This is in response to a critique recently posted on Facebook about one of our articles. We decided to post this as an open response. While the author had some valid insights, by focusing solely on allergic reactions, we think he missed the most important point: that many of the chemical ingredients discussed have been linked to serious pathologies, and therefore put everyone at risk, not just those with specific allergic reactions.
The critique implied that paragraph 4 of our Truth About Preservatives in skin care products, part I, had an error in it regarding the reference we cited. This was followed with link to a study on the causes of contact dermatitis which can be found here.
The author of the critique on Facebook offered his constructive criticism from a very different perspective than the original message of our article. We value all constructive feedback, and encourage discussion via the comments section below.
Thank you for your constructive and insightful feedback. The following response is intended as discussion, so if any of it inadvertently comes across negatively, it is certainly not intended that way. Trying to put scientific jargon in layman’s terms so everyone can understand, can sometimes be a challenge.
Regarding the journal article you recommended:
This paper does go quite in depth. Most of the summarized and hypothesized immunological mechanisms of action discussed in the article seem quite plausible, both the innate and adaptive components. We have not had time to review all of the studies that the paper references, but it is quite broad. Interestingly, the abstract states: “An estimated 15–20% of the general population suffers from contact allergy.” which only supports our argument that the prevalence of dermatological allergies is much more common than is generally acknowledged.
There are two primary issues that I have with this review. The first is to imply that all or most dermatological allergies are characterized by defective Treg cells. This is improbable as the prevalence of dermatological allergies is much greater than the prevalence of people with defects of Treg cells. In addition, if the immune system is reacting (e.g. through inflammation) to a potentially toxic foreign chemical, especially when that exposure is chronic, and Tregs do not suppress this reaction, are the Tregs “defective” or are they doing what they are supposed to be doing? I would argue it is not appropriate to call Tregs “defective” in the way the mentioned paper describes.
Second, the paper seems to argue that the common causes of dermatological allergens are only either nickel, chromium, fragrances, or PPD. While I don’t doubt that these are significant causes or dermatological allergens, I think it is inaccurate to characterize these as the only ones that are important. Statistically, the population is much more likely to be exposed to the thousands of chemicals used in personal care/body care products (including but not limited to fragrances) than they are to the other items mentioned above.
In addition, the study you referenced does not in any way negate the study that we cited, nor does it in any way negate the various health risks associated with the chemicals we wrote about, nor does it make people’s allergies to these chemicals any less significant. Regardless of the cause of dermatological sensitivities, such people still need products that will not aggravate their condition.
Regarding the paragraph that we wrote in our article, I agree that we should and did slightly revise wording to clarify our intended meaning (the way the wording was written could have been unintentionally misinterpreted). However I do not agree with the language that you suggest. The semantics you chose could be interpreted as trying to reduce the apparent prevalence of allergies to synthetic chemicals in personal care products, which would be inaccurate. I also do not agree with your characterization or description that there is a “serious error” in what is written, either by us or the original study. The question we were trying to answer at the time was “What is the prevalence of dermatological allergies/sensitivities of the population to any/all of the thousands of synthetic chemicals used in personal care/body care products?” That is what the referenced study answers, although they only tested a subset of chemicals. Here is the actual results text:
Of the 405 patients 74 (including 52 females) showed positive results of patch tests. Contact allergy to at least 1 preservative was noted in 47 (11.6%) patients, including 34 (11%) females and 13 (13.4%) males. Methylisothiazolinone proved to be the most frequent sensitizer–4.7% (5.2% females, 3.1% males) while parabens, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol and imidazolidinyl urea (0.2%) were found to be the least frequent. Fourteen (3.4%) participants, 10 women and 4 men, were allergic to formaldehyde and/or formaldehyde releasers. In 11 (78.6%) of them monovalent hypersensitivity was observed. In 13 (3.2% of the examined group) patients allergy to preservatives might have been of occupational origin.”
The original text clearly states “allergy to at least 1 preservative” and the statistical math is straight forward. There is no “inference” made, at least not on our part. Our paragraph was written intending to refer to all/any preservatives tested in the study. If anything I would argue that the prevalence of dermatological allergies/sensitivities in personal care products is actually significantly higher than this study shows, because this study only tested a small subset of the thousands the synthetic chemicals used in personal care products. A more comprehensive test would almost certainly have revealed an even higher prevalence. To argue that the participants in this study are not representative of the population at large is a methodological assumption that in reality can not be justified, and with which we do not agree.
Aside from that, I think you may be missing the point of our articles and products. With our articles we are not necessarily trying to provide “the definitive detailed scientific explanation” for why such allergies occur (which the article you recommended does), we are trying to provide explanations about why certain ingredients should definitely be avoided due to their health risk, and to provide healthy products for people, products that will not trigger reactions in people that have such dermatological sensitivities.
Most importantly, debating the actual prevalence of dermatological allergies in the population at large is actually a “red herring” distraction that completely misses the most important point of the article(s) and our products, which is this: many of the chemicals used in personal/body care products have a great deal of research to support that they are not safe for use, even at low levels, and therefore pose a risk to the entire population, regardless of whether a person has dermatological allergies or not. It is our view that formaldehyde (a known carcinogen) releasing compounds, endocrine disrupting compounds (e.g. parabens, phthalates, BPA, etc.) that contribute to breast cancer, prostate cancer and infertility, and other chemicals that have shown to contribute to other pathologies via other mechanisms, are not appropriate to use in personal/body care products. The argument of “the dose makes the poison” is in our view a reprehensible argument that represents either a failure of ethics or competence, since the primary reasons to include these ingredients is for the convenience and profit of the manufacturer, not for the benefit of the consumer. We cannot in good conscience use these ingredients. Unless or until the FDA and other agencies ban the use of such chemicals, all we can do is provide safer alternatives and educate the public that they should not buy products made with such ingredients.
This issue is much bigger than just dermatological allergies/sensitivities, it is also about serious pathologies and potentially life or death issues. That is not an exaggeration.
In conclusion, we would much rather work on solving the problems by avoiding all potentially harmful ingredients with well formulated products, rather than arguing about which poisons are most likely to cause harm.
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