Why Everyone Should Watch “Toxic Beauty” Documentary

white and brown plastic bottles on white textile

Brief summary of Toxic Beauty

Toxic beauty is a documentary feature film following a class action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, a renown household brand. We follow personal stories of whistle blowers, survivors and women in a race against time revealing a series of ugly cover ups in the beauty & cosmetic industry. Besides that, the film weaves in a human experiment conducted by Mymy Nguyen, a Boston University Masters student who measures her chemical body burden when using different cosmetic products.

“The cosmetic industry is destroying women’s cells.”

This powerful statement mentioned by an ex formulator of one of the biggest cosmetic brands hooked me on immediately. I’ve had sensitive skin and eczema when I was a child, and the prolonged periods of itchiness and rash were not fun. Since then, I’ve always been wary of chemicals I apply on my skin, always fearful of a reaction. Even though I outgrew the sensitive skin phase, my sense of wariness about products I apply on my skin never left me. While my peers were playing with make up and slathering themselves in an assortment of cosmetic products, I stuck to the most routine: washing my face with water and applying sunscreen. After the unpleasant realization that I end up consuming the wax like substance, lipstick on my lips, I resulted to eyeliner as the only form of make up I use.

three makeup brushes on top of compact powders

Granted, some of the times, the lack of available scientific information in the present results in health issues in the future and cannot be avoided. However, what shocked me was that renown household companies like Johnsons & Johnsons which specialize in a range of baby products was engaged in a lawsuit that unveiled a series of cover ups that spanned across decades. Bear in mind this isn’t a direct hit on Johnson & Johnson as talc is used rampantly in other products. However, a link between talc and ovarian cancer was discovered all the way in early 1980s by world renowned epidemiologist Dr Daniel Cramer. However, nothing was done. No warning label was placed on talc even after the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared Talc as a possible carcinogen. The cosmetic industry has had little change since 1936, and the way we regulate personal care products need to improve.

I’d like to believe I’m an over cautious person, however, there is overwhelming scientific evidence that point that conglomerates often use harmful chemicals and ingredients in products and sell them to unwitting buyers. Labels such as “fragrance“, “parfum” and “aroma” do not show the ingredients used and can conceal a range of potentially hazardous chemicals. Furthermore, the fact that we live in a world operated by a post- market regulatory system is hazardous as a product goes into the market and a regulatory system kicks in only when there are incidents. The fact that we are slathering ourselves with potentially harmful chemicals every day of our lives doesn’t sit well with me. In 2004, Dr Phillipa Darbre, a scientist from the UK found parabens in breast tissue. In 2018, a study by the National Institute of Health linked breast cancer to the use of personal care products. Furthermore, the use of certain products high in oestrogen were found to link to hormonal disruption in baby boys causing a myriad of side effects such as developmental delays, low sperm count, infertility, cancer, diabetes, obesity and skin disease. The idea that a lot of these “bodily malfunctions” are essentially self induced is worrisome. How do we make informed decisions? How do we know which product is okay to use?

black makeup brush, lipstick, and blush on powder

It is scary that our physical and mental health risks can be self induced through using products containing harmful chemicals. The documentary follows Mymy Nguyen who conducts a self experiment to measure chemicals in her body when she doesn’t use any self care products at all, when she uses all of her usual routine, and when she uses natural and clean products. It was shocking that when she used her products she’s been using for years eg shampoos, toothpaste, make up, the parabens and phthalates (toxic chemicals) found in her urine samples were higher than the 95th percentile of Americans. It is close to impossible to not use any personal care products as tasks like washing your hair or brushing your teeth cannot be avoided. She expressed her fear of not being able to have children and like the women we follow in the lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson expressed the guilt that the health risks were almost like it was self induced. I disagree with the statement, as I feel the chemists and R&D part of companies should be more stringent and responsible about the types of ingredients they choose to use. But how do we make sure that the products we use aren’t harmful to us?

Regulatory bodies such as the FDA should aim to be more stringent with regulating cosmetic products instead of buckling under the pressure of conglomerates who promise to self regulate. Furthermore, consumers should take one step further and use ingredient analyzer platforms such as 1Source, EWG, and Incidecoder to make sure that the products they use do not contain harmful ingredients / chemicals. It is really simple to use, especially if your ingredient label is filled with long chemistry names we are unfamiliar with. Simply type the name of the product into the platform. A rating of the products will be shown and toxic ingredients will be flagged. By making smarter purchasing decisions, consumers can support clean businesses and put pressure on other companies to use cleaner ingredients. For starters, here are some toxic ingredients and chemicals to look out for in your personal products.

Different types of harmful chemicals

woman in gray sweater holding lipstick

Endocrine disruptors:

  • Mimic hormone activity with links to birth defects, reproductive harm and cancer
  • Found in hair, nail, sunscreen and baby products, makeup, lotions, toothpaste, soap, fragrance


  • Endocrine disruptors linked to developmental disorders, reproductive harm & cancer
  • Found in fragranced lotions, body wash, hair, skin, baby products, nail polish, perfume, color cosmetics.


  • Endocrine disruptors linked to reproductive harm, developmental disorders, cancer
  • A preservative found in deodorants, antiperspirants, soaps, hair, shaving, fragranced products.

Toxic ingredients and Chemicals to look out for

  • Shampoos containing formaldehyde have a high risk of serving as an endocrine disruptor, and bring about side effects such as allergies, depression, and cancer
  • Deodorants contain endocrine disruptors such as formaldehyde which causes hormone disruption, reproductive problems, and tumors
  • Skin cream containing mercury, coal and tar may serve as endocrine disruptors that causes tremors, insomnia, and/ or cognitive dysfunction
  • Soap containing coal, tar and 1,4 dioxane may serve as endocrine disruptors that causes allergies, infertility and heart disease
  • Fragrance often contain toxic chemicals that are not disclosed and may cause allergies, reproductive disorders, and cancer
  • Skin lighteners containing chemicals hydroquinone and mercury may cause skin disease, organ damage or cancer


“Carbon Black, Titanium Dioxide, and Talc – IARC Publications Website.” https://publications.iarc.fr/Book-And-Report-Series/Iarc-Monographs-On-The-Identification-Of-Carcinogenic-Hazards-To-Humans/Carbon-Black-Titanium-Dioxide-And-Talc-2010. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.

“The Film — TOXIC BEAUTY.” https://www.toxicbeautydoc.com/the-film. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.

“TOXIC BEAUTY.” https://www.toxicbeautydoc.com/. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.

Hand Sanitizers Contain Carcinogens

person holding white plastic pump bottle

An online pharmacy, Valisure, raised alarm on a carcinogen found in hand sanitizers sold during the coronavirus pandemic. The pharmacy, Valisure, tested 260 hand sanitizer products for toxic chemicals and found high levels of benzene in nearly 44 products sold in the US. According to the 1Source database, Benzene is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and prohibited by the European Commission for use in cosmetic products. Benzene can harm individuals through dermal absorption or inhalation.

