Reading the labels



“Health Canada has the responsibility of ensuring that the cosmetic products distributed in Canada do not expose the Canadian public to an unreasonable risk .

The cosmetics programme of   Health Canada  has for mandate to protect the health of the Canadian population by reducing the risks associated with the utilization of cosmetics sold in Canada”.

The question to be answered is: what is an unreasonable risk and in the name of what must one tolerate a risk? Why do these chemical substances have more rights than human beings? Why must one manage  risks rather than eliminate them? If danger is an inherent characteristic of a chemical substance why not exclude it then instead of inventing measures, tests, specialists, and studies which will finish by making us accept a risk. How is it possible that one imposes on us the idea of the acceptability of risk as being an inherent part of consumption? And especially how is it possible that our clean governments legislate first and foremost to the advantage of industry more so than for the protection of the population?

This important concept of risk to be taken by the consumer in modern society is masterfully explained by Marie-Monique Robin in her book “ Notre poison quotidien ”. Behind the risks for health are always the benefits. The notions which are at the base of the calculations of “unreasonable risks” take especially into account the economic costs and benefits. Here is what she says by citing Michel Gérin and her co-authors in their manual Environnement et santé publique   (Environment and public health) .

“Although the notion of risk and its acceptable level is very controversial, one agrees to saying that a risk of about 10-6 (one cancer for each million of persons exposed) is acceptable in the case of chemical products classified as cancer-causing in animals”. In relation to the French population alone, adds Marie-Monique Robin, this quota signifies sixty annual casualties for only one cancer-causing product. When it is known that thousands of cancer-causing products (but also neurotoxins and reprotoxins) are currently in circulation, one measures better the degree of the damage and the ill-feeling of the “experts” whose mission is to hide the hecatomb by columns of “acceptable daily doses” and other “maximal limits of residues”.

But let us see how all of this happens precisely for cosmetics in our country.

In Canada as in the United States, in the European Union and in Japan, the names of the ingredients are listed on the labels of cosmetics products in function of their quantity, in decreasing order: from the highest percentage that they occupy in the product to the smallest and concurrent to of 1%. Below 1% they are enumerated in an uncertain way. To indicate the ingredients one utilizes the INCI  ( International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients ) established in 1973 which allows us to know what cosmetics contain and to standardize their appellations which are the same ones in all the countries that use this system. The inconvenience of this nomenclature is that it is incomprehensible for the consumer (see infra examples) who, moreover, cannot know the exact quantity of the ingredients nor their origin. The INCI is based on two languages: Latin for designating plants and English for naming certain molecules. Perfumed ingredients are regrouped under the name of “perfume” and the colorants are designated, mainly, by a Colour Index, which is written CI followed by a number with 5 digits.

The first ingredients (the first 4 to 8 named) form the base of the product and their quantity confers the quality of the product.

Example of a label with an INCI nomenclature  [1]  .


The 16 th of November 2006, the laws on the labelling of cosmetics were modified in Canada, forcing manufacturers to mention on the packaging of their products the complete list of the INCI ingredients. Unfortunately, certain ingredients can be regrouped and protected under a generic name. This is the case with “ Perfume ” or “ Fragrance ” and these are generally synthetic ingredients not identifiable by the consumer except if one clearly indicates (with an asterisk *) that they have been extracted from an essential oil or from a vegetable oil, therefore that it is of natural  and vegetable origin. These perfumes which are of synthetic origin  [2]   (they are also called fragrances ), are toxic for humans by provoking allergies and asthma and, they can sometimes even contain toluene and phtalates.

The report Not So Sexy: The health risks of secret chemicals in fragrance, Canadian Edition ,   written by  researchers of the Canada Environmental Defence and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics , shows that 12 of the 17 perfumes tested contained diethyl phthalates , a toxic chemical substance detected in 97% of all Americans. Diethyl phthalates would be responsible for the abnormal development of the genitals in babies of the male sex and of various anomalies observed in the sperm of adult men. If you want to know more on this report, the television program La Facture  broadcasted on the waves of Radio Canada devoted a programme on the subject [3] . You will also find a very good summary of this report on the Website of the EWG [4]  as well as examples of brands of perfumes containing these toxic ingredients.

Contrary to the European Union, in Canada [5] , there is no legislation regulating the posting of the allergenic ingredients contained in perfume nor the quantity of perfumes allowed in a cosmetic product. Under the generic name of “perfume” hide scores of the chemical and toxic products which the manufacturers often dissimulate in the name of “commercial secrecy”. What beats all is that the INCI “Perfume” can be protected even in the case of certified organic cosmetics. The mention “ not scented [6]   does not represent any protection either because the manufacturers use other toxic substances to mask the unpleasant odours of the product. The label “not scented/without perfume”, according to the Website of Health Canada, means that “there are no added perfumes, or that there is an ingredient which masks the odour of the other ingredients in the cosmetic” [7] . This means that on average, each product “with perfumes” contains 6% of perfumes whereas a product “without perfume” contains more than the double, that is to say 15%! This is nonsense: more toxicity for a product “without perfume” than for a product with perfume!

