Deciphering the ingredients on our food is hard enough but when it comes to our beauty skin care products, some of the ingredients are so hard to read let alone pronounce that it's hard to stop your eyes glazing over and feeling completely overwhelmed. And to top things off you are fighting through marketing ploys, ingredients that get called different names or are known as numbers or acronyms, sometimes it's so overwhelming and confusing that even with the experience I have I throw my hands in the air and walk away for a while!
Around 80% of the ingredients in cosmetics have not been tested for safety
Whenever I change a product, I look up the list of ingredients to see if any of them are harmful. Whilst this can be a little time consuming, it's so much easier these days with our phones always being close by and the amount of information being available is mind boggling! All the research can be done at home prior to shopping. And to be honest, more often than not you only need to look up a couple of the ingredients and see how bad they are. I have two apps that I use ALL the time. One is called Think Dirty. It's a free app and you can enter in the beauty brand then search for the actual product. It will rate the ingredients on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the dirtiest. The only thing to keep an eye out for with this app is who has rated the ingredients. If it is by the app then great, but it can also be rated by users which may not be reliable. The other app I use, probably moreso, is ChemicalMaze. This is a paid app (around $10) for both food additives and cosmetic ingredients. It is simple to use and gives the results laid out with risk level, potential effects, possible uses and where it is derived from.
Our skin is our largest organ, and absorbs around 60% of what we put on it
If you watch Media Watch (Australian ABC channel) you will see how much we are duped by the media. Things are twisted, photos are edited and distorted - even at times cropping two seperate photos of celebrities and merging them together for a front page scoop...but I digress...well brands are no different. Their priority is to sell sell sell. And they will do so using the best possible marketing. If this sometimes blurs the lines of truth well, so be it, so it seems.
I sometimes think that the aim is to confuse us so much we give up and just buy what is most convenient
With news recently coming out from America stating the EPA is stalling on releasing their conclusion that formaldehyde causes cancer due to fear from industry that the release will "cause irreparable harm to the companies represented by the Panel and to the many companies and jobs that depend on the broad use of the chemical.” (source NYmag.com) it seems now more than ever do we need to be vigilant and do our own research rather than relying on any of the bodies who have actually been formed to help us.
Having said that, there is as always, some fear mongering. I've heard for years that lipstick contains lead, however I came across an article from Choice stating that the lead found in lipstick occurs naturally in the metal pigments used in lipstick and it's not deliberately added. Not always. However lipstick can still contain other heavy metals so it's still best to check the ingredients - even if the brand states it is natural or uses a natural vibe in their marketing. Aesop use SLS, and although they have never claimed to be natural, that is certainly the vibe that goes across to the general public. There are also many businesses out there who don't formulate their own products, they outsource this and put their own labels on it. You could very well end up with multiple products on the market being the same, just labelled under different brands.
Ingredients may not be your thing
It may not be priority for you to avoid these chemicals. And that's perfectly fine. But this will at least give you the means to make an educated decision. Be open to what we are all putting on our bodies, and in it, and if you're okay with that then that is perfectly acceptable as it is your decision. There is no judgement here, I am merely wishing to open all of our eyes.
So what should we be avoiding and why?
What are they? Parabens are a preservative. They are anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. There are many types as they all have distinct chemical structure, but all you need to look out for is any name that ends in paragon (e.g. methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, butylparaben)
Where are these found? These preservatives are used in shampoos, conditioners, facial cleansers, body washes, lotions and scrubs - any product that contains high levels of water - to prevent the growth of microbes.
Why are they bad? Parabens can mimic oestrogen and are potential endocrine disruptors. The endocrine system controls your hormones and all the glands relating to the hormones. An endocrine disruptor has the potential to mimic oestrogen, cause developmental and reproductive issues, cancer - especially breast cancer, reduce sperm production. Methyl parabens on the skin have a chemical reaction with UVB which leads to aging and possible DNA damage
Are they banned? No parabens are banned in Australia. Two forms, propyl and butyl parabens are banned in Denmark for products marketed to children 3 years and younger
What is it? Fragrance is a single word to encapsulate up to 3,059 chemical compounds used to scent a product. You will see it in ingredient lists as fragrance, perfume, perfume, aroma or essential oil blend
Where are these found? Most personal care products including scrubs, creams, perfumes, shampoos, soaps, make up, lotions, toner, serums and deodorant
Why are they bad? "Fragrance" is all that needs to be listed in the ingredients. The actual ingredients are rarely disclosed. Chemicals used in fragrance include, but are not limited to, health effects such as endocrine disruptors, affects on the kidneys, reproductive, nervous and respiratory systems. Potential carcinogenic. Organ system toxicity.
