumulative impact of the effects of these substances on health is understandable. In my opinion, it is the responsibility of consumers to vet out what is in food and other products to ensure safety, ethical practices in mass manufacturing especially when it comes to children. The truth is we will never be able to isolate a health issue to a certain ingredient. But like you say, the way everything we put in our bodies can interact with each other, how they build up due to cumulative effects etc. are common sense concerns.

I do agree that consumers must get smart about vetting out scientific studies from alarmist blogs or websites written by people who have no formal training or credibility in health or chemistry. Just because this needs more effort does not imply consumers can blindly consume if they have any regard for what they are putting in their bodies. This article in the Scientific American illustrates the impact consumers can have on changing the way big companies approach what they put in their products. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/does-artificial-food-coloring-contribute-to-adhd-in-children/

Thanks for reading my long comment!
LisaLise said…
Hi Sgopalak - Thanks for your input. I do not disagree with you. I believe it is a wise consumer who educates themself about ingredients in consumables and cosmetics. The problem is, this is not as easy as we woould all like it to be. My main complaint is when people 'religiously' rely on ingredients databases that are NOT providing the full picture and designed to confuse and frighten. I believe consumers can make a difference by demanding safe products, but they deserve to be properly educated - not fed propaganda.
sindhu said…
Well written article!Some times i get frustrated with the fear mongering. Looks like it is going to stay. I will just direct them to your article.

sindhu surapaneni
LisaLise said…
Hello Sindhu and thank you kindly for your comment. Yes, I'm afraid the fearmongering seems to be alive and kicking still...
Laurie said…
Okay you got me - laying off those cookies. Knew they were bad for me!😆