In recent years, food has come firmly under the spotlight, as consumer demand for ethically sourced, clearly labelled products has grown. This has led to a massive increase in transparency regarding food production and a spike in demand for free-range and organic options.
And just as we are, rightly, demanding to know the ingredients that go into our foods and their provenance, the focus is beginning to shift to the products we use as part of our skin care regime. After all, what we put onto and allow to absorb into our skin can also profoundly affect our bodies. In terms of women’s health, and specifically hormone health, making some minor changes to our skin care regime could result in significant changes to our well-being.
So, let’s be super brave and face up to what nasties could be lurking in our favourite products; and find out how we can discover our next new favourites that are free of them. Let’s do this together.
Skin Care Ingredients and Regulations
You may or may not have heard of the INCI. Don’t worry; I hadn’t either.
INCI stands for International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredient and it’s a piece of EU legislation that states that all ingredients used in a cosmetic product must be clearly labelled. These ingredients should be labelled consistently so that people who have an allergy to one of these ingredients can clearly see whether they are contained in the product. The rules prevent a company from potentially hiding or obscuring an allergen. They are designed to promote transparency for consumers, to be clear on precisely what has gone into the item they’re buying.
So, what ingredients should you avoid in skin care?
You should look for:
- endocrine disruptors.
This trio of miscreants can wreak havoc on your body. Let’s take a look at the effects they can have and how to avoid them.
Skin Care Ingredients: Enemy #1 – Allergens
The first troublemaker on our list is allergens. An allergen is defined as any substance that, when eaten, inhaled or allowed to come into contact with the skin, produces an allergic reaction. During an allergic reaction, the body reacts to the allergen as if it is a dangerous invader, and as a result, triggers the immune system. The immune system responds by going code red and releasing a mixture of chemicals, among them histamines, into the blood, which produces the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Allergens to food are well known, but are you aware of the allergens that could be hiding in your skin care products?
What are the Most Common Allergens in Skin Care Products?
Aluminium Compounds – common skin care allergens include aluminium compounds, which are found in many roll-on antiperspirants. These compounds can cause skin irritation and have been linked to the development of breast cancer.
Acids – certain acids can also be problematic: salicylic acid, topical retinoids and glycolic acid can all react with the skin, causing redness and irritation. Therefore, these little menaces really are skin care ingredients to avoid for sensitive skin, especially if used too frequently.
Fragrance – next on the naughty list is fragrance, widely used and the most common culprit in causing an allergic reaction to skin care products. Fragrances can induce allergy symptoms that include coughs, headaches and the onset of rashes.
Metals – metals can instigate an allergic reaction and are found in some surprising products. Watch out specifically for cobalt (which can hide in antiperspirants), aluminium, chromium and lead. Metallic eyeshadows should also be approached with caution if you have a known metal allergy or sensitivity.
Sulphates – next in the dock: a common ingredient in most body washes and shampoos, sulphates can cause skin irritation and rashes and even upset the eyes.
5 Tips to Avoid Allergens
So, now we’ve rooted out the list of potentially problematic skin care ingredients; what could we be looking out for instead, and what is the best natural ingredient for skin?
- In terms of antiperspirants, there is an increasing number of zero aluminium roll-ons available. These alternatives are widely available and are relatively inexpensive, so this is an easy swap to make.
- Look for fragrance-free versions of skin care products where possible, too. It may take a little while to get used to the lack of perfume, but your skin will thank you for it.
- Organic skin care ranges are in plentiful supply now, and often don’t contain the sort of allergens you need to be watchful for elsewhere. For example, organic body washes won’t contain skin-irritating sulphates if you want to avoid them.
- Or why not use an entirely natural option? Soothing coconut oil is fab for dry, itchy skin, and extra virgin olive oil makes for a fantastic moisturiser and all-around skin balm.
- The humble oat has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties and is excellent for rejuvenating the skin, while witch hazel is a wonderful alternative to store-bought skin toners. Who knew that our kitchen cupboards could double as a skin care outlet?
Skin Care Ingredients: Enemy #2 – Carcinogenic
The term ‘carcinogenic’ means potentially cancer-causing. So, it’s a huge surprise to find that there could be carcinogenic ingredients in our favourite skin and beauty products? Brace yourself – here’s a list of carcinogens that could be hiding in your favourite skin treats…
Formaldehyde – can often be found in cosmetics, including eyeshadow, mascara and blusher.
Phenacetin – occasionally found in hair removal creams.
Mineral oils – derived from crude oils and present in many cosmetics and skin care products.
