Chemicals in cosmetics and consumables come with nothing but alarm bells. There are certain ingredients that can be silent but deadly, literally. But we’re not here to scare you or guide you through a list of natural skincare brands. We’re here to inform you about chemicals in cosmetics and how to avoid them. That’s why we’ve enlisted the expert advice of Bill Statham, the author of The Chemical Maze to divulge the facts. Bill Statham's fantastic tome has been our go-to guide on chemicals since the invention of ONNE and it continues to be a growing source of what chemicals to steer clear of.
You published the first edition of The Chemical Maze in 2001. What changes in public perception have occurred since then?
I believe that there is a growing awareness of the health implications associated with certain additives and ingredients in foods, cosmetics, men's skincare and (to a lesser extent) household cleaning products. There are certainly a lot more ‘additive-free food’ and ‘natural cosmetics’ companies than there was 15 years ago. Most of these companies are genuine, but some use greenwashing to mask their not-so-green products.
Greenwashing sounds sinister. Many of these chemicals would appear in our food, cosmetic or everyday household products. What would you say are the worst chemicals that are currently in the market?
There is an increasing trend towards the use of nanoparticle ingredients in all three categories. Titanium dioxide, for example, is added to a huge range of products including most toothpaste, sunscreens, cosmetics and many processed foods, including chewing gum, M&Ms, Nestlé Original Coffee Creamer, cheese, cereal, Greek yogurt, and candy. There is still much debate about the safety of nanoparticles and products containing them often escape labelling.
How do you keep up to date with all of the studies on different chemicals?
I am basically just a one-man show, so it is difficult to keep up with the plethora of new information in the food and cosmetics industries. However, I do subscribe to various online industry newsletters and monitor websites for information and trends.
What are your top ten chemicals to avoid in cosmetics?
Phthalates and other hormone-disrupting chemicals, formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing ingredients such as DMDM hydantoin, synthetic fragrances, phenylenediamine, hydroquinone, triclosan, oxybenzone, parabens, SLS, and propylene glycol.
What’s your opinion on the natural skincare movement?
I think it is a good thing to move away from synthetic petroleum and coal tar derived ingredients. As I mentioned earlier, greenwashing is a problem and people need to be aware that not all so-called natural skincare companies are faithfully using natural ingredients.
Australia is the home to a wide variety of natural ingredients. Which of these would you like to see used more widely in skincare?
Australia is the oldest continent on the planet, and as such has an abundance of unique flora. I would like to see more botanicals, especially those with antioxidant properties used in skincare. Kakadu plum
has very high levels of vitamin C. Quandong has antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as do the berries of the mountain pepper. Finally, the finger lime's high antioxidant levels make it perfect for anti-aging cosmetics, skin repair and wound healing.
Sunscreen? What should people look out for in a sunscreen? We all need to slip, slop, slap but unfortunately not all SPFs are made equal.
Oxybenzone and octinoxate are both photoallergenic, an endocrine disruptor and penetration enhancer. Synthetic fragrance contains phthalates, which are endocrine disruptors too. While methylisothiazolinone is an immune toxicant or allergen.
What do you think of the trend towards coconut in skincare?
Coconut oil has been used for centuries on the skin for its softening and soothing effects. It reportedly has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. Coconut oil is replacing palm oil as it is more sustainable and, if it is Fair Trade, more ethical.
It’s difficult to go all-natural, all of the time. What are your top three tips for eliminating chemicals from our cupboards?
Read the labels, read the labels, read the labels! Seriously, labels are a good place to start, providing you know what to look for. Sometimes, what is not written on a label can be a decider. Choose certified organic wherever possible. Use resources like The Chemical Maze books and apps and do your own research.
Bill Statham, what's your professional opinion of ONNE?
I believe the company achieves a clean, fresh, subtle look without being sterile. I applaud the fact that ONNE is cruelty-free, uses all-natural ingredients, is Australian owned and the products are made in Australia. For more information on The Chemical Maze by Bill Statham, visit thechemicalmaze.com