Its not often that I fail to really come down one way or another after I've reviewed a product. But Dr Spiller Biocosmetic Hydro-Marin Cleansing Foam ($59) has me perched uncomfortably on the fence.

The philosophy behind Dr Spiller, a German company, is to create an amalgam of ingredients that mimic the biological functions of young skin. Hydro-Marin Cleansing Foam is basically a formulation of marine and plant extracts that are within a clear liquid in the bottle, but miraculously become a creamy foam when pumped on to the hand.

The marine element in this facial wash is provided by laminaria digitata extract. This is an alga that has been demonstrated to boost cell energy (for this reason, it often shows up in cellulite creams) and have a positive impact on tired and dull skin.

There are also a couple of noteworthy plant extracts. Juniperus virginiana oil is cederwood oil and it is an astringent that can be helpful for skin that is excessively oil. It is used in folk medicine to soothe skin disorders although, in high concentrations, it can irritate the skin. Pogostemon cablin oil is patchouli and you'd be forgiven for dismissing this a cloying perfume favored by hippies. Turns out that it stimulates the growth of new skin cells and is great against acne.

So what is it that has me unwilling to to take a strong stance on Dr Spiller's cleanser. While I can't work myself up into a lather of indignation, there are some ingredients that raise enough questions to prevent me from recommending it to you.

The first thing that raised my eyebrows was CI 42090. This is blue coloring agent. If you do a Google search on it, the first thing you come across is some alarming references to it being a known carginogen that is banned in Germany. What! Could Dr Spiller be fobbing things off on unsuspecting and poorly regulated Americans while they are not even permitted in the fatherland? If CI 42090 was ever banned in Germany and other EU countries, it certainly seems to be permitted now. According to the Encyclopedia of Clinical Toxicology, CI 42090 is considered carcinogenic "by some" and it cites a test on rats. The only other tests I found date back to the 1960s.

Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate is very gentle and causes low irritation to skin and eyes. However, many sources claim that MES is carcinogenic because it contains surfactants, which can be contaminated with nitrosamines. It is true that MES is used in car washes, engine degreasers, and other products used on an industrial level, but is generally considered gentle when used in low concentrations such as in health care products. Propylene Glycol is another ingredient that is safe at low concentrations, even if injested orally. Ocular contact can result in irritation, but anything more severe (vomiting and even coma) - although documented are dependent on large doses (source). However, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says propylene glycol is less toxic than ethylene glycol, but toxic it most certainly is.

This cleanser's foam is produced by sodium lauryl sulfoacetate. This is much gentler than lauryl sulfate. But it has been shown to be a mild irritant of skin and eyes. The real problem is posed for fish. If enough of it gets into their environment, tests on fresh water algae have shown that it is very toxic.

When I used this cleanser, I found that it did a good job of cleaning and tightening pores. It didn't leave behind any residue when I did the toner/cotton pad test. I must admit that it left my skin feeling a bit tight and dry. In the end, I'd have to say I didn't love it. And fish probably hate it. All in all, a wash.

Ingredients in Dr Spiller Hydro-Marin Cleansing Foam

Water, alcohol denat, propylene glycol, disodium laureth sulfosuccinate, pentylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfoacetate, cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium cocoyl glutamate, sodium lauroyl sarcosinate, laminaria digitata extract, juniperus virginiana oil, pogostemon cablin oil, coriander seed oil, mandarin oil, lemon oil, grapefruit oil, orange flower oil, bergamot oil, lavander oil, polysorbate 20, lactic acid, sodium chloride, sea salt, limonene, linalool, CI 42090.