Here are just some of the potentially harmful and damaging chemical ingredients that you’ll never, ever find in Lisa Armitage Skincare – plus how you can avoid them elsewhere, too.
Many product labels these days are shouting about being ‘paraben free’, which is of course a great thing. But it is important to understand why we should avoid them, and how to spot when they are included in a formulation. Parabens are synthetic preservatives used in foods, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and personal care products such as deodorants, moisturisers and shampoos. Why do companies use them? Because they allow skincare products to survive for months or even years, when they would ordinarily go ‘off’. The bad news is that they also enter your body through your skin. Parabens can mimic hormones in the body and disrupt functions of the endocrine system. Studies have shown that parabens can mimic oestrogen and disrupt the body’s hormone system. The body does not easily break down synthetic oestrogen, and it can accumulate in fat cells, including breast tissue. Cornell University reports that a high lifelong exposure to oestrogen can increase breast cancer risk. And in 2004, a study by the University of Reading found concentrations of parabens, particularly methylparaben, in human breast tumours. The study examined only the presence of parabens in the tumours but did not determine that they were the cause of the tumours.
Look out for anything with ‘-paraben’ popped on the end. The most common ones are methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben.
Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate, or ‘SLS’ for short, are damaging to both your skin and the environment. They are widely used in skincare and healthcare products. It’s a known irritant (in fact, many companies test the effectiveness of new healing products by first irritating the skin with SLS), and can be the cause of dandruff, dermatitis and other irritations. It produces toxic fumes when heated and has corrosive properties that can damage the proteins and fat in skin tissue and muscle – which is why it’s also used in harsh household cleaners. In fact, it’s just all-round bad news for any living thing. It is commonly used as a pesticide and herbicide to kill plants and insects, it pollutes groundwater and is ingested by fish. It can also evade detection in central water cleaning systems, getting into the tap water that you drink. If all that weren’t enough, SLS is a penetration enhancer, meaning that its molecules are so small that they’re able to cross the membranes of your body’s cells. Once cells are compromised, they become more vulnerable to other toxic chemicals.
You’ll see it listed on labels as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or Sodium Laureth Sulfate, and it’s found in products including (but not limited to) soap, shampoo, bath and shower products, toothpaste, mascara, facial moisturisers and sun protection creams.
PEG’s (polyethylene glycols) are compounds widely used in cosmetics as thickeners and softeners. They also functions as absorption enhancer, which allows both good and bad ingredients to be absorbed faster into deeper parts of skin. If used on broken or damaged skin, it can cause irritation and system toxicity. In addition, PEGs can reduce the skin’s moisture levels and speed up skin ageing. Manufacturers use PEGs to help their products absorb deeply into skin to increase their effectiveness. Sounds great, but it has the disadvantage of also allowing the chemicals that PEG contain to be absorbed more easily too. PEGs can cause skin rashes and contact dermatitis, and also deplete the skin of its natural moisture. Worse still, the contaminants often found in PEGs are known carcinogens, with links to breast cancer, leukaemia, brain and nervous system cancer, bladder cancer, stomach cancer and pancreatic cancer, as well as Hodgkin’s disease. PEGs are a serious health risk when applied to skin.
Butylene Glycol is derived from petroleum, and is used as a preservative, solvent (dissolves other ingredients), and humectant (holds moisture to skin). Like other glycols, it is used in many everyday products, from mascaras and concealers to sunscreens and hairsprays. Though there’s no definitive research on its side effects, they are thought to include depression, drowsiness, skin irritation, rashes and dermatitis.
Found on labels as ‘polyethylene glycols’ and ‘PEG’, and ‘Butylene Glycol’.
Often used as an anti-bacterial in cosmetics and stabiliser in perfumes, phenoxyethanol is harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through skin, especially to nursing mothers or infants. Phenoxyethanol can have an effect on the brain and the central nervous system. It irritates skin and eyes, and can even cause blistering on the skin. Although many skin care products (even some organic products) use phenoxyethanol in small amounts that is supposedly not harmful to skin, it can build up and is certainly not advisable for daily use.
Phenoxyethanol goes by many names. More obvious names you’ll see on labels are 2-hydroxyethyl phenyl ether and 2-phenoxy-ethanol. Others are bit trickier, such as rose ether. And, because it’s often an ingredient in a fragrance, sometimes it is not identified at all. Therefore, if a product contains ‘fragrance’ but doesn’t specify what kind, bear in mind that it could be phenoxyethanol.
Petrochemicals can be derived from a variety of different things, such as coal and natural gas, however the majority of petrochemicals we use today are made from petroleum (the stuff we put in our car). They are found in a myriad of food and cosmetics and more research demonstrates that these chemicals are associated with a plethora of health challenges.
Petrochemicals are invading our environment, food chain, skincare products and acting as endocrine disruptors in our body.
