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Cosmetics, risk substances

For decades, cosmetics have been promising us beauty, eternal youth, firmer skin and more. Having long been convinced of the harmfulness of certain substances in conventional cosmetics, Penn'Ty Bio helps you to understand why we should all use cosmetics with the organic label.

Cosmetics, hazardous substances


Paraben is a very common substance in cosmetics, so we wanted to devote a whole paragraph to it.

Parabens occur naturally in certain fruits and vegetables. When we talk about parabens in cosmetics or medicines, they are rarely of natural origin, but rather synthetic. The most common are methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben.

Parabens are controversial preservatives. However, they were originally developed to replace other preservatives, such as formaldehyde, which were considered dangerous and whose use is now restricted to nail varnishes.

Para-hydroxybenzoic acid esters (methyl, ethyl, propyl, butyl or benzyl esters), or parabens, are used as preservatives in foods, cosmetics and 1096 pharmaceutical products.

Parabens have a very low overall toxicity and are well tolerated (although allergies can occur : urticaria, dermatitis). But parabens are metabolised (they can be found in the body), which is a cause for concern.

Several in vitro and in vivo studies have shown that parabens have a weak oestrogenic activity. One study suggests that parabens accumulate in cancerous breast tissue.

The author hypothesises a relationship between the presence of parabens in breast tissue, their oestrogenic activity and the induction of breast cancer.

The potential accumulation of parabens in breast tissue, linked to the use of products containing them, and the possible involvement of parabens in the development of breast cancer, should not be overlooked.

This is why the Afssaps (now the ANSM) is continuing its scientific and technical monitoring as part of its health safety missions and is setting up a working group on this subject.

AFSSAPS review 2004 :
"In vitro studies on cell models have highlighted the oestrogenic properties of parabens, which could explain the increased incidence of breast cancer tumours.
"Following the publication of the Darbre study reporting the presence of parabens in biopsies of human breast tumours, AFSSAPS carried out a new assessment of the risk associated with the presence of these preservatives in cosmetic products".
Conclusion: "the cosmetology commission has come out in favour of continuing to use 2 of the 5 most commonly used parabens, methyl and ethyl-paraben, under the conditions laid down in the regulations. In the case of propyl-paraben, the Cosmetology Committee was in favour of continuing to use this preservative, provided that further studies are carried out to confirm the absence of risk under the conditions of use in cosmetic products ".
The report continues : "As for the other longer-chain parabens, in the absence of any interest in using these substances on the part of manufacturers and the lack of toxicological data to rule out any reprotoxic risk, the cosmetology committee was in favour of asking the European Commission to remove them from the list of preservatives that may be used in cosmetic products".

AFSSAPS Vigilances" No. 27, June 2005 :
"It appears that parabens are not very toxic and are well tolerated, although allergic reactions may occur in some people"... "However, recent studies have established that these preservatives may be responsible for slight disruption of the endocrine system".

AFSSAPS, Vigilances" No. 30, December 2005 :
"Parabens have a broad spectrum of activity on bacteria, yeasts, moulds and fungi. They are effective at low concentrations and mixtures of parabens have a synergistic effect".
"Studies have shown that parabens break down after application to the skin, which explains the low systemic exposure of consumers."
"It has been shown that parabens can, under certain conditions, cross the skin barrier in animals, but the harmful effects of any transcutaneous passage of parabens in humans have not yet been demonstrated. Most of the general toxicity studies (acute, sub-acute or chronic toxicity) carried out on different animal species have shown that these compounds have no toxic, genotoxic, carcinogenic or teratogenic effects. Furthermore, because they are hydrolysed in the body, they are not likely to accumulate in tissues".
"On 29 September 2005, the Cosmetology Commission voted in favour of continuing to use 4 of the 5 most commonly used parabens (methyl, ethyl, propyl and butyl parabens) under the conditions laid down in current regulations".

AFSSAPS Vigilances n°44, March 2009 :
Further to the 2008 study (Hoberman A.M., Schreur D.K., Leazer T et al. Lack of effect of butylparaben and methylparaben on the reproductive system in male rats).
This study on butylparaben does not allow us to give a definitive ruling on the toxic potential of propylparaben, particularly in terms of the toxic dose level. Additional experimental data are considered necessary.
In conclusion, these studies have been analysed by several European groups from the food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries. They have concluded that further experimental studies are needed to better define the risk to fertility in humans exposed during childhood, in terms of toxicity threshold, duration of exposure and reversibility of the effect once exposure is stopped.