Hazards (UN GHS):

yellow hibiscus in clear glass vase

1. May be fatal if swallowed and enters airways (H304)

2. Causes skin irritation (H315)

3. Causes serious eye irritation (H319)

4. May cause genetic defects (H340)

5. May cause cancer (H350)

6. Causes damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure (H372)

7. Toxic to aquatic life (H401)

8. Toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects (H411)

red and white UNKs restaurant

Products entered the market by demand due to a nationwide shortage of hand sanitizers. To meet the high demand for hand sanitizer during Covid-19 public health emergency, the FDA allowed an ” interim limit of 2 parts per million (ppm) for benzene in liquid hand sanitizers. Before June 2020, FDA banned benzene in the manufacture of any stage of drug products due to its toxicity. Despite the relaxation, Valisure reported that out of 260 hand sanitizer products tested, 17% contained benzene, with the highest level of benzene detected at 16.1ppm, over eight times the interim limit.

Some of the brands containing carcinogens include Artnaturals, which ironically describes itself as born from a “desire to free beauty from high prices, toxic chemicals”. Star Wars Baby Yoda themed bottle was caught in crossfires. New entrants which appeared to plug the market after household brands such as Purell and Suave sold out were noted to contain Benzene. Tainted sanitizers can be found for sale at Amazon and Target. Out of the 44 hand sanitizer products contaminated with Benzene, 2% are manufactured in Mexico, 50% in China, and 34% in the United States.

List of tainted hand sanitizers:

1. artnaturals9. beauty concepts
2. Scentsational Soaps & Candles Inc.10. PureLogic
3. huangjisoo11. Miami Carry On
4. TrueWash12. Natural Wunderz
5. The Creme Shop13. clean-protect-sanitize
6. Star Wars Mandalorian14. Puretize
7. Body Prescriptions15. Hand Clean 100
8. Born Basic

Besides that, Valisure also detected unacceptably high levels of methanol, and a acetaldehyde, defined by the WHO and IARC as ” possibly carcinogenic to humans” . The FDA stated that companies manufacturing hand sanitizers should not ” add other active or inactive ingredients”, for example to enhance the smell or taste. However, out of the 44 batches of hand sanitizers containing benzene, 20 of their product labels indicate the additional ingredients which fail to adhere to FDA guidelines. Enhancing the taste and smell is hazardous, as it may increase the risk of making product more appealing to be ingested by children.

In the letter, Valisure requested that all contaminated batches of hand sanitizer be recalled by the FDA and that they conduct an investigation of products and provide information to the public.


 “Phene; Benzene – 1Source – 1Source.com.” https://1source.com/ingredients/phene?lang=eng. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.

“Carcinogen Found in Hand Sanitizers That Plugged Covid Gap ….” 24 Mar. 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-24/carcinogen-found-in-hand-sanitizers-that-plugged-pandemic-gap. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.

 “Some Hand Sanitizers Made During the Pandemic Have ….” 24 Mar. 2021, https://www.businessinsider.com/hand-sanitizers-made-covid-coronavirus-pandemic-carcinogen-benzene-2021-3. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.

 “Some hand sanitizers found tainted with cancer … – Chicago Tribune.” 25 Mar. 2021, https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-covid-hand-sanitizer-benzene-carcinogen-20210324-xfnmhfztorfcflursbxdyd5esu-story.html. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.

“Watch Fox News Channel and Fox Business … – Fox News Video.” 18 Jul. 2012, https://video.foxnews.com/v/5614615980001. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.

 “Valisure Detects Benzene in Hand Sanitizers – Valisure.” 24 Mar. 2021, https://www.valisure.com/blog/valisure-news/valisure-detects-benzene-in-hand-sanitizers/. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.

 “Valisure’s FDA Citizen Petition on Hand Sanitizer.” 24 Mar. 2021, https://www.valisure.com/wp-content/uploads/Valisure-FDA-Citizen-Petition-on-Hand-Sanitizer-v4.14.pdf. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.

I tried the Billion Dollar Morning Routine (Honest and Realistic Journey)

One night when I was on my phone during the hours of when I was supposed to be asleep, I came across a video titled ‘We Tried the 1 Billion Dollar Morning Routine’ produced by As/Is.

The video left me with curiosity and motivation to attempt the morning routine as well. Before I started, I did a little research.

As I believe, The routine was popularized by the motivational Youtube Star, Jim Kwik who showed on the Be Inspired Youtube Channel. The video currently has 6,327,884 views with 177k likes.

Upon research, there is no exact routine set by time. Some would wake up at 4:30, while some others wake up at 7 am. I concluded that the wake-up time would be after 8 hours of sleep. And of course, everyone’s routine is different. Those who wake up at 4:30 usually clock in for work at 7 – 7:30 AM, and those who wake up at 7 AM usually work from home.

Are you a morning person?

But the routines are similar, if not same.

  1. Wake up early
  2. Recall dreams
  3. Make your bed
  4. Drink a tall glass of water – while taking vitamins or prebiotics
  5. 20-minute breathing exercise/meditation
  6. 2 minutes of intense movement
  7. Cold shower
  8. Regular morning routine e.g. brushing your teeth, morning face cleanse, brew tea
  9. Write in your journal. In this journal, you must write 3 points of what to do (assignments) ; 3 points of what to personally do ; 3 points of what to feel; and 3 points of what to be.
  10. Read a book for 20/30 minutes
  11. Make a smoothie – suggested to use blueberries as they are ‘brain berries’
  12. Do a brain exercise

It should be noted that some people’s approach to this routine can be modified. Jim Kwik himself said in the video that he just tries his best to do it all.

My Attempt(s) at the Billion Dollar Morning Routine (Long Read Ahead!)

Day 1, the first impression

1. Wake up Early

I woke up to my alarm at 7… but I went for a 30-minute nap. Not the best start but it is definitely a very big improvement to my usual waking hour, which is usually 10. Worse, the latest I woke up was 2:30 pm…

2. Recall dreams

Coincidentally, I dreamed about doing the morning routine in my dream. However, it was more like a nightmare. I cannot remember the events but I knew the energy of the dream was chaotic, the most I remembered was hearing arguing and things crashing like bombs and I felt claustrophobic.

I personally believe that I am sensitive to dreaming, compared to my friends, I have several dreams that I still remember today.

The dream also felt really real, I thought I was already up in the morning. Until the alarm proved wrong.

3. Make your bed

I never make my bed, ever. I don’t see the point of it because I will eventually sleep in it again.

However, the step is not as boring as it sounds. Jim Kwik said that this step is intended to push people to accomplish more tasks, it creates momentum.

He says that, when we go to bed, we go back to the cycle of ‘success’.

4. Drink tall glass of water and take vitamins/prebiotics

I am ashamed to say… I don’t wake up to drinking water every morning.

Although it was only water, I did struggle, I felt like I was forcing down water when I felt full.

Before I drank the water, I had to go to the bathroom first. This step was supposed to be in the 8th step but I knew I couldn’t down a gulp of water if I weren’t going to take a leak first.

I also don’t take any supplements. My prebiotics are in powder form that I put in my morning smoothie.

5. 20 minutes of breathing exercise / meditation

I wasn’t exactly excited for this part, 20 minutes of sitting still sounded like it would put me to sleep. The purpose of this step is to fully oxygenate the body.

