A sponge being placed on a women's face

Seven hidden chemicals in skincare products

Many of us often worry about what we eat but when it comes to what we put on the outside of our body, we’re a little too lacklustre. The stuff we put on our skin can actually be more damaging than what we ingest, as anything you put on your skin absorbs into your bloodstream within 30 seconds.

Big brands hide some nasty chemicals in their products behind clever advertising campaigns. This means a lot of people use products containing potentially harmful toxins without even realising it.

If you want to know exactly what you are putting on your skin, you need to know which chemicals to watch out for. Once you know which chemicals to look out for, read beauty labels before you buy. Here’s some commonly used substances you may want to avoid:

1. Parabens


Parabens are used in a huge amount of beauty creams and products as preservatives. Their job is to prevent the growth of bacteria, mould and yeast in cosmetic products. Parabens can appear in different forms including butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, methylparaben, or propylparaben.

These chemicals are absorbed through the skin and it’s thought that excessive use could lead to cancer, although this hasn’t been proven. Parabens could also interfere with the body’s endocrine system which may cause reproductive, neurological, immune, and development issues.

2. Phthalates


As well as a hard-to-pronounce name, these substances have harmful effects. They’re found in a huge number of skin care products. They are used in perfumes, deodorants, nail polish and lotions. This is a sneaky ingredient that’s hard to spot, because it’s often simply listed as ‘fragrance’. They are endocrine disruptors and can lead to an increased risk of breast cancer, birth defects and developmental problems, so definitely a chemical to avoid.

3. Alcohol


You might see ‘alcohol’ on cosmetic labels, especially on nail polish removers and even skin toners. It may feel refreshing on your skin and dry quickly, but alcohol dries out your skin and can cause irritation. It’s especially bad for those with sensitive skin, as it can make your skin sting.

A study by the Journal of Hospital Infection discovered that using alcohol based products too often results in your skin losing its natural barrier and making it more vulnerable to bacteria and viruses. Look out for listed ingredients such as SD alcohol, isopropyl, methanol, ethanol, denatured ethyl alcohol.

4. Formaldehyde


Look out for this nasty ingredient, which is often used in moisturisers and hair products as well as nail hardeners. So what’s the problem with Formaldehyde? Well first off, it can irritate your skin and make asthma worse. What’s more concerning is it can cause cancer if inhaled too much, and it is easily absorbed through the skin. Always use in a well-ventilated room, or try not to avoid products containing Formaldehyde altogether.

4. Synthetic colours


Other sneaky chemicals to look out for are synthetic chemicals which will be labelled under D&C or FD&C. They are listed with a colour and number. Unfortunately these colours can cause skin irritations and have been linked to ADHD in kids.

According to the Centre for Science in the Public Interest , food dyes such as Yellow 5, Yellow 6 and Red 40 can cause hyperactivity in kids. Similarly, other dyes like Red 3 make you more at risk of allergic reactions and cancer.

6. Chemicals in suncream


Many suncreams contain endocrine disruptors which can be absorbed into the body. When exposed to sunlight, reactions in the ingredients can occur and cause allergies, dermatological effects and inflammation. Some ingredients have even been shown to promote cancer.

Watch out for suncreams with ingredients such as avobenzone, methoxycinnamate homosalate, benzophenone and PABA, and instead opt for more natural sun creams.

7. Coal tar/carcinogen


Coal tar is found in skincare products such as lotions, soaps and hair products. Also known as Carcinogen, it’s created by burning coal. Studies have shown it can cause neurological damage, skin tumours and cancer.

If you want to control what you put onto your skin and avoid nasty chemicals, browse our natural beauty section, where you will find all the things your skin craves, and nothing it doesn’t.

Related Topics

Clean Beauty