What Are You Feeding Your Skin: Beauty Label Breakdown

What Are You Feeding Your Skin: Beauty Label Breakdown


19 July 2016


When it comes to beauty products, the truth is we can’t have just one of anything. (After all, you can’t have too much of a good thing, can you?)

Everyone has their own personal prerequisites before proclaiming their unwavering loyalty to a particular brand or its products. List a few of yours, off the top of your head. Price, perhaps; or maybe its absorbency and effectiveness, or how it lingers on sensitive skin. How about a nice heaping of chemical goodness to boot?

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A majority of manufactured, off-the-shelf beauty products, even from acclaimed and popular cosmetic players in the beauty industry, contain a myriad of harmful, toxic chemicals that are responsible for their highly sought-after selling points (Do anti-aging, whitening facial creams and firming serums ring a bell?). Our body absorbs 60% of what we put on our skin, and it only takes 26 seconds for the toxic chemicals to enter your bloodstream. What is truly shocking is that a woman wears a whopping average of 515 chemicals a day – yikes!

Grab your favourite beauty product and have a glance at the label. Despite the cryptic list, do parabens, laureth sulfates or phthalates make an appearance? If yes, you might want to reconsider switching to a more organic product. Non-organic skincare products have an average 5% – 60% concentration of alcohol, and even 3% of it (in ethanol, benzyl, and/or denatured forms) causes the skin cells to self-destruct and destroys its immunity against free radicals, thus accelerating the effects of ageing on skin cells.

Ageing skin shouldn’t be your only worry. Research has linked these chemical perpetrators with a string of health issues such as cancer, skin allergies, reproductive troubles such as infertility, and even birth defects in infants, causing learning disabilities in them. However, you can inhibit or lower these health risks by arming yourself with the proper knowledge on what to avoid on products that’s to be slathered on your skin.

Much like food labels, learning to read beauty labels is an essential habit to hone to ensure we’re using only the safest products. Here’s a nifty guide to common chemicals found in beauty products that we should steer clear of:

Parabens (Methyl, Butyl, Ethyl, Propyl)

Parabens are the most common and widely used preservatives in beauty products. Parabens inhibit the growth of bacteria and other icky stuff in your favourite creams, and it’s easily found in makeup, body washes, deodorants, shampoos & facial cleansers. Known as a carcinogen, research has discovered that it possesses estrogen-mimicking properties that are associated with increased risk of breast cancer.

Ethanolamine Compound (DEA, TEA, MEA)

Ethanolamine compounds are alcohol-based chemicals that are actually extremely toxic. Used as emulsifier in soaps, shampoos & cosmetics, it has raised several health concerns pertaining to cancer and organ system toxicity. Ethanolamine is a powerful carcinogen that is linked to stomach, esophagus, liver & bladder cancer. The European Commission prohibits DEA in cosmetics due to concerns about formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines.

Synthetic Colours (D&C Red 27, FD&C Blue 1, etc)

Colours are appealing, but maybe not so much in your personal care products! Artificial colours are usually derived from petroleum or coal tar sources, leading to suspicions that they are carcinogenic in nature, skin irritants, and have association with ADHD in children. Although FDA –approved, FD&C Blue 1 has been linked with neurotoxicity while D&C Red 27 has raised red flags about its concerns regarding organ system toxicity.


Fragrance is a catchall name for over 4000 chemicals used in personal care, cosmetics & household items. Even in ‘unscented’ goods, some fragrance may be added to mask the unpleasant smell of some of its ingredients. Some health concerns regarding fragrance include allergies, dermatitis, and respiratory problems. A study in 1998 on mice revealed that chemical fragrances emitted neurotoxins that are linked to irritability, depression and hyperactivity. Fragrances are however, only regulated in the EU.

Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate (SLS/SLES)

A foaming agent, detergent & surfactant, SLS/SLES are found in shampoo, body wash/cleanser and acne treatment. It’s also used in industrial cleaners, and is known to be a skin, lung, and eye irritant. The real danger of SLS occurs during its manufacturing process (ethoxylation) that results in SLS/SLES being contaminated with a carcinogenic by-product, which can lead to kidney and respiratory damages.

Phthalates (Dibutyl/Diethyl/Dimethyl)

To say phthalates are everywhere, in everything, would not be an understatement. It’s found in nail polish, perfumes, lotions and hair products, and it acts as a binding agent and also increases the flexibility and softness of plastics. They are known to be endocrine disruptors and are linked to an increased risk in breast cancer and reproductive birth defects.

Propylene Glycol

Propylene Glycol is an organic alcohol used as a skin-conditioning agent. It is easily found in moisturisers, sunscreen, makeup and hair products. It’s classified as a skin irritant and penetrator, and is associated with causing dermatitis and hives.

Formaldehyde (FRP’s)

A component of embalming fluid, formaldehyde is a preservative that prevents bacteria growth in makeup, facial and hair products. The World Health Organization has deemed formaldehyde as a human carcinogen that is linked to occupational-related cancers. It is also a skin allergen that will have adverse effects on the immune system, as well.

The Best Ingredients For Your Skin

Now that we’ve talked about the bad and the ugly of beauty products, here are some of the safest and most natural ingredients that are great for your skin.

Argan Oil

The golden-coloured argan oil, endemic to Morocco, is the latest secret to achieving healthy skin. It is renowned for its skin rejuvenating properties, due to its skin-protecting nutrients like linoleic acid (an Omega-6 fatty acid which counteracts skin aging) and Vitamin E (which contains potent antioxidant properties). Argan oil is able to boost skin’s suppleness and its natural, healthy resilience. Argan oil can be found in shampoos and moisturisers.

Tonka Beans

Tonka beans may sound like something out of a Roald Dahl story, but it certainly is no fairytale when it comes to its beauty benefits. The sweet and slightly spice-nuanced aroma of the tonka beans has made them a popular choice in recent years as bases for cosmetics, essential oils and fragrances. When hit with UV light, the absorbed energy is emitted back as visible blue light, giving skin an incredible, natural glow.


An apple a day keeps the doctor away – but the fruit is also incredible for achieving radiant skin. Organic apple extract is able to nourish skin with strong antioxidant activity and vital vitamins while balancing sebum production. Apples are no longer just for lunchboxes, but the new best friends of those with combination skin.


Hail the kale! This green superfood isn’t just great for chomping on; kale-based skincare products are steadily making their rounds in the beauty world. Rich in antioxidants, beta-carotene, vitamins C & K, kale extract helps protect skin from damaging free radicals caused by stress and pollution. The kale also stimulates the natural renewal systems of skin cells, resulting in smoother, healthier skin.


A popular and lovely scent, lavender oil is extremely versatile, with a bevy of anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-depressant, soothing, and healing properties. Lavender oil is an ideal choice for those with sensitive skins that are prone to stress and allergic reactions.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an essential component of the formation of collagen with antioxidant properties, helping to keep skin smooth and supple. Hyaluronic acid has also been touted to be able to keeping skin moisturised, with evidence noting that it is able to stimulate collagen growth as well.