Tag Archives: formaldehyde

Are Other People’s Perfumes A Problem?

There is an article I have seen posted on Facebook a couple of times that highlights the health risks of synthetic fragrance ingredients. I won’t link to it, but if I am seeing it there is a good chance you will have seen it too. The thesis it proposes is that synthetic chemicals in fragrances are toxic and might be dangerous to people who inhale them in public places, even if they aren’t actually wearing the fragrance themselves. Continue reading

Kate Lock – confessed Ecoshopper

The Daily Mail has published an article by Kate Lock drawing people’s attention to how bad cosmetics are.

Kate Lock asks Are Your Beauty Products Killing You?

I had never heard of Kate Lock before, so before responding I have tried to find out a bit about her online. She seems to be a journalist. That explains the eye-catching headline. She doesn’t seem to be a scientist. That explains why her article is full of inaccurate information.

I am nonetheless grateful to her for raising a few things that I am quite keen to talk about. It will take more than one blog to get through them all. But just to tackle the list at the bottom of the article.


Phthalates are a class of compounds, not an individual one. You can’t make blanket statements about their properties. Some chlorides are dangerous. DDT for instance. Other chlorides are quite safe. Common salt is a chloride. I actually do have some sympathy with what she is saying here. Phthalates are used in synthetic fragrances and I personally prefer natural fragrances. (See my article on how to spot a good fragrance from the ingredient list.) But as you will see if you read the article carefully – the data on phthalates has already been reviewed by the top EU experts. The dangerous ones have been banned. I read the summary of their deliberations on this issue when it was current a few years back. They were very cautious indeed.


I have already confessed that I used to put formaladehyde in formulations when I first started formulating cosmetics. But I haven’t done so for over 20 years and I do not know of a single formulation on the market today that uses formaldehyde as a preservative.

But here is some free technical advice for Kate Lock. Formaldehyde is very cheap and easy to test for. There are many labs that can easily tell you how much formaldehyde is in a product. Reading Scientific Services in Reading is one good one, but there are plenty of others. If you think there is formaldehyde in cosmetics why don’t you get some tested? You would then have some facts to base your article on.


Again parabens are not something I personally use and I recommend avoiding them. I have also proposed an alternative. (See my post what’s wrong with parabens.) But there is no good reason to believe that parabens cause any kind of cancer, let alone breast cancer. Let us read what the article says in detail:

“More than 12 studies have shown them to mimic the effect of oestrogen …. The link between oestrogen and breast cancer is already well proven, but a 2004 study …found evidence of parabens in breast tumours.”

Sounds scary? What has been done here is put together a list of disparate facts. Parabens mimic oestrogen? Maybe they do, but are they present at a high enough level for the effect to be measured? There is a link between oestregen and breast cancer. What does that mean? There is a link between oestregen and pregnancy. Does that mean parabens will make you pregnant? And it is not surprising that parabens have been found in breast tumours. If you use cosmetics containing parabens you will have parabens in your body.

Kate Lock cannot prove that parabens cause breast cancer any more than I can prove that she deliberately played up the risk of parabens to make an impact and sell her book.


Pesticides are less likely to be in cosmetics than in food. If the motive of the article is to draw attention to the risks of pesticides then surely it should concentrate on the biggest source?

Anyway, rant over. I suspect that Kate Lock and I will never become friends but she has raised some points that I will be looking at in more detail soon.  In the meantime you can have your say on the beauty forum.

Yves Rocher Organic Range due in October

If you are over 40 and live in the UK there is a very good chance that I have helped increase your chance of getting skin cancer.  My first job in the cosmetics industry, back in the early eighties, was formulating bars of soap.  In those days it was normal to put a small amount of formaldehyde into soap bars as a preservative.  Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen.  These bars were on the shelves of most of the big supermarkets at the time.

Looking back on it, my reaction is “what were we thinking?”.  But the past is a different country where they do things differently.  In the days when smokers were in a clear majority, all petrol contained lead and some buildings were still coated with accretions of soot going back to the Victorian era a bit of formaldehyde in your soap probably didn’t make a lot of difference.

These thoughts were triggered by hearing that Yves Rocher is launching a new range – Culture Bio – in October.  In France the term used for organic is bio-cosmetics.  I think that this sounds a bit more scientific than organic, but the basic idea isn’t that different.

It seems that everyone in the skin care business is going organic these days.  When you are watching the industry closely like I do it is easy to get cynical about this sort of thing, which is why I have to remind myself that it wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t bat an eyelid about putting formaldehyde in soap.  It is good to see top companies taking  the consumer’s desire for safe and natural cosmetics seriously.

Yves Rocher are also planning a new top-of-the-range anti-ageing care product at the same time.  This is to be called Jour Nouveau (New Day).  They must see organic products as an add-on to their range rather than a road to Damascus conversion away from their old way of doing things.  This makes commercial sense as organic beauty products are only 2% of the market in France, though with Yves Rocher weighing in this is likely to grow.  It will be interesting to see which of their two offerings they put most promotion behind this autumn.  It will also be interesting to see how well they do.

I will do a review when they come out.