You know what makes me really angry? A wander down the supermarket cosmetics and skincare aisle (wasteful plastic packaging aside for a minute). Just picking up a product and flipping it over to see the list of 20 different unpronouncable chemical names makes me feel sick. You shouldn't need a chemistry degree to understand what is in your skincare, and products hide some pretty ugly toxic ingredients behind those names. Not to mention the blatant green-washing "now with Jojoba oil", (that's 0.5% Jojoba Oil in an otherwise synthetic chemical cocktail).
In the not too distant past, we used to be sold skincare which contained ammonia, arsenic and lead. It seems absurd to us now! Though, it doesn’t take much digging to uncover the list of thousands of toxic synthetic chemicals still going into our everyday skincare, many of which are known carcinogens. Our skin absorbs around 60% of what we put on it, so I wonder to myself, how is this even legal?
Consider just some of the items we use everyday which are leeching hundreds of toxic chemicals into our bodies - Cosmetics , Moisturisers, Deodorants, Shampoos, Nail Polish, Toothpaste, Insect Repellents, Chest Rubs – the list is huge! According to one UK based study, the average woman puts 515 synthetic chemicals on her body daily. Many of which are linked to fertility issues, respiratory disorders, hormone disruption and cancer to name a few.
I am on a mission to help people become aware of the toxic ingredients in their cosmetics and body care products and make better choices. I have compiled is a list of some of the worst offenders to avoid and their side-effects. And keep reading for natural alternatives you can use instead.
Worst Toxic Skincare Ingredients to Avoid
Parabens – Cosmetic preservatives.
Parabens easily penetrate the skin, and act as hormone disruptors in both females and males. Parabens mimic estrogen, the female sex hormone, and have been found in breast cancer tissue. Methylparaben applied on the skin reacts with UVB leading to increased skin aging and DNA damage. Watch out for any ingredient ending in paraben for example, Methylparaben or Propylparaben.
Sodium laureth sulphate (SLS/SLES) – Foaming agent.
Commonly found in shampoo, handwash and bubble bath. A skin and eye irritant which may be contaminated with ethylene oxide, a known human carcinogen and 1,4-dioxane which may be carcinogenic. Ethylene Oxide can also harm the nervous system. 1,4-dioxane is an environmental pollutant, that doesn’t degrade easily and can remain in waterways long after it is rinsed down the drain.
Triclosan – Preservative and anti-bacterial agent.
Found in toothpaste, deodorants and anti-bacterial products. Triclosan can pass through the skin, and is a known hormone disruptor. It is a skin and eye irritant, and is highly toxic to aquatic life, having long-term adverse consequences to the environment.
Dibutyl phthalate – Solvent and plasticiser.
A hormone disruptor absorbed through the skin, commonly used in nail polishes and dyes. It has been shown to enhance the capacity of other chemicals to cause genetic mutations, and specifically, causing developmental defects in the testes and prostate leading to reduced sperm count. Phthalates are toxic to unborn babies, and may cause health effects such as liver and kidney failure in young children when products containing phthalates are sucked or chewed for extended periods.
DEA (Also MEA & TEA) – Foaming agent & pH adjuster.
Found in soaps, moisturisers, sunscreens, shampoos and cleansers as a foaming or cream making agent. Exposure to high doses have been linked to liver cancer, and pre-cancerous changes to the skin and thyroid gland. It is an environmental toxin and acutely toxic to aquatic organisms.
Formaldehyde – Cosmetic preservative.
Used in nail polish, dyes and shampoos. An irritant to eyes, nose and throat which is toxic when inhaled and absorbed through the skin. It is classified as a human carcinogen.
Mineral Oil & Petrolatum – A skin barrier.
A by-product of petroleum production often used in lip balms, baby products & moisturisers. Clogs skin pores and prevents toxins from being released. Can also be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which are carcinogenic. Studies show that long-term skin exposure is associated with cancer.
Talc – Absorbs moisture.
Found in baby products, powders, blush and deodorants. Some talc naturally contains asbestos which is linked to lung cancer. Talc has also been linked to ovarian cancer and respiratory problems.
Fragrance/Parfum – Scent.