Here is what the David Suzuki Foundation says on this subject: “ More than 3000 different chemicals are used as ingredients of fragrance in the products of hygiene and beauty . One single cosmetic product – like a soap, a shampoo, a lotion or a deodorant – can contain scores of these chemical products.”

Just as the specific products of which perfume is made do not need to be revealed because they are protected by commercial secrecy, there is thus does no way of knowing what one puts on our skin! In the absence of a clear legislation, and without regard for consumer protection, this dubious practice is in conformity with the current laws of Canada! Presently, a transparency campaign requiring the complete disclosure of the ingredients contained in “perfume” present in cosmetics and a more rigorous governmental regulation of the products of hygiene and beauty is carried out by the David Suzuki Foundation.

Contrary to foodstuffs and drugs, cosmetic products and raw materials used during their manufacture are not subject of governmental approval before being sold. The only thing that one requires from the manufacturers, is to provide to Health Canada, 10 days after the marketing of a new product, the name of all the ingredients which it contains even if these ingredients have not been evaluated.

To date, Health Canada indexed more than 500 prohibited and restricted cosmetic ingredients  (for example, dyes derived from tar which are known carcinogens [8] ) and the Hot List  continues to grow. Unfortunately, of the 10.500 chemical ingredients used in the products of personal care (according to E.W.G) only 4000 have been examined and these observations were made on the products separately without regard to the effects on health in the long-term or for bio-accumulation. In Canada, the regulations on cosmetics prohibit only a few components more than in the United States  [9]   but many products sold or manufactured in our country, including products intended for babies, still contain toxic substances dangerous for health . Here are some examples:

“Since the majority of the cosmetic products can remain on the display units of the stores for months, strong preservatives are necessary to prevent that the ingredients do not separate and to prevent microbial, bacterial and fungi contaminations. ”  [10]

º              The preservatives most commonly used are the parabens (see the chapter “The controversy of parabens”) which are endocrinal and hormonal disturbers imitating the oestrogens. The National Institute of Environmental Research of Denmark has recently shown that 99% of the cosmetics and 77% of the cosmetics without rinsing contained parabens and that very few hydrating creams are free from them. These parabens also affect the quality of sperm and the development of the male foetus and are also strong sensitizing agents, they irritate the skin and the eyes like DMDM Hydantoine which can possibly diffuse formaldehyde.

º                Another preservative which is very much used and which one finds in almost all cosmetic preparations is Imidazolidinyl Urea . According to the American Academy of Dermatology , one has discovered that it could cause dermatites.

º              Formaldehyde

and toluene especially present in nail varnishes as well as in tonics for nails, soaps, shampoos and preparations for hair growth, are carcinogenic ingredients in the event of inhalation (risk of lung cancer), very allergenic and irritants (irritation of the eyes and the bronchi). The following preservatives release formaldehyde when in contact with water: 2- Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol, Diazolidinyl Urea, DMDM Hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl Urea, Quaternium-15.
º                Aluminum [11] talc powder and dioxines are also dangerous ingredients present especially in deodorants and antibacterial soaps.

º                Triclosan is an endocrinal disturber and the largest biocide (the use of which makes us insensitive to antibiotics) being present in a vast line of products not only cosmetic but also of daily use such as furniture, toys, fabrics, household products and although classified by Environment Canada as toxic for the environment it is still present in toothpastes, mouth rinsers, antiperspirants, and cleaning products for the body and soaps.

My goal here is only to give some examples of dangerous ingredients still present in cosmetic products on sale on the Canadian market and against which we, the users, are not protected. To see in detail the link between each chemical and its CARCINOGENIC, MUTAGENIC AND REPROTOXIC consequences on our body, I invite you to consult the Website of the Environmental Working Group section Chemical Index [12] , and, for a shorter outline, to refer yourself to the D irty List of the David Suzuki Foundation in the chapter “ Are cosmetics toxic? ”. You will also find a very good presentation on phthalates on [13]

The chemical industry lobby stresses that each chemical, when used in measured quantity and allowed according to the standards in force, is inoffensive, that the health risks are not easily measurable because all depends on our type of skin, on the number of applications and interactions. Our doubt is legitimate and depends on good common sense! It are the combined effects of the chemicals present in cosmetic products and their accumulation in the body which endanger our health , more especially as the same toxic ingredients are also found in products on the shelves of pharmacies and food chains. I have never seen a cosmetic product limiting the number of applications per day… or having a warning about the possible interactions with other products and other ingredients. How many products of personal care do you use per day? Of the 10.500 chemicals which are regularly used in the cosmetics industry, a woman will absorb on average 160 ingredients daily… on average….I already spoke about this aspect in the chapter “ Are cosmetics toxic? ” but as I am a teacher I tend to repeat myself…

One notices more and more cosmetic products on the labels in vogue with pretty spring flowers and inscriptions like “Green”, “Natural”, “Eco-Friendly” and “Hypoallergenic”. Under these reassuring appearances hides another easy marketing trick of the manufacturers of cosmetic products to attract the consumers. In no way these inscriptions can give a guarantee whatsoever, because there is not, to date, any legal definition nor particular certification for these words.

