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Ten ingredients in skin care to avoid and why

It’s important when using skin care products to carefully review the list of ingredients.

And we begin with a “catch all” for those of us who are Vegan:

1. Animal Products

Here are just some you’ll see:

  • Stearic acid – Generally made from animal fat but can also be made from vegetable fat.

  • Lanolin – Grease from sheep’s wool.

  • Glycerine – Generally comes from animal fats but can come from vegetable oil.

  • Squalene – Shark liver oil (not to be confused with squalane which comes from olives).

  • Beeswax – Excreted from bees bodies and harvested alongside honey.

  • Tallow – Cow or sheep fat.

  • Keratin – Made from animal horns, hooves, nails and hair.

  • Collagen – The skin and connective tissue of cows, fish, horses, pigs or rabbits.

  • Elastin – Sources from the skin, ligaments, lungs and bladders of animals.

  • Gelatin – Made from the skin, tendons, ligaments and bones of cows and pigs.

  • Hydrolyzed silk – Many silkworms are killed in the harvesting of silk.

  • Milk – Cows’ milk is the most common type.

2. Aluminium (Alum)

Yes, contentious, and there is limited scientific evidence that show the conclusive negative impact of aluminium, particularly in relation to neurological disorders. Alum is a global term used for compounds which contain aluminium. In cosmetics, “alum” usually refers to potassium alum, which has astringent and antibacterial properties.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) notes that there are concerns that potassium alum may not be safe for long-term use. Some studies have found a relationship between deodorants that contain potassium alum and rates of cancer.

Potassium alum is a naturally occurring mineral salt, potassium aluminium sulphate. But just because it’s natural, it doesn’t mean it’s safe. Crystal deodorants will often state that they’re free of aluminium chlorohydrate, aluminium chlorohydroxide and aluminium zirconium. Manufacturers tend to claim that the difference is that potassium alum (of which most crystal deodorants are made) is a much larger molecule, and it’s understood not to be absorbed by human skin. This should be questioned, though, when pharmaceutical companies are exploring the use of alum-based powders as an alternative to injectable vaccines due to its properties helping other ingredients absorb into the skin and become active in the body.

3. Benzyl Alcohol

Although it's most widely known as benzyl alcohol, the aromatic alcohol also goes by a few other names, such as benzene methanol or phenylcarbinol. It's derived from fruit (usually cranberries and apricots), and is used as a multifunctional ingredient- you can spot benzyl alcohol on the ingredient label of many different skincare, cosmetic, and personal products, such as moisturizers, lip balms, face washes, and even makeup. It's primarily used in product formulation as a preservative to stop microorganisms from overgrowing in products, which could later lead to an infection. It's mostly used because many consumers are worried about parabens, and therefore alternative preservatives have to be used for marketing reasons. It's found naturally, so companies can use it in products and still market them as 'natural'. Besides possibly having antioxidant effects in certain formulas, benzyl alcohol doesn't have any specific benefits for your skin itself, but rather helps to optimize skincare formulas so their performance can be improved. Benzyl alcohol can, unfortunately, be an irritant and cause itching for some people.

4. Propanediol

Propanediol is used as a solvent, viscosity reducer, humectant, and emollient. It can cause irritation. If you're sensitive to propanediol (or its cousin, propylene glycol), double-check the ingredient label before using a product. On ingredient lists, propanediol may be listed as 1,3-propanediol, trimethylene glycol, or propane-1,3-diol.

5. PFAs: Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 9,000 compounds used to make products such as food packaging, clothing and carpeting water and stain resistant. They are often dubbed “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down and have been found to accumulate in humans.

The chemicals are linked at certain levels to cancer, birth defects, liver disease, thyroid disease, decreased immunity, hormone disruption, and a range of other serious health problems.

Toxic PFAS “forever chemicals” are widely used in cosmetics produced by major brands in the US and Canada, a new study that tested for the chemicals in hundreds of products found.

The peer-reviewed study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, detected what the study’s authors characterized as “high” levels of organic fluorine, an indicator of PFAS, in over half of 231 makeup and personal care samples. That includes lipstick, eyeliner, mascara, foundation, concealer, lip balm, blush, nail polish and more.

The products that most frequently contain high levels of fluorine include waterproof mascara (82% of brands tested), foundations (63%) and liquid lipstick (62%).

6. Sodium laurel sulphate

Not listed on ingredient labels, 1,4-dioxane is a contaminant linked to cancer found in products that create suds, such as shampoo and liquid soap.

1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen linked to organ toxicity, may be found in as many as 22 percent of the more than 25,000 cosmetics products but you won’t find it on ingredient labels. That’s because 1,4-dioxane is a contaminant created when common ingredients react to form the compound when mixed together.

1,4-dioxane is generated through a process called ethoxylation, in which ethylene oxide, a known breast carcinogen, is added to other chemicals to make them less harsh. This process creates 1,4-dioxane. For example, sodium laurel sulphate, a chemical that is harsh on the skin, is often converted to the less-harsh chemical sodium laureth sulphate (the “eth” denotes ethoxylation). The conversion process can lead to contamination of this ingredient with 1,4-dioxane. Other common ingredients that may be contaminated by 1,4-dioxane include PEG compounds and chemicals that include the clauses “xynol,” “ceteareth” and “oleth.” Most commonly, 1,4-dioxane is found in products that create suds, like shampoo, liquid soap and bubble bath. Environmental Working Group’s analysis suggests that 97 percent of hair relaxers, 57 percent of baby soaps and 22 percent of all products in Skin Deep may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane. Independent lab tests co-released by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics showed that popular brands of children’s bubble bath and body wash contained 1,4-dioxane.

