Some Truth about the Cosmetics Industry. ~ Joshua Scott Onysko

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Photo: Alexander Persona Grata

What are our skin cream companies hiding from us?

Ed’s note: Pangea is, for one month, a sponsor of elephant. We’re proud of that: we only work with sponsors we can vouch for personally. That said, in any case, this article is offered as editorial, and we regard it as genuine editorial, and would publish it (or not, if we didn’t believe in it) whether or not Pangea sponsored elephant this month. ~ ed.

I get asked about this a lot [Josh is CEO, founder of Pangea Organics. ~ed.] so I’m going to try and break it all down in this article.

The cosmetics industry is completely unregulated, except if they are making medical claims such as “acne treatment” or “SPF” etc., etc. These products are not regulated for safety, just for effectiveness of the claim, and even that is suspect.

There are over 100,000 chemicals being used in the cosmetic and cleaning industry in the U.S. Less than 10% of them have ever been tested for human safety, and next to none have been tested for safety when combined with other components, which is exactly what a cosmetic product is—a cocktail of ingredients.

How does the industry work?

Well, like most things, it’s based on fear—fear of aging, and fear of not being beautiful enough. These fears are preyed upon by slick marketing campaigns and false claims. The average cosmetic product is 95% petroleum filler with an active compound to give you the desired effect for about six hours; long-term effectiveness is not part of the plan. Within that formulation, there are generally about 12 known carcinogens. The average person uses 12-15 products a day.

Photo: sunshinecity

If you do the math, that’s over 144 chemicals per person, per day!

What is a carcinogen, exactly? Carcinogens may increase the risk of cancer by altering cellular metabolism, or damaging DNA directly in cells. This interferes with biological processes, and induces the uncontrolled, malignant division, ultimately leading to the formation of tumors.

This is unfortunate, because most people believe that if you can buy something from a retailer, it must be safe, right? We have been programmed to believe this, but it’s not true.

Or maybe it means the products are effective: if we die before we age, well then that is “anti-aging,” isn’t it?!

In fact, in my 11 years of research, most products on the market today are actually causing long term effects, like premature aging, skin thinning and of course, cancer. All for six hours of reduced fine lines and wrinkles.

Here are a few more examples of lies from the cosmetic industry:

You know when you go to a nice hotel, and you see your favorite cosmetic brand in tiny little bottles? Well guess what—those are not what you think they are. Even 5 star hotels are only willing to spend about $0.20 per bottle for amenities.

Here’s how it works. There are a few companies that license the brand names, and then create an even more toxic cocktail of carcinogens and make it look and smell like the brand name original, but it’s really not the same at all. Chemicals are cheap.

Photo: paz. ca

How do they get away with this? “Not for resale,” that’s how. If you can’t buy it, they don’t have to list the ingredients. Pretty slick, eh?

You’re probably reading this and saying, “Wow! Good thing I buy all natural products.” But being natural or organic when it comes to skin care means nothing. Again, there is nobody regulating the use of these words, so you can still find plenty of carcinogens and formaldehyde donors in the “natural” aisle.

It’s very tricky. Many cosmetic ingredients are manufactured by component companies, and they come up with great names for things like “vegetable emulsifying wax.” That’s just peas and carrots, right?

Nope. It’s 78% petroleum.

In the last few years, there’s been a lot of buzz about parabens. Well, what do you think replaced parabens? Answer: sodium hydroxymethyl glycinate, a known formaldehyde donor.

But wait, there’s good news…

Understanding the skin is quite simple, really. Your skin is your largest organ, and it absorbs up to 80% of what you put on it. Feed it a healthy diet. Aging can be understood very simply: when you are born, your skin produces new skin cells about every 30 days; this keeps us youthful. As we grow older, this process slows down; this is called aging. By the time we are 70, it can take up to 120 days to produce new skin cells.

Photo: D. Sharon Pruitt

Inflammation also has a lot to do with skin health, both external factors, (i.e. sun, smoke, environmental pollution and of course, toxic products), as well as our diets affect the PH of our body and our skin. Our diets are loaded with acidic foods, coffee, soda, alcohol, pretty much all animal products, etc.

