When I was living in Taiwan last year, I had an American flatmate (Hi Alison!) that was vegan. Her passion for veganism sparked an interest in me and she inspired me to do some research about it as well. Soon after, I learned how the food I ate and the products I used were both harmful to myself and the environment (the second factor is a whole other topic in itself, so today I will stick to the first).
One time, Alison shared with me how she couldn’t find a lot of options for vegan products in Taiwan, so she started making her own eyeliner and toothpaste by herself. It was so interesting for me because I then realized how you really only need a couple of ingredients to make these products.
I then did more and more research about the products that I used and discovered that a lot of the ingredients manufacturers use are not only harmful to my skin but also hazardous to my health.
I have found that there are actually thousands of chemical ingredients used in our everyday products. Since I cannot enumerate all of these, here are the TOP 10 cosmetic ingredients that you should be aware of:
1. Parabens (Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Butylparaben)
These ingredients act as preservatives but have hormone-disrupting effects. When used continuously, parabens can collect in breast tissue and stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells. Furthermore:
- Ethylparaben adds moisture to the skin but causes headache, weakness, nausea and skin irritation.
- Propylparaben is usually found in plants and insects. It prevents the growth of bacteria and mold to protect products but there have been studies where this ingredient causes the growth of breast cyst.
- Butylparaben is tasteless, but it numbs the tongue. It is acidic but antimicrobial and antifungal. The effect is that it mimics estrogen and can act has a hormone system disruptor.
2. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) / Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
SLS and SLES are usually found in shower products such as shampoo, soap and body wash. Additionally, they are also used in oral care products, and in cosmetics. It is a detergent and surfactant, therefore it helps with cleaning. However, it can be contaminated of 1,4-dioxane, which is a known carcinogen. It stays much longer in our bodies, primarily because the liver can’t process it properly. Therefore, this can easily build up in the lungs, brain, heart, and liver.
Other bad effects are: irritation of scalp, gums, and skin, corrosion of skin, hormone imbalance (it increases estrogen for men), causes split hair, frizzy hair, and swelling of face or hands.
3. Cocamide DEA / Cocamide MEA
Cocamide DEA and MEA are not harmful on their own, but when they react with other ingredients, they become carcinogenic. They help with cleansing the skin or hair but causes hair and skin itchiness, dryness, rashes, and eye irritation.
If there is one ingredient that you shouldn’t forget from this list, it’s this one. Petrolatum, when refined (such as petroleum jelly), has no harmful effect on the skin. However, when it is not refined, it may contain PAHs or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons” that are also found in: burning coal, oil, gasoline, trash, tobacco, wood. This ingredient is mostly used in moisturizers because it helps achieve the sticky formulation, but recent studies have shown that this is actually a cancer-causing ingredient. There’s actually nothing beneficial about this ingredient–it contributes to body contaminants, makes you break out and doesn’t give you any nutrients or hydration. It simply sits there on top of your skin, preventing moisture loss. PASS.
5. Mineral Oil
Mineral oil sounds like it is a good ingredient right? Nope. It’s actually made from petrolatum, and it prevents the skin from eliminating toxins which can lead to acne and other skin disorders. It is usually found in lotions, creams, ointments and makeup products.
6. Propylene Glycol
This is a colorless, creamy liquid that is a byproduct of fossil fuel and fermentation. It hydrates skin and helps active ingredients to penetrate the skin but it causes damage to the kidneys and liver, as well as neurotoxicity to children. Beware also not to get this ingredient to your eye, because it can cause conjunctivitis.
7. Coal Tar Dye
Known as a human carcinogen–it is linked to allergic reactions, dermatitis, asthma attacks, headaches, nausea, fatigue, and nervousness. It also causes major health concerns like cancer and organ toxicity. This is one ingredient that everyone must be careful of because it is usually found in food, textile, cosmetics, and personal care products especially soaps, lotions, shampoos, hair treatments and hair dyes.
8. Sodium Borate or Boric Acid
This ingredient can interfere with hormones and can cause infertility in men. Regular exposure is linked to low sperm counts. The cosmetic industry states that it’s unsafe for infants, yet it is found in some baby care products. This ingredient is already banned in Europe and Canada, but still being widely used in Asian and American made products.
There are hundreds of chemical ingredients which may be derived from petroluem like butane, propylene, and methane. All of which are classified under petrochemicals, which are byproducts or waste of refining crude oil. When applied to the skin, it doesn’t allow the skin to breathe and can clog pores. There are also some scents that are toxic petrochemicals, which can cause cancers and neurological disorders.
This is an antimicrobial preservative that releases formaldehyde, otherwise known as formalin. This is a very harmful ingredient that causes allergies, asthma, chest pain, joint pain, chronic fatigue, loss of sleep, headache, depression, ear infection. If these reasons are not enough to make you stop using it, it is also linked to major health concerns such as cancer and dermatitis.
Those are my top 10 but in case you are still interested, here are more:
- Paraffin – can clog pores and cause breakout but often found in face creams and body lotions
- Carbomer – causes skin irritation
- Lanolin and its Derivatives – also called as wool fat or wool wax, it is used for protection, treatment, and beautification of the skin–however, it causes major breakouts
- Methylisothiazolinone / Methylchloroisothiazolinone – a synthetic biocide (a poisonous substance) and preservative that does not give any good effects on the skin
- Triclosan – linked to skin sensitivity, liver damage, hormone disruption and may cause cancer
- Fragrance – can trigger allergic reaction, respiratory issues like asthma, headache and hormonal disruption
- BHT – can cause cancer and interfere with hormone functions
- Retinol – creates free radicals that increase the risk of skin cancer
- Siloxane – can interfere with hormone function and damage the liver