Just think about that for a minute … that’s a hell of a lot of ingredients on a daily basis!
Then combine that fact with this one: cosmetics and personal care products are designed to penetrate the skin. Eek!
Doesn’t it seem obvious that these ingredients will end up inside our bodies? Who knows how much trouble the naughty ones are getting up to in there!
If we fail to choose our products wisely, we will most certainly end up contaminating our bodies with a whole heap of nasties, at levels which may cause biological damage.
The truth is, in many cases there isn’t enough research to know for sure how safe (or unsafe) a lot of these ingredients are. It’s just safer, in my opinion, to avoid as many of the dubious ingredients as possible, especially where children are involved.
The EWG’s Skin Deep database is a great resource for checking the safety of your products. It provides a hazard rating for over 68,000 products. It also has a free app which you can download to your phone, making it very easy to check products on the go.
In the event you can’t find a product in the database, it is handy to have a basic knowledge of the more toxic ingredients to avoid in your beauty and skincare regime. Below I have listed the worst offenders, as well as their natural alternatives (if any). I’ve also added some tips for Mum’s to help keep the kiddies safe.
BHA and BHT preservatives
What are they: Artificial preservatives commonly used in cosmetics to extend shelf life. What they can do to your health: Cause allergic skin reactions. Potentially carcinogenic. BHA is a hormone disruptor which raises the risk of oestrogen-dependent cancers, such as breast and ovarian. Tip forMum’s: Make sure your child’s diaper cream doesn’t contain BHA.
What is it: A harsh antibacterial agent used mainly in products to treat oily skin and acne. What it can do to your health: Dry the skin. Cause redness, itching and swelling. Can cause blistering in extreme cases. Natural alternatives: Tea tree essential oil (Melaleuca alternifolia), lemongrass essential oil (Cymbopogon), grapefruit essential oil (Citrus paradisi), sugar compounds.
Boric acid and Sodium borate
What are they: Emulsifier and preservative. Controls pH. Alters thickness of liquid products. What they can do to your health: Disrupt hormones and harm the male reproductive system. Easily absorbs into the body. Tip for Mum’s: Make sure products used on children under 3 do not contain these ingredients. In particular, check your infant’s diaper cream.
What is it: A solvent and plasticizer, often found in perfumes and nail polishes. What it can do to your health: Cause developmental and reproductive abnormalities. Toxic to the liver and kidneys. Tip for Mum’s: Avoid dibutyl phthalate in nail polish if pregnant. Avoid perfume which lists “fragrance” as an ingredient, as it may contain phthalates.
Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives
Examples of formaldehyde-releasers: Bronopol, DMDM hydantoin, Diazolidinyl urea, Imidazolidinylurea, Methenamine, Quaternium-15 and Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate. What are they: Artificial preservatives used to extend shelf life. What they can do to your health: Cause eye and skin irritations and trigger allergies. Carcinogenic in large doses. Tip for Mum’s: If pregnant, avoid formaldehyde or formalin in nail polish. Check baby wipes do not contain Bronopol or DMDM hydantoin.
Examples:Sometimes referred to as parfum. What is it: Enhances aroma. Product labels are not required to list any of the chemicals in their fragrance mixture, despite 95% of fragrances used in cosmetics and toiletries containing dozens of separate petrochemically based ingredients. What it can do to your health: Neurotoxic, can cause headaches, mood swings, depression, dizziness and skin irritations. One of the top 5 allergens in the world. Can contain hormone disruptors. Commonly triggers asthma attacks. Tip for Mum’s: Buy fragrance free wherever possible. In particular, make sure your child’s diaper cream and baby wipes are fragrance free and avoid perfume which lists “fragrance” as an ingredient. Natural alternatives: Essential oils or herbal and floral extracts. Precaution is needed when using essential oils, especially with babies and children. Make sure you do your research (this is a helpful guide). If unsure, consult a professional.
What is it: A solvent and penetration enhancer, facilitates other ingredients to absorb more easily into the skin. Commonly found in make up, shampoos, moisturisers and nail polish. What it can do to your health: Neurotoxic, skin drying and/or irritating, potentially toxic to the liver.
What is it: Preservative added to prolong shelf life of products. Found in most types of toiletries and cosmetics. What it can do to your health: Cause epidemic skin reactions. Neurotoxic and potentially carcinogenic.
