Up until a few years ago, questioning the ingredients of personal care and beauty products hadn’t even crossed my mind. Companies surely wouldn’t sell products that could harm us, would they?
I switched to all natural, organic skincare about 2 years ago. Not because I felt the pressure of scaremongering media outlets – think tabloids, “your nail varnish may be killing you”. Instead, because I was sick of having the spotty, blemished and consequently scarred skin I’d had since I was ten. After doing my own research, weighing up the pros and cons of natural vs conventional products, I decided this switch, even if it was a trial to see how it effected me, was best for my skin and my health.
Many of the lotions and potions I use in my skincare regime these days are food grade. It took longer to find good makeup brands but it can be done, especially now it’s becoming more prevalent and there are many more options compared to a few years ago. (Let me know if you want reviews)
In order to make the switch and stay committed, I had to be totally honest with myself about how many products I was actually using.
Below is the list of products I had been using daily, for around 15 years. On some days I was using nearly 50 different products on my hair and skin, which amounts to hundreds of different chemicals. How many in the list below do you use?
Anti-frizz hair cream
Body Scrub (weekly)
Facial exfoliant (twice weekly)
Face mask (weekly)
Pressed powder (around my eyes to keep the concealer base in place)
Many lip balm and hand cream applications throughout the day. (My hands were always so dry, I realise now that my overuse of products was likely the cause. I now make my own lip balm and hand cream and no longer from dry hands or chapped lips.)
Eye makeup remover
Another slather of lip balm and hand cream before bed
Used a few times a week:
Hair Straightening balm
Curl setting spray
Nail varnish setting spray
Nail varnish remover
Spot reduction sticks
Scar reducing creams for spot scars
Blow dry cream
Heat protector spray
One chemical that has been under scrutiny over recent years is the prevalence of parabens. Parabens are often used as preservatives in personal care products and cosmetics, as well as food and drink processing. The Environmental Working Group states “Parabens mimic estrogen and can act as potential hormone (endocrine) system disruptors.”
Starting when I was a teenager, I’d been using the same well known brand of foundation everyday for many years. It contains Ethylparaben, Butylparaben, Isobutylparaben and Propylparaben.
A study published by the The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences found concentrations of methyl, ethyl, butyl and benzyl parabens in more than 96% of urine samples from a demographically diverse group of 100 anonymous adults. But what effect can this have on us?
According to The Endocrine Society Scientific Statement:
“An endocrine-disrupting substance is a compound, either natural or synthetic, which through environmental or inappropriate developmental exposures alters the hormonal and homeostatic systems that enable the organism to communicate with and respond to its environment…The evidence for adverse reproductive outcomes (infertility, cancers, malformations) from exposure to endocrine disrupt- ing chemicals is strong, and there is mounting evidence for effects on other endocrine systems, including thyroid, neu- roendocrine, obesity and metabolism, and insulin and glu- cose homeostasis.”
Some companies now try to attract customers by advertising their product as “paraben free”. While this is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t mean the product will not contain other endocrine disrupting or carcinogenic chemicals.
There are many other chemicals used regularly in personal hygiene products that can be cause for concern, including cocamide DEA, Sodium Laureth Sulphate and formaldehyde releasing products such as DMDM hydantoin, 1,3-dioxane and Hydroxymethylglycinate. Formaldehyde can be found naturally in the environment as well as in tobacco smoke, car exhaust fumes, wood fires, farm animal foot bathing solution, industrial disinfectant and some kitchenware. Formaldehyde releasing chemicals are used as preservatives found in nail polish, eyelash glue, hair gel, baby shampoo, body wash and cosmetics.
The UK Government states:
“You may be exposed [to formaldehyde] by breathing, eating, or drinking the substance or by skin contact. Following exposure to any chemical, the adverse health effects you may encounter depend on several factors, including the amount to which you are exposed (dose), the way you are exposed, the duration of exposure, the form of the chemical and if you were exposed to any other chemicals.”
A press release published by the UK Government in November 2015 from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science declared:
“From 1 January 2016 formaldehyde will be classified as a Category 1B carcinogen. This means certain restrictions will apply to it.” For now, these restrictions predominantly affect those involved in animal agriculture. More information regarding it’s restrictions here.
Manufacturers claim their products are safe, in the quantities used in say, a small tub of moisturiser. Well, perhaps they are, in that one tub. But the issue is not that one brand, it’s the long list of brands we use together. It’s the long term exposure, the hundreds of chemicals absorbed daily into our largest organ, our skin. It’s the chemical reactions that can occur when we mix and layer and slather multiple products onto ourselves, over many years. Have a look in your bathroom cabinet and makeup box – how many different branded products do you have?
So, What Should We Do?
The Campaign For Safe Cosmetics kindly allowed the use of their infographics, which lists a number of chemicals to be aware of when purchasing self care products.
Eventually, I thought, why expose myself unnecessarily to ingredients that have been flagged with health concerns, when I can support smaller brands, which are less hazardous and work just as well?
My skin has cleared up since making the switch to organic/non-toxic/natural products. I had what I considered “bad skin” for about 14 years. Spotty, dry, blotchy, with a tight feeling after washing my face. I was self conscious about my skin to the point where I wouldn’t even go to the supermarket without putting on a face full of makeup.
I’m not going to say recycle all your nail varnish and kitchenware in one go (unless you want to)…. Just be mindful of your purchases and make switches to more natural alternatives each time you buy something new. Read up-to-date articles and papers by trusted health sources, seek out natural/organic brands and look to others who share the same values for recommendations.
Use SkinDeep app, the cosmetics database by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and ThinkDirty app, both of which allow you to scan barcodes when out shopping. They enable you to input brand names and see how well they score when it comes to toxicity. I entered some of the products I used most frequently as a teenager/young adult into the SkinDeep data base; Many scored a 9 out of 10 on their toxicity rating (10 being the highest hazard). I use both ThinkDirty and SkinDeep when I’m unsure about a products ingredients, if it scores above 3, I wont buy it.
Remember, although a product is advertised as natural, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check the label. Some natural brands don’t score well on either app because they still use generic “fragrance” or “parfum”, which the EWG classes as a high risk ingredient. Try unscented products. I used to love coconut and cherry smells but now I’ve switched to unscented I don’t like the synthetic smells anymore. Through education and awareness we can make small changes to our routines for healthier lifestyles.
Two books in particular really opened my eyes to what was going into personal hygiene products. I highly recommend Not Just A Pretty Face and Toxic Beauty if you’d like to further reading about the beauty industry and chemicals used in our skincare.