In the United States some wrongfully organic cosmetics brand was recently attacked for fraud.

The Center for Environmental Health (CEH), an NGO located in Oakland, California, has submitted a complaint against 26 manufacturers of cosmetics whom it reproaches for labelling a misleading use of the “organic” ranking on their products.

Among the companies quoted in the procedure appear Hain-Celestial, Alliance Boots, Jason, Amazon Forest, Kiss My Face, and other big brands. [14]

“The term “ hypo-allergen ” is neither legal nor even scientific. It means simply that the manufacturer chose ingredients in order to obtain a finished product which reduces the risk of allergic reactions. There is no guarantee that the product will not cause allergic reactions to certain individuals because people can be allergic to a vast number of substances. There exist no non-allergenic cosmetics ”. (Quotation extracted from the Health Canada Website).

The product lines which post “Organic (Bio)” (because that can reap huge profits)… but without legal certification they are not worthy of confidence either.

Put aside certifications which guarantee a quality product to you, the market is flooded at this moment with all kinds of PSEUDO-NATURAL ADVERTISING SLOGANS WHICH DO NOT OFFER ANY PROTECTION TO YOU. One can post oneself as being “green”, which means nothing legally speaking, and continue to use the traditional PEG or BHT. While at it, certain companies will put forth some (one or two) “natural” products or “health” or “natural” ingredients or a long list of “WITHOUT” whereas none of the other components have anything natural or healthy about them. For instance: without dye, without parabens, with Aloes Vera, with vitamin E or C, etc…

The biggest swindle, in my opinion, is to post only the active ingredients ! Actually, these active ingredients represent a negligible percentage in the composition of the product, of 0.1 and below… What wants one to hide then!?! Frankly, I am wary of these products which, moreover, are illegal [15]  because, according to the law, for cosmetics one must post all the ingredients except those covered by the professional secrecy. When you go on the Websites of certain brands of products of care and cosmetics, the absence of the complete lists of INCI ingredients is not a good sign. Certain cosmetic products of a “therapeutic” nature, the solar screens or the anti-bacterial lotions are considered as medicine (drugs) and in this case “The regulations on cosmetics” does not apply thus, the manufacturer can only post the active ingredients. The natural products of health comprise a PSN and the medicine a DIN and the criteria to be followed are different from the cosmetics.

But the utmost of bad faith is the inscription “ without preservatives ”. This is impossible. How then would the product be protected from bacteria or microbiological proliferations? Unless it would be an oil not containing water, dry cosmetics (powder, an eye-shadow), a butter (like the shea tree) or products coming directly from nature like clay, cosmetic products always have more or less toxic preservatives. New technologies to avoid the preservatives like U.H.T. or the gelation of water exist, but they are extremely rare and they are not yet available in our country, to my knowledge there is only one Canadian company which manufactures cosmetic products without preservatives. The use of sterile uni-doses or the pump bottles which perfectly isolate the product from light and do not require a preservative either but the remainder of the cosmetics need a preservative to protect them from contamination. Besides, it is the greatest headache of the new wave of the biological cosmetics for which one must always use synthetic conservatives (see the chapter on “ Labels and certifications ”).

Then if you see the mention “without preservatives” on a product, and if there are no specific instructions on the way of preserving the product, be careful!

Other companies, for example for hair dyes, will put in big characters WITHOUT PARABEN AND AMMONIA. It is only once that one is back home after having read the complete list of the ingredients that one realizes that the poisons proliferate there without shame. One wonders sometimes how the stores of natural products can put these products on the shelves!?!

There are also scientific pseudo advertising slogans preaching new discoveries whereas there’s nothing there or else quite pompous words protected by “the professional secrecy” and which prevent us from knowing the truth about their dangerousness. This is the case for examples of nanoparticles   [16]  which were found even in certified biological products. [17]

Unfortunately, the “green” fashion pushes companies to practise an untruthful trade. Following the reading of the Terra Choice report on “green-washing” entitled Les péchés de mascarade écologique  (edition 2010), I was flabbergasted. More than 95% of the ecological claims of the companies proved to be false or, at least, inaccurate. [18]   One is more interested in this investigation in domestic products than in cosmetics but, nevertheless, our confidence is shaken.

Here’s an example of “green-washing”:

The anti-wrinkle Nivea pure & natural day cream , presented by the company in the following way:

“WITHOUT paraben, WITHOUT silicone, WITHOUT dye, WITHOUT mineral oil, 95% of ingredients of natural origin. Organic Oil of argan : rich in vitamin E, is recognized for its anti-radicalizing properties, but also for its nutritive virtues with unique potential. Organic Camomile: contains flavonoids which alleviate dry and sensitive skins”.

The presentation is quite misleading, if the label is not carefully read, one could think that it is an organicproduct or at least a natural one, which is not at all the case.

