“Skin loving ingredients. No Harsh Chemicals” is the strap line for Simple skincare’s recent TV advert.
They sell themselves as the leading brand for sensitive skincare product in the UK (SymphonyIRI Group All Outlets UK Non Medicated Facial skincare 52 w/e 25th February 2012).
But how true is this really?
I took a closer look at the product ingredients and the premise that they work with in helping sensitive skin types and being ‘pure’.
From their website Simple skincare is owned by Unilever, a multinational company who also own Persil, Vaseline, Radox and Lynx to name a few.
They launched Simple skincare in 1960 with the first UK perfume and colour free soap bar. If you were old enough you’ll remember the amber soap bar in the brown and white packaging. And the advert where they sprayed the lily flower to show the purity of the product.
In 1999 they moved away from soap into skincare, and now deem themselves soap free.
I am a great believer that if you are going to ingest something or put it on your body then you should know exactly what it is. Then you are making an informed choice about what to do. That’s not to say that you will steer clear of the cosmetic or food but will be better aware of what it is, and if you do have a reaction or problem in the future you might be able to narrow this down.
Now I have a chemistry based degree and I can tell you that with the chemistry of soap making to make the soap a particular clear amber colour would take a certain amount and level of chemicals that are not traditionally used in natural soap making. Simple have moved their soap to another site which is run by a sister organisation. This is to keep the soap and skincare separate and on the Simple skincare site they do state that they are soap free.
Let’s look at their “Kind to Skin Purifying Cleansing Lotion”. The ingredients are listed as follows:
Aqua, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Glycerin, Isopropyl Palmitate, Polysorbate 60, Sorbitan Stearate, Panthenol, Allantoin, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Bisabolol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Methylparaben, Sodium Hydroxide, 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol, BHT,EDTA
By law all ingredients are listed in chronological order in terms of weight (amount used) from highest to lowest. Now much of this may look quite alien, but don’t always be put off products just because you don’t understand the ingredient mentioned. Often companies list the chemical/Latin name rather than the standard name. For example, Vitamin C can also be listed as ascorbic acid or Vitamin E is listed as Tocopherol. However, by law the only ingredients on the packaging just has to list what ingredients are in the final product, and not the ones used to get there.
So let’s start and take a deeper look at each ingredient:
- Aqua – this is the Latin word for water. As the first ingredient on the list it is the major component of this product, quite possible up to 70% (though this may not be the case).
- Hydrogenated Vegetable oil – doesn’t say which vegetable oil, but majority of oils are liquid. To hydrogenate means to add in hydrogen into the liquid oil to create a chemical reaction (usually with a catalyst – another chemical) to change the structure of the oil from liquid to solid. This changes the oil from unsaturated to a saturated oil and can create trans fats on occasion. Much like how they make margarine. This is done to make the product thicker and richer – which in theory could be done by using a mix of thicker natural vegetable oils and butters without needing to hydrogenate them using other chemicals.
- Glycerin – They don’t mention where there one is derived from, but this is a sugar alcohol that comes as a by product of oils (animal or vegetable) from the soap making industry – but it can also be synthesized in a lab from other chemicals. It is used as a way to keep the skin soft and hydrated as it attracts water molecules to it – also known as a humectant. Also used in baking and cooking. Simple say that their products are suitable for vegans so it might be presumed that the glycerine is either vegetable source or lab made.
- Isopropyl Palmitate – derived from palm oil in a lab. It is commonly used in cosmetics to work as a thickener and moisturiser. The use of Palm oil is controversial at the moment as environmentalists believe that too many are being feld and leading to the depletion of the world’s rainforests and illegal logging. The final chemical is not considered a ‘natrual product’ because of the chemical processes used to derive it from the palm oil.
- Polysorbate 60 – This is an ingredient called a surfactant or emulsifier. This means that it always 2 ingredients to combine that wouldn’t normal mix together – like oil into water. In cooking egg would be the emulsifier in mayonnaise allowing the oil and water to mix. It is widely used in cosmetics both natural and commercial – but the source is the question as it is not considered truly natural or organic.
- Sorbitan stearate – another emulsifier, primarily used to dissolve essential oils into water. It has also been called a ‘synthetic wax’. In food it is listed as E491. It is a reaction between naturally occurring sorbitol and fatty acids. Research has shown that in very high concentrations this can be a skin irritant, however the amounts generally used in cosmetics is safe.
- Panthenol – This is a precursor to Vitamin B5. So if ingested our body converts it into Vitamin B5. This is used in skincare as a humectant to improve hydration and reduce inflammation and itching. Safety research shows that at concentrations up to 0.5% this was a mild irritant at most – so quite unlikely and did to induce allergic sensitisation.