We will not comment on the various publications issued by AFSSAPS. It's up to each of us to make up our own minds, but one thing is certain : Parabens can be replaced by other substances.

AFSSAPS, March 2009 :
A market surveillance survey of cosmetic products labelled ORGANIC and claiming to be free from preservatives or certain preservatives such as parabens (esters of parahydroxybenzoic acid) or phenoxyethanol was initiated in 2008.
As part of the 2008 investigation, the Afssaps laboratory analysed 28 "organic" cosmetic products sampled by the Afssaps inspection services (8) and those of the DGCCRF (20).
Of the 28 "organic" products inspected: 22 claimed certification: 16xEcocert, 3xVisagro, 2xICEA-AIAB, 1xBDIH, and 6 were labelled "natural/organic product".
Conclusion of the survey: In terms of microbiological quality, the results of the survey are satisfactory.

European Commission Regulation No. 358/2014 of 9 April 2014 amended cosmetics regulations by banning five parabens: isopropylparaben; isobutylparaben; phenylparaben; benzylparaben and pentylparaben.

These are not among the parabens most commonly used in the cosmetics industry, medicines or food.

Commission regulation no. 1004/2014 of 18 September 2014 lowered the concentration thresholds for butylet propylparabens

in cosmetics. From now on, the sum of butylparaben, propylparaben and their salts must not exceed 0.14%.

Parabens that are still authorised for use by the European Union are currently being assessed by the latter with a view to identifying them as "substances of very high concern" and adding them to the list of substances subject to "provisional and restrictive authorisation" pending substitute products.

On 29 April 2014, as part of the announcement of the plan to combat endocrine disruptors at the National Assembly, in line with the national strategy, Ségolène Royale, Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, commissioned ANSES to assess parabens in terms of their effects on health.

Parabens are not the only 'risky' ingredient found in cosmetics on the market. Many products are now "PARABEN-FREE", but make no mistake: removing this ingredient does not make the product any more "acceptable".

Many other ingredients, also used in traditional cosmetics, can be more "dangerous" (see substances at risk or the Greenpeace guide in our special file cosmetox).

To find out more about organic or natural cosmetics, you can also read our special case in this regard.

Is petrochemicals indispensable ?

Cosmetics, hazardous substances

Yes and no. While there are sectors where it is currently very difficult to do without petrochemicals (such as plastic products), we mustn't forget that in 1950, only 1.5 million tonnes of consumables (excluding plastics) were produced by petrochemicals worldwide, whereas in 2000, 52 million tonnes were produced. Does this mean that before 1950, we had no cosmetics, cleaning products or perfumes? ? Yes, but they were made from natural raw materials.

Let's face it, natural products are more expensive than petroleum-based products, so it's not always easy to agree to spend more. It's up to each of us to see where our own interests and those of the environment lie.

For those who decide to give it a try, don't be fooled by the products. Many brands advertise the naturalness of their products, but only the Nature et Progrès (N&P), Cosmébio (France) and BDIH (Germany) logos guarantee that your cosmetics contain no petroleum by-products. For cleaning products, in addition to Nature & Progrès, you have the Ecocert detergent control logo.

To the question : Is petrochemicals indispensable in cosmetics ? our answer is : NO !

We now know how to make excellent products exclusively from plants, but it's true that it's more expensive. As a result, it's much less profitable for the manufacturer.

On our site, we only offer products that are 100% natural, and when we say "natural", we mean derived from plants, not petroleum.

In order to go even further in the quality of the products we offer, we now have shower gels and shampoos with sugar-based surfactants and therefore without ammonium lauryl sulphate (a foaming base authorised by Ecocert but banned by Nature & Progrès).

Discover all our shampoos, shower gels, body milks, men's products, baby products and household products on our website... guaranteed paraben-free, of course, but also without any petrochemical-based raw materials, and which are at least as effective, if not better !

Risky substances

Cosmetics, hazardous substances

For years, many cosmetic ingredients have come under fire. The quality, or even the effectiveness, of a cosmetic product in no way requires the use of problematic ingredients. Questionable substances could, if we really wanted to, have long since been replaced by raw materials that are less harmful to the environment and our health. Below you will find information on the cosmetic ingredients most often used in conventional cosmetics.

1- Mineral oils

Paraffins derived from petroleum are very advantageous for the cosmetics industry. They are both easy to work with and very cheap. However, these artificial oils prevent the skin from breathing. These mineral oils, such as Paraffinum liquidum, are made up of hydrocarbon chains that cannot be metabolised by the body.