Heavy Metals – watch out for these in eye shadow and lip-gloss.
Silica – commonly present in body lotions, cosmetics and sunscreen.
What Are the Most Toxic Beauty Products?
In terms of carcinogen content, nail polish is probably the most toxic cosmetic that you’re likely to use on a regular basis. Packed full of chemicals and horrible stuff like formaldehyde, it’s been linked to causing cancer. It can also adversely affect fertility, which is why we call it out on our endocrine disruptors list that we’ll get into in a bit. There is now a range of non-toxic nail polishes available, so you can have all the pamper without health concerns.
Any cosmetic or skin lotion containing triethanolamine should be avoided, too, so be sure to check the ingredients label. This chemical is widely used despite being an irritant that is also thought to be toxic to the immune system.
Keep an eye out for parabens, too – these chemicals are added to many cosmetics and lotions to prevent them from spoiling but have been linked to breast and skin cancers. Bronzers, in particular, have been found to contain high amounts of some types of parabens. Check the packaging to find a paraben-free option for peace of mind.
Skin Care Ingredients: Enemy #3 – Endocrine Disruptors
The endocrine system is how the body releases, and responds to, hormones in the bloodstream. This happens via a circuitry of glands located throughout the body. These hormones communicate with cells to effectively tell them what they need to do. The hormones released and also received control and regulate, among other things, growth, metabolism and the reproductive system.
Thank you, endocrine system – though if you could’ve ‘regulated’ a couple more inches of height for me, that would have been awesome. But no hard feelings.
What Do Endocrine Disruptors Do?
The endocrine system is delicate, and certain chemicals can disrupt it, negatively impacting mood, general well-being, and fertility. Let’s look at some everyday endocrine disruptors found in skin care products – and how to avoid them.
Types of Endocrine Disruptors in Skin Care Products
What are common endocrine disruptors? Check the packaging when buying products, and be watchful for the following, which could upset your hormone health:
Formaldehyde – found in various products, most commonly in nail polish, formaldehyde can disrupt hormones and has been linked to thyroid problems.
Parabens – often found in sunscreens, parabens can upset the estrogen balance in the female body and has been linked to causing reproductive problems.
Phthalates – watch out for this in products including bar soap, shaving cream and lipstick. Phthalates may increase the risk of miscarriage or complications during pregnancy.
BPA – widely used in skin care products and cosmetics, BPA has been linked to causing hormone imbalance by acting, in the body, similarly to estrogen.
Fragrance – oh dear; it’s not looking good for fragrance, as it makes a second appearance here as a potential endocrine disruptor. Like BPA, certain chemicals in fragrances can affect estrogen balance in the body.
Glycol Ethers – keep an eye out for this in body lotions and sunscreens; it can impact red blood cell health.
Cyclosiloxanes – these chemicals are sometimes found in sunscreen. They can have a mild impact on estrogen levels and be linked to an increase in cancer risk.
Benzones – another common component of sunscreens. Exposure to benzenes has been shown to cause problems in reproductive health in animal trials.
How to Avoid Endocrine Disruptors
Checking the labels before purchasing products is your best bet when it comes to avoiding these undesirables in skin care products and cosmetics. Instead, consider choosing a natural or organic product for a skin treatment that won’t undermine your body’s fragile endocrine system. But endocrine-disrupting chemicals can be found elsewhere, too.
Filtering your water is a good way of avoiding possible endocrine disruptors in drinking water.
Replacing synthetic for natural as much as possible is a good rule of thumb to avoid endocrine disruptors.
Choosing Safer Skin Care
Who knew there were so many skin irritants in skin care? The allergens, carcinogens and endocrine disruptors lurking in our favourite skin care and cosmetic products could be doing significant damage to our health. So, how can we eradicate them from our bathroom shelves and dressing tables?
Firstly, to help you avoid allergens, carcinogens and endocrine disruptors in your skin care products, a skin care ingredients checker like INCIDecoder or EWG’s Skin Deep are invaluable in identifying chemicals and compounds listed on the packaging and a great way to check ingredients in cosmetics, so you know exactly what you’re buying. The Think Dirty App is a fab resource, too, allowing users to compare ingredients across different brands and offering an overall score for each product based on the amount of potentially harmful ingredients it contains.
But once we’ve banished our former favourite brands from our lives, what do we replace them with?
Happily, more and more natural and organic alternatives are coming to the market, allowing us to care for our skin in a way that doesn’t expose us to health risks.
So be cynical when choosing your skin care – the brands you love may not be loving you back.