As consumers, we generally purchase a product based on what its use is and what it is advertising to do. It is very rare that we pick up a product in a store and scan the ingredients, unless we are allergic to something specific.
If we did look at the ingredients, we probably would not know what any of them are. With words like ‘phenoxyethanol’ and ‘sodium benzoate’, it feels like you need a degree in science to understand what you are truly buying.
There is Google of course, however, most of us don’t feel like Googling a bunch of ingredients to discover whether the product is harmful. Alternatively, most of us don’t think to do this.
The problem is, our everyday mainstream products that fall into categories such as skincare, haircare, bodycare, makeup and cleaning products often contain ingredients that are very harmful to the skin and the human body.
The skin is our largest organ and we ought to treat it with some respect. What if I told you that you are using a product that is actually making your skin problems worse? Alternatively, what if I told you that the product you are using as a facial moisturiser is slowing down your reproductive system?
There are many common harmful ingredients added to our everyday products and we don’t know what they mean or do. In this article, I am going to tell you exactly why they are in your products and what impact the ingredients have on the skin and the human body.
The five harmful ingredients contained in our skin care products
It seems only appropriate to start with the worst of the bunch and that is parabens. Parabens are an inexpensive and common type of preservative that is used in many different products. The whole point of using parabens is to keep the product fresh and lasting longer. In addition, they prevent the product from harbouring any harmful bacteria. Parabens generally resist the growth of bacteria, fungi and other micro-organisms in products, particularly in hot and humid climates. Now that you know the point of parabens and what their function is, let’s get into why parabens should not be used in products. Previous scientific studies have found that parabens can interfere with the body’s hormones, particularly reproductive hormones.
Scary, right? Well, there’s more. There are additional health risks to parabens such as developmental disorders and cancer. Particularly breast cancer and this was discovered when parabens were found in best tumours. Known as the ‘bad guy’ in skincare, it is difficult to boycott them. This is because the bottle of skincare will not say ‘contains parabens’. When it comes to paraben hunting, you need to look for ingredients such as ‘butylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben’ to name a few. You should also look for products that say they do not contain parabens and check their ingredients list to confirm.
Next up is formaldehyde. Its effects are not quite as extreme as that of parabens but it deserves a mention nonetheless. Formaldehyde’s purpose in products is to perform as an anti-bacterial preservative to reduce the growth of bacteria in a product. Formaldehyde can cause irritation to the skin, eyes, nose and the throat. High levels of exposure to formaldehyde may even cause some forms of cancer. To avoid buying products with formaldehyde, look out for ingredients that end in formaldehyde, formalin, bromopol or glyoxal.
3. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate / Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS)
SLS is a versatile ingredient that consists of non-volatile alcohols. It is what will turn a squirty body wash into a smooth later. The purpose of SLS is basically to make bubbles. This means that it traps dirt and makes it easy to rinse off. This creates a rich lather while giving off a clean and fresh feeling when used. It is also an emulsifier and can be used to stabilise and thicken solutions with ingredients of different solubility. It is a common ingredient in cosmetics but also in industry.
Ironically, it is one of the most sensitising ingredients that is used in skincare. In other words, it is known for causing skin and eye irritation. It can also cause dry and flaking skin, redness and cause or enhance allergies. It is essentially a harsh detergent that removes all the natural oils from your skin when used. Consequences of using products that contain SLS include dandruff, dermatitis and other various skin issues. For people with sensitive skin types, the effects of SLS can be detrimental.
Next up on the list is petrolatum. It is a rich emollient and FDA-approved skin protection. It is a common ingredient in products targeted for dry skin. While refined petrolatum is approved for human use, petrolatum is a potentially harmful skincare ingredient. There are risks of contamination when using this ingredient. This is due to the large number of cheaper imitations and mass production which leads to adverse results. Petrolatum is in moisturising products such as lip balm and moisturisers.
However, they do not have moisturising properties. Rather, they create a barrier that retains moisture. All the while, it also prevents absorption of external moisture which causes the skin to suffocate and over time, dry out. Products that contain petrolatum are fast-acting and give quick but temporary results. They give an illusion of soft and hydrated skin when in reality they have broken down the skin barrier causing suffocation and extreme dryness.
5. Coal Tar
Yes, you read that right coal tar. It is believed that almost 10,000 different compounds make up coal tar. However, only 400 or so are identified. The main compounds that make up crude coal tar include 48% hydrocarbons, 42% carbon and 10% water. In its natural form, coal tar is a light black, thick, viscous liquid with a very specific smell. The chances are, the more vibrant that your lipstick colour is, the more coal tar that is in it. The constant depend for new ranges of bright colours compels manufacturers to utilise coal tar.
It provides the base for bright and vibrant colours. They make up the many shades of eyeshadows and lipsticks available in the market. The impact? Coal tar is an extremely heavy substance that weighs down the skin. It causes skin irritation that results in allergic breakouts and acne. Studies have discovered that coal tar is a carcinogen too. Manufacturers try to be careful here by using minimal amounts in cosmetics to ensure it is safe for humans to use.
As humans, it is very rare that we scan the ingredients of a product before purchasing unless we are allergic to something. Unfortunately, our everyday mainstream products often contain the above ingredients. These ingredients are not just harmful to the skin but also to human health. Our skin is our largest organ and we really need to look after it. It can be impossible to determine whether an ingredient is good or not since we often don’t understand them. We hope that you know which ingredients to avoid now and if there are ingredients, we have not mentioned that you are unsure about, the number one rule is: RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH!
There are lots of natural options out there for products that will actually improve and nourish your skin. In addition, natural choices are better for the environment as well as your health. The general rule when it comes to products, although difficult, is if you don’t understand the ingredients, don’t buy it. Brands who have good ingredients will always include what the ingredient is in brackets on the back of the product. For example, like this Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter. There are so many harmful ingredients added to our everyday products that we will have a part two on this article!