Let us look at the ingredients in detail and their rate of dangerousness on Skin Deep in spite of the long list of “WITHOUT”.

Ingrédients: Aqua, Glycerin  1 , Cetearyl Alcohol  1 , Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil 0 , Alcohol Denat 0 , Caprylic/Capric Triglycerine 1 , Glyceryl Stearate Citrate 1 , Hydrogeated Coco-Glycerides 0 , Methylpropanediol 0 , Octyldodecanol 0-1 , Dicaprylyl Ether 0 , Glyceryl Stearate 1 , Arctium Lappa Fruit Extract 0 , Arania Spinosa Kermel Oil 0 ,Tocopherol 2 , Tocopheryl Acetate 4 , Sodium Carbomer 0 , Xanthan Gum 0 , Phenoxyethanol 3-4 , 1.2 Hexanediol 0 , Methylisothiazoline 6 , Linalool 4 , Limonene 6 , Citronellol 4 , Benzyl Alcohol 6 , Butylphenyl 0 , Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone 4 , Geraniol 5 , Parfum 7

0 :  4 ingredients about which we know nothing at all because no study was done.

3-6:  several ingredients sometimes used in the composition of the certified organic products but of natural origin indicated by an asterisk indicating the source are here of synthetic origin.

7:  perfume  whose potential dangerousness was explained in the preceding chapters.

Several ingredients such as methylpropanediol (a preservative allergen), sodium carbonner,  phenoxyethanol, 1,2 hexanediol, methylisothiazolinone and especially the synthetic perfumes are not authorized in the certified organic cosmetics.

Although much cleaner compared to other creams coming from conventional cosmetics, this product cannot be sold as “natural”.

Here’s also what Rita Stiens says in her book La vérité sur les cosmétiques naturels (The truth about natural cosmetics) , on page 40 (published in 2006 at Leduc.S Éditions):

“The indications starting with “does not contain…” or “without…” do not mean much. Is a product without paraben systematically better than another one? Not necessarily. A manufacturer can very well replace his usual panoply of preservatives (parabens) by others that are even more suspect. ”

What one calls in Europe the “7th clause” is the obligation of the manufacturer to indicate “ the period of stability ” of the product, i.e. the time during which one can consume the product after opening (see chapter “ Labels and certifications ” for more details). You should know that in Canada the manufacturer has no obligation to indicate either the period of stability or an unspecified expiry date although everyone knows that, in particular in the field of organic products, from food to cosmetics, the lifetime of a product is shortened, because it does not contain preservatives (for food) or less resistant preservatives like essential oils (for cosmetics).


Here’s how to read the PAO or the Period After Opening if it is on the container. This mention appears only if the time of conservation before opening is more than 30 months.


Thus 12 M means that the cosmetic can be used without problem during 12 months, beginning from the day when its container was opened for the first time.

If the product is preserved for less than 30 months , there can also be an expiry date before opening of the kind “to use before…” and the date with the month and the year.

The label of a cosmetics product must obligatorily include the name and address of the manufacturer, the specifications relating to the contents in weight or volume, the particular precautions for use if there are any, the number and manufacturing batch and the function of the cosmetics product.


The recycling label 

 The ribbon of Möbius is used to recognize the objects worked out starting from recycled materials or from materials which can be recycled. If no percentage is indicated in the center of the ribbon that means that the container only can be recycled, if there is a percentage that indicates that he is made from recycled materials at the percentage indicated. 

Here’s some advice for the time of regulation in general of products of care and cosmetics (the certified organic products have a shorter expiry given the specificity of the preservatives, check on your product):

º soaps and shampoos, 2 to 3 years

º eyeliner pencils for eyes and lips, 1 to 2 years

º nail varnish, 1 to 2 years

º powders, eye shadows and make-ups, 9 to 12 months

º make-up foundations, 9 to 12 months (fluid 6 months)

º lipsticks, 1 year

º mascaras, 1 to 3 months

º gloss, 1 to 3 months

º skin care, 9 to 12 months, check the pictogram on the wrapping

º sun screens are considered as medicine by Health Canada and they thus have an expiry date

º vegetable oils must be correctly stored away from light and heat, otherwise they can easily turn sour or wry.

Never lend or borrow mascara and very often clean the brushes of application of the powders for make-up (or change them considering their ridiculous price) are good practices to prevent contamination.

The ideal format: the pump envisaged of an airless system because it keeps the product away from the light, the air and the bacteria thus contamination is not possible, the tubes, and the pot provided with a clean spatula.

As we saw with the Nivea cream, the word “natural” on wrappings or on the label does not guarantee you anything! If in Germany there is a quite strict regulation as for the contents of the word “natural” guaranteeing the consumer a truly natural product, in France and in Canada only one organic (bio) certification guarantees you a reliable product from this point of view. The word organic (bio) only, without certification, is deprived from guarantee and represents only a catching slogan without any legal obligation on the part of the manufacturer. These two words (“naturalness” and “bio”) are often mixed up by the consumer who does not know any more what to pay attention to with all the promises by which he is bombarded as soon as he looks at the label of the product. I even hear somebody qualify a “biodegradable” product, as “bio” (organic)!