I simply searched for a 20-minute breathing meditation on Youtube. For day 1, I am following a guide by the Mindful Movement. I only realized after the meditation that the video was only 19:38 minutes, but better than nothing!

This step was not effortless. I struggled with staying still. So, I helped myself with the breathing exercise by using my body instead. When I breathed in, I would trail my upper leg to my knees with my hands, then sweep them back up while I straightened my back as I exhaled.

It is only after that I realized that I should have done it the other way. And well… I sometimes don’t breathe the right way. When inhaling, the stomach should be expanding, and the opposite when exhaling. However, I sometimes do this in the opposite way. I hoped to correct my breathing habit by doing this routine for the next few days.

By the end of this step, it is 8:02 AM

6. 2 minute intense movement

The purpose of this step is to wake my body. Note: This is not a workout of the day!

For Day 1, I split this step into 1 minute of jumping jacks and the other minute to high knees.

7. Cold shower

This step… I couldn’t take a straight cold shower. Especially since the morning is breezy. However, I did attempt to do it.

Instead of ignoring this step, I did a mix of a hot and cold shower. I turn the water to cold when I am washing off the shampoo and conditioner from my hair. I also did this at the end of the shower.

8. Regular morning routine

For this step, I brushed my teeth.

Cleansed my face. Since I was more conscious to my routine, I gave the #60secondsrule face wash a go.

Despite the positive feedback, I never attempted it. My face actually felt nice after 60 seconds of cleansing.

Then I blow dried my hair and made tea.

9. Write in Journal

10. Read a book

I am currently reading Eye Of The Red Tsar by Sam Eastland. I have issues with focus, so to help me read, I turned on reading music for my 20 minutes read. As much as I like reading this book, I was waiting for the timer to go off in the back of my head.

11. Make a smoothie

I didn’t have any brain berries that were suggested to be used. I instead used a herbal smoothie mix that I was already having as my breakfast.

12. Brain exercise

I downloaded the Elevate app for this step. I am using the free version. For the following days, I do 3 short exercises to strengthen my language and mathematics skills.

Day 2


I couldn’t wake up early because I was tired. I slept late the night before (1:30 AM) from gaming with my friends. So I missed most of my morning (10 AM).

However as Kwik mentioned, he tries to complete all the tasks. So I tried to tick as many boxes as I can before the morning ends.

2. I couldn’t recall my dream

3. This time when making my bed, I put in more effort. It felt good to look at a neat ‘successful’ bed

4. Drink water – stopped my inner whining dialogue and just went with it.

Wrote in my journal…That is where the routine ends.

Day 3 (PAUSE)

This is the day when I had to stop the routine. I woke up late again from a long night of gaming with my friends. I felt very demotivated. I could have continued the routine as a Day 3, however, I wanted to give it another chance. If the ladies could do straight in the As/Is video, I should too.

So instead of trying to complete the steps, I sat down and wrote in my journal to reevaluate:

“I’m going to restart this journey on Friday the 25th marked as Day 1… clearly I failed twice. And as much as I am lazy, I am a perfectionist! Therefore, I’ll try again BUT I’m going to have to plan it.”

“I realized that I can’t push myself to wake up early at all after a ‘night’ (1-2 AM) of gaming on LOL. So to proceed with this routine, I must not play over midnight.”

“Something I noticed is that I am starting to inhabit step 3 and 4 (make the bed and drink water) with effort”

“For my journal lists, I must also be more specific and actually attempt to finish at least my to do’s”

“Instead of staying in bed for step 2 (recalling your dreams), I should get up and write it down in my journal since I am such a heavy sleeper… staying in my bed eyes closed? I pass out in 30 secs”

Overall, I initially went into this routine without any preparation, which was bad since the Billion Dollar Morning Routine is drastically different from my everyday lifestyle.

Day 3 (Redemption)

Day 3 was a massive improvement compared to the past 2 days of failure. Comparing how my day went between this day and the day before. There is a difference in motivation and drive. Even though the morning routine took some adjusting, it is a rewarding experience.

Day 4

As normally, the day went fine. However, the night out of Day 4 has caused another dip into my attempt at the routine.

Day 5

So indeed, after a night out (or to be more specific, an all ‘nighter’), I did not criticize myself as harshly as Day 2 or the paused day. Just like Day 2, I try to finish the morning routine within the hours of the morning. For a chill day, I had a productive workday.

So it’s not as bad as I described it earlier, but this is where the ‘dip’ happens.

Day 6

As observed, the day was not productive at all. So how did this happen?

When I gave myself an excuse for Day 5 and allowed myself to have a ‘chill day’, the slowly growing discipline I built up vanished. The routine is not for people who rely on motivation, but a habit mentality.

When I compared my progress to the ladies who attempted the routine from As/Is, it really demotivated me and in all honesty, it made my mental health fragile. I became demotivated and basically hated myself for the entire day. The day felt awful, productivity was not running, overall, it was grim.

Day 7

So, still being in the cycle of lack of discipline, I did not get the happy ending I wanted. However, I felt a glimpse of hope.

Although I did not have the best attempt. It made me reevaluate how I ‘drive’ my life.

Life without this routine

So to give the Billion Dollar Morning Routine a more fair judgement. I proceeded with a week of what my normal routine was.

And to no surprise. The week was less productive, unpredictable, exhausting and depressing.

I found myself in a spiral of some days waking up at 10 AM and some waking up in the PM. And with the progress of my work and activities in my life, made me want to stay in bed all day in the dark.

This experience had opened up my eyes. I didn’t think much of my normal routine. And because of how I felt with the Billion Dollar Morning routine, living my life how I normally did. I, for the first time, was hit by the reality of my everyday failure.

What I am taking from this attempt

The thing I did wrong was that I underestimated how challenging this routine was going to be. Especially for me, since I am a person who has more of a go along with the waves type of person. I have to give it to the ladies from As/Is, they made it look so easy!

Even though my attempt was not an accurate representation of this routine. I felt comforted by the women from their attempt where they as well have their own struggles with the routine. And like Freddie said “Do I feel like a billionaire? Actually, I do!”

So they both concluded that they themselves are going to take some things from the routine to add to their morning. Mei cleverly played on the words, made her own “Millionaire Morning Routine”

So for my personal take on the Billion Dollar Morning Routine. I am adding going to the toilet right after I wake up, and turn the 2-minute intense movement into a full workout because I do prefer exercising in the morning before breakfast. I’m going to work on the cold shower, but like the ladies, I’m sticking to the warm shower for now.

Challenge: Do the Billion Dollar Morning Routine for a week and see if you can use it in your life!

The Link Between Cooking and Your Mental Health

smiling woman standing and putting pepper on stock pot

Over the course of the pandemic, people have found new ways to keep their mental health intact — whether that means working out, journaling, or going on a Zoom call with friends. One such self-care routine is cooking. Of course, this is no surprise, as a full stomach can do wonders for elevating your mood. However, CNN notes that the act of cooking itself has therapeutic benefits as well. We list down a few of them below:

It gives you an achievable goal.

