Warning About Preservatives and Other Synthetic Additives in Skin Care Products
The number of ads for commercial skin care products is constantly increasing, with more and more people using and buying these types of products. However, can these products be counted on to support your health? All the ingredients are legally required to be present on the labels of these products, but the reality is that not many people take a close look at them, and even fewer actually understand what they mean. Looking at labels like the one above, it’s easy to understand why: Most of these ingredients are hard to even pronounce, much less understand! But this label is from a common and popular product, Olay's Age Defying Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream. Since all of the listed ingredients are meant to go on your face, it's worth learning more about what it is!
This article is the first in an ongoing series where I highlight some of the common synthetic additives and other toxic substances found in modern skin care products. The goal here is to help you encourage your own health by helping you get to know your products!
All parabens are used as preservatives. They were typically considered to be among the best ones because they usually don’t lead to allergic reactions. However, numerous scientific studies have confirmed that there is a link between the use of parabens, especially propylparaben, and breast cancer. Many countries have already banned this substance.
2. PEG-100 Stearate
PEG(Polyethylene glycol)–100 Stearate is a petroleum-based primary ingredient in many cosmetic and skincare products like sunscreens, moisturizers, body cleansers, conditioners, etc. Its main purpose in these products is to act as a softener, moisture-carrier, emulsifier, and thickener, which is why it often helps form the base for skincare creams. It’s created when a fatty acid known as stearic acid is modified in order to help bind water and oil soluble ingredients together in the products so that they don’t separate. Though PEG-100 Stearate itself appears to be safe, there are growing concerns about its use in commercial skin preparations because of a number of contaminants that often are present within it that often have been linked with cancer, central nervous system issues, and other health conditions as well.
3. Behenyl alcohol
Behenyl alcohol is a type of fatty alcohol. It is used in many different products, but more recently has become quite popular in the skin care industry. This alcohol is used as an emollient. Manufacturers also use it to improve the texture of their products. Although it is not very dangerous, frequent use of products that contain behenyl alcohol can lead to skin irritations.
You might be wondering why manufacturers add preservatives and other synthetic additives at all. The main reasons include to make the product’s final texture more appealing, to mix the main ingredients (which often don’t mix well otherwise, like oil & water), to prevent bacterial overgrowth in the products, and in the case of preservatives, to extend their shelf life.
As such, these toxic products can be found in commercial lotions, sunscreens, creams, mascaras, powders, shades and many other cosmetic products. These synthetic additives and preservatives can lead to a variety of adverse symptoms and health problems like nausea, redness, vomiting, kidney problems, dermatitis, headaches, hormonal imbalances, and in the long run even cancer…and all this from ingredients that were added on purpose, to say nothing of accidental additives, like toxic metal contaminants that can penetrate the body through the skin. Certain products are more likely to contain certain contaminants. Mascaras and eye shades for instance often contain arsenic, eyeliners often contain cadmium, and lipsticks can contain traces of lead, etc.
Most people buy their products under an implicit assumption - that because it is present on a store shelf that it is safe. Unfortunately that is simply not true. For a variety of reasons, the structures and organizations that perhaps should be protecting us from unsafe ingredients or unethical business practices are failing. This leaves us wide open to negative health consequences if we are not careful and conscientious about what we expose our bodies to. It can sometimes feel overwhelming, but if you’re reading this, that means you are studying up on the issues and taking your health into your own hands, and you are on the right path for you and your family.
Fortunately there ARE alternatives to using toxic synthetic products, from truly natural skin care lines to creating your own solutions with natural (and often more effective) products at home. You can read more about natural skin solutions in other articles on this site.
You can always email me an ingredient label from one of your products - anything from hand washes to skin cream, and I will endeavour to answer whether it is healthy in this article series.
James L Poole
I am a holistic health therapist: Emmett Technique practitioner, aromatherapist, nutritional therapist, and Reiki healer. This is my blog about natural healing.