Note: In December 2015, after two years of selling this product, Vani Hari quietly pulled it from her shopping page without any explanation. She had previously refused to remove the lip stains described here despite numerous (very public) warnings that it contained the same ingredients she claimed were dangerous.
Despite a very vocal campaign against Kraft over the use of the dyes Blue #1, Yellow #5, and Yellow #6 in their products,1,2 Vani Hari (the “Food Babe”) sells items containing a form of these same dyes via her shopping page, and has apparently been doing so since December, 2013.
The items sold by Kraft are food products, while those sold by Hari are cosmetics intended for use on the lips.
The only difference in the dyes is the addition of a metallic salt in the cosmetics to prevent the dyes from becoming water soluble. Unfortunately for Hari, the metal in question is aluminum, which she falsely links to Alzheimer’s disease and breast cancer.3,14 It must be pointed out that experts in food/product safety strongly disagree with Hari over her claims about the dyes in question–and the aluminum.
Not only did Food Babe miss the presence of the dyes in an item that she claims to use personally–also escaping her attention were 4 compounds she specifically warns should be avoided in beauty products because of alleged endocrine system disruption,4 saccharine (which she says is toxic),5 and retinyl palmitate (which she falsely links to skin cancer when used in the presence of the sun).6
I am not writing as an expert in food and product safety–only to point out Food Babe’s double standards. The products being discussed in this article all have a solid safety record. Please keep that in mind as you read.
Hari earns an Amazon.com sales commission via click-throughs on a Tarte Cosmetics link on her shopping page, where she features that company’s Lipsurgence Lip Stain:7
There are several color options available. Let’s have a look at the full list of ingredients, according to the Tarte web site.8 Please click to the image to enlarge in a new window.
A bit of explanation is in order here. You’ll notice the word “lake” after each of the dyes. According to the FDA, approved dyes become lakes when a “salt” is added to make them non-water soluble.9 Simply put, in some products (such as cosmetics or potato chips) you don’t want the colors to run. According to both the FDA and the manufacturer, the salt in this case is an aluminum compound (e.g., aluminum hydroxide).
Does making the dyes into lakes change their toxicology? That is, would you expect them to behave in a different manner than Hari’s gloom and doom cherry picked “research” would indicate? I’m not a chemistry expert, but I found 3 scholarly resources who all cite the FDA. These sources state that for toxicological purposes, the dyes and their lake forms are identical.10,11,12
Of course, if Food Babe wants to argue this point, she’s left in the awkward position of explaining how the addition of an element she claims to be toxic (aluminum) to a dye she claims is toxic suddenly makes both safe.
So how long has Food Babe been selling Blue #1 lake, Yellow #5 lake, and Yellow #6 lake? A quick look at the source code of her shopping page at FoodBabe.com7 suggests that she’s been doing this since December, 2013. By convention, uploaded content (such as product images) is stored in folders tagged with the month and year the content was stored on the web site. Looking at the screen snapshot below, the association is readily apparent:
But, as I said in the introduction, the food coloring is only the tip of the iceberg. In “Be a Drug Store Beauty Dropout”, Hari warns her readers to avoid the following in all beauty products:
“Siloxanes. Look for ingredients ending in “-siloxane” or “-methicone.” Used in a variety of cosmetics to soften, smooth and moisten. Suspected endocrine disrupter and reproductive toxicant (cyclotetrasiloxane). Harmful to fish and other wildlife.” 4 (emphasis mine)
Yet the product she sells and claims to personally use includes:
- Phenyl Trimethicone
- Castor Oil Bis-hydroxypropyl dimethicone esters
For someone who previously tried to blame a manufacturer’s web site when caught red-handed, the following online ingredient list isn’t good news: (click to enlarge):
I’d like to pause here and remind the reader that all of these ingredients have been studied by experts who, unlike Hari and myself, are qualified to pass judgement on them. Tarte is a reputable company with a superb safety record and I hope that Ms. Hari’s lack of research doesn’t reflect negatively on them. When caught in this situation before, Food Babe’s response has been to blame the manufacturer for her own mistakes.
I’ve contacted Tarte customer service several times with questions about their ingredients and have always received swift replies with references to scientific literature and government safety regulations. Just like Kraft, Tarte is selling products that experts overwhelmingly say are safe. Please do not punish an honest company for Vani Hari’s mistakes.
Having said that: Food Babe’s lip stain also contains saccharin, which she links to unspecified diseases,5 retinyl palmitate (vitamin A), which she falsely links to cancer,6 and even an IARC group 2B carcinogen (titanium dioxide)–significant because it’s on the very same list as “4-Mel”, a compound found in the caramel coloring over which she previously lambasted Starbucks.13
Of course all of these additives are recognized as safe–it’s just that Food Babe cherry picks literature to make them sound dangerous. Rather than debate the safety issue with her, however, why not just ask her: if these additive are so dangerous, why does she sell so many products that contain them? It’s hard to find an item on the Food Babe shopping page that doesn’t contain something she says is harmful. And yet she accuses other companies of hypocrisy and double standards?
[edited for clarity: statement on aluminum hydroxide clarified 17 Feb 2015]
Amazon.com, Tarte, and Food Babe screen snapshots are used in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, commonly known as “fair use law”. This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.
16 Feb 2015–Added additional reference for Food Babe aluminum toxicity claim
(1) Food Babe Kraft Complaint
(2) Food Babe Kraft/Jello Complaint
(3) Food Babe “Throw This Out Of Your Bathroom Cabinet Immediately”
(4) Be a Drug Store Beauty Dropout
(5) Habits for the New Year and Beyond – #2 Develop a Distaste for Refined Sugar
(6) The Ingredients in Sunscreen Destroying Your Health
(7) Shopping at Food Babe.com
(8) Tarte Lipsurgence Full Ingredients (official site)
(9) FDA Color Additive Status List
(10) Food Additive Toxicology
Maga, CRC Press, Sep 13, 1994. p. 185.
(11) Handbook of Food Toxicology
Deshpande S.S., CRC Press, Aug 29, 2002. ISBN 0-8247-0760-5. p. 228.
(12) Food Safety Handbook
Schmidt R, Roderick G, Wiley, Mar 10, 2003. ISBN 0-471-21064-1. p. 254
(13) Wake Up And Smell the Chemicals
(14) How to Find the Best Natural Mascara that Actually Works