According to the Society of Clinical Psychology, behavioral action refers to “increasing patients’ contact with sources of reward” by exposing them to doable tasks that make them feel more accomplished. It’s one of the reasons ticking boxes off a checklist feels so satisfying — and cooking for mental wellness works in much the same way. The various activities associated with cooking, from dicing veggies to washing the dishes, all offer you a sense of control — which is something that’s sorely needed as the world navigates through COVID-19. When you’re focused on an achievable reward — a homemade meal, in this case — it’s easier to reduce procrastination and stay on track with your mental health.

It promotes mindfulness.

person cutting vegetables with knife

There’s a certain meditative quality in repetition that encourages mindfulness, and this includes the attendant chores of cooking. At its core, cooking is a ritual that gives you the opportunity to be present, appreciative and nonjudgmental. Focusing on your inner dialogue and the actual experience of cooking allows you to forget about your problems, if only for a moment. With that said, mindfulness is a muscle that needs to be practiced, and cooking is one good way to do that.

It helps you attain other fitness milestones.

assorted fruits and vegetable on brown wooden chopping board

Fast food culture has become prevalent around the world thanks to an increasingly busy workforce. But though fast food can be convenient, eating fatty, sodium-laden foods will eventually take a toll on your physical and mental health. Instead, make it a habit to cook your meals for the week ahead of schedule. This will not only give you full control over your nutrition needs, but will also free you up to do other self-care tasks like exercising and meditation.

To make meal prep easier, use multifunctional appliances. For example, you can use tools like the Braun FP3020 food processor to whip up a smoothie or shred some lettuce for a salad. Meanwhile, an Aroma rice cooker is great for cooking quinoa, rice, and even vegetables — all in one pot. With all this said, taking charge of your meals will make you healthier, both inside and out, so make meal prepping a part of your routine.

It engages the senses directly.

man in black and white stripe polo shirt holding bread

We’ve all been forced to stay at home because of the pandemic, which means we’ve had little to no sensory stimulation all this time. When this happens, everyday living becomes drudgery; you’re basically going through the motions with little reward. Cooking, however, can serve as a remedy, as it directly engages the pleasure centers of your brain through the sights, smells, and tastes of home-cooked meals. This gives you the mental health boost you need to take on other activities.

It allows you to flex your creative muscle.

person filling her plate

A report on Bloomberg notes that individuals who engaged in artistic activities reported lower rates of depression and greater life satisfaction. Indeed, everyone, no matter how artistically challenged, must have a creative pursuit in order to live a holistic life. For some, cooking fulfills that need. True enough, experimenting with recipes, ingredients, and cooking methods are also one form of self-expression that can bring you joy and a sense of fulfillment.

As we’ve mentioned before in our post on ‘Why Mental Health Should be Your Top Priority in 2021’, it’s important to pay attention to your mental well-being, given the effects of COVID-19. Take care of yourself by building positive habits like cooking, which nourishes both your body and your mind.

Natural hair dyes are not safer!

selective focus photo of woman in purple jacket

Changing your hair color is a luxurious treat, but going to a hair salon can be a costly affair.  To save time and money, many opt to dye hair at home with the help of boxed dye. Health conscious customers may purposely choose hair dye products with natural labels to reduce the risk of allergies, minimize chemicals, or cause less damage to the hair. However, the Consumer Council has discovered that many “natural” labels  are misleading and harbor false claims. Click here if you’re wondering how hair dye works!  

multicolored hair close up photography

The Consumer Council tested 26 hair dyes labelled with “natural”, “herbal”, “plant based”, and “organic”. Prices of hair dyes ranged from $18 – $450. Hair dyes were tested for 8 common hair dye allergens, ammonia, heavy metal content, pH, label information and the microbiological content of herbal henna samples. Results showed that companies utilized these keywords merely as a marketing tool, as the contents of the product failed to support its claims. 60% of the dyes tested contained allergens or heavy metals, posing a health risk to users. Conclusion of this report: don’t fall into the trap of assuming “natural” products are safer! 

13 oxidative permanent hair dyes and six henna-type products

The results showed that allergens were detected in up to 16 products. The three allergens found include p-Phenylenediamine (PPD), m-Phenylenediamine (MPD) and Touluene-2, 5-diamine (PTD) which is on the Poisons List of Pharmacy and Poisons Regulations. Phenylenediamine (PPD) contained highest content, ranging from 0.29% to 8.3%, with the latter from Herbul Sea Spirit  Grass Dyed Pure Black Hair. Although common, cosmetic regulations in the Eurupean Union and mainland China cap the concentration of PPD at 2%. Melva’s Hair Color Powder with Natural Nourishing Herbs exceeded the regulation by 100%, while Korean- made Cosline’s Squid Ink Speedy Color Cream was on point. 

What is PPD?

purple apple-cut haired woman facing at the back

PPD is commonly used in oxidative dye type hair dyes to produce colorful dye compounds when mixed with other chemical substances. Studies have shown that some people are at risk of developing scalp irritation, swelling, and even difficulty breathing. 11 products containing PPD, and 3 other henna dyes containing PPD: 

  • Herbatint’s Permanent Haircolor Gel (1N)
  • Naturtint’s Permanent Hair Color
  • Tints of Nature’s Simply Healthier Hair Colour Permanent Hair Colour
  • Khloris’ Sepia Seven Hair Color Cream
  • Naturigin’s Naturigin Natural Hair Dye – Black 2.0
  • Richenna’s Vitamin E Hair Dye
  • LUCIDO-L’s Natural Plant-based Hair Dye
  • Cosline’s Squid Ink Speedy Color Cream (1N)


  • Hair Dye produced by Herbul
  • Ling Lee
  • Melva’s Hair Color Powder with Natural  Nourishing Herbs

Henna disaster 

people hands with tattoes

Natural henna needs to be applied for at least “three to five hours  before it can show a dyeing effect,” described by Consumer Council Chief Executive, Gilly Wong Fung-han during an interview with South China Morning Post. She described that many manufacturers may be tempted to add chemical substances to improve coloring effect as well as shorten the time it takes for the color to show. 

All six henna dyes were found to contain lead, with Herbul Sea, India, and Indigo dyes leading with a lead content of 3.1. Furthermore, Melva’s Hair Color Powder with Natural Nourishing Herbs contain a lead content of 0.4 to 0.6, with one sample containing 0.043 mercury. The heavy metal contents were within mainland China regulations, however the council cautioned prolonged exposure to the dyes. 

Furthermore, the total number of bacterial colonies in all samples exceeded the mainland’s requirement of less than 1,000 colonies per gram. Be Nature Organic Herba Powder was found to contain 250,000 bacteria, 249 times higher than what was allowed. 

One mutagenic ingredient prohibited by The Europian Union and mainland cosmetic regulations was found in TS Chakhan Hair Color Cream. Furthermore, there was an issue of false lalbelling as five of the hair coloring products failed to list the ammonia content. Out of the five, two of them (Herbatint and Tints of Nature- even claimed to be “ammonia free”, when they actually contained the chemical. Seven other products only had a partial list while two did not have any information on their contents at all. Read on to find out how 1Source can help you find quality products. 

