Ingredients in Skin Care products


It’s easy to forget that our skin is an organ! In fact the body’s largest organ.

We generally consider organs to be internal, so of course, their abuse is often not evident until disease sets in.

Consider lung cancer … for a regular smoker, it may be many years for the onset of any symptoms of disease to become apparent. The smoker may be generally surprised that the abuse of their lungs has come back to bite!!

In regards to our skin, it can be the same. We can abuse it by too much sun, and, as I hope to highlight, cause damage by using skin ‘care’ products that are a chemical cocktail.

But the damage can go deeper because of the inclusion of synthetic chemicals that are, and in many cases, not researched adequately. Ingredients are in many products that should never be applied to our skin.

After all, our skin does an amazing job protecting, cooling by sweating, conserving heat by way of gooseflesh, eliminating toxins and absorbing nutrients.

Some of the points I will be covering:

  • How to read an ingredients label
  • The easy trick to recognising toxic preservatives
  • Chemicals disguised as “natural”
  • How ingredients can be contaminated with impurities
  • The dangers of accumulating many common ingredients
  • Safe alternatives

The skin can be nourished by some wonderful substances but can also be at the mercy of substances that are not so healthy for us. When you think of the delivery of HRT and nicotine patches, one can appreciate how truly wonderful this organ is to be able to deliver medications directly to the blood stream.

An article in the media (June ’08) reports the development of a patch to help with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is being trialed. That would indicate delivery of medication directly to the brain!
It is reasonable to assume that along with health promoting medications to be absorbed by the skin into the blood and brain, that toxic substances, hormone disruptors, ingredients shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals and things that just aren’t healthy can also be very easily delivered!

Over the past 50 years or so, the petrochemical industry has seen monumental growth. Plastics are now in every thing. There doesn’t seem to be an application from car parts to toys that has been left out.

By the same token, chemicals derived from the petroleum industry have made many ingredients used in personal care products, cosmetics and skin care very cheap!

With the bottom line always the most important consideration of any skincare formulation, it is easy to see why traditional, natural ingredients have not only been sidelined, but criticised as being inferior to the synthetic man-made alternatives.

We have come to expect that each and every jar or tube of our favorite product is the exact duplication of the previous purchase, and this is possible because of the manufacturing process. Synthetics can be controlled as there are no consistent elements of nature to disturb the outcome.

Think about it, even in our controlled farming industries, the fruit and vegetables are different from week to week, farm to farm and season to season.

We expect that if it’s for sale … it must be safe!

Regrettably, this far from the truth.

Cosmetic companies are self governed.

They include ingredients in skin care preparations that have been shown to be toxic to laboratory animals and have the cheek to market them as the newest, greatest, anti-ageing … etc, etc … product available.

There are no “official” definitions for terms such as ‘clinically proven’ or ‘dermatologist tested’ There may have been testing done by the manufacturer of the product in question but they are not answerable to anyone. In fact, manufactures are not obliged by any law or guide-line to actually ‘prove’ what they claim.

As for ‘hypoallergenic’ ‘allergy tested’ or ‘non-irritating’ these terms imply the manufacturer feels that their product is less likely than others to cause an allergic reaction. It is possible that the product may contain the same chemicals you could be trying to avoid.

If that wasn’t enough, manufactures can claim ‘trade secrets’ so they can avoid displaying the formulations of their products, making it more difficult for a consumer to evaluate the ingredients.

‘Fragrance’ and ‘parfum’ muddy the waters too! These ingredients, used to mask the smell of other materials, can enter the body by way of the upper airways, olfactory (smell) pathways to the brain, as well as the lungs, apart from the exposure to the skin. This is certainly more than a double whammy as there can be as many as 4000 different elements to make up a fragrance and the little testing done by industry concentrates on the skin exposure without taking into account the respiratory, neurological or systemic effects.

It is worth considering that fragrances are a major cause of sensitivity reactions and adverse health effects.

89% of ingredients used in cosmetics and skin care have not been tested for safety by any publicly accountable institution. When you count up the number of personal care products you use daily, there is a chance that you are exposed to up to 125 different chemicals … day after day!

According to Charlotte Vohtz, pharmacologist and founder of the Green People Company, most women can absorb up to 2 kg of chemicals, through their skin, from cosmetics, each year!

Here a few ingredients to be on the look out for: –

Paraben Preservatives: these usually have methyl, propyl, butyl and ethyl somewhere in the word. They are to extend the shelf life, but everything degrades eventually and these preservatives are widely used even though they are known to toxic.

Dr. Phillipa Dubre published in the Journal of Toxicology in 2004 her study that found 18 of 20 women with breast cancer had Paraben preservatives in the cancer tumour tissue. How did that get there?!

Silicone derived emollients are occlusive – that is they coat the skin like plastic wrap, trapping anything beneath, not allowing the skin to breath. Recent studies have indicated that the prolonged exposure of the skin to sweat, by occlusion causes skin irritation. Some synthetic emollients are known tumour promoters and accumulate in the liver and lymph nodes. They are non-biodegradable, causing negative environmental impact.

  • Dimethicone
  • Dimethicone Copolyol
  • Cyclomethicone …… or any chemical with “cone” in the name.

Diazolidinyl Urea is established as the primary cause of contact dermatitis by the American Academy of Dermatology. This chemical contains formaldehyde, a carcinogenic chemical that is also toxic by inhalation.

Propylene/Butylene Glycol can be discovered on many ingredients lists, from washes to moisturisers. It is a petroleum derivative that penetrates the skin and can weaken protein and cellular structure. Commonly used to make extracts from herbs, PG is strong enough to remove barnacles from boats! The EPA warns against skin contact to prevent brain, liver and kidney abnormalities. But there isn’t even a warning label on products such as stick deodorants, where the concentration is greater than in most industrial applications.

Mineral Oil is a petroleum by-product that, like silicones mentioned above, coats the skin like plastic wrap. It clogs the pores and interferes with the skin’s ability to eliminate toxins, promoting acne and other disorders. It slows down skin function and cell development, resulting in premature ageing. Used in many products, notably sorbalene. Baby oil is 100% mineral oil! Manufactures use it as it is unbelievably cheap!

  • Mineral oil
  • Liquidum paraffinum (posh mineral oil!)
  • Paraffin oil and wax
  • Petrolatum

These ingredients also get a special mention in the next email about contaminants.

Fragrance on a label can indicate the presence of up to four thousand separate ingredients, many toxic or carcinogenic. Symptoms reported to the USA FDA include headaches, dizziness, allergic rashes, skin discolouration, violent coughing and vomiting and skin irritation. Clinical observation proves fragrances can affect the central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity and irritability.

The diagram below details how ingredients are listed on a label in descending order, with the largest quantities, by volume or mass, first, down to the smallest amounts. There is no mandatory requirement for the quantity, percentage or quality of each ingredient to be listed.

The special ingredients that a product may be marketed on, organic oil, or an antioxidant for example are invariably at the end of the list. In such a small percentage, it is unlikely to be potent enough to be of benefit.


rule of thumb


Did you notice that the first 3 or 4 ingredients make up the bulk of the product? … that means it is mostly water and synthetic chemicals. “Aqua” is often used to describe water … but it is still water!

Over the next few weeks, I will be reporting on the different types of chemicals routinely used in every thing from cleansers, moisturisers, cosmetics, sun screens and baby care products.

I hope you enjoy them and are never again sucked in to the marketing hype!

Click here to find out what Contaminants might be lurking in your skin care products