The Inconvenient Truth: Chemicals in Skincare


How do you start your day? A bit of shampoo, some conditioner and body wash? Perhaps followed by a bit of moisturizer, a spritz of perfume? A few touches of make-up? Nothing is quite as personal or prevalent as the skincare products we use on a daily basis – yet how often do we actually have a proper look at the label and consider what’s inside?

I’m not here to get on my soapbox and tell you to instantly renounce any and all products that have a single chemical in them. Not everything chemical is inherently bad – there are a great many useful and effective synthetic substances out there. But not all chemicals are good, either, and it’s important to know which ones aren’t as harmless as they seem.

When we turn over a shampoo bottle, we’re met with a whole lot of tiny, black words that are impossible to pronounce, let alone understand. So we turn back to the front, read harmless and encouraging words like ‘thickening’ and ‘smoothing’ and drop it into our shopping trolleys without a second thought.

Inside that bottle, of course, it’s a whole different story. Parabens, Sodium Laureth Sulphate and more: these are often not only skin irritants, but also carcinogenic and endocrine disruptors. From increasing the risk of cancer to disrupting the level of oestrogen in your body, these chemicals have the potential to do far worse than give you a rash. Think of nicotine patches: what goes onto your skin very quickly goes into your body.

It is, of course, highly unlikely that you’ll suddenly seize up and fall violently ill after using the same phthalate heavy nail polish over-long. The effect is much more subtle and, more saliently, cumulative. With skyrocketing levels of pollution and harmful chemicals in everything from our food to our cleaning products, we are already constantly exposed to mildly toxic substances, often without being able to do anything about it. Why, then, put such unnecessary stress on our bodies?

The solution, of course, is to go green. But how? Due to a lack of appropriate regulation, labels like ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ mean nothing. EU regulations on chemicals in products – though by far better than those in the States – are nowhere near as stringent as they should be. Even Johnson & Johnson’s ‘mild’ baby shampoo comes up as high risk in independent tests. The best way to make sure your skincare is clean is by keeping a lookout for certifications on the backs of products you buy. EcoCert, Soil Association, Natrue and BDIH all monitor and make sure that product ingredients have been sourced organically.

There are many effective, all natural alternatives. Dr Bronner’s all purpose soap is not only organic but also Fairtrade, Green People make wonderful shampoos, and Trilogy’s organic rosehip oil is a great moisturiser. Butter London make ‘3-Free’ nail polishes and I can personally reccomend RMS Beauty’s organic living luminizer, concealer and cream blush.  With ever more natural products out there, nothing could be easier than going clean. You’ll not only be doing your body and skin a favour, but the environment too.

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