As part of our ongoing efforts for complete transparency, this section is devoted to topics in skincare that we feel are important, ambiguous or controversial.
There is no absolute right or wrong with many of these topics: we just wish to declare where we stand on these issues and so allow you to make informed decisions.
We hope you stand with us.
Choose a topic
We use uncoated aluminium jars.
When we started our search for a plastic and petroleum-free packaging solution we realised the options were very limited. Plastic is the most prevalent material used by the cosmetic industry but, of course, it wasn’t an option for us. Glass is heavy to transport and you risk breakage. Bioplastics are very promising but they are not yet 100% petroleum-free.
On the other hand, aluminium is lightweight, yet strong and durable, malleable, a complete barrier to light, highly resistant to corrosion and endlessly recyclable with no downgrading of quality. The recycling process uses only 5% of the energy it takes to create primary aluminium and it is calculated that 75% of all aluminium produced since industrial output began in the late 19th century is still in use today. For this reason, it is considered the most sustainable building material.
It’s made from aluminium oxide, or alumina. Aluminium oxide is produced from bauxite, an ore mainly found in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of Latin America, South America, Africa and Australia.
Overall, 73% of all beverage cans in Europe are recycled and therefore remain in the European Circular Economy. In the UK there are facilities to reprocess all forms of aluminium packaging. This ranges from a ‘can to can’ closed loop process to recycling of ‘incinerator bottom ashes’. Recycling of aluminium in the UK is by no means perfect and a lot of scrap metal is still exported when it could be recycled in he UK but it seems to be heading in the right direction.
So although it has to be mined, aluminium is permanently available and endlessly recyclable, which makes it a good starting point for us.
We use uncoated aluminium jars and bottles to remain 100% plastic-free. Uncoated because of our petroleum-free ethos – the epoxy/phenol formaldehyde (EPA) resin that sometimes coats jars is not petroleum-free.
The next step will be to be able to implement a scheme so you can return your jars to be re-used. And our ultimate goal will be to be able to purchase jars that are made directly with 100% recycled aluminium – which is not currently an option.
Now you know where we stand!
We use either alternatives to palm-oil or RSPO certified. This is why:
There is no such thing as 100% sustainable when it comes to manufacturing products. At least not yet and even for a very small operation like ours. There is always a lot to read and often things are not as black and white or as clear-cut as we would like them to be. We must make very informed decisions, take responsibility for them and communicate them clearly and with complete transparency.
One example of this is palm oil. The issue with palm is a lot more complex than “forests are being destroyed and orangutans are being killed/displaced”. This is a catastrophe, no doubt. However, there are some important aspects that are often overlooked.
If we completely boycott palm oil – an ingredient present in 70% of skincare and also used heavily by the food industry -, manufacturers will turn to other crops that A) grow slower and B) require a lot more land to grow. For example, soybeans requires more than eight times more land to obtain the same amount of product. This would only accelerate deforestation.
The cosmetic industry needs these ingredients derived from palm, rapeseed, sunflower, soybeans etc., for example, to create emulsifiers. Emulsifiers allow us to have creams and lotions. They bring together water-based ingredients and oil-based ingredients that would never come together without emulsifiers.
There is some hope for increasing palm yields and stopping deforestation and this is by being able to obtain more palm oil per acre of land. The Malaysian Palm Oil Board has identified Palm trees that can give almost double the amount of oil so if trees were replaced at the end of their productive lives with these high yielding strains, half the amount of land would be needed.
Of course, the global population keeps sky-rocketing and hence the demand will too.
So what do we do?!
We have decided that some of Whitfords products will not contain palm-derived ingredients at all and a few of them will contain a small percentage that hasn’t been farmed through deforestation, certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) which, we know, are still not perfect certifications but we want to support those who are trying to find a solution.
We will tell you which products are palm-free and which ones are not. This is a compromise, no doubt. There is no “save the world and feel good” alternative here because the big picture is very complex – and we haven’t even mentioned the social and economic impact of both cultivating or not cultivating palm -, but we feel it’s a balanced decision for now.
The race is on to find a sustainable alternative. There are projects looking into non-genetically modified algae and even yeast to produce the palmitic acid that is a major component in palm oil. It’s early days and consumers will certainly need to be willing to pay more for their products. We are keeping our eyes peeled and our hearts hopeful.
Now you know where we stand!
At Whitfords, we don’t use synthetic fragrances. Here’s why:
We will only use very low percentages of certified organic essential oils from plants and then mainly on body products.
This is a tough and complex topic because we love a nice scent and we do know that the first thing most people do when opening a jar of skincare is smell it! Our sense of smell is so powerful and smells have the wonderful ability to affect our mood and emotions and trigger memories. The history of fragrance is as old as human history. However, we also know that skin can sometimes be aggravated by products containing certain synthetic fragrances and even sometimes certain essential oils, triggering allergic reactions or skin irritation.
Generally, adding a scent to a skincare product is done either by using essential oils from plants or by using synthetic fragrances. With the latter, you’ll never know what’s in there because their formulas are trade secrets: so when you see “Perfume”, “Parfum” or “Fragrance” on the ingredients list, unless there is a disclaimer underneath, e.g. “Naturally occurring from essential oils”, it means we are dealing with a trade secret and there is no way of knowing what its constituents are, hence we cannot anticipate if it might trigger an allergy or skin sensitisation. This is not in-line with our transparency ethos.
