Have you ever found yourself scratching your head when you come here and you see independent lab results paid for by our community that are very different than what brands are disclosing publicly or via email? Well, there are several reasons why that may happen. Over the years, Mamavation has discovered several sneaky lab tricks some brands use to gaslight our studies. You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like best water filters for PFAS “forever chemical” filtering, safest salts sans lead, and safest period underwear, now join us for some of the sneaky tricks we’ve learned along the way that are used to confuse consumers and sell you more products, and yet they are completely legal.
Disclosure: This post was medically reviewed by Sondra Strand, RN, BSN, PHN. This post was also scientifically reviewed by Terrence Collins, Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry & Director of the Institute for Green Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University.
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How Mamavation Makes Money & Funds Studies
Since we started operating our own consumer studies in 2020, we’ve created quite a stir among brands. They simply don’t like that we are testing their products without their permission at an EPA-Certified laboratory and handing you real independent raw data. This hasn’t really been done before (except for non-profits that rely on donations.) This is information brands don’t have control over because we make our money from mostly ad revenue and affiliate sales from this site, not donations. After we do our testing, we select which brands will be in our “better” and “best” category based on the results we have found. Then we link up those brands with an affiliate link and that’s how we make our money back. Thus we are not beholden to anyone because YOU pay our salary when you purchase from our site or drop by to and are bombarded with ads (the price you pay for free info). Most of the distinguished scientists who review our work before you see it do so on a pro bono basis because they want to contribute personally to our mission of helping you to purchase ever safer products to protect the health of your family.
Your purchases on our affiliate links fuels our ability to do more testing. As you benefit from the information and purchase from our reports, we are given more resources to do more types of testing on even more products. We do take donations through Environmental Health News, but it’s less than 10% of our overall testing budget. That’s how it works here.
Over the years, as we have done “spotcheck” consumer studies by testing 1-2 products in a line, many brands have been caught with their pants down (so to speak) and gaslight our findings in public. The truth is most of our audience sees right through this. They know when there is a discrepancy with our independent testing vs. their “bought and paid for” testing, some funny business may be going on. As the years have gone by, we have discovered several of their dirty little tricks and we’d like to share with you. You need to know these tricks so you can become more educated about testing tricks and ask them more intelligent questions. Here’s some of the tricks we have come across since 2020.
There is No Such Thing as “Independent 3rd Party” Labs When Brands Pay For Their Labs
The most important thing to understand is when brands pay for “3rd party independent labs,” these laboratories work for the brand. They cannot discuss methods or outcomes of testing in order to protect the client. That is pretty standard. So you’ll never get laboratories to fess up to which clients operate these types of tricks. Why is this important to understand? Because when you are purchasing testing from a laboratory, you can also determine the conditions of that testing which can greatly impact the outcome. Most of what we will go over in this post are examples of how that happens. This will help you understand how they can be tricking you and what to do when you see some of these tricks.
Raising the Detection Limit to Get a Non-Detect — Game of Limbo
We have seen several types of “non-detect” lab reports that are used to refute our studies. We’ve noticed many times their detection limit is higher than our detection limit. What does that mean? In terms of testing organic fluorine as an indication of PFAS “forever chemicals” in products, it’s all about “how low can you go” just like a game of Limbo.
Mamavation is holding that pole at a 10 parts per million (ppm) detection limit because that’s as low as they can go for that testing method. That’s the equivalent of us holding that pole at about waist length. Anything above 10 ppm is detectable for our lab, and thus our lab would be able to discover anything above 10 ppm. A brand would have to get under a limbo stick at waist length, to pass our tests.
Now if a brand wanted to make this game easier for them to play, they would simply raise that limbo stick to about armpit length and go under it. They do that by raising the detection limit of the lab. All this means is it instructs the lab that anything below this amount (say 25 ppm or 50 ppm) would come back as a “non-detect.” Thus there is a way to produce “non-detect” reporting even if you have issues above 10 ppm. Brands can use these labs to “prove” Mamavation’s testing is false, but is it really? Unfortunately, most people are not aware of this little trick so they don’t know to look at the detection limit of the labs they are given. Other blogger sites may also accept this information without questioning and they might have a financial interest in doing so. So we encourage you to go look and see if their report shows a detection limit above 10 ppm. If you find a higher detection limit…well, you decide who is more trustworthy.
Is this legal? Yes, because brands determine the testing environment and that testing environment can be chosen to put them in the best possible light. Is this kinda shady? Yes. I don’t need to tell you why. You already know that answer.
Operating Different Types of Testing that Omits Certain Types of PFAS
You remember those three monkeys: one covering his eyes, one covering his ears, and another one covering his mouth? It represents see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. It’s the idea that you have the ability to take in what you want to take in OR do you want to be ignorant? Do you want to see something? Then open your eyes. Do you want to hear something? Then open your ears. Do you want to say something? Then open your mouth. But if those things are closed off, your reality may not reflect what is really there.
