Common skincare ingredients to avoid
In last week’s blog, we spoke about the natural variation in our products.
Some creams can vary in texture, smell, consistency and colour, despite the fact that Suneeta follows strict recipes, which never change.
This is because completely natural products are subject to some change each batch, especially when organic ingredients are involved, due to the lack of chemical intervention. Ingredients sourced from nature, which haven’t gone through any chemical process, will change depending on many factors, including yield, time of year, temperature and many more.
We are not taught to expect variation in cosmetics, and it can be inconvenient or odd when you receive something you've bought before to find that it is slightly different to a previous batch.
Today we’re going to break down some of the synthetic ingredients that are added to high street skincare products to ensure consistency, and the reasons why we avoid them.
In Team Suneeta, we try to avoid negativity, offering an alternative to high street skincare, without criticising other companies. We are going to break our own rule this time! This is because we want you to be informed about what you’re putting on your skin.
Scroll to the bottom to see examples of common potentially harmful synthetic skincare ingredients used in well-known "natural" brands.
Commonly used: butylene glycol, propylene glycol, denat alcohol
Water based products need some kind of preservative. Usually, preservatives are the second ingredient in moisturisers, after water (eau). The preservatives need to be so high up the ingredients list to preserve all that water! It makes you question what exactly we are paying for when we spend £20 on a moisturiser whose main ingredient is water.
These preservative ingredients are used in skincare products to give them an incredibly long shelf life, so that they can be bought to sit on shop shelves and in stock rooms without fear that they will go off.
Have you ever used a moisturiser and noted that it sinks into your skin straight away?
This does not mean that the product is necessarily ‘good for your skin’; it most likely means that the product has a high preservative content.
Alcohol and other similar preservatives can make a thick or chemical-laden skin-care product feel almost weightless, creating a deceptively pleasant aesthetic. And what’s more they make you use more of their product.
These ingredients do not just preserve products but they actually increase absorption of products into your skin. Known as penetration enhancers, these ingredients sink quickly into your skin by breaking down the skin's barrier - destroying the very substances that keep your skin healthy over the long term. Not to mention how problematic it is that these preservatives are helping the other harmful ingredients absorb into your body.
A commonly used preservative is denatured alcohol, which is incredibly drying on the skin but is ironically used as a main ingredient in “moisturisers” all over the world. Butylene and propylene glycol are also common preservative that are known to cause acne in many people, but it can be really hard to realise that these preservatives are the culprit, as they are in so many products! If you’re prone to breakouts high on your cheeks, consider taking a look at the ingredients on your skincare products in case a glycol is high on the list.
With the exception of the natural preservative, willow bark extract, used to preserve our aloe products, we completely avoid chemical preservatives (and of course no water is added to our products - look out for a later blog on this!).
THICKENERS and STABILISERS
Commonly used: Xantham gum, stearyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol
Some stabilisers are used to adjust the PH level of skincare. This allows skincare companies to use ingredients that would otherwise be irritating on the skin, but mostly, thickeners and stabilisers are used to bulk out products.
Unfortunately, the stabilisers chosen are often cheap synthetic products, where a natural alternative could be just as effective. But the real problem is the fact that these thickeners are even needed.
Earlier, I mentioned that water is the main ingredient of almost any cosmetic product on the high street, with a liquid preservative such as denat. alcohol as the second.
To put it bluntly, a thickening ingredient is then added to ensure that you don’t realise your product is 85% water.
Stablisilers’ other function is to ensure complete consistency in your products. Natural products made without these ingredients will melt, and resolidify in different temperatures. This is not harmful to the ingredients used, and will not reduce the quality of the product. If we take coconut oil as an example, it is of course common that this oil melts easily in warm temperatures, but appears more solid when it’s cool. We know that the coconut oil's quality is unaffected by its ever changing consistency.
We don’t expect this changing consistency from our skincare, but I believe we should embrace this aspect of natural ingredients, for the sake of using only actual beneficial ingredients on our skin, instead of feeding it with unnecessary, cosmetically-pleasing ingredients.
Commonly used: dimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, phenyl trimethicone
Silica is the main component of sand, but that doesn’t mean that silicones fall under the “natural” umbrella. Silica has to go through a significant chemical process to become silicone. It may have started out as something natural, but for sand to become “phenyl trimethicone”, harmful chemicals are involved.
Silicones don’t provide any benefit to skin, at all. They are used because they are an extremely cheap ‘filler’ ingredient, and because they make skin feel smooth. When you have used a silicone based product, you may run your hand over your face and note how smooth it feels; that’s because you’re not feeling your skin, you’re running your fingers over a light layer of plastic-like substance.
When silicones are added to products, this is one ingredient that is hard for skin to absorb. Of course some is still absorbed into the bloodstream, however a layer of film-like coating will always sit on your skin. This allows companies to claim longer lasting “hydration benefits” - eg “48 hours of hydration” - because this is how long you will feel the product on your skin.