- Allantoin – derived from comfrey root extract. It is used to soothe and protect the skin.
- Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer – These are thickeners. Chemically derived and are generally considered allergy free. Though consistent or prolonged contact may aggravate pre existing issues.
- Bisabolol – this is a chemical which also forms part of the chemical constituent of chamomile essential oil. If used on it’s own as a stand alone chemical larger quantiies are required to mimic the essential oil effect. It is used on it’s own to either reduce flaking of dry skin or as a fragrance. Research has also stated that “Formulators should be alert to the possibility that use of Bisabolol may increase the penetration of other components of a cosmetic formulation.”
- Cetearyl alcohol – this is another emulsifier, and helps to support the other emulsifiers too. It is a mix of cetyl and stearyl alcohols and is listed as a fatty alcohol. It is often derived from palm oil.
- Methylparaben – this is a preservative. All cosmetic products on shelves need preservatives to stop the product going off as soon as we buy it and open it. The higher the water content in a product the higher the chances of bacterial growth, therefore more preservative is needed. This forms one of the group of preservatives known as parabens, which over the last 10 years has been in the press a lot due to the link with breast cancer and endocrine disruption. There has also been links with contact dermatitis. Many companies have reformulated their products to use safer preservatives. Methylparaben is the smallest type of paraben and has been found to be the least irritating of the group.
 Gray, J (2008). State of the Evidence: The Connection between Breast Cancer and the Environment. San Francisco, CA: The Breast Cancer Fund.
 Daubre PD, Aljarrah A, Miller WR, Coldham NG, Sauer MJ, Pope GS (2004). Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours. Journal of Applied Toxicology 24:5-13.
 Rastogi SC, Schouten A, Dekruijf N, Weijland JW (1995). Contents of methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and benzylparaben in cosmetic products. Contact Dermatits 32: 28-30.
- Sodium Hydroxide – this is also called caustic soda and is usually used in soap making along with palm oil. In high concentrations it can be very damaging to the skin, but generally once mixed in cosmetics it has been shown to be safe.
- 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol – this is also known as bronopol. Invented in a lab by the pharmaceutical company Boots in the 1960s. It is derived from nitromethane by a nitroaldol reaction, and is used as a preservative in cosmetics. The use of this particular preservative has reduced since the late 1980s due to the discovery that it could potentially form nitrosamines, which are suspected carcinogens. Canada have actually restricted the use of this preservative in their cosmetics. There is also some research to show allergic reactions in those who have sensitive skin.
- BHT – This is an anti-oxidant used to stop the product from spoiling once opened. This stands for butylated hydroxytoluene, and is synthetically made.
There has been some health concerns linked with this chemical, including endocrine disruption and organ toxicity – both mainly with ingested amounts. And also reports of skin irritation and allergic reactions in sensitive skin.
1. U.S. National Library of Medicine, in Haz-Map: Occupational Exposure to Hazardous Agents, 2010, http://hazmap.nlm.nih.gov .
 Environmental Working Group, “Skin Deep. Butylated Hydroxytoluene,” [Online]. Available: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/700741/BHT/. [Accessed 20 June 2013].
- EDTA – This stands for ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid. It has many uses, but in cosmetics it is primarily used as a stabilisor and chelating substance so stop the product from spoiling and improve the appearance. In research they have found it to be both cytotoxic and slightly genotoxic. The biggest issue with EDTA is the environmental one, where it has been shown to degrade slowly and therefore pollute the water supply and then build up in the ground and drinking water supply which then effects plant growth and human consumption (Nowack 2002).
So now you know what’s in this one product. Simple skincare are true to their word that they do not use harsh chemicals for the most part, as they have mostly used the least irritating chemicals – but not in their natural state or organic. But then again they’ve never claimed to be ‘natural’, ‘organic’ or environmentally friendly.
They do claim to be ‘skin loving’ and ‘pure’ which I find is a great stretch looking at what’s in the cleanser, but you decide for yourself.
The range may be named ‘Simple’ but the ingredients are anything but simple. However, if you do use the range and are happy with it and it is effective for you then there’s no problem – now you’re just better aware of what is in it.
If you started to use the range because you were looking for something natural and pure for your sensitive skin then this might be the time to look elsewhere for ranges that do not use lab made chemicals.
Remember the higher the water content the more preservative it requires. If a product uses a really good variety of rich non-hydrogentated vegetable oils it will need less water and less preservative. There are excellent natural preservatives that double up as natural colourants and fragrances too – equally there are excellent chemical preservatives which are far less damaging to health and environment too.
I’m personally not fully sold on their range and ingredients, and particularly not sold on their philosophy on the website that “skin is born to be sensitive”. If you look at the anatomy of skin it really isn’t.
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