Dangerous chemicals in skincare products pose serious risks to our health. To help you choose the right products and avoid the wrong ones, we’ve put together a list of harmful ingredients to stay clear of, and we provide some safe natural alternatives to substitute instead.
A blog post medically edited by Dr. Jen Haley, Board Certified Dermatologist.
As consumers, we are becoming more and more aware of what we put into and on our bodies. Research shows that our skin absorbs a fair amount of what we apply to it, so when harmful chemicals are present in skincare products, they put our health at risk. These harmful effects accumulate over time and may take many years to present, which is why it is important to be wise about your health as early as possible.
Skincare products often have lists of ingredients that seem a mile long. From alcohol to sulfates, the sheer number of chemicals can become overwhelming. It’s a well-known fact that some chemicals can be harmful, but we’re not always aware of which ones are dangerous. So to put your mind at ease, we’re going to identify the most dangerous ones, so that you can make informed decisions when making skincare purchases.
First and foremost are Parabens. Parabens are cheap preservatives found in many types of skincare products. They stop harmful bacteria from growing in the product. However, when applied to the skin they are absorbed into the bloodstream and mimic estrogen. This throws off our natural hormone balance and can cause weight gain, abnormal hair growth, and acne.
Some safe and natural alternatives include vitamin E and palm kernel oil, which heal the skin and leave it feeling and looking soft and supple.
Second is Triclosan, a preservative that kills all types of bacteria, both good and bad. Evidence suggests that triclosan can weaken our immune system and lead to the development of treatment-resistant bacteria. It can also affect our hormone balance and build up in our fat cells. The accumulation of this chemical can be secreted in our blood, breast milk, and urine.
Natural alternatives that provide the antibacterial properties we need, and also smell great, are lavender and tea tree, as well as other essential oils.
Third are the infamous Petrochemicals, which are ingredients that temporarily give the skin a soft and hydrated look. They include petroleum-based chemicals and mineral oils. These chemicals are absorbed into the skin through our hair follicles and then travel directly into our bloodstream and tissues. They disrupt our endocrine systems, wreaking havoc on our hormones, from our thyroids to our reproductive systems.
The best alternative is shea butter, a natural ingredient that both soothes and heals the skin.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Fourth, found in most skincare products, is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). SLS is used to reduce the interactions between other chemicals, usually having a foaming or thickening effect on the product. When the skin is exposed to SLS regularly or in high quantities, the chemical can cause mild to severe skin irritation and dryness.
Great natural alternatives are carrier oils such as jojoba and sunflower oil, which can relieve skin conditions and leave the skin feeling and looking soft.
The fifth is Propylene Glycol (PG), commonly found in liquid skincare products. PG is meant to prevent moisture loss by forming a thin film over the skin but often has the opposite effect. PG can cause skin irritation and inflammation by drying out the skin. PG also increases the permeability of the skin, allowing other harmful chemicals to seep into our skin and be absorbed into our bloodstreams.
A natural alternative that will keep the skin moist, supple, and protected is vegetable glycerin.
Last, but not least, are Dry Alcohols, which are generally used to give products a smoother consistency. Dry alcohols, such as denatured and ethanol alcohols, typically have a drying effect on our skin. These alcohols will slowly absorb moisture from the skin’s surface and eat away at the top layers of our skin. This causes an irritant contact dermatitis with dry, flaking, red skin. Prolonged use of these alcohols can disrupt the skin’s renewal cycle, permanently damaging our skin.
The best alternative is natural ‘fatty’ alcohols such as Cetearyl alcohol which is non-irritating and gives a smooth feel to the skin.
While the number of harmful chemicals in everyday skincare products may be unsettling, the natural alternatives we’ve provided are proven to be safe and nourishing ingredients for your cherished skin.
For more advice on how best to care for your skin, get our latest posts delivered straight to your inbox by subscribing to our monthly blog. You can also see our checklist of the 15 things you should never do to your skin.