Knowing what is in your skincare products is crucial for recognising which ingredients are effective and safe for your skin type, and which to avoid. Beautiful packaging and promising descriptions are eye-catching but the real truth lies in the ingredient list. Reading labels can be a complicated and confusing matter but skipping it altogether may lead to allergies, sensitivities, irritation and other skin and health concerns. That’s why it’s vital to distinguish and avoid the BAD (Bad, Ambiguous and Debatable) ingredients, such as synthetic dyes, phthalates, phenoxyethanol etc. Here’s how to decipher them.
1 – Parabens
Parabens can vary and they’re inexpensive and quite common preservatives in personal care and skincare products. They prolong the shelf life of the items and prevent harmful bacteria growth. But parabens have been linked to causing hormone imbalance, reproductive and fertility issues. Although there isn’t clear evidence that they directly result in tumours, the fact that parabens have been found in breast tumours is quite worrying.
Can be shown on cosmetics label as: Methylparaben, Butylparaben, Ethylparaben
2 – Phenoxyethanol
This is another preservative used widely in the beauty industry. Possible health concerns connected to the use of phenoxyethanol include allergy reactions, skin irritations, eczema, contact dermatitis and hives. Data also shows damage to the brain and central nervous system of exposed nursing mothers and infants.
Can be shown on cosmetics label as: Phenoxyethanol, Ethylene glycol monophenyl ether, PhE, Dowanol, Arosol, phenoxetol, Rose ether, Phenoxyethyl alcohol, beta-hydroxyethyl phenyl ether
3 – Phthalates
They are a large group of chemicals that can be found everywhere: food packaging, fragrance, skincare, household cleaners, medical tubing. Phthalates make the products softer and more flexible, as well as helping products stick to the skin. The reason why their use is banned or severely restricted in a lot of countries is because they may disrupt the endocrine system, cause birth defects and diabetes.
Can be shown on cosmetics label as: Phthalate, DEP, DEHP, DBP, Fragrance
4 – Plastics
Yep plastics! Plastic ingredients are being included in many of your everyday beauty products and sold to the public.
Labels will never show the word ‘plastic’ of course, but may be disguised as Acrylates copolymer, styrene acrylates copolymer or a similar variant. Popular cosmetic manufacturers have turned to include this ingredient since many countries have now banned microbeads.
This scary ingredient can be added to cosmetics to add colour to nail polish, sunscreen, moisturiser, body wash, shampoo and eyeliner. But it can leach styrene monomer, a likely carconogen, and listed in USA as a known cancer-causing carcinogen. Styrene is also a category 1 endocrine disrupting chemical which test harmful to human’s hormone systems at extraordinary low doses.
Can be shown on cosmetic labels as: Acrylates copolymer or Styrene acrylates copolymer
5 – Sodium Lauryl Sulphate & Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLS & SLES)
These are known surfactants, emulsifiers and foaming agents and that is why they are commonly used in soaps, body washes and shampoos. However, they are some of the most skin sensitising ingredients that strip the skins natural oils, thus causing dry and flaking skin, redness, inflammation and allergy reactions. There’s evidence that SLS potentially creates carcinogen called nitrosamines and when mixed with other chemicals, it may form a toxic substance that can have possible links to cancer.
Can be shown on cosmetics label as: Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate (SDS)
6 – Mineral Oil
Mineral oil is a rich emollient, often used by people with very dry, flaky skin. In fact, it can cause even more dryness. Mineral oil doesn’t actually hydrate the skin, it simply creates a barrier between the skin and the surrounding environment, in order to retain moisture. It creates an illusion that the skin is soft and nourished even though it can be left even drier. This can make people reapply their lip balms too often with no long-lasting results. In addition to that, mineral oil can clog pores and cause acne and breakouts, as it stays on the surface without being absorbed.
Can be shown on cosmetics label as: Petrolatum, Paraffin
7 – Synthetic Fragrance
Scents attract consumers to a product but often artificial fragrance is added to skincare to mask unpleasant smells from other ingredients and combinations. It is often derived from petrochemicals and it doesn’t benefit the skin in any way. Fragrance is a known irritant for people with respiratory issues, allergies, redness, oily and acne-prone skin.
Can be shown on cosmetics label as: Perfume, Parfum, Fragrance
8 – Artificial Dyes
Artificial colours are another ingredient used just to make the product look more appealing but without having any beneficial effects to the skin. Many of these dyes are made by using heavy metals or coal tar which can increase the risk of irritation, sensitivity, clogged pores and breakouts.
Can be shown on cosmetics label as: Colourants, Aluminum Powder, Blue 1, Green 3 etc
9 – Drying Alcohols
There are good and bad (drying) alcohols, so it is important to know the difference. Good alcohols are also known as fatty alcohols, they are non-irritating and really beneficial for the skin. Drying alcohols can cause irritation, inflammation, dryness and can strip the skin resulting in damaging the skin’s natural barrier function. Drying alcohols usually ensure a smooth finish to a cosmetic product. Such alcohols are often used on blemish-prone skin because it makes the skin feel and look less shiny but it can actually increase the growth of acne-causing bacteria and worsen inflammation.
Can be shown on cosmetics label as: Isopropyl Alcohol, Methanol, Propanol, Benzyl Alcohol, Alcohol Denat
It is not always easy to avoid irritants and toxins in our everyday life but as ingredient-savvy cosmetic consumers, you can now take precautionary steps to limit the use of toxins in your skincare. Thus, you can maintain a great looking skin minus the harmful and potentially dangerous effects.