This is a 13-part series focused on understanding and using products for sensitive skin, an important topic given the generous amount of moisturizers that go onto the skin of a child with eczema. Marcie Mom met Laura Verallo Rowell Bertotto, the CEO of VMVGroup, on twitter and learnt that her company is the only hypoallergenic brand that validates its hypoallergenicity. VMV Hypoallergenics is founded in 1979 by Dr. Vermén Verallo-Rowell who is a world renowned dermatologist. Dr. Vermén created the VH Rating System which is the only validated hypoallergenic rating system in the world and is used across all the products at VMV. In this interview, Laura answers Marcie Mom’s questions on understanding the product label.
Terms on Product Label – “Hypoallergenic”, “Natural”, “100% Organic” – What They Really Mean and Do They Mean Well?
MarcieMom: Let’s continue to understand what ‘Natural’ means!
Natural – I don’t use products labelled ‘natural’ for my baby because my husband who has eczema always find that natural products sting his skin. I understand that natural ingredients do not necessarily mean not allergenic and can’t understand why there seems to be so much ‘hype’ around being natural. Can you explain when/why natural becomes popular and is there a valid reason for selecting natural products? Again, is there regulation governing the use of this term and what percentage of the total ingredients must be natural before a product can label itself as such?
Laura: Great question and let’s break it down one by one 🙂
Natural seems to have grown in popularity due to two main reasons, both of which are good in and of themselves and should lead to more good:
1) A growing desire among more and more people to have safer products in their lives. This can arguably be attributed to the internet’s ability to make so much more information available so quickly to more people, as well as that people seem to have become far more aware of what they put in and on their bodies than ever before. With obesity now an epidemic in some countries, we’ve also begun to take a closer look at the quality of foods we’re imbibing. One of the biggest concerns has been the amount of processed foods that we consume, for example, and therefore the drive to go back to less processed foods, more locally available, etc. This desire for safety seems to be driving the desire for “natural”.
2) Another big driver for “natural” is the desire to be more environmentally responsible. Thankfully, we are learning as a species (albeit slowly) that this is one planet and it needs a lot of help!
These two main drivers, I would argue, are what are behind the “hype” of natural.
There is, however, a lot of confusion surrounding the term “natural.” First off, you’re right, it’s not yet regulated. Almost anything natural has to be processed in some way to be able to be used, so regulation eventually needs to be standardized to settle on what amount and what type of processing is allowed. There are certain brands that are spearheading this much-needed regulation, but for now, it’s still pretty ambiguous.
Another thing that seems to trip people up is the perceived line between “natural” and “chemical”. Everything in nature (see the periodic table of elements) is expressed in a chemical signature (water is hydrogen + oxygen; vitamin E is tocopheryl acetate…both of which sound “chemical”). This is further complicated by some semantics. In sunscreens, “chemical” ingredients are actually correctly called “organic”; and “physical” ingredients are correctly termed “inorganic”. Definitely confusing 🙂
Does Natural = Hypoallergenic?
As you pointed out, many, many, many natural ingredients are highly allergenic. The extremes would be bee stings, shellfish and peanuts…which, no matter how natural and organic, can be extremely allergenic or even deadly for those allergic to them. Pollen, dander, mangoes and strawberries are highly allergenic, too. Tea tree oil is on the allergen list, as are Ylang Ylang, Lavandula Angustifolia Oil (Lavender Oil), and most fragrances — no matter how fresh-from-the-earth-and-farmed-by-your-own-hands they are.
We try to use natural/organic ingredients as much as possible — because we do want to use less processed ingredients and would like to be more responsible to the planet. But at VMV our mandate is very strictly hypoallergenicity and clinical efficacy. So those are our primary filters. If a natural/organic ingredient meets these criteria (such as virgin coconut oil and green tea, which are both extremely well studied, with lots of published research, and not on allergen lists), then we will use them.
MarcieMom: What are some natural ingredients that are considered hypoallergenic? Also, which natural ingredient tends to trigger allergies but yet commonly marketed as good for skin?
Laura: Some natural ingredients considered allergenic are listed above, many of which are commonly marketed as good for the skin. HOWEVER, please remember that we are all individuals. MANY people can use ingredients that are allergens! Repeated exposure to them over time can lead to skin sensitivity and other problems later on (like darkening, etc.) but still, there is a large proportion of the population that can tolerate these allergens. Therefore, brands that market these ingredients as good for the skin may not be misrepresenting anything. Vitamin E, for example, is a WONDERFUL antioxidant. It is on the latest allergen lists, which is why we’ve reformulated many products to remove it. But it has ample evidence to support that it does, in fact, have many properties that are great for skin.
Coconut oil, its monoglyceride derivative, coconut water, green tea, rice phytic acid are virtually non-allergenic. Note that olive oil often needs to be preserved because it is a mono-unsaturated oil (C18:1) versus coconut oil, mostly C8, C10, C12 and all with saturated carbon bonds. Therefore, coconut oil does not need to be preserved. The gallates preservative of olive oil have been reported to be allergens. Most other oils bought from the shelf are long chain polyunsaturated oils and often are also preserved or contain trans fats from partial hydrogenation and are no longer “natural”.
Marcie Mom: Thanks! Today, we’ve learnt lots on ‘Natural’ and we’ll be learning more about ‘Organic’, another very common term in product label.
2018 update: FTC (Federal Trade Commission) monitors marketing terms on product and has updated on their website in 2016 that as of that time, there were 4 proposed settlements and administrative issued complaint to challenge the allegedly deceptive use of those phrases in ads for skincare products, shampoos and styling products, and sunscreens.
From what I can see, the FTC was able to take actions because those products were labeled 100% natural. What about “natural” without the “100%/All”? No regulation or action can be taken. For instance, one of the four products mentioned in FTC site was beyond coastal sunscreen, which continued to be labeled “natural” – there are natural ingredients in it, but also “non-natural” ones:
Acai Fruit Extract, Allantoin, Aloe Vera Extract, Arachidyl Alcohol, Arachidyl Glucoside, Ascorbic Acid, Behenyl Alcohol, Capric/Caprylic Triglycerides, Caprylyl Glycol, Castor Isostearate Succinate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cocoa Butter, Dimethicone, Galactoarabinan, Glycerin, Glyceryl Stearate, Grapeseed Oil, Irish Moss Extract, Jojoba Seed Oil, Lauric Arginate, Methylcellulose, Phenylethyl Alcohol, Polysorbate 60, Pomegranate Extract, Potassium Sorbate, Rosehip Seed Oil, Sclerotium Gum, Shea Butter, Sorbitan Stearate, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Water.
The positive thing though is that none of the above ingredients (though I’m not sure why so many ingredients are necessary) are on the 86 contact allergens established in humans as compiled by the European Commission – Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety.