Explain the skincare label

Whilst the world of skin care is alluring, it is also incredibly deceiving. As a general rule of thumb, if the ingredients don’t roll off the tongue easily, they should be avoided. Sadly, however, more than often than not, they don’t.

I’m sure we can all relate to reading extensive ingredient lists full of Hydroxymethylglycinate this and Imidazolidinyl that! Even in small quantities, we apply these harmful chemicals daily to our skin, our largest organ and most important immune defence barrier, unknowingly. Moreover, marketing tricks such as ‘dermatolocially tested’ rather than ‘dermatolocially endorsed’ can leave even the brightest hoodwinked. As these ingredients can affect health and well being negatively, rather than producing the desired effect, it is important to be aware, specifically, of what you should look to avoid.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

These are synthetic detergents, found in many skincare products such as body washes, shampoos, cleansers, mascaras and acne treatments. So common is this product, it can be found in over 90 percent of cleaning and personal care products, specifically those that foam. Despite this, due to their harsh nature, they are also used in engine degreasers, garage floor cleaners and car washes! Known to cause depression, labored breathing, severe skin irritation, and eye damage due to the fact that it can dissolve proteins in animals, this product should most certainly be avoided. Particularly worrying also is its ability to form carcinogens by interacting with other chemicals.

Artificial Fragrances

As pizza, burgers and ice cream are to the internal organs, artificial fragrances are to the skin. Synthetic ingredients disguised under a label of ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ can contain a concoction of up to four thousand hidden chemicals, many of which are carcinogenic, toxic and know to cause hyper-pigmentation, headaches and dizziness, as well as depression and irritability by attacking the central nervous system. Opt instead for essential oils. Not only are these renowned for their sweet, botanical aromas that can ignite the senses, they have unique therapeutic properties.

Artificial Colours

Again, an unnecessary component of many of our daily skin care products. Made from coal tar and containing heavy metal salts that can deposit toxins into the skin, synthetic colours are to be avoided due to their carcinogenic nature. The key to spotting these ingredients is to look for FD&C or D&C in your product labels. F represents food and D&C represents drug and cosmetics. They precede colours and indicate the artificial nature of the colours.

Mineral Oils

Although these sound like natural, nourishing ingredients, mineral oils are less than ideal components in skin care. Derived from petroleum, they cannot be synthesised by the skin, and instead coat it like a plastic film blocking and clogging pores. Whilst its inert nature is optimal from a manufacturers point of view, it can cause problems such as skin irritations, potential to slow cell development and thus cause premature aging – which is detestable from a customer’s perspective. Be wary of baby oil which is 100% mineral oil!


Formaldehyde is used in many cosmetic products, such as nail polish, hair treatments and eyelash glue to prevent bacteria growth. Its carcinogenic properties however, linking the chemical to pancreatic cancer, skin cancer and leukaemia, make it an abominable, heinous ingredient. Whilst formaldehyde is not often listed on the back of skin care bottles, it can be released by other preservatives. Ones to watch include Imidazolidinyl urea, Quaternium-15, 5-Bromo-5-nitro-1, Bronopol and DMDM hydantoin.


A commonly used antimicrobial chemical with a structure similar to Agent Orange, Triclosan is a known endocrine disruptor and toxic chemical. It is understood to interfere so severely with hormones, including thyroid and reproductive hormones, that it can change genetic material, decreasing fertility and deactivating sensory nerve endings. Tricolsan is most commonly found in antibacterial soaps, toothpastes and deodorants.

So next time you pick up a product, check the label before you swipe your Boots card! Who knows, there may be a cleaner, more beneficial alternative free of harmful chemicals that you could opt for.

Grace Braithwaite

Image Credits: Wikicommons/Botticelli – ‘The Birth of Venus’



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