Since hoping on the zero- waste bandwagon, I have become absolutely obsessed with natural skin care. As a vegan of ten years, I have always been very conscious of what I put IN my body. However, it was only recently that I became as concerned with what I put ON my body as well.
My initial vegan sensibilities were for the animals and not myself.....so as long as it wasn't tested on animals, I was good! But what I failed to truly let sink in (pun intented) is that I WAS THE TEST SUBJECT!! The reality is that putting chemicals on your skin is just as bad as ingesting them through food. They are being absorbed through your skin and immediately finding their way into your bloodstream. YIKES!!!!
So I've done some research and have started to read beauty/skin care labels just as vigilantly as I read nutrition labels. Every time I pick up a plastic bottle with some pseudo-fancy label claiming to have discovered a purer form of collagen or some advanced wrinkle-eraser ingredient, I put myself in the shoes of the average consumer and think, “I’m sold!” ......but now after a bit of investigation and education, these companies no longer fool me.
If you aren’t one to read labels, or can’t quite get yourself into the habit of it, this article may inspire you to start doing so. Here is a list of toxic, “unbeauty” chemicals that you definitely don’t want in your skin care. Add these to your own skin care guide, so you can begin making conscious decisions when shopping for that pretty skin of yours!
NOTE: If you don't geek out on the science like I do and just want the SOLUTION, scroll to the bottom for my recommended non-toxic DIY options.
We’re seeing fewer chemical preservatives, a.k.a “parabens,” on labels (though they are still out there, so keep your eyes peeled). Because consumers have become aware of the potential problems with parabens, a newer preservative, under the name “phenoxyethanol” (or ethylene glycol monophenyl ether), has emerged into conventional and even “certified organic” skin care as a safer alternative.
But is it really?
Phenoxyethanol is commonly used in a variety of skin care products ranging from facial and body cleansers to moisturizers and make up. Several studies demonstrate this preservative shows toxic effects to the body in moderate concentrations. These effects include:
- reproductive and developmental complications
- contact dermatitis (skin irritation)
-damage to the brain and nervous system
Japan recently banned the use of phenoxyethanol in all cosmetics, while most other countries have limited its use to 1% concentration. Is it just me, or does the U.S. always seem a bit behind?
Some studies have linked aluminum to Alzheimer’s disease, though recent research has cast doubt on the connection. Other studies have indicated that aluminum may be linked to breast cancer and other brain disorders. Aluminum, in the form of powder, is used in self-care products such as antiperspirant deodorants.
Aluminum is unequivocally a neurotoxin. It can cause irritation to the skin, it’s an endocrine disruptor, and it causes birth disorders in animals.
The average person will consume, absorb and/or eat three pounds of aluminum in their lifetime. Wow! Think about that next time you reach for Dove or Old Spice on the shelf. How about you ditch the toxic load and coat your pits with Schmidt's All Natural Deodorant instead. It’s a personal favorite! (...just be sure to recycle the glass jar ;-)
Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen linked to leukemia, pancreatic and skin cancer, skin irritation, and cirrhosis. It is typically found in nail polish, eyelash glue, and hair smoothing and straightening products like the popular Brazilian Blowout treatment.
This chemical is a little more inconspicuous, meaning that it’s not often listed on a product label, but rather “released” from preservatives. These preservatives include:
- DMDM hydantoin
- Imidazolidinyl urea
- Diazolidinyl urea
If any of these chemicals are listed on the label, avoid the product.
4. Tetrasodium EDTA
Keep a look out for this chelating agent, which is cytotoxic and genotoxic. Clinical tests show that tetrasodium EDTA increases the penetration of other chemicals. This is concerning, as this chemical is often contained in formulas with other ingredients that are deemed unsafe. I’d say put the product back on the shelf if you spot this ingredient on the label.
Belonging to the “dirty dozen” list of dangerous chemicals, dioxins are of high concern. Existing in the food chain as environmental pollutants, dioxins have made their way into many skin care products. Because they are persistent compounds, they linger inside of our body for long periods of time.
According to the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database, dioxins are known endocrine disruptors, strongly linked to cancer and toxic to the organ system and human development. Dioxins will not be listed on a label, but are often contained in antibacterial agents such as triclosan, PEGs and sodium laureth sulfate.
Dioxins are also found in non-organic tampons, as most conventional cotton is genetically engineered, sprayed with pesticides, and treated with bleach. Ladies, next time you’re having “moon-time,” phase out the conventional tampons and look for organic cotton instead. I like the Natracare brand as a non-toxic AND zero-waste solution, as the applicator and packaging is compostable.
Toluene is often used in glues, adhesives, chemical detergents, dyes, paint and paint thinners, plastics and many other industrial substances. Why would we want that in our skin care? Look out for this shady chemical also hiding under the names: benzene, methylbenzene, toluol and phenylmethane. You may see it in nail polish or hair coloring products.
7. Triethanolamine (TEA)
There’s tea (a nice herbal blend steeped in warm water), and then there’s TEA. These two are not to be confused, and I much prefer the first.
TEA is a fragrance ingredient, pH adjuster, surfactant, and emulsifier. It’s found in soaps, hair care, lotions, make up, perfumes and sunscreens. The health concerns include cancer, organ system toxicity, allergic reactions and bioaccumulation in the skin. Animal studies also show that even at low doses applied topically, it was linked with cell mutation.
Look for it under other names like DEA and MEA on the labels, too.
8. Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)
PABA is one of those dated ingredients, but it’s an important one to keep a lookout for, as it’s still out there in the world of sun protection. PABA is not known to wreak havoc in our bodies like other chemical UV blockers such as oxybenzone, but it raises a red flag for allergic reactions. There have been several reports on the high percentage of people using PABA on their skin who have experienced allergic contact dermatitis as well as photocontact dermatitis.
