Not-So-Clean Skin Products

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Last week I posted an article on cleaning products.  I thought I’d continue the theme, and today tell you what to avoid in skin care products.

As a review, last week I said the best thing to do was to read labels, and avoid those that came with a warning, such as “this could be fatal if inhaled,” or “contact poison control immediately if X occurs,” etc.  But unfortunately, topical products almost always contain at least some chemicals we don’t recognize, even the so-called “clean” ones.  That means you’ve got to read more carefully.

So, here’s the Hall of Shame:

  • Parabens: this is usually a suffix, so look for any word that ends in this.  These are used as preservatives, but are associated with endocrine (hormonal) cancers.  Specifically they have been linked with breast cancer.  They are banned in Japan and Sweden.
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphate or Sodium Laureth Sulfate: another suspected carcinogen, this one is linked to kidney and liver damage (and is associated with frequent UTIs), nervous system disruption, eye damage, eczema and dermatitis, and is also linked with SLE (Lupus).   It’s been banned in Europe and Central America.
  • Phthalates: these are in plastics – the softer the plastic, the more phthalates are in there.  They are also endocrine disruptors, associated with endocrine cancers, and can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system.  They were banned in the EU in plastic toys, but are still used in plenty of toiletry products.
  • Propylene Glycol: found in antifreeze, this is toxic to the nervous system.  It can also clog pores and speed up skin aging by depleting moisture from deeper skin layers.  It has been banned in Europe.
  • Aluminum: found in most deodorants, aluminum toxicity has been linked with Alzheimer’s (and also potentially with autism).
  • Formaldehyde (aka formalin, formal and methyl aldehyde): used as a disinfectant and preservative, it’s a suspected carcinogen (especially linked with lung cancer).  Exposure in high doses can cause asthma, headaches, eye irritation and upper respiratory irritation (I can attest to this firsthand from anatomy lab).  It’s been banned in Japan and Sweden.
  • Toluene: a solvent toxic to the nervous system; can also damage the liver, cause asthma, and disrupt the endocrine system.
  • Anything ending in -ethanolamine (Diethanolamine, Triethanolamine, Monoethanolamine): used as emulsifiers and foaming agents, upon absorption, these become nitrosamines, which can cause cancer.  They are also endocrine disruptors and skin irritants.
  • Talc: increases risk for ovarian cancer specifically, and for UTIs.
  • Xylene (aka xytol or dimethylbenzene): can damage your liver, and cause skin and respiratory tract irritation.

My general rule?  Whenever possible I buy products with as few ingredients as possible – and I try to stick to those I recognize.  If I just have to have a certain type of product, I scan the ingredient list for these primary offenders.  If they aren’t on there, I go ahead and buy it.

Does that mean there might still be something on the list that could cause some damage?  Yep.  But again, we live in a toxic world, and we can’t control everything.  I do the best I can and try not to obsess over the rest, since phobias are not healthy either!

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