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The villains of the cosmetics world

Preservatives, hydrocarbons, silicone, surfactants, synthetic products...many are the ingredients which have been sacrified for the sake of values, whether they be environmental, personal or ecological.

If some are legitimately demonised, a good number among them pay the price for excessive generalisation, for mixing up, or even inappropriately blurring the boundaries between ecology and toxicology. 

And what if, following the example of the great principles of philosophy, we strive to create a thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis before drawing a conclusion.

What if the answer is to be found in the celebrated risk benefit ratio considered so virtuous in the health domain. 


Certainly preservatives are additives, certainly they act on bacteria that potentially contaminate the product during use, but what would be the risk of contamination by pathogenic bacteria in the absence of a preservative?

Depending on their level of virulence, bacteria liberate substances outside the bacterial cell (exotoxins) which are often toxic to living beings, like gram positive bacilli for example.

Most of these toxins are hundreds of thousands of times more toxic than the most dangerous organic or mineral based poisons (arsenic, strychnine, snake venoms etc) requiring the organism to bring different defence mechanisms into play. 

First non specific (independent of the species of bacteria) and then specific defence mechanisms (dependant on the species of bacteria) with this comes all the uncertainty about the capacity of our immune system to fight these toxins. 

Are we ready to take this risk? 


Easily recognisable by their suffixes, -one or -ane, these substances, made up of oxygen and silicon (the most abundant element after oxygen in the earth's crust) are atoxic for the skin and therefore don't present any danger. Silicones are already used widely for body implants. 

So, if they are non-toxic why the bad press ? Why are these products demonised to the extent that we constantly look out for them on our product packaging?

Could it be because these molecules are chemically inert, very stable and thus take time to break down in nature?

If that was the case wouldn't we ask about the composition of the packaging? It's not as if, after buying a cosmetic product costing €70 to €100, the consumer is going to throw it straight down the sink.

Would that not be mixing up ecology and toxicology, container and contents? 

In risk management, we must show discernment and pertinance, not replace a potential risk with a definite risk, a future risk with an imminent risk and not seek zero risk which doesn't exist in the cosmetic industry or anywhere else.