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August 15, 2019
I’m not going to lie to you, this is going to be a ‘heavy’ post. So if you’re looking for a light read, save this for another day :). Many ‘clean beauty die hard fans’ as I would like to call them, may find choices in products limiting, especially since ingredients which have limited information or could potentially cause skin irritation can be automatically labelled as ‘toxic’ by certain websites without any scientific evidence.
So when I started on my personal clean beauty journey, I was overwhelmed by the amount of information on the web. So, to make things more palatable, I first focus on identifying ingredients which are proven to be harmful and are definite no-nos. What I have collated in this post are some of the major offenders and debatable chemicals in our skincare and cosmetic products on my personal list when I started on my clean beauty journey. I’ve also included the EWG (Environmental Working Group) rating of each ingredient for reference. For those who may not know what EWG is, they are non-profit organisation based in the USA and provides toxicity ratings for ingredients which ranges from 1 to 10 with 10 being the most dangerous.
FORMALDEHYDE & FORMALDEHYDE RELEASERS (EWG Rating: 10/10)
It is shocking to know that formaldehyde is used as a preservative for cosmetics and skincare products. You should be aware that most cosmetic companies do not usually include pure formaldehyde into their concoctions but use what we call ‘formaldehyde-releasers’ that forms formaldehyde molecules when added to water. So you’ve got to play detective and scrutinize your product labels for these ingredients instead:
High levels of formaldehyde exposure may cause some types of cancers and has been a known carcinogen. Found in: body wash, shampoo, bubble bath
TOLUENE (EWG Rating: 10/10)
Ever realised how nail salons always have that strong, pungent odor? That’s partially caused by this bad boy. With an EWG rating of 10, there’s no reason for us to compromise on having this ingredient lurking in our products. Exposure to toluene can result in temporary effects such as headaches, dizziness and cracked skin, as well as more serious effects such as reproductive damage and respiratory complications. Found in: nail polish, nail polish removers, hair dyes
OXYBENZONE (EWG Rating: 8/10)
The Environmental Working Group says 56% of beach and sport sunscreens contain the chemical oxybenzone. The primary function of oxybenzone is to absorb ultraviolet light, but some research shows oxybenzone can be absorbed through the skin. The EWG Group and other toxicology experts believe that this ingredient is linked to hormone disruption and potentially cell damage which leads to cancer. Found in: chemical sunscreens
METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE AND METHYLCHLOROISOTHIAZOLINONE (EWG Rating: 6-7/10)
These ingredients sound like a mouthful! They are chemical preservatives which are most common skin irritants and causes of skin allergies. Found in: shampoo, conditioner, body wash.
ETHANOLAMINES (MEA, DEA, TEA) (EWG Rating: 5-10)
These are used as emulsifying agents and fragrance. The European Commission prohibits diethanolamine (DEA) in cosmetics, to reduce contamination from carcinogenic nitrosamines. What to look out for in labels: basically any ingredient that has TEA, MEA or DEA. Found in: eyeliner, eyeshadow, foundation, mascara, sunscreens.
PARABENS (isobutyl-, propyl- isopropyl-, and others) (EWG Rating: 4 - 8/10)
Parabens are most commonly used as preservatives for cosmetics to prevent growth of harmful bacteria and increases the shelf-life of products. They have endocrine (hormone) disruption capacity and documented female and male reproductive harm. Found in: shampoo, face cleanser, body wash, body lotion, foundation.
POLYETHYLENE GLYCOL (PEG) (EWG Rating: 3/10)
PEGs are widely used in cosmetics as thickeners, solvents and softeners, and moisture-carriers. The reason why this ingredient is included in this list although given a mere 3 rating on EWG is due to contamination risk. On its own, PEG is not as harmful as everyone thinks it is. But depending on manufacturing processes, PEGs may be contaminated with measurable amounts of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, which are both carcinogens. Found in: sunscreen, shampoo, moisturising creams
SULPHATES (SLS, SLES) (EWG Rating: 2-3/10)
Sulphates are cheap, effective cleansing and foaming agents and are found in most shampoos you can get off the shelf (check Pantene, Sunsilk, Head and Shoulders, and many more!). Although they have a fairly decent rating on EWG, similar to PEG above, they are most harmful when contaminated with 1,4-dioxane (which has a rating of 8 on EWG), which is used to process other chemicals to make it less harsh. SLS is the bigger, meaner brother of SLES, so if you REALLY have to choose between the two, I’d say SLES would be a safer bet.
We hope this list helps you make better, informed purchases!
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