Dr Allan H. Conney (researcher at Rutgers University in New Jersey), when testing creams containing sodium lauryl sulphate and mineral oil, discovered that the mice to which this cream was applied developed cancers, unlike the others. Let's hear it !

2- Silicone oils and waxes

These entirely synthetic substances, derived from silicon and containing oxygen atoms, are used in a multitude of products. Dimethicone is one of the most widely used raw materials in skin protection, hair care and lipstick formulas.

Other ingredients include Cetyl dimethicone copolyol, Phenyl trimethicone and Stearyl dimethicone. Silicone oils are soft and spread well on the skin (provided they are of good quality!).

They are far preferable to mineral oils, but they have a serious disadvantage : they are not very biodegradable and are harmful to the environment and therefore indirectly to our health.

What's more, in shampoos they tend to suffocate the scalp.

3- SLS

Sodium laureth sulphate or sodium lauryl sulphate, for example, are aggressive on mucous membranes. They are responsible for skin irritations and allergies to the skin, eyes and mucous membranes.

4- Polyethylenglycols (PEG) and polypropylene glycol (PPG)

They are produced using extremely dangerous gases and processes. They are mainly used as emulsifiers, but also as bases for gels, binders and emollients. Even if modern purification processes are used to obtain them today, ethoxylation remains a harsh chemical process with a high risk of explosion, requiring very strict safety measures. On the other hand, PEG and PPG can make the skin more permeable, which has the disadvantage of opening the way to harmful substances. In particular, they are said to increase the incidence of pimples and blackheads.

5- Monoethanolamine (MEA), diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA)

They can trigger the formation of nitrosamines (carcinogens).

Cosmetics, hazardous substances

The National Toxicology Program (NTP) recently found that repeated application of diethanolamine (DEA), or its fatty acid derivative cocamide-DEA, to the skin of mice caused liver and kidney cancer.

The NTP also pointed out that DEA is easily absorbed through the skin and accumulates in organs such as the brain, where it induces chronic toxic effects.

High concentrations of DEA-based foaming agents are commonly used in a wide range of cosmetics and toiletries, shampoos, hair dyes, lotions, creams, washing-up liquids, etc. Used regularly, these products expose consumers, particularly infants and young children, to potential cancer risks.

DEA can also react with other ingredients in the cosmetic formula to form a very powerful carcinogen called nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA).

NDEA is easily absorbed through the skin and could cause cancer of the stomach, oesophagus, liver and bladder.

The IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) and the National Toxicology Program recommend that NDEA should be treated as if it were a human carcinogen.

To be sure that your cosmetics do not contain NDEA, avoid those containing DEA.

6- Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)

BHT and BHA are still used as antioxidants in some lipid (fat) raw materials, to prevent them from going rancid. In high doses, they have carcinogenic effects on the stomach (hence the ban on their use in food products). These 2 substances accumulate in adipose tissue and reach the foetus. They are known to trigger allergies.

7- Organohalogen compounds

The halogenation process involves introducing chlorine, bromine or iodine into molecules. These compounds have a high allergenic potential, and if they bind to tissues, they can break down and damage them.

8- Formaldehyde : a carcinogenic substance / Formaldehyde releasers

Cosmetics, hazardous substances

Formaldehyde is a preservative that has now been replaced in many formulations.

At room temperature, formaldehyde is a gas. In cosmetics, it is used in aqueous solution.

It is known by various names: Formol, Formalin, Formic aldehyde, Paraform, Methanal, Methyl aldehyde, Methylene oxide, Oxymethylene, Oxomethane.

It is a strong allergen (class A according to DIMDI). However, other preservatives can release formaldehyde.

According to the Cosmetics Directive: "All finished products containing formaldehyde or substances (...) releasing formaldehyde must be labelled as 'containing formaldehyde' if the formaldehyde concentration in the finished product exceeds 0.05%".

As a preservative, formaldehyde is banned in aerosols, and its concentration must not exceed 0.2%, except for oral hygiene products (0.1%). However, in nail hardening products, its concentration is authorised up to 5%.

A formaldehyde liberator is capable of emitting formaldehyde under certain conditions. In short, a real Trojan horse. Formaldehyde releasers are even more antimicrobial than formaldehyde itself. This is probably due to the fact that they introduce the aldehyde into the cells (as a Trojan horse would do), whereas formaldehyde in its free state is destroyed in various ways before reaching the cells, due to its reactivity.

In conclusion, 2 different substances, but 2 risky substances !

