The Reformulation Curse   Leave a comment

One of the annoyances about trying to buy products that are “green” is that it requires eternal vigilance. There’s no such thing as brand loyalty because small changes can make a product no longer acceptable by whatever criteria you are using. Successful small businesses get bought up by large corporations to cash in on the LOHAS movement, and sometimes the board/governance/mission of the small company get watered down. Or compromises are made in order to grow a business larger. Or other companies/brands start producing products that meet the criteria better. In any case, label reading and general awareness is absolutely necessary. Lately I’ve encountered several instances where this is an issue.

The first instance was the body lotion that I have been using since getting my engagement tattoo. For years it was the only lotion at Whole Foods that does not contain aloe (aloe should never be applied on a tattoo), and thankfully it was also almost unscented. Sometimes I think I am the only person on the planet who cannot stand scented soaps, lotions, etc. So after years of using this lotion, I suddenly couldn’t stand the smell. When I looked on the label in the ingredients was the dreaded “fragrance”, which may indicate a soup of toxic chemicals (like phthalates). After an email exchange I know that it was not a reformulation, although that leaves me with no explanation for why my experience changed. I had never given the ingredients list too hard a look before since it was my only aloe-free option. As luck would have it, around the same time Whole Foods started carrying another aloe-free lotion. This one really is unscented and is made with fair trade shea as well. Score! Time for a lotion change.

The second instance was triggered by receiving a sample of Tom’s of Maine Wicked Fresh! Cool Peppermint toothpaste. When I read the ingredients I did not find “peppermint oil” like I find on the particular formulations of Tom’s toothpaste that I typically buy, instead I found “natural flavors”! “Natural flavors” can mean almost anything, and not always “natural”. This was a big red flag for me as Tom’s is on the watch list since being acquired by Colgate-Palmolive in 2006. I submitted an email question/comment/complaint online and received the assurance that they are still doing business independently as always but that their flavor blends are proprietary. Whatever, I’m not convinced. They have other toothpastes that list out all of the flavor oils, and it’s not exactly secret to have peppermint oil in peppermint toothpaste, unless they are not using real peppermint oil. So Tom’s is on my out list now. I just need to find replacement products, which is really annoying.

The third instance was a purchase of a replacement tube of calendula ointment, which we use fairly often. It took me forever to find it on the shelves while grocery shopping since it had been moved, so I didn’t look closely at the label at the time. Until the first time I used it and discovered that the brand reformulated and now uses a base of white petrolatum. I take issue with this for several reasons. The first is that I have been taught, for as long as I can remember, that putting Vaseline on a burn can make it worse because it traps heat in the skin. Since we use calendula ointment for treatment of sunburns, that limits the use of the product until long after the burn has already started to heal. The second is that I prefer to use vegetable oils–oils that are organic in the sense that they came directly from a living organism–rather than petroleum products on my skin. Unfortunately, I don’t know where else to buy calendula ointment, but before this long spring ends and the summer sun and sunburn season starts I need to find a replacement.


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