Interpreting Product Labels, Episode 1

If you’re following Y natural on Facebook, you might know that Olivia and I have been working in Queensland for the past week. There were little bottles of free products at the hotel and at a glance, several things caught my eye.

  1. They have an “EcoPure” symbol with a leaf. I haven’t seen this symbol before, but presumably that indicates good things about this product. Leaves. Ecology. The planet. We like leaves.
  2. They have a “Product not tested on animals” logo with a paw. Good. We don’t want to use something that’s been tested on animals.
  3. They have a “Paraben-free” logo with a leaf incorporated into the image, so that too builds confidence in this being a clean product. We like clean products. And leaves.
  4. One of the ingredients is “Germall”. I hadn’t heard of this ingredient before. Sounds OK though. Reminds me of germination. Must be something related to plants?
  5. I won’t say the brand, other than to say that the packages say ‘Sydney’ and ‘Wild Leura’ on the front and ‘Australian designed and owned’ on the back. So that’s a nice way to make Australians feel good about the hotel supporting an Australian business.

I think it’s fair to say that this brand is giving the impression of being Australian, natural (or natural-ish), cruelty free and ethical.

The logos are in the feature pic for your reference, and here is the ingredients list in full for one of the products (shampoo): Deionised Water, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamide DEA, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Chloride, Ethylene Glycol Monostearate, Citric Acid, Fragrance, Germall, Disodium Edetate, EDTA-2NA, Methylchlororisothiazolinone and Methylisothiazolinone.

QUESTION:
Given that I don’t have time to do a full breakdown of the brand or even the product, what does some basic knowledge about ingredients and greenwashing help me to understand?

ANSWER:
Overall, we seem to have imported overseas products, presented in such a way as to make them look Australian, clean, green and cruelty free. The products contain multiple chemicals that are known to trigger contact dermatitis, skin irritations or worse. The packaging is the best thing about these products.

If you’re interested to know how I arrived at those conclusions, read on!

First, I googled the EcoPure logo, Cruelty Free logo and Paraben-free logo.

The EcoPure logo was used because the plastic of the bottle contains an additive that accelerates biodegradation – this is great. They specify the additive as being ‘organic’ which possibly is intended to help people feel good about it, but it’s worth noting that in this context, the word means ‘organic’ in the sense of organic chemistry (ie it contains a Carbon atom) not in the sense of organic farming. But still, great. Big tick for this – if all hotels were to use products with improved biodegradability that would mean a whole lot less conventional plastic taking thousands of years to break down.

The ‘Product not tested on animals’ logo remains a mystery – I’m guessing this is a logo they created for themselves because I can’t find it using Google, though am happy to stand corrected if someone else recognises it. It raises the potential problem of lack of independence. Have they created their own logo because they do things that don’t conform with the official certifying bodies? If so, what criteria are they using? The logo specifies ‘product’ which indicates that although they haven’t tested the finished product, there might have been animal testing on the ingredients they use. Overall, this vagueness and lack of transparency reduces my confidence of their ethical boundaries.

Paraben-free is great. All products should be paraben-free. This is good. Parabens are endocrine disruptors and formaldehyde donors. That is, they mess with our hormones and as the parabens degrade, they release formaldehyde (a known carcinogen and skin irritant). I’ll do a blog post on parabens soon, so if you want us to send you an email when that goes live, drop us a line: info@ynatural.com.au.

So what did they use instead of parabens?

I googled Germall, which turns out to be a trade name for the preservative chemicals Imidazolidinyl Urea and Diazolidinyl Urea. The first point to note about this, is that the use of a trade name is often done with the intent of disguising the actual chemical or chemicals in use. It’s a common strategy to make certain products look more natural than they really are – for example, some brands write the trade name Suttocide in their ingredients list instead of Hydroxymethylglycinate. It’s also a strategy used to make something sound completely awesome and amazing when it really isn’t – a la what we see in this hilarious clip by the fabulous Sarah Haskins. Watch it. You won’t be sorry 🙂

The second point to note, is that both Imidazolidinyl Urea and Diazolidinyl Urea are known formaldehyde donors, so there is some irony attached to them being used instead of parabens. They also share #1 place on the list of 10 Synthetic Cosmetic Ingredients To Avoid put out by the Organic Consumers Association, due to being a primary cause of contact dermatitis.

Neither Imidazolidinyl Urea nor Diazolidinyl Urea is suitable as an antifungal agent, hence the addition of two further preservatives to cover this function: Methylchlororisothiazolinone and Methylisothiazolinone. These two chemicals are also known for causing contact dermatitis, though note that tests on animals have not identified a carcinogenic effect. The latter is mentioned not for the drama of the word ‘carcinogenic’ but for the words: tests on animals. Ah.

Next, I went to the brand’s website, which indicates Wild Leura is a reference to the fragrance. It’s reasonable to guess that the name was chosen as a name to strengthen the association with Sydney, given that Leura is a town in the stunning Blue Mountains of NSW. The ingredients list says Fragrance which, unless specifically denoted as Natural Fragrance, is most likely to be an Artificial Fragrance consisting of a blend of well in excess of a hundred chemicals (though sometimes some natural ingredients are included too).

Artificial fragrances are one of the leading causes of skin reactions, allergies and sensitivities. They also contain phthalates which, according to papers published by the World Health Organisation, are linked to childhood leukaemia and childhood asthma, amongst other problems.

Finally, I tried to clarify the significance of ‘Sydney’ and ‘Australian designed and owned’. It’s difficult to know for sure what this actually means. Typically, for a product made or even just bottled in Australia we would expect to see Made In Australia or Product Of Australia on the label – these are terms with legal definitions attached. I’m happy to stand corrected, but my best guess is that the brand is designed and owned in Australia, but the products are probably formulated and manufactured overseas, filled into bottles overseas, then shipped to Australia.

This is why I believe these are imported overseas products, presented in such a way as to make them look Australian, clean, green and cruelty free. I didn’t go into detail for all the ingredients (oh, the temptation!) but the ingredients are mostly petrochemicals and synthetic chemicals. Those ingredients discussed in this post include chemicals that are known to trigger contact dermatitis, skin irritations or worse. The packaging is the best thing about these products.

If you’re curious to know more about ingredients, greenwashing and other things that help you make healthy and/or ethical choices, you’re most welcome to come to one of our workshops. Keep an eye on our website (here in the news blog) or drop us a line: info@ynatural.com.au.

Barbara xo

PS if you’d like posts like this to be a regular thang on our blog, let us know. We’re keen to help educate and inform, but we want to make sure it’s information you’re keen to read.

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