We lather ourselves up in all kinds of skincare products in order to keep our largest organ clean and radiant. But there’s a big, dirty secret hidden in most skin care products that will leave your health feeling, well … just a little unclean.
Recent research has exposed in recent years the abundance of harmful chemicals and toxic ingredients being infused into conventional skincare products; skincare products that claim to not only improve our skin but are also branded as “safe.”
We’re diving into a whole host of extremely common ingredients found in conventional skincare products that have shown in studies to result in birth defects, hormone imbalances, decreased sperm counts, altered pregnancy outcomes, skin reactions, and more, along with some ingredients even being classified as carcinogens. [*][*]
Let’s take a look at what to avoid in conventional skincare, and how going plant-based with your skin regime can work wonders for your health.
Skincare Products: The Dirty
Our skin is our largest organ. It’s also an organ that’s easy to take for granted since it appears to be “outside” of us, and also seemingly does its job of keeping dirt and other nasties from invading our bodies. However, even though our skin helps keep out major particles and can react to harmful substances in order to encourage us to get away from them, it is also extremely absorbent of microscopic molecules.
In essence, putting something on our skin is similar to eating it. Small particles (like chemicals) can be easily absorbed through our pores and into our bloodstream where they circulate through our bodies. This can be beneficial when we’re using natural ingredients that contain vitamins and minerals like natural oils, butter, and essential oils, but can be seriously risky when we talk about chemicals or preservatives.
Most conventional skin care products contain several chemicals that are easily absorbed through our pores, leading experts to start recommending “If you can’t pronounce it, don’t use it.”
The “Dirty Dozen” of Skincare Chemicals
Similar to the “dirty dozen” list referring to veggies and fruits commonly high in pesticides, the dirty dozen list of commonly used chemicals in skincare products are those you definitely want to avoid.
1. Parabens (Methyl, Butyl, Ethyl, Propyl)
Parabens are one of the most widely discussed dangerous chemicals in skincare. It’s often used in all kinds of skincare, from lotions to makeup, as an artificial preservative.
Studies suggest parabens may disrupt normal hormone production, cause skin irritation, cause fertility issues, and even increase cancer risk. The Environmental Working Group mentions that because of the results of these studies, it’s clear that parabens should be avoided in all skincare products [*]
2. Polyethylene glycol (PEG)
PEG is often used as a penetration enhancer – helping ingredients better penetrate your skin barrier. While some studies deem it as “safe,” it is classified as “as expected to be toxic or harmful” by the Environment Canada Domestic Substance List. [*] In addition, animal studies suggest PEG may be genotoxic, causing mutations in chromosomes which could lead to further mutations, such as cancer. [*]
Phthalates are chemicals used to increase the flexibility of plastics, and are often found in skincare under “fragrance.” They have been banned by the European Union due to research linking them to endocrine disruption, reproductive and developmental toxicity, and even cancer; however, they’re still widely used in North America. [*]
4. Propylene glycol
Commonly used as a skin conditioner and moisturizer, propylene glycol has been associated with skin irritation, as well as allergies and immunotoxicity. [*]
5. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is commonly found in shampoos and soaps and is often responsible for their lathering effect. While some studies deem it safe at low concentrations, others mention it can cause skin, eye, or lung irritation, and it is deemed possibly toxic or harmful by the Environment Canada Domestic Substance List. [*]
6. Sodium Laureth Sulfate
Sodium Laureth Sulfate is similar to sodium lauryl sulfate and is used in soaps and shampoos as a detergent and lathering agent. It is classified by the European Commission as “harmful in contact with skin,” and a cause of eye, skin, and respiratory irritation. It’s also deemed to be toxic to aquatic life. [*]
7. Mineral oils
Mineral oil is a colorless, oily liquid added as a conditioner and moisturizer to skincare products. However, it is deemed carcinogenic and is associated with various carcinomas in the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes. [*]
8. Diethanolamine (DEA or DEOA)
DEA is a colorless liquid commonly used in soap and cosmetic formulations as a surfactant. According to research, it is a suspected human carcinogen. [*]
Aluminum is a metal common in many cosmetics; especially deodorants. Studies have established it is a neurotoxin, is embryotoxic, and maybe a trigger for breast cancer. [*]
Petroleum is normally used in skincare products as a lubricant and moisturizer; however, it’s not necessarily the harmless “jelly” it’s been made out to be for decades. Studies link it to causing skin tumors in mice, along with chronic irritation. [*]
Triclosan is an antibacterial added to hand sanitizers and soaps in order to keep bacteria at bay. Studies show it has adverse effects on cells, including causing “mitochondrial uncoupling,” which could result in mutations or problems with ATP production – our energy source for all activities. It’s also known as a powerful endocrine disrupter that could throw hormones out of whack and results in all types of disorders. [*]
12. Fragrance (perfume or parfum)
Fragrances in skin care products can contain a range of chemicals. They are broadly listed by the Environmental Working Group as potential endocrine disruptors, and also have toxic effects on the immune system. [*]
Skincare Products: The Clean
As you can see, the side effects of common chemicals in skincare products are nothing to shrug at. From minor skin irritations to cancer, the risk of using these products when so many natural options are available seems less than worth it.
Organic, plant-based skincare products made from natural oils, essential oils, herbs, vegetable butter, and other ingredients straight from the land are, in contrast, non-cancer-causing and have a considerably lower risk of causing irritation compared to conventional skincare products.
Natural ingredients also contain their innate vitamins and minerals, such as nourishing fatty acids, vitamins A, E, and C, and minerals that help soothe skin. Not to mention, natural brands have begun pioneering natural preservatives to keep their formulations stable, such as vitamin E and rosemary. [*]
Many natural products also offer similar or even better results when it comes to combating signs of aging, or of moisturizing your skin. Take vitamin C, for instance: studies show it’s one of the best ingredients to combat photoaging and rejuvenate the skin, and can be found in a wide range of completely natural products (no additional synthetic chemicals needed). [*]
Natural Skincare Products: What to Look For
The main thing you want to look for when shopping for natural skincare is 1. None of the chemicals on the Dirty Dozen list; and 2. No other unpronounceable chemical ingredients.
Check labels for all skincare products, including shampoo, hand soap, anti-aging creams and serums, conditioners, lotions, and even things like bath salts and bath bombs. Just because a product says “all-natural ingredients” on the front of a label does not mean the product is “all” natural. In fact, the term “natural” isn’t regulated by the FDA, which leaves room for all kinds of misleading claims.
A great natural skincare brand will be made from pure oils, herbs or herbal extracts, minerals and vitamins, and essential oils. Some may even be infused with superfoods like seaweed or calming compounds like hemp oil.
Swapping to natural products can save you from an overload of chemical exposure, which environmental and health agencies estimate skincare products are heavily responsible for. If you’ve made the change, we want to know: how has it worked for you? How do you feel?