Do cosmetics containing essential oil components have bad press, especially in France?

September 2018

There are many warnings in the press regarding essential oils. Some are justified and some are so exaggerated that the slightest trace of essential oil diluted in the composition of a formula becomes as suspicious as a component in a proven toxic, endocrine disruptor, or becomes controversial at another level.

Of course, essential oils are very powerful substances (which is also what makes them effective). They are active concentrates that are used within the framework of specific protocols and which can become problematic if used incorrectly, in too high a concentration or undiluted, for example. Some essential oils, used pure, can be photosensitizing or cause discomfort if the dosage is not respected.

The advantage of these substances is that they have been used in traditional pharmacopoeia for centuries and their use, function, warnings and of course also their multiple advantages, even in interaction with other herbal substances, have been studied and documented for a long time. 

This is not the case for a large number of chemical substances, whose interaction with other chemical substances and the effects of their daily use have not yet been studied in the long term, or even in the medium term, for that matter.  

This is a reference to the famous « cocktail effect » that can result from combining these chemical substances and which of course does not essentially concern the problem of cosmetics.

Many users, who are increasingly better informed, are now turning to certified natural and organic cosmetics to avoid the range of controversial components found in conventional cosmetics. 

Here, once again, we come across warnings about the famous « allergens » derived from essential oils. The prevailing distrust towards essential oils in France seems to be generally established in the minds of consumers and the press. 


So is this distrust justified or not?

For years consumer tests in France have tended to systematically downgrade natural and organic cosmetics containing components, fractions of essential oils, classified as potentially allergenic (such as Linalool and Geraniol*). 

*The leading German consumer magazine ÖKOTEST does not work in the same way.

In cosmetics, essential oils are used both for their intrinsic care properties (soothing, astringent, purifying, etc.) and/or as perfuming substances, for example. Depending on the context of the formulation, they can also contribute to product preservation.

For example, certified natural and organic cosmetics products are exclusively perfumed with essential oils. Synthetic perfumes (just like synthetic preservatives, etc.) are not authorised by the demanding, much stricter specifications recommended in the « conventional » cosmetics industry. 

Of course there are also certified organic cosmetics ranges that are « fragrance-free », but in general, essential oils are among the components widely used in natural and organic cosmetics. 

So would users also be willing to give up the pleasure of perfumes in their cosmetic products? 

If we wanted at all costs to avoid the use of essential oils, or components derived from essential oils, we would be obliged « by default » to use products that contain synthetic perfumes instead, in fact most « conventional » products are perfumed with synthetic perfumes, grouped under the generic term « perfume/fragrance ».  

And among these synthetic perfumes, we also find the famous phthalates, classified as endocrine disruptors or other equally controversial substances, or musk compounds, which are also very problematic, and can stick to tissues. Some chemical fragrance substances are often also potentially allergenic and are added to the impressive cocktail of problematic synthetic substances that can be found in a conventional cosmetic product.

So is there any real justification in putting components from essential oils that are potentially allergenic for some people, on the same level as proven, reprotoxic, controversial, toxic and polluting components?

What exactly are the perfuming substances which are considered to be potentially “allergenic”?

In the list of substances identified by the CSSC (Chemical Safety and Surveillance Committee) as potentially allergenic, some fragrances may be more or less problematic or controversial. Among the substances that must be reported « separately » on the INCI list, i.e. outside the generic term « perfume » or « fragrance » usually used, (if they exceed a certain concentration threshold), both natural and chemical substances are to be found.

And among this list of components there are also components derived from essential oils (Citral, Limonene, Geraniol etc.). 

These components are isolated parts (fractions) of essential oils used for example in natural and organic cosmetics as perfume and partly also for preservation. This also means that they are present in very small quantities, usually listed at the end of the INCI list. It is therefore these isolated components, these fractions of essential oils (and not the essential oil as a whole) that need to be declared at the end of the list.

What are the differences between these categories of potentially allergenic substances?

The allergenic potential for all these substances is not identical, and the in-depth studies and research work carried out by the German Federation for Information in Dermatology Clinics (IVDK, Informationsverbund Dermatologischer Kliniken*) has made it possible to assess and differentiate the risk of the various substances. 

The principle is simple: if a substance is used frequently and is rarely found to be allergenic, the allergenic potential should be considered low.

If, on the other hand, a substance is rarely used, but triggers frequent allergies in tests, its allergenic potential is considered high.