Many “high end” eye creams claim to reduce fine lines, but in fact just use dimethicone as a main ingredient, which simply blurs the appearance of fine lines but once washed off will have achieved nothing. This creates a cycle where you keep applying and re-buying, with no real benefit to your skin.
This is another cheap synthetic ingredient used by skincare companies that is also known to cause acne in many people. Like plastic wrap, silicones form a barrier on top of your skin. That barrier can trap dirt, sweat, bacteria, sebum, dead skin cells and other debris, causing clogged pores and breakouts. Just like where products that absorb well are considered to be beneficial (when this is not necessarily the case), products that make your skin feel smooth are considered to be beneficial. It is really important that we forget the idea that skincare should “work”. Your skin should be able to be healthy without skincare; cosmetic products should help skin care for itself, not cause reliance on short term “solutions” that have only temporary, surface effects.
The other big problem with silicones in skincare (and haircare), is that they are known to cause long lasting damage to aquatic life. When we cleanse our skin and hair, silicones are washed down the drain. They do not biodegrade, and will exist in the sea for millions of years. Many products can even be labelled vegan, when they use these ingredients, even though they are known to cause damage to the environment and to sea life.
Commonly used: parfum
In the EU, when selling cosmetics, all ingredients have to be listed on the label. Even the allergens which are naturally present in essential oils (eg linalool), which are not themselves added to the product. This is for transparency and safety (though we do tend not to look at ingredients lists, which are often hidden and difficult to access on labels).
The one dangerous exception to this rule is “parfum”.
Parfum, or “perfume”, is considered separate to cosmetic products. When selling perfumes, companies do not have to include the ingredients on their label, so that their recipes are protected. Essentially, in order to protect their product from being mimicked, perfume ingredients are protected as “trade secrets”.
This has created a loophole in cosmetics, where skincare companies can mix together all sorts of ingredients, then have them registered as a “perfume” in the eyes of the EU. This allows Parfum to be sufficient as a listing on an ingredients list, whereby the actual ingredients that make the particular “parfum” don’t have to be disclosed.
This means that when you see “parfum” listed on a product, you have no idea whatsoever exactly what chemical ingredients are included within that umbrella. If a company has gone to the lengths of registering a blend of ingredients as a perfume, chances are, they don’t want you to know what ingredients are involved.
Why do companies use synthetic fragrance at all?
Companies who use fragrance do this so that a scent may become synonymous with a brand, or with a particular range of their products, eg bodyshop’s vitamin e range. We become familarised with the particular scent, and studies show that the consistency is reassuring to us as consumers. We equate consistency with quality.
If we step back and think about this, it’s easy to see how flawed this thinking is. Does chemical fragrance/ parfum have any place in skincare when there are no skin care benefits involved?
From time to time we receive emails noting slight fragrance changes in our products, which is completely understandable because consistency is the norm, and because changes suggest a recipe change or a change in quality. However, this is simply because no chemicals or synthetic fragrance is involved.
Essential oils are packed with actual benefits to the skin, including anti-inflammatory and anti-septic quality, but they can vary from batch to batch, as with all natural products. Companies therefore prefer to add their signature chemical-made scent to products, as that way each product will smell exactly the same.
Today, even buying pure essential oils can be difficult, as more and more often companies are adding drops of their “parfum” to essential oils, in order to give customers that guarantee of consistency. We know that natural products are each unique and we know that this consistency can only be achieved through chemical intervention.
Commonly used: CL 123
We mentioned in last week's blog how the colour of our products can vary. This is because we use no chemical or animal derived pigment in an of our products.
Colour pigments are used in cosmetics all over the world, to give an appealing colour to skincare, but also to ensure consistency.
Synthetic dyes are typically labelled with ‘FD&C’ or ‘D&C’ ‘in their name. (Certified FD&C colors have been approved for use in food, drugs, and cosmetics; D&C for drugs and cosmetics, but not in food.) Alternatively, some dyes will have the name of a color followed by a number; for example, Blue 1 Lake and Orange 5.
These dyes are synthetically created from chemically refined petroleum oil or coal-tar derivatives that contain toxic heavy metals. Sound a bit nasty? That’s because it is. Despite being legal, FD&C colors can still be harmful to the body. As they absorb into the skin, they can deplete the body of oxygen. We need oxygen to fuel our cells - without it, we have less energy and our bodies don’t function properly. They can also be absorbed through the oral cavity from cosmetics used around the mouth.
Colours, like many other tools used by skincare companies, do nothing for your skin, but exist to make cosmetics look "appealing" and to ensure that each product produced looks exactly the same.
It is up to all of you to make your own mind up about skincare that you use. We don't want to swear you off using your favourite product just because it contains one of the ingredients mentioned above. We just hope that by highlighting the above information, you will be able to make informed decisions about what you put on your skin.
Team Suneeta xx