We all want the best for our skin. However, the skincare we buy to do so can often be harmful, rather than beneficial. More and more often, toxic and harmful chemicals are being added to skincare products – chemicals which, over time, result in dehydrated, sensitive skin and overall poor skin health.
In this article, we’ve put together some of the most common chemicals to watch out for when purchasing skincare products.
The chemicals commonly added to skincare
Sodium lauryl sulphate
Sodium lauryl sulphate, commonly also referred to as SLS, is a surfactant – a substance that rids of grease. Although it’s known to be irritating, especially on sensitive skin, it continues to be used because of its cheap price. You’ll commonly find it in shampoos, masks, sunscreen, face wash, hand sanitiser, foundation, exfoliants and many other beauty products.
Because SLS dissolves grease, it has a dehydrating effect on the skin. Safety assessment studies have found that SLS is not harmful if only used briefly – however, most of us use our skincare products for a prolonged period of time, when it becomes unsafe for our skin. As the skin becomes vulnerable due to dehydration caused by SLS exposure, it’s also more likely to be negatively affected by other factors.
When applied to the skin, SLS can also penetrate it and be absorbed into the body. When that happens, it’s been found to mimic oestrogen, possibly leading to health issues related to PMS and menopause, as well as drops in male fertility.
If you’ve bought natural and organic skincare before, you’ve probably seen products labelled as paraben-free. They are frequently added to skincare products as antibacterial and antifungal agents. However, they are known to be endocrine disruptors, which means that they have a negative effect on healthy hormonal function in the body. Among other effects, this may lead to increased risk of cancer – specifically breast cancer and problems with reproductive health.
Methyl parabens specifically can also lead to increased skin ageing and possible DNA damage, as the parabens react when exposed to UVB lights.
Synthetic colourants are added to some skincare products, simply to make them more visually appealing. Otherwise, they serve no purpose at all. Quite the contrary, they may actually cover up when a product spoils, leading you to use skincare that’s past its shelf life.
While the synthetic colourants used in conventional skincare vary, all of them are completely unnecessary – and yet they are still being added to products.
Some of these dyes are made from coal tars, which have a wide variety of negative effects on the skin and overall health. Research has found that these chemicals can cause mood swings, nausea, fatigue and headaches. They may also have carcinogenic effects, although the degrees likely vary.
Other dyes can be derived from precipitating soluble colours with aluminium – these can be neurotoxic.
Fragrances are added to virtually all skincare products – even those for sensitive skin, which is much more prone to irritation. Similarly to colourants, they’re completely unnecessary and are often used to cover up the unnatural smell of other chemicals.
The effects of some of these fragrances include dizziness, headaches, rashes, skin discolouration, violent coughing and allergic skin irritation. Study results also show these chemicals can affect the nervous system and affect mental health, resulting in behavioural changes.
Contained in a variety of cosmetics, isopropyl alcohol is petroleum-based solvent. It’s fatal if as little as 1 ounce of it is ingested but is still regularly added to cosmetics despite that. When applied to the skin, it can result in dryness, itching, redness or rashes. After regular exposure, it can also cause headaches, dizziness, confusion or loss of coordination.
Propylene glycol is often used in sunscreen, makeup, lotions or aftershave, as a coupling agent. Exposure has been shown to cause abnormalities in the brain, liver and kidneys.
While the name ‘mineral oil’ sounds like something much less dangerous than the chemicals mentioned above, it’s got some alarming effects on the skin. It coats the skin and doesn’t let it breathe, keeping toxins inside. This has a variety of consequences, including clogged pores, acne and premature skin ageing.
If you’re using any acne treatments, this chemical is likely to be included in them, as it helps decrease the levels of bacteria. However, it also strips the skin, making it much more sensitive. This is likely to cause dryness, itching and overall sensitive skin in the future.
Natural skincare to try instead
The best way to avoid these harmful chemicals and their negative effects on the skin is to choose natural, organic skin care products instead. The manufacturers and sellers of these are much more aware of the effects of these chemicals on the skin and use safe, gentle, natural ingredients which nourish sensitive skin.
Natural cleansers are free from SLS and other drying agents, using more environmentally friendly and skin-friendly options instead. Organic moisturisers hydrate the skin while still letting it breathe, without clogging the pores. Natural makeup lets you express your creativity and use the products which make you feel good while nourishing the skin, rather than damaging.
In all cases, always check the product labels to ensure all ingredients are safe and that no toxins and harmful chemicals are included. Choose sustainable, natural brands which specialise in organic skincare, rather than big brands with more skin-friendly lines – to support companies which care about your health and the planet.
Each small, sustainable choice is one more step towards greener living