This is also true of testing. You can manipulate data based on what type of testing methods you are operating. There is one testing method that will give most brands a “non-detect” because they do not look for the most common type of PFAS — Polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE (aka Teflon). Mamavation’s testing is called “total organic fluorine” (TOF) testing because we are looking at all fluorine, including all fluorine bonded to carbon which is why fluorine turns up in Teflon. But other more expensive testing can be used that may sound great, but in reality, it completely ignores PTFE (aka Teflon) in products. Why? PTFE is a polymer that is a plastic and some of the other types of testing available do not extract polymers such as PTFE and, therefore, would not be detected even if it was present. This other type of testing is referred to “Extractable Organic Fluorine” (EOF) or “Absorbable Organic Fluorine” (AOF) testing. Sometimes this is also referred to “organic fluorine” testing on reporting instead but it’s actually EOF or AOF testing that doesn’t detect fluorine contributions from PTFE in the results.
This type of testing is common in the green beauty realm and all OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certified brands where they have BIG problems with PTFE in manufacturing. Why? PTFE is used in lots of places in manufacturing from plastics to fiberglass to lubricants or slip agents to coating stainless steel drums. It’s basically everywhere and a manufacturing plant has to decide to intentionally avoid it to produce a product without it. To these manufacturers it seems, having PTFE in a product is not deemed to be “intentionally added” so they can take a pass on acknowledging its presence in their products. “It’s not our fault!” is what you’ll hear quite a bit behind the scenes. Look for those words “intentionally added” PFAS because chances are if they are saying that, they are not monitoring all the ways PTFE can get into products on their journey to your family. And they may be operating different types of testing methods that would give them a non-detect even if they are full of PTFE polymer chains.
Passing Off Minority Labs with Non-Detects As If They Are Representative
Brands and labs are not telling you how many times they had to test for something to get a result that made them look good. But that happens all the time. You can test something a thousand times, and if you get ONE lab that says “non-detect” for whatever you are testing for, that’s what will be used in public to “prove” things to consumers. Unfortunately, consumers don’t know about this little trick either. Yes, you have a non-detect lab, but how many times did you have to test to get that lab? You’ll never know…especially if those labs took a long time to come to fruition.
This is also very common in green beauty when testing for organic fluorine or heavy metals. For instance, If you have a tray that was used to create eye shadow, you can test many parts of that tray to get the best results. Because heavy metals and PFAS chemicals tend to pool in one area together, they may be absent in other areas of that tray. So if you find the area they are not and send that part of the product to the lab and get a “non-detect” you are in the clear! Then that’s what will be used to hand over to consumers to “prove” they are low in heavy metals or PFAS.
This can also be done with organic fluorine and manufacturing aides. Things like lubricants will be present in products when they first are applied to the machines or get into the air, but later would not be detectable above 10 ppm because the overall exposure lessens the more product you produce. If you create another run and take samples from the end of the run and send that to the lab instead, does that really mean your products are PFAS free? You decide.
Quietly Reformulating Then Testing to Save Face — Did You Notice a Disruption in Product?
There have also been many instances where a brand takes 6-10 weeks to test for organic fluorine or whatever other contaminant they are trying to defend themselves from. The truth is you can rush labs within days. I’ve done it in two days before. It doesn’t actually take 6-10 weeks to get your results back. Especially, if you want those results quickly (because you are losing market share and need them quickly) and are willing to pay double to get them. All labs have the ability to rush product testing. Our lab typically only takes 5-10 business days to get us something without a “rush” involved. Rushing can make things happen in a matter of days. Has this brand taken many weeks to provide you with testing? Hmm…I wonder why it’s taking so long?
Then all of a sudden, did you notice a disruption in product? Have you had to wait WEEKS to get something? Have they told you there is a manufacturing issue of some kind? It’s very possible they have looked into our issue, found it, and are working quickly to fix the problem. Perhaps they changed manufacturers or forced their manufacturer to discontinue certain slip agents that were used. Maybe they swapped out materials or ingredients. Or because they do not want to be sued in a class action, maybe they have stalled production of their product to ensure that it’s not available for people to purchase and test anymore. Or maybe the disruption is about the new manufacturing process they are starting.
Then perhaps, as soon as they get their “non-detect” using whatever laboratory means they needed to, they use that to insist they were “non-detect” this entire time. Then they say “Mamavation is the problem, not us!” But are we really the problem? Or is it possible we have made their consumers safer by forcing their brand to produce a safer product behind the scenes? Take a look at any type of “disruption” in production, use your common sense, and you decide what you think is going on.
