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12 Toxic Chemicals in Beauty Products to Avoid

The ‘Toxic Twelve’ Chemicals In Beauty Products

When looking at beauty product ingredients, I often ask myself, “Would I eat this?” 
After all, if what we put on our skin, the body’s largest organ, has the potential to end up in our bloodstream, I think it’s an excellent question to be asking. Do you also wonder?

My search for natural organic shampoo and conditioner

 A recent trip to my local pharmacy for some natural organic shampoo and hair conditioner left me frustrated. Try as I might, I couldn’t find any all-natural products. I thought there would be at least one option available. As I continued to scour products on the shelf, it became apparent the situation was pretty dire. Not only were organic options unavailable, but several labels included ominous-sounding ingredients. 

All-natural beauty products should be the standard, not the exception

Through Franchine Young, I am committed to creating toxin-free skincare. However, my trip to the pharmacy shows that the struggle is much broader than our skin alone. Chemical-free make-up, healthy cosmetics, all-natural shampoo and conditioner; we’ve reached a point where these should not be special, exclusive items. They should be everyday purchases that are readily available. However, they are not. 

It got me thinking about what I believe are the most harmful ingredients still found in cosmetics, soaps, make-up, haircare, and even sunscreen. Some have been banned in certain markets but persist in others. 

Let’s look at the ‘Toxic Twelve’ chemicals in beauty products that I think we should avoid.

1) Parabens

What are parabens?

They are preservatives.

Where can you find parabens?

In a wide variety of cosmetics, including makeup, moisturisers, hair care products, and shaving products.

Why are parabens potentially harmful?

Paraben compounds such as methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben may weakly affect oestrogen levels. A small study of breast cancer tissue found traces of parabens, although this does not mean parabens actually caused the disease in the first place. 

2) Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS)

What is SLS?

We’ve been using Sodium lauryl sulphate as an emulsifier or detergent for more than half a century. 

Where can you find SLS?

In skin cleansers, shampoos and shower gels. 

Why is Sodium lauryl sulphate potentially harmful?

Although some evidence suggests the duration of exposure to SLS is an important factor, it can be irritating to the skin for some.

3) Polyethylene glycols (PEGs)

What are Polythylene glycols? 

Petroleum-based ingredients that act as moisturisers. 

Where can you find Polythylene glycols? 

In moisturising creams. 

Why are Polyethylene glycols potentially harmful? 

PEGS may themselves be contaminated with nasties such as 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxid, which are potential human carcinogens (cancer-causing)

4) Imidazolidinyl urea

What is Imidazolidinyl urea? 

It works as a preservative or additive.  

Where can you find Imidazolidinyl urea? 

In water-based cosmetics.

Why is Imidazolidinyl urea potentially harmful? 

Its formaldehyde-releasing ability makes it a potential allergen that can result in skin reactions and rashes. 

5) Triethanolamine (TEA)

What is Triethanolamine?

Smelling a little like ammonia, it is a thick and colourless liquid that acts as a pH adjuster, surfactant, buffering and/or masking agent.

Where can you find Triethanolamine?

In cosmetics such as moisturisers, eyeliners, mascaras, hair care, and sunscreens.

Why is Triethanolamine potentially harmful? 

Evidence links it to human immune and respiratory issues as well as skin allergies. 

6) Sunscreen chemicals

What are sunscreen chemicals? 

They include chemicals such as:
– Benzophenone-3
– Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate (EHMC)  
– Butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane, (BMDBM)
They serve to protect against solar radiation and its effects. 

Where can you find sunscreen chemicals? 

Aside from the obvious, you may also find these chemicals in other cosmetics and personal care products to protect against sun rays. 

Why are sunscreen chemicals potentially harmful? 

They’ve been linked to causing hormonal disruption, skin allergies, breathing difficulty, and some studies have even found traces of them in breast milk, meaning potential exposure to unborn and newborn children. I prefer to just opt for protection in the form of a hat, clothing and shade. A sun parasol is a gorgeous addition to any outfit! 

7) Synthetic colourants

What are synthetic colourants? 

