Are your products MADE SAFE? Introducing a New Approval Seal
Who do you trust when it comes to product safety? Companies have been monitoring the uptick in consumer concern, and in response, label their products with "buzz words" to make us feel better about our purchase. These terms may include: Natural, Pure, Baby-Safe, Green, Plant-Derived or Non-Toxic, even though there is little-to-no authority governing the use or definition of those terms, much less their safety...or is there?
I want to share news about a new seal of approval for products made with safe and non-toxic ingredients in a bit, but in the meantime, what shall we do now and until our favorite products get certified?
Left to our own devices, we dissect and research each ingredient through advocacy groups and scientific studies (EWG, SafeCosmetics.org, ThinkDirty, California Prop 65 lists, NIH and more) to verify claims of the ingredients. And though there are plenty of great resources for these practices, it is time consuming, and can sometimes be inconclusive or confusing.
Products we once believed to be safe
Johnson and Johnson, a company known for marketing their products as "baby-safe" was just ordered to pay $73 Million to the family of a women who died of ovarian cancer linked to her ongoing use of their Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products. These products contained a substance (talc) known to be harmful and deadly, especially when used in sensitive areas such as where one might apply a baby powder: in the diaper/pelvic area.
Johnson and Johnson has already been under tremendous pressure over the past several years to clean up their formulas by removing Quaternium-15 (a formaldehyde releaser and known carcinogen) and 1,4 dioxane (a likely carcinogen) but have yet to remove them completely. It shouldn't be too complicated as they already sell formulations free of these ingredients in countries that ban them. Is it that the problem more political and bottom line driven? The United States seems to be last on board with banning these and other cancer-causing substances. Could it be we love cancer, endocrine disruption and allergies and the business they bring?
Well, since the government isn't interested in banning toxic ingredients at the moment, the only way we can currently get rid of them is by voting with our dollars: we choose to no longer buy from the brands who use dangerous substances. But let's be real; how do we even start?
Organic or Ecocert Certified do not = Safe
Even as a blogger and information junkie who spends a good amount of my time digging into ingredients, at times I feel over my head or left with inconclusive or conflicting data.
There are plenty of beauty and skin products using certifications that can still mislead the public like:
- Certified Organic - content can be as low as 70% organic and the FDA doesn't define or regulate the term in beauty/personal care products - or -
- Ecocert - free of parabens, silicon, PEG, synthetic perfumes, GMO, but it's hard to determine what else it actually means
What you can't tell by these certifications is: safety. Just because ingredients were certified natural, organic or environmentally friendly doesn't mean they are safe for use or they don't interact with another ingredient to create a toxic substance.
There is a new seal and certification launching on Tuesday, March 8th by the group MADE SAFE which will differ from other seals and certifications because of their focus on human health and the overall toxicity of any given product. A seal of approval from MADE SAFE means the ingredients have passed their toxicity screening, are void of potential cross contamination and GMO, and has been deemed safe for human use.
How MADE SAFE Works
There are two levels to MADE SAFE, and therefore, two different seals will be issued by MADE SAFE. They are:
Level 1: The MADE-SAFE Seal
- Ingredients are screened and not known or suspected to cause human health harm
- MADE SAFE uses third party studies from scientifically recognized lists from around the world
- Scientists/Advisors analyze material, ingredient and chemical compounds of products to ensure they do not contain harmful ingredients or release vapors, gases or by-products that could impact human health
- If an ingredient cannot be proven safe (not enough data or appears problematic) the product will fail the screening and will not receive a seal
- MADE SAFE verifies supply chain for each ingredient to ensure there is no cross-contamination issues
- MADE SAFE verifies any certifications the product(s) were previously issued
Level 2, The Gold Standard: NON-TOXIC Certified
- Has passed the MADE-SAFE Seal process
- Each product is examined and physically tested in totality (the whole mixture) through a third party laboratory to validate:
- No ingredients were omitted from the ingredient list
- No new toxins are formed in the mixture
- No supply chain contamination
In order to get either seal, brands must be able to certify (or be working toward certification) of at least 75% of their products with MADE SAFE. For example, if a brand makes 20 products and only 5 are able to be certified MADE SAFE or NON-TOXIC and the brand is not working toward cleaning up at least 10 more products, they will not receive a seal/certification for any of their products.
