It is always hard to know what is truth and what is ok to use on our skin. Here’s a little information to help you pave your way through the highly unregulated beauty industry that you might find a little helpful! The following is a list of ingredients that have come under question in the last few years explaining what they are and how they are used. From being carcinogenic, DNA damaging, hormone disrupting or known irritants, many of these ingredients are under further investigation in various countries. It may be interesting to check your beauty and personal care products and see how many of them contain the following.
Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (or Laureth)
This has its origins in natural sources. It is produced by the sulphation of commonly available lauryl alcohol, which comes from coconut oil. You will often see on the label ‘coconut derived’, and this can be a bit misleading as it sounds very natural, when it fact it goes through a lot of chemical processes to become the final product. Sodium Lauryl Sulphate may damage the outer layers of the skin, causing dermatitis, dryness and blackheads. It may also enhance the absorption of other chemicals. It should only be used in cosmetics that are quickly rinsed off the skin. It is widely used in shampoos, bubble baths, face and body cleansers, toothpaste and most household detergents. The US National Toxicology Program (NTP) classifies it as a skin and eye irritant. In fact, when dermatologists want to test the calming effect of an ingredient, they use Sodium Laureth Sulphate as the irritant!
Petrolatum Products (Mineral Oils, Petroleum Jelly)
These are semi-solid hydrocarbons that have been purified. Insoluble in water, they leave a barrier on the surface of the skin. Some compare it to plastic wrap in the way it seals the skin impairing normal skin breathing, therefore not allowing healthy skin function. Used in skin care, lipsticks and baby products, they give a product its smooth emollient texture.
Used as a solvent, this is a denatured alcohol (made undrinkable by adding certain chemicals). Prepared from propylene, which is obtained in the cracking of petroleum, it is poisonous if ingested or inhaled in large doses. Apart from aiding in the composition of the product, it can be known to create sensitivities and its safety in humans has been questioned. Used in cosmetics, hair colours, body lotions, and also in anti-freeze solutions.
NB: There are different types of alcohol used in the cosmetics industry. Some are beneficial and hydrating to the skin, others are detrimental to the skin. Cetearyl Alcohol is an emulsifying wax, a mixture of fatty alcohols cetyl and stearyl, and helps emulsify and hold hydration in the product. While alcohols like isopropyl, ethanol or methanol have a drying effect on the skin, they are often denatured alcohols which means they have chemicals added to them to make them unfit for ingesting orally. So when you see the word alcohol, investigate further!
Commonly used as a preservative in a lot of cosmetic ranges. They preserve a product for many years, allowing good shelf-life in the shop. There is controversy over how much our body absorbs these preservatives and whether they continue to function in your body, settling in major organs. A recent study with Flow Cytometry showed parabens could produce extreme oxidative stress and DNA damage inside the cell.
Used as a moisture-carrying agent and solvent. There has been a question about its safety since the early 90s, with companies switching to Butylene and Prolyethylene Glycol as alternatives (these are in themselves questionable). It is used a lot in makeup, deodorants, baby products, lipsticks and suntan lotions. The NTP classify it as a skin and eye irritant.
Diethanolamine (DEA) & Tiethanolamine (TEA)
DEA is used as a solvent, detergent and emulsifying agent. Studies show it can be irritating to the skin and mucus membranes. It is under question due to the possible link between DEA use and cancer in laboratory animals. TEA is a dispersing agent and detergent. It can irritate the skin and is recommended for use in rinse-off products only, due to the question about its safety.
All artificial colours may be detrimental to your health. Avoid products which list ‘pigment’ or ‘dye’ on the label, and look for natural colours instead. Artificial colours are used a lot in children’s personal care products.
Another commonly used preservative, which may cause irritation and dermatitis. It can also form formaldehyde in the cells. Used in baby products, hair products, skin care and makeup.
Used in many different forms in personal care products, especially deodorants. It is used to help preserve products and as an antiperspirant by blocking the sweat ducts (not to be used on any broken skin). There is a question as to how much our body absorbs this ingredient, particularly when applying it directly to lymph nodes under the arm. Its safety in long-term use is being questioned, and Flow Cytometry has shown it to be detrimental.
Manufacturers avoid writing ‘animal’ on ingredients lists. Animal products are also known as Collagen Amino Acids, Elastin Amino Acids or Epiderm oil R. These ingredients are made from the tissue, cartillage, bone and connective tissue of animals, usually cow, pig and sheep.
Organic compounds derived from ammonia. The FDA queries the safety of these ingredients, due to reports from studies done by the American Cancer Society and the ‘Scientific Committee on Cosmetic and Non-food Products’. Mainly used in hair dyes.
AHA’s (Alpha Hydroxy Acids)
These were developed as a follow-on from the ‘chemical peels’ used by plastic surgeons, but are now used in much milder concentrations. They are derived from many different acids: fruit, sugar glycolic etc. It is claimed that they help eliminate the signs of aging (wrinkling, pigmentation and dryness) by peeling off the outer layers of skin. They are under question due to their ability to penetrate the skin’s layers causing irritation, and the fact that they may aid absorption of other chemicals. They can also make the skin sun-sensitive, accelerating sun damage.
PEGs (Polyethylene Glycol)
These are synthetic polymers, used with many different base ingredients to create binders, emulsifiers and humectants. There are more natural and safer alternatives to use.
And finally a tip on babies skin…
Babies have pure delicate skin. A young baby may need no products at all, especially baby soaps and creams. If you do want to use products on baby skin then preserve and protect it with natural plant-based products. Avoid the questionable ingredients mentioned here. Some baby products on the market are very questionable: Baby oil usually contains a mix of mineral oils and petroleum products. It can also contain an antioxidant called chlorobutanol. This ingredient is a central nervous system depressant and has in the past been used medically as a hypnotic!
The key point here is CHECK your ingredients and become consumer savvy!