They are dyes usually sourced from chemically refined petroleum oil or coal-tar.

Where can you find synthetic colourants? 

They are added to cosmetics and hair dyes to alter their colour and make them more visually appealing. 

Why are synthetic colourants potentially harmful? 

They can contain heavy metals and potentially may be carcinogenic (cancer-causing). 

8) Synthetic fragrances

What are synthetic fragrances? 

A manufactured scent designed to improve/enhance the fragrance of a product. 

Where can you find synthetic fragrances?

Cosmetics and personal care products. 

Why are synthetic fragrances potentially harmful? 

They don’t have to be singled out on the ingredients list – they can simply be referred to as ‘parfum’. So the problem here is not really knowing what the ingredient is! 

9) Polyacrylamides

What are Polyacrylamides? 

They are stabilising and binding agents. They can also serve as foaming, anti-static and lubricating agents. 

Where can you find Polyacrylamides?

In colour cosmetics and skincare products. 

Why are Polyacrylamides potentially harmful? 

Polyacrylamides themselves are not the concern so much as their ability to break down into a potential carcinogenic, acrylamide (cancer-causing). The EU has banned the use of acrylamide in cosmetics.

10) Hydroquinone

What is Hydroquinone?

A whitening agent. 

Where can you find Hydroquinone? 

Products that bleach or lighten the skin/ reduce pigmentation. 

Why is Hydroquinone potentially harmful? 

It is linked to dermatitis, dryness, redness and other inflammatory reactions. 

11) Phthalates

What are phthalates? 

You may have also heard these referred to as phthalic acid esters. They are chemicals with multiple functions and serve as binding agents. 

Where can you find Phthalates?

Although currently banned in the EU, they remain present in some US skincare and beauty products. 

Why are Phthalates potentially harmful? 

Phthalates encompasses a huge class of chemicals. However, research has linked Phthalates with asthma, attention deficit disorder, breast cancer, obesity, Type II diabetes, autism spectrum disorders and more. 

12) Triclosan

What is triclosan? 

It is a very widely used antimicrobial agent. 

Where can you find Triclosan? 

In products such as toothpaste, mouthwash and hand sanitisers. 

Why is triclosan potentially harmful? 

It was banned in 2016 from soap products following the risk assessment by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. There are suggestions that it may affect immune responses and cardiovascular functions.

How to avoid dangerous ingredients in cosmetics products

Reading this is a great start – you’re already aware of 12 toxic chemicals in beauty products to avoid! 

I’d also suggest spending time reading the label before you buy. A list of harmful chemicals in beauty products won’t always be straightforward to find – you may need to do a little digging. Don’t get distracted by gorgeous packaging and clever marketing jargon. Learn the telltale words that indicate something might not be what it seems. 

Research online marketplaces or community forums that celebrate and champion all-natural, organic ingredients. I like Cosmetics Database. This non-profit site, run by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an absolute warehouseof information.  there are also free apps available for your mobile phone that allow you to scan the product on the shelf before you buy – two that I am currently using Think Dirty and CosmEthics.

Find your family, and stay loyal. Natural beauty products really do work. Seek out the ones that are right for you, and then stay loyal to them. If their values are aligned, they won’t suddenly sneak any nasties into their products. Stick with them, and your loyalty will be rewarded in many ways, I am sure! 

Consider the outside as much as the inside. The packaging – is it sustainable? Is it glass? If it’s plastic, is it BPA-free?

Agitate for change – if you’re frustrated like me, let’s make a noise! Vote with your purse! Share this article within your own networks so that we can get the word out.

Are there any toxic skincare ingredients in Franchine Young products?

Absolutely not! I go to lengths to ensure all my ingredients are premium quality and organic. I believe passionately in the power of plants and do not see the need to add synthetics and additional lotions and potions to Mother Nature – her ingredients are already perfect. Our products all come in sustainable, locally-sourced packaging, and we are 100% cruelty-free. 

It’s not easy; I know first-hand! But I have absolute faith that if we do the groundwork, we can find more natural self-care solutions and potentially create the change we want to see! 

Please visit my Shop page if you’re interested in purchasing Franchine Young skincare

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