Synthetic Cosmetic & Skincare Ingredients to Avoid

Although not all synthetic cosmetic ingredients are the same, i.e. some are not as harmful as others, there are some that have been found to be toxic, accummulate in the body over time and have been linked to irritations of the skin and the mucous membranes, as well as cancer. Many of these ingredients are subject to limitations when used in cosmetics. None have been tested for interactions with other chemicals, found in other products.

Although all brands need to undergo safety testing, and no doubt the ones for sale are passing the requirements, nobody is testing the interaction that occurs in the cocktail of chemical ingredients that are being used together on a daily basis. A single cream or cleanser may be fine in isolation, but the average woman uses at least 10 products, from body wash and deodorant to moisturiser and make up.

We have put together a list for the must-avoid ones and of course this is just our humble recommendation.

1. Methyl, Propyl, Butyl and Ethyl Paraben - Used as inhibitors of microbial growth and to extend shelf life of products. Have caused many allergic reactions and skin rashes. Studies have shown that they are weakly estrogenic, which means they mimic and interfere with the natural hormons produced by the body. They are absorbed through the skin and are stored in fatty tissues. Parabens have been found in high concentrations in breast cancer tissues. Widely used even though they are known to be toxic.

2. Diethanolamine (DEA), Triethanolamine (TEA) - Often used in cosmetics as emulsifiers and/or foaming agents. They can cause allergic reactions, eye irritation and dryness of hair and skin. DEA and TEA are "amines" (ammonia compounds) and can form cancer-causing nitrosamines when they come in contact with nitrates. Toxic if absorbed into the body over a long period of time.

3. Diazolidinyl Urea, Imidazolidinyl Urea - These are widely used preservatives. The American Academy of Dermatology has found them to be a primary cause of contact dermatitis. Two trade names for these chemicals are Germall II and Germall 115. Neither of the Germall chemicals contains a good antifungal agent, and they must be combined with other preservatives. Both these chemicals release formaldehyde, which can be toxic.

4. Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate (SLS/SLES) - A cheap, harsh detergent used in shampoos for its cleansing and foam-building properties. Often derived from petroleum, it is frequently disguised in pseudo-natural cosmetics with the phrase "comes from coconuts." It causes eye irritation, scalp scurf similar to dandruff, skin rashes and other allergic reactions.

5. Petrolatum - Also known as petroleum jelly, this mineral oil derivative is used for its emollient properties in cosmetics. It has no nutrient value for the skin and can interfere with the body's own natural moisturizing mechanism, leading to dryness and chapping. It often creates the very conditions it claims to alleviate. Manufacturers use petrolatum because it is unbelievably cheap.

6. Propylene Glycol - Ideally this is a vegetable glycerin mixed with grain alcohol, both of which are natural. Usually it is a synthetic petrochemical mix used as a humectant. It has been known to cause allergic reactions, hives and eczema. When you see PEG (polyethylene glycol) or PPG (polypropylene glycol) on labels, beware - these are related synthetics.

7. PVP/VA Copolymer - A petroleum-derived chemical used in hairsprays, styling aids and other cosmetics. It can be considered toxic, since inhaled particles can damage the lungs of sensitive persons.

8. Stearalkonium Chloride - A quaternary ammonium compound used in hair conditioners and creams. Developed by the fabric industry as a fabric softener, it is a lot cheaper and easier to use in hair conditioning formulas than proteins or herbals, which are beneficial to the hair. Causes allergic reactions. Toxic.

9. Synthetic Colors - Used to make cosmetics "pretty," synthetic colors, along with synthetic hair dyes, should be avoided at all costs. They will be labeled as FD&C or D&C, followed by a color and a number. Example: FD&C Red No. 6 / D&C Green No. 6. Many synthetic colors can be carcinogenic. If a cosmetic contains them, don't use it.

10. Synthetic Fragrances - The synthetic fragrances used in cosmetics can have as many as 200 ingredients. There is no way to know what the chemicals are, since on the label it will simply read "fragrance." Some problems caused by these chemicals include headaches, dizziness, rash, hyperpigmentation, violent coughing, vomiting, skin irritation - the list goes on. Advice: Do not buy a cosmetic that has the word "fragrance" on the ingredients label.