Dilution & Testing Powder Residue Without Blending
Diluting a product is another sneaky way brands can get something to test non-detect or lower than Mamavation’s findings. This is especially true if this product is in powder form like a collagen, electrolyte, protein powder, powdered tea, or baby formula. How does this trick work? The lab is instructed to put the powder into water and allow that powder to settle to the bottom. They are told NOT to sir the product in the water in order to make sure most of it is only present at the bottom. Then they are told to take a little bit of water from the top and test that water for contaminants.
Obviously when this type of dilution happens, it’s not really representative of what a consumer would be exposed to. It’s only a tiny bit of the powder at the top with a lot of water instead. Mamavation never dilutes products and always insists on testing powders directly without them being added to any water. But a brand can dilute their product without blending and pass that off as a “non-detect.” And yes, this does happen with products that are in powder form.
Is this legal? Yes, but I promise you that any consumer would not appreciate this testing because it’s not representative of what they are being exposed to. However, it does happen.
Sending Virgin Products to the Lab that Don’t Have Similar Exposures
There have been some instances where brands have discovered that their contamination is not from the product itself, but from other things in the environment they have control over. In those instances, they simply remove those exposures and send virgin products to the lab so they can report back a non-detect. Here’s some examples of what these exposures may look like that can be removed for testing purposes:
- Exposure to PFAS can be from packaging, so the brand can send the product without that specific packaging to the lab to get a non-detect.
- Exposure to PFAS or heavy metals can be from shipping, so the brand can simply use different shipping components to send their virgin products to the lab to get a non-detect.
- Exposure to PFAS can be from things like fluorinated plastic storage, so the brand can simply skip the overnight storage and send a virgin product directly to the lab to get a non-detect.
Does taking any of these steps to mask the contamination make customers any safer? No. There are many conditions like this that brands may discover when they start looking into their contamination issues, but if they only fix these issues simply for a test, it’s doesn’t count. We would argue that if their customers are being exposed to these things, it’s the brand’s responsibility to clean them up regardless of where they are coming from. Customers would be exposed to the contaminants regardless and we believe that counts!
Tricky Conversions & Reality
Sometimes our lab results are not very different from what a brand puts online but it may seem different because they have done conversions to make things look smaller than they really are.
Let’s say we are testing for lead, arsenic, cadmium, or mercury and put those values in public. We always report those values in the parts per billion (ppb). A brand may have very similar results but instead of reporting them in the ppb, they are reporting them in the parts per million (ppm). Here’s the conversion you need to do to help it make sense for you.
- 1 ppm = 1000 ppb
If they give you results in the ppm, move that decimal over 3 spots to the right and there you have your answer in ppb. We’ve also seen brands mess with the serving sizes in order to report different findings, or they’ve converted things to milligrams or milliliters just to confuse consumers and force them to utilize their memory of high school chemistry to figure it out.
I think what is most shocking for people is they have never seen raw data side by side with other brands. So a brand that may brag about “having the most mineral content” may be omitting they also have the most lead, aluminum, arsenic, & cadmium as well. They didn’t lie to you. They just didn’t tell you that because that’s not part of their marketing strategy and focusing on that doesn’t make them look good or make you want to purchase their product. But it’s Mamavation’s job to compare these things side by side so that you can make educated decisions for your family based on real life comparisons of brands. It’s no longer about their marketing. When you come here you gain increased powers to see things more clearly. We prevent them from manipulating you.
Final Words From Mamavation
The most important thing I’m going to remind you of here is that Mamavation works for YOU. We spend tens of thousands of dollars every year testing products so we can give you actionable information to help you keep your family safe.
As for me personally, I do this because I’ve had so many of my relatives, including my own father, die from cancer way before their time. I also have an autoimmune condition and have children with Autism and food allergies. Toxins have greatly impacted my life in ways that many people understand and can identify with. And thus, I’ve dedicated my life to making other families safer and helping you protect your family blood line out into the future. That’s it. That’s why I do this.
This means I often get berated for you. I’m standing up to powerful people all the time in ways that challenge them to spend money to take your family’s health more seriously. They send their loyal fan base or influencers with a financial interest to my social media accounts and website to vilify and attempt to disrupt our work. It’s safe to say that almost every investigation irritates someone. But do I care? Bring it on! I derive endless satisfaction and even pleasure from knowing I am helping so many people by challenging brands to care better for our families…and I will continue to do so as long as I’m supported by this community.
If you would like to support our work, all you need to do is shop our links and visit our site. That’s it. You can also encourage your friends and family to shop with us as well. Most of the links on this site are affiliate and those proceeds go directly towards making your family safer through supporting investigations, running of the business, and paying laboratories for the testing of products. If you would like to give a tax-deductible donation, you can through Environmental Health News here.
Thank you again for your support! XXOO