Can you think of anything creepier than the idea of a skincare or body care product that you know and trust secretly containing ingredients that are actually not good for your health (or at least, very, very questionable)? Every day, we slather our skin with soaps, creams, serums, oils and cosmetics so that we smell nice and look great. Naturally, we hope that these products contain good stuff, and we assume that intelligent, qualified people have already done the research and approved these products as safe-for-humans.
Unfortunately, this isnt the case. The FDA doesnt approve cosmetics before they hit the market (a category that includes everything from makeup to haircare to body lotion), leaving safety testing up to the producers themselves, and the manufacturers of the ingredients. This system lets a lot of things slip through; Im sure you didnt miss, for example, the media fuss that was made (and rightfully so) when significant amounts of lead were found in common lipsticks.
So, considering that it is up to us as educated consumers to know whats in our products and whether or not theyre good for us (were hoping youve spent some time on EWGs Skin Deep Database!), we thought wed make the process a little easier with our list of the top ten ingredients (and groups of ingredients) you should avoid when shopping in the beauty aisle. Oh, and we made it halloween-y, to sound extra scary on this very well-timed holiday!
1: Yikes! Triclosan is freaky. This is an antibacterial ingredient that you can find in most hand sanitizers or antibacterial soaps (especially ones for kids), but its been proven to be irritating to the skin, and has been linked to hormone disruption. It gets weirder: it doesnt degrade easily in the environment, so it can be really polluting to our mother Earth, especially aquatic environments.
2: Steer Clear of PEGs (Polyethylene Glycol). This is a group of petroleum-derived ingredients (i.e., not ideal for human skin) that have been linked to cancer and nervous system damage because they can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which is a known carcinogen (and doesnt show up on ingredient lists because its a byproduct). Theres no way to tell, from reading the label, that 1-4 dioxane is involved, but wed keep our distance anyways, because we feel that ingredients derived from gasoline don’t belong on our skin.
3: Mineral Oil: Not as Natural as It Sounds. Doesnt it sound healthy and nourishing? Mineral oil is found in everything from soaps to creams to baby products. It clogs pores and hinders many of the skins natural processes, such as detoxification and healthy cell turnover.
4: Frightening Phthalates. These synthetic ingredients are used to plasticize products, and theyre found all over the place: baby toys, plastic bags, cosmetics. Theyve been getting a lot of press for their proven status as hormone disruptors that, when used long-term, can affect reproductive health and fertility in a bad way.
5: Soaps, Alcohols & Detergents. While these are not in this list because of their potential to do long-term damage to our health, we did include them because they are just not good for the skin. Theyre stripping, which means they disrupt the skins protective moisture barrier, which lets in all manners of bad stuff, namely pollution. Look for cleansers and toners that dont contain suds!
6: The Paraben Family. Look for labels with methylparaben, benzylparaben or ethylparaben to see if this family of preservatives is included in the formula; theyre another well-known group of hormone disruptors and carcinogens that have also been linked to allergic reactions.
7: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) & Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES). These sudsy ingredients create foam, so theyre common in hand soaps and shampoos, but theyre drying, irritating and can cause rashes and allergic reactions, aka, very unhappy skin.
8. Synthetic Fragrance: This word is a mask that can hide hundreds of separate, individual ingredients that dont need to be disclosed due to trade-secret laws, so theres no way to be really sure of what youre spritzing out of that perfume bottle. (We opt for natural essential oils instead; true, they dont last as long, but they give you a healthy emotional boost!)
9: Synthetic Dyes and Colors: Alarmingly, these ingredients can be derived from coal tar, and can still make it into our candies and lipsticks. Theyre usually labeled with names that combine letters and numbers, like Red 40, FD&C Yellow 6 or D&C Orange 17. Theyre considered to be carcinogenic, but theyre still in our Twizzlers and toothpaste.
10: DEAs. These ones are particularly scary because theyre ingredients that are designed to help products penetrate the skin more effectively, so theyre helping all of these other ingredients make their way into the bloodstream without a hitch. Not only can they be irritating, but its a matter of prolonged exposure: DEAs have been deemed carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. On labels, look for names like DEA sodium laurel sulfate or DEA oleamide condensate.
Sources: Skin Deep Database, Environmental Working Group, Breast Cancer Fund, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, No More Dirty Looks by Alexandra Spunt & Siobhan OConnor, and Whats In Your Cosmetics? by Audrey Hampton. Of course, we acknowledge that there is still a lot of dispute and discussion about the safety of cosmetic ingredients, but we believe in playing it safe and practicing the precautionary principle, which means avoiding ingredients that we arent sure are definitely good for us.
Author: Tata Harper Team
The team at Tata Harper Skincare is passionate about promoting a modern, health-conscious natural beauty lifestyle that’s committed to safety, honesty and sustainability.