The Consumer Council reminded consumers to conduct a skin allergy test on all hair dyes before using the product and highlighted that those with eczema or scalp damage should steer clear from hair dye treatments. Read on to find out how to use 1Source to navigate the beauty world. 


“Hong Kong consumer watchdog warns ‘natural’ hair dyes are not ….” 15 Mar. 2021, https://toysmatrix.com/hong-kong-consumer-watchdog-warns-natural-hair-dyes-are-not-always-risk-free/. Accessed 16 Mar. 2021.

 “henna Archives – ToysMatrix.” 15 Mar. 2021, https://toysmatrix.com/tag/henna/. Accessed 16 Mar. 2021.

 “Consumer Council announces 60% of hair dye samples contained ….” 15 Mar. 2021, https://www.dimsumdaily.hk/consumer-council-announces-60-of-hair-dye-samples-contained-allergens-or-heavy-metal-content-ts-brand-contains-banned-drug-mpd/. Accessed 16 Mar. 2021

 “HK’s consumer watchdog found 11 hair dye products containing ….” 15 Mar. 2021, https://www.thestandard.com.hk/breaking-news/section/4/167379/HK%E2%80%99s-consumer-watchdog-found-11-hair-dye-products-containing-allergens. Accessed 16 Mar. 2021.

 “Hong Kong consumer watchdog warns ‘natural’ hair dyes are not ….” 15 Mar. 2021, https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/3125468/hong-kong-consumer-watchdog-warns-natural-hair. Accessed 16 Mar. 2021.

Healthy Habits to Teach Your Kids During the Pandemic

two toddler playing letter cubes

The pandemic has affected everyone’s lives in significant ways. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) laid down some guidelines to help keep populations healthy. Everyone, including children, needs to practice these guidelines. Parents must teach their kids these guidelines to protect their health during the pandemic. Nutrition and health go hand in hand. Find out the 4 foods to boost immune system here!

Frequent hand-washing

Wash your hands often

Your child should practice frequent hand washing habits during the pandemic and maintain them after. This is because the hands are a common source of infection. Hands easily pick up dirt and microorganisms from the environment and contaminate other body parts like the mouth and eyes. One way in which the coronavirus spreads is through the hands. The hands can pick up the virus from surfaces like public benches and doorknobs. You then get infected when the hands touch any part of the face. Children are more likely to touch their face and put their hands in the mouth. As such, hand washing is a crucial healthy habit to instill in kids to prevent coronavirus and other infections transmitted orally. Teach your child how to wash hands properly. The CDC recommends washing hands with water and soap for at least 20 seconds. If your child cannot access a hand-washing facility nearby, teach them about sanitizing. Have your child carry a sanitizer everywhere they go.

Social distancing

people walking on pedestrian lane during daytime

One of the CDC guidelines that everyone needs to follow during the pandemic is social distancing. Teach your child the importance of maintaining a distance of at least six feet from other people. Social distancing may not be necessary around the house unless a family member is infected. However, it is important when in public settings like schools. Teach your child that they should maintain a safe distance from people who experience signs of the disease, like sneezing and coughing. With schools now open, teaching your child on social distancing can provide you with relief that the child is safe in school.

Wearing a mask

woman in black long sleeve shirt holding white face mask

Teach your child on proper techniques of wearing a mask. Any child above the age of two should know how to wear a mask in public. Reinforce these techniques as much as possible; once is never enough. Your child should know the appropriate mask to wear and how to put them on. The most effective mask that every child should be aware of is the n95 masks. If you are wondering where to buy a n95 mask, try online stores or pharmacies. Some online stores have CDC-approved N95 masks to keep you and your children safe during the pandemic. They do deliveries to your doorstep, saving you from the need to go to public places to buy masks. Surgical masks are also similarly effective. Children can also find it hard to have the mask on for the entire period they are in public. Therefore, emphasize having the mask on at all times, except when the child is eating or in your car.

Social connection

person holding white and blue textile

Do not get too caught up with other healthy habits that you forget one crucial health aspect; mental health. The pandemic period is difficult for everyone, including children. Kids can no longer play with their friends as much as they want. They can also hardly interact with their friends because every parent is trying to protect their child. As a parent, preventing your child from going out to socialize or play is challenging. Entirely preventing the child from social interaction due to fear of the pandemic is also not mentally healthy for your child. Check out our article on the negative impacts of long term isolation. You can organize with other parents in the neighborhood on indoor playdates now and then. Additionally, you can teach your child how to use platforms like Skype. Skype enables the child to interact with friends and family virtually. These will help distract the child from the stress of staying indoors with as little interaction as possible, which can lead to mental illnesses like depression. For additional information, check out more ways to look after your mental health here!


group of women standing on green grass field during daytime

These healthy habits are important for children. They will help protect the children in the pandemic and protect the elderly who are susceptible to the disease. Kids should also be taught to maintain practices like washing the hands frequently after the pandemic. These are not the only habits that parents should instill in their kids. There are a plethora of health habits that every child should be taught.

The Best COVID-19 Eye Protection

closeup photo of person

Medical experts previously recommended the use of facial masks and shields to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. Recent guidelines also include eye protection for individuals who run an elevated risk of being exposed to the new coronavirus. The best eyewear options include face shields, goggles and prescription safety glasses that have facial cavity seals. Learn more about the most effective forms of eye protection against exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19.

ANSI Z87.1-Certified Safety Goggles

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend eye protection for healthcare workers and individuals who come into close contact with other occupants in buildings that have poor ventilation. Spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 typically occurs when aerosolized respiratory droplets come into contact with mucosal membranes in the nose and mouth. Eyes also have a similar mucosal lining and can provide an entry point for the new coronavirus.

Impact protection is a primary factor for the ANSI Z87.1 safety rating, but a “D3” marking on frames and lenses indicates that eyewear provides splash and droplet protection. Consider goggles made by a trusted personal protective equipment brand such as the Uvex Classic, Livewire or V-Maxx styles. Goggles with foam seals or rubber gaskets can limit opportunities for aerosolized respiratory particles to enter eyes in addition to direct contact.

Safety Glasses With Gaskets, Seals or Shields

woman in pink and white hijab

A standard pair of ANSI Z87.1-rated prescription safety glasses frames without a facial seal can protect wearers’ eyes from impact hazards but may not include splash and droplet protection. In order to prevent particles in the air or direct contact spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, you should look for safety glasses with a “D3” splash and droplet rating. This eyewear will probably feature gaskets or seals for a close fit.

Wiley X safety glasses such as the Airrage, Boss, Compass, Enzo and Gravity are all compatible with removable Facial Cavity seals. All of these styles also meet ANSI Z87.1 High Velocity and High Mass Impact standards and can accommodate prescription lenses within specified ranges of sphere and cylinder measurements. Other brands also make conventional frames that have removable side shields or permanent shields along the sides, top and bottom of lenses.

Full Coverage Face Shields

A face shield is a full-coverage solution that is intended to be worn with a cloth or particulate face mask. If you wear standard prescription glasses to improve your vision, you should be able to fit these frames under a face shield.  Face shields are effective for protecting your entire face from exposure to aerosolized respiratory particles and direct contact. This PPE functions as source control, but may not be as effective for protecting others unless you pair shields and masks.

