• Susana Andújar, chemist

    Understanding labels: What’s in my shower gel?

    23 Mar

    Most of us use shower gels for hygiene and daily skin care. There are hundreds of brands and thousands of packages, colours, textures and fragrances. Unless we are experts, reading labels raises many doubts. What are all these ingredients and what effect do they have on our skin?

     

    The main action of body and facial hygiene products is to remove the dirt accumulated on our skin. We consider a good hygiene product to be one that cleans us and produces abundant foamy lather while not irritating the skin or mucous membranes. In addition to this primary function, depending on the ingredients, gels may also have antiseptic, moisturizing or stimulating effects. But do we really know what’s in our shower gel?

    Today we will read the labels of two gels widely available in Europe, one a commercial brand and the other a white label brand. Although gel formulae cover hundreds of ingredients, those on the labels are very typical. We are sure that this information will be of interest to our readers.

     

    Label 1

    AQUA, SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE, SODIUM CHLORIDE, PEG-7 GLYCERYL COCOATE, COCAMIDOPROPYL BETAINE, GLYCERIN, PARFUM, STYRENE/ACRYLATES COPOLYMER, POLYQUATERNIUM-7, DECYL GLUCOSIDE, TETRASODIUM EDTA, CITRIC ACID, METHYLPARABEN, PROPYLPARABEN, METYLCHLOROISOTHIAZOLINONE, METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE, LIMONENE, LINALOOL, HEXYL CINNAMAL

     

    Label 2

    AQUA, SODIUM C12-13 PARETH SULFATE, SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE, COCAMIDOPROPYL BETAINE, GLYCERIN, SODIUM CHLORIDE, PARFUM, COCAMIDE MEA, STYRENE/ACRYLATES COPOLYMER, SODIUM SALICYLATE, SODIUM BENZOATE, POLYQUATERNIUM-7, GLYCOL DISTEARATE, CITRIC ACID, TETRASODIUM EDTA, LACTOSE, LAURETH-4, LACTIS PROTEINUM, POLOXAMER 124, BENZYL SALICYLATE, BUTYLPHENYL METHYLPROPIONAL, CITRONELLOL, HEXYL CINNAMAL

     

    AQUA

    Water is the liquid solvent par excellence in gels, although some (very few) products have an oil base.

     

    SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE, SODIUM C12-13 PARETH SULFATE

    These agents, called anionic surfactants, are the true cleansers: they remove dirt and microorganisms. They produce abundant although short-lived lather. Since anionic agents are slightly irritant they are almost always combined with other more compatible dermal surfactants to counteract this drawback.

     

    DECYL GLUCOSIDE

    The glucosides are non-ionic surfactants; these particularly mild, biodegradable agents are well tolerated by even the most sensitive skins. They are derived from natural raw materials (coconut and sugar).

     

    COCAMIDE MEA, COCAMIDOPROPYL BETAINE, POLOXAMER 124

    These belong to another group of surfactants that are less irritating to the eyes and skin than the anionic agents. They produce a creamy, more stable foam that is pleasant to apply.

     

    GLYCERIN

    This is an active humectant, that is, it retains water in the outermost skin layers. It is used to counteract the dryness caused by the detergent contained in shower gels.

     

    PEG-7 GLYCERYL COCOATE, LAURETH-4

    These components are emulsifiers, which integrate gel ingredients that are poorly soluble in water. Nutritional oils, for example, would not be stable in a shower gel without these components.

     

    POLYQUATERNIUM -7

    This cationic surfactant belongs to a family of dozens of similar active ingredients (from PQ-2 to PQ-70). These surfactants are essential in shampoos, given their ability to untangle hair. When included in body cleansing gels, they leave the skin soft and smooth.

     

    SODIUM CHLORIDE

    This agent, which makes the gel viscous so that it can be easily applied, is nothing less than common salt, the simplest, most inexpensive and popular agent used for this purpose.

     

    TETRASODIUM EDTA

    This substance traps the calcium ions in hard water (with too much lime) that affect foaminess. It increases gel performance and its synergic action with preservatives enhances antimicrobial activity.

     

    METHYLPARABEN, PROPYLPARABEN

    Here we have the parabens, a family of preservatives. Their function is to ensure that the cosmetic product remains in suitable microbiological conditions during storage and use.

     

    METHYLCHLOROISOTHIAZOLINONE, METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE

    The isothiazolinones are another group of preservatives. As possible allergens, they have been the subject of scientific debate.

     

    SODIUM BENZOATE, SODIUM SALICYLATE

    These preservatives, considered to be more natural and safer, are being increasingly used.

     

    CITRIC ACID

    The purpose of this component is to ensure a suitable pH (acidity level) that maintains the skin’s acid mantle.

     

    PARFUM

    This indicates that the gel has perfume in its formula. If a formula contains any of 26 official skin allergens listed by the European Commission in a proportion of more than 0.01%, the ingredient must feature on the label.

     

    The above labels list the following allergens:

     

    LIMONENE, LINALOOL, HEXYL CINNAMAL, BENZYL SALICYLATE, CITRONELLOL, HEXYL CINNAMAL, BUTYLPHENYL METHYLPROPIONAL

     

    Other ingredients

     

    Many other ingredients can be used specifically to define and customize the product. The labels above include the following ingredients:

     

    GLYCOL DISTEARATE. Adds pearlescence to the gel.
    STYRENE ACRYLATES COPOLYMER. Gives the gel an opaque white appearance.
    LACTOSE. Milk sugar. It softens the skin and has moisturizing properties.
    LACTIS PROTEINUM. Milk proteins rich in essential amino acids with nourishing and moisturizing properties.

     

    To our relief as consumers, the ingredients of cosmetic products are subject to tight regulation by the European Commission. Certain ingredients are forbiden and others are allowed at certain doses or in certain types of products. These ingredients are evaluated on an ongoing basis by the scientific community to ensure safe use.  The European Commission’s lists are modified as more data become available about possible adverse effects.

     

    Sources:

    European Commission - CosIng

    INCI Directory

    Abacovital

    International Fragance Association (IFRA)

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