So the way we formulate at Pangea Organics—and how skin care should be formulated—is to treat the skin as we should treat the body. 100% of our ingredients are active; therefore, if an ingredient isn’t doing something positive for your skin, we don’t use it. We don’t use fillers. We fill our tubes and bottles up with powerful antioxidants (did you know that organic foods have 30% more antioxidants than conventional?).

We use ingredients that speed up skin cell regeneration, and we use a lot of anti-inflammatory ingredients. We feed your skin what it thirsts for. What do you get in return? Healthy skin, and products that outlast, outperform and outdo all of your expectations.

Nobody does it like we do it.

I hope this all helps. By the way, there’s no better time to toss the toxins than this month. All Pangea products are 25% off on our site, as well as in select stores nationwide. We’re all about accessibility: though we use quality, hard-to-source ingredients, you can find other such deals through the year by following us on Facebook or getting our newsletter.

Please feel free to post any questions you may have below, I’ll answer best I can.

Cheers to healthy skin!


Joshua-Scott Onysko, a longtime friend to elephant, is founder and CEO of Pangea Organics. You can read more from Josh here. Click here for 25% off through earth day.

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32 Responses to “Some Truth about the Cosmetics Industry. ~ Joshua Scott Onysko”

  1. Sue says:

    I love your product, just started using it a few months ago when I won your Friday giveaway. I love the balancing oil the most! I have one question, why is there alcohol in your face cream? It burns when I put it on! Doesn't that create a drying affect?

    • hi sue,

      it's heather from pangea here. if our products are creating a burning sensation we recommend discontinuing use. you may be allergic to one of the ingredients or sensitive to the alcohol content? but to answer your question regarding the use of alcohol in our products.

      Our Lavender Alcohol (SDA 38 B Organic Lavender) is a natural and stable preservative, suspension agent, absorption aid, carrier for aroma, and a skin toner/astringent. Please do not confuse our Organic Non-GMO Corn Grain Alcohol with the lesser-quality, drying forms of alcohol, such as isopropyl which is wood grain alcohol denatured with petroleum. Isopropyl is a form that is well-known to be both toxic and drying.

      Read more:

  2. joshua says:

    burns? you mean you feel it? The alcohol is a Organic Lavender alcohol and does not dry out the skin, actually the Alcohol acts as a menstrum and works as a co-preservative and delivers all of the amazing beneficial ingredients to the skin at a cellular level. All in all, I have never heard of it burning,

    PS I love the oil too, its actually a miracle oil…serious results.

    • Sue says:

      Yes, I feel it burning, but it doesn't last long. None of your other products cause that sensation, so I thought maybe it was the alcohol.. Maybe I am sensitive to something in it? But it only lasts maybe 5-10 seconds then fades away. So I'll keep trying!

      • Linda D says:

        Greetings Sue,

        Thank you for your question and please bear with me through this long 2-part answer… as the topic of alcohol in skincare is quite complex!

        We at Pangea Organics firmly believe and promote that our Organic Corn Grain Lavender Alcohol is beneficial for increasing the efficacy of each individual ingredient, without drying the skin like isopropyl or other “cheap” alcohols manufactured with petroleum and synthetics. As with all ingredients in a formulation, the quality and form of alcohol used is very important.

        Overall, we definitely agree that alcohol in skin care formulations can be drying, yet just not in Pangea!
        This is why: Alcohol is a known penetration enhancer, serving to drive individual ingredients deep down into the intercellular matrix. Conventional and even products marketed as “natural” contain an array of synthetic ingredients such as proprietary fragrance/parfum blends (which have been shown to contain anywhere from 20-400 undisclosed chemicals, including phthalates), propylene/butylene glycol, colorings and many other frightening 16-letter word ingredients commonly accepted as “safe”. These lab-created synthetics are not at all biocompatible (easily utilized) with the skin nor do they impart any beneficial properties to the skin. Many of these synthetics are used in skincare to bring down the overall price of a product while increasing the size of the package, giving the illusion of “value”. On their own, even in tiny amounts (applied many times a day… day after day), these synthetics are detrimental to skin health. When any form of alcohol is added to the product, these ingredients become more harmful because they are being driven even deeper into the cells of the skin! One of the first signs of this short-term non-compatibility with synthetics is dryness.

