Lately many members of our facebook community have expressed a desire for a booklet or shoppers guide they could use to help them navigate through the maze of ingredient labels, E-numbers, food additives, and unpronounceable cosmetic ingredients.

The good news is there are guides already in existence and most of them very reasonably priced, and some are even free.   I have broken the options down to the ones I have used and feel comfortable recommending &  also into three formats (1)  PC downloads you can print out (2) apps for your iphone or (3) apps for your android phone

Cosmetic Dictionary

While most cosmetic dictionaries are so bulky you couldn’t possibly bring them to the shops with you, one very clever lady named Ruth Winter has prepared her dictionary in multiple formats making life a little easier.  The book is titled “A Consumer’s Dictionary of  Cosmetic Ingredients – 7th edition” .  Here is a blurb from her about the latest edition

Everything you need to know about the safety and efficacy of cosmetics and cosmeceuticals. Is it a cosmetic? A drug? A nutrient? Its becoming more and more difficult to tell the difference with the cosmetic companies combining the three. …. . So before you slather on that wrinkle-reducing cream or swallow a skin-rejuvenating vitamin, find out whats in your health and beauty products with A Consumers Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients.”

I bought her dictionary in e-book form and it does the job although the focus is on explaining the ingredients, not emphatically stating avoid this or that.

You can buy the book as an e-book or  in hard cover  (which is probably easier to navigate than the e-book) both versions cost $17.99

or as an iphone app – also $17.99

nothing available for android phones at the moment

If $17.99 is outside your budget you could print out the free shoppers guide from the David Suzuki Foundation.  This little guide is well,  little, so it focuses on what they have called the dirty dozen, the top 12 “families” of chemicals to avoid.  It’s not as comprehensive as Ruth Winter’s book but it’s free, easy to carry and a good start.

Update: readers have recommended “The Chemical Maze Shopping Companion 4th edition: Your Guide to Food Additives and Cosmetic Ingredients”.  Author – Bill Statham.  This book is very small – compact enough to fit into your handbag while shopping, and is available through online booksellers for approx $16.00

Sunscreen Guides

For help in choosing a sunscreen, there is a free guide available from Friends of the Earth which you can print out.  It’s focus is on nano-free products not the overall toxicity.

Environmental Working Group have produced a report into the toxicity of sunscreens, which you could access free with an iphone  app

I find a combination of the two guides is useful as they each have a different focus, it’s only by combining them that you get the whole picture.

E-numbers & food additives

Now, generally you won’t find E-numbers on cosmetics because  it’s not a legal requirement (as it is with food). The trend in cosmetics is to use the common name or INCI name for an ingredient instead of an E-number simply because it sounds more natural.    However, for those of you with the time and interest you will find reading through the E-number list very enlightening and the knowledge you glean can be carried over into cosmetics as a better understanding of the origin of ingredients.

One trick that food manufacturers have been doing for a while is to list the legally required E-number for a colour but then in brackets after the E-number they write a description (natural colour from …..).  Now, the part in brackets is not the legally required part so while it is misleading to give incorrect information in the brackets I have seen it done many times.  This is an example: a company listed colouring as E141 copper complexes of chlorophyll  (natural colour from plants) .  So the manufacturer gave the correct E-number but lied about the origin in brackets, obviously hoping that the word “chlorophyll” in the title would be recognised by most as natural and they would investigate no further.   However, as you can see from the list below E141 is actually synthetic in origin.

E140 Chlorophylls Green colour, natural
E141 Copper complexes of chlorophyll Green colour, synthetic

The best list of E-numbers I have found is a free web service run by a university

The information is available in 30 languages and is extremely comprehensive yet the information is easily understandable.  I love this site and know you are going to as well!

There are some very good options for phone apps at  extremely reasonable prices, and these might suit some people better.  You can forget a list at home but your phone is generally always with you.

An  iphone app is availalbe for 0.99c.  This is more than adequate for a trip to the shops and has a search function as well.

And for those of us with an android phone, we don’t miss out this time!  Better still, our app is free.  Click on the market icon  and enter search ‘food additives”.  A list of all the apps available for your phone will be displayed.   The most popular one is the free app, and it has a search function & very easy to use.

GM inputs:

For a list of GM foods and how to avoid them a reader has recommended this list prepared by Greenpeace Australia.  What a fabulous resource!

Organic Fruit & Veggies

As the cost of organic fruit and veggies is often the main reason people opt for conventionally grown produce, I have included a link to the EWG shoppers guide.  Now, the findings are based on American research so there will be some differences for Australian grown produce, but it is a good starting point and most importantly very practical – real help in determining which produce you should buy organically and which ones you could continue to buy conventionally grown if budget doesn’t allow 100% organic.

If you don’t have a new generation phone  you can download a pdf shoppers guide to keep in your wallet

Or you can use the free  iphone app.

I sincerely hope these guides will be of benefit to you, as they have been to me.  Happy shopping and look forward to your feedback.