Even PABA-esters, which have taken the place of PABA and are milder, have still caused the same skin reactions.
It seems that over 90% of conventional skin care products are packaged in plastic these days. What’s up with that? Would you grow an organic garden in the middle of a petroleum plant, and enjoy eating from it? I feel the same about skin care. If you spend all this time creating a beautiful product with organic plants, herbs and high-quality ingredients, wouldn’t you want to store it in something that protects the integrity of the formula?
Storing products in cheap plastic shows a lot about the quality of the skin care. Opt for BPA-free plastic when glass is not possible, because Bisphenol A (BPA)—the compound found in plastic—can leach into skin care products. Research has shown that BPA can be absorbed through the skin and we don’t need any more estrogen-mimicking happening in our bodies.
Glass is the best option for storing skin care, but do remember to still read the labels, as even the “top-shelf, high-end” skin care products packaged in glass are filled with chemicals. Hey, being an ingredient investigator is fun, and your skin will thank you.
DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) is considered to be a neurotoxin, although more extensive research is required to prove this. Some studies have suggested that formulas containing concentrations over 30% are toxic.
Long-term and heavy exposure to DEET caused brain cell death and behavioral changes in rats, which is why manufacturers recommend you avoid spraying it on your face or inhaling it while applying.
Overuse of DEET has resulted in lethal incidents. There were eight related deaths to DEET between 1961 to 2002, three of which were from ingestions and five of which were from skin exposure (heavy and recurring applications of DEET).
DEET is a man-made chemical that can dissolve plastic. Seems pretty harsh, yeah? Let’s pass on that and look for bug sprays made with essential oils that repel mosquitoes just as effectively. Better yet, make your own! Citronella, eucalyptus, cedar wood, lemongrass, lavender, tea tree and patchouli essential oils are the most potent. Try diluting a few of these into a carrier oil of your choice to create your own bug-be-gone blend.
Simplifying the Process
Sometimes reading labels can be overwhelming. A general rule of thumb is that if it doesn’t roll off of the tongue easily (unless of course it’s a botanical name in Latin), and if water is listed as an ingredient (this requires a preservative to be added), then I’d swap it out for something cleaner.
The alchemical world of skin care is fascinating, but can also be deceiving. It is our right to know what we put on our skin and into our bodies. Hopefully these common ingredients have been added to your list of NOs and have provided you with a sense of awareness so that you can choose the right products for your skin.
When you purchase a product that is supporting chemical industries, you are voting with your dollar. I find it more rewarding to vote for the small-scale, organic, mom & pop skin care shops versus the mass-produced, toxic, and chemical-laden ones. I believe your skin will, too.
My DIY Solutions
If you only want the absolute best for your skin and the environment, then I suggest taking a look at my FAVORITE DIY recipes! Not only are they completely non-toxic, but they are also a part of a zero-waste lifestyle.....just be sure to reuse, repurpose or recycle the glass containers.
First things first, the shopping list! Creating your own skin care products is simple and affordable. You will need the following ingredients, which will last you for months:
Rosemary essential oil
Lavender essential oil
Tea tree oil
Green tea bags
Raw Manuka honey
Aloe vera gel
This oil cleansing serum is simple and it really works. Jojoba oil is the best oil for your skin because it has a similar molecular composition as our own sebum. It will not clog the pores.
- 50ml jojoba oil
- 10 drops rosemary essential oil
- 6 drops lavender essential oil
- 4 drops tea tree oil
Fill glass dispensing bottle with jojoba oil. Add essential oils, close bottle and roll between hands to disperse oils. Rinse face with warm water. Place a few drops of cleansing serum on a facecloth and wipe over the face and throat area. Rinse cloth and repeat if desired.
Green Tea Toner
Because we are cleansing with oil and gentle ingredients, the pH of the skin is not disrupted.
Therefore, a toner is not essential. But this toner feels amazing and contains some great anti-acne
- 100ml of distilled water, brought to a boil
- 5 tsp of green tea (or 5 tea bags)
- 2 drops of lavender essential oil
- 2 drops of rosemary essential oil
- 2 tsp of aloe vera gel
Steep the green tea in the boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove tea leaves or tea bags and add
essential oils to the tea. Allow it to cool. Pour aloe vera gel into a spray bottle and add the tea. Shake well. Spritz face liberally. Keep in refrigerator for added soothing benefits.
This serum is really simple to make, and the ingredients are anti-aging superstars. The sea buckthorn oil is high in vitamin A and has been shown to reduce sebum production by up to 45%. The rosehip oil is a beautiful moisturizer and it will help fade acne scars and repair the skin.
- 20ml sea buckthorn seed oil
- 20ml rosehip oil
- 10ml jojoba oil
- 10 drops rosemary essential oil
- 10 drops lavender essential oil
- 5 drops tea tree oil
Add sea buckthorn oil and rosehip oil into a glass dispensing bottle. Add essential oils, close bottle, and roll between palms to disperse the oils. Top off with jojoba oil, close bottle and agitate for a second time. Cleanse and tone the skin. Apply 3 or 4 drops to fingertips and massage into the entire face.
Raw Honey Clear Pore Mask
(WARNING: Not for the honey-avoiding vegan)
This mask is a huge beauty secret.
- 1 tbsp raw manuka honey
- 2 drops lavender or tea tree oil
Smear a thin layer of honey over your entire face and start to lightly pat your skin. The texture of the honey will start to change and it will actually clear debris from your pores. After patting the honey for 5 minutes, let the mask sit on your skin for another 5-10 minutes. Rinse off with warm water.
These recipes truly are a WIN-WIN-WIN! They are non-toxic and all-natural; safe for your skin and for the environment! If you decide to give them a try, please let me know what you think on my Facebook page or in the comments below!