I recently went on a reconnaissance mission… I decided to go to my local beauty store to investigate some of the products available. As I walked into the store I felt at ease and at home, surrounded by familiar brands. I browsed the shelves for a half hour or so, picking up the bottles, reading them, putting them gently back. But as I read the ingredients lists I slowly realised – the quality of the skincare brands I had come to know and use over many years, was not as high as I originally thought it was.
After spending months researching products and ingredients for our Luxe Botanics skincare range, coupled with 20+ years of experience with various skincare products and my scientific post graduate training, I believe I have a broad understanding of the ingredients used in skincare. And what truly upsets me is that a wonderful formulation can be utterly ruined by the inclusion of even just one undesirable ingredient.
Here’s a list of ingredients to avoid. I know its long, but I encourage you to read it all, take it in, digest it, and then go rummaging through your bathroom cabinets…
Parabens are usually used as preservatives in cosmetics and beauty products. They are things like: methylparaben; propylparaben; benzylparaben and butylparaben. Just look for anything in your skincare that ends with the word –paraben. Parabens are so ubiquitous in our beauty, skincare, haircare, body care, cosmetics, deodorants, toothpastes, and even in our food and drinks that in a recent study by the Environmental Working Group; all 28 participants tested positive for methylparaben and propylparaben. [i] Parabens have been blamed for allergies and skin sensitivity and they also act on the estrogen pathways potentially having effects on the reproductive system. [ii]
These are one of the most toxic and can be found in so many things in your bathroom and around your home that it may surprise you: beauty products such as nail varnish, hair spray, most things with a synthetic fragrance (many beauty products); cleaning and kitchen products with a synthetic fragrance; air fresheners; and plastics around the home such as kitchen bowls, food wraps, children’s toys, and most vinyl. They are used to soften plastic and also help beauty formulations to moisturise and be absorbed into the skin. Phthalates are regulated as pollutants but only some are banned by some states of the USA and the European Union. [iii] Phthalates have been shown to affect the reproductive system in both men and women, and have also been linked to allergies and asthma. [iv] Look out for: dibutyl phthalate, also called DBP; diethyl phthalates, also called DEP; and butyl ester. Phthalates have made headlines in recent years, leading to LÓreal discontinuing its use in products sold in the European Union.[v]
Cosmetic fragrances/ parfum
Cosmetic fragrances are a synthetic blend of compounds to make something smell like something natural. However, in many cases there are phthalates and/or other undesirable synthetic ingredients included in this fragrance mix.[vi] Often these are associated with dermatitis, allergies, and respiratory distress. [vii] Most regulatory agencies allow cosmetic and beauty companies to simply state “fragrance” or “parfum” on their ingredients list when such a synthetic mix is use, often because this is considered a proprietary or confidential formulation.[viii] [ix] [x] [xi]
Most of the time you will see this referred to on labels as SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate), SLES (Sodium Laureth Sulfate) or ALS (ammonium lauryl sulfate). Sulphates are responsible for that foam you get in your facewash, body wash, shampoo, bubble bath, hand wash, and many other things around the house. [xii] It’s been known to irritate the skin and eyes – so next time you get shampoo in your eyes and it hurts, read the ingredients list. There are also concerns around organ toxicity. [xiii] Some companies claim SLS is natural as it comes from coconuts, and this part is true, but the potential side effects on your skin and overall health prove that even something natural can be harmful if manufactured incorrectly. [xiv]
Commonly found in detergents, antibacterial soaps, toothpastes, face wash and deodorant, triclosan has been linked to liver and inhalation toxicity, and it may also disrupt thyroid function. Look out for things like “keeps [you/ food] fresh for longer” or “odour fighting/ eliminating”.[xv] The American Medical Association has recommended against using triclosan as it may lead to antibiotic resistance. [xvi] In 2013 the FDA released a statement requiring manufacturers of antibacterial products to prove that they were safe and more effective than plain soap and water in an effort to protect consumers from unsafe products. [xvii] The industry has been slow to respond, however some companies like Avon have begun to phase triclosan out of their products.[xviii]
DEA (diethanolamine) is commonly used to help our beauty products feel creamy – so is generally found in moisturisers and sunscreens. Similar compounds such as cocomide DEA (from coconut oil) and lauramide DEA (from lauric acid) are found in cleansers and shampoos. It has been blamed for skin and eye irritations and allergies, and high doses have been implicated in certain cancers.[xix] Other common DEAs to look out for are linoleamide DEA (from linoleic acid) and Oleamide DEA (from oleic acid).[xx]
If you remember your biology dissection classes you will know what this is and what it does to living tissue. Formaldehyde is another common preservative and antiseptic – but often under a different name. This is because there are many ingredients that, once absorbed, release the formaldehyde compound slowly over time. Good examples are: Bronopol, DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidzaolidinyl urea, quarternium-15 and hydroxymethylglycinate. [xxi] It is a known human carcinogen that has a suggested link to certain cancers.[xxii]
These are perhaps the most ubiquitous and yet unknown of all the undesirable ingredients in our homes. It’s quite hard to fathom just how many ingredients come from a petrochemical base. Petrochemicals in your products often breakdown into a chemical called 1,4-dioxane, which has toxic effects on the kidneys, neurologic system, and the respiratory system.[xxiii] One study from the Environmental Working Group suggested this compound could be found in 22% of cosmetic products. [xxiv] Look out for: Oxybenzone, phenoxyethanol, benzene, toluene, paraffin wax, mineral oil, polyethylene glycol (PEG), butyl- anything (butylparaben, butylene glycol, butyl alcohol), ethanol and ethyl- anything (ethyl alcohol, ethylene glycol, EDTA), propyl- anything (propylene glycol, propylene glycol, propyl alcohol), and methyl- anything (methyl alcohol, methylparaben, methylcellulose).[xxv]
To all you ladies out there trying to achieve an even skin tone and perhaps a lighter complexion – look out for hydroquinone in your products! This is literally bleach. It’s also found in hair dyes and fragrances.[xxvi] It’s been shown to have very strong links to organ toxicity, cancers and alters immune function.[xxvii] Other names include anything benzene or benzediol or hydroxyphenol.
I hope that this list makes it easy to understand what to look for in your favourite products. Note that it is by no means an exhaustive list but I’ve tried to include the most common ones. However, I also urge you to weight the risks and benefits of each and to decide for yourself if you wish to continue using products that contain some of these ingredients. The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database is a great place to start your research. Here’s a simplified version of their information which you may find easier to absorb: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/top-tips-for-safer-products/
As always, research for yourself and make your own decisions for you and your family.
The Luxe Botanics Team
All references are below for you if you want to (or can stomach!) to read more: