By Mia Davis, VP of Sustainability and Impact at Credo
You might have heard…
“Everything is a chemical.” True!
“The dose makes the poison.” Sometimes true.
“Clean beauty doesn’t matter.” False.
Let’s dive in
Everything is a chemical. Whether we’re talking about water (beloved H2O!), salt, or lead, everything we encounter on a daily basis is made up of chemicals.
Therefore, chemicals are not inherently bad, and are not to be feared. Some chemicals are beneficial or benign. Some are toxic. And for many, we do not know the potential impacts because there is little-to-no available safety data on them.
Yep—The vast majority of the 100,000 or so chemicals which can be bought and sold, released in the environment or used in the products that we buy and put on our bodies, have not been assessed for their potential to cause cancer, hormone disruption, or build up in the environment.
Every chemical should have hazard data publicly available. Hazard is an inherent property of an ingredient, and refers to its ability to cause harm, whereas exposure is how you come into contact with the chemical. (Hazard + exposure = risk.) In terms of beauty and skin care products, exposures will vary based on the product type (e.g. might it be absorbed into the skin, is it a powder that may be inhaled, or a lip product likely to be ingested), and how much of the ingredient/product is used. Many chemicals are used in more than one beauty product. A person is often exposed to “fragrance” in several skin and hair care products every day (plus household cleaners, laundry detergent, etc). But we are not told how much fragrance is in a given product, or if the same chemicals are used in different fragrances, so when it comes to “fragrance” we are usually left in the dark about both hazard and exposure.
Marty Mulvihill, PhD, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Safer Made, a venture capital firm investing in green chemistry solutions, says, "The exposure and magnitude of the health impact changes from person to person based on their age, gender, use habits, and genetics. A level that may be safe for adult male (yes, unfortunately adult men are the reference point for the vast majority of all toxicology research), may not be safe for children or a woman of reproductive age. We know that there are sensitive times in everyone's development, where exposure to certain chemicals can have a much larger impact on health. People react differently to chemicals based on their unique biology—allergies and skin sensitivities are examples of this."
Another point you might have heard—"the dose makes the poison,” can be true for many chemicals, but not necessarily all. This is when people make the argument that “anything can be toxic in high doses” and therefore small amounts of chemicals in skin care and makeup should be just fine.
“ ‘The dose makes the poison’ is a flawed premise in toxicology, as it presumes that the harm or benefit of any chemical substance can be determined from a linear dose response model – more specifically, that there is a high dose that will kill you and that if you extrapolate down far enough, there is likely to be a dose that is anticipated to be ‘safe’ for human exposure,” says Nicole Acevedo, PhD, Scientific Expert on Ingredient Safety and Environmental Health.
This might be the case for poison like arsenic (though who among us wants “just a little bit” of arsenic?), but it is not the case for many other chemicals. Decades of research indicate that some substances—like endocrine, or hormone, disruptors—show more significant effects at lower doses than at higher doses tested.
“It is important to note that naturally-synthesized hormones are bioactive at extremely low doses in our bodies,” Acevedo continues. “The study of endocrine-disrupting chemicals over the last 30 years has validated the impacts of low-dose exposures, and challenges the notion that chemical safety should be assessed solely on overt toxic effects induced by high doses of chemical exposure. We need to continue to understand how low doses of chemicals, those that are within the range of human daily exposure, can interfere with the normal functioning of our biological systems.”
Credo has been working closely with thought-leaders like the experts quoted here, as well as platforms like ChemFORWARD, to increase the amount and the quality of chemical hazard data. We also partner with Novi Connect to increase beauty stakeholders’ access to ingredient source and sustainability information. We do this work—often behind the scenes—to ensure that our definition and vision for “clean beauty” and carrying the best non-toxic beauty and skin care products has meaning.