MADE SAFE vs. EWG and ThinkDirty
While many of us concerned with product safety use sites/apps like Safecosmetics.org, ThinkDirty or EWG/SkinDeep as a starting point for investigation, several ingredients have data gaps with inconclusive results on safety (in fact, Sarita Coren wrote a great post about how to use EWG wisely here). These ingredients automatically rate low (or clean) on EWG/SkinDeep and ThinkDirty even though they haven't been proven safe.
MADE SAFE's system is a simple Pass/Fail approach: if an ingredient cannot be proven safe, the product fails the screening.
This isn't to say that products that do not pass their screening process are necessarily toxic, it's just there is not enough data to prove them to be safe. There is a huge difference between labeling something SAFE vs. labeling it TOXIC. If I were a product developer serving a mean-green-ingredient-savvy machine like yourself, I'd like to think I'd prefer to use ingredients I'm confident are safe instead of ingredients that haven't yet been proven safe.
MADE SAFE screens every single ingredient through the best available science, predictive modeling with third party chemists looking for
- Persistence (Does it build up in the environment?)
- Bioaccumulation (Does it build up in the human body?)
- General and aquatic toxicity (Does it cause harm to humans or animals on land or in water?)
If the answer to any of these is YES, the product fails the screening. As MADE SAFE discovers ingredients that trigger any or all of these, MADE-SAFE can help close the data gap on toxic chemicals previously labeled as "inconclusive."
Why Brands May Hesitate to Undergo the MADE SAFE Process
While this process is an incredible step for consumers, brand owners may be less than thrilled about disclosing supplier information. While we seek transparency, many brands have worked long and hard to find suppliers who provide superior ingredients which separates the brands final formulations from the competitors.
These are the trade secrets that brand owners and creators hold near to their heart, particularly when they are a small batch or indie company who can potentially expose themselves to be trampled on by another brand if any supplier information is leaked.
While MADE SAFE signs a non-disclosure with each brand who submits their details, you can understand the underlying fear of releasing the precious details of what makes their product so special. My initial thought about these concerns was allowing brands to skip the supplier disclosure step as long as they skip directly to Level 2 (NON TOXIC Certification) since the lab test which would verify the cross contamination concerns anyway.
We'll see what happens. They are new and so far I'm impressed with what they are doing. I was able to speak with the team to get even more information if you are interested - see below!
Q&A with MADE SAFE Founder and Executive Director, Amy Ziff
What is the main goal/purpose of Made Safe? How does it benefit the average consumer?
We aim to change the way products are made in this country by eliminating toxic chemicals altogether. We do this by:
- Making it easy for consumers to easily find and buy safe products
- Giving companies a road map to making safe products
- Making it easy for retailers to select the safe products their customers want to buy
By doing this we send a clear message to the supply chain that harmful ingredients won’t be purchased and longer. And as a result we change the entire system.
Why is it important to test the product as a whole when you already know what substances went into making it? Can certain safe ingredients create a dangerous substance when combined?
It’s important to lab-test because certain ingredients do interact with each other, and we need to be looking at how these exposures impact our health. So our gold standard NONTOXIC CERTIFIED seal lab-tests products in totality to ensure that no new toxins are formed in mixture, there’s no supply chain contamination, and to validate the MADE SAFE ingredient screening in a lab environment.
This is revolutionary. Formulations that are safe as a whole are the future of product formulation in this country.
If a product uses a synthetic ingredient that has been proven not to cause human harm, would you still consider the product to be MADE-SAFE?
Yes. Not all synthetic chemicals are toxic. A lot of synthetic fragrances are absolutely toxic, but this doesn't mean all synthetics are. The whole point of Green Chemistry is to find synthetic chemicals that are effective and don't cause human harm. There are over 80,000 chemicals to sort through and many of them are toxic, but the ones that pass our screening would be allowed to carry our seals.
