When the very same products you’re hoping will solve your skin woes are the ones that end up wreaking havoc, it’s nothing if not a nightmare — and don’t think just because you’re going the natural or organic route that you’re in the clear. Ditto for exclusively shopping department store beauty aisles. Pricing and labeling don’t guarantee that your products will be free from irritants. It can be dizzying however trying to decipher ingredients lists so we turned to Jody Villecco, Global Quality Standards Coordinator at Whole Foods Market and RealSelf contributor, Dr. Jacquelyn Dosal, to find out about the ingredients we should try particularly hard to avoid when shopping for skincare products.
"Fragrance is one of the most common irritants and allergenic substances found in beauty products," says Dr. Dosal. "It’s usually a concoction of chemicals that have no benefit to the skin and they’re likely to cause sub-clinical inflammation, if not an obvious allergy."
"Alcohol may also listed as isopropyl alcohol and it’s super drying to the skin. It also breaks down the skin's natural barrier,” explains Dr. Dosal. "We all need a little oil for healthy functioning skin, and alcohol strips our skin of the "good" oils along with "bad" oils."
"Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are a class of preservatives found in personal care products," says Villecco. "Under certain circumstances of formulation and storage, these preservatives have the potential to release formaldehyde in very small amounts. There are inherent safety concerns with preservatives that release formaldehyde in small amounts."
“Chelators are ingredients that bind to metal ions to prevent discoloration of personal care products, and to enhance the activity of preservatives. Synthetic chelators include disodium EDTA and tetrasodium EDTA,” says Villecco. “There are significant environmental concerns associated with synthetic chelators, including the fact that they do not readily biodegrade and that they are toxic to aquatic life.”
“Soaps containing sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), a detergent should always be avoided. SLS is what gives soaps its foaming quality. These soaps are excellent at cleaning the skin, but in the process, the SLS removes valuable natural oils on the skin's surface,” explains Dr. Dosal. “By nature SLS is basic on the pH scale. Our skin is naturally slightly acidic and using a soap with a basic pH is very irritating to the skin.”
“Chemical sunscreens, such as oxybenzone, have safety concerns since some have been shown to have endocrine disruption activity and they seep within the skin to work. Physical sunscreens, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, are safer alternatives,” says Villecco.
“Microbeads are tiny plastic beads found in exfoliants, facial cleaners, body washes, and toothpastes. They can be listed on a label as: polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, polymethyl methacrylate, and nylon,” explains Villecco. “After Microbeads are washed down the drain, they are able to bypass sewage treatment plants due to their size and have been shown to get into freshwater and ocean environments, contributing to aquatic toxicity. Microbeads do not biodegrade and are able to absorb persistent organic pollutants. There are many other natural and biodegradable alternatives to microbeads, such as jojoba beads, rice hulls and apricot kernels."
“Triclosan is an antibacterial ingredient that has been linked to health issues in humans,” says Dr. Dosal. “It’s a skin irritant and may be contributing to antibiotic-resistance in bacteria. Additionally, there isn't enough evidence that products marketed as "antibacterial" are any better than traditional cleansers.”
Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone
“Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone are used as preservatives in cosmetic products. Although found in very low concentrations, these ingredients are one of the most frequent causes of cosmetic-related allergic reactions,” says Villecco.