In its September issue of 2008, The UFC Que Choisir [19]   publishes a test carried out on organic or ecological cosmetics products. Firstly, what emerges from this test is that a true label, delivered by the authorities (locatable by the mention “certified by” followed by the name of the certifying organization see chapter “ Labels and Certifications ”), is generally a pledge of quality and the insurance of a composition free from products resulting from the petrochemical industry. On the contrary, the private labels (mention “ controlled by …” can hold some nasty surprises as for the ingredients used (for example, for the marks Yves Rocher, Occitane or Thinkhappy Organic Surge).

The mention “ of natural source ” or “ of natural origin ” (for example for vitamin E) means synthetic product, since generally, one started from a natural molecule, but which was chemically modified, to give a synthetic molecule.

Some information relating to only the certified organic products

The words “ecological” and “equitable” do not apply much to the cosmetics which we retained in this Guide of non-toxic beauty products (except for the shea butter and some oils). A product resulting from equitable trade is generally made with an environmental concern, it defends the purchase price in favour of the producers of the Third World and their working conditions, but it does not present any guarantee as for the harmlessness of the product, because the ingredients are not guaranteed natural nor organic. If the certified organic products are automatically ecological, the opposite is false. In fact, in everyday language one speaks about “ecological” especially for packaging. This term includes the decomposition of the finished product in the environment and the manufacturing processes when they are certified products. I already listened on Radio Canada to a programme on ecological cosmetics… whereas it would have been desirable to speak about organic cosmetics. Labels like Equitable ECOCERT or Max Havelaar are no guarantees for products without toxicity unless they are accompanied by a organic certification too.

For a product to be sold as Fair Trade, it must bear a certification that guarantees the international standards of fair trade, otherwise it is folklore! Examples of credible labels: Fair Trade, Flo-Cert, Max Havelaar, ESR (Ecocert).

Cannot be “organic” salt, water, kaolin, silica and other clays like Ghassoul, because they are substances coming directly from nature, without human intervention. Products of the sea like algae cannot be organic for example. I once saw “organic salmon” in a fish shop! Unless it would result from organical breeding, which should be clearly shown on the packaging or the label, the fish cannot be organic!

On the labels of the certified organic cosmetics you can read figures of the kind: 98.15% of the total are ingredients of natural origin, 13.5% of the ingredients result from organic agriculture and 95.7% of the vegetable ingredients result from organic agriculture.

What does that mean?


First of all, let us take the percentage 98,15% and 13,5%.

Those want to say that for the 100%, the total of the ingredients , there are:

º 98,15% of ingredients of natural origin, thus 1,85% of synthetic ingredients (dyes, preservatives, etc…);


º 13,5% of vegetable ingredients resulting from organic agriculture;

Then, the 98.15% of ingredients of natural origin divide as follows:

º 13.75% of vegetable ingredients (13.75% = 13.5% / 98.15%)

º 84.4% of natural ingredients but not vegetable (ex: water , ingredients of mineral or animal origin)

 Then, the 13.75% of vegetable ingredients are divided into:

º 13.16% of vegetable ingredients resulting from organic agriculture;

º 0.59% of vegetable ingredients resulting from traditional agriculture.

Then the 95.7%.

This percentage is a more complex data to visualize and to understand for the consumer. Moreover, it should be mentioned that this percentage is not always registered (non-obligatory vs. the two others) this to avoid a confusion in the consumer or to avoid inducing him/her into error as far as the proportion of organic ingredients is concerned.

The 95.7% mean that 95.7% of the built-in total plants result from organic agriculture.

What is necessary to know is that this percentage must be larger than 95% for a certified organic product.

Finally, in this case, with the three percentage points we can determine that on 100% (total of the ingredients) there are:

Ingredients of synthetic origin: 1.85%

Ingredients of natural origin: 98.15%

Non-vegetable natural ingredients: 84.4%

Organic vegetable ingredients: 13.16%

Vegetable ingredients from traditional agriculture: 0.59%


The use of the term “organic” and other derived terms on the label of a cosmetic or personal care product is not governed as such in Canada except in Quebec. When the publicity or the labelling of one of these products offered for sale in Quebec makes use of the term “organic” or a derived term to qualify the manufacturing process of this product or of the ingredients which it contains, that falls under the jurisdiction of the CARTV, under the terms of Bill 137: An Act respecting reserved designations and added-value claims.  [20] .

There is, however, no organization appointed for the control of organic cosmetics in Quebec or in Canada.