The process of creating safer synthetics out of plant derived substances can be cross contaminated with carcinogens. Can you explain ethoxylation and how Made-Safe addresses these types of processes?
Ethoxylation is basically a chemical reaction where ethylene oxide is added to alcohols and phenols. The new compounds are called Alcohol Ethoylates (AEs). While this sounds relatively simple, the problem is that a byproduct of making them is the production of 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide. Both are compounds found on the California Proposition 65 list as known or suspected to cause cancer or birth defects, which we do not permit in MADE SAFE products.
To avoid ethoxylated ingredients, avoid PEGs, -eths (ie: compounds with steareth, laureth, and ceteareth in the name), as well as polysorbates.
If a product uses one or more conventional (not organic) ingredient(s), can we rest assured Made Safe has concluded the levels of insecticides/pesticides to be trace or nonexistent?
Registered pesticides aren't permitted in certified products and are screened out in the MADE SAFE phase. For example, if we learn that Triclosan, a registered pesticide and antimicrobial is used in a product, we would not permit that product to receive our seal. If an ingredient has been contaminated with a pesticide, we would see that in the NON TOXIC Certified testing phase and the product would not be certified.
What are your thoughts on GMO ingredients in skin/beauty? Do any of your testings reveal any difference or safety concerns with GMO ingredients?
We do not permit the use of GMO ingredients at this time as we can’t prove that GMO ingredients aren’t harmful and there is reason to believe they may indeed be problematic. Our skin is our largest organ and we absorb as much as 80% of what gets slathered on it. So this is an example of how we exercise the Precautionary Principal and err on the side of caution.
We use an exhaustive list from other GMO verication programs so that we can screen out ingredients that are known to potentially be derived from genetically engineered sources. When we find ingredients from those lists, we go through the supply chain and require proof to show that it is not derived from GMO sources. An example is Papaya - it can be GMO derived, so we paperwork proving the source is non-GMO or we won't permit the ingredient to be granted our seal.
There are many certifications products can receive, from Cruelty-Free, Ecocert, USDA Organic, etc., how does Made-Safe differentiate themselves when a consumer sees a products with one or more of these labels?
MADE SAFE differentiates because we:
- Apply to products across store aisles: MADE SAFE is focused on being the first human health seal to cross consumer product categories, from baby to personal care to household and beyond.
- Are human health focused: The primary goal of our seals is to ensure that products will not cause harm to human health.
- Have a comprehensive screening process: MADE SAFE screens against our Toxicant Database for known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, flame retardants, heavy metals, pesticides/insecticides/herbicides, toxic solvents, harmful VOCs, neuro, behavioral and reproductive toxins, and GMOs.
- Aims to close data gaps: We screen each and every ingredient in a product for bioaccumulation, persistence, as well as general and aquatic toxicity. We use modeling, predictive analysis, subject matter experts, compound analysis, toxicologists and others to scrutinize each and every ingredient in a product as needed.
- Exercise the Precautionary Principle: We go beyond the accepted school of thought that says that where there is lack of data, ingredients are presumed to be safe. Instead, we follow the Precautionary Principle: If an ingredient appears problematic and we can’t obtain enough data to determine that it’s safe for human health, we won't allow it in certified products.
- We conduct lab testing: MADE SAFE’s gold standard NONTOXIC CERTIFIED seal is the only certification that lab-tests products to look at how ingredients interact in mixture to ensure the product as a whole is safe for human health.
- We work with brands in R&D: We work with brands in a Research & Development capacity as they look to determine the purity of their products. We work with them behind the scenes to change sourcing, reformulate, or make entirely new products where necessary. Using our process as a road map, MADE SAFE helps ensure that all ingredients in products are safe from the get-go.
Once a product has the Made Safe Label, how often do they get screened again to make sure formulations haven't changed, etc.?
Certified products are required to undergo screening every three years or as formulations change.
When should we expect to see Made Safe labels on products?
Some products have already been certified! You can check our website here to find them, and to see brands working toward certification with their products. Many more products will be hitting store shelves and websites this spring. Tell the brands you love to get certified by MADE SAFE!