Facts About Chemicals

Calling an ingredient a chemical can sometimes lead to concern, yet the two terms can be used interchangeably. Because everything is made up of chemicals, as they are the building blocks of all substances, both natural and man-made. We use the term ingredient for the chemicals that make up all different types of products, from cosmetics to baking cakes. We could equally call the many substances that form the human body its ‘ingredients’.

As a result, this means dat nothing can be ‘ingredient-free’ and everything is ‘100% ingredients’, and equally nothing can be ‘chemical-free’ as everything is ‘100% chemical’.

Chemical Research in Laboratory

global questions & answers

FAQs & FACTs About Chemicals

Because there are no ‘chemical-free’ products, the important question is whether the products and all their ingredients you choose are safe. You can rest assured that all cosmetic products are developed with safety at the forefront and are subject to strict EU legislation which requires a robust safety assessment for each cosmetic product before they are available for purchase.

The image below gives you some perspective on some ingredients. While they may sound scary, many actually occur naturally in everyday foods like pears and apples.

Apple seeds = contain Amygdalin -0,6g/kg of seeds

Pear = Formaldehyde -0,06g/kg

Potatoes = Solanin -0,2g/kg (higher in green potatoes)

courgettes = cucurbitacine (variable) higher in bitter courgettes

No! Since absolutely everything is made from chemicals, from cosmetics, to water, to the human body, there is no such thing as a ‘chemical-free’ product, and you shouldn’t be alarmed by the term ‘chemical’. We could equally use the term ‘ingredient’.

Some products claim to be free from specific ingredients or types of ingredients. Whilst this might help those consumers who wish to avoid that ingredient, it does lead to two negative effects. Firstly, there is the risk that people may look for such ‘free from’ claims instead of looking at the ingredient list. Because ‘free from’ labels are not required by law, they can never cover all possible options whereas the ingredient list is a legal requirement and if an ingredient is not listed, it won’t be present regardless of any claim.

We must remember that the ingredient list is to enable people who have been diagnosed as allergic to particular ingredients to avoid products which contain them.

Or greater concern is that people may come to see ‘free from’ as implying there is a safety issue with the ingredient in question and that ‘free from’ products are somehow safer.

This is wrong. All ingredients used in cosmetic products must be safe. If there were a safety issue with any ingredient, it would be banned or restricted for all cosmetics equally.

The law requires that the safety of all ingredients is assessed when developing a product, irrespective of their source, and their use in cosmetic products must be safe. In fact, whether ingredients are natural or man-made has no bearing whatsoever on how safe they are. Also, the name of the ingredient, whether long and complex or short and memorable, has no bearing on how safe it is either. What is important is how much of the ingredient is used and in what way it is used. That’s why you should always follow the instructions given.

We should also remember that anything has the potential to be harmful if used in the wrong way, even water or vitamin A for example; too much or too little can cause severe harm in both cases.

Natural and organic ingredients are not always better for the environment, than man-made ones. In fact, the source of an ingredient, whether it is from nature or from a laboratory, has no bearing on whether it is safer or whether it is better or worse for the environment. What is important is the way in which the ingredient is produced and whether this is sustainable.

Although nature can provide inspiration as a source of new ingredients for cosmetic and personal care products, natural resources are not always sustainable. For example, the excessive harvesting of plants from the wild can lead to a reduction in their numbers in nature or to a loss of natural habitat and biodiversity.

Scientists can produce man-made replicas of many natural ingredients, from oils to fragrances. These are the same in every way as their natural counterparts and behave the same when put on the skin. In fact, man-made ingredients can often be even purer than natural ones, since they are produced under very strictly controlled conditions.

Many people choose to support the principles of ‘organic’ as a lifestyle choice. The industry has developed products and ingredients to suit that choice. However, this does not mean that all other ingredients are automatically harmful to the environment.

A common concern is that ingredients in our everyday products, such as cosmetics and personal care products, might stay in our body and build up over time (possibly to reach unsafe levels). Scientists call this process “bioaccumulation”. The potential for bioaccumulation is one of the factors that scientists look for when assessing whether an ingredient is safe to use or not, so we can be confident that the products we use are indeed safe.

Modern technology can now detect the tiniest traces of chemicals in the human body, even down to levels as low as parts per billion. To put this in perspective, one part per billion is equivalent to one second in thirty years!

Importantly, detecting the presence of an ingredient in the body is not evidence of bioaccumulation or of any harm being done by that ingredient. It simply shows that the person head to come into contact with that ingredient at some point. In fact, the ingredient may well be on its way out of the body. The body is a remarkable thing and eliminates effectively all the substances that it doesn’t need; so, if the ingredient in question isn’t required by the body, the chances are it won’t be around for long.

