Many members of our Facebook community have commented how they would love to understand how to read labels and learn the secret to determining just how much of each ingredient is in a product.  With the plethora of cosmetics on the market each with their own intricacies to fathom, I thought we would start this education journey by unlocking the secrets of  moisturising creams.

When it comes to creams/lotions/moisturisers they basically have 4 main components –

1 Water
2 Oils/butters
3 Emulsifiers
4 Miscellaneous (Preservatives / Essential oils/fragrance/ Herbal extracts/vitamins)

Now oil and water don’t mix – that’s basic science.  So, to overcome this problem cosmetic formulators use an emulsifier to bind the oil and water molecules together and stop the two “layers” from separating.

The most common emulsifiers you will find on an ingredients panel are listed beow. (Note: there are ten of thousands of chemicals in the world so I have chosen to list the main emulsifiers in use today by both true organic cosmetics and mainstream”unsafe” cosmetics only.)

Those highlighted in red are ingredients which have been through the ethoxylation process.  Products and formulas containing PEGs should not be used on broken or irritated skin.  Ethoxylates can contain harmful impurities, including: 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen and Ethylene Oxide.  PLEASE AVOID THE INGREDIENTS IN RED.

For more information concerning the danger of ethoxylates (banned from true organic products ) please read this expose produced by the organic consumers organization in the US, plus the fact sheet which explains the risks.

Candelilla wax
Caprylic/capric triglyceride
Carnubba Wax
Ceteareth -12 or 20 or 25 or 30
Cetearyl Alcohol
Cetearyl Alcohol (and) Ceteareth-25
Cetearyl Alcohol (and) Polysorbate 60
Cetearyl Alcohol and PEG-20 Stearate
Cetearyl Olivate (and) Sorbitan Olivate
Ceteth – 2 or 10 or 20
Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate
Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-30 Stearate
Isoceteh -20
Laureth -2 or 4 or 9 or 23
Oleth – 5 or 10 or 20
Palmitic Acid
PEG 20 Methyl Glucose Sesquistearate  (I have seen this on labels without the PEG 20 reference but IS a PEG)
PEG-8 or 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 or 100  Stearate
PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate (and) Polyglyceryl-10 Laurate
Sodium Stearoyl Glutamate
Sorbitan Stearate (and) PEG – 20 Methyl Glucose Sesquistearate
Steareth -2 or 10 or 20 or 100
Steareth-10 (and) Steareth-2)
Steareth-2 (and) PEG-8 Distearate
Steareth-21 (Steareth-100 (and) Steareth-20
Stearic Acid

Each of these emulsifying ingredients has a specific “oil uptake ratio”, in other words the percentage of oil and water each specific wax can combine based on % of its own weight used in the product does vary but generally we could say

High viscosity (thick cream)  approx 6 – 10%

Low viscosity (thinner cream/lotion)   4 – 6%

Of course, this is a guide only and not to be taken as definitive.  There are many variables – less wax could be compensated for by the addition of gums and thickeners for example.

Humectants/Manufactured Oils

While not emulfisiers, these are often added in quite large numbers in a product to thicken and give good skin feel often replacing true cold pressed oils.

Glycerine 2-5% May be animal or plant derived.  If from plants will generally be made from palm oil
Cetearyl ethylhexanoate (formerly known as cetearyl octaonate) common name “PurCellin oil”.(trade name Tegosoft liquid) up to 25% This is a laboratory duplication of the oil produced by ducks to preen their feathers (ie synthetic) – certainly not a  “vegetable oil” as listed on some labels. In fact, it contains no oil at all, it is an ester designed to be oil free.

Typical concentrations of Vitamins:

Many people buy products because of the claims of “added vitamins”. Consumers believe these products must somehow be worth extra money because of the vitamins.  Please understand that vitamins added to products are generally synthetic.  Also, the concentration of these “vitamins” is so small as to make their presence in a product of negligible benefit.

dl-α- Tocopherol Acetate (synthetic) Vitamin E 0.05 to 0.2 %t Synthetic vitamin E  contains eight different isomers, of which only one (about 12 percent of the synthetic molecule) is identical to natural vitamin E. The other seven isomers range in potency from 21 percent to 90 percent of natural d-alpha-tocopherol.  It has been clinically proven to be far less effective which is why it costs a fraction of the price of natural vitamin E
D-a-Tocopherol (natural) Vitamin E 0.05 to 0.2 % Natural vitamin E contains alpha-tocopherol exclusively in an active form.
Vitamin C or Sorbic acid maximum of 0.5% Levels higher than 0.5% cause extreme irritation and/or dermatitis.
DL-Panthenol  (Pro-Vitamin B5) (synthetic) 0.5 – 1% Insufficient evidence to Rate Effectiveness for skin problems,  hair loss & dandruff – ie what it is commonly claimed to benefit.

How to Apply this knowledge:

So, now that you know what the emulsifiers & humectants are, check to see where they fall in the ingredient panel.  If they are listed as number two (after water), then you know that everything that falls below that ingredient is in the product at a smaller percentage than the emulsifier (ie, less than 4 or 6%)

To help narrow it down further you need to check for the presence of vitamins in the ingredients panel, these are great clues when seeking to determine if ingredients are in true descending order or not.

