Unlike organic foods, there are no national and EU regulations for natural & organic cosmetics. Products CAN be certified as Organic, however, companies can also freely use the term without being regulated – it may only include 1% organic material.
Even more tricky than organic, is the use of the word ‘Natural’, again, this may be used when only a very small percentage of the product is natural. More worryingly, the ingredients that aren’t natural can be potentially very dangerous.
In order to navigate this tricky area, it can be really helpful to just familiarise yourself with some of the worst offenders in skincare, so you can quickly check ingredients before buying something that potentially has harmful chemicals in.
I’ve listed below, what I feel to be the top 7 ingredients to avoid.
1. Diethanolamine (DEA)
Diethanolamine (DEA) is a common wetting agent used in shampoos, skin care and cosmetics. It creates a rich lather in shampoos and produces a nice consistency in skin care. On its own, it is harmless, but when combined with other ingredients in a shampoo, cream or lotion, it reacts to produce nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA), an extremely carcinogenic compound which can easily be absorbed through the skin. It has been linked to stomach, bladder and intestinal cancers.
Avoid products with these ingredients:
- Cocamide DEA or Cocamide Diethanolamine
- DEA Lauryl Sulfate or Diethanolamine Lauryl Sulfate
- Lauramide DEA or Lauramide Diethanolamine
- Linoleamide DEA or Linoleamide Diethanolamine
- Oleamide DEA or Oleamide Diethanolamine
- Any product containing TEA or Triethanolamine
2. Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)
PEG isn’t a single ingredient but a class of ethylene glycol polymers that moisturize. This ingredients is most commonly used to keep products stable, and enhance the penetration of other ingredients. The trouble with PEG, is that in itself it is not too offensive (some studies claim mild skin irritation) but it is that is increases the absorption of whatever else is in the product – which could include any number of nasty chemicals.
Parabens are widely used preservatives that prevent the growth of bacteria, mould and yeast in cosmetic products. There has been a huge awareness in the last few years about these, and one of the ingredients you will be most familiar with on the list to avoid. But do you know why? Well, in essence, there has been research that suggests parabens possess oestrogen-mimicking properties that are associated with increased risk of breast cancer.
4. Methylisothiazolinone (MIT)
Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) is becoming increasingly popular as a preservative to replace parabens. Researchers say the early test tube evidence suggests that prolonged exposure to MIT, or exposure to the chemical at high concentrations, could damage the nervous system.
5. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate – SLS and SLES
A former industrial degreaser now used to make soap foamy, it’s absorbed into the body and irritates skin. SLS’s are known to be skin, lung and eye irritants. A major concern about SLS is its potential to interact and combine with other chemicals to form nitrosamines, a carcinogen. These combinations can lead to a host of other issues like kidney and respiratory damage. They can be found in most products that foam.
6. Mineral oil & Petroleum Jelly
Both are petroleum derivative that coats the skin and prevents it from breathing, absorbing and excreting. It also slows the skin’s natural cell development, causing the skin to age prematurely. Bearing this in mind, products like baby oil are 100% mineral oil so do nothing to nourish or protect your skin, they are simply ‘coating’ it.
7. Imidazolidinyl Urea
This tricky little ingredient is a derivative of formaldehyde. This chemical is linked to allergies, chest pain, chronic fatigue, depression, dizziness, ear infections, headaches, joint pain, loss of sleep, and can trigger asthma. They can weaken the immune system, and, surprise surprise, cause cancer. This will be found being used as a preservative in skincare products and cosmetics.
So there you have it, a quick reference list that I hope it helpful. As ever, if you have any questions please leave a comment below.