If that’s not good enough for you, let’s draw a parallel with the food we eat. It’s an extreme analogy but it’s fitting. If you have a nut allergy, you must know if a product contains nuts or even traces of them. Why wouldn’t you need to know exactly what the ingredients in your skincare are so you can avoid a specific one?
So when pondering how to add scent to our products, the decision was easy: no ready-made fragrances, only very low percentages of certified organic essential oils from plants in conjunction with our naturally fragrant botanical ingredients that are part of our formulas. Let us be clear, we are not saying here that synthetic fragrances are bad for you. All we are saying is: we rather know exactly what our ingredients are made of/from.
But what are essential oils anyway? Essential oils are made of a variety of aromatic molecules from plants and they are generally obtained by distillation, using steam. Some of these molecules can potentially cause irritation or sensitisation. The EU has identified 26 different sensitisers and has very strict regulations in place for their use in skincare. If any of these allergens are above a certain limit, they must be shown on the product’s label and they have also established a limit for each of them so a skincare product exceeding these limits for any of the 26 sensitisers will not get approval to be sold in the EU. Did you know the EU has one of the stringiest regulations when it comes to cosmetics’ safety?
We started by saying this was a complex one and we’ve only scratched the surface so we’ll write more about this topic in the future but at least now you know where we stand!
We don’t use the word “natural” to refer to our products. Here’s why:
Natural doesn’t mean safer. Natural doesn’t mean better or more effective. It certainly can but it’s not always the case. Also, natural is a vague, subjective term. What does natural mean anyway? Arsenic is natural. Lead is natural. Water? Of course! It can also kill you if you drink enough in one go. And believe us, water is a chemical too (let’s get that out of the way before we dig deeper).
From nature, surely but how? It will mean one thing to you and possibly something different to your next door neighbour because there is no consensus on what a natural cosmetic ingredient or product is and, to add to the confusion, different certification bodies apply different criteria.
Does unprocessed mean natural? There are more than 25,000 cosmetic ingredients and almost all of them require some level of processing in order to be viable to be included in a cosmetic formulation. E.g hydrolysis, fermentation, fat-splitting of vegetable oils to produce glycerin, etc. Cold-pressed plant oils and butters are as natural as it gets because no chemical reactions are involved but for certain products those alone are not enough to deliver a specific skin-feel, type of product or even results.
Natural as opposed to man-made? Sometimes we need a few of those too, particularly when creating water-based products. You might say “natural skincare” is a way of labelling brands that choose an approach to formulation that avoids certain ingredients. Fair enough but the problem with that is that certain brands take advantage of the confusion and do what it’s called “greenwashing”: calling their products “natural” when really, they are still using the same formulas that are almost entirely synthetic and petroleum-derived and add 1% of a plant extract and a nice picture of that plant on the label! So the word natural doesn’t do much for us. We prefer to tell you that we will create safe – to humans and to the environment-, effective skincare products formulated with oils, butters, plant-derived ingredients and no animal-derived ingredients.
We will explain to you exactly what goes into each product and why. And if we choose or need to use a proven safe man-made, petroleum-free ingredient, we will tell you which one and why because sometimes it can even be more sustainable or ethical to use a man-made ingredient. We believe this is a clearer, more honest approach. Now you know where we stand!
This is a simple one. Also a very necessary one. Skincare products containing water – e.g. creams, toners, serums, etc. – must have what is called a “preservative system” in place. Usually this means there is one or more substances in the formula that stop the growth of bacteria and fungi, protecting the integrity of the product during its shelf-life, therefore protecting customers.
On the other hand and generally speaking, skincare products that do not contain water or with a negligible water content, do not need preservatives. For example, oil blends, butters, etc.
This is a general rule though and cases must be individually assessed by the formulator and the safety assessor which is the person that in the EU makes sure each product is safe before it can be brought to market.
There are plenty of preservatives a formulator can choose to use and the final system will depend on many factors like the type of product, compatibility with other ingredients in the formula, the product’s PH, the type of packaging, etc.
Some preservatives are milder on the skin than others. Some are petroleum-based. Other are not. Some offer a very long shelf-life but the cost of this might be the risk of irritation on the skin. It’s ultimately down to the brand’s ethos which ones to use.
At Whitfords, we don’t use petroleum-derived preservatives for sustainability reasons and instead, we choose to work with weak salts and acids. Some people might call these “natural preservation systems”. Working with these milder preservatives requires extra help so we often pair them with ingredients that have a dual purpose – sometimes called “boosters”. For example, a certain ingredient can have moisturising properties and at the same time help preserve the final product. Examples of these can include wasabi extract, elderberry extract, white willow bark extract and even some (good!) bacteria.
This also means that our products won’t have a 3-year shelf life, but a much shorter one. This is a compromise we are happy to accept.
Some brands choose not to tell you about the dual purpose of these ingredients or boosters because they fear the word “preservative” will scare customers. Some brands even used to claim “preservative-free”. Luckily this is no longer allowed in the EU and “preservative-free” claims cannot be made if the product includes ingredients with antimicrobial or antifungal properties.
We choose to explain everything we do and not to insult our customers’ intelligence. We will always tell you which role/s our ingredients play in each formula and we are definitely not scared of the word “preservative”. Now you know where we stand!