Does ‘free from’ mean product is safe & non-toxic?

I realized that more and more skincare products are adopting this “free from” labeling. Even some of the big, conventional skin care brands are following suit. And it seems like the list is getting longer, with the common ones being: free from parabens, free from fragrances, free from sulfates, free from coloring, and free from animal testing. So does this naturally mean the product is safe, non-toxic, and organic? Or are some of these brands really just engaging in greenwashing?

Dirty Dozens
Well, the answer is not so straightforward but a true organic product should be free from synthetic emollients, synthetic humectants, synthetic emulsifiers, synthetic surfactants, synthetic preservatives, artificial dyes, colorings, and additives. In fact, they always avoid ingredients widely known as “the dirty dozens”, listed as follows:
1. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) & butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
2. Coal tar dyes
3. DEA
4. Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP)
5. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives
6. Parfum/Perfume/Fragrance
7. PEGs
8. Petrolatum.
9. Siloxanes
10. Sodium laureth sulfate
11. Triclosan
12. Paraben, Methylparaben and propylparaben

Misleading labeling
What’s happening is that some of these “free from” labels are rather misleading. They could be free from certain ingredients but the product may still contain toxic or undesirable ingredients. For example, a product can be stated as free from Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), but it may contain Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS), which isn’t that much better (some say it’s worse). Another ingredient I just learned recently is Sodium Coco-Sulfate, which is apparently, pretty similar to Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. I also understand that some ingredients are called differently, but are actually derivatives of toxic ingredients to begin with!

ingredient list
Emerging new trend
Over at Viva Woman, I do not profess to know all the ingredients to bare it all. In addition, my decision to use a product is not based on health concerns and I’m no purist. So I am less stringent on what to avoid and may use products with ingredients that some of you have issues with. I avoid certain ingredients like alcohol, silicones, etc on the basis that they’re detrimental for my skin in the long term. But still, I like to draw your attention to this new trend of labeling so that you can exercise more care, especially if you’re concerned about using toxic ingredients. To me, this “free from” labeling is no more than just a marketing gimmick but I’ll say it’s a pretty clever one though.

Look for third-party certification
It’s not an easy task to pick out what’s good and what’s not and you have to do more digging just to be sure. However, products that bear recognizable logos or seals from the established certifying authorities worldwide do help to provide added protection that the product you buy does not contain undesired ingredients. Such certifications include USDA (USA), BDIH (Germany), Soil Association (UK), ECOCERT (Europe), Organic Food Chain (Australia). Based on my understanding, USDA is the best as it ensures the ingredients are at least 95% certified organic while BDIH ensures that the product is completely free of synthetic ingredients and petrochemicals.

Advice from Viva Woman
My advice is that if you’re concerned about being misled, then spend more time researching on a brand online before committing your money. With online research, you have more time to check out the ingredient lists and if they pose issues for you. Another recommendation is to stick with brands you already know are trustworthy and avoid trying out new ones unnecessarily. And if you’re more adventurous, well, you can always take the DIY route so you’ll know with certainty, what you’re putting on your skin.


  1. Jess says:

    Most products claim that they are safe but if you will research on the ingredients listed on their labels, you will know that they are damaging. This is the reason why we need to be careful in choosing the products we buy. Make a thorough research first. Its not overreacting but its for our safety.
    Jess last post is: Where Can I Find LifeCell Eye Cream?

  2. Annie says:

    Ever since i started getting into ‘clean’ skincare, i’ve grown cynical to these free-something labels. I almost never read them now and just dive into the ingredient list. The shorter, the better for me. I mostly use milk cleanser (because they almost always only contain botanical, a few oil, and some mild emulsifier -i come to accept the fact that we need synthetic emulsifier because im not a fan of borax & beeswax combo). I use toners with aloe vera, water, some botanical extracts and humectants (sodium pca, hyaluronic acid and glycerine). And finish with a facial oil blend.
    A black-listed ingredient that i do use is parabens, because the alternative of parabens in the natural skincare world is phenoxyethanol. Research have shown recently that this ingredient is problematic as well, so i rather use a problematic ingredient that I know more about (paraben), than one that i don’t know much about because it’s so new (phenoxyethanol).

  3. Sesame says:

    I agree. I need some sort of emulsifier in my cleanser too. As for parabens, I don’t really mind them but they’re usually not in the products I use.

  4. Sesame says:

    I guess it depends on personal threshold at the end of the day. I haven’t come across a product with all safe ingredients. Unless we make them, we’ll have to live with some of these.

  5. Jenna says:

    “Another recommendation is to stick with brands you already know are trustworthy and avoid trying out new ones unnecessarily.”

    I could not agree more, I took me a while to find the brand for me but when I did, it solved almost all of my problems, including my Rosacea i developed because of medication i had to take for a while (cortisone).

    Great advice
    Jenna last post is: The Different Stretch Mark Removal Methods

  6. Betsey says:

    I absolutely agree on what you have posted here, thanks for an informative blog! This would really help a lot of people who are encountering problems with beauty products that contain too many toxic ingredients. I’d rather try organic products or use homemade remedies for such facial problem, this way I can make sure that it’s safer and healthier than those commercially prepared beauty products. Thanks for the tips! I’m sure a lot of people will be aware of this.
    Betsey last post is: Does Topstyler Work? We Reveal The Truth

  7. charmaine says:

    i chanced upon this site some months ago – and if i wanna check an ingredient – i use this site:

    it’s super tedious to check every single ingredient – especially when the ingredients are more than 10. but if you really really want to – you could! ?

  8. Sesame says:

    That’s great. It’s good to find something that works and just stick to it if you have known issues.

  9. Sesame says:

    You’re welcome.

  10. Sesame says:

    Yes, it can be tedious to check every single one. If you have an iphone, there are apps for them.