So, when you read on a body lotion that 99.5% of the ingredients are of natural origin and that “aqua” is the first ingredient of the list, do not lose sight of the fact that water accounts for 80 to 90% of the product (the exact figure only the manufacturer can know it because with the INCI nomenclatura the ingredients are entered in the descending order of their quantities but that does not give us the exact percentage) . Water being a natural product cannot result from organic agriculture. The mention organic thus rests on the ingredients which can be certified as being organic. What matters in the case of body lotion for example is the percentage of ingredients resulting from organic agriculture (oils or butters for example which are the active ingredients) and although certain products in accordance with their specifications can contain only between 5 to 10% of it (see chapter on certifications) certain manufacturers can put a lot more going up to 30 or even 35%. Given the great percentage of water in the composition of creams and lotions I rather recommend the use of pure and 100% organic certified vegetable oils without any water addition (see chapter “Oils, butters and other active ingredients”). There are also certifications which require a very high percentage of organic substances, 95% or even 100% of the total of the ingredients like USDA ORGANIC, but these products are very, very rare on our market and they are especially greasy substances.

Lastly, I want to make it a point of specifying that organic certification does not relate only to the raw materials but also to the manufacturing process and a general ecological initiative.

Reading the labels, especially written in visible letters only with the magnifying glass and accompanied, sometimes, of code-bars stuck exactly on this place, can prove to be a quite difficult task, believe me!

As I have mentioned before, one uses the international system (INCI) to name the ingredients which means that only the Latin or English word is used, which is a good thing in itself to standardize this meta-language especially since, before, the manufacturers could divert the attention of the consumer of the ingredients by using synonyms or by naming them in a very “nice” way. On the other hand, to decipher all these “barbaric/foreign” words is not an easy task even if you had good notes in your Latin class. Thus, you will be likely to understand “lavandula” for lavender and the omnipresent “aqua” for water. Let us say that, for once, we are favoured by our geographical location, because some words of Anglo-Saxon origin (wax, oil, water (for floral water) or butter) will also be easily traceable. For the remainder (10500 ingredients) good luck!

I know that you do not need to be convinced about the quasi impossibility of understanding anything whatsoever on the disconcerting list of the ingredients if you did not study the question well before taking the daring step of reading what is written on the label. Who didn’t try to look at, and even lengthily, by duty of conscience and with the best of good will, the ingredients of a product of care or beauty at the pharmacy with the same acuity as the nutritive value of the foodstuffs at the grocer’s?

Who has really understood everything?

I nevertheless will give you a very, very simple example and this especially in response to all the Websites and the documents which provide to us the list of the dangerous ingredients in cosmetics while thinking of having rendered service to us and to have relieved us of this existential concern.

The green clay masks are impossible to circumvent in the life of a woman and one would expect not to undergo the stress of the “Dirty List” of ingredients with such a simple and natural product. I bought one of them recently, in an attempt to fight the routine, from Cattier, a company which I like in addition, including a list of only three ingredients (we’re talking here about a banal clay), disconcerting linguistically speaking, not unpleasing enough to remit the product on the shelf, but just enough to doubt about the truths known as “general” in the history of philosophy. Aqua, montmorillonite and kaolin. If with “aqua” one can get away with it thanks to the Latin courses or the trips to the south, with the remainder the embarrassment caused is comparable with the one which can be caused by the utensils of whose existence one is unaware at the time of a complicated supper: one waits and one observes.

But there, I have the advantage of being at home in front of my PC and not at the store from where I usually leave in a hurry because I am afraid to get stuck in the afternoon traffic jam on Champlain Bridge.

So, here, I look in the lexicon of the components of Rita Stiens, where one finds that kaolin (3 smiles which means: very well) is an absorbing agent (earth for porcelain) ha!  and that montmorillonite (also 3 smiles) is a stabilizer and a substance of viscosity control. So far so good, I say to myself innocently, but where the devil is the green clay which I bought!?! Because that is what is written on the tube!!! I knew that the life of a woman is already complicated enough by “karmic blue print” but with the list of ingredients which are added to our existential concerns, without meditation and breathing exercises, there is no happy outcome.

So, I do another research, on Google this time, more within the range of everyone…I am relieved when I learn that this montmorillonite is the most general-purpose clay, re-mineralising and healing (read more about it if you feel like [21]   and that kaoline is also a clay, but of another type.

So, now that I am discharged of my “cosmetological anguish” following two verifications, all that remains to me is to wish myself a good “mud wrapping”.

All of this to say that, when one is not a biochemist or a specialist in the manufacture of cosmetics, to go shopping with the list of the prohibited ingredients (I did it! and I am not the only one) is a waste of time and effort.

