I've sold a lot of skincare products in my day, read and analyzed a lot of product labels in my day, and grown accustom to pronouncing words with at least 5 syllables. After a while, they all start to sound like the same thing, written over and over again in some secret language. We could call this "beauty speak," but in reality, it's more like "lab speak." With so many synthetics in our modern-day cosmetic products, how can you navigate your way through an ingredient label and have any idea what's in it?
The truth is, most of these ingredients are overly complicated ways of saying simple things. And the vast majority of them are harmless, providing only important functions for your beauty care products without any real damage to your skin. So that's good... but what about the ones that aren't harmless? Here are a few you should try to skip whenever you can.
Propylene GlycolLook for it spelled out this way on labels, or abbreviated as PEG or PPG. This family of glycols is used in skincare products because it leaves your skin feeling silky and smooth. The bad news is that it's the main ingredient in anti-freeze and has been a known neurotoxin for while now. Plus, PEG and PPG are often responsible for itchy, flaky skin, rashes, and other skin irritations you can do without. Skip out on this ingredient in favor of naturally-derived essential oils to get the same effect. Things like vegetable glycerin, jojoba oil, coconut oil, hazelnut oil, and others will do the job just fine.
ParabensYou've probably heard about this one in the news within the last 5 years or so -- I remember when the news broke and my cosmetics counter was stormed by angry consumers. Fortunately, I worked at a strictly paraben-free company. To find out if yours is, read your labels for things like methylparaben or ethylparaben. Other versions ending with -paraben include benzyl-, isospropyl-, butyl-, and isobutyl-. Sodium salts can also contain this heinous ingredient.
So why is paraben so bad? Beyond being a common allergen for many people, and the culprit for many cases of skin irritation, parabens disrupt hormone production in your body and have been linked to breast cancer in some limited studies. Just skip this one at all costs -- better to be safe than sorry!
Sodium Lauryl or Laureth SulfateEither one of these listed in your product's ingredients is a red light. Made from petroleum--yes, it's the same product used to degrease car engines--this nasty ingredient can irritate your eyes and skin. You'll find it in a lot of shampoos, which is bad news for you because it can actually cause an effect on your scalp very similar to dandruff. You may also spot it in your body washes, toothpaste, bubble bath, hand soaps, and similar products. Skip out on this one in favor of glucosides, an alternative made naturally from sugar.
PhthalatesCheck for these in softening products like moisturizers or your fragrance. Known to interfere with male reproductive organs, you may want to check your partner's skincare regimen too! Pthalates are also a threat in many kinds of nail polish, which pregnant women in particular should carefully avoid. They're easy to spot on labels -- if you see anything with phthalate in the name, you should start running. Opt for natural fragrance oils instead.
Reading your products labels may be confusing, but it should be an all-important part of your beauty care routine. You're conscious of what goes INTO your body, so why not use the same care with what goes ON it? Take it from this seasoned pro -- there are plenty of non-harmful alternatives out there to keep you beautiful AND healthy, so why take the risk?
Care2 Healthy Living. Top 15 Dangerous Ingredients in Skin Care.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Paraben.
The Good Human. What is Propylene Glycol and Why You Should Avoid It