        Pangea Organics uses ONLY beneficial ingredients for the skin: organic, cold-pressed essential fatty acids and botanicals for hydration, organic antioxidants from ground superfoods and supercritical extracts for restoration and retention of collagen, and pure, steam-distilled essential oils for all aroma. Many of our aroma components offer countless skin-benefits! Because we are using only biocompatible ingredients mostly in their organic form, we believe that the increased penetration from our organic alcohol is extremely beneficial to enhancing the overall efficacy of our products!

        You may now be asking yourself, “if the alcohol is beneficial to the efficacy of the formula, why did I experience an adverse reaction?”

        As you may know, Pangea formulates products to be Nth degree pure, offering maximum skin benefit. Pangea thoughtfully omits common allergens such as all synthetics, gluten and excessive levels of aroma (fragrance is a leading cause of dermatitis). Although Pangea is 100% natural, utilizing ingredients that could safely be consumed orally, we are still using very active ingredients! We have found that for every food or botanical in existence, there are numerous people who will experience varying levels of sensitivity and sometimes even severe allergic response.

        Why is this?
        Every BODY is different!! (thank goodness). Each one of us has unique nutritional and skin health needs. What works for one person will most likely not work for the person next to them. Since no two of us are alike, we go through unique biological responses to foods we eat and products placed on the skin… which may change drastically over time. After taking into account unique genetic makeup, there are a few more factors that affect skin health and contribute to heightened sensitivity. These factors include hormone balance, diet, internal hydration, fatigue, stress, sun exposure, environmental toxins and various personal allergies (often unknown).

        Although unfortunate that you have experienced heightened sensitivity to one of the ingredients in the Facial Cream, I am elated to hear that you love our Balancing Oil! The Oil is nothing short of amazing. Thank you so much for taking the time to write with your question and also taking the time to read this very long response.

        Wishing You Health and Happiness,

        ~Linda Driscoll

  3. Liana says:

    I'm not a chemist, but a conscious consumer who reads labels. I have always believed that there is nothing non-natural about vegetable emulsifying wax and if a reputable company claims that their Ewax is vegetable I have no reasons to doubt it.
    Bottom line: Vegetable Ewax is a blend of fatty alcohols (like Cetyl – vegetable or petroleum derived) and nonionic emulsifiers (like Polysorbate 60/80). Vegetable fatty alcohols are derived from vegetable oils like coconut and palm oils; nonionic emulsifiers derived from ORGANIC compounds polyethoxylated sorbitan and oleic acid.
    My personal advise to all consumers is to READ labels and do some research. There are way too many companies who claim that their product is THE BEST, you should only trust your own judgement.

  4. Dace says:

    Fresh air, exercise and water are the best cosmetics.

    • elephantjournal says:

      Love that! Amen! Though I gotta say even as a "guy," in Boulder, a desert environment, I feel reallllly dry in the morning on my face and around my eyes if I don't have something to spary/slather on.

      One good tip I recently learned: from an eco pov, avoid pumps…they have 18 parts or something and aren't recyclable. Just buy glass, healthier anyway, or natural compostable packaging. ~ Waylon

    • Danika says:

      I'd add whole organic foods and sufficient sleep to that list.

  5. amcquinn says:

    Over 16 years ago, I realized it made no sense to bath my newborn in a tub scrubbed with harsh chemicals and this is precisely why we're adamant about using products free of harmful chemicals on our skin and when scouring the tub 16 years later. Saponetta Divino at and Naturally For Life, The Eco Store has you completely covered in both regards. They both have the highest standards for beauty, bath, hair, cosmetics and cleaning products and they will both ship worldwide!

  6. Michelle says:

    I'm confused, is this a legitimate article about the cosmetic industry or an ad for Pangea?

    • elephantjournal says:

      Sofia Jasani I loooooove Elephant Journal, but I have to ask, did you get paid for this ad?

      Great question. We're wide open about all we do.

      As we say on , we only work with companies we personally endorse and support. I've known Josh and Pangea for 8 years, now. His packaging and his produ…cts are revelatory, from an eco-responsibility pov. He pioneered use of seeds in packaging with his soap. He uses glass, not plastic, whenever possible. He sources ingredients from small farms, which is a pain in the arse. I don't know half of what he does, it's a long and impressive list.

      Pangea is one of those companies we believe in, and use ourselves. They are sponsoring elephant for one month, through Earth Day. They are paying for their ad. Sponsors, of course, keep elephant alive, and in return we help them connect with our readers.

