Prawns, Coconut and Problem Skins …

Two of my favourite food ingredients have been in my thoughts a bit lately — but not in a culinary capacity!

First came a request from one of our readers:

I cannot have any coconut ingredients in any body products and food products. Every shower wash and shampoo/conditioner and body lotion has coconut in and it’s getting very frustrating …

Our poor reader is not wrong. Coconut derived ingredients turn up in a vast range of products, both ‘free from’ and high street. The ingredients themselves often have ‘coco’ in their name, and include or may include capryl glycol, cetearyl glucoside, cocomidopropyl betaine, glyceryl cocoate, sodium coco-sulphate and many others. It’s hardly surprising that ‘free from’ skincare manufacturers are so keen: coconut is an excellent ingredient in its own right, with very low allergenicity, and its many derivatives have many useful skincare properties.

We asked around. There were suggestions to use coconut-free soaps based on other oils, and moisturising and cleansing oils — neither of which are hard to come by — but sadly this wasn’t what our reader was looking for …

Coconut Prawn Curry: Do not apply to skin!

Coconut Prawn Curry: Do not apply to skin!

All we could come up with on first examination was Neal’s Yard Remedies Calendula and Oat Body Lotion — which looks to be a beautiful product — albeit a little on the pricey side. It’s not easy to confirm coconut-free status from a mere inspection of ingredients, as many of those which appear can be coconut-derived, or derived from other botanicals.

Happily, our reader came across a brand we’d not heard of — called Mistry’s — whose head offices, coincidentally, are just a few minutes’ walk from our offices in Hampstead. They seem to have a number of coconut-free products, including — assuming the given ingredients list is complete — this shampoo, which also appears to be wheat-free.

And from one highly unreactive ingredient to a considerably reactive one, with this news from the Daily Mail recently that a molecule from the shells of prawns could be used to derive an ingredient to replace the petrochemically-derived polymers used in some conventional shampoos and cosmetics (as thickeners and preservatives). The natural polymer comes from a substance called chitin in the prawn shells.

Sounds interesting, but, as ever, there are consequences, both actual and potential. Their use would exclude vegans and vegetarians — many of whom would be strong supporters of more environmentally friendly ingrdients — and they would not be Kosher. From an allergy perspective, those allergic to crustaceans would naturally be nervous — would there be a risk, or would the materials be purified and free from allergenic proteins?

These cases seem to me to be a useful reminder that there are pros and cons to all ingredients used in skincare — and what might be a boon to one consumer, might introduce problems for another. No ingredient is safe for absolutely everyone; no ingredient  is a cosmetic Kryptonite for all. Even the move towards restricting or banning methylisothiazolinone (MI) — which we have reported on in the past — will probably negatively effect some — by introducing alternative preservatives, which no doubt some consumers will react to.

Meanwhile, all this talk of these two ingredients has rather put me in mind of a nice prawn curry ….

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