What to look for on the label:

  • Sodium laureth sulphate

  • PEG compounds

  • Chemicals that include the clauses xynol, ceteareth and oleth

Research shows that 1,4-dioxane readily penetrates the skin. 1,4-dioxane is considered a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is listed as an animal carcinogen by the US National Toxicology Program.

7. Ethanolamine Compounds (MEA, DEA, TEA And Others)

Ethanolamines are present in many consumer products ranging from cosmetics, personal care products and household cleaning products. Both have been linked to liver tumours. The European Commission prohibits diethanolamine (DEA) in cosmetics, to reduce contamination from carcinogenic nitrosamines.

Diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA) are key examples of ethanolamines—a chemical group comprised of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and alcohols. They are used in a wide range of applications including cosmetics and personal care products.

DEA is used as an emulsifier in shampoos, cleaners, and detergents. TEA is used as fragrance, pH adjuster and emulsifying agent. When ethanolamines are used in the same product as certain preservatives that break down into nitrogen, they can form nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are a class of more than a dozen different chemicals, which the International Agency for Research on Cancer lists individually as possible and known carcinogens. The National Toxicology Program Report on Carcinogens lists 15 individual nitrosamines as reasonably anticipated human carcinogens. In cosmetics formulations, DEA may react with other ingredients to form a carcinogen called nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA) which is absorbed through the skin.

What to look for on the label:

  • Triethanolamine

  • Diethanolamine

  • DEA

  • TEA

  • Cocamide DEA

  • Cocamide MEA

  • DEA-cetyl phosphate

  • DEA oleth-3 phosphate

  • Lauramide DEA

  • Linoleamide MEA

  • Myristamide DEA

  • Oleamide DEA

  • Stearamide MEA

  • TEA-lauryl sulfate

8. Formaldehyde And Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives

Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (FRPs) are used in many personal care products, particularly in shampoos and liquid baby soaps.

These chemicals, which help prevent microbes from growing in water-based products, can be absorbed through the skin and have been linked to cancer and allergic skin reactions.

In personal care products, formaldehyde can be added directly, or more often, it can be released from preservatives such as quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, bromopol and glyoxal.

These preservatives release small amounts of formaldehyde over time. Since low levels of formaldehyde can cause health concerns-at levels as low as 250 parts per million and even lower levels in sensitized individuals the slow release of small amounts of formaldehyde are cause for concern. A 2015 study determined that longer storage time and higher temperature increase the amount of formaldehyde released from FRPs and could ultimately lead to more severe health concerns.

What to look for on the label:

  • Formaldehyde

  • Quaternium-15

  • DMDM hydantoin

  • Imidazolidinyl urea

  • Diazolidinyl urea

  • Polyoxymethylene urea

  • Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate

  • 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bromopol)

  • Glyoxal

9. Synthetic Musks

Synthetic musks are chemicals used in personal care product fragrances. They are rarely listed on the label, since fragrance ingredients are often not disclosed. Synthetic musks bioaccumulate in the environment and have been detected in human breast milk, body fat, blood, and umbilical cords. Studies show that these compounds can disrupt cell functioning and hormone systems.

Synthetic musks are used as fragrance ingredients in personal care and cleaning products. The most common types of musks used in consumer products are nitro-musks (e.g., musk ketone and musk xylene) and polycyclic musks (e.g., galaxolide and tonalide). These chemicals enter the human body through skin absorption, inhalation, and ingestion of foods such as fish that are exposed to these chemicals.

Global polycyclic musk production is approximately 1 million pounds per year. Randomly sampling personal care products showed 80% contained at least one synthetic musk. Frequent use of musk-containing products corresponds to greater accumulation of these chemicals in the body and the environment.

What to look for on the label:

  • Fragrance

  • Musk ketone

  • Musk xylene

  • Galaxolide

  • Tonalide

Environmental concerns motivated Japan to ban musk xylene and other nitro-musks in the 1980s. In line with the global International Fragrance Association (IFRA) standards, the European Commission banned musk xylene, while musk ketone and tonalide are restricted. The United States does not restrict their use.

10. Talc

Surprised? You may remember the furore a couple of years ago about Johnson baby powder being taken off the shelves. In 2019 the FDA trusted sources advised consumers to avoid using certain cosmetic items due to them testing positive for asbestos. These items contained talc, which itself is safe.

People can find talc in various makeup products, including blushes, eye shadows, and bronzers. It works in makeup to absorb moisture, give an opaque finish, and stop makeup from “caking.”

However, talc may pose a health risk due to possible contamination with asbestos; both talc and asbestos are natural minerals in the earth that often occur close together. Asbestos is a known cancer-forming chemical and can contaminate untested talc that manufacturers use in certain cosmetics.

Our list is not exhaustive and you could carefully review any and all ingredients on those products you use regularly. Sometime big companies change their cocktail of ingredients without prior notification, so it’s worthwhile keeping up to date.

At wild4men we purposefully avoid the use of any additives and chemicals which can be harsh and affect your health.


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