Of course true beauty comes from within – from the thoughts you think and the food you eat. But what if I told you that your skin is your largest organ, and one of your bodies’ main channels of toxin elimination? Our skin is highly permeable; as nicotine patches are absorbed directly into our bloodstreams, so too are the ingredients within our skincare and cosmetics. What we put on our skin affects our health just as much as what we put in our mouths.

There are thousands of ingredients found in cosmetic products. Unfortunately many of these have not been tested for safety, but what is even more concerning is that many have been confirmed as endocrine disrupters (hormone disrupters), carcinogens (cancer causing) and obesogens (substances which disrupt fat metabolism and cause weight gain). Side note: bisphenol-A (BPA) found in all plastics including good old glad-wrap has also been confirmed as not only a potent endocrine disruptor, but also as an obesogen.

Some of the main ingredients to avoid include:

Parabens – used as preservatives in shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, make-up and other facial and body products. Parabens are known endocrine disruptors and have been strongly linked to reproductive and developmental conditions, skin cancer and breast cancer.

Phlalates – a class of chemicals used to increase the flexibility of plastics. Also labelled as DEP, DBP & DEHP. They are commonly found in nail polishes, hairsprays, body lotions and perfumes/fragrance. Phlalates are known endocrine disrupters which increase the risk of breast cancer as well as adversely affect the reproductive health of both males and females. They are banned from use in cosmetics in the European Union.

Sodium laurel sulfate (SLS)/sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) – these are used as foaming agents and as such are found in shampoos, conditioners, toothpaste, facial/hand-wash and other foaming products. SLS is a known skin, eye and respiratory tract irritant which has been categorised as being inherently toxic to aquatic organisms (water life) and possibly carcinogenic in humans.

Formaldehyde – a preservative used in cosmetic products, nail polish, body wash/soap and baby shampoo. Formaldehyde is a known skin irritant and has been deemed a human carcinogen by The International Agency for Research on Carcinogens; as such it is banned from use in cosmetics in Sweden and Japan and restricted in Europe and Canada.

Toluene – a chemical found mostly in nail polish and hair dyes. Exposure to toluene can cause temporary dizziness, headaches and cracked skin, as well as adverse reproductive and respiratory complications. Toluene is banned from cosmetics in Europe.

Fragrance/perfume/parfum – a mixture of any 3059 chemicals (some of which have evidence linking them to cancer, reproductive defects and allergies). Fragrance is found in most personal care products however very few of them list the specific ingredients which make up the fragrance.

Benzophenone – used in nail polish, lip balm and other beauty products to protect them from UV light. Benzophenone is associated with the development of some cancers, reproductive and developmental disorders, organ toxicity and skin irritation; a maximum of 10% can be added to cosmetic products in Europe.

Talc – a known carcinogen due to it containing asbestos. Talc is banned in Europe; in other countries it is commonly found in baby powder, baby wipes, lotions, feminine hygiene products, deodorant, face masks, lipstick and foundation. 

Nitrosamines – these are not ingredients as such but are compounds that are created when different chemicals and preservatives react with each other. Diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA) should be avoided as these create nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. They are banned in Canada, and the U.K.’s Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform states that nitrosamines are toxic in more animal species than any other category of chemical carcinogen.

Aluminium – a widely documented neurotoxin which is heavily linked to neurological disorders such as depression and Alzheimer’s as well as autoimmune diseases, and is alarmingly found in most commercial deodorants!

Luckily there are plenty of alternative ingredients and natural organic products (which actually work – important). Reputable brands include Inika and Ere Perez for make-up; Akin and La Mav for skincare; Kevin Murphy for paraben & SLS free hair products; Black chicken, Noosa basics, Lavera and Schmidt’s for great unisex natural deodorant; Kester Black for nail polish free from formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, camphor, parabens, fragrances & phthalates; and Vanessa Megan for certified organic skincare and epic natural perfume.

Changing your entire skin and makeup range over to natural products can be expensive if you plan to do it all at once. Make small changes – start with the things you use the most of i.e. deodorant and foundation. As you run out of other products you can replace them with a natural alternative. Research has found that reducing the use of toxic personal care products causes a decrease in chemical urinary metabolites after just 3 days! You do not need to be a scientist nor do you need to remember every single ingredient in every product on the market, but knowing some of the major nasties to avoid can be helpful as you take small steps to adopting a more natural skincare regime.

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  1. Wonderful blog piece! Thank you! It is really scary how many chemicals we are exposed to everyday. I always knew, I guess, but it wasn’t until i started looking up things that were in my cosmetics etc on the EWG website that I realised how many of these substances are not really tested or have been banned in other countries! I’ve been using Inika for a couple of years now and find their make-up fantastic. I used a cheap mascara last month because I got lazy – I ended up with massive irritation to the skin around my eyes. Went back to using Ere Perez mascara and – VOILA – it’s all cleared up now.

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