      This article, while it links to their offer, is however genuine editorial, and I've published Joshua and will do so in the future whether or not they advertise. If they were not advertising right now I'd be happy to publish it. When we do share something on this platform that is not genuine editorial, we label it as an event or offer or announcement.

      This journalism-ethics policy has cost me dearly—many would-be sponsors know they can get coverage on elephant without advertising. But long-term it's key to our growth: without readership trust and loyalty we won't be the next, bigger, better, mission-driven media platform with-a-purpose Huffington Post.
      Sofia Jasani I hope I didn't sound too argumentative! I appreciate your thoughtful reply

      It's an important question and I appreciate the manner in which you asked it.

      Part of my personal aim with elephant is to bring back quality journalism to popular new media. We can offer both ol'school journalism (which has always been corr…upt/desperate for money, of course)…but really the kind of journalism I was taught at Boston University by Christian Science Monitor editors and other journalists-working-in-the-field professors—and fun stuff, and inspiring stuff, and opinion.

      But knowing the diff, from an editorial pov, is vital to trust and loyalty and mission.



      Cynthia Parrott I truly enjoyed this article. Sometimes we will continue to use products with unhealthy ingredients because they claim to work miracles for us or keep us young. You are so right- it is an unregulated industry driven by fear and we buy the lie. There IS no miracle skin cream. The secrets to beauty/anti-aging: a life filled with passion, a positive attitude, and REAL food. Feed your skin from the inside out! Namaste.

      Liz Brown Morgan Joshua's probably the most well informed person i have ever heard speak on the topic of body care products, toxicity, and culture. Really important persecutive.

      Dario Jovović Pharmaceutical corporations, along with banks, GMO, oil and weapons corporations are the biggest criminals in this world. They're stealing our well-being. Say NO whenever you can.

      Jennifer Bertrand They aren't hiding anything from us. It's our responsibility as consumers to read and understand ingredients. If we buy products with bad ingredients it's our fault. Companies will always be guilty of manufacturing crappy products hoping to make a buck off of our ignorance. It's time to vote with our dollars and let them know what we think of all their toxic products.

    • elephantjournal says:

      Answered above, Michelle. Thanks for the question! ~ Waylon

  7. Readers seem to have some confusion about alcohols in cosmetics. Read this article from an expert cosmetic chemist which explains the difference between ethyl alcohol and fatty alcohols, both of which are commonly used in personal care products.

  8. Joey says:

    What would your advise be regarding sunblock? I don't think there is an all natural, good-for-you, sunblock out there that I know of. I'm a fair skinned Scot that loves to spend as much time hiking and being outside as I can. Any advise would be great! Thanks,


  9. hi joey,

    heather from pangea here. we find the Badger sunblock to be clean and effective.

  10. tanya lee markul says:

    Thanks for this – excellent information. I am ALWAYS in the market for finding earth friendly and human friendly products. I'm glad you shared some background and insight – it's important!

  11. Maryanne says:

    You have included a photo of a shelf of Weleda products with this article on lies of the cosmetics industry. I have thoughts that Weleda products were pure and chemical-free. Are you implying by inclusion of the photo that Weleda's skin care products contain harmful chemicals and carcinogens? I use three lines: Pangea, Weleda and Dr. Haushka– and now am wondering if I should eliminate my use of Weleda. Thanks!

  12. Maureen Miller says:

    Interesting! I've been thinking a lot lately about the products I use and wondering what folks recommend for a mascara product?

  13. Balancing on Two Feet says:

    Interesting article. I agree that most products out there are complete junk and have spent many years wasting my own money in spite of growing up with a father who is a dermatologist. In fact if you are going to go the drugstore route it is best to stick to very simple face washes and creams, as lotions are a total waste of money, especially the stuff that smells good since it is mostly alcohol and colorings.

    Even the pricy department store stuff is usually nothing more than a watered down version of other stuff that really works. In my own personal experience the things that work best are a couple organic brands, a few cosmeceuticals that are only available from a licensed esthetician, drinking lots of filtered water, and eating healthy fats and lots of greens!

  14. thanks for the getting the truth out there.

  15. des says:

    tried to buy product but checkout does not ship to europe, ireland for me.

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