9- Nitrosamines

They penetrate through contaminated raw materials. Natural cosmetics certified by Ecocert, BDIH and Nature et Progrès are all based on the same basic principles. One of them is to reject anything that could lead to chemical reactions harmful to health. When substances react with each other to form nitrosamines, a dangerous and potentially carcinogenic chain is formed (for example, when fat from meat falls onto a barbecue fire). These are the reasons why cosmetics should be free from substances that could lead to the formation of nitrosamines. For this reason alone, dispensing with halogenated substances as preservatives already increases consumer safety.

10- Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) and Etidronic acid

They have the property of binding and are therefore critical from a toxicological point of view. EDTA was and still is highly valued for its chelating properties. It is mainly used in soaps. But EDTA and its ersatz (Etidronic Acid) have a major disadvantage: on the one hand, they bind to form stable compounds and are therefore difficult to biodegrade. Phytic acid obtained from rice bran is a natural alternative to EDTA.

11- Musk compounds

These highly stable artificial odorants bind to tissues. They are carcinogenic.

12- Substances obtained from PEG and PPG

They have the consistency of a liquid or wax. Obtained from combat gases, they are extremely reactive and particularly toxic.

13- Aluminium salts

Used in deodorants, they can cause inflammatory reactions. Repeated use can damage the sweat glands. Ongoing research is making it a controversial ingredient because it could bind to certain organs, including the brain.

But be warned : "Aluminium in deodorants is dangerous" is information that has been taken on board by most. But the aluminium oxides or hydroxides used in natural cosmetology are significantly different from synthetic substances such as aluminium chloride or aluminium chlorohydrate. By blocking the pores, aluminium-chlorine complexes and sulphates prevent the elimination of sweat. This very aggressive phenomenon can lead to inflammation and damage to the sweat glands.

14- Triclosan

This is a highly reactive chlorinated product. Bactericidal, it can prevent the liver from functioning properly and is often contaminated with dioxin, which is very dangerous even in minute quantities.

15- Cosmetic and hair dyes

American researchers have found that the use of hair dyes increases the risk of breast cancer fivefold.

16- Aromatic amines

Basic substances in oxidation dyes. Toxic substances that can be absorbed through the skin.

17- Azo dyes

Synthetic tar-based dyes with amino groups, particularly critical from a toxicological point of view.

18- Quats and polyquats (INCI : Quaternium plus one number)

Used as antistatic agents. Commonly used quats : CTAC (Cetyl trimethyl ammonium chloride) and DSDMAC (Quaternium 5). Slightly irritating to the skin. Not all simple quats are biodegradable. This is also true for polyquats (Polyquaternium + 1 digit). These are complex compounds with quaternary ammonium salts as their central molecule. Polyquats are used for their polycations (cationic polymers), which cling better to the hair surface than simple cations. They often contain natural compounds: polyquaternium-4 or -10, for example, are 2 complex compounds in which one of the natural components is cellulose. The natural parts are generally easily degraded, unlike the central molecule.

Sodium benzoate

With the chemical formula (Na+ + C6H5COO-), sodium benzoate is the sodium salt of benzoic acid.

Sodium benzoate is found naturally in certain fruits such as cranberries, bilberries or certain plums, prunes, cinnamon and cloves.

It is frequently used as a preservative (an additive to combat bacterial proliferation) in the food industry (sweet drinks, low-fat jams, chewing gum, cooked prawns, wine, etc.) under the code E211.

Sodium benzoate is also found in many medicines because of its properties (antiseptic, antifungal, expectorant), but also in organic cosmetics, as it is one of the few authorised preservatives, along with vitamin E, alcohols and certain essential oils.

Sodium benzoate can be of plant origin or synthesised from benzoic acid.

Natural substances

Preferably use cosmetics based on natural products such as :

  1. Vegetable oils, butters, fats and waxes,
  2. Floral waters, hydrolats, floral infusions,
  3. Essential oils,
  4. Clays,
  5. Seaweed,
  6. Alcohols and fatty acids : Cetyl alcohol , Behenyl alcohol , Stearyl alcohol or Myristil alcohol , Lauric acid , Stearic acid , Myristic acid , Palmitic acid,
  7. Gelling agents : Guar flour, locust bean gum, gum arabic, agar-agar, seaweed and potato, rice or wheat starch,
  8. Natural surfactants : lauryl sulphate and disodium laureth sulphate from coconut or palm oil, betaine (a component of coconut butter).