Consider purchasing adjustable disposable face shields or TPE face shields. It is also possible to order headgear compatible with replaceable shields or visors. While a face shield is easy to position properly, this type of PPE may be less comfortable than a pair of properly fitted goggles or safety glasses paired with a mask. Fog can pose more of a problem with this full-coverage mode of protection and the combination of a shield and mask forces wearers to speak loudly to communicate.

These types of safety eyewear and facial PPE are effective for reducing the risk of exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19 through the mucosal lining of the eyes. Goggles rated for droplet and splash protection provide a close fit and can minimize fogging. If you require vision correction, you may want to upgrade to goggles or prescription safety glasses with facial cavity seals, gaskets or shields for complete eye coverage.

Heavy Metals in Your Baby Foods Cause Irreversible Brain Damage

selective focus photography of baby holding wooden cube

“Baby products used to hold a special position of public trust,” however, this is no longer the case. The House Oversight and Reform’s Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee released a report stating that baby foods are “tainted with dangerous levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury. These toxic heavy metals are declared dangerous to human health, according to The Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization. Children and babies are most vulnerable to the effects of toxic heavy metals, and even low levels of exposure can cause “serious and often irreversible damage to brain development”.

Effects of exposure to toxic heavy metals

person wearing gray shirt putting baby on scale
  • Permanent decrease in IQ
  • Diminished future economic productivity
  • May danger infant neurological development and long term brain function

Where does toxic heavy metals come from?

brown farming equipment harvesting on rice field during daytime

Naturally occurring toxic heavy metals contribute to the unsafe levels of toxicity in baby products. Crop fields contain varying levels of toxic heavy metals in the soil, due to metal containing pesticides and ongoing industrial pollution. However food manufacturers may also voluntarily add ingredients high in toxic heavy metals such as vitamin / mineral pre-mix.

Following allegations of high levels of toxic heavy metals in baby foods, the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy requested internal documents and test results from seven of the largest manufacturers of baby food in the United States. Out of the seven, only four of the companies responded to their request, suggesting that companies (Walmart, Campbell, Sprout Organic Foods) had something to hide. Independent testing conducted confirmed that baby foods sold by these companies contain concerning levels of toxic metals, which is a huge problem as their products are marketed to babies as young as 4 months.

Toxic heavy metal results:

Arsenic, lead and cadmium was present in all baby foods from all responding companies, while Mercury was detected in baby food for the only responding company that tested for it. The results are multiples higher than the maximum allowable levels dictated by the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. According to the report by the subcommittee, test results far exceeded those limits and were “up to 91 times the arsenic level, up to 177 times the lead level, up to 69 times the cadmium level, and up to 5 times the mercury level, ” resulting in a higher level of contaminants.

Other things to look out for:

woman in teal tank top drinking milk from feeding bottle
  • Nurture (HappyBABY) created its own internal standard for toxic metals, which exceeds the FDA limit by 15%, while Hain (Earth’s Best Organic) exceeded its internal policies under the guise of “theoretical calculations”.
  • A secret slide presentation from Hain (Earth’s Best Organic) was ignored by the Trump Administration, which revealed that corporate policies test only ingredients and not final products. Inorganic arsenic in Hain baby foods were found to be “28%-93% higher in finished products. “
  • Food producers may be adding ingredients that have high levels of toxic heavy metals into their products.


kid sitting beside round cake close-up photography

Parents: To this day, there is no warning label on toxic heavy metals on baby products. The Subcommittee urges parents to keep up with the news and avoid baby products containing ingredients that test high in toxic heavy metals. (Check out our article on determining if diapers are toxic for your baby.)

Manufacturers: Manufacturers should take responsibility and label their products transparently, and to report the levels of toxic heavy metals on food labels. Furthermore, manufacturers should voluntarily find substitutes for ingredients that are high in toxic heavy metals.

FDA: The FDA should set maximum levels toxic heavy metals allowed across all forms of baby foods and make mandatory testing to ensure that baby food products adhere to FDA regulations.


 “Leading baby food manufacturers knowingly sold products with high ….” 5 Feb. 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/04/health/baby-food-heavy-metal-toxins-wellness/index.html. Accessed 8 Mar. 2021.

 “Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead ….” https://oversight.house.gov/sites/democrats.oversight.house.gov/files/2021-02-04%20ECP%20Baby%20Food%20Staff%20Report.pdf. Accessed 8 Mar. 2021.

 “Parents Erupt Over FDA Failure To Regulate Toxic Metals in Food ….” 28 Feb. 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/agenda/2021/02/28/fda-toxic-metals-food-471757. Accessed 8 Mar. 2021.

the Disappointing thing about good cosmetics…

Having been contributing to the 1Source blog, the platform has introduced me to the deeper side of the beauty industry, especially as a skincare junkie, I became more aware about the ingredients that I put onto my skin.

Using 1Source upload / scan, the revelation of ingredients leaves a long lasting impression about a product I use. And it certainly becomes disappointing when a product I really like has suspicious toxic chemicals.

Common toxic chemicals I find in good products are Phenoxyethanol and suspicious Colorants.

Example: Phenoxyethanol – How I personally use the app

To clarify, Phenoxyethanol is not a ‘bad’ chemical in skincare products. It’s a ‘great’ preservative and the best, for now – it replaced Formaldehyde, which to me looks like a sign that cosmetic brands are regularly finding / forming better and advanced chemicals for us.

Here is an excerpt of what Paula’s Choice (skincare and makeup focused site) had to say about Phenoxyethanol

‘Phenoxyethanol is a widely used synthetic preservative that has global approval for use in all cosmetic products in concentrations up to 1%’

‘The rest of the alarming studies are about using phenoxyethanol in full-strength or atypically high concentrations, not the amounts of 1% or less used in cosmetic products. Think of it as the difference between taking one sip of wine versus chugging several bottles at once!’

Hence approving and debunking the demonization of Phenoxyethanol.

However, the information 1Source Ingredients that provide about Phenoxyethanol should also not be ignored. As a science focused ingredient analyzer, 1Source’s ingredient information tab provides a summary of the ingredients and corresponding it to the potential risk index (PRI)

1Source’s PRI of Phenoxyethanol

Overall Phenoxyethanol has a rating of 5

‘Some blogs may claim that there is a link to ovarian cancer but the correlation has yet to be accepted by the scientific community as definitive…An alternative to formaldehyde-releasing preservatives’

And in the recent findings section. It has warnings and summary of scientific discoveries of the chemical, for example suggesting to not use it for new born babies and informing the ecotoxicity of the chemical.

Overall, the EU SCCS has classified phenoxyethanol as safe for use as a preservative with a maximum concentration of 1.0%. However, care should still be taken when using products with phenoxyethanol, given its potential as a skin irritant.’

Conscious Buying

So that’s how I use the 1Source app/site, it provides information that I find skincare focused sites seem to lack. I don’t only want to know if it would be good or bad for my skin. I want to know why it would be good or bad. I also like to know about the background of the ingredient more as a chemical substance rather than a name in an ingredient label on the back of a packaging. That, to me, is conscious buying.