  11. Organic skincare says:

    Hi Sesame, I agree with you that the third-party certification is a good way to choose safe organic products. Although all the standards are different, you have a guarantee that a particular product doesn’t contain any harmful ingredients. It is very time consuming to dig into the ingredient list every time. And even if you are ready to devote your time to the ingredient studies, how do you know that, say, the aloe is not grown near a highway with tons of pesticides thrown at it? When trying to read the ingredient list, you have the professionals at the other side of the table. They will always outsmart you. This is their full time job! There’s no other way than to stick to certified organic. “Read the ingredient list” is the message spread by the manufacturers who can’t or don’t want their products get certified for different reasons.
    Organic skincare last post is: Going green! Natural and organic cosmetics at Cosmoprof

  12. Organic skincare says:

    This is ridiculous, but nobody outside France knows this certification organization – I spent almost three years trying to figure out the strictest one, and this is it! I’m not sure if anybody sells anything certified by them in Singapore.
    Organic skincare last post is: Going green! Natural and organic cosmetics at Cosmoprof

  13. Lovesick Queen says:

    Hmm reminds me to be more careful when it comes to reading labels. Too often, you get distracted by all these flashy statements and think it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

    It does remind me of the Body Shop products which claim to be free from blah blah blah. But you take a good look and the scent is probably the only good thing about the shampoo or body wash. I remembered studying an expose by Jon Entine called “Shattered Image: Is The Body Shop Too Good to Be True?” back in the university days. The study isn’t online though.

    Btw, Jon Entine is often the person credited for coining the term “greenwashing”.

  14. Sesame says:

    Thanks for the link. I no longer use anything from that brand though.

  15. Sesame says:

    Oh…never heard of that organization.

  16. Sesame says:

    True…it takes too much time to dig into the ingredient list unless you only have one product in mind and have some time to spare. So certification is quite a safe bet. And thanks for highlighting that bit about the aloe. ?

  17. BebeTaian says:

    Sometimes I like the label, if it’s true to it’s ingredients. Having a sulfate/sulfur allergy is just… tedious. Elemental sulfur drives my skin crazy, and the form of sulfur that’s in most medicines (and even a lot of foods) tends to make me pretty sick. Having a quick-ref label saves me a lot of time. Fragrances and certain plants are another thing I have issues with, so fragrance-free is another big step. I’d like to have a plastic-free label, since some exfoliators use nanoplastics in them instead of say, ground nut shells or oatmeal, which are ending up in our food supply and doing a lot of damage.

    Then again, I also am a habitual ingredient-reader, and I try to take the time to memorize what chemicals do what in each product: which are emulsifiers, which are hydrators, which are detergents, etc. just like I memorize the 15 or so labels for sugar in foods. I may not be able to list all of them off the top of my head, but when I see them on a label, I remember “Oh, yes. That’s a type of silicone. It’s there for slip and to make water cling to my skin.” or “Detergent, detergent, water, really drying foaming agent, water, apple extract… okay, not buying this one.”

    Memorizing ingredients isn’t as hard as it looks if you know a few chemistry basics. It helps you sift through the long chemical names and look for the elemental parts of it. For example, “dihydrogen monoxide” is plain water. Di- is 2 particles. Hydrogen, the element. Mono- is 1 particle. Oxide is a form of oxygen. 2 hydrogen, 1 oxygen= H2O. Water. Turning lab names into plain english! But don’t be fooled if one element is harmful; sodium by itself is killer, and chloride itself is a dangerous gas. Put them together, and you get table salt! Plain, boring, harmless table salt. So when in doubt, do your research, and take notes on what you found.
    BebeTaian last post is: Go Hime! Project Submission

  18. Adrienne says:

    It might say free from but what about the other things that might not be stated on the lanel. If a product says it is made of all natural ingredients this is at least a good starting point.

  19. Sesame says:

    Wow, you can memorize some of the ingredients? I can only remember a few and I usually have to rely on checking the web for those I am not familiar. Still learning for sure. And well…I hated chemistry and science. ? I just go for the usual I don’t want to use and if I see them in the ingredient list, I’ll give the item a pass. But sometimes, I do miss them until I buy them and read the list again.

  20. Sesame says:

    A couple of brands says natural but are totally not so it’s still not a good gauge.

  21. says:

    Oh! Let’s face it, 99% of women hate chemistry. Trying to remember all the “Di-“s and “Mono”s is the last thing I would want to do choosing a skincare product!

  22. Sesame says:

    True! But it’s not too bad if you’re always looking at them…after awhile, you’ll remember some.

  23. Viv says:

    It is better not to use anything with the toxic ingredients in your makeup, personal care, hair, bath, lotions, deodorants, perfumes, baby products. It takes the skin 26 seconds to absorb chemicals into bloodstream.

    Toxic, hormone disruptors, cancer causing etc:
    phthalates, sodium lauryl/laureth sulfates, PVC, parabens, benzene, chlorine, synthetic fragrances, triclosan, formaldehyde-based preserving agents, nanoparticles, TEA, MEA, phosphates, polyethylene glycol (PEG), quaternium 15, DMDM hydantoin, 1-4 dioxane, bisphenol-A (BPA), alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs)/nonylphenol, BHA, benzalkonium chloride

    There are many companies that have products that do not contain these toxic ingredients.

    This is one the best extensive list of Green /Natural / Organic company lines — makeup, hair , nailpolish, stores, skin care, animal-friendly/vegan brushes, spas/salons, advocacy, and other resources to read up on.
    Link :

    Youtube The Story of Cosmetics (2010)

    It’s good to go green with the stuff you put on yourself and your children. Also to go green the household cleaners and detergents. I like everything for the most part from (one stop shopping). Just my two-cents. Hope this helpful!

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