Whole Foods Banned Ingredient List


Whole Foods is a supermarket chain from America but which has global ambitions, including some stores in the UK.  Its unique selling point is that it stocks natural and organic products.  Speaking personally, I find the notion that any kind of supermarket can be considered to be a natural or a healthy somewhat questionable.  But whatever, one of the ways they are different to ordinary supermarkets is that they require that none of the personal care products they stock have any ingredients that are on a list of about 400 that they have banned.

When first confronted with the list my first reaction was to laugh at the inconsistencies in it.  The longer I looked the more I laughed.  It was a similar effect that you get from top comedians where each gag builds on the one before.  But while it works as humour, it really did make me question what kind of people were running the shop.  It was a list that simply couldn’t have been put together by anybody with the first clue about cosmetic chemistry, or even chemistry.

A must read blog for cosmetic chemists is Chemists’ Corner, and they have recently taken the Whole Foods list to task in a series of blog posts.  You’ll need a pretty good idea of cosmetic ingredients to follow the whole thing but suffice to say the list is revealed to be inconsistent, illogical and plain wrong.  To give one example of many, AHAs are banned.  AHA stands for alpha hydroxy acids.  It is therefore redundant to list individual AHAs such as lactic acid as well, but they do it anyway.  However the most commonly used AHA in cosmetics is citric acid which is not listed.  And it appears in products on the shelves in Whole Foods, so presumably is not actually banned.

As I say that is just one example.  We are not talking about subtle errors here, we are talking about real ignorance.  The Whole Foods banned list is simply very very stupid.  To be fair to them, they did respond to the blog post.  I couldn’t quite see what their point was in their reply, but at least it registered.

But at the end of the day I am very unimpressed that a large organisation could ban ingredients without even going to the trouble to find out what their actual correct names are.  If that is their general level of care and attention I think I will make sure I shop elsewhere.  Quite apart from anything else I am a greenie at heart.  I’d rather support small local shops and avoid international behemoths who don’t understand what they are selling.

3 thoughts on “Whole Foods Banned Ingredient List”

  1. Thanks for posting this! If there’s one thing I can’t stand is uninformed people making general statements about the safety or efficacy of a product or ingredient. I’m no expert but even I know one can’t believe most of what one hears from cosmetic marketers and doomsday seekers (which sounds like what Whole Foods is doing).

    BTW–I’m new to your blog and have learned quite a bit!

  2. There is a more complete listing than the “Banned List.” I can email the spreadsheet that they have which is more in-depth. For example, Citric Acid is allowed, but only as a pH modifier.
    I too see inconsistencies in the list but I have to say that it is better than nothing and hopefully they will refine it. In many cases it follows the NSF Standard closely. Not perfect, but better than no direction at all.

  3. I for one see no inconsistency in listing specific AHAs as well as a class with exceptions like Mark mentions above. Some of us know we’re allergic to one thing but at various times on our educational trajectory wouldn’t recognize it with a different name that a trained chemist might. I agree with Mark that it’s better than remaining silent and is a service to customers who, if they’re looking at a banned ingredient list, probably already spend a great deal of their free time ferreting out the truth of such things.

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