The majority of people in the EU safely use cosmetic products without any problems. However, a few people may have a reaction to certain ingredients.

If you have had a reaction:

See your GP for further information. They may refer you to a specialist such as a dermatologist to determine the type of reaction and the possible cause.

Contact the manufacturer to let them know you have had a problem with their product. They will be able to advise you further.

If it is an allergic reaction, once the ingredient you are allergic to has been identified, you will be able to avoid it by checking the ingredient list on cosmetic product packaging. Ingredients are listed with the same names across the world, so you should be able to identify your allergen even when travelling.

Preservatives play an essential role in keeping the consumer safe against spoilage and contamination of their cosmetics products by microorganisms during storage and also during continued use. In short, they make our products last.

There are very few ingredients that have the rare quality of being able to work across a variety of products to keep them safe and microbe-free.

It’s not just ingredients that are considered when a product is being designed and manufactured.

A whole team of scientists develops, manufacture and market each cosmetic product. From concept to final product the sequence will include basic biological research into specialist ingredients, the development of the formulation, efficacy testing, scaling up to manufacturing from laboratory development, packaging, further efficacy testing, safety assurance and regulatory compliance. Each step involves many different scientific disciplines.

The key step is that of safety assessment. The safety assessor signs off the product safety in a personal capacity. That person must be appropriately qualified and experienced to do so. Without the sign-off of the safety assessor, the product cannot be placed on the market.

FAQs & FACTs About Animal Testing

No cosmetic product may be tested on animals anywhere in the EU. The ban on animal testing of cosmetic products in the EU came into effect in September 2004. It has been illegal to test cosmetic product on animals in the Europe since that time.

No ingredients used in cosmetics may be tested for that reason anywhere in the EU.

The ban on animal testing of cosmetic ingredients in the EU came into effect in March 2009. It has been illegal to test cosmetic ingredients for that purpose on animals in Europe since that time. However, many cosmetic ingredients are also used by other industries, some of which still require animal testing. Therefore, most if not all cosmetics contain one or more ingredients tested on animals by someone at some time.

No cosmetic product tested on animals anywhere in the world to comply with European cosmetics law may be sold in Europe.

However, some countries still require animal testing of cosmetics under their own laws. Such products may still be sold in the Europe. Companies, individually and through Cosmetics Europe, along with the European Commission, are working with those countries to explain why animal testing of such products in not necessary to ensure safety.

FAQs & FACTs About Sunscreens

No sunscreen can provide 100% protection. The term “sunblock” should not be used on sun protection products, and this has been an industry recommendation since 2002. Sunscreens should never be used to stay in the sun for longer.

A double application of an SPF 15 product does not give a level of protection equivalent to SPF 30. Reapplying sunscreen acts to maintain the expected level of protection and will not increase this level beyond the SPF on pack. Always follow the instructions for application and use.

Sunscreen should never be used to extend the amount of time that you spend in the sun. The SPF category and number provides an indication of the amount of protection sunscreen provides against UVB rays – the higher the SPF number, the greater the protection the sunscreen will give. 

An SPF of 15 will filter out approximately 93% of UVB rays, and an SPF of 30 will filter out around 97%. While this might not seem like a big difference, it can have a significant improvement in sun protection for someone who burns easily. SPF15 is the recommended minimum by most health experts.

The relationship between the quantity of sunscreen applied and the SPF protection you will receive is not straightforward. In fact, applying half the recommended amount of sunscreen can reduce the level of protection by as much as two thirds*.

The recommended amount to be applied is based on 2 mg/cm2 body surface area, the amount used in the scientific test to determine the product is effective. This is quite hard to visualize, but it can be more easily thought of as about 35ml for an average person or a “golf ball” size amount per body; or six to eight teaspoons.

It is possible to get a tan whilst wearing a high factor SPF. Even though the tan may take longer to develop, your risk of skin damage is lower. Trying to tan quickly by using a low factor SPF will increase the risk of damaging the skin and may also result in sunburn.


Most health experts consider the development of a tan to be an indication that the skin has been damaged and is trying to protect itself against further damage. While some people may want their skin to have some degree of a tan, it is essential that they are made aware of the risks of sun exposure and are discouraged from developing a deeply coloured tan or getting burned. To achieve a tanned looking skin, you could consider using self-tanning products, but remember in most cases they will not offer any sun protection unless labelled with an SPF /UVA logo.

