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What REALLY goes into your beauty products?

woman eyes closed with a head towel on with half her face being covered in cream
As they say, knowledge is power – and what goes into your skincare is no exception. What are parabens, SLS and fragrances? Find out what ingredients you should be avoiding in your skincare.
As they say, knowledge is power – and what goes into your skincare is no exception.

While it's easy to be won over by fancy packaging and clever marketing, knowing exactly what's in your favourite products is the first step towards better skin and improving your health, too. Your fave products could be doing you more harm than good, packed with chemicals and preservatives that can irritate skin and affect hormone levels too. Watch out for these five hidden ingredients.

Pass on parabens 

You'll find these EVERYWHERE! This common ingredient is added to a lot of beauty products as a preservative, preventing bacteria from growing and stopping face creams getting mouldy. 

Parabens may keep our products fresh, but there have been concerns recently about parabens’ potential to disturb our hormonal balance. 

Parabens are known to be "endocrine disruptors", which means they can mimic oestrogen in the body. Elevated levels of oestrogen could lead to reproductive issues and affect development in children, which is why in 2011 Denmark banned the use of two common parabens in baby products.

Going fragrance-free

Who doesn’t want deliciously scented cleansers and moisturisers? Well, if you ever suffer from dry, flaky or red skin, you might want to think about ditching your fragranced skincare. "Fragrance" is a term which could cover a sackful of chemicals that can be added to products under sneaky names such as parfum, linalool, cinnamal and citronellol.

These can act as allergens to sensitive skins, irritating existing skin conditions like eczema and acne, as well as causing sneezing and headaches. If you suffer from dermatitis, avoid fragranced products, as they worsen symptoms such as rashes. It’s not just chemical nasties you need to look out for either – some "natural" fragrances like lavender oil can also irritate skin. If you're worried about redness, itchiness or dryness make some cleaner beauty choices and switch to unfragranced products to see if your skin's sensitivity improves. 

Turned off triclosan (TCS)

Used in soap, toothpastes and deodorants, triclosan is an antibacterial and antifungal agent, giving products a longer shelf life and keeping them free from bugs. TCS in skincare has raised concerns over its potential to be an endocrine disruptor, and it's been suggested TCS can affect thyroid hormones levels in high doses. Fears over TCS use have also raised questions over whether is causes resistance to microbes important to our health.

Stop with SLS 

Sodium lauryl sulphate is a chemical detergent which helps get rid of the build-up of oils on your skin and hair by breaking down proteins. Its foaming action does a great job of leaving things squeaky clean, but it can also result in your skin feeling dry, tight and irritated, as it indiscriminately rids your skin of natural oils.

This compromises your skin’s natural protective barrier, possibly leaving it irritated. Scientific studies indicate that SLS is an irritant in high doses, but claims that it causes serious skin sensitisation in the amounts in our skincare are unsubstantiated. However, if you have an existing skin condition it might be an idea to choose products without SLS and see if your symptoms improve. 

Phthalates 

The term ‘phthalates’ refers to a group of chemicals that were added to many skin products before being banned in the EU in 2015. Phthalates have been linked with endocrine disruption and developmental and reproductive toxicity. Although they are now officially recognised as harmful, they are often found in fragrances and perfumes, so make sure to check that your favourite perfume is definitely 100% phthalate-free. 13

Methylisothiazolinone

This is a preservative often added to cosmetic products such as shampoo to stop fungi and bacteria growing in them. However, it has been linked to an increase in cases of contact dermatitis, which is where the skin becomes red and irritated due to exposure to a certain substance. Methylisothiazolinone was removed from leave-on products such as moisturiser, but can still be found in some shampoos, conditioners and shower gels. If you do experience itchy skin, then be sure to avoid this ingredient.

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