One of the reasons I’m so passionate about Project Clean is because we’ve learned to read the ingredient labels for food, but not for the products we put on our bodies. Our skin is our largest organ, full of pores ready to absorb items into our bloodstream. The image below is a closeup cross-section of what our skin would look like under the microscope. You can see the pore that leads towards a sweat gland as well as blood vessels.
Our skin absorbs things differently depending on the size of the chemical. You might actually see products that are designed to be absorbed quickly and others that are designed to sit on top of your skin.
Regardless, there are a few ingredients in skincare and makeup that you really don’t want on your skin no matter how quickly or slowly they absorb.
There are also ingredients that work well at the cost of causing irritation. Certain ingredients in your skincare or makeup could actually be contributing to dandruff, acne, and other skin issues without you even realizing it! It can be incredibly frustrating if you keep experiencing breakouts and don’t even realize that your facial cleanser is the thing that’s causing it.
Here’s a list of a few ingredients known to either be irritating or toxic. The politics and business reasons behind why some of these ingredients are even still allowed in products is a topic for another – much longer- article.
Parabens (Methylparaben, Butylparaben, Propylparaben, Ethylparaben, etc.)
Parabens are the really bad guys, and that’s why I want to highlight them first. There is absolutely no reason for brands to be using parabens in their products, especially knowing the link to cancer, developmental, and reproductive issues.
While the FDA doesn’t consider parabens harmful, many European countries such as the UK are actively banning products with parabens.
Parabens are known endocrine disruptors. They mimic the hormone estrogen and confuse our bodies when present.
There is still research that needs to be done in order to prove the link between parabens and cancer, but studies have shown that parabens greatly speed up the formation of cancer.
In a time where we’re quickly discovering how many ingredients are actually bad for our health, there is no reason to take the risk and use parabens.
Search for products that are paraben-free, or check the ingredient label to ensure there are no ingredients that end in -paraben.
Another awful one. I could talk about the issues of fragrance for hours, especially the many legal loopholes businesses use. Basically, avoid anything containing fragrance like the plague. This includes skincare, makeup, hair products, body lotion, candles, room sprays, laundry detergents, dryer sheets, and more.
To sum it up: seeing the term ‘fragrance’ on a product means absolutely nothing. The word fragrance could stand for a concoction of over 400 chemicals, yes four hundred, and the brand doesn’t need to disclose what’s in it. A worthwhile documentary called ‘Stink’ goes into the problems with fragrance regulation and also proves that you could theoretically add your own pee to a chemical mixture, label it fragrance, and sell it.
Due to the mysterious nature of fragrance, there can easily be many toxic chemicals in even your favorite perfume. People have had life-threatening reactions to Axe, the repulsive scent known to cloud the hallways and clothing of middle-school boys. Fragrance in skincare and makeup products can also cause acne due to the potentially irritating nature of the chemicals it contains.
Hello Glow has the best sentence, to sum up why you should avoid fragrance at all costs:
“Recent research from Environmental Working Group and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found an average of 14 chemicals in 17 name-brand fragrance products, none of them listed on the label. Fragrances can contain hormone disruptors and are among the top 5 allergens in the world.”
[Pronounced ‘thal-ates’] are nasty little ingredients that help dissolve materials or make plastics more flexible. They can be found in plastic products such as water bottles, but can also be in products or hidden behind the label of ‘fragrance’ (see above). The most common products that contain phthalates are nail polish remover and hairspray.
Phthalates are also endocrine disruptors and it is strongly suggested to keep pregnant women and children away from them, as they are linked to reproductive and developmental issues.
You can see phthalates on ingredient labels if the term ends in the word phthalate, or if you see the acronyms DBP, DNOP, DEP, DEHEP, or others. The best way to avoid them is to look for phthalate-free on labels, avoid fragranced items, and be careful about the plastics and packaging used on things you buy.
This chemical is most often found in sunscreen due to its SPF powers.
Oxybenzone is another endocrine disruptor linked to early puberty in girls, endometriosis, infertility, and cancers. It’s in about 80% of sunscreens on the market, so the odds are that your sunscreen includes it too.
Instead of oxybenzone, opt for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Brands such as Badger Balm have great sunscreens, as well as brands like Goddess Garden, as advertised in the photo above.
If you’re ever unsure about the safety of an ingredient, the EWG’s Skin Deep Database is an amazing source. It even comes in the form of an app so you can quickly research an ingredient before buying a product.
It’s important to know that just because an ingredient has a super-scientific sounding name doesn’t mean it’s dangerous. However, it is important to know the primary ingredients that are good to avoid.
Hopefully, this article will make you more educated as a consumer. The purchasing power we have can truly make an impact on companies. If we choose to support brands that avoid some of these toxic or unpleasant ingredients, we’re simultaneously telling others to ditch the nasty ingredients or risk going out of business.