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 ingredient label.
Product Label – Deciphering the Ingredients
Marcie Mom: Laura, thanks again for continuing to help us make sense of the ingredient label.
Many ingredients sound similar though not identical. Is there some broad classification of ingredients and how to identify what type of ingredient a certain name suggests? Is there a glossary/definition page that you can refer us to?
For instance, do ‘glycerin’, ‘capric triglyceride’, ‘palm glycerides’, ‘caprylyl glycol’, ‘glyceryl stearate SE’, ‘glyceryl laurate’, ‘glycol distearate’, ‘butylene glycol’, ‘glycerylcocoate’ belong to the same classification? And what are they?
Laura: Unfortunately, unless you’re a chemist or decide to devote yourself to the pharmacological sciences, this is almost impossible to master for most consumers. Yes, there are some roots to words that imply certain things. “GLY”, for example, implies a fat; “OSE” implies a sugar. But all the other roots in each word also mean different things and can signify huge differences.
For example: cocamidopropyl betaine (CAPB) is a surfactant and an allergen. Coconut oil (cocas nucifera) is an oil and is not an allergen. Both have “coca” imbedded in the name. In the former, it is not the coconut element that is the allergen but the substances used to process the coconut extracts (the “amines”) that make the ingredient allergenic.
Another example: butylene glycol (not an allergen) and propylene glycol (allergen)…both have “glycol”, but the former is a humectant and antioxidant (also not an allergen) while the latter is a formaldehyde-releasing preservative and an allergen.
Yet another: both Sodium LauRYL Sulfate and Sodium LaurETH Sulfate share lots of elements in their nomenclature. But SLS (the former) is far more irritating than the latter (the latter is actually quite safe). I suppose you could try to memorize RYL as “avoid” and ETH as “better”, but again, this does require some effort.
In addition to understanding (and memorizing!) all the possible combinations of different chemical roots, one would also need to memorize which are on the current allergen lists. As the current lists now specify 76 common allergens (and the lists change every so often), mastering the complexity of cosmetic ingredients is really more of a full-time job than something that most consumers can do, even as a hobby. There aren’t even a lot of dermatologists who are extremely familiar with all these ingredients, the allergens, possible cross reactants, etc. Those that specialize in contact dermatitis would have very in-depth knowledge, and this knowledge takes lots of sustained reading and learning. Considering that only a subset of dermatologists who devote themselves to this study would have this knowledge, you can imagine how difficult it would be for a regular consumer.
This complexity is in part why our founding physician created the VH-Number Rating System. If a patient got a patch test, great: at least she’d know what to avoid. But even then, some chemical names are listed in different ways…or there may be cross reactants that aren’t immediately obvious. With a VH-Number, consumers can immediately see if (and how many) known allergens are included, and the allergen is highlighted in the ingredients list for easy identification.
Marcie Mom: Thanks so much Laura; looks like it’s best to stick to a trusted company for choosing products for our children as you’ve illustrated, it’s near impossible for a mom (plus a stressed one!) to master the ingredients and allergens.
2015 update: Selection of moisturizer – try to see how to put a few basic principles of moisturizer selection in practice
2016 update: Surfactant skincare series that covers ingredients that have been studied to irritate eczema skin, such as CAPB