Products made with petrochemicals include many cosmetics, fragrances, hair care products, plastics, soaps, detergents, solvents (such as paint thinner), paints, drugs (aspirin), fertilizer, pesticides, explosives, synthetic fibres and rubbers, and flooring and insulating materials. Petrochemicals are found in such common products as cars, clothing, electronic equipment, furniture, and much more.
Petrochemicals fall in the category of endocrine disruptors and can interfere with our natural hormone production (including the thyroid) and are associated with neurologic disease, attention deficit disorder and a weakened immune system. Endocrine disruptors are also associated with certain types of endocrine related cancers, endometriosis, precocious puberty, disturbed lactation and polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Petrochemicals are also associated with inflammation in the body and can lead to increase free radical damage to our cells. In cosmetics and other personal products they can cause severe contact dermatitis. The Environmental Protection Agency even lists some petrochemicals on its hazardous waste list.
It is important to remember that your skin is the largest organ of your body and ‘what you put on your skin goes into your body’.
It is however, very common for petroleum derived ingredients to be irritating, sensitising and very drying on the skin, not to mention comodogenic (pore clogging) as well – generally causing more damage than good.
Found on labels as ‘polyethylene glycols’ and ‘PEG’, and ‘Butylene Glycol’.
Other names for petrochemicals are:
- Paraffin Wax
- Mineral Oil
- Anything with PEG (polyethylene glycol)
- Anything ending in ‘eth’ indicates that it required ethylene oxide (a petrochemical) to produce e.g. myreth, oleth, laureth, ceteareth
- Anything with DEA (diethanolamine) or MEA (ethanolamine)
- Butanol and any word with ‘butyl’ – butyl alcohol, butylparaben, butylene glycol
- Ethanol and word with ‘ethyl’ – ethyl alcohol, ethylene glycol, ethylene dichloride, EDTA (ethylene-diamine-tetracetatic acid), ethylhexylglycerin
- Parfum or fragrance – 95% of chemicals used in fragrance are from petroleum
They may be everywhere, but that doesn’t mean that silicones are good for your skin, or indeed your health. You may not even know that they’re in your moisturiser or foundation, but if the product promises long-lasting hydration, or anything like it, then the chances are it contains silicones. Silicones aren’t unsafe but they can have a negative impact on your skin’s appearance. For example, they’re included in many products for their moisturising properties, and give creams a silky, luxurious texture, filling in crevices to make skin look smoother. But it’s all on the surface. What they’re actually doing is forming a seal over the skin, which allows companies to claim longer-lasting ‘hydration’ benefits. This barrier also means that they trap dirt, sweat, bacteria, sebum, dead skin cells and other debris, which can lead to acne and congestion, dull and – ironically – even dehydrated skin.
So why do many brands use them? They’re cheap fillers made from manmade plastics, helping keep production costs low. But many high-end beauty companies use them in their luxuriously-priced skincare too. All the more ridiculous when they offer nothing beneficial whatsoever for the skin.
A sure sign of silicone is if a product starts to clump if you rub it in. On labels, look out for:
- ingredients that end in ‘-cone’, such as Dimethicone, Methicone, Trimethicone, Cyclomethicone, Amodimethicone and Trimethylsilylamodimethicone.
- ingredients that end in ‘-silxonane’, such as Cyclopentasiloxane and Polydimethylsiloxane
- ingredients that end in ‘-Conol’ such as Dimethiconol
- polymers such as C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, VP/VA Copolymer, Polybutene, and Polyisobutene
While you may think that inexpensive, mass produced skin care is a big value, it may actually just be watered down formulas stuffed with filler ingredients. And some of these fillers have the potential to irritate and damage your skin.
When you choose quantity over quality, you sacrifice the strength and efficacy of your products. This means you are much less likely to see the results you want from your skincare. You only need to use a small amount when there’s a high concentration of active ingredients, so your products will last longer and save you money in the long run.
Disodium EDTA, Phthalates, Diethanolamine ( DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA) are just some of the names to be aware of.
Behind the sweet smell can often be a disturbing amount of synthetic ingredients. Fragrance is a blend of aromatic extracts from natural and synthetic ingredients, and used in nearly 50% of beauty products. Without knowing, fragrance can irritate skin, have toxic hormonal effects, and may even cause cancer. It may smell fabulous, but it can lead to not-so-fabulous effects on your skin and health.
Products labelled ‘synthetic fragrance free’ is one way of doing it. Plus also look out for ‘phthalate-free’, as many synthetic fragrances contain phthalates. Alternatively, try to find products that contain only natural fragrances, like essential oils.
Most toiletries and cosmetics contain colours even though they add nothing to the effectiveness of the product. Many synthetic colours can be carcinogenic and so are best avoided.
Exceptions are mineral based colours which are denoted with the prefix CI 75… or CI 77… which indicate mineral or other naturally-derived colours.