Going ‘clean’ can be overwhelming. Just a quick read through your favorite beauty blogs and newsletters can seem likeevery ingredient out there is out to get you. Some cause cancer, others break down our skin barriers, and others can even mess with our reproductive systems. Freaking out? We know, we’ve been there. But rest assured, hermit-mode is not the only option (even though the idea doesn’t seem so bad). ;) Navigating your way through skincare science and ditching bad ingredients isn’t actually that complicated.
In a new series, we’ll be distilling hundreds of hours of research we’ve done and making it simple for you by giving you step-by-step guidance on how to start detoxing your routine and getting rid of any toxins that may be lurking around your medicine cabinet. We’ll be breaking down the biggest no-no ingredients one by one, explaining what they really are, how to ditch them, and if they’re as scary as they sound (spoiler alert: some are).
We’ve all heard this one, but why exactly do parabens appear universally in “ingredients to avoid” lists?
First, let’s talk about what it is. Parabens are a group of chemicals that is synthetically produced from para-hydroxybenzoic acid and commonly used as a preservative in our skincare products. Since our skincare products are almost always formulated with water, they are breeding grounds for bacteria, fungi, yeast and mold. Parabens are really great at combating the growth of all types of bacteria and ensuring our products stay fresh through its daily exposure to air and our fingers.Why Are Parabens Bad?
This might be surprising, but parabens have not yet been proven to be bad for human health, especially the types and concentrations commonly found in skincare. Though because its chemical structure is similar to that of estrogen, it has the ability to mimic estrogen in our bodies and trigger the growth of breast tumors. This connection to estrogen also has also linked parabens to reproductive problems.
With so many other effective preservatives on the market that don’t have the same bad rap, there’s no reason to include parabens in our products if it can be avoided.How to Ditch Parabens in 5 Seconds?
Parabens can seem hard to avoid since they’re used so widely, but because they usually end in -paraben, they’re actually conveniently easy to find. The most common versions in skincare are butylparaben, methylparaben or propylparaben, and sometimes it might show up asalkyl parahydroxybenzoates. If you want to play it safe, you can always just stick to brands that label their products as 'paraben-free', which has thankfully become common practice!
Often seen in the 'free from' sections on our bottles, these two ingredients are also broadly referred to as sulfates. They are closely related in that SLES was developed to be a less harsh version of SLS, and they are also two of the most commonly found ingredients in our soap products. This is because SLS & SLES are great surfactants, which means that they help our cleansers lather into a thick foam to effectively dissolve the oil and gunk on our skin.Why are SLS & SLES Bad?
Despite being 'naturally derived' from coconut oil, SLS and SLES have both been shown to be irritating and drying, on top of its connections to carcinogenic and toxic effects on our health and body.
SLS has been linked to nitrosamines, a carcinogen that will increase your absorption of nitrates, another carcinogen. So even if SLS wasn’t toxic on its own, it can still make you more vulnerable to toxic chemicals. Additionally, the process of ethoxylation (how you go from SLS to SLES) produces carcinogenic compounds like ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane, which can lead to cancer.How to Ditch SLS & SLES in 5 Seconds?
Look for sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) or sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) in any of your products that foam, like cleansers, shampoos and body washes. Retailers are also catching on and will often have 'free from SLS/SLES' as a category to make shopping easier. For example, any products at Sephora with the 'Clean at Sephora' label will be free from SLS or SLES. Or, you can pick out of the 5 clean cleansers we love here.
Oxybenzone is one of the most popular chemical sunscreen ingredients, with its ability to absorb both UVB and UVA rays to lower risks of DNA damage and skin cancer. According to the Environmental Working Group, 56% of non-mineral sunscreens contain oxybenzone. Despite having been approved by the FDA in the 1980s and being a great UV filter, oxybenzone can wreak havoc on both our bodies and our environment!Why is Oxybenzone Bad?
Of all chemical sunscreen ingredients, the EWG has ranked oxybenzone as the most toxic. Studies have linked oxybenzone to cancