How Do I Know if a Product is Safe?


To purchase or not?  How do I know if the product at the farmers markets or on a store shelf are safe?


For those people that are not experienced formulators, this can be an extremely confusing topic.  The woman at the farmers market says it’s safe, but how do you know if it truly is?  There are some relatively easy rules of thumb a person can go by when deciding on whether to make that purchase or not and it’s even easier when the person who made the product can be asked (such as at a farmers market).  The rules below are in reference to whether the product is safe to use in general (so not bacteria infested which can lead to serious skin conditions and disease), not in terms of whether the ingredient itself is safe… that is another issue all together and is subjective in many ways.


So the rules:

1.   Is there an ingredient list?  If the answer is no… avoid the product… you have the right (by law in Canada) to know EXACTLY what is in the cosmetic product.  If there isn’t one, keep walking.  If they cannot disclose their ingredients on their product, they are probably not being all that truthful in other aspects.

2.   Is water (INCI:aqua) listed in the ingredients?  If so, then the product NEEDS a preservative (unless it is soap, which would be indicated by the addition of the term saponified and/or sodium/potassium hydroxide  or sodium/potassium followed by a word ending in -ate (sodium cocoate as an example).  If the vendor is saying it is preserved with Grapefruit Seed Extract or Vitamin E… keep walking.  These are NOT preservatives, no matter how convincing an argument is made.

3.   Does the product contain honey (INCI: mel)?  If the answer is yes, a preservative MUST be used.  This includes lip balm.  Honey is water soluble, which means it does not mix with oil and wax (lip balm).  Yes, honey is self-preserving, but the key word in this is SELF.  Honey does not preserve other ingredients and actually feeds bacteria due to its sugar content.  (There is honey powder out on the market that does not contain water, you may wish to ask if they are using this product in lip balms, as it does not require an added preservative).

4.    If you get a chance to speak to the person (this is just to validate they know how to formulate a proper, safe formula) ask what percentage of preservative they are using in their product.  If they answer in teaspoons, tablespoons or any other lingo other than the words said in a % format they are most likely not accurately formulating and the product is most likely under-preserved or a skin irritant (they may answer in a range, so for instance between .5 and 1% being that they may have various products on their table and do not remember the exact % for each, you are merely looking for a % response).  (And as an aside, the range of use for preservatives in general is between .1% and 1.5%, depending on the preservative used). 


If all of these questions are answered, you can assume their product is as safe as it can be without being formulated in a sterile lab somewhere where the big brands make their product.  We DO want to support the little guys, but we also want to be safe ourselves.  So keep these things in mind when you make your purchase.  If in doubt, do some research prior to making that purchase.  


~ Randi


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