Most of these substances fall into the category of « less problematic » substances, only a few substances really stand out for their higher allergenic potential.

High allergenic potential:

Oak Moos Evernia Prunastri Extract

Tree Moos Evernia Furfuracea Extract



Methylheptincarbonate (Methyl 2-octynoate)

Intermediary allergenic potential:

Cinnamyl Alcohol

Hydroxycitronellal, Hydroxyisohexyl 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde (trade name: Lyral)

The least problematic:

Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone

Amyl Cinnamal

Amylcinnamyl Alcohol

Anise Alcohol
Benzyl Alcohol

Benzyl Benzoate

Benzyl Cinnamate

Benzyl Salicylate

Butylphenyl methylpropional (Lilial).  (However concern as possible endocrine disruptor)



Coumarin (study by the BFR which nevertheless advises against intensive use in food/ and cosmetics)




Hexyl Cinnamal 



Methyl 2-Octynoate.

Should all products containing, for example, Citral, Geraniol, or Linalool, be systematically avoided?  

What are the alternatives?

All substances derived from essential oils can of course also cause allergic reactions in some people. There is not a single substance, even natural, which is 100% guaranteed of not causing a reaction, obviously.

Generally speaking, all natural substances can also sometimes trigger allergic reactions. Some people, for example, have grass allergies, others are allergic to strawberries or citrus fruits. 

Usually the people concerned know what triggers their allergies and simply avoid these substances on a daily basis. 

The same logic applies to components derived from essential oils. If peeling an orange or approaching a bouquet of roses causes an allergic reaction, it is best to simply avoid products containing essential oils derived from citrus fruits (Citral, Limonene etc.) or rose (Geraniol), etc.

A BDIH study carried out in 2010 on Geraniol also confirms the need to distinguish between « Geraniol »… and « Geraniol », i.e. Geraniol as an essential oil component and chemically isolated Geraniol. 

In this study on 50 people, none showed an allergic reaction to essential oils, which contained Geraniol as a natural component. On the other hand, 20% of the participants reacted to the synthetic molecule, isolated Geraniol. 

These distinctions are important, just as important as the distinctions in the IVDK study, which provide a differentiated ranking of the subject.

Systematically avoiding any product that contains fractions of essential oils that are potentially allergenic for some people seems an excessive and illogical approach. 

In particular because the alternatives proposed, from conventional products to synthetic perfumes, often contain a wide range of components that are proven to be toxic, problematic or polluting.

And to systematically warn against products containing components based on essential oils, and treat them as being potentially equally problematic as mainstream conventional products, without moderating the context, surely contributes nothing to making progress on the debate.

The Cosmetic « Match » : comparing two shampoos for curly and frizzy hair

February 2018


 Two shampoos for curly and frizzy hair confronting each other in a cosmetic « match ».

« Dark N Lovely » against « Noire O Naturel »

In this chapter we will regularly be presenting two comparable products from two different brands, very often one from the « conventional » sector and the other from a certified, organic brand.

These products will be facing each other on the same ground : the ingredients list comparaison.

The commentator will remain at your side during the entire game and will also be explaining the basic rules, when they’re not completely clear or understandable.

Let the game begin : may the best team win !

For this month’s match, we have selected two hair care products : two different shampoos for curly and frizzy hair.

In the following product comparaison, both brands are aiming at the same goal :  specific products for washing hair your properly and hair care in general for curly and fuzzy hair.

But on one side, the product uses mainly chemical ingredients, -with some controversial ingredients that slipped in between the lines-, whereas the other side plays the game of «natural ingredients only ».

Match opening, team presentation :

Dark N Lovely «Au Naturale»

Moisture – Replenishing Shampoo

with Mango Oil & Bamboo Milk

250 ml, price : 9,49 €

« Recipe for rich, natural hair.»


This brand belongs to the l’Oréal group and the product obviously targets an international consumer market (the product in itself is both in french and english).

Here’s how the brand itself presents the product :

«Our Moisture Replenishing Shampoo cleanses and provides a rich, quick lather that brings moisture for hair and scalp »

Another claim, meant to be reassuring  :

« No mineral Oil, No parabens, NO Petrolum »

Well, well, well…

Let’s take the time to check the entire ingredient list and to analyse this INCI list in detail :

Ingredients / INCI : Aqua, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamide MEA, Sodium Chloride, Parfum (Fragrance), Phenoxyethanol, Polyquaternium-7, Polysorbate 20, Potassium Sorbate, Glycol Stearate, Mangifera Indica Seed Oil, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Polyquaternium-10, Citric Acid, Sodium PCA, Disodium EDTA, Sodium Benzoate, Benzyl Salicylate, Linalool, Benzyl Alcohol, Bambusa Vulgaris, CI19140, CI47000, CI17200, CI42090





As always, it’s the 5-8 (approx.) first ingredients in a cosmetic product, that define the product’s overall « profile ».

