The skin is your largest organ!
Did you know that up to 60% of what we put on our skin gets absorbed into our body? This means that the products we use to wash, moisturise, protect and beautify ourselves can affect our overall wellbeing, whether that be negative or positive.
Many of the ingredients found in our cleansers, lotions, sunscreens, oils and makeup etc. have been linked to many health issues, including allergies, eczema, cancer, hormonal disruption and reproductive issues. It is safer and better for you to opt for natural, toxin-free products to promote a healthy outside and inside!
You can begin by staying away from products that contain particularly nasty ingredients. Here's a little list of the most common, not-so-great ingredients you'd want to avoid using every day (or at all!)
1. Parabens (including Propyl, Methyl, Ethyl and Butyl).
Parabens are found in hair care, body washes, cleansers, deodorants and makeup and are used to extend the shelf life of products. Parabens are potential endocrine disruptors, meaning that they mess with your endocrine and hormonal system.
You can look out for parabens on the ingredients lists of your products as: mathylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparabenheptylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, benzylparaben and their sodium salts.
2. Formaldehyde and formaldehyde donors.
This is a preservative that can irritate the skin, eyes, nose and respiratory tract. Formaldehyde is known carcinogen, skin irritant, allergen and a potential cause or dermatitis, headaches and fatigue (2). You may find formaldehyde in haircare, body washes, nail polish and cleansers.
Look out for formaldehyde listed on product labels under other names, such as: formalin, formic aldehyde, methanediol, methanol, methyl aldehyde, methylene glycol and methylene oxide.
Some chemicals can react to release (or ‘donate’) formaldehyde, including quaternium-15, diazolidinyl urea, 1,3-dimethylol-5,5-dimethylhydantoin (or DMDM hydatonin), benzihemiformal, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate and imidazolidinyl urea.
Phthalates are used as solvents and/or plasticisers. They are often found in products such as food wraps and containers, as well as fragrances, hair care, skin lotions and nail products. Phthalates have been linked to early puberty and endometriosis in girls and women, and reproductive organ abnormalities and reduced fertility in boys and men. They may also have negative effects on the thyroid and are linked to obesity (3 & 4).
Have a look at your product labels to see if they contain phthalates, which may be under: DBP (dibutyl phthalate), DEHP (di 2-ethylhexl phthalate), DiDP (diisodecyl phthalate), DnHP (di-n-hexyl phthalate), DNOP (di-n-octyl phthalate), DiNP (diisononyl phthalate), DEP (diethyl phthalate), BBzP (benzyl butyl phthalate), DMP (dimethyl phthalate), DnOP (di-n-octylphthalate), Bisphenol A (BPA) is another plasticizer, commonly found in plastic bottles.
4. Propylene Glycol (PG)
This is a petroleum by-product used in skin care to preserve and retain moisture. It is used in it’s purest form in brake fluids and paints, but is also found in other forms in shampoo, skincare and makeup. The Material Safety and Data sheet on propylene glycol refers to this chemical as a strong skin irritant, linked to contact dermatitis (1).
You may find PG in your products under 1,2-dihydroxypropane, 1,2-propanediol, methyl glycol, or trimethyl glycol.
5. Mineral Oil
Another skin-softening petroleum by-product, this ingredient coats the skin like plastic, clogging its pores. It may be harmful as it interferes with the skin’s ability to eliminate toxins and may promote buildup of these. Build up of mineral oils from cosmetic use has even been found in breast milk (5). It is used in most body and facial moisturisers.
Look out for mineral oils in moisturisers under other names such as Liquid Petroleum, Paraffin Oil, Mineral Paraffins and White Mineral Oil.
6. Sodium Lauryl Sulphate/Sodium Laureth Sulphate
Unwinding at the end of the day with a big bubble bath full of SLS’s? SLS’s are emulsifiers and foaming agents that are commonly found in industrial cleaners and cosmetic products. You will likely find them in soaps, shampoos, toothpastes and laundry detergents. These ingredients have been found to be irritating to both the eyes and skin, and whilst they are considered safe at concentrations of under 1%, long term effects of daily exposure are unknown (7). Many find it better to just avoid these by using alternative products.
SLS may also be listed under monododecyl ester, sodium salt, sodium salt sulfuric acid, sulfuric acid, sodium dodecyl sulfate, aquarex me or aquarex methyl. Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) is slightly less irritating that SLS, but is considered very similar.
7. Synthetic Fragrances
Who doesn’t love to smell good? Synthetic fragrances are in our perfumes, air fresheners, candles, laundry liquid and household cleaners. These fragrances are a mixture of various chemicals that produce a desired scent. These lovely scents can have not-so-lovely effects on humans, including headaches, breathing difficulties, asthma, rashes and more (8). So, try to find products with naturally derived fragrances, or better yet, none at all!
8. Synthetic colours
These are chemical additives that change the shade of products like soap, lotion, gels, creams, shampoos and more. Synthetic colours are made by using components such as coal tar, petroleum or heavy metals salts (such as lead). When applied to our skin, artificial colours can increase the risk of blocked pores, irritation, sensitivity and breakouts (6). Some are more harmful than others.
Pay attention to labels, and try to avoid synthetic colours by looking out for letters like FD&C or D&C, followed by a colour, e.g. FD&C Blue No.2 or D&C Green 3.
Where do I start??
Obviously, it can be stressful finding completely natural and toxin-free products. At first, you may find that your entire skincare and beauty routine is full of the harmful chemicals listed above.
Luckily, there are a bunch of handy online websites and apps that can help you to find natural, toxin free beauty, hair and skincare products.
Try the Think Dirty App which allows you to look up products and their ingredients easily, providing you with a rating on it’s ‘Cleanness’.
EWG’s Skin Deep is an online website database that works similarly to the Think Dirty App, allowing you to look up your favourite brand’s products to see what they’re really made of.
- Concin, N., Hofstetter, G., Plattner, B., Tomovski, C., Fiselier, K., Gerritzen, K., ... & Rieger, K. (2011). Evidence for cosmetics as a source of mineral oil contamination in women. Journal of Women's Health, 20(11), 1713-1719; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21970597