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Wax and Other Things That Threaten Mankind

Ingredients, Skin Deep Report  and Everything Else…

Musing from an interview with Bob Root, Keys Care CTO

Bob Root, Keys Chief Technologist Near Los Alamos National Labs

I recently took up Storm Chasing as a hobby… Just kidding although I feel like one of those guys chasing Tornado’s in the Midwest when it comes to the natural products industry.

I was recently on a conference call with various members of the Natural Products Manufacturers Association enraged about a change that the EWG had made in the rating of Vegetable Emulsifying Wax from a 1 to a 4.  The tone was angry because as Compact Signers, we were not given a why, who, what or a heads-up at all to the change.  As of the time of the call, no one knew why the ranking was changed, who provoked it or the reason for the change.  Normally, I would not address this here on our blog, but there has been so much uproar at the consumer level that our customer service, sales and marketing teams asked for some clarity.  The title of this article maybe should have been Williams Shakespeare’s,  “Much Ado About Nothing!”

First, the process of developing products and the Skin Deep rating system could be a 400 page book.  I neither have the time or inspiration to write a book like that, so I will try to generalize some things and bring some of this into perspective.

The Skin Deep database is one of, if not, the best things that has ever happened for consumer safety regarding cosmetics.  Like anything, it must be broad and focused on its purpose.  Skin Deep is a database to help consumers understand the safety of products that they are using on themselves and their families.  It is not a database for manufacturers to use as a marketing tool.  Although it might seem that way to some, it is a tool for consumers as well as a tool for manufacturers to use in developing safer products.

Natural and organic are not features or benefits of products.  Some of us believe that it should be the basis of all that we make and consume. It should be the norm and not the niche exception that it is.

If you gauge the reaction of some as the basis of the whole, it is a slippery slope and one that is fraught with many misunderstandings.  For example, a few years ago we heard of the Chinese putting Melamine into pet food to trick the protein testing.  The China backlash still is strong as we hear almost daily on new substances or shortcuts found in Chinese products.  For some it is wariness and for some it manifests itself in anger and quarantine.  It was a real big hairy deal and wrong.  It took lives of beloved pets.  The rating change of Vegetable Emulsifying Wax is not in the same universe although some choose to place it there in their marketing messages.

As “Natural Products Manufacturers,” we must rely on the integrity of providers of raw materials.  True, but it is also our responsibility as manufacturers to make sure that the ingredients, what makes up those ingredients, how they were processed and where they came from very paramount.   What the Chinese did was wrong and probably intentional.  It is not necessarily the exception in the way products are produced in the US, but we are not talking about the same playing field or even the same universe.

So you wonder what this has to do with Emulsifying Wax being rerated to a 4…and what does that mean anyhow?  Generally speaking for the consumer, It Means Nothing!  For manufacturers though, it is the beginning of a new accountability that I for one welcome.  Lets me try to explain the relevance of this rating change is a perspective that is relevant as a consumer.

There is an everyday consumer household product with a very distinctive smell that has a single ingredient called “Fragrance.”  It is a single ingredient on the label, but researches have tallied nearly 114 different chemicals that make up that single ingredient called Fragrance.  114 chemicals which some like Phthalates have been liked to cancer and hormone disruption.  Many similar products tout the name “Free, Clear or Natural” on their labels.

For the Compact Signers for Safe Cosmetics to be in integrity we must know everything about our products and ASSUME that we must only trust ourselves to make sure that what we say on a label is really what is in our products.  This is what I believe the EWG rating change for Vegetable Emulsifying Wax is about.  Nothing More!  I think it is merely the beginning.  Let me explain this a little more.

When we developed our Eye Butter, we wanted to use fresh cucumber juice as a prime ingredient.  So, early on, we bought organic cucumbers, peeled and seeded them and then juiced them.  We then took the juice and put it into a distiller to basically sterilize it.  As concerned as we are about chemical safety, we have to be equally concerned about microbiology safety.   So, as the story goes we sought a supplier of pure distilled cucumber and searched everywhere.  As the popularity of Eye Butter increased, it became urgent to find a supplier.  So you can imagine my excitement when one of our designers said that a salesperson would be at the factory the following Tuesday with cucumber extract.  Could I be there?  Yes!

The salesperson arrived at the factory.  I asked for the C of A (Certificate of Authenticity)  Listed was one component…cucumber.  So excited, I took a swig.  Yes, I drank some of it.  What better way to see if it was potent enough to match our needs.  The salesperson was shocked and it tasted terrible.  Not only was it not what I was looking for, but I was curious what made it taste so bad.  So, the sample went to a national lab with a very sensitive chromatograph for analysis.  Some cucumber, some fragrance, some glycols, some parabens.  This was a couple of years ago and my first experience with supplier claims.  Remember, I am not a chemist.  From an engineering perspective, less is more.

What I am saying is even when a supplier claims purity, it might not be true.  So is the story of emulsifying wax.

Not All Wax is Created Equal

Later, I fully intend to bash those manufacturers that negatively market by creating fear, uncertainty and doubt to promote their products over others.  Perhaps we will even publish their names  😉  But first, here is the wax story.

The change in the EWG rating for vegetable emulsifying wax from a 1 to a 4 is broadly deserved and correct.  Even though the system is somewhat flawed because it does not recognize variances or composition.  Generally though, they are correct in making the change.  And here is why.

