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Skincare Labels Decoded: Ingredients You Must Avoid

When cosmetic ingredients sound like tongue twisters, something is not quite right. But the actual bad news is some of them are so toxic that they are linked to several disorders and even cancer. You really don’t want to put anything like that on your skin.

To make things easier for you, here are some of the most common nasty lab-produced chemicals you should steer clear from:

  • Parabens (found present in breast tumours, these synthetic preservatives are used to extend the shelf life of cosmetic products)
  • Synthetic fragrances (listed as fragrance or parfum; unless sourced from natural ingredients, these allergens include toxins capable of causing cancers, birth defects and allergies)
  • Sulfates (anything ending in this word is a strong surfactant that will actually lead to skin dehydration). Sulfates are used in cleansing agents due to their lathering properties.
  • Formaldehyde (and any of the ingredients that release it, such as DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, methanamin, and quarterium-15) is a harsh irritant linked to cancer.
  • Petrochemicals (on labels they can be identified as paraffin, petrolatum, benzene, toluene, phenoxyethaniol, mineral oil). They are irritating, comedogenic, sensitising, and they tend to dry the skin.
  • Any ingredient starting with “PEG” - The abbreviation stands for polyethylene glycol, with polyethylene being the most common form of plastic which becomes a sticky liquid when combined with glycol. PEGs are usually followed by a number (e.g. PEG 100) that indicates the molecular weight of that compound.  PEGs with smaller molecular weights are normally used in cosmetics since they penetrate the skin more easily.
  • Alcohol – Formulas like SD alcohol 40, ethanol, denatured alcohol, and isopropyl alcohol are known to dry out the skin.
  • Chemical components having an “-eth” in the middle (e.g.Sodium Laureth Sulfate) are highly irritant.
  • Phtalates – Avoid ingredients like dibutyl/diethyl ester, DBP, DEHP, DMP, DEP, and 2-benzenedicarboxylate, all chemicals linked to cancer and fertility issues.

Remember that ingredients are always listed in descending order on the label (the first ingredient listed is the one used in the largest amount, followed by the rest of the ingredients). Seeing one of these chemicals at the top of the list? Move on. Look for products made with clean, natural ingredients (if a product is safe, it will show on the label, so check for Latin terms, the botanical names of plants, which are a good indication that the product is health-friendly).

And how about you? Do you always check the labels on your skincare products?

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