In general, products like shampoos (or shower gels, for instance, too) are made of around 70% water, followed by surfactants (approx. 20%) and other remaining secondary ingredients.

When it comes to shampoos, (shower gels, etc) the most essential part remains the choice of appropriate surfactants. 

These surfactants can be either very soft, -very well tolerated by the skin-, or more or less irritating, some can also be problematic for the environnement.

In this specific product, there is a mixture of an irritating surfactant, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, associated with a softer surfactant, Cocamidopropyl Betaine.

But the rest of the formulation can also be considered as problematic, as it includes some controversial synthetic preservatives, other ingredients that are problematic for the environment (polluting substances), and even some controversial azo dyes.

Here’s the detail of what could be considered as problematic in the product’s formulation,

  • Phenoxyethanol; a controversial synthetic preservative, concern of organ system toxicity (liver) and classified as irritant.
  • Polyquaternium-7 and Polyquaternium-10 which are quats, substances that are not very well biodegradable and considered slightly irritating.
  • The Polysorbate belongs to the PEG category, which are ethoxylated ingredients. Ethoxylated ingredients on their own are of low concern, however, the process of ethoxylation is a a complex chemical procedure requiring extreme safety mesures (toxic and reactive gas). PEGs are also suspected to make the skin more permeable, enabling therefore the accumulation of more problematic ingredients. PEGs are also not very well biodegradable and therefore polluting.
  • Other ingredients that are problematic for the environnement, as Disodium EDTA, for ex.
  • The CI19140 and CI17200 colorants ; they belong to the group of azo dyes, coal-tar chemicals that are sometimes allergenic and linked to other toxicological concerns.
  • The « Fragrance » in the INCI listing can also sometimes be considered as problematic :

as this product is not a certified organic product, it probably contains some synthetic fragrance. Synthetic fragrances very often also contain phtalates, classified as endocrine disruptors.

Of course there is also the Mango Oil (11th position) and the Bamboo Milk (21th position), but they can be considered as mere, -nearly insignificant-, « natural hints »  as they don’t play any major role in the product’s formulation. 

They are basically just there to give the product a « greener » outlook, but not as active, relevant cosmetic ingredients.

Another surprising element ; the bottle in itself really looks like a beverage bottle, an orange juice bottle to be more precise.

This product should therefore not be left unattended in the kitchen, if you have small children around, for instance.

This is therefore a perfect «greenwashing example » ; using one or two main natural ingredients, like the ‘Mango Oil and Bamboo Milk’ as major sales argument. But these natural ingredient play in fact no significant, major role in this product.

The global formulation is mainly based on chemical ingredients, some of which are highly controversial and problematic for the environnement..

Sentence: « No mineral Oil, No parabens, NO Petrolum », so far so good !

… BUT «with» Phenoxyethanol, EDTA, azo dyes and a whole range of other controversial or problematic ingredients.

A product that could benefit from improvements, on every possible level…


Noire Ô Naturel

Crème de Shampooing

Aloe Vera, Mongogo, Sesame

Curly to frizzy hair

200 ml , price : 16,50 €

Here’s how the brand itself presents the product :

« Inspired from african beauty rituals, our cream of shampoo is made of plant butters ( shea, mango) and organic aloe vers juice known for their hair care benefits. Its very soft and SLS free formulation gives it its creamy texture without foam for a softly shampoo care. An enriches formula with organic oils (sesame, coconut) and mongongo soothes and nourishes your hair from roots to tips. »

Let’s take the time to check the entire ingredient list and to analyse this INCI list in detail :

Ingredients / INCI : Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice*,Aqua (Water), Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Beeswax *, Cetearyl Alcohol, Lauryl Glucoside, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter*, Inulin, Arachidyl Alcohol, Yogurt Powder, Betaine, Decyl Glucoside, Glycerin, Mangifera Indica (Mango) Seed Butter, Coco-Glucoside, Schinziophyton Rautanenii Kernel Oil, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil*, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil*, Cananga Odorata Flower Oil, Aniba Rosaeodora (Rosewood) Wood Oil, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Oil,  Behenyl Alcohol, Tocopherol, Coco-Glucoside, Glyceryl Oleate, Arachidyl Glucoside, Dehydroacetic Acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Citric Acid, Benzyl Alcohol, Linalool.