There is a wide range of sunscreen products available to accommodate various lifestyles and budgets. Just because a product is cheaper does not mean that it will work less effectively than a more expensive product claiming the same level of protection. The laws that cover the manufacture of cosmetic products require that all claims made, including sun protection claims, must be substantiated. However, it is important that you buy your sunscreens from a reputable retail outlet.

Scientific studies1 have found that wearing sunscreen does not prevent vitamin D production. 

It is still possible to get all the vitamin D the body needs from incidental sun exposure, even if you’re wearing sunscreen. Most people have sufficient exposure to the sun in their day-to-day lives to produce adequate amounts of this vitamin. It is not normally necessary to seek extra unprotected sun exposure. 

The NHS advises that most people can make enough vitamin D by spending short periods of time outside during the summer months, with some skin exposed to the sun, and not allowing the skin to burn.

The NHS does acknowledge that it is difficult to know exactly how much time is needed in the sun. We also believe it is difficult for each person to judge what a safe short period of time in the sun is for them.

For example, before the skin burns visibly, invisible changes can be taking place, such as DNA damage. Therefore, CTPA recommends to always wear sunscreen when in the sun during the summer months. 

1Br J Dermatol. 2019 Nov;181(5):907-915. doi: 10.1111/bjd.17980. Epub 2019 Jul 9. 

The sun’s UV rays can penetrate light cloud and their fore, it is still possible to be sunburned in the summer when the sky is cloudy and particularly the closer you are to the equator. It is their fore always best to be safe and apply sunscreens, even on cloudy summer days.

FAQs & FACTs About Microplastics

‘Microplastic’ refers to the tiny pieces of plastic of all kinds present in the marine environment. This microplastic originates from a variety of sources, mainly from the breakdown of larger plastics, and these microplastics are non as ‘secondary microplastics’. ‘Primary microplastics’ are those which are directly released to the environment as small particles.

Plastic microbeads, which used to be used in some cosmetic products, were a very small fraction of the wider class of ‘microplastics’. Plastic microbeads were present in some rinse-off cosmetics for their cleansing and exfoliating properties, but these have been voluntarily phased-out across Europe and also has now been banned in several countries, including the EU.

There is no standard globally accepted definition of plastic or microplastic, which does make it challenging for countries to implement laws which are aligned with each other, and also for scientists when comparing research data to build up our scientific noledge on microplastics.

Microplastics are either ‘primary’ or ‘secondary’. Primary microplastics are created to be small, because of their specific uses, but sometimes they are unintentionally lost to the environment. Secondary microplastics are formed from the breakdown of larger plastics in the environment. The following image, from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), displays examples of where microplastics come from.

IUCN Primary Microplastics in teh Ocean 2017

Plastic microbeads are any intentionally added, water insoluble, solid plastic particles (5 mm or less in size). They were used to exfoliating or cleanse in rinse-off personal care products, and they have been voluntarily phased-out across Europe.

Plastic microbeads were used in some cosmetic and personal care products to help clean the skin by exfoliation and to remove stains and plaque from teeth. Exfoliation removes dirt and helps to unclog pores. Dead skin cells are loosened and removed to leave a surface layer composed of fresh, younger cells. This leaves the skin feeling soft, smooth and looking brighter.

The small plastic beads were originally selected for use as exfoliating or teeth-cleaning agents because they are clean, safe, can be produced to be a uniform size and has no sharp edges to scratch the skin.

It is possible to tell whether a product contains microbeads because they give a grainy appearance and texture to the product. It will not necessarily be possible to determine whether the microbeads are made from plastic or naturally derived material just by looking at, or feeling, the product. Companies that previously used plastic microbeads has replaced these with alternatives, including beeswax, rice bran wax, jojoba waxes, starches derived from corn, tapioca and carnauba, seaweed, silica and clay.

The fact that there is no standard globally accepted definition of plastic or microplastic means that the same ingredient might be considered a microplastic under one law, but not under another law. Ultimately, what matters is whether this ingredient has an impact on the environment.

The definition of microplastic proposed by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) for its REACH Restriction on microplastics defines a microplastic as any solid synthetic polymer. This definition is very broad and includes many substances, such as polymers with essential uses in cosmetic and personal care products, which are not associated with the plastic pollution problem. These ingredients have not been found to pose a risk of harm to health or the environment.

The Restriction aims to prevent the release of solid polymers to the environment. ECHA has estimated that leave-on cosmetic products contribute 2% to the total emissions that the Restriction aims to stop:

In the context of the total amount of ‘plastic’ waste, ECHA estimates that leave-on cosmetic products contribute 0.004%. This is the equivalent of four seats out of the entire capacity of Wembley Stadium.

