Monday, March 9, 2009Choosing your cosmetics well

Oils and fats in cosmetics


Besides water, fats are the basis for numerous cosmetic products. Creams, body-lotions, serum, make-up, exfoliating agents, shower-gels and shampoos … they may all contain more or less of them. Some detailed pieces of information may help users to choose among the four main families used in our hygiene and cosmetic products.

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~ 7 minutes

Depending on their origin, fats have very different properties--and may lead to different potentially undesirable reacions . On skin, for the environment, for health, at the very least, they are not similar! Further, every one of these families may have its own drawbacks.

Mineral oils

• Their origin
Mineral oils and waxes are extracted from oil.

• Their use
They are very cheap excipients in many products, coming along very good moisturizing properties.

• Their drawback
Mineral oils and waxes are highly pollutant for the environment, as all derivatives of oil.

l.-shat Depending on refining, they are classified from Class 3 (substances for which no carcinogen action has been demonstrated on humans) to Class 1 (substances carcinogen to humans) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Those used in cosmetics are among the most refined, hence among the least potentially toxic for humans.

Though a cosmetic product is not designed to be ingested, their ingestion may be a problem for health, knowing that they accumulate in some organs, such as liver, lymph nodes and spleen. This risk seems to be small, but is real, as mineral oils are an important ingredient of lipsticks for instance. Ingested quantities are likely to be small. However, they may be far more important due to creams to be applied on breasts of young mothers. A warning has been issued by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health to breast-feeding women, as these substances could be orally taken by newborns.

geopappas For cosmetic application, mineral fats are used for their occlusive properties: the leak-proof film they put on epidermis is very efficient to keep its moisture, which may be very useful for dry skin. Nevertheless, they clog the pores of the skin, which eases spots’ and black-heads ’ appearance, or causes dermatitis if used often, on a more or less long term.

• Their INCI names
Ingredients from mineral origin are widely used in cosmetics. Underneath the most frequently used mineral fats are listed:

• Cera Microcristallina
• Ceresin
• Hydrogenated Polyisobutene
• Isododecane
• Isohexadecane
• Ozokerite
• Paraffin
• Paraffinum Lliquidum
• Petrolatum
• Synthetic Wax


• Their origin
Silicones are synthetic molecules based on silicon and oxygen, which produce large-sized polymers. They have very different structures and texture, from fluid (oils) to rigid products, with other ones being viscous, as resins, pastes, wax …

• Their use
They are commonly used in hair care products: they make a sheath along hair, leading to an easy detangling, a silk-touch, shine and efficient fixing. They are a common ingredient in easy-to-apply, smooth and fluid creams. pgm

• Their drawback
Silicones are not really known to be a danger for human health when used in cosmetics, and they are harmless to skin. They are considered are safe enough for a use in cosmetics. Some very rare cases of allergy have been reported.

Their main drawback is that they are almost non biodegradable, hence highly pollutant for the environment.

• Their INCI names
They are numerous, but they all have similar roots in their names:
• All the ingredients whose name ends with -icone (Dimethicone, etc)
• All the ingredients whose name ends with -siloxane (Cyclopentasiloxane…)

Vegetable oils

• Their origin
They come from fruit, nuts, beans, seeds, stones, cereals, in fact, from everything vegetable oils may be extracted.

• Their use
While they keep moisture in skin, they are also nourishing, and they add to their emollient action (which makes skin more supple) their richness in essential fatty acids, vitamins, anti-oxidants, polyphenols and sterols …

fotolia_2727368_subscriptio Each one may have specific properties and be better suitable for care of this or that kind of skin, or this or that kind of hair. Have a look to their main uses in the paper: “ Which vegetable oil for what purpose? ” in the “How to use one’s cosmetics” section.

• Their drawback
They are the natural alternative to both mineral and synthetic fats, with the advantage of nourishing skin. Further, they are the main active ingredients of a cosmetic product, not only an excipient.

Their only downside is that some of them may induce allergic reactions, for instance food allergy, sending the immune system of the body, through skin cells, a signal similar to the allergen’s. Not that often, but it is worth to know.

• Their INCI names
The main sources of allergens are in:

• Arachis Hhypogaea Oil: Peanut oil
• Triticum Vulgare Germ Oil, Hydrogenated Wheat Germ Oil
• Glycine Soja Oil, Hydrolyzed Soy: Soybean oil
• Sesamum Indicum Seed Oil: Sesame oil

Animal fats

• Their origin
For cosmetic application, one must know "animal fats" has two meanings: production taken without any harm to the animal, and raw materials extracted from living or dead animals. All the animal fats used in cosmetics belong to this latter category.

• Their use
Cheap materials, animal fats are used mainly for their moisturizing , humectant and emollient properties.

• Their drawback
Glycerin , a very good moisturizer , may come from the hydrolysis of fats found on animal carcasses in slaughter-houses; Squalane , another super-moisturizer, comes from the hydrogenation of Squalene, a lipid found in large quantities in shark’s liver oil.
Stearic Acid or Bullock suet, a basic ingredient of soaps, are in this same category.
One may understand the ethical questions arising about the origin of these materials, especially when they are extracted from endangered species, even if they are "protected": whale blubber is still found in some products, as per some rumours.

• Their INCI names
Many of the animal fats may also be got from vegetable products and/or synthesis. Underneath you may find some fats more likely to be animal fats:

• Adeps Bovis : Bullock suet
• Aspartic Acid, and all the derivatives comprising "aspartate" in their INCI name
• Glycerin
• Hyaluronic Acid, and and all the derivatives comprising "hyaluronate" in their INCI name
• Lanolin
• Palmitic Acid, and and all the derivatives comprising "palmitate" in their INCI name
• Squalane
• Squalene
• Stearic Acid, and all the derivatives comprising "stearic" or "stearate" in their INCI name

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