Cosmetic ingredients you should avoid at all cost
Updated: Dec 21, 2021
Not all that shines is gold and not all that is natural is safe and in the next couple of blog posts I will focus on toxic skin care ingredients and how to spot them (and avoid them).
While we all agree that making the shift to more natural based beauty products is better for you, your family and the environment, not everything that is natural is safe.
One of the most common ingredients in high street cosmetic brands is petrochemicals (ingredients derived from petroleum). They are literally in every product you can think of from face creams, body lotions, lip balms, cleansers, toners, shampoos, conditioners, baby oil (yep, unbelievable but true - check out Johnson’s baby oil next time you’re in a supermarket) to mascara, lipsticks, eyeshadow, nail polish, foundations, perfume - you name it, the chances are that it most likely contains petrochemicals. What potential toxic skincare products hide in your cupboard?
Petroleum is a fossil fuel, an all natural product that is formed when large quantities of dead fossilised organisms, mostly residue from ancient plants, plankton and algae, are buried underneath sedimentary rock and over a period of millions of years subjected to both intense heat and pressure within the Earth’s crust. Today petroleum (crude oil) is found in vast underground reservoirs beneath land or the ocean floor and is extracted with giant drilling machines.
While I’m sure most of you are already aware of the dangers of petrochemicals in skincare products I find that many people are still amazed to discover the inclusion of petrochemicals in some of their favourite and often expensive cosmetic brands - including make-up as well as everyday products like shampoos and toothpaste.
And at first glance petrochemicals indeed have many sought after qualities which lend themselves perfectly to cosmetic products: they moisturise the skin, improve the consistency of products and help them glide on more smoothly, they are efficient preservatives, improves consistency and ‘feel’ of products, helps to disperse fragrance evenly… and they are of course also a very low cost ingredient.
With such a versatile and inexpensive ingredient at hand it is a way for brands to create a myriad of cosmetic products at a very low cost.
In the skincare industry the most common forms of petrochemicals are mineral oil, petrolatum, liquid paraffin and paraffin wax.
They are popular due to their ability to create an impenetrable barrier on the skin which locks in the moisture and helps to keep the skin hydrated for longer, which sounds great!
However it comes at a cost as the the barrier sits like a layer of grease over the skin, preventing it from breathing properly and interfering with the skin’s natural perspiration process, thus upsetting the balance and preventing the skin from functioning properly.
As a result, sweat and bacteria are trapped underneath, clogging the pores leading to outbreaks of pimples and blackheads and exacerbating conditions such as eczema and acne.
However, the main concern with petrochemicals is their capacity to generate a carcinogenic toxin called 1,4-dioxane. (This may become a bit nerdy but it is important to understand the gist of it).
1,4-dioxane is a solvent and stabiliser that is used in all kinds of products such as adhesives, solvents in the manufacture of other chemicals and as a laboratory reagent.
So why would this ingredient show up in cosmetic products?
The reason is that 1,4 dioxane is a contaminant and by-product generated through a process called ethoxylation, in which ethylene oxide, a known breast carcinogen, is added to other chemicals to make them less harsh resulting in a surfactant with foaming, cleansing or solvent properties.
For example, sodium laurel sulfate, a chemical that is harsh on the skin, is often converted to the less harsh chemical sodium laureth sulfate (the “eth” denotes ethoxylation).
Ethoxylated surfactants are found in laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, skincare products, toothpaste, body washes, baby soaps (!?!), bubble baths and very commonly in hair care products.
1,4 dioxane is not required to be listed on the label because it is not an added ingredient but a contaminant produced during manufacturing, making it very difficult to avoid or even know if it is present in a given product.
However, the presence of certain other chemicals suggest that ethoxylation might have taken place, so here is what in particular to look out for on the ingredient labels:
- Anything ending in ‘-eth’ (it means it was made with the petrochemical ethylene oxide. Examples: Oleth, Laureth as in ‘sodium laureth sulfate’ or SLS for short)
- Anything with polyethylene glycol or with a PEG- prefix such as PEG-20, PEG 40 etc.
...and of course anything with ‘mineral oil’, ‘paraffin wax’ or ‘petrolatum’ listed on the label.
If you find it too daunting and baffling to read the ingredient labels on every cosmetic- and cleaning product you buy just go for what you know is safe especially if buying products for kids or pregnant woman.
Organic standards do not allow ethoxylation at all, so cosmetic ingredients that are certified organic are usually a safe bet.
Choose simple oil based skin care products made from organic (or wild harvested) and cold pressed plant oils and butters and if you are prone to allergies and sensitivities then avoid fragrances and essential oils, even if they are organic.
Make conscious choices, take responsibility for your own health and stay healthy.
In the next blog post I’ll be writing more about toxic ingredients in skincare and some fashionable but deadly skincare routines through the ages.
Much love 💚☀️💚
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