1  Fragrance / Parfum / Scent

A closely guarded secret by the cosmetic industry, which means that companies are not required to disclose what’s in it. Typically there are dozens, if not hundreds of potentially toxic chemicals (up to 350+ in total) making the “fragrance” including phthalates, which ensure the fragrance sticks to your skin.

2  Parabens

The presence of this toxic preservative which is an endocrine disruptor is indicated by any word that ends in paraben, like methylparaben, propylparaben, etc. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can interfere with endocrine (or hormone) systems at certain doses. These disruptions can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. In fact, any system in the body controlled by hormones can be derailed by hormone disruptors.

Many big companies have vowed to take parabens out of their products, though it will be important to ensure that they don’t replace them with something just as toxic.

By law, preservatives are required in any product that contains foodstuff, Water or Aloe Vera. Preservatives are added to prevent this natural ingredient going rancid. Preservatives that are hiding with other raw ingredients do not need to be listed on the label.

3  Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) & Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

The *surfactant Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) can cause severe skin irritation and allergies.

Up to 90% of every shampoo or body wash is actually a detergent used in car washes, garage floor cleaners and engine degreasers. Over-exposure to SLS has been linked to eye damage, depression, laboured breathing, diarrhoea and severe skin irritation. Your body may retain the SLS for up to five days, during which time it may enter and maintain residual levels in the heart, liver, the lungs, and the brain.

The much bigger problem is that in the process of making it less harsh for the skin (ethoxylation), a carcinogenic by product emerges “Dioxane” which shows up on the label as SLES. It’s never listed on an ingredient label because it is a “contaminant,” but it’s often present where SLES appears.  Avoid SLES whenever you can!

*Surfactants are compounds that lower the surface tension of water, in essence making the molecules slipperier, so they are less likely to stick to themselves and more likely to interact with oil and grease.

4  Formaldehyde

Another preservative that you’ll never actually see listed on the label! It’s also a carcinogen, and it is linked to asthma, neurotoxicity, and developmental toxicity.

It’s likely present where quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, and 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol) are listed on ingredient labels.

5  Phthalates

These are Plasticisers, which are used to make products more pliable and enable fragrance to stick to your skin. They are abbreviated to DBP, DEHP, and DEP. They are *endocrine/hormone disruptors commonly used in nail products, and they hide in ‘fragrance / parfum / perfume / scent’ too!

*Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can interfere with endocrine (or hormone) systems at certain doses. These disruptions can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. Any system in the body controlled by hormones can be derailed by hormone disruptors.

6  Triclosan

Triclosan (also known as Microban) is another chemical commonly used as a preservative in skincare products. It links to many negative human health effects. Any skincare product that claims to have anti-bacterial properties likely includes triclosan.

Triclosan does a great job at killing bacteria (both good and bad bacteria). But, it also helps grow types of bacteria that resist antibiotic treatment. Triclosan can disrupt your natural hormonal balance and weaken your immune systems. It can build up in your fat cells over time and can be detected in breast milk, blood, and urine.

7  Propylene Glycol (PG)

Propylene glycol (also known as PG) is an ingredient in a variety of liquid skincare products, as well as in antifreeze, brake fluid, and paints! PG allows harmful chemicals to seep further into your skin and bloodstream than they could otherwise do on their own.

PG has been linked to skin inflammation and irritation. While PG can prevent moisture loss by creating a seal over your skin, it can also make your skin drier by drawing moisture from the deeper layers of your skin towards to the top-most layers.

8  Petroleum & Mineral Oils (Petrochemicals)

Used in skincare products for a variety of reasons, petrochemicals have been linked to major health concerns. Petroleum-based products can be contaminated with dozens of toxic chemicals, some known to cause cancer and damage nerves.

22% of beauty products contain toxic levels of these harmful chemicals. Petroleum based ingredients can also penetrate the skin, causing further health hazards. A 2009 study showed that using mineral oil products has the potential to increase the rate of tumor growth.


What Can I Do To Avoid Them?

The simplest step is to turn the bottle or jar around and check the ingredient label!  If a product includes some organic ingredients, there’s no guarantee that it’s not packaged with a toxic preservative or surfactant. The ONLY way to check is to read the label and understand the good stuff vs the bad stuff OR find a product that you can trust and stick with it!

I would urge everyone to look at the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database (EWG) for skincare and beauty products (they also have a barcode scanning app, and rate products on a numerical scale with 1s and 2s being the cleanest).

If enough of us vote with our wallets, there will soon be a day when our children won’t have to check the labels on the products they use every day. We can change the market!

Keep an eye out for my “Detoxify You & Your Home” workshops, coming soon.

Julie McKee

Clinical Aromatherapist / Skincare Maker / Cosmetologist


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