By Aubrey Hampton of Aubrey Organics



Alcohol Denat - Denatured alcohol is an irritating solvent which draws moisture from the skin, making it more vulnerable to bacteria and viruses. It is found in many skin and hair products, fragrance, and antibacterial hand washes.

Alcohol, Isopropyl - Another irritating solvent which dries the skin. It is made from propylene, a petroleum derivative and is found in many skin and hair products, fragrance, antibacterial hand washes as well as shellac and antifreeze. It can act as a 'carrier' accelerating the penetration of other harmful chemicals into your skin.

Fluoride - is a toxin with a poison rating higher than lead. Fluoride used in water fluoridation is a toxic waste product from the fertiliser industry. Although some benefit on caries prevention has been seen over the years, there are a lot of cases of fluorosis and nobody knows the exact safe amount. The water in the UK is fluoridated anyhow, so do you need fluoride in your toothpaste as well? Over-exposure to fluoride has been linked to health problems such as brittle bones, osteoporosis and (incredibly) porous dental enamel. Scientific facts on fluoride

Lead is a potent neurotoxin and linked to numerous other health and reproductive problems. Independent laboratory testing initiated by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found that a large number of lipsticks from top brands contained lead. Read more here.

Mineral Oil - this is a petroleum by-product which coats the skin like plastic. It cloggs the pores and interferes with the skin's ability to eliminate toxins, promoting acne and other disorders. Slows down skin function and cell development, resulting in premature aging. It is used in many skin care products. Mums will probaby be shocked but baby oil is 100% mineral oil.

Petroleum Distillates -found in lipsticks, lip balms, foundations and mascaras. Potentially contaminated with or breaking down into chemicals linked to cancer or other significant health problems. Gastrointestinal, liver, respiratory and blood toxicant. Source: SkinDeep

Phenylphenol - found in bodywash. Potential endocrine disruptor, raising concern for impaired fertility or development, and increased risks for certain cancers. Neurotoxin, cardiovascular or blood toxicant, respiratory toxicant, skin or sense organ toxicant . Source: SkinDeep

Phthalates (pronounced THA-lates) are plasticizing chemicals that are probable human reproductive or developmental toxins and endocrine disruptors. Phthalates cause reproductive birth defects in laboratory animals, particularly males. Some phthalates often used in cosmetics (dibutyl and diethylhexyl) have been banned in the European Union. Unfortunately, phthalates are still found in some nail polishes and hair sprays, and are commonly hidden on ingredient labels under the term 'fragrance' . More information here and here.

Sodium Chloride - in other words 'salt', commonly used to increase the viscosity in some cosmetics. Can cause eye and skin irritation if used in too high concentrations. It is usually used to make a cheap, watery consistency product look thick and rich instead.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) & Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES): We were shocked to discover that what makes up to 90% of every shampoo or body wash is actually a detergent used in car washes, garage floor cleaners and engine degreasers. Over-exposure to SLS has been linked to eye damage, depression, laboured breathing, diarrhoea and severe skin irritation. SLShas been suspected to also damage the skin's immune system by causing layers to separate and inflame. Your body may retain the SLS for up to five days, during which time it may enter and maintain residual levels in the heart, liver, the lungs, and the brain. SLES can also be dangerous due to dioxane contamination.

Talc - commonly found in baby powders, face powders, body powders. Talc is a known carcinogen and is a major cause of ovarian cancer. It can be harmful if inhaled as it can lodge in the lungs, causing respiratory disorders.

Triclosan - a synthetic "antibacterial" ingredient found in many skin care products. The EPA registers it as a pesticide, giving it high scores as a risk to both human health and the environment. It is classified as a chlorophenol, a class of chemicals suspected of causing cancer in humans. Its manufacturing process may produce dioxin, a powerful hormone-disrupting chemical with toxic effects measured in the parts per trillion; that is only one drop in 300 Olympic-size swimming pools! It can temporarily deactivate sensory nerve endings, so contact with it often causes little or no pain. Internally, it can lead to cold sweats, circulatory collapse, and convulsions. Stored in body fat, it can accumulate to toxic levels, damaging the liver, kidneys and lungs, and can cause paralysis, suppression of immune function, brain haemorrhages, and heart problems. It has a wide-spread use in popular antibacterial cleansers, tooth pastes and household products.