Here's how to find out what you're really putting on your skin

We generally expect that the cosmetics and skin care products we buy comply with government labelling regulations. So we then hope to understand exactly what we are absorbing through our skin into our blood stream. But how much do we really know?

A recent Facebook post by prominent Melbourne Make Up Artist, Wanda Waller, has stirred up a lot discussion and controversy about an iconic Australian brand. Wanda told her followers that the base ingredient of the product is petroleum jelly, sparking surprise, dismay and widespread sharing of her post. How is it that so many people didn’t know this?

The answer lies in the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989. Under the Act, goods listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods are required only to name the active (therapeutic) ingredients and their quantity on the product packaging. There is no requirement to list all ingredients, other than a limited list of excipient (filler) substances, of which petroleum jelly is not one. Follow this link for more information.

I did some market research today and am pleased to see that the company is now listing their ingredients on their website. I am not sure if they plan to extend this policy to their product packaging.

Whilst out and about I took the opportunity to have a look at the baby care section in shops. Wow, there is a mountain of choice for parents out there! But mostly choices to be made with little information about the ingredients a product contains because they only need to list the active ones.

It is not my purpose to examine the merits or otherwise of individual ingredients, rather to explain the process for finding out what the ingredients are. Here is a simple 5 step strategy:

  1. Have a look at the product packaging. Does it list Active ingredients? These are most often expressed as a percentage like Ingredient X 15% w/w or a ratio like Contains Ingredient X 500 mcg/g
  1. If active ingredients are listed, does the packaging provide full ingredient information under an Ingredients heading?
  1. If not, is the ingredient listing available on the company’s website?
  1. If the company does not list its ingredients, are there other sites with this information? Try searching for Product (name) ingredients.
  1. If you are still unable to find the information, contact the company directly and ask for a complete ingredients listing.

The good news is that cosmetic (ie. non-therapeutic) labelling regulations in Australia require that all ingredients for a product are listed on packaging in descending order of quantity. It is simply a matter of pronouncing and interpreting the bewildering lexicon - Dimethicone, BHT, DMDM Hydantoin, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Decyl Cocoate as examples.

A three step strategy for understanding the ingredients in your cosmetics is:

  1. Look specifically for products listing ingredients in plain English
  1. For products listing complicated ingredients, do an internet search for a definition
  1. Check a number of websites for differing views on the benefits and risks of particular ingredients.

Never in history has there been such an abundance of variety and choice in what to eat, what to wear, where to travel, and what to put on our skin. It is sometimes overwhelming and imposes a great responsibility on each of us to make informed choices for our own good, the good of our family and the health of our world.





Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published