Putting this into practice: – sample ingredient panel:

Aqua, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil, Cetearyl Alcohol (and) Ceteareth-20, Glycerin, Rosa Canina Fruit Oil (Rose Hip), Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Butter, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Oil, Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Equisetum Arvense Extract (Horsetail), Arctium Lappa Extract (Burdock), Urtica Dioica Extract (Nettle), Phenoxyethanol, Benzyl Alcohol, Citrus Tangerina (Tangerine) Peel Oil, Citrus Nobilis (Mandarin Orange) Peel Oil, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Vanilla Planifolia Extract, Citrus Paradisi Extract, (Grapefruit Seed), Linalool, * Limonene. *        *= Natural component of essential oils.

This product is a facial moisturiser described by the manufacturers as “a lightweight cream”, so its viscosity is quite thin.  The emulsifier used is cetearyl alcohol and ceteareth 20, and the known usage for a thin viscosity is 4%, so we will assume that this is the level used based on the manufacturers description.

Based on what we have learned thus far, the approximate values for each of the ingredients is as follows:

Aqua, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice 80% – 85% (water/juice)
Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil 5-4% (oil) (either greater than or the same % as the emulsifing wax below, equal % may be listed in the order of choice by manufacturers, so obviously placing 2nd instead of 3rd looks better to the consumer)
Cetearyl Alcohol (and) Ceteareth-20 4% (Emulsifing Wax)
Glycerin 2% (thickener/humectant)
My belief is that past this point all ingredients are less than 1% to enable them to be placed in whichever order the company prefers (ie, most expensive at the top!). The percentages could be incredibly small (ie. 0.001) but we have no real way of knowing that – this is a legal practice that leaves consumers in the dark
Rosa Canina Fruit Oil (Rose Hip) 0.001 – 0.99%   (oil)
Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Butter 0.001 -0.99% (oil)
Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter 0.001 – 0.99% (oil)
Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil 0.001 – 0.99% (oil)
Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil 0.001 – 0.99% (oil)
Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Oil 0.001 – 0.99% (oil)
Tocopherol (Vitamin E) 0.02 – 0.2%  (notice that not enough information is given for you to identify if this is a natural or synthetic Vitamin E)
Equisetum Arvense Extract (Horsetail) 0.001 – 0.2%
Arctium Lappa Extract (Burdock), 0.001 – 0.2%
Urtica Dioica Extract (Nettle 0.001 – 0.2%
Phenoxyethanol 0.5 – 0.99% (preservative)
Benzyl Alcohol 0.5 – 0.99% (preservative)
Citrus Tangerina (Tangerine) Peel Oil 0.125%
Citrus Nobilis (Mandarin Orange) Peel Oil 0.125%
Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil 0.125%
Vanilla Planifolia Extract 0.125%
Citrus Paradisi Extract, (Grapefruit Seed) 0.5 – 0.99%  (preservative, when used in isolation it would need to be used at 2% for efficacy, used other preservatives the amount would be less as estimated here)

A Note about true certified organic Products

Before you start applying this knowledge to certified organic products (like Pure & Green organics) I must warn you that none of these percentages apply to real organics.  The reason being organic formulators have only a 5% conventional allowance with which to preserve and emulsify their products, not to mention add any botanical ingredients that may not be available organically.  We simply do not have the luxury of adding 6% emulsifying wax to create our products!

Real organic manufacturers are green formulators, leading the way with innovative ingredients to create stable, effective products with a minimum conventional input.  So, when you read our list of ingredients I can tell you our cream products contain a mere 1% emulsifying wax (cetearyl olivate, sorbitan olivate), and our oil count is incredibly high – almost 30% for our rejuvenate night cream.  We are able to achieve very stable products thanks to some innovative (but incredibly expensive) stabilizing gums.

All companies could do what we do, but it would seriously effect their profit margin and RRP.  So understand, if you are buying a cream product in a whopping 500ml size for only $9.99 – you are more than likely buying water, wax, and a little bit of oil (say 5% max).  In fact, some products have no real cold pressed oils in them at all, but are a collection of man made, petroleum ingredients or penetration enhancers designed to draw into your skin these non-biodegradable petroleum materials.  What does your body do with this non-biodegradable material once drawn into your skin and bloodstream?  Worth considering!

If you object to “paying for water” remember that is what a cream is – a combination of water and oil!  This is the one point manufacturers are not trying to trick you on – they clearly label their products “creams” or “lotions” which by definition means you are buying a  product with a high water content.

Opt for brands using aloe vera juice (like Pure & Green organics for example) as this contains real nutrition for your skin.  Creams have been popular for centuries as they absorb into the skin leaving no greasy after feel.  With everyone’s lives become busier I am certain the convenience of creams will continue to see them as favourites in the years ahead.  The direction these products take is in the hands of the consumer.  Mass produced products have brought us cheaper prices – but at what cost?

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