* ingrédients issus de l’agriculture biologique

98% of the ingredients (total) are of natural origin

53% of the ingredients (total) are organic certified

Without SLS or ALS, paraben, silicon, GMO,  artificial  colorants or perfumes.

« Cosmétique Ecologique » certified by ECOCERT Greenlife according to ECOCERT guidelines, more details to be found here




As always, it’s the 5-8 (approx.) first ingredients in a cosmetic product, that define the product’s overall « profile ».

In general, products like shampoos are made of around 70% water, followed by surfactants (approx. 20%) and other secondary ingredients, then.

When it comes to shampoos, (or shower gels, for instance, too), the most essential part remains the choice of the proper surfactants. These surfactants can be either very soft, very well tolerated by the skin, or more or less irritating and as well problematic for the environnement.

This formulation is based on a mixture of sugar-based surfactants (acylgutamates) Lauryl Glucoside and Decyl Glucoside, and  Coco-Glucoside (a bit further down the line).

These are the softest surfactants available, the ones that are also best tolerated by the skin. But these substances are also the most expensive ones, these surfactants are therefore very rarely used as primary, (main) surfactants in one product, like for example here.

The product is presented as a « crème de shampooing », -a creamy shampoo-, («a creamy, non-foamy texture»), which explains the high number of authentic vegetal oils and waxes, right from the ingredient’s list start.

And among the very first ingredients, there’s a vegetal sunflower oil, some organic beeswax, organic sheabutter and other natural ingredients that are particularly hydrating and offer specific skin and hair care like inulin (sugar), yogurt and vegetal glycerin.

Besides the fact that this product does not include any harmful, problematic or controversial ingredient, there is a whole list of entirely natural ingredients and authentic vegetal oils, with their precious intrinsic vegetal substances, like for example :

  • Organic Aloe Vera gel : soothing, hydrating, nourishing and regenerating
  • Mango butter :  emulsifying, skin softening and nourishing properties
  • Mongogo Oil : restructuring, hydrating and regenerating
  • Organic Coco Oil : protecting, skin softening and emulsifying properties, shining hair
  • Organic Sesame Oil : nourishing, softening,  contains precious essential fatty acids

And of course this richness and large quantity of authentic natural ingredients, -mainly organic-, also has an impact on the price, this product is twice as expensive as the previous one, but it also contains twice as many natural high quality ingredients…

Sentence : This « crème de shampooing » presents itself with an exemplary formulation ; without any controversial and harmful ingredient whatsoever, this product derives its

strength essentially from « mother nature » and precious natural ingredients, carefully selected for their intrinsic benefits.

A prefect hair care product for curly to frizzy hair.


Visit the website and the free INCI ( cosmetic ingredients) search engine to evaluate your own cosmetic products.



Pick of the month : claim and… reality. Biolane wipes closely scrutinized

Product Test : Baby wipes

Biolane wipes closely scrutinized


Pocket Wipes

Face & Hands


1,42 €

Cosmetic wipes are, -as such-, not considered as cosmetics, but belong to the category  called «frontier» cosmetic products (including for instance : lice treatments, mouthwash, dental floss, etc). These products can sometimes be classified in different legal definitions : the European Commission therefore defines them as cosmetic « frontier » products.

But as cosmetic wipes, -especially those for babies and children-, are common products, present in most of our bathrooms today, this product test made sense.

Over the last couple of years, consumer reports and test magazines have also picked up the subject of cosmetic wipes and revealed that they contained a number of problematic and potentially toxic ingredients.

It’s always interesting to first check the brand’s product presentation, in order to then compare the description with the actual ingredient list.

Product description, taken from the Biolane* website :  


•Their formula, with high skin and ocular tolerance, is used to clean and refresh baby’s hands and face at any time and provide long-lasting moisturization*.

•The ultra-soft and resistant texture respects the fragility of baby’s skin and guarantees very delicate cleansing.

•Mildly scented, they leaves your baby’s skin soft, supple and perfectly protected

Tested under dermatological control.

 Fibres 100% biodegradable.