About four years ago, when the natural thing was erupting, suppliers of traditional emulsifying wax started to tout vegetable wax that was safer and derived from vegetables.  It was about the same time that we noticed that some suppliers were providing “pure” waxes and other, not so pure.  It was also about the same time that we began developing our own emulsifier that was predominantly vegetable starches.  You know, stuff like Guar Gum, Kuzu and Rice Powder.    Our purpose for our emulsifier was not driven by the lack of chemicals, but one driven from a need for a higher level of stability that wax would not provide.

So as these waxes began to proliferate, we noticed that it was harder and harder to buy really clean wax.  Moreover, we became wary of all vendors and joined with a large pharmaceutical company to capture a single supplier.  We also joined forces in the design of a new future ingredient called Mulgeer that has no wax in it at all.

Okay, back to the wax thing.  Most Vegetable Emulsifying Waxes are actually a combination of ingredients/chemicals.  The National Formulary (NF) standard for Vegetable Emulsifying Wax is a combination or Cetearyl Alcohol (not the same alcohol) a good guy and a combination of some not so good  guys like Polysorbate 60, PEG-150, Stearate and Steareth-20. All said, in the bigger scheme of things, the content of the chemicals are minimal, but worth noting that this ingredient appears on the label as Vegetable Emulsifying Wax.

Before you get your shorts in a knot, this sort of thing has been going on since post World War II and the invasion of chemists into our lives.

Said, we need to clean up our act as an industry and we are by shining a spotlight on things like the wax issue.  This is why we have written so much in our forum and blog about ingredients.  Although Mulgeer is perhaps months away, we have been using our own jointly developed product that we label as Keys vegetable emulsifying wax that has none of the bad guy ingredients.  That is not the issue here.

The rating change of any ingredient is really not a consumer issue in my mind.  It is one for the natural products manufacturers to use as a guideline to help us make safer products for you.  Remember, it was just a few years ago that, “Natural Products” contained parabens, glycols and sulfates.  Because of the EWG rating system on Skin Deep, it leads to these chemicals being eliminated from most natural products.  This is part of a time worn process and cannot be done overnight because we don’t know what we don’t know.  As we grow we learn and discover.  Then we can change.  The EWG rating change is merely that.  A new bit of knowledge to act on.

Think of it this way.  On a scale of 1 to 1,000,000, even not so good wax is a 4 and Phthalates are 1,000,000.  Yet, many of the consumer and household products that claim to be green contain Phthalates and we continue to use them because of marketing jargon.  It is that relevant!

What I am saying is that this issue of the wax belongs on the other side of a firewall where engineers and chemists can take the data and use it to improve the products they make.

Now what angers me is when some “natural products” manufacturers spread fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD)  to consumers in order to claim that “they do not contain wax!”

When you look at products on the Skin Deep Report, look at the overall rating of the products you want to use.  Don’t boil down to the ingredient level because it will frankly make you crazy.   Gather up a number of products with O (really safe) to 3 (still extraordinarily safe) and then look at each for what it does for you.  “Natural and organic are not features or benefits.”  Find out what they do for you and what you can expects as results.  Try them!  If they do what they say embrace them.  If they do not do as claimed return them!

From our perspective, products should make you feel good as well as solve a problem.  So, if a EWG rating of O to 3 makes you feel good, Great!  Then choose the products that you buy because they do something that you want to accomplish.  Whether that is getting rid of a chemical based skin disorder, part of your post cancer recovery or because you have sensitive skin to chemicals, your problem should be addressed and not that a product is “organic or natural!”

I must admit a total disgust for manufacturers that use negative marketing to propel themselves above others.  Like I said in my article titled FUD, when you hear of a company claiming that they are better because they do not have certain ingredients without any claims to help you, move onto the next.  Yes it is important to be assured that the products you use are free of certain ingredients.  It is equally important to expect some results from the products you use.  So as a consumer when you hear a manufacturer like us say, “chemical-free, vegan, no parabens etc etc.” think check the first box.  The move on and ask, “what are they going to do for me?”

Almost done!

I applaud the EWG for changing the rating of the majority of Vegetable Emulsifying Waxes because the suppliers to the industry deserve those marks.  It is a message for them to clean up their act, as does the rest of the industry.  You as a consumer will benefit from it.  Not because of the wax issue, because it is trivial, but from the new benchmarks that will be set for product development.

Again, it is fair to use a ranking because the EWG uses one to rate chemicals.  O is really good and 10 is really really bad.  So for this wax issue, I give the EWG a O for pointing out the issue.  I give the manufacturers that use this as a negative marketing tool a 10.  You be the judge!

Tools for Judges

Yes, be your own judge.  Please oh please use tools and not someone else’s opinion.  Opinion is worth what you are paying for it.  If you pay nothing that is what it is worth.  So use resources that as citizens you have paid for with your tax dollars and contributions to organizations like the Environmental Working Group, The Breast Cancer Fund, Search for the Cause and other organizations that base their information of facts and research.  Here are a few of my favorites as a consumer.

Bob’s Picks For “Real” Information:


Of course, for Skin Deep for their work on multiple fronts including the water we drink, BP-A in our plastics, Phthalate research and the list goes on.

Actually my favorite as a geek is The National Medical Library subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health for their Household Products database at Here you can look at products in multiple categories and drill down into the ingredients…if you are so inclined.

Please be informed and hold things in perspective.  As someone wiser than me said, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  The rest of the paragraph spoken by Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression reveals even more perspective.  He said, “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.!”

As a member of the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, I believe that the direction set forth by the EWG Skin Deep rating system will provide the leadership we need.  I only wish I could spend my time working on new products rather than writing these retorts because of those among us that want to operate in the world of FUD.   Bob

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