I am in no way calling out other sites or am comparing 1Source to Paula’s Choice. Paula’s Choice is indeed reliable and informative, and of course, I will use it when it comes to choosing makeup and skincare products, as I use 1Source as well.

The Conspiracy of non-regulated chemicals

A few days ago, I came across a tiktok (unfortunately, I can’t find it anymore) where a user shows a list of chemicals that are banned in the EU for food / cosmetic uses that are fine in the USA.

From what I remember, he points out that the overall health of the European population tends to be better than that of the US is because the FDA is not as strict as the EU consumer regulations. He added that the reason is because unlike Europe which has freer healthcare and is seen like a social welfare, health care in the US is an economy or to be more accurate, a business of its own. The conspiracy is that if the unhealthy and toxic chemicals are banned, there would be less patients which threatens the economy of the country. 

Though, convincing. It doesn’t explain why some EU banned chemicals are in Hong Kong stores when public healthcare in Hong Kong is more similar to the EU rather than the USA.

According to Oliver Milman on the Guardian,  In cosmetics alone, the EU has banned or restricted more than 1,300 chemicals while the US has outlawed or curbed just 11.

Milman: ‘The clout of powerful industry interests, combined with a regulatory system that demands a high level of proof of harm before any action is taken, has led to the American public being routinely exposed to chemicals that have been rubbed out of the lives of people in countries such as the UK, Germany and France.

From this article, Asbestos was used as an example of the poor regulatory system of the US. ‘Asbestos exposure has long been known to cause deaths and illnesses but the substance is still not banned in the US. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) attempted to do so in 1989 only to be overturned by the federal court following a backlash from manufacturers.

In 1source, all types of Asbestos are labeled as a hazard. This substance has been classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

As much as it is fun to entertain the conspiracy. The fact is that the FDA in the USA is limited by law. According to them: FDA does not have the legal authority to approve cosmetics before they go on the market, although we do approve color additives used in them (except coal tar hair dyes)… FDA can take action against a cosmetic on the market if we have reliable information showing that it is adulterated or misbranded.

As I read this, I realized that it isn’t just makeup or skincare products that is not strictly checked. This applies to tattoo inks as they are categorized as cosmetics to the FDA too. The pattern becomes more apparent. ‘A report by Bioelements and Health Unit Italian Ministry for Health Roma categorized the heavy metals into different colorants and their health effects were reported to vary from mild irritations to harming of the brain.’

(click here to read more about the dangers of tattoo inks)

Products I use that I found to have ‘toxic’ or banned chemicals

Disclaimer: this section of the article is to show the products that I used that surprised me with it’s ingredient compounds. The performance and my “love” for the product has no relevance to this section.

Neutrogena Deep Clean Blackhead Eliminating Daily Scrub

This includes the colorant CI 73360 a.k.a Red 30 which is an Environmental Hazard.

Yves Saint Laurent TOP SECRETS Instant Moisture Glow

This includes the colorant CI 14700 a.k.a Red 4. This substance has been prohibited by the European Commission for use in cosmetic products.

FENTY BEAUTY Gloss Bomb Universal Lip Luminizer – Shimmering Rose Nude)

This includes the colorant CI 15850 a.k.a Red 6. This substance has been prohibited by the European Commission for use in cosmetic products.

Superdrug Vitamin E Skincare Gentle Micellar Solution

It says Bronopol – May release Formaldehyde under aqueous conditions, such as contacting with water or in humid conditions, which is quite an eye opener.

It also has Benzophenone-4. This compound is categorized in WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) 2018 – Group 2B

Honorable mentions of products that I like which are 1Source acceptable

Visible Ingredients SPRAY MASK

Overall Rating: 1

La Roche Posay Toleriane Ultra Night Soothing Repair Moisturizer

Overall rating: 3

Tony Moly Egg Pore Blackhead Steam Balm

Overall rating: 4

Vichy Mineral 89

Overall rating: 4


Comparing my consumer behavior now to before, it’s empowering to see how more aware I became with the products I use. Buying consumer goods is in my power even if I am to choose to buy a product with a chemical to look out for, I would at least know now.


 “Formaldehyde – 1Source – 1Source.com.” https://1source.com/ingredients/formaldehyde. Accessed 5 Mar. 2021.

“phenoxyethanol | Paula’s Choice.” https://www.paulaschoice.com/ingredient-dictionary/preservatives/phenoxyethanol.html. Accessed 5 Mar. 2021.

“Phenoxyethanol – 1Source.” https://1source.com/ingredients/phenoxyethanol. Accessed 5 Mar. 2021.

“US cosmetics are full of chemicals banned by Europe – why? | US ….” 22 May. 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/may/22/chemicals-in-cosmetics-us-restricted-eu. Accessed 5 Mar. 2021.

“Asbestos – 1Source – 1Source.com.” https://1source.com/ingredients/asbestos?lang=eng. Accessed 5 Mar. 2021.

“Cosmetics Q&A: Why are cosmetics not FDA-approved? | FDA.” 24 Aug. 2020, https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/resources-consumers-cosmetics/cosmetics-qa-why-are-cosmetics-not-fda-approved. Accessed 5 Mar. 2021.

 “Tattoo Taboo: Think before you Ink – 1Source.” https://1source.com/holistic/tattoo-inks-what-you-should-worry-about. Accessed 5 Mar. 2021.

Are Sugar Substitutes Better Than Sugar?

six teal icing cupcakes with sprinkles

Have you ever wondered how “sugar free” beverages or “diet” candies still taste sweet? Sugar substitutes such as artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols are replacing sugar and corn syrup across industries. You can’t have your cake, and eat it too, but trending sugar substitutes say otherwise. The demand for sugar substitutes are rising as science and mainstream healthy living sheds bad light on sugars. According to report by News Wire, the global zero calorie sweetener market was expected to grow at a CAGR of 4.40% from 2017 to 2021.

Table of contents:

Why is there a demand for sugar substitutions?

brown donuts on white tray

Weight gain: Eating too much sugar can cause a calorie surplus and lead to weight gain and obesity. This is detrimental to health as being overweight increases the risk of health problems such as cancers, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Tooth decay: Sugar is one of the main culprits of tooth decay.

Diabetes: Artificial sweeteners allow diabetic patients to indulge in sugary food without the risk of spiking their blood sugar levels.

The origins of artificial sweeteners

coned ice cream with blueberries and flowers

Origins: The first artificial sweetener is saccharine, which was discovered in 1879. Saccharine was discovered by Russian chemist Fahlberg during his work on substitution products of coal tar. After forgetting to wash his hands after a long day in the lab, chemist Fahlberg discovered the coal tar product on his hands, Saccharin, made his dinner bread very sweet.

The rise: Artificial sweeteners or non-nutrient sweeteners shot to fame during World War I & II when sugar production was falling. Saccharin was a cheaper alternative compared to sugar. Since then, several artificial sweeteners have been discovered and produced, and are found in more than 6000 food products across the globe.