 Formulated at Physiological pH.

 Alcohol-free, soap-free, paraben-free, phenoxyethanol-free and phthalate-free.

– Can be used at any time of day on baby’s hands and face.
– Does not require rinsing.
– Can also be used for nappy changing.


As this product is meant for babies and children, the brands is highlighting the «formulation’s security  aspect» which makes perfect sense.


But let’s now have a closer look at the exact ingredients lists.

Ingredients /INCI:


And here comes a bit of a surprise….!

We can confirm the absence of parabens, alcohol and phenoxyethanol, but the entire ingredient list is far from «irreproachable» :

Instead of using artificial preservatives like parabens, or phenoxyethanol, for instance, the ingredient list contains another artificial preservative CHLORHEXIDINE DIGLUCONATE, just as problematic, but with a trickier name to remember.

Other problematic ingredients can be found in the product:

  • CHLORHEXIDINE DIGLUCONATE : an artificial preservative, part of organohalogen compounds. These organohalogen compounds have a strong allergic potential, and are reactive elements, which can be accumulated in the tissues as, when penetrating. They also represent an environmental problem, as they are polluting.
  • The preservative/emulsifier CETRIMONIUM CHLORIDE, belongs to the category of quaternary ammonium compounds, irritating allergens, that are also not very biodegradable.
  • The  «Perfume» or Fragrance indication in the ingredient list can sometimes also be considered as problematic : as this is not a certified product (in the sense of certified organic), chances are high that we are dealing here with a synthetic perfume, that can be problematic if this fragrance included for instance phthalates (=endocrine disruptors). Diethyl phthalate can often be found in fragrances as a «fixing agent» (enabling fragrances to last longer and and remain less volatils). Meaning also that this ingredient could be added to fragrances in this case without disclosure to consumers.
  • In order to systematically avoid phthalates in your products, choosing natural and organic cosmetic products that are certified would be the best option. Artificial, synthetic perfumes and fragrances are simply not allowed by the different labels of natural and organic certified cosmetics.

Summary :

On one side the brand claims the absence of certain artificial preservatives, insists on «high skin tolerance», states that the fibers are «100% biodegradable» and on the other side we can identify another controversial synthetic preservative, and some problematic, controversial and polluting ingredients.

Just as the product test of baby products from last year (link below, article in french), this exemple, -randomly chosen-, leaves us with a number of questions.

Baby and children products should be presenting themselves with «exemplary» formulations and ingredient lists, without any controversial, potentially allergen, toxic, polluting or problematic ingredient in any other respect.


Welcome to this informative website about cosmetics

From the book to the website…

“The Truth about Cosmetics”

At the very beginning, there was a book (with the same title) and the website was created as a continuation of the book’s project,- aiming to bring the message to a larger audience. The very first version of the book was translated from german into french and dates back to 2001 (!!!). The landscape and context of the cosmetic sector, the media and even end-consumers have considerably changed over the years, ever since.

The project has been copied by other websites on numerous occasions, but the work Rita Stiens initially crafted remains unique…The critical voice she has been claiming over decades concerning the cosmetic industry remains essential, even today.

To use the words of Rita Stiens:

“At the time, only a very restricted circle of people were interested in the problems and issues linked to the cosmetic sector and the book’s very fist version was basically only sold in organic health stores and therefore available for an audience, that was more or less already informed. And then there was this famous TV show in France in 2005, (Envoyé Special) casting a serious research and revealing some issues about problematic ingredients in every day cosmetics, like the now well known «parabens». This TV program also showed a couple of alternative, organic certified brands and my book had its small moment of fame when it was also mentioned and shown on TV. All remaining books were sold within a couple of days, after that TV show…”

When it comes to how the cosmetic industry is considered in general, we can really consider a period « before » and « after 2005 », at least in France. The fact that potentially dangerous and toxic ingredients can be found in cosmetics was mentioned on TV, raised a much larger awareness and consumers started asking themselves legitimate questions about what impact cosmetics ingredients could have on their health and the environnement.

The situation may vary from one country to another, but the subject itself has been brought up in many different countries and cultures and needs continuous research and updates.

Created in 2009, this site – – completed its book to make its work accessible to the greatest number.

At the end of 2015, the entire website went over to another writer : Anne Dubost, who had formerly worked for a large distributor of organic cosmetics in France and therefore had a profound knowledge of the cosmetic industry, it’s current issues and its evolution.