Q.This is really getting me down: why won’t companies put the full ingredient list on websites and in a perfect world provide samples? I have very reactive skin and I know some of the triggers are salicylic acid (I’m very seriously allergic to aspirin), Triclosan and a few others. I really want to try a new skincare range I’ve heard about – but no samples, no ingredient list. The sainted QVC say their money back guarantee is comprehensive – but I don’t try new things unless I am sure they’re ‘clean’, as return postage isn’t cheap. Haircare is even worse I find. I e-mailed several companies asking whether they have ingredients I can’t use in their products, and never got an answer.
A.We share your irritation about this. (And how rude of those companies.) We do feel that all ingredients for products should be listed on-line, so that you can see what you’re getting: www.lovelula.com, which is one of our ‘Beauty Bible-approved’ websites, does that, and we’re nudging the others to do the same. You might like to know that in line with our philosophy about this, we put all the ingredients on this site for any product that features in our book The Green Beauty Bible, together with a glossary of what those ingredients are and what they do. Look in the GREEN PAGES section, on the tabs above. However, we’re sure you’ll understand that we couldn’t do this for every product on the market as it would be way beyond our resources.)
We have more sympathy with the fact that sites don’t offer samples, though: this would be a hugely expensive exercise for most websites (and a lot of non-genuine customers would probably ‘try it on’). One of our ‘approved’ recommended websites, www.lovelula.com, offers a choice of samples when you shop with them, so that night help.
In general, we would still recommend e-mailing websites and companies to ask for ingredients lists; some, we hope, will be gracious enough to respond – and if they’re not, we give them a big black mark and suggest you take your business elsewhere.
With regard to Jo’s book The Ultimate Natural Beauty Book: first, where can you buy some of the ingredients (retail stores)? And when it comes to making perfume do you have to use vodka or can something else be used? Some of the recipes say use rose water or spring water – can I use distilled water or not? My last question relates to page 75, Fabulous Face Powder: when I make the powder what can I put it in, besides a screw-top jar?
The very best source for many of the ingredients in the book, says Jo, is Neal’s Yard Remedies – they have many shops around the country, and you can find a Store Finder on their site if you click here. In addition, many of the ingredients are also offered by them mail order, at www.nealsyardremedies.com. With fragrance, you need alcohol to act as a carrier and fixative for the essential oils; you could experiment with using rosewater as a base, but the results would be less long-lasting. The reason Jo likes to use vodka is because it’s essentially entirely scent-less; most types of alcohol would alter the nature of the fragrance. (You could perhaps get some interesting results from rum, if you wanted to make something exotically-fragranced, though!) Now for the water question: you can use distilled water, absolutely – the idea is not to use straight tap water because it tends to have traces of chlorine and other dissolved solids. And as for the Face Powder, an alternative would be to recycle an old loose powder container – you can often find lovely vintage ones around. The screw-top jar is simply a useful way of storing the powder to stop it getting everywhere!
Q.In your book The Green Beauty Bible on page 108 you mentioned the Logona product as a ‘safe’ one. What about Santé products? Are they OK?
A.Both Logona and Santé both have very high levels of natural ingredients and few, if any, synthetic ingredients such as petroleum-derived preservatives etc. They’re both German brands, with similar textures (and similarly slightly unsexy packaging), and do a good job. If you take our ‘daisy rating’ (which we award on the basis of reading the ingredients list very carefully), they are both ‘two daisy’ brands (three daisies is reserved for organically-certified products), so they’re about as natural as you can buy. But despite our passion for all things natural – and a natural lifestyle ourselves – we try to encourage people to look at the big picture and not worry about whether one individual product is ‘safe’ or not. It is highly unlikely that cosmetics alone are going to cause health problems for the vast majority of people, except in the case of serious allergies (which is another matter altogether). It’s important to look at them in the context of your diet, your stress levels, your overall exposure to chemicals etc. We also advocate driving safely! Might sound crazy, but you’re at far greater risk behind the wheel than in the bathroom, even if there are some more ‘questionable’ cosmetic ingredients out there.