The name given to a host of over 3,000 chemicals including parabens and toluene. Manufacturers are not required to list the chemicals classified as Fragrances, as they are considered a trade secret. Mnay of these chemicals are known to trigger asthma, migraines, dizziness and allergies. Fragrance has been shown to trigger an asthma attack in 3 out of 4 asthmatics. Some research has shown that exposure to Fragrance may even contribute to the development of asthma in children.
BHA & BHT – Synthetic antioxidants.
Make-up and cosmetic preservatives known to be endocrine disruptors and may be carcinogenic. Lab studies have shown it causes liver, thyroid and kidney problems and affecting lung function and blood coagulation in mice. It is an environmental pollutant and toxic to aquatic life.
Polyethelene Glycol (PEG) - stabiliser and enhances absorption.
The glycols are used in many cosmetics, shampoos and body lotions. They may cause delayed allergic reactions, and are considered a neurotoxin. It has also been linked to kidney and liver damage.
Polymethyl methacrylite - plasticiser.
Used in nail polish and in anti-ageing products such as fillers, it is irritating to the skin, eyes and mucus membranes. It causes respiratory problems from short or long-term exposure. Neurological symptoms have been reported in humans following acute exposure to methyl methacrylate. Fetal abnormalities have been reported in animals exposed to methyl methacrylate by injection and inhalation.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. I would invite you to grab a product you have which may contain any number of these ingredients and research the ones you don't know. It is truly shocking what we have been putting on and in our bodies and environment. So what can we use instead? Fortunately nature has provided us with a full range of solutions and more and more brands are jumping on board. Choose products that have natural ingredient lists you can understand from first glance.
Some Of The Best Natural Skincare Ingredients
Shea Butter - Creamy moisturiser
An amazing skin tonic which moisturises skin whilst also providing skin healing anti-oxidant including vitamin A & E. It melts on contact and glides on with a silky texture which leaves the skin soft, moisturised and protected.
Olive Oil - Carrier oil and moisturiser
Olive oil is high in vitamin E, a natural preservative so it makes a great base oil to infuse organic herbs into. It is also an excellent moisturiser, and contains squalene which has anti-ageing benefits. It smoothes and softens skin, and enhances elasticity.
Rosehip Oil - Anti-inflammatory moisturiser
Rosehip oil is high in Omegas 3, 6 & 9 and antioxidants including Vitamin C, which helps nourish and protect skin against damage. Traditionally used to help reduce redness in scarring and inflamed skin conditions such as rosacea, it's a great addition to products used to moisturise and repair skin.
Magenesium - pH balancer and muscle relaxant
Magnesium helps to make skin more alkaline, which can inhibit bacterial growth making it great in deodorants. In addition to this, it is a famous muscle relaxant and is absorbed through skin contact both through skincare and when dissolved as bath salts such as epsom salt.
Essential Oils - Powerful plant oils
Essential oils are very highly concentrated components of plant oils, which are often added to natural skincare for their fragrance. They are known to have all sorts of positive effects including some for skin such as lavender and geranium essential oils which are anti-inflammatory and reduce redness. Other essential oils such as cedarwood and mandarin are relaxing and can help reduce stress. Whilst others like Eucalyptus and Wintergreen can soothe muscles and help ease mucus congestion.
Organic Herbs - Multiple health benefits
Much like essential oils, the benefits of herbs in skincare are huge. Herbs such as Calendula and Blessed Thistle, are naturally anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. Gotu kola promotes skin repair and anti-ageing. Beyond just skin health, herbs absorbed through the skin can have fantastic benefits for our overall health such as Chamomile and Peppermint help aid digestion and Lemon Balm and Passionflower can help ease anxiety and promote healthy sleep.
Rosemary - Natural antioxidant
Nature's preservative, Rosemary oil is often added to natural products for it's high anti-oxidant content, helping to preserve cosmetics and skincare.
We are absolutely committed to transparency of our natural ingredients and list absolutely everything in our products with nothing to hide. We have formulated our products so you don't need to worry about toxic ingredients and preservatives. Because we know your skincare can be so much more than non-toxic, it can have far reaching benefits for our health and environment.
Explore our range of natural balms and deodorants to make the switch to completely natural ingredients, and sign-up as a Skin&Soul VIP Member to get 10% off your first order, free sample and earn points for real rewards.
Naturopath & Founder of The Physic Garden