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  • Writer's pictureWendy Ashworth

Spring clean your beauty regime!

....and how to spot the ‘nasties’

As a Neal’s Yard Remedies partner for over 16 years, we’ve always been very conscious of the importance of ‘clean’ ingredient in skincare products. There is no doubt that the beauty industry is starting to clean up it’s act, but there is still a long way to go.

And it’s a minefield for people who want to choose the cleaner option. First, there is nothing to stop brands claiming ‘natural’ on their packaging, even if there’s nothing natural about the product at all. So a casual glance at the label is not enough - you need to look harder.

Secondly, labels contain vast lists of unpronounceable and un-natural sounding ingredients. But in fact not all chemicals are bad! All natural materials are made up of different chemicals, and these must be listed on labels; but plant-derived chemicals often sound very similar to synthetic ones and unless you’re a chemist, understanding the ingredients list on skincare products can be daunting!

So to help cut through the confusion, here is a list of commonly used skincare ingredients that may do more harm than good:

Parabens: Parabens are synthetic preservatives widely used in cosmetics to prevent the growth of bacteria and mould. However, studies have linked parabens to hormone disruption, breast cancer, and reproductive toxicity. Despite their effectiveness in prolonging shelf life, the potential health risks associated with parabens have led many consumers to opt for paraben-free preservative alternatives.

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a surfactant commonly added to skincare products for its foaming and cleansing properties. While effective at removing dirt and oil, it can can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to dryness, irritation, and allergic reactions, especially in individuals with sensitive skin.

Phthalates: Phthalates are a group of chemicals used in skincare products to enhance fragrance and texture. However, phthalates have been linked to endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, and adverse developmental effects. Fragrance formulations, in particular, often contain phthalates, making it challenging for consumers to identify and avoid these harmful compounds. If a product label says ‘fragrance’ rather than listing individual essential oils, it is likely to contain phthalates.

Mineral Oil: Derived from petroleum, mineral oil is a common ingredient in skincare products due to its emollient properties and ability to lock in moisture. It is a much cheaper ingredient than plant derived oils.

However, mineral oil forms a barrier on the skin's surface, potentially clogging pores and hindering the skin's natural detoxification process. Concerns about contamination with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) raise further health concerns.

Synthetic Fragrances: Synthetic fragrances are ubiquitous in skincare products. They are cheaper to produce than naturally-derived scents and can be more stable and easier to mix.

However, the term "fragrance" on ingredient labels often represents a complex mixture of undisclosed chemicals, including phthalates and allergens, which can trigger allergic reactions, migraines, and respiratory issues in sensitive individuals.

Triclosan is an antimicrobial agent commonly added to skincare products such as soaps and hand sanitisers. Despite its antibacterial properties, triclosan has raised concerns due to its potential contribution to antibiotic resistance and disruption of the endocrine system. Additionally, its environmental impact and persistence in aquatic ecosystems have prompted regulatory restrictions and consumer backlash.

If you want a shortcut to endless label reading, products with organic certification are a good place to start, even if for you organic is not a ‘must’. This is because obtaining the Soil Association kite mark requires a manufacturer to climb through lots of hoops around the allowable ingredients, ethical sourcing and sustainability and more. The downside, however, is that this confidence comes at a price - products with a high organic content are invariably more expensive than their non-organic alternatives.

The good news is that in light of growing consumer awareness and regulatory scrutiny, many skincare brands are reformulating their products to exclude such harmful ingredients and embrace safer, more sustainable alternatives.

The less good news is that right now there is no substitute for scrutinising labels. I’d advise putting anything that includes ANY of the above ingredients back on the shelf and to choose something else instead!

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