I was recently asked which ingredients are most important to avoid in cosmetics. Since there is a pretty extensive list of toxic ingredients that commonly make an appearance in beauty products, plus the many names they go by, this isn’t exactly a short question to answer.
My response was, while it’s best to learn to spot all nasty ingredients or look at a list of those to avoid while shopping, it may help to ease into this whole label reading thing. At first, anyway.
The ingredients I would recommend nixing from your beauty repertoire immediately are petroleum ingredients and synthetic fragrance ingredients. These are both very toxic and the use of them is widespread.
Yes, these come from crude oil. Sounds icky, right? And they are! Petrolatum, petroleum jelly, and mineral oil are commonly found on ingredient listings. Of course, they are refined for use in cosmetics (versus what you put in your car), but petro-chems are usually contaminated with carcinogens. The European Union (who sets higher standards for cosmetic safety than we do in the US) deems petrolatum carcinogenic and restricts its use.
The cancer risk associated with these ingredients is enough to make you steer clear, but there’s more. Petroleum jelly is viewed as a winter skin fix all. It is supposed to moisturize, soothe, repair, and protect dry, chapped, irritated skin. The problem with this gloppy ingredient is that it sits on top of skin, forming a barrier so skin cannot properly release toxins or absorb moisture from the air. Your skin may feel better when you first start using it, but will most likely end up dry, irritated, and congested. No good.
There are several healthy products you can purchase as an alternative to petroleum jelly. Cocoa and shea butter are super rich and great for hydrating and healing skin. Try The Beauty Chef Beauty Fix Balm. One Love Organics Skin Savior is made with coconut and jojoba oils, plus other soothing ingredients. Both are healthy choices that get the job done.
Synthetic Fragrance Ingredients
When synthetic fragrance is used in a beauty product it is actually a combination of several ingredients. If you think that makes it more difficult to identify these nasties on a product label, wait until you find out about the trade secret loophole. While manufacturers are required to list all ingredients used to make a cosmetic product, the FDA says it’s ok to exclude fragrance ingredients from the ingredient listing to protect the brand’s secret fragrance recipe from competitors. Manufacturers can simply use the terms “fragrance” or “parfum” instead.
Making things even more difficult is that many nontoxic brands also use these two terms to protect their secret fragrance blends. Usually a reputable natural cosmetics creator will note on an ingredient listing if their fragrance issues came from natural sources, like essential oils.
What’s the big deal with synthetic fragrance? These ingredients are what cause that headache-y, nauseated feeling you get when a scent doesn’t agree with you. But it doesn’t stop there. Synthetic fragrance is also linked to skin irritation, rash, dizziness, and asthma. They’ve also been found to carry an accumulation risk, meaning they build up in the body, and are linked to hormonal disruption and cancer.
While you get familiar with harmful ingredients you want to avoid in cosmetics, start by checking for these two. Look for petro-ingredients like petrolatum, petroleum jelly, and mineral oil. When you see the terms “fragrance” and “parfum” on an ingredient listing, see if there is a notation as to the source of these ingredients. A brand’s website may also have information on their ingredient commitments.
Image :: McKinley Law at Unsplash