Different types of sugar substitutes

Sweeteners impart a sweet taste, which is highly addictive to many. Traditional sweeteners refer to the many forms of the carbohydrate, sugar, which gives out 4 kilocalories (kcal) per gram when consumed. Sugar substitutes are sweeteners that are being used instead of regular sugar sucrose. Sugar substitutes include sugar alcohols, natural and artificial sweeteners which vary in calorific value.

Artificial sweeteners

Monster Punch can

Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes. However, they may not be as artificial as we think as some are derived from naturally occurring substances such as herbs or sugars. Widely used in processed foods, artificial sweeteners can be found in soft drinks, powdered drink mixes, confectionery, canned foods, jams and jellies and dairy products. Check out our article on why “low sugar” labels on beverages are lies.

There are two branches of sweeteners, nutritive and non nutritive sweeteners. Non- nutritive sweeteners are chemical additives that are sweeter than sugar, but contain 0 kilocalories. They are sweeter than sugars and a tiny amount of sweetener can provide enough sweetness in foods. 1 gram of aspartame of 4 kcal, can replace 200 grams of sucrose which is worth 800 kcal. Nutritive sweeteners contain less energy than sugars but are not kilojoule free.

Illustrated is general information on low calorie sweeteners:

General information on low-calorie sweeteners
Source: Centre of Food Safety

Weight control: Artificial sweeteners have “virtually no calories”, hence if you’re trying to prevent weight gain, products sweetened with artificial sweeteners may be an attractive option.

Blood sugar level: As artificial sweeteners are not carbohydrates, they generally do not break down into sugars and raise blood sugar levels. A 2018 study reviewing 29 research articles found that artificial sweeteners had no effect on blood sugars after consumption. Consult doctor or dietician before using any sugar substitutes for health reasons.

Health concerns: Artificial sweeteners, saccharine in particular has been tied to the occurrence of bladder cancer in laboratory rats in studies conducted in the 1970s, hence the label warnings that it “may be hazardous to your health”. However, the National Cancer Institute and other health agencies point out that there is no scientific evidence that artificial sweeteners approved for use in the United States cause cancer or other health problems. Coupled with studies that artificial sweeteners are generally safe in limited quantities in pregnant women, the warning label for saccharin was dropped and is permitted for food use in more than 100 countries to date.

chocolates with box on white surface

However, a 2020 study by a group of Yale researchers found that consuming artificial sweetener sucralose and a carbohydrate may disrupt body’s natural systems for regulating blood sugars although there is not enough evidence to conclude that artificial sweeteners cause diabetes.

What to look for: Artificial sweeteners are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as food additives, and have to go through a process of being reviewed and approved by the FDA, Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/ World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) for safety, with before hitting grocery stores. FDA declares a substance as “generally recognized as safe”(GRAS) after being met with either criteria:

  • “Substances has a history of common use in food and is considered generally safe”
  • “Qualified professionals deem the substance safe for its intended use on the basis on scientific data”

Sugar alcohols

woman in white crew neck shirt blowing bubble

Found in processed foods, chocolates, chewing gums and tooth paste, these carbohydrates occur naturally in certain fruits and vegetables, although they can also be manufactured. Although a natural substitute may seem healthier than sugar, its vitamin and mineral content isn’t significantly different. Sugar alcohols are hard to digest fully hence provide fewer calories compared to traditional sugars. Examples of sugar alcohols include xylitol (additive number 967), sorbitol (420), mannitol (421) and erythritol (968). When consumed in large amounts, sugar alcohols can have a potential laxative effect.

Weight control: Sugar alcohols range from 1.5-3kcal per gram and are less sweet than sugars, hence one puts on fewer calories than when consuming regular sugar, making them seem like an attractive alternative.

Blood sugar level: Although its calorific value is lower than traditional sugar, it is still a carbohydrate and therefore is capable of raising blood sugar levels. However, as the body doesn’t metabolize all the sugar alcohol, the effect on blood sugar level is lower compared to other sugars, but not non existent. Be sure to consult your doctor or dietician for guidance.

Natural sweeteners

honey jar with honey comb

These sugar substitutes are promoted as “healthier options” compared to the others, however, these “natural sweeteners” often undergo processing and refining before reaching supermarket shelves. Natural sweeteners are considered “added sugars”and are generally safe, but when broken down by your body into simple sugars (glucose, fructose) it is nutritionally similar to sugar. Although marketed as a healthier and au natural alternative, “they are basically just ‘sugar’ and have been extracted and sold in concentrated form.” according to a report online.

Consuming too much sugar can lead to health problems such as tooth decay, weight gain, poor nutrition and increased triglycerides.

Natural sweeteners approved by the FDA:

  • Fruit juices and nectars
  • Honey
  • Molasses
  • Maple syrup
  • Stevia
  • Monk fruit (luo han guo)

Moderation is key

vegetables and fruits display

Be it to lower the amount of calories consumed, to steer away from sugar, or to avoid a spike in blood sugar levels, sugar substitutes are appealing for a number of reasons. A 2019 review concluded that there is no strong evidence linking artificial sweeteners to any positive or negative outcome as there is not enough evidence available to draw a conclusion. When choosing sugar substitutes, remember that food marketed as sugar free isn’t necessary calorie free and can still cause weight gain. Furthermore, processed foods containing food substitutes don’t provide the health benefits as whole fruits and vegetables.

A two pronged approach is advised: to replace sugary foods and drinks with unsweetened substitutes and slowly cut down the amount of sugar consumed. The end goal is for the food trade to reduce the sweetness levels in products while the public “adapts gradually to lighter flavored food”, hence altering their dietary habits and pioneering a better approach to healthy living.


“Artificial sweeteners vs sugar (stevia, aspartame & more) | CHOICE.” 12 Jun. 2020, https://www.choice.com.au/food-and-drink/nutrition/sugar/articles/sweeteners. Accessed 17 Feb. 2021.

“Global Zero-Calorie Sweetener Market Trends and Analysis 2017 ….” 28 Mar. 2017, https://www.newswire.com/news/global-zero-calorie-sweetener-market-trends-and-analysis-2017-2021. Accessed 17 Feb. 2021.

 “Sugar: the facts – NHS.” https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-does-sugar-in-our-diet-affect-our-health/. Accessed 17 Feb. 2021.

“Association between intake of non-sugar sweeteners … – The BMJ |.” 2 Jan. 2019, https://www.bmj.com/content/364/bmj.k4718. Accessed 17 Feb. 2021.

 “Low-Calorie Sweeteners | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan ….” https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/artificial-sweeteners/. Accessed 17 Feb. 2021.

 “The truth about artificial sweeteners – Are they … – ScienceDirect.com.” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0019483218300142. Accessed 17 Feb. 2021

“Constantin Fahlberg – Discovery of Saccharin.” https://todayinsci.com/F/Fahlberg_Constantin/FahlbergConstantin-Saccharin.htm. Accessed 17 Feb. 2021.

 “Sweeteners in Food – Centre for Food Safety.” https://www.cfs.gov.hk/english/multimedia/multimedia_pub/multimedia_pub_fsf_08_02.html. Accessed 17 Feb. 2021.

 “Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes – Mayo Clinic.” https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/artificial-sweeteners/art-20046936. Accessed 17 Feb. 2021.