Natural and Organic Skin Care

Skin Care Ingredients – Knowing What To Avoid and Why

Perusing the ingredient labels of various skin care products, you’ll likely be bombarded with a long list of various hard-to-pronounce chemicals. Most people assume that if there were any danger or concern associated with any of these chemicals, surely they wouldn’t be included. Isn’t that what the FDA is for anyway, to oversee ingredients and make sure that they are safe, and then banning those that aren’t? Unfortunately, that isn’t the case with the beauty industry. See Our Skin Eats Too blog post for more on that. Because of this we are left on our own to find the knowledge and gain an understanding of what is safe and what is not. Us 3Girls are on a mission to help provide the education that will empower individuals to feel confident when looking at ingredient labels so they can make an informed buying decision.
Below is a short list of some of the key ingredients to look for and avoid in personal care products. More posts will follow. Please never hesitate to leave us a comment, ask a question, or add in any additional information that you have. We look forward to hearing from you, and hope you find the information helpful!

Parabens– most often proceeded by Ethyl-, Methyl-, Propyl-, or Butyl-; Parabens are used as preservatives, but act as contaminants and are strong skin allergens. When applied to the skin, parabens are readily absorbed and metabolized, at which point they go on to disrupt the endocrine system affecting the hormone balance in your body due to their estrogenic activity. As they accumulate in the body, they can interfere with fetal development, have been strongly linked to breast cancer, and are immuno-toxic, which can result in a myriad of allergic reactions. While the EU has strictly regulated the use of parabens, the U.S. unfortunately, has not.
* Parabens can also hide behind the names: benzoic acid, isobutyl p-hydroxybenzoate, or p-methoxycarbonylphenol.

Propylene Glycol, Polyethylene Glycol, PEGs and PGs– These multitasking chemicals can be found not only in cosmetics, but food as well (yikes!). When added to skin care formulations these glycols work as a humectants, drawing moisture from the air into the skin. They also function as emollients, softening and lubricating the skin, in addition to being penetration enhancers – meaning that they helps whatever else is mixed with them to penetrate deeper into the skin for an enhanced effect. Contact dermatitis is the most common short-term side effect, but they are also known to exacerbate acne and eczema as they have the ability to rupture skin cell membranes. Long term, they can result in metabolic problems by increasing the amount of acid in your body affecting overall chemistry.
According to a report in the International Journal of Toxicology by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) committee, impurities found in various PEG compounds include ethylene oxide, 1,4-dioxane, polycyclic aromatic compounds, and heavy metals such as lead, iron, cobalt, nickel, cadmium, and arsenic.
* Polyethylene is actually the most common form of plastic!

Phthalates– known reproductive toxins that are linked to birth defects and other illnesses, phthalates are found in nail polish, deodorants, lotions, shampoos, hair sprays, perfumes, and other personal care products. These ubiquitous toxins tip the hormonal scale to the feminine in all living creatures exposed to them. They accumulate in the body and have so many ill affects I cannot list them all here. A short list includes: PCOS, infertility, breast cancer, early puberty, damage to the developing testes of unborn males, diabetes, allergies and more. While avoiding them entirely is almost impossible, you can minimize your exposure. One of the best things you can do is to avoid anything with “fragrance” listed in the ingredients. According to Stacy Malkan, cofounder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, “All synthetically scented products, such as shampoos (and) deodorants, contain phthalates, but perfumes contain the highest levels”.

1,4-Dioxane – Considered a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and on California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act list of chemicals known or suspected by the state to cause cancer or other birth defects, 1,4-Dioxane is a hidden petrochemical that silently finds its way into dozens of personal care products, even those intended for babies. While the dangers of this toxin are widely and openly acknowledged, you will likely never see it listed on an ingredient label due to the fact that it isn’t added as an ingredient, but instead formed during part of the manufacturing process called ethoxylation. The ethoxylation process is used to provide mildness to harsh ingredients, and to create surfactants (substance that causes products to foam). Unfortunately the danger arises because the process necessitates the use of the cancer-causing petrochemical ethylene oxide, which creates 1,4-Dioxane as a byproduct.
So how do you avoid it if it isn’t listed? Carefully scan ingredient lists and avoid any product that contains ingredients with an “eth” in their name. Examples include: sodium laureth sulfate, polyethylene glycol, oleth, myreth, ceteareth, etc.

Ingredients with DEA, MEA and TEA in their name. – Ingredients with these letters after their name indicate that they required the use of diethanolamine, monoethanolamine, or triethanolamine (all synthetic carcinogenic chemicals). DEA is linked to brain abnormalities in animals, and may very well be contaminated with 1,4-Dioxane. MEA is a skin and eye irritant even at low doses, and can be irritating to the respiratory tract as well. TEA has been shown to cause lymphoid, kidney and renal tumors in animals. It is a skin and eye irritant even in low doses, and may be contaminated with 1,4-Dioxane.


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  1. […] big thanks goes out to Amy this week for uncovering some of the toxic chemicals in skincare, her posts are always packed with useful and informative information.  Instead of loading you down […]

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