Examples: Methyl-, Propyl-, Isopropyl-, Butyl-, Isobutyl- and Ethyl-Paraben What are they: Estrogen-mimicking preservatives which are easily absorbed into the skin. Widely used in shampoos, shower gels, make up, body lotions, scrubs and facial toners. What they can do to your health: Cause allergic reactions and skin rashes, may disrupt the endocrine system and cause reproductive and developmental disorders,. Studies have found samples in breast tumours. Tip for Mum’s: Check your teen’s acne products do not contain parabens. Natural alternatives: Vitamins E (Alpha tocopherol) and C (L ascorbic acid), citric acid, propolis and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis).
Paraffinum Liquidum (Mineral Oil)
What is it: A cheap and abundant ingredient used to make products easy to apply, forms a film on the skin to prevent water loss. Found in face creams, make up, body lotions and baby oils. What it can do to your health:Interfere with the body’s own natural moisturising mechanism, which can lead to dryness and chapping. Tip for Mum’s: Make sure the oils you rub onto your cherubs do not contain this ingredient. Natural alternatives:Coconut oil (Cocos nucifera), apricot seed oil (Prunus armeniaca), almond oil (Prunus amygdalus dulcis). Plant oils and butters, such as jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis), avocado (Persea gratissima), rosehip seed (Rosa canina), and shea butter (Shea Butyrospermum parkii).
Petrolatum (Petroleum Jelly)
What is it: Derived from mineral oil and used as an emollient (film-forming). Commonly found in lipsticks and balms, hair-care products, moisturisers, depilatories and deodorants. What it can do to your health: Like paraffin liquidum, it may interfere with the body’s own natural moisturising mechanism, which can lead to dryness and chapping. Natural alternatives:Coconut oil (Cocos nucifera), apricot seed oil (Prunus armeniaca), almond oil (Prunus amygdalus dulcis). Plant oils and butters, such as jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis), avocado (Persea gratissima), rosehip seed (Rosa canina), and shea butter (Shea Butyrospermum parkii).
Propylene Glycol, PEG (Polyethylene Glycol) and PPG (Polypropylene Glycol)
What are they:Synthetic petrochemicals designed to keep products moist and facilitate other ingredients to be absorbed more easily into the skin. Commonly found in moisturisers, deodorants, make-up, depilatories, and soaps. What they can do to your health: Linked to allergic reactions, hives and eczema. PEG compounds may be contaminated with carcinogens. Natural alternatives: Vegetable glycerine, lecithin and panthenol (pro-vitamin B5). PEG can also be derived fro xanthum gum, Cetearyl oliva, quince seed (Pyrus cydonia), rice bran, and plant waxes such as candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphillitica), carnauba (Copernica cerifera), jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis).
What is it: Plastic-like substance which helps products stick to the skin or hold hair in place. Commonly found in hairsprays, styling aids, make up, tanning products, toothpastes and skin creams. What it can do to your health:Damage lungs and prevent skin from breathing. Natural alternatives: Vegetable glycerine, lecithin and panthenol (pro-vitamin B5).
Examples: Cyclotetrasiloxane, cyclopentasiloxane, cyclohexasiloxane and cyclomethiocone What are they: Silicone-based compounds designed to make products feel better on the skin. They make products easy to apply and form a film that temporarily makes skin feel smoother. Commonly found in lotions and creams. What they can do to your health: Potential carcinogens, reproductive toxins and hormone disruptors.
Sodium Lauryl or Sodium Laureth Sulfate detergents
What are they: Detergents and foaming agents founds in shampoos, body washes and toothpastes. What they can do to your health: Cause eye irritation, flaking scalp, skin rashes and allergic reactions. Sodium laureth sulphate may be contaminated with carcinogens.
Examples: Numbers with the prefix CI. What are they:Merely used to add colour to products, such as shampoos and cleansers. Adds no value to products’ effectiveness. What they can do to your health: Often carcinogenic, unless mineral-based. Natural alternatives: CI 75 and CI 77, which indicates mineral or other naturally derived colours.
What is it: Antibacterial agent, easily absorbs into skin. Very toxic to the aquatic environment. Commonly found in antiperspirants, facial cleanser, hand sanitisers and toothpastes. What it can do to your health: Disrupts thyroid function and reproductive hormones. May cause resistance to antibiotics. Tip for Mum’s: Avoid in soaps, toothpastes and shaving creams. Ensure your teen’s acne products do not contain this ingredient. Natural alternatives: Tea tree essential oil (Melaleuca alternifolia), thyme essential oil (Thymus vulgaris), grapefruit seed extract (Citrus grandis), bitter orange extract (Citrus aurantium amara).