As promised, today I am so excited to share another post in my natural beauty series with Tata Harper! Just like with food labels, one of the toughest parts of navigating the natural beauty world is learning to read the ingredient list. There are so many chemicals to know, and what makes it even harder is that many chemicals can be listed under a bunch of different names. Conversely, some ingredients that sound bad and chemically are actually completely natural.
So, I asked Tata Harper to come up with a list of the 10 ingredients you should try to avoid in your beauty and cosmetic products. Once you look through this list and look at your product labels, you’ll be stunned to find how many of these are in the items you’re using! Of course, it might not be possible to switch out certain products, but it’s still a good idea to keep these ingredients in mind and think about how frequently you’re using products that rely heavily on them. Take it away, Tata!
Navigating the world of cosmetic products and ingredients can be confusing – there’s a lot of information out there. It’s important to do your research, so that you can be sure that what you’re putting on your skin every day is good for you (it’s really what you do every day that matters; what you use once every few months isn’t such a big deal). All of the information below comes from the Skin Deep Database from the Environmental Working Group, the Breast Cancer Fund and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and books like No More Dirty Looks by Alexandra Spunt & Siobhan O’Connor, and What’s in Your Cosmetics? by Aubrey Hampton which we keep in our office for easy reference because they are chock-full of good info. Of course, a lot of ingredient safety claims are disputed, but we believe in the precautionary principle, which basically means that if an ingredient hasn’t been proven to be totally healthy, we think it’s best to avoid it. Here are 10 to look out for:
1. Soaps, Alcohols & Detergents
These can strip the skin of moisture and disrupt your protective hydration barrier – look for alcohol-free cleansers and toners! Alcohols are often listed as “benzyl alcohol”, “cetearyl alcohol” and “isopropyl alcohol.”
2. Synthetic Fragrance
The term “fragrance” or “parfum” is often a mask for sometimes up to 200 separate ingredients, most of which are synthetic chemicals that are kept secret due to trade-secret laws, so you’re never really sure what’s you’re putting on your skin. Many of the ingredients used in “fragrance” have been linked to allergic reactions.
These are synthetic plasticizers that are used in everything from toys to plastic bags to makeup, and they’re now infamous for being potential hormone disruptors that can affect reproductive health and fertility when used long-term. Phthalates unfortunately are often just listed under “fragrance”, so you can’t spot them, but sometimes they’re listed as their real names, like “benzylbutyl phthalate” or “diethyl phthalate.”
This ingredient is used in antibacterial soaps and hand-sanitizers, but it can be irritating to the skin, and has been linked to hormone disruption. Plus, it’s a chemical that doesn’t degrade easily, so it can be really polluting for aquatic environments (after we rinse it down our sinks).
5. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) & Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
This family of ingredients makes things foam up, like sudsy soaps and shampoos – but they can be irritating, drying and have been linked to allergic reactions and rashes.
6. PEGs (Polyethylene Glycol)
These ingredients are derived from petroleum, which is not something we want anywhere near our skin – plus, they’ve been linked to cancer and nervous system damage because they’re sometimes contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which is a known carcinogen. It’s hard to know from the label whether 1,4-dioxane is involved, but it’s best to play it safe and avoid PEGs altogether.
7. Synthetic dyes / colors
These are usually labeled with letters, followed by numbers or a color, like FD&C Yellow 6 or D&C Orange 17. They’re considered to be carcinogenic in some cases, and almost always allergens – believe it or not, they’re usually derived from coal tar. Be careful, because they’re often found in processed foods & drinks as well.
8. Anything with the word “paraben” in it
There’s a large family of Paraben ingredients, like “methylparaben”, “ethylparaben” and “benzylparaben”, that are used to preserve products so they last on the shelf for a long time. Not only can they cause allergic reactions and irritations, but they’re widely known to be hormone disruptors, and have been linked to cancer too.
9. DEA’s (like DEA sodium lauryl sulfate, DEA oleamide condensate)
These synthetic ingredients are penetration enhancers, and also help to make products sudsy – they can be irritating to the skin, but their danger really comes with prolonged or repeated exposure – they’ve been deemed carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
10. Mineral Oil
Often found in soaps, makeup, lotions and sometimes even baby products, mineral oil is pore-clogging and affects the skin’s natural detoxification process. It’s a petroleum byproduct, and can slow down the natural processes that keep the skin youthful and healthy, like cell turnover.
Thank you for sharing these tips, Tata! Are you guys surprised by these ingredients? Are there any others you avoid at all costs?
Stay tuned for the next post in our natural beauty series: the biggest myths about natural beauty! And don’t forget to check out Tata’s entire line of completely natural skincare products here (I swear by them!).
Image: Background photo from Chanel’s 2010 Rouge Coco campaign. And yes, pretty as they are, Chanel lipsticks definitely have many of these ingredients!