how to avoid nasties in skincare
someone's gotta look out for your skin and it may as well be you
It's totally understandable if you get a little confused looking at various skincare bottles. There's so many words that you don't recognise and ones that you don't even know how to pronounce. Like how do you say phthalates? And how do you know whether it's safe to put on your skin? *
Luckily for you, that's where we come in. Down to be your skin's fairy godmother, we're here to tell you what to look out for when it comes to labels and to teach how you can avoid all the nasty chemicals found in everyday products so your skin remains glowing' and looking' healthier than the house plants you keep forgetting to water.
*It's not by the way.
Now spotting harmful chemicals isn't always as straightforward as you might originally think. Ingredients like parabens and our previously introduced friend, phthalates, can be sneaky little bastards, disguising themselves under different names to trick you into thinking they're not a part of the moisturiser you're about to willingly massage into your face.
But first, let us introduce the basics. What are parabens and phthalates, and how come you don't want them anywhere near your skin? Well, we're glad you asked...
Parabens are a synthetic derived from a chemical known as para-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA) that occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables, like blueberries and carrots.
To increase products' shelf life, brands often use parabens, which are synthetic preservatives that prevent bacteria and fungus from growing inside the product, keeping it fresher for longer.
While that might sound good on the surface, parabens are believed to affect hormone function (as if you weren't moody enough already), and there has been a huge debate on whether or not they're safe to use as they're also believed to disrupt hormone function by mimicking oestrogen.
It's important to note that everyone's skin reacts differently and can have different reactions to various chemicals and although nothing has been factually or scientifically proven, but stick to natural preservatives (mumma nature's got your back always).
The most commonly used parabens include methylparaben, proplyparaben, isopropylparaben, isobutylparaben, butylparaben, and sodium butylparaben but some of them can be quite tricky to identify. See tip 2 for more details.
Phthalate or phthalate esters, are esters of phthalic anhydride (a toxic, white crystalline compound used in the manufacture of phthaleins and other dyes, resins, plasticizers, and insecticides).
Often called plasticizers, phthalates are usually used to soften plastics but they're also used as solvents for other materials. Most commonly used in skincare as a lubricant or a softener, you should avoid this ingredient due to the fact it's been linked to breast cancer and reproductive birth defects in both males and females (oh and it also messes with your hormones so like, bye).
Now, these obviously aren't the only dangerous and potentially harmful ingredients you should be lookin' out for so if you want the full list, check out our nasty stuff explainer blog.
See tip 2 for specific examples of the ingredients phthalates may come under.
time to ditch the skin b*tches
If you're ready to ghost harmful chemicals then here are some tips to help you do it:
1. Always, always, always read the labels on everything you're buying. Your skin can't read and decide for itself whether it wants certain ingredients on it so it's all up to you. You're in charge. Front packaging can sometimes be misleading, so you should always get into the habit of reading the product ingredients just like you would for food.
2. Know the difference between Latin names and chemicals. Okay, this one is slightly more challenging because the last time we checked, a large portion of the population aren't fluent in Latin. But don't panic. Hope is not lost. We get that long words can be intimidating (especially if it's not a word you recognise or understand), but not all long words are bad ones. Watch, we'll prove it to you. The word Aloe barbadensis, is actually just the Latin name for the aloe leaf plant which is highly beneficial for your skin, whereas Methylparaben is one of the head honcho's of the paraben family and therefore should not be trusted. We're not saying you have to carry around a Latin/English dictionary, but if you're reading the label and some words aren't familiar, it can't hurt to look them up on your phone, after all that's what Google was invented for.
3. Look out for the pseudonyms. We don't know what to tell you, these nasty chemicals can be tricky. Any ingredients that include the name "ethyl", "butyl", "methyl", and "propyl", are again apart of the insidious paraben family even if they don't share the same name. Phthalates haven't got their sh*t together quite as well as the parabens when it comes to disguising themselves so usually, the term "phthalate" is in the name of any harmful ingredient. Here a list of some of the phthalates to look out for:
-BBP: butyl benzyl phthalate
-DBP: di-n-butyl phthalate
-DEHP: di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate
-DEP: diethyl phthalate
-DiDP: di-isodecyl phthalate
-DiNP: di-isononyll phthalate
-DnHP: di-n-hexyl phthalate
-DnOP: di-n-octyl phthalate
4. Place a blanket ban on any and every perfumes and fragrance in skincare. This is most likely where the greedy, nasty chemicals will get ya. Fragrances and perfumes are basically incubators for phthalates, however, manufactures aren't legally required to list the ingredients found in fragrances because they're viewed as sacred formulas to the company that's manufacturing them. Sounds stupid right, but it's basically protecting the products themselves so other companies don't steal the formulas (imagine if there were 10 brands that all had perfumes that smelt exactly like Chanel No 5). This is bad for you though because one single fragrance can contain heaps and heaps of ingredients, many of them phthalate-based. Try to outsmart these products by looking for ones that list the scents specifically (these should be listed as essential oils, or labelled as "no synthetic fragrance", or even "phthalate-free").
5. Avoid buying products that come in plastic bottles, jars or containers. You don't want your skincare or personal products to come in plastic packaging because plastics can contain phthalates, which are prone to infiltrate your nice, clean and safe product with nastiness, especially if there's a high oil content in the product. There are many brands out there that have alternative packaging to plastic *cough, cough*, and instead use glass or other recycled materials to house their products in.
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