Are they banned? No. Individual ingredients of "fragrance" are not required in order to protect trade secrets on the fragrance, full disclosure is not required. The best option is to look out for labels that state botanically derived fragrance or something similar
What are they? Phthalates are a plasticiser, which is a synthetic resin used to promote elasticity and flexibility in plastics as well as being used to help a scent last longer
Where are these found? Flooring, food wrapping, cosmetics such as fragrances (perfumes, candles, anything scented with "fragrance" could contain phthalates), lotions and nail polish.
Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) is used in nail polish although there are some companies who have phased this out. Make sure to read the labels. Diethyl Phthalate (DEP) is used to make a scent linger, and thirdly, DEHP is found in eyelash glue. A little scary considering how prevalent false eyelashes are now
Why are they bad? They have been linked with endometriosis, early puberty, reproductive organ abnormalities, reduced fertility in males and have also been linked to obesity
Are they banned? In the European Union yes they are banned from cosmetics and children's toys and in toys in the US (however they are still prevalent in cosmetics) In Australia, only one type of phthalate has been banned from children's toys
As mentioned above in Fragrance, there is a loophole that allows companies to keep the specific ingredients of a fragrance to themselves. This has enabled phthalates and other chemicals into the mainstream market of products we use every day. To avoid phthalates entirely, it's best to chose products that are phthalate free and do not have the word fragrance in the ingredient list (unless it's specified to be naturally derived)
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
What are they? SLS is a de-greaser and helps a product to bubble and foam. Its close relative SLES (Sodium Laureth Sulfate) is created when ethylene oxide (a petroleum derived contaminate banned in cosmetics in Cananda and EU) is added to SLS.
Where are these found? Most personal care products including toothpaste, shampoos, soaps, shaving foam, bubblebath and cosmetics. Also in detergents, car wash and floor wash
Why are they bad? SLS is a harsh chemical. It dissolves the oils on the surface - whether it be your skin or a car engine - so it completely dries out your skin. You will know the feeling after washing yourself with a body wash or soap and your skin feels immediately tight and dry. SLS is absorbed into the body via the skin and accumulate in vital organs and, like phthalates, it mimics the oestrogen hormone resulting in various female health problems as well as issues with male fertility
Are they banned? No
Silicone Derived Emollients
What are they? Silicone is used in cosmetics to give a smooth appearance and feel to your hair and skin
Where are these found? Hair products, moisturisers, facial treatments, cream deodorants, medical implants, water-repelling windshield coatings, sealants and lubricants
Why are they bad? Also known as Dimethicone, cyclomethicone, dimethicone copolyol, these ingredients coat the skin, stopping the skin from breathing which can cause irritations and acne. They are said to be linked to tumours of the liver and lymph nodes. Silicones are non-biodegradable and are said to have the potential to bioaccumulate (become concentrated inside living things, e.g. mercury becomes concentrated in fish) so they are therefore also terrible for the environment.
Are they banned? No. The European Union has classified cyclotetrasiloxane as an endocrine disruptor, stating that it interferes with human hormone function
And an extra one which is a little personal pet peeve for me.
What is it? Benzyl alcohol is a preservative. There are two types, a naturally derived one (found in the essential oil of many plants including hyacinth, ylang ylang and jasmine) and a synthetic one
Where are these found? Over the counter medications, topical creams, lotions, eczema creams, hair dyes, facial cleansers, sunscreens, fragrances and cosmetics (lipstick, mascara, powder makeup)
Why are they bad? Whether it is natural or synthetic, benzyl alcohol is an irritant. It can cause skin ailments such as eczema, dermatitis and rashes. This ingredient is a pet peeve for me because it is used in so many products aimed for eczema sufferers yet one of the side effects could be possible eczema and dermatitis. So it is feeding the ailment. They can also be added to a "natural" non-certified product being identified as synthetic because the chemical composition is actually identical to the natural version.
Are they banned? No
What is your stance on chemicals in your products? Do you have any not negotiable? I'd love to hear