Nasty chemicals have become commonplace in skincare and personal care products because they mimic the effects of natural ingredients- maybe the smell, perhaps they make a product foam, or act as a preservative to extend the shelf life- all at a significantly lower price.
The cost of these synthetic alternatives is high, however, as many of the chemicals that once seemed so useful were actually slowly accumulating in our bodies, exhausting our filter systems, changing the way our bodies work, and even causing cells to mutate (yikes!).
Below we outline what we refer to as "The Nasty Nine" skincare ingredients to keep an eye out for and avoid in your skincare and personal care products wherever and whenever possible. ... But don't worry, there are safe, clean alternatives to all of the nasties that work just as well, and often better, than their synthetic counterparts!
1. MINERAL OIL
Also called 'parafin,' 'liquid petroleum' or 'paraffin oil,' Mineral oil is a byproduct of the distillation process to produce gasoline. Personally, that's enough information for us to decide it shouldn't go on our skin, but mineral oil has been used in skincare and cosmetics for a loooong time due to its ability to prevent moisture loss. (Ever hear of Vaseline, paw paw ointment or petroleum jelly?)
Mineral oil acts like cling wrap on the skin, locking in moisture. What this means, though, is that it also traps in sweat and dirt, clogging pores and increasing the likelihood of acne and infection. Even the so-called 'cosmetic-grade' mineral oil is listed as comedogenic, meaning it clogs pores.
The cherry on the top of this "no thanks" sundae, though is that it adds nothing to your skin. Mineral oil does not provide moisture itself nor does it contain nutrients that are beneficial for your skin. (In fact, there is evidence that mineral oil is one of the largest contaminants of the human body.) So why use a pore-clogging possible contaminant on your skin when there are so many 100% natural oils, butters and extracts that do actual good for it.
Fatty alcohols derived from vegetables (such as Cetearyl, Stearyl and Cetyl) are used to help hold the oil and water together in a product (i.e. emulsify it). In safe concentrations (i.e. low), these alcohols are perfectly safe for your skin.
The ones to avoid all together are alcohols like ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, alcohol denat, and methanol. You find these alcohols in skincare and fragrance as a means of making scent stick to your skin, to make creams more lightweight and sometimes as a preservative.
These alcohols have been shown to cause dryness, pigmentation and breakouts, as well as weakening your skin’s protective barrier. This means your skin loses the ability to lock in moisture.
These bad boys are used to increase the flexibility and softness of plastics and they are EVERYWHERE.
Pthalates appear in deodorants, nail polish, perfumes, hair spray and lotions, plus a lot of household plastics and containers. They have been linked to be endocrine disruption, asthma, ADHD, breast cancer, birth defects, obesity and type II diabetes, low IQ, neuro-developmental issues, behavioural issues, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development and male fertility issues. Prolonged exposure is known to damage liver and kidneys.
Three of the most common phthalates used in skincare are: Dibutylphthalate (DBP), Dimethylphthalate (DMP) and Diethylphthalate (DEP).
4. PEGS - Plyethylene Glycol
PEGS are used as thickeners, solvents, softeners and moisture carriers. They are also used in pharmaceuticals as a laxative. They contain dangerous levels of a toxin called Dioxin, which is used for its antibacterial properties. There is evidence that Dioxin is linked to cancer, nervous system disorders and miscarriages and is know to reduce immunity. PEGS are particularly dangerous for damaged and/or broken skin.
5. SLS- SLES - The Sulfates
Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and Sodium Laureth Sulphate are used to create foam and strip grease, so you'll find them in a lot of shampoos, body washes and facial cleansers. These are the original engine degreaser, though, and have been shown to cause skin irritations, eye damage, depression, laboured breathing and diarrhoea.
Mthyl, Butyl, Propl and Ethyl are preservatives that sometimes don’t even make it on to the label of the product. They have been isolated in breast cancer tumours and are often found in deodorants. They are also linked to hormone problems in teenagers.
Silicone makes products spread well and feel soft, so you'll find it in makeup primers, night creams and moisturisers. The most common forms of silicone are dimethicone and cyclomethicone. They stick to the skin and can be hard to remove, clogging pores and making it difficult for skin to breathe.
Formaldehyde is used in many cosmetics to help prevent bacteria growth (i.e. as a preservative). It is classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Carcinogens. It is known to cause allergic skin reactions and may also be harmful to the immune system.
Phenoxyethanol is an extremely widely used preservative in cosmetics and personal care products. You'll find it in everything- moisturiser, eye shadow, foundation, sunscreen, conditioner, mascara, shampoo, body wash, lotions and soaps, deodorant, toothpaste, fragrance and more.
It has been linked to allergic reactions ranging from eczema, to hives, to anaphylaxis. Despite being particularly dangerous for infants (it has been shown to depress their central nervous system, causing vomiting and diarrhea, change in skin colour, limpness in the extremities and decreased appetite), phenoxyethanol is also widely found in nipple creams and baby products.
Here's how you can recognise it on a label: Phenoxyethanol, 2-Phenoxyethanol, Euxyl K® 400 (mixture of Phenoxyethanol and 1,2-dibromo-2,4-dicyanobutane), PhE