I heard/read something bad about an ingredient and would like you to explain/refute it.

If you follow the news you’ve almost certainly come across headlines and articles about certain ingredients being banned and/or newly discovered to be awful in some way.

I appreciate that you trust me and want my opinion on these headlines, but I’m flat out unable to dig into every sensational headline and explain/debunk them. That could be a full time job, and I’m already very busy with all things Humblebee & Me.

If you have concerns about an ingredient, I’d encourage you to consider these points and resources:

Usually headlines about ‘banning’ lead to a much less sensational (and more specific) truth. A commenter once told me France had banned phenoxyethanol. Further research showed it was no longer allowed in diaper-area products for children under the age of 3; FAR from a complete ban.

Is the exposure you might get to X ingredient from cosmetics meaningful? Remember: the dose makes the poison. Additionally, many of the compounds we’re exposed to are found far more plentifully outside of the realm of cosmetics. I’m not saying you shouldn’t avoid a certain chemical, but it does seem inconsistent to refuse to use an ingredient with 0.05% topical exposure if you’re also eating that chemical (like parabens) or are exposed to far higher levels of it from other common items/activities.

How, and how much? Dose, application, and use matter. Hot sauce is safe at low dosages in soup, but dangerous if you put pure hot sauce in your eyes. If an ingredient has been banned in aerosols or leave-on genital-area products that doesn’t mean it’s unsafe for wash-off use.

Headlines often use percentages or multiples to discuss increased risk, as in “increases risk by 10x!”. That sounds scary… but if the baseline risk was 1 in a million, increasing it to 10 in a million is still a very, very low risk. What are the actual numbers?

Check with CosmeticsInfo.org and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review. Avoid any sources that aim to scare or worry (like the EWG).

Reporters are usually not chemists or experts in cosmetic formulation. Look for the actual study on PubMed. Is the media’s interpretation accurate? Was the sample size so small that the results can’t be guaranteed? Was the methodology flawed? Was the study sponsored/run by an organization with a conflict of interest?

Read more: Research Red Flags & How to Learn About Your Ingredients

Posted in: Safety