Uncovering Safe Cosmetics: Organic vs. Synthetic ingredients - “The Dose Makes the Poison”

safe cosmetics

What does safe cosmetics mean?


Here are my tips and advice on looking for clean, healthy ingredients in cosmetics. There is a lot of information here, so get ready to take notes!!!

My previous makeup line, Christopher Drummond Beauty, was strictly organic and natural.  Due to my lack of knowledge about all types of cosmetic ingredients, I was very strict about using only “natural” and “Organic” cosmetic ingredients.  However, with more knowledge and  tons of more research, I decided to improve my makeup line by expanding the ingredient profile, and not only use “natural” ingredients, but instead pledging on keeping the line 100% healthy and safe, clean and toxin-free, and also being 100% transparent about the ingredients I use.  This gives the consumer the power to decide on what products to use, and why.  

But here’s the shocker: The new product is not a 100% organic makeup line.  You might ask: how can we have a healthy, clean, non-toxic makeup line without using ONLY Organic ingredients?  Read on to see.....


At First, I thought the relaunch of my makeup line would be 100% organic, natural and synthetic-ingredient free. But after talking with the Environmental Working Group, and reading immense amounts of clinical trials and research regarding both organic and synthetic cosmetic ingredients, I learned synthetics can in some cases be less allergenic and less volatile than certain natural ingredients.  I continued to research and learn about cosmetic ingredients and formulations, both natural/organic and synthetic.  I have spoken with scientists and cosmetic formulators who have been in the industry for many years.  They all said the same thing:  there are some cosmetic ingredients you should absolutely avoid, some can be used in certain percentages (usually at 1% or lower), and others are very safe and have no toxicity issues).  Many used the quote “THE DOSE MAKES THE POISON.”


I have regularly been going to the EWG Skin Deep website, (which I recommend to you to do too).  Cosmetic Ingredients safety are not black and white: Just because something is synthetic doesn't mean it's bad, and just because something is natural doesn't necessarily mean it's good.  You need to really do research.  Not from blogs or laypeople, they don't have the "real" information.  It’s important to have SCIENTIFIC DATA, not just opinions.  Websites like CIR (Cosmetics Ingredient Review—the “go to” for scientific data on cosmetic ingredients), the Environmental Working Group, or Skin Carisma actually rate each ingredient on safety, and explain the ratings.  This is how you can truly find out if the cosmetic ingredient is safe, and then decide if it is something you want to use.

In this day and age, we have the tools to delve down into each ingredient and really do the research.  Not only on specific ingredients, but percentages.  If you look into regulations for the European Union (EU), they give percentages and usage information.  Certain ingredients are safe if used under 1% in a formulation (for example) it is considered safe.  If it's in a rinse-off formula, it is also considered safe.  It is a complicated and very personal subject on what cosmetic ingredients you should use.  I have always said; you need to know what you can use, and how much, not just say "that ingredient is bad!!!!!"

Don't overlook preservatives.
Any legitimate formulator in cosmetics will tell you that if a product contains water (or other certain ingredients), it MUST have one or more preservatives.

A lot of consumers don't realize that preservatives are necessary, even with natural formulations!!!!!!  If you did not have a preservative in an organic formulation, it would get bacteria growing in it almost immediately.

It's really a question of which preservatives are used.  Some are "safe" some are not.  Some are more natural-based (like radish root extract), and some are entirely man-made.  Most preservatives are used in small amounts (so small, in fact, that sometimes they don't need to be listed on the ingredient deck).  There are certain preservatives I absolutely won't use in our formulas.  Others are proven to be safe and effective.   Personally, I would rather have a safely preserved product than risk a 100% “natural” cosmetic that is not safe to use after one month.

Make a cosmetic ingredient blacklist.
My suggestion is to make a blacklist of ingredients you absolutely won't use, and why.  I can’t tell you what is acceptable to you or not, but I can suggest that you  Don't say, "I won't use that ingredient"--do your research on why the cosmetic ingredient shouldn't be used.  Go to skincarisma.com, and really look into each ingredient, and what the safety rating is.  Learn what the "red flag" ingredients are, and why they are bad.

My rule of thumb is the entire list of ingredients needs to be 95+% safe (The remaining 5% needs to be under 5 rating of toxicity.)

Know your ingredients
There’s two sides to every story, and then there is what is right for you.  Most preservatives are used in very small amounts, and is globally approved as safe when used in these small amounts (approved by the EU and Health Canada, also in Asia).

Preservatives: The good and the bad

Preservatives are not one size fits all.  There are some preservatives you should definitely avoid (parabens, Phtalates) FOR SURE.  However, there is a double-sided argument for the use of others.  Some cosmetic preservatives are clinically pure and free of toxins themselves.  Think of it this way: If a product comes in a jar that you dip your fingers in, it needs a much stronger preservative than a pump or bottle, because the product is always being dipped into, introducing bacteria.


Understand the why.
Formulating cosmetics is a science.  Many things factor into what cosmetic ingredients and preservative you use.  Simply put: if you want a longer shelf life, if it is in a jar, if it is going to be handled by other vendors, etc you need the security of knowing the product will maintain stability.  “Natural” preservatives don’t always work in these situations.

When formulating a product, we consider many things: feel, consistency, shelf life, scent, efficacy of ingredients.  This means you need to also consider how you preserve the product and for how long it will be safe for use.

As a company becomes larger, and as the products become more commercially available, we need to be sure that your products will first and foremost be healthy for you and safe.


Is the ingredient EU approved?
My biggest test is if the ingredient is EU approved as safe.  The EU has banned over 1300 cosmetic ingredients, and has many on it’s watch list, and others are on a restricted list.  This means that they tell companies what they can and can’t use, and the amounts.  The US only bans 13 ingredients.  So using the FDA as a litmus test isn’t a good idea.  In general, if it is sold in Canada, the EU and Asia, it is most likely safe to use.


Don't Trust everyone.
Just because you see a blog post saying organics are the only way to go, don't believe it.  Conversely, if you see an article saying synthetic ingredients are ok, don't believe that either.  Don't rely on blogs, social media and the media in general to tell you what cosmetic safety is.  They all have a very limited view on what ingredient safety is.  Most bloggers and magazines get their information from the companies, who of course, want to portray their products as clean and safe, to sell products to you.


Look into it.
Do you research and find websites that are authorities in rating and explaining cosmetic ingredient safety.  My go-to sites are the CIR (the gold standard for cosmetic ingredient safety),  EWG (Environmental Working Group), skincarisma (to get all info. In a neat, concise package), cosmeticsinfo.org, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.


Set your standards.
What is truly safe, and what isn't for YOU?   What percentages of preservatives are acceptable?  What synthetics are ok, and which aren't?  And WHY?????


Hi everyone! I’m Christopher Drummond, a pro makeup artist and ECO-CONSCIOUS beauty guru and cosmetic formulator based out of New York and Miami. I choose to promote and use vegan, non-toxic, sustainable makeup and skincare.

I am in the final stages of relaunching my namesake makeup line: Christopher Drummond Beauty (renamed as CDBeauty Cosmetics).  In this long process, I found out many things about cosmetic ingredients, and what is safe and what isn’t.  I also found that there are no definitive answers—what works for one person doesn’t work for another.

At CDBeauty Cosmetics, Our makeup products are healthy, safe, non-toxic, vegan, natural and organic-based, and made for all skin types and skin colors (that’s right! Natural cosmetics that work on darker skin tones, too).

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