Q.Can you tell me where I’ll find the ‘longer’ list of ingredients you don’t like to see in beauty products? Not the list in the book but the one you refer to in the book as on the website?
A.We have a very extensive list of ingredients – both natural and synthetic – on this site, which you can find if you go to the button called GREEN PAGES along the top of this page. It’s easy to find from there.
Because ingredients have by law to be labelled in Latin on cosmetics (no, we’re not sure why, either), there are also quite a few ingredients written there which are actually natural, but we provide the translations for clarity and transparency. (You can also click here to find the alphabetical list.)
We do not have a definitive list of ingredients that we don’t want to see in products full-stop – but the list you refer to in The Green Beauty Bible actually features those that we don’t feel have a place in products that call themselves ‘natural’. We have reached the point where we want to steer away from ‘ingredient paranoia’, though. You can open newspapers almost every day and see articles about ‘Killer cosmetics’, but in fact anything you put on your skin is a tiny part of a very big health picture. We advocate getting adequate sleep, doing some form of de-stressing (yoga/Pilates/meditation), walking and/or swimming regularly, eating wholesome food and steering clear of more than a glass or two of alcohol occasionally and – yes – driving carefully (and certainly never coinciding with that glass or two of alcohol).
The bottom line, we feel, is that aiming for positive health and wellbeing in this way will go a long, long way to protecting you not only against questionable chemicals in cosmetics (and there is very, very little definitive scientific evidence about any of them, although quite a few doubts), but also against viruses, bacteria and illness generally. Yes, we use a lot of natural and ‘more natural’ products, but if you look in our make-up bags you’ll find we compromise wildly and there are some parabens and other preservatives in there. It’s all about balance.
Q.I am just wondering why one product ingredient can come from a variety of different sources yet still go under the same name. Things like stearic acid I just read on your site can come from either plant or animal – I don’t understand; surely they are two different things? Fair enough they may be used for the same purpose, but why call them the same name? I do know that gelatine can come from either pig or cow bones as they are just that: animal bones. But I cannot grasp why one ingredient can derive from two very different sources! Can you explain at all? Sorry – I know that’s a really tricky one to answer!
A.Actually, it’s not that difficult to answer. Oil, for instance, can come from petroleum, or it can come from a plant. And so it is with other ingredients: the raw materials may be different, but the way they are processed results in an ingredient with exactly the same properties, texture, even smell. What’s not helpful, certainly, is that these can be labeled in the same way so that you can’t tell whether it’s a plant or animal source, or from petroleum/plants. The labeling regulations probably aren’t going to change, but we agree: it would be helpful if labels said ‘stearic acid/plant source’; however, since ingredients list are already microscopic (we know, we have magnifying glasses on our desks to read them!), it’s probably not viable. If you are concerned about animal ingredients (it’s not 100% clear from your question), then you might want to get hold of a copy of The Compassionate Shopping Guide, it is a run-down of cruelty-free beauty brands; find it on-line here.
Q.I have recently started to make my own beauty products and I received your book The Ultimate Natural Beauty Book for Christmas. I have made the Chamomile Comfort Cream but the herbal decoction and the other ingredients separate. Is it supposed to do so? Is it supposed to have a more solid consistency or is it quite liquid? Mine is very liquid. (Great book overall. It’s giving me plenty of ideas!)
A.Jo says: thanks for the nice compliment, first of all! She thinks that the problem you talk about may be down to how you’re mixing the cream. The absolute ideal ‘tool’ is a Bamix or similar electric hand-held blender, which really seems to push the liquid and solid elements together and fuse them permanently. You’ll need to do this in a plastic bowl, rather than the jar, and then use a spoon or spatula to decant the product. If your cream’s still really runny, you could try re-melting it in a double boiler (though this may not work now the water’s incorporated); add a little more beeswax to create a more solid texture. Basically, the golden rule is: if a cream is runny, add a little more beeswax. If it’s too solid, re-melt and add just a little more of the main oil in the recipe. If you practice for a while, you’ll soon find it becomes easy to adjust the finished products to the texture you prefer to use on your own skin.