As US senators call for more regulation in the cosmetics industry over the pond, one formulator reveals the ingredients you need to know about

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No matter what your take was on Brexit, there’s a lot to be said for EU regulation when it comes to the beauty market. The European Union has reviewed ingredients contained in personal care products for decades to verify their safety, prohibiting the use of over 1,300 individual cosmetic ingredients, from additives in your hair dye to chemicals in your shampoo; yet elsewhere, other governing bodies are falling behind.

While here in the UK the use of microbeads in cosmetics is currently causing an outcry (and not before time, may we add... but more on that later), over in the US there’s a renewed spotlight on the safety of everything from deodorant to hair products, where outdated 80-year-old legislation means the FDA has only banned or restricted 11 substances .

A new bill, the Personal Care Products Safety Act has been brought forward by senators Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, proposing a shake-up of the current system which is significantly behind the likes of the EU and Canada. Under the proposal, the FDA would study a minimum of five different chemicals over year to evaluate their safety, with the first five including those that have already caused concern among consumers; they’d also have the authority to force recalls of dangerous products.

Brands are just as keen as the consumers to have clearer, safer regulations

Most telling is that the bill has the support of the cosmetic industry; large companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble have already pledged their backing alongside other health groups - a sign that the brands are just as keen as the consumers to have clearer, safer regulations.

As Gregg Renfrew, founder and CEO of Beautycounter wrote in Business of Fashion :

“A growing force of new, socially-minded businesses are solving problems in new ways and earning the support of today’s ethically-conscious millennial consumers. We have pioneered safer standards in beauty because it is the right thing to do, and because it is good for our business as well. Entrepreneurism, at its best, solves problems — rather than lobbying to avoid them, as many traditional beauty brands do.”

What’s more, Renfrew writes that women in particular need to be the focus of the demand for change:

“Peer-reviewed scientific literature shows that reducing daily exposure to certain harmful chemicals presents a major opportunity for reducing the chance of future health problems, from certain cancers to reproductive issues. Major professional health organisations, such as The Endocrine Society, have sounded the alarm on the hormone-disrupting ingredients found in many products. For this reason, I see the need for action as urgent. This is not a cosmetics or personal care industry issue; this is a women’s health issue.”

Until legislation catches up, however, it’s down to the consumer to be as discerning as ever when picking their products and the ingredients within them. Pedro Catala , cosmetologist, pharmacist and founder of Twelve Beauty shares his top five ingredients that are good for your skin and the five you should avoid at all costs...

The ingredients to say ‘yes’ to:


Antioxidants protect the skin by limiting the production of free radicals, which can damage skin cells - the real reason for skin ageing. Antioxidants are essential in our beauty routine as they are powerful age-delaying tools. They have other properties such soothing, toning and giving a healthy glow to our skin.


The fact that it doesn’t contain any glycerine makes it a unique oil, in fact from a chemical perspective it is a liquid wax. Due to this characteristic it’s easily absorbed by the skin and it is highly compatible with human sebum, as it’s so similar. It is packed with natural antioxidants that avoid easy degradation. The name “liquid gold” couldn’t be more deserved.

MORE GLOSS: The anti-ageing ingredients that actually work


It is a natural jellifying agent, soluble in water. It is obtained from fermented corn starch with the help of friendly bacteria . It “swells” in contact with water and creates very stable gels.


A sustainable ingredient rich in flavonoids, phenolic acids, and iridoids (natural antioxidants). It provides skin lightening (reduces sun and age spots), and helps to minimise the aspect of acne scars while evening skin tone.


A glucose-containing sugar derivative found widely in plants. You might have spotted it on labels as “cetearyl glucoside” which is an emulsifier with moisturising properties. Sugar derivatives represent a clever way to hydrate the skin.

The ingredients to say ‘no’ to:


Chelating agents are classified as skin irritants so if you have sensitive skin you are quite likely to react to them. They help to inactivate metallic ions (impurities) to prevent the deterioration of cosmetic products. These metallic impurities are quite common in naturally derived ingredients. If they are not deactivated they can discolour, reduce clarity of a shampoo or toner, make the cream go rancid, affect the fragrance and can even affect the stability of the foam in a cleansing product. How to spot them on the label: EDTA (synthetic) and Sodium Phytate, Phytic Acid, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate. Try to avoid them if you can. As a formulator I advise not to use them and only work with the purest ingredients. Even the water I use is medicinal grade water!

MORE GLOSS: The ingredients to avoid if you have sensitive skin


Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (FRPs) are common synthetic ingredients found mainly in nail polish and body/shampoo washes. They can be an irritant; they act as anti-bacterial agents. The main ones are: quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bromopol).


In recent years there have been several studies assessing the safety of nanomaterials, creating a big debate within the general public on whether to use them or to avoid them. The idea of nanomaterials was to create ingredients so small that they should be able to penetrate deeper into the skin. In my opinion if it penetrates deeper it should be classified as a medicine and not a cosmetic product. What happens if a cell renewal booster encounters a cancer cell in our body, which our white cells in normal circumstances will destroy? Cosmetic products shouldn’t go beyond the epidermis.


A natural preservative found even in food and drinks which can be an irritant. My advice is to try before you buy, especially if you suffer from sensitive skin.


One of the classic natural ingredients that has been found recently to be an irritant in rinse-off products, but safe as a moisturising leave-on product.

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