5 Ingredients to Avoid in Your Skin Care Products (and 5 healthy alternatives)
This is not that kind of blog.
You know the one: where the bubbly narrator babbles on for ten paragraphs about their personal life before finally getting to the subject that drew you there in the first place. I'm not that kind of narrator, and this is not that kind of blog.
So here we go!
Trying to take the first steps towards a natural skin care regime for yourself? Way to go! Have a look at the following infographic I made to help you identify the first 5 ingredients you should phase out:
1. Fragrances: these ingredients are usually labelled as Fragrance or Parfum, which is a vague catch-all term for anything that causes something to smell nice. Because of this vague definition, it's easy to hide exactly what's in it, which is dangerous in and of itself. The most harmful hidden ingredients that many artificial fragrances contain are phthalates, which are endocrine disruptors (compounds that may interfere with the endocrine system, causing a multitude of neurological, developmental, and immune effects) and possible carcinogens (cancer-causing). They are also one of the most common causes of contact dermatitis and other skin issues.
To avoid these mysterious ingredients, choose fragrance free products or look for products scented with essential oils instead. Essential oils are listed by their scientific name so may be hard to identify at first (e.g. tea tree essential oil may be listed as Melaleuca alternifolia leaf oil).
2. Parabens: there are many kinds of parabens, and you can recognize them by the "-paraben" ending of the word (e.g. ethylparaben or methylparaben). One thing these preservatives all have in common: they're endocrine disruptors and can mimic estrogen in the body, and have been linked to breast cancer (parabens have actually been found in breast cancer tissue).
Technically, preservatives aren't needed in skin care products, but a preservative-free product has a vastly reduced shelf life (1 year or less). Because of this, it's hard for large-scale companies to go preservative free. Choosing products made by small businesses can be a potential preservative-free option because they likely make their products in small batches and so don't need to use preservatives. Look for products that contain Vitamin E (tocopherols), grapefruit extract, or rosemary extract, which can all help slow oxidation of perishable ingredients like oils. While not true preservatives (there's no such thing as a natural preservative), these ingredients do help extend shelf life.
3. Sulfates: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate are the most common sulfates you'll see, although there are others - look for "sulfate" in the ingredient list. Sulfates are chemical detergents that are used as a lathering agent in 90% of personal care products because they're cheaper to use and more stable than actual soap. While it's debatable if they're carcinogenic or not (many think that they can be contaminated with cancer-causing agents), they are certainly a common skin and eye irritant.
Lather isn't an indication of how effective a product is; just because a natural shampoo doesn't lather doesn't mean it's not cleaning. But if you do want good lather (because let's face it, there aren't many things more satisfying than lots of bubbles!), just pick up a bar of natural soap. Natural soap bars and natural liquid soap are great lathering agents all by themselves. Be aware, natural soap ingredients are actually saponified oils (or fatty acid salts - the result of mixing lye and oil), and are listed as "sodium ___-ate" (e.g. sodium cocoate is the fatty acid salt that results from using coconut oil in soap making).
4. FD&C Colours: short for Foods, Drugs, and Cosmetics (which means they've been FDA approved to be used in all these products), these synthetic colourants are byproducts of coal tar and may be contaminated with heavy metal salts that can be absorbed through the skin, causing skin irritation or heavy metal accumulation in the body. They're also almost all carcinogenic in large quantities.
While they make your product look nice, colourants certainly aren't an essential ingredient. Your first choice may be to choose products with no added colourants. However, there are a wide range of completely natural colourants out there too! Look for clays (e.g. French pink clay) and plant powders (turmeric is used as a yellow colourant and nettle leaf powder makes green, for example). It's best to avoid micas and oxides, as these usually natural ingredients can still be artificially coloured.
5. Ethanolamines: Identifiable by their "-ethanolamine" ending (e.g. monoethanolamine) or listed as DEA, MEA, or TEA. These ingredients are used as surfactants (compounds that lower the surface tension of a product, thus making it a more effective cleanser) and emulsifiers (which are essential ingredients in lotions and other products to keep oil-based and water-based ingredients constantly mixed together). The bad news: they're also known hormone disruptors and carcinogens.
Luckily, handmade soap is a great natural surfactant, which is gentle enough to use on your delicate skin while still being a very effective cleanser. Natural waxes like beeswax and soy wax can be used as emulsifiers in lotions, but keep in mind they're not nearly as effective as synthetic emulsifiers. Products like shampoos that don't have any emulsifiers in them will separate as they sit, so need to be shaken before using.
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My goal with this blog isn't to make you click on affiliate links (you'll notice there are none) or encourage you to buy Natura products - although even the smallest purchase will greatly help this little company! I want to provide you with the information you need to make educated decisions about what you choose to put on your body. If there's something you're curious about or that you would like to learn more about, please let me know and I'll write an article about it!
Thanks so much for tuning in, next week I'll be talking about how to read natural product ingredient lists - it's harder than you might think!