Safe synthetics? What are those?
In today’s world, synthetic ingredients get a bad rep without a second thought. But what if some synthetics are not only safe, but also truly invaluable to a high performance cosmetic? Since I founded CLOVE + HALLOW and personally gave the green-light on certain synthetics while simultaneously barring others, I figured it would be helpful to share my thought process on the safe synthetics we use and why.
FIRST OFF – WHAT CONSTITUTES A SYNTHETIC INGREDIENT?
A synthetic ingredient is anything synthetically derived, i.e. not found and harvested directly from nature. Typically, this means a raw material was created in a lab entirely. However, it can also mean that it was harvested from nature and then heavily processed in a lab to create a very refined version of the original raw material.
IS SYNTHETIC ALWAYS BAD? WHAT CONSTITUTES A SAFE SYNTHETIC?
Synthetic does not inherently speak to the quality or safety of an ingredient; conversely, a claim like “100% natural” doesn’t either. Natural raw ingredients like peppermint oil can be highly irritating to the skin and even raw minerals like silica and mica have risks, such as inhalation, if used improperly. Context within the formulation is also important: many ingredients – such as acids, extracts, and dyes – only become cause for concern at certain concentration thresholds or on a particular area of application (eyes, lips, face, body, etc.)
I don’t say this to speak against the all-natural movement. It is a movement I believe in immensely and support with my personal dollars. I say this because I think it’s important to understand that the words themselves – synthetic and natural – don’t mean all that much when considering actual safety.
At CLOVE + HALLOW, we approve (or deny) ingredients based on a combination of consumer preferences and science. I ALWAYS make sure to look at ingredients in the context of a specific formulation to ensure maximum safety. For research, I turn to peer-reviewed studies, the EWG (we only use ingredients rated a 3 or below), ThinkDirty, and market research with my customers when making decisions. If an ingredient is a proven carcinogen, hormone/endocrine disruptor, irritant, etc., I will not allow it in our formulas. If an ingredient has iffy data showing it may cause or may potentially be something or other, I take it with a grain of salt and continue along with the rest of my research on that ingredient. And that, my friends, is how I arrived at the following list of safe synthetics that we allow in C+H products.
(And just for the record: I would never, ever, EVER be able to live with myself if I thought for even one second that I was jeopardizing the health of my customers. Even though we are not 100% natural - and we never claimed to be! - I work exceptionally hard to ensure that each ingredient used in our products – synthetic or otherwise – is cruelty-free, vegan, high quality, and totally safe in the context of each particular formula.)
WHAT SAFE SYNTHETICS DOES CLOVE + HALLOW USE, AND WHY?
In general, if there is a natural alternative to a synthetic ingredient that works just as well, I will use the natural version. In order for me to green-light a safe synthetic, it must satisfy one of the following areas in a way the natural version cannot:
Pigment. Some of our products do use synthetic FD&C-approved dyes. We always start with a base of iron oxides and titanium dioxide and supplement with dyes in tiny concentrations to create the vibrant shades that are so unique to CLOVE + HALLOW and simply not possible with natural dyes alone.
Preservative. If you want to talk about safety, this is really where you should look. It is impossible to manufacture a totally bacteria- and fungus-free product, and an effective preservative system is absolutely necessary in most formulas. If a safe synthetic preservative system offers clinical-studied preservation in a way that natural preservative systems cannot, I will absolutely use the safe synthetic to protect my customers.
Performance. Qualities like texture, blend-ability, and wear-time fall under this category. If a safe synthetic enhances one of these categories in a way that is truly beneficial to the end result, I will most likely choose to keep it in the formula.
Specifically, here are some of the safe synthetics you can find in our current product line:
sodium benzoate: used in tiny amounts as part of an eco-cert approved paraben-, formaldehyde-, and phenoxyethanol-free preservative system
fd&c dyes: used at small concentrations to create vibrant and unique shades that last on the lips
isododecane: used in Lip Velvets to create a truly budge-proof matte finish
polypropylsilsesquioxane /trimethylsiloxysilicate/ triethoxycaprylylsilane/ triethoxycaprylylsilane: some of these light silicones and binders are used in tiny amounts in our Lip Velvets and Conceal + Correct in order to create a smooth texture, skin-feel benefits, and an even pigment dispersion
boron nitride: a powdered ingredient used in Pressed Mineral Foundation to create a soft cushion-y texture that sits beautifully on the skin
dimethicone: a lightweight silicone used in tiny amounts in Conceal + Correct to create a creamy, blendable, non-oily texture
butyloctyl salicylate: a skin-conditioning agent used in Pressed Mineral Foundation for texture enhancement
gluconalactone: used in tiny amounts as part of an eco-cert approved paraben-, formaldehyde-, and phenoxyethanol-free preservative system
polyglyceryl-3 diisostearate: emulsifier that helps bind waters and oils in our Conceal + Correct to ensure a consistent, creamy, blendable texture.
That’s it y’all. I hope this helped to shed some light on the world of cosmetic raw materials, the pros and cons of synthetics and all-natural ingredients, and how I select ingredients for CLOVE + HALLOW products. Thanks for taking the time to follow along!
Sarah Founder + CEO