We all know how important it is to look at the ingredients we put in our bodies, but what about the ingredients we put on our bodies?
The skin is the largest organ of the body and it is porous. That is, the ingredients of the products you use can be absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Toxic ingredients once in the bloodstream can cause a variety health problems from skin irritations, to allergies and endocrine issues.
Looking at the ingredients list on the back of a shampoo bottle can however be a minefield. So here are my top 5 beauty product no no’s, hopefully they will help you make better, more informed choices.
What is it: Formaldehyde is a gas used in a wide range of industries and products including building and furniture materials as well as personal care products. It is used in beauty products for its preserving and microbial qualities.
Found in: Hair products, shampoos, liquid soaps, shower gels, cosmetics
Listed as: It is rarely listed as formaldehyde, but instead as the formaldehyde releasing agents such as quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin and diazolidinyl urea
Health concerns: Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and has been shown to cause skin irritations.
Good to know: Formaldehyde is banned from use in cosmetics and toiletries in Japan and Sweden.
What is it: a synthetic substance added to water based products as a preserver for its anti-fungal properties. Parabens are used because they are cheap and help extend the shelf-life of the product.
Parabens occur naturally at low levels in certain foods however, they are metabolised when eaten making them less strongly estrogenic. In contrast, when applied directly to the skin, they are absorbed into the bloodstream intact.
Found in: Shampoos, conditioners, lotions, cleansers, soaps, shower gels, deodorants
Listed as: ingredients ending in ~paraben e.g. Ethylparaben,
Health concerns: endocrine disrupters because of their ability to mimic estrogen; carcinogenic – a 2004 study found synthetic parabens intact in breast tumour samples; male reproductive disrupter reducing sperm production and testosterone levels.
Good to know: Denmark has banned parabens in products for children under 3
What is it: Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate is an emulsifying and foaming agent used in industrial cleaners and beauty products.
Found in: Products that foam e.g. liquid soaps, shower gels, bubble bath
Listed as: Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate
Health Concerns: As well as being an irritant, SLS permeates your skin easily and also makes the skin more permeable to other chemicals. SLS is often contaminated with 1,4 dioxane which can be carcinogenic and cause problems with the kidneys, liver and central nervous system.
Good to know: Health Canada has categorized SLS as a “moderate human health priority” and flagged it for future assessment. The Journal of the American College of Toxicology says that it has “a degenerative effect on the cell membranes because of its protein denaturing properties”.
What is it: Phthalates are chemical compounds added to plastics and beauty products to enhance flexibllity, durability and longevity.
Found in: nail products, fragrances, cosmetics
Listed as: phthalate, DEP, DBP, DEHP and fragrance
Health Concerns: Phthalates are absorbed through the skin and can enhance the effects of other toxic chemicals. Additionally, they are seen as an endocrine disrupter with an effect on the hormones, reproductive toxicity, liver and kidney issues.
Good to know: The European Union bans phthalates in cosmetics however phthalates are used in fragrances. Fragrance recipes are seen as trademark secrets and ingredients are not required to be listed. US cosmetic products are not subject to a ban.
What is it: The term fragrance or parfum indicates a complex mixture of a vast number of different chemicals. There is no way of knowing the full extent of chemical exposure.
Found in: Most beauty products. Even products listed ‘fragrance free’ usually have fragrance in them.
Listed as: Fragrance, parfum, perfume, aroma
Health concerns: skin irritations, headaches, eye irritations, allergies
Good to know: As above, fragrances are seen as trademark secrets so there is no way of knowing your exposure to toxins.
So what now?
If reading this fills you with dread wondering where to turn, don’t panic. I am a Neal’s Yard consultant and I can help you through this. Neal’s Yard products are completely free of all nasties and are enhanced with organic essential oils for health and wellbeing benefits. Get in touch today to find out where you can make some simple changes.