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?
Marcie Mom: Today’s learning more about terms like ‘organic’, ‘non-comedogenic’ and ‘pH-balanced’
Organic – This is a term that always baffles me and reading the amount of debate online as to what is organic is even more confusing! Can you explain to us whether the use of ‘organic’ term is regulated?
Laura: Regulation is much clearer for “organic” which requires certification by certain bodies that have earned the right to certify organicity (certain companies authorized by the US Department of Agriculture, for instance). For example, the virgin coconut oil we use is USDA-certified — a seal that has very strict requirements, that necessitates an inspector to travel to our farm and inspect it in person (including how we extract the oil) and a seal which we have to renew (to “re-earn”) regularly.
With the proper certification, “organic” is arguably far more reliable than “natural”.
Marcie Mom: Non-comedogenic – I noticed that your products are listed as ‘non-comedogenic’ and ‘non-drying’. Can you explain to us what this mean and also what pH-balanced means?
Laura: Non-comedogenic means will not clog pores…and this is important for compliance. If a product will not cause reactions or offers a very effective clinical therapy…but then causes acne…then people are less likely to use it or may have just created more problems to deal with.
Non-drying is related to allergenicity. Many people who experience dry skin do not realize that they may already be experiencing a mild allergic or irritant reaction. We use this term to alert people to this fact. As well, some non-pore-clogging products achieve pore-friendliness via the inclusion of ingredients that do dry out the skin.
Important note: Many skin conditions, including psoriasis, eczema, acne and aging, are caused by, worsened by, or related to inflammation. The more a product can help reduce inflammation or if it can contain an anti-inflammatory, the better for most skin concerns. Also, the less inflammation to have to fight, the stronger the skin is and the better able to, on its own, ward off infection, reactions and other problems.
pH-balanced is an interesting term because it could mean completely neutral, which may or may not be ideal for a formulation. The skin’s natural pH is actually slightly more acidic (5.5-6.5) than neutral (which is 7). Bar soaps, because of the way they are made, intrinsically tend to have a more basic or higher pH (some going as high as 8 or 9). This can, on its own, be quite denaturing and very drying to skin. Most of our products for very dry, sensitive skin skew towards the skin’s natural pH as much as possible, or slightly lower…we try to avoid the high range as much as possible.
Marcie Mom: Thanks! So, we’ve covered the more common terms in labels and discussed whether they are truly meaningful. In the next interview, we’ll understand more about the term most parents with eczema children look for, i.e. “suitable for eczema/ infant”.
2018 update: Read FDA’s article on regulation of “organic”, which is under US Department of Agriculture (USDA)
2014 update: Read my interview with dermatologist Dr Cheryl Lee on eczema skin and pH