Part one: What ingredients to avoid and why...
You may be wishing to find natural substitutions because of skin sensitivities, allergies, a desire to drop the irritating and toxic ingredients from your families products or a preference for more eco, natural, organic and vegan alternatives. Whatever the reason this series will provide some help with making the switch.
When my daughter was born with allergies and skin sensitivities I was determined to overhaul our bathroom cabinets. I know how big of a task it can become and spent years searching, testing and switching. The issue was the more I researched the more I couldn't turn back to my old products no matter how tempting. I began to realise how responsible my regular shampoos, soaps and skin creams were for causing consistent skin irritations and eczema outbreaks. Even the ones labelled 'gentle' and 'sensitive' had ingredients in them that are notorious for causing irritation, which are far easier to spot when you know what to look out for.
Eventually, I began making my own skin care. Thankfully there are many amazing natural product companies surging the market which is fantastic news and makes switching more convenient.
In this series I'll share how we did it, what to look out for and what to avoid in products. There'll be reviews of alternatives we've tried and liked and for the more ambitious some recipes for you to make your own, cut costs and have full control of what really goes into your products!
To kick start we'll begin by exploring some ingredients to avoid and why.....
WHAT ARE THEY? Widely used as preservatives, there are plenty of just as effective naturally derived alternatives.
WHY AVOID THEM? They are said to be hormone disruptors, in particular oestrogen and can affect reproductive health
WHERE ARE THEY HIDDEN? They are found in a wide array of products, from lotions, to body washes and shampoos. look out for the names- methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, heptylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben and benzylparaben
SODIUM LAURETH SULPHATE (SLeS) AND SODIUM LAURYL SULPHATE (SLS):
WHAT ARE THEY? Emulsifier or detergent. Alone, or accompanied by other surfactants, they are found in many cosmetic products, especially in shampoos and body washes.
WHY AVOID THEM? They cause skin irritation. Their ability to strip the skin means they penetrate deeper into the viable layers and can cause immune reactions. SLS is one of the cheapest and strongest surfactants used in skin care; it is also one of the most irritating. Trying to make it less irritating, chemists created SLeS which may be less irritating, but is regularly contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen by-product of the chemical reaction used to create it. In addition, SLS and SLeS are also known to elicit skin reactions such as irritant contact dermatitis or may cause inflammation. Though emulsions are often used to treat inflammatory skin disorders such as eczema, emulsions may also cause skin disorders because of the presence of surfactants added as stabilisers
WHERE ARE THEY HIDDEN? Shampoos and body washes, shower gels, bath bombs, bubble bath, soap, pretty much anything that cleans and bubbles! Ironically they are included in things like Sanex sensitive shower gel, Lush products and Child’s Farm products intended for sensitive skin.
WHAT IS IT? Mineral oil is a by-product of refining crude oil to make gasoline and other petroleum products. It is very inexpensive, has a long shelf life and it is also quite an effective emollient. Due to these advantages to the cosmetic industry it is very widely used in skincare products for example in body lotions, facial creams and lipsticks or lip balms.
WHY AVOID IT? Mineral oil is a mixture of complex hydrocarbons some of which when ingested via lip balms are stored in various organs and may cause damage to the liver and lymph nodes. Petroleum jelly, aka Vaseline could be classed as equal to wrapping the skin in cling film. Whilst it’s an effective barrier is also stops anything getting in and out, it can also take several washes to fully remove it from the skin.
WHERE ARE THEY HIDDEN? Look out for paraffinum liquidum, paraffinum, cera microcristallina, petrolatum, mineral oil or paraffin waxes. – products: vasalene, baby oil, bio oil, sudocreme, prescribed eczema creams.
WHAT IS IT? Unfortunately, artificial fragrances are only listed as ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ on the label, but they are a complex mixture of many chemicals, which are not disclosed.
WHY AVOID IT? There are concerns as there have been some reported side-effects of these substances related to skin sensitivity, rashes, dermatitis, coughing, asthma attacks, migraine, etc
WHERE ARE THEY HIDDEN? It can be difficult to tell if a product contains synthetic fragrance or natural essential oils as both can be listed as fragrance or parfum on a label (companies are not required to declare which essential oils they use if they don’t want to). However, companies usually put an asterisk sign to the word parfum and write something like “from natural essential oils” in the notes under the INCI list.
WHAT ARE THEY? Silicones are synthetically made polymers which have a unique, powdery dry skin feeling with an amazing slip, that’s the reason they are the main ingredients in makeup primers and foundations. They can also work as occlusives in moisturizers and body butters (where they lessen the greasy feeling on the skin). Because of the dry skin feel they are the main ingredient of dry oils for body care. SIlicones are popular in hair care products as well, they are conditioning and detangling, plus they provide shine, which is why they are basic ingredient of hair oils.
WHY AVOID THEM? Another reason you might want to avoid silicones is the fact that since they are not biodegradable, they are a problem for the environment due to bioaccumulation.
WHERE ARE THEY HIDDEN? various ingredients including Dimethicone, Methicone, Trimethicone, Cyclomethicone, Amodimethicone, Trimethylsilylamodimethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane, Dimethiconol.
So now you have an idea what to look out for, how can you work out which of your products to keep, ditch or swap?
A couple of pointers when scouring ingredients lists: The same as food, if the ingredients list is as long as your arm and full of things you can't pronounce its usually the first indication that it may not be fantastic. That said, all cosmetic products in Europe have to have ingredients listed as INCI which are their Latin names, so unless they have a helpful 'common name' listed it can be hard to decipher ingredients.
There's a trend amongst New 'clean' natural product lines to list the common names along side the INCI as they've nothing to hide and want contents to be easily recognisable. However if you aren't sure about a product or ingredient there's two really helpful sites which can help.
Skin Charisma On this site you can copy and paste ingredients lists and get the breakdown of what each ingredient is, if they are free from commonly avoided ingredients and suitability for different skin types including problem skin. They have a really helpful breakdown that's easy to understand and has clear indications if something is not good for problem skin types like sensitive, dry or acne prone.
Think Dirty is an app where you can scan or search products and learn about ingredients which are rated on a number scale for how toxic they are. It's got loads of great features and I spent hours looking up products and learning where they came out on the clean beauty scale!
Here's two screen grabs from the app for Child's farm and Burt's bee's, it can be an eye opener!..... A green rating is 'clean' and a red one is 'dirty', the lower the score the less bad ingredients are in them....
TIP: This is a great link to a site called Skin Charisma where you can drag and drop a list of ingredients from a product to check what is in it: Another great app is Think Dirty. It's a quick easy reference for clean products, their ingredients and reviews. Find it here:
If you decide to take things to the next level and want to make your own products, Keep an eye out for our blog posts with simple to make recipes for effective skincare. You can also attend one of your workshops and get more in-depth knowledge of natural ingredients, how to use them, how to transition to clean skincare and make some amazing products pop over to our workshops page.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions.
All the best,