Sunday, July 4, 2010Ingredient of the month

Animal ingredients and cosmetics

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Animal tests are often referred to on labels, very often to emphasize the fact that no animal testing has been performed. Less often, the animal origin of ingredients, be they from living or dead animals, or from what they produce, is not mentioned. Nevertheless, they are quite common in the cosmetics we use every day.

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The animal origin of an ingredient should be more precisely defined: production taken without any harm to the animal itself, and the raw materials from living or dead animals.

Production of animals

This refers to products or substances that animals produce as a natural process; they come under two types:

Body production: they may be a kind of protective device, such as the lanolin extracted from sheep’s wool, or silk manufactured by the Bombyx silkworm as a cocoon, or needed for a species next generations, such as eggs or milk …

Products due to animal work: they are manufactured by different species for their own needs. A beehive and its honey, its propolis or its royal jelly …
In cosmetics, these raw materials may be used unprocessed or as extracts: lactic acid (a moisturizing or exfoliating ingredient, depending on its concentration) from milk, lecithin ( emollient and emulsifying ) from eggs, etc.
Further, they may be processed to give other ingredients, milk, for instance, used to make yoghurts…

Extracts from animals

They are a part of the animal itself, and must be taken directly on it. Many fats widely used in cosmetics are animal fats.

Glycerin , a very good moisturizer by the way, may be produced by the hydrolysis of fat reclaimed from bodies of animals in slaughterhouses, while Squalane , another super-moisturizer, comes from the hydrogenation of squalene, a lipid found in large quantities in sharks’ liver oil.
Other examples: stearic acid and its derivatives, or bullock tallow, which all are at the basis of soaps…

Ethical problems come to mind when thinking about the origin of these ingredients, even more when they come from endangered species, which could be under conservation treaties: whale blubber could be found in some products.

Animal, vegetable or synthetic origin?

The most part of animal ingredients have substitute, either vegetable or synthetic. Thus, glycerin may be extracted from rape, or manufactured from petroleum; stearic acid may come from palm oil or from palm-kernel oil, squalane from olive oil …
What about the label: any way to know the origin? Quite often: no.

Regulation of cosmetic ingredients does not make it mandatory to give the origin of an ingredient. Whether glycerin comes from rape or bullock, it will be listed under its INCI name: Glycerin . It comes from shark liver oil or olive: squalane is Squalane

Some labels point out the product is “without animal extract” or that this or that ingredient is from vegetable origin. Not all of them.

And yet it is a valuable marketing point, which more and more consumers take into consideration. An Italian Foundation for the protection of sharks has set up a test that makes it possible to know the origin of the squalane used in cosmetics. Nevertheless, this method is not yet validated, even less mandatory.

Some clues for a better choice

We do have some ways to help for the good choice if we want not to use cosmetics comprising animal extracts.

In fact, animal ingredients are generally far cheaper than their vegetable counterparts are. A label silent on the origin of the ingredients, especially if it is on a cheap product, may lead to think of an animal origin …

In a more positive way, one may trust upon the frames of reference of organic cosmetics, which all ( Cosmebio , Ecocert , BDIH , Natrue , Nature & Progrès …) forbid any animal extract as ingredients.

Only one, the Vegan logo, designed for vegs, goes farther, forbidding any animal material, whatever it is.

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