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  • Writer's pictureNicole Salter

5 cosmetic ingredients that sound scary, but are totally innocent

Updated: May 6, 2022

We've often talked about the long list of scary chemicals found in most mass-produced bath and body care products, from lotions to soaps to shampoos. But what about the ones that sound scary, with long, sometimes difficult-to-pronounce names - but are actually totally innocent? What's the real deal, and why do these compounds, chemicals and extracts sound so bizarre?

The short answer is that Health Canada has very strict cosmetic product labelling requirements to protect consumers and help them make educated choices about the products they're buying. That means that botanical ingredients must be listed by their Latin names (for example, spearmint leaf oil is properly called Mentha viridis; beeswax becomes cera alba). Of course, many handmade products do not adhere strictly to these guidelines, often due to limited space on labels and fewer affordable custom design and printing options. One of our particular challenges, which many other micro-companies face, has been to put French on our labeling, which is another compliance guideline. Custom labels are expensive, and so are translation services... but we're getting there!

The next time you're looking at a product label wondering whether an item is copacetic or not, consider this list of common cosmetic ingredients that sound scary but are actually innocent or even beneficial... and search all questionable ingredients online before leaping to conclusions!

Cosmetic ingredients with scary-sounding names

1. Titanium dioxide - This mineral colour is found in just about every opaque (white) product - specifically soaps, though it is also found in a wide range of other consumer products, from makeup to food to house paint. If a soap or cream is white, as opposed to clear, it probably contains titanium dioxide, which is just a naturally derived, safe mineral pigment. It's how we get our soaps white - and a tiny bit of this rich white mineral goes a very long way!

2. Tocopherol - A form of Vitamin E derived from vegetable oils, tocopherol is used in lots of body care products as an antioxidant that's great for your skin, as well as a preservative in natural botanical products that helps keep other ingredients shelf-stable longer.

3. Butyrospermum parkii - Sounds like something you'd find in an oilfield, but actually it's the proper Latin name for shea butter.

4. Lauric acid - This is a saturated fatty acid also known as dodecanoic acid. It is a component of triglycerides derived from the coconut oil and sustainably sourced palm kernel oil in the all-natural soap base we use for our handmade soaps. Lauric acid is not to be confused with artificial surfactants like sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate, SLS.

5. Sorbitan oleate - This solid ingredient is derived from sorbitol, a sugar alcohol naturally found in fruits, and often used as a humectant. It is used in a variety of formulas in the cosmetic industry, including skin care products, moisturizers and makeup. in soap and body wash, it's used as an emulsifier, keeping the vegetable oils smooth and together.

There we have it! Naturally derived products can, rather unfairly, sound like harsh chemicals. We'll be back with another post about the chemicals to truly avoid in the body care products you use every day.

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