Do you read the full ingredients lists of products before you purchase them? Companies will sometimes highlight their star ingredients on the front of the package, but many of the other ingredients may be promoting premature skin aging, causing acne, or even dangerous to your health.
This list is not a comprehensive list, but rather a summary of some of the more common ingredients to watch out for.
Often used as a hydrating agent, penetration enhancer, solvent, and to improve the freeze/thaw stability of formulations. The American Contact Dermatitis Society named it Allergen Of The Year in 2018. It has also been shown in studies to weaken protein and cellular structures of the skin (such as collagen). A safer, and all-natural alternative to look for is Propanediol, which is derived from corn.
Companies are not required to disclose the ingredients hidden under the term "fragrance" because it is considered a trade secret. Fragrance can potentially mean a combination of numerous ingredients that can lead to allergies, irritation, hormone disruption, and sensitization of the skin. This damage may not be noticeable at first, but the damage is being done, and it accumulates over time.
And as a side note, even essential oils contain compounds that are irritating to the skin. these compounds include, but are not limited to: linalool, limonene, eugenol, and citronellol. They should never be used undiluted, but should even be avoided in small concentrations if you have sensitive skin. Menthol, camphor, and mints (such as peppermint) are especially irritating and should always be avoided. Irritation = weakened skin barrier = accelerated skin aging.
Common in synthetic fragrances. Shown to be an endocrine disruptor, cause brith defects, and is considered to be a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization. You won't find this ingredient plainly written on the ingredient lists as it is mostly hidden under the term "fragrance." Look for products that are fragrance-free, or state they are free of phthalates.
Can be found in toothpaste, antibacterial hand soaps, and deodorants. It is an antimicrobial compound that is a known endocrine disruptor, hormone disruptor, and skin irritant. There is concern that this ingredient leads to antibiotic resistance according to certain studies. Plus, there is no proof that washing with antibacterial soap is any more effective than using regular soap and water.
These will be labeled as "D&C" followed by a color and a number (i.e. D&C Red #40). D&C dyes are found to be a skin irritant, and a suspected human carcinogen. All of the D&C Red Dyes were also found to be comedogenic (pore clogging) according to one study. Carmine (a red dye derived from beetles), however, was found to be non-comedogenic, but it is not vegan.
Drying, irritating, and disrupts your skins barrier function. On ingredient lists look for alcohol, alcohol denat., ethyl alcohol, benzyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, SD alcohol, and methanol.
Cetyl and cetearyl alcohols are considered fatty alcohols, and although they are not drying, they can clog pores and lead to acne in certain individuals.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) & Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
These are cleansing agents used to create foam and lather in skin and hair products. These are two of the harshest surfactants in skincare and should be avoided at all costs. Read your labels, because they can even be found in products labeled as "gentle". SLS is commonly used in scientific experiments to induce skin irritation. They are drying, irritating, and weaken the skins barrier function - leading to redness, acne, and premature skin aging. A healthy skin barrier is key for youthful, clear skin.
Used as preservatives. Look for names that end with "paraben" such as propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben. There is mixed evidence on whether parabens are safe for use in cosmetics or not. Some studies deem them harmless, while others point to evidence of skin sensitization, irritation, hormone disruption, and increased risk of cancer. I encourage you to do your own research on these controversial ingredients.
Witch hazel has a reputation for being useful for all kinds of different skin ailments from acne and oily skin to sunburns and varicose veins. And while it does contain some beneficial antioxidants, it also contains tannins which are drying and sensitizing to the skin. Witch hazel also typically contains a high percentage of alcohol due to the distillation process. On top of the tannins and alcohol, witch hazel contains the fragrant component "eugenol," which stated above, is also irritating and sensitizing. Short term use is not likely to cause any issues, but the drying and irritating effects of witch hazel will eventually lead to skin sensitivity, a damaged skin barrier, and worsening of acne with chronic use.
Used as a skin bleaching or lightening agent. It is banned in Australia, Japan, and Europe. In 2006 the FDA proposed a ban on over the counter sales of products containing this ingredient. They warn that chronic use of this ingredient can cause a skin disease called ochronosis, where the skin becomes dark and thick - exactly the opposite intent when using this ingredient. It has also been shown to cause abnormal adrenal function and lead to high levels of mercury in individuals who use this ingredient. I encourage you to use great caution if considering using this ingredient, and only under the supervision of an experienced esthetician or dermatologist.
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