Despite this, the REACH Restriction will mean cosmetic products across many different categories, from sunscreen to mascara to toothpaste and shower gel, will need to be redesigned. As no alternative ingredients are available in 85% of cases, we are likely to notice a difference in the way our cosmetics look, feel and work, or even that some are no longer available.

A polymer is a substance made up of a repeating sequence of one or more types of units, or monomers, which are bonded together to form a chainlike structure.

Polymers made up of one type of monomer unit are called homopolymers e.g. A-A-A-… and polymers made up of more than one type of monomer unit are called co-polymers e.g. A-B-A-B-….

Polymers can have different properties depending upon the type of monomer unit, the number of monomers in the polymer, how the monomers fit together and whether the monomers have any additional chemical groups. They can be elastic, durable, flexible, hard, soft, solid or liquid.

Polymers are essential for our survival; for example, DNA, starch and protein are all found in the human body.

Polymers can be found in nature, such as mushrooms and shellfish.

There is an enormous variety of man-made polymers; from cling film, to dental resins to fix teeth, to novel lightweight aeroplane parts which make aeroplanes more lightweight and more energy efficient.

A plastic is a type of polymer. Plastics are defined as synthetic, water-insoluble polymers that are repeatedly moulded, extruded or physically manipulated into various solid forms which retain their defined shapes in their intended applications during their use and disposal.

However, as can be seen from the examples above, a plastic is a type of polymer, but not all polymers are plastic.

Essentially, plastics are man-made materials which are made from a wide range of organic polymers that can be moulded into a specific shape while soft, and tan set into a rigid or slightly elastic form. The properties of a plastic can be affected by the number of single units in the polymer structure (non as monomers) and how they fit together

Owing to the range of properties a polymer can bring to a product, polymers has a wide use in cosmetic products. It is impossible to determine from the name of a polymer on the ingredients list whether it is natural, synthetic, liquid, solid, soft or hard. For example, two different cosmetic products might show the same ingredient (INCI) name on each product label, but in one product the ingredient is a liquid and in the other product it is a soft wax. The word ‘poly’ in an ingredient list does not mean that the ingredient is a plastic. Just as they are essential in many other parts of life, polymers play an essential role in most cosmetic products.

Without polymers, we wouldn’t have the smooth, durable surface of a nail polish. Polymers are used to improve the efficiency of UV filters in sunscreen. They also help the product spread across the skin and make it water-resistant. Without polymers, makeup such as foundation and mascara would feel heavy and greasy. Coverage would be patchy and would wear off quickly. Polymers attach to damaged areas of the hair fibre, helping to repair it. Hair looks shiny and feels smooth and conditioned. It is easy to tell from using and feeling the texture of these products that the polymers they contain are not solid plastic.

A common example of a plastic is polyethylene. Polyethylene is used in products ranging from bulletproof vests and artificial joints for knee and hip replacements to milk jugs, packaging film and bubble wrap.

Solid plastic microbeads were often made from polyethylene. However, there are many other cosmetic ingredients with names related to ‘polyethylene’ which are not solid plastic. Many such ingredients are actually present as liquids to help products spread smoothly and evenly on the skin. Just because a cosmetic product contains the word ‘polyethylene’ in the ingredients list on-pack does not mean that the product contains microbeads of plastic which are associated with the environmental concern.

glass of water on a waterspil

For example, polyethylene glycol is made from the monomer ethylene glycol and is usually a liquid or a soft, waxy substance. The properties of polyethylene glycol vary depending on exactly how the substance is made, resulting in a wide range of potential functions. Ingredients based on polyethylene glycol are used in a variety of products, from pharmaceuticals to cosmetics and food. In cosmetic products their functions range from surfactants to emollients in many different product types including skin creams, eye shadows, foundations, deodorants and hair conditioners. If a polyethylene glycol-based ingredient is used in a cosmetic product, the word ‘polyethylene’ will be seen in the ingredients list on-pack. However, it is important to stress that this does not mean that the product contains plastic microbeads.

Glitter is often used for visual effects in cosmetic products. Such glitter effects are achieved in a number of ways. Some glitter is made by fixing colours between thin layers of plastic. These glitters would be classed as a plastic. If these types of glitters are used in rinse-off cosmetic products, they will be covered by the EU ban on plastic microbeads.

However, not all substances that provide a glittery effect are based on plastic. Some glittering effects are provided by coloured mica, which is a naturally mined mineral. Other glitters are minerals based on silica (a constituent of sand) mixed or coated with colours.

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