We need to talk, about what’s inside the bottles of products we put onto our faces every day. I think it’s important to know what may or may not be in those creams, oils, and scrubs. My goal is of course to educate but in a super easy way. Ingredient labels are long, and scary, and often look like they’re written in a foreign language. So let’s dive in and get to the truth behind the words we can’t always pronounce!
- Alcohol: and not the fun kind. Otherwise known as Ethanol. Just as it’s no good for our bodies, and we know it is, it’s not good for our skin either. It’s drying AF. As a good rule of thumb, if you see alcohol on the label you want to keep moving, period. That being said, you’d be shocked at how many skin care and cosmetic products include alcohol on the list. If you have a product you love and you see the A-word on the label, consider where it is on the label. This matters, a lot. If it’s towards the bottom of the ingredient list, there may not be much in the product so if you love a product and discover there’s alcohol in it that doesn’t automatically toss it in the trash. Up to you to decide. If you’re wondering, alcohol has anti-bacterial and astringent properties and that is why it’s often there at all.
Good to Know: The higher on any ingredient list, the more of that ingredient is contained in the product.
- Alcohol Denat.: might seem redundant, but alas it is not. This is a generally icky ingredient, but is often debated because it does have beneficial qualities, including: penetration enhancement, solvent, astringent and is microbial. Again, if it’s high on the ingredient list, experts agree it’s drying and causes long term damage to the skin. For you natural product users, it works as a preservative.
- Dimethicone: a silicone polymer. This ingredient blocks pores from drawing moisture from the air and releasing toxins, and often leads to acne and irritation. If you know anything about silicone, you know it can create a smooth barrier but it’s not a barrier you want on your face. Look for dimethicone, methicone, phenyl trimethicone, cyclomethicone, dimethiconol, and dimethicone copolyol on labels.
- Formaldehyde: a preservative and known carcinogen. No other reason needed. Look for Formaldehyde, formalin, urea, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, quaternium-15, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, and sodium hydroxylmethylglycinate on labels.
- Parabens: preservative and major buzz-word. Product companies began highlighting their ‘Paraben-free’ quality a few years ago. Some companies suggest small amounts are safe but are they? It’s debatable for sure, and the good news is most products only contain a small amount, if they do contain parabens. But Parabens have been linked to hormone issues, breast cancer tissues, and fetal development issues. Names to look out for are butylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben.
- Phthalates: don’t ask me how you say it, I’m guessing too. They make products like fragrance stick to our skin longer, and make them more flexible. Plasticizer. Doesn’t sound like something I want on my face. Look for benzylbutyl phthalate (BzBP), di-n-butyl phthalate or dibutyl phthalate (DBP), diethyl phthalate (DEP), DEHP, and sometimes “fragrance”.
- 1,4 Dioxane: petro-ingredient and known carcinogen. The list of awful this ingredient causes is much longer. Stay away. Look for ingredients commonly contaminated with 1,4 dioxane — sodium laureth sulfate, PEG compounds, and ingredients that include “xynol”, “ceteareth”, and “oleth”.
It’s important to note that for some secretive reason, Phthaletes will often not appear on product labels. And because 1,4 Dioxane is a contaminant produced during manufacturing, it is also not required (by our very own FDA) to be shown on product labels. Sketch.
- DEA, MEA, TEA: again, not the fun kind of tea. Ammonia compounds that can become carcinogenic. They do all sorts of horrible things to the skin if you aren’t concerned about the cancer part. Look for literally any of those acronyms, at all.
- Sodium Laureth/Lauryl Sulfate: you may be familiar with these too. These harsh cleansing ingredients strip natural oils from skin, causing dryness, allergic reaction, and irritation. So much so that they are actually used to stimulate an irritation response in testing. Look for sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium lauryl ether sulfate, anhydrous sodium lauryl sulfate, and irium.
- Artificial Colorant: petroleum based and serve no real purpose other than to make something look pretty. These can actually contain coal tar or heavy metals, I’ll take the ugly product please! Look for FD&C or D&C followed by a name and number (FD&C RED NO. 40).
- Triclosan: fortunately the FDA issued a ruling that all over-the-counter brands must reformulate products that contain this awful, awful ingredient and related ingredients by September 2017 or remove them from the market…but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check for it.
- Petro-Ingredients: you’re right it’s petroleum-related and again, a known carcinogen. Look for Petrolatum, petroleum jelly, mineral oil, paraffin wax.
- PEG Compounds: more petroleum-based chemicals are used to thicken, soften, and help products to retain moisture. Literally toxic for your system. Look for PEG-(followed by a number), polyethylene glycol, PPG, polypropylene glycol. Propylene glycol is a related ingredient and another penetration enhancer.
What about fragrance? Have you heard that it’s bad for your skin? Me too. And my goodness is this a tricky one. Here’s what you should know:
Here’s where that gray area comes in: There are no regulations around the term “fragrance-free.” According to the FDA, ”fragrance-free” falls into the same category as marketing words like “natural,” “non-toxic,” “clean” and “safe”—they have no official or legal meaning when it comes to cosmetic labeling. On the FDA’s own site, it states that “even some products labeled ‘unscented’ may contain fragrance ingredients. This is because the manufacturer may add just enough fragrance to mask the unpleasant smell of other ingredients, without giving the product a noticeable scent.” Additionally, the FDA does not require each fragrance to be listed individually. Even if a product doesn’t list an added perfume or specific fragrance, chances are good that one of the items in its ingredient list is providing a scent, even if that scent is a preservative to keep the product fresher longer. Then there’s a whole category of “masking scents.” According to Dermatology Times, “the goal of a masking fragrance is to give the perception that the product is unscented. Thus, unscented does not mean fragrance-free, but rather smell-free.” What’s more, masking scents aren’t required to be listed on a label. Confused?! Me too! Bottom line is if you’re applying a product you believe to be unscented and not having a reaction, it’s just because the scent ingredients it contains are safe and non-reactive for your skin. And your “fragrance free” products may actually have fragrance in them! Oy!
Is your head spinning after all the technical jargon? I hope not! I wanted this to be easy enough to also be useable. Just as much as we should watch what we put into our bodies, we should watch what we’re putting onto our skin!