Extract from "Chemical world" (The Guardian)

Mascara :
It contains mainly water, as well as binding, thickening and emulsifying agents, acidity controllers, texture modifiers, chemicals that prevent dryness, and preservatives, such as parabens. In 1998, researchers at Brunel University published a paper showing that parabens mimic oestrogens and quoted "Given their use in a wide range of preparations available on the market, we suggest that the safety of these chemicals should be re-evaluated. But the European Cosmetics and Fragrance Association says it has data proving that parabens do not enter the bloodstream.
Lip balm :
Fragrance is cited by Womens Environmental Network (WEN) as one of 10 ingredients found in lip balm. "Fragrance' ... sounds harmless. In fact, it's a term that can hide hundreds of chemicals, 24 of which have been identified as a frequent cause of allergies by the European Union's Scientific Committee on Cosmetics and Non-Food Products. Despite this, the chemicals contained in the "Fragrance" indication do not have to be labelled. So there's no way of knowing the full composition of your make-up. "It's a fog," says Matthew Wilkinson, health campaigner for the WWF.
Blush :
Blush is one of the safest cosmetics. At the moment, there's very little evidence that it's really dangerous", says Dr Stephen Antczak, co-author of Cosmetics Unmasked. But many people have allergies and some alarm bells are starting to ring. Blush, for example, generally contains propylene glycol, which although considered safe for cosmetic use, is a cousin of antifreeze.
Shaving cream :
As well as parabens and alcohol, shaving cream can contain a substance called diethylhexyl adipate (DEHA). DEHA can irritate the skin and eyes, and if swallowed can cause much more serious problems. Tests have shown that, when ingested, DEHA can cause cancerous tumours in mice and abnormal embryos in rats. The US National Institute for Safety and Health estimates that 11,000 workers in the country inadvertently ingest DEHA every year (cosmetics or food contaminated with DEHA in its packaging).
Toothpaste :
Fluoride makes teeth more resistant to tooth decay, but it can be harmful in high doses. Babies and young children are most at risk if they swallow toothpaste. Most of them rarely ingest more than 2 mg a day. However, studies in Africa, India and China (where there is a lot of fluoride naturally in the water), show that more than 6 mg of fluoride a day can lead to a disease that makes bones more fragile. Babies fed on infant formula made with fluoridated water receive 50 to 100 times more fluoride than those fed at the breast.
Shower gel :
Sodium laureth sulphate is added to shower gel as a washing base, but it can irritate the skin and eyes, even in low concentrations. Linalool, a fragrance added to the shower gel, is also a skin irritant. Another fragrance, coumarin, is rapidly absorbed through the skin and into the body. Some people who have ingested coumarin have suffered liver damage.
Make-up remover :
Make-up remover is often made up of a multitude of ingredients. The Womens Environmental Network (WEN) found three parabens and propylene glycol in one brand of wipes, 'perfume' in an eye make-up remover and glutaronitrile methyldibromo in a brand of face wash.
Feminine wipes :
These usually contain a preservative called BNPD (2-bromo-2-nitro-propane-1 ,3-diol). When BNPD is mixed with compounds such as amines and amides, it can break down, producing N-nitrosamines. These molecules are highly carcinogenic. For this reason, American and European regulatory bodies have recently called for tighter controls on cosmetic formulations, to ensure that these compounds are never mixed.
Eyeshadow :
It's like an Agatha Christie plot : "arsenic in eyeshadow" ... in fact, the Finnish Consumer Agency has detected very small quantities in 49 samples. In 2001, a team from Dartmouth Medical School in the United States showed that chronic exposure to very low levels of arsenic could cause hormonal problems. Further research is ongoing.
Anti-dandruff shampoo :
Dandruff is a sign of mycosis of the scalp To combat the fungus, various antifungal chemicals are added to anti-dandruff shampoos: zinc pyrithione is one of the most common. In contact with the skin, it causes few problems, but it should never be ingested.
Lipstick :
This cosmetic is very popular in most countries. According to the Womens Environmental Network (WEN), we absorb around 90% of the lipstick we apply over the course of a day. Assuming you wear lipstick every day, and buy five lipsticks a year between the ages of 16 and 60, you will swallow 0.9 kg of lipstick in your lifetime. Lipstick generally contains lanolin, propylene glycol, butylparaben and other preservatives to eliminate any risk of infection.
Soap :
Propylene glycol is one of its major components. It acts as a solvent for all the other ingredients. It is slightly irritating and easily absorbed by the skin. If large quantities of propylene glycol are constantly applied to the skin or ingested, they can act on the nervous system (in the brain and spinal cord).
Original file /www.guardian.co.uk/chemicalworld/