So, here are some major conclusions concerning the labels and contents of the products of care and the cosmetics:

◦ The manufacturers do not live up to their responsibility in face of the gravity of the situation; their strategy of defence has remained unchanged (it is not the product which is responsible for the adverse effects but the sensitivity of the skin of the one who uses it) in spite of the number of components prohibited which does not stop increasing these last few years and which proves that the ingredients were (and still are) far from being inoffensive;
◦ Importers, distributors and retailers have their share of responsibility in this toxico-cosmetic soup in which we bathe and they must inform the consumer of the dangerous potential of the ingredients posted on the labels of the products that they sell; the counselling sales agents of the products of care, beauty and cosmetics should be trained to answer questions concerning the contents of these products; this personnel is often paid “on commission”, therefore their councils can be partisan;
◦ The Canadian Government does not offer a genuine protection to the population which is obliged to do the sorting itself to find out; in spite of the pressures and the petitions of the organizations implied in the initiatives to eliminate the chemicals dangerous for health and to obtain safer products of hygiene and beauty, the Governments do not legislate and, when that occurs, it is a long and slow process like a drop of water falling slowly from a tab;
◦ In spite of the laws, there are still products on sale, and even in the shops of natural products, without a list of INCI ingredients or having an incomplete list. According to the survey carried out by the David Suzuki Foundation, on 12500 products of personal care more than a 1000 products presented an incomplete or not clearly indicated label;
º Contrary to the laws of the European Union which identified (since 2005 already) in a way accessible to the population a list of 26 allergenic substances whose presence must be mentioned on the label of the product since their concentrations exceed 0,001% for the products not to remove (cream…) and 0,01% for the products to remove by rinsing, in Canada there is no list with allergenic substances and the people suffering from allergies are not really helped in their steps to avoid allergenic substances. It is estimated that 45% of allergies are due to the scenting substances present in the products of care. Besides, the Canadian Cancer Society has made this recommendation to the Government which unfortunately has remained without follow-up. The critical list of the cosmetic ingredients of Health Canada only aims at restricting the use of certain substances. It does not have any legal power.
º In spite of the reinforcement of the right to information, in practice, understanding the label proves to be a difficult task and the cosmetics industry specifically aims at the naivety and the confidence of the consumers in order to sell us products dangerous for our health.
º In spite of the real progress which the introduction of the INCI system brings, one cannot identify which are the ingredients below the 1% that are part of the composition because on the label there is no separating line between those above the 1% and those below the 1%.
º It is true that certain carcinogenic or toxic ingredients (dioxane 1,4, the phthalates, lead, ethylene oxide) are not indicated on the INCI list of the ingredients because they are present in the product either by contamination, or by reaction between the ingredients of the respective formulae. The laws do not tolerate these ingredients in the formulas but tolerate the contamination with these carcinogenic substances in the name of the sacrosanct “small tolerable amounts” on which the standards were built. Recent research (on the toxicity of lead for example) shows that even with small amounts these ingredients are very dangerous for health, but the standards have not been adjusted…
The ingredients protected by the “professional secrecy” constitute a real Pandora box of the conventional cosmetics industry and the consumer does not have any means of protecting himself from these 3000 secretly held ingredients. “What we do know, is that a considerable number of these hidden ingredients are irritating and that they can cause allergic crises as well as migraines and asthma 14 .   Individuals suffering from poly chemical sensitivity (MCS) or of the diseases related to the environment are particularly vulnerable, since the fragrances are implicated at the same time in the development of their affections and the triggering off of the symptoms 15 During laboratory tests, particular ingredients of fragrance were associated with certain cancers 16 ,   with neurotoxicity 17 and with other negative effects on health” . ISBN 978-1-897375-35-8 What matters most is the content, David Suzuki Foundation p. 14

14 , 15 , 16  and  17  are the references quoted by the above-mentioned excerpt.

14 . Thyssen, JP et al., « Contact sensitization to fragrances in the general population: a Koch’s approach may reveal the burden of disease », British Journal of Dermatology 460, no 4 (avril 2009): 729-35; Kelman, L., « The triggers or precipitants of the acute migraine attack », Cephalalgia 27, no 5 (mai 2007): 394-402; Millqvist E. et O.Löwhagen, « Placebo-controlled challenges with perfume in patients with asthma-like symptoms », Allergy 51, no 6 (juin 1996): 434-9.

15 . Sears, ME, Le point de vue médical sur l’hypersensibilité environnementale (Commission canadienne des droits de la personne, mai 2007), envsensitivity_fr.pdf; Ashford, Nicholas A. et Claudia S.Miller, Chemical Exposures: Low Levels and High Stakes,2e éd. (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998).

16 .   NTP toxicology and carcinogensis Studies of 2,4-hexadienal (89% trans, trans isomer, CAS no 142-83-6; 11% cis, trans isomer) (Gavage Studies), National Toxicology Program Technical Report Series (U.S. National Toxicology Program, October 2003); NTP toxicology and carcinogenesis studies of methyleugenol (CA S no 93-15-2) in F344/N rats and B6C3F1 mice (Gavage Studies),Nat Toxicol Program Tech Rep Ser (U.S. National Toxicology Program, juillet 2000)

17 .   Anderson RC et Anderson JH, « Acute toxic effects of fragrance products », Archives of Environmental Health53, no 2 (avril 1998): 138-46.


º         You trust me for the products that I recommend in this Guide of non-toxic hygiene, beauty and cosmetic products  with the purpose to avoid the dangerous chemical substances and to thus change the spending patterns and ultimately of manufacture.

º          You buy only organic certified products (it is a little difficult, because if one knows that the organic and natural cosmetics market in France accounts for 3 to 4% of the total cosmetics market with a growth of 40% per annum and that in other countries such as Germany that can go up to 4 to 5%, here, unless this book  changes the course of History, things are still tepid and are more an expression of militancy and the immune system rather than of the true choices of the consumers;

º          You use tools like the twelve ingredients to avoid from the David Suzuki Foundation, Skin Deep or the list of Rita Stiens to really understand and check the harmlessness of the product, ingredient by ingredient; caution! certain lists available on the Internet are not very rigorous depending upon the interests which they defend (certain ingredients are only presented as problems whereas others, such as sodium lauryl sulphate are perfectly acceptable!) as well as certain sites as  which are sites subsidized by the cosmetics industry where all the ingredients, (even triclosan on which Health Canada is besides in reflection) are perfect and especially “safe and effective”.

º          You encourage certain companies that show transparency (Lush for example) and post openly, in their advertising folder or on their Website, ALL the ingredients (except the components of Perfume) of ALL their products (by using different colours for the natural and synthetic components) even if they are not always free from toxicity.

º          You support the organizations fighting for safer cosmetics as much for humans as for the environment (see chapter “ Are cosmetics toxic?  ”) and for changes in the legislation governing this industry.

I often hear in the media the idea that it is our duty as a consumer to check the ingredients, the harmlessness, the source (for the GMOs that is not even possible considering that there is no traceability of the product in Canada) of foodstuffs, etc… I say it openly, I do not agree! We do not have the time, the knowledge, the motivations to inquire into all that we consume! More especially as this task often falls on the woman or the mother of the family. It is the responsibility of the Governments to protect us from a toxic and destructive consumption for the environment as well as other dangers and attacks like wars or epidemics. While waiting for my wishes to come true and that safety guarantees inform the consumers by new regulations, one can only act while following the principle of caution. Moreover, I believe that it is high time to remember our great capacity as citizens by making more enlightened and responsible choices of consumption. It is often thought that cosmetics are the prerogative of frivolous women or teenagers, but that is an error. We all are exposed to these products, from our youth onwards and daily,  soap, shampoo and tooth paste, are no luxuries, neither are sun lotion or shaving cream. As long as alternative solutions are within our range and often at the same price, why tolerate (or worse still to take part in or encourage) this collective poisoning? Why take risks?  And if the prices are sometimes higher, why not cause to drop them by the simple law of supply and demand? And I speak here not only for the products of care, but also for organic agriculture and for all that falls under a sustainable initiative of development and respect of the environment.

I am really tempted to shout: “Stand up, citizens!”


[1] ↑

[2] ↑  It is not necessarily so that all synthetic ingredients of fragrance are toxic or allergens, the problem is that the consumer cannot know which substances are in the mixture;

[3] ↑   Program broadcasted on January 22, 2011. For a free viewing, consult the site

[4] ↑

[5] ↑  The European standards on the labelling of cosmetics products are more demanding. The European Union requires that 26 ingredients of fragrance, that one knows as allergens, be duly identified in the lists of ingredients of cosmetics products, these ingredients are available on Le Flacon;

[6] ↑  By convention, several large manufacturers use the term “without perfume” (fragrance – free) to indicate the products free from ingredients of fragrance and in fact rather “not-scented” products (unscented) contain masking agents; for Health Canada the two terms are equivalent.

[7] ↑ Site :

[8] ↑  See more on the site

[9] ↑ Ibid.

[10] ↑  Excerpt from Health Canada.

[11] ↑  There would be a potential link between aluminum and the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

[12] ↑ Site :

[13] ↑

[14] ↑ Source :,3158

[15] ↑  The products posting only active ingredients are often regarded as “drugs” and not as “cosmetics” and are governed by the Law on food and drugs which does not oblige the manufacturer to post all the ingredients contained in the product.

[16] ↑  The nano-particles are molecules of very small dimension (between 1 and 100 nanometers) having the property to easily pass the barrier of the skin and they are suspected to be toxic for human tissue and human cells. They cause an increase in the ‘oxydative’ stress, a production of the free radicals and of inflammatory cytokine, mutations and/or deteriorations of the DNA.

[17] ↑  On this subject, know that ECOCERT decided for a moratorium until December 31, 2010 until the flow of stocks of the products containing of these nano-particles [17] and that, in 2011, one finds already on the market of the certified organic products with the mention “without nano-particles”.

[18] ↑  See section Archives (Portail cancer du sein).

[19] ↑  The UFC What To Choose from Thionville in France is a not-for-profit association, completely independent of the manufacturers, the tradesmen, the activities of services, the trade unions, groups of the press or the financial world, political parties, government and, more generally of any interest or grouping other than those of the consumers.

[20] ↑  There exists a certain legislative void concerning this subject. When it is about an ingredient in a cosmetic, it is indeed the same law as for a food which applies but one does not speak then about certification.  In a cosmetic or a food, a certified organic ingredient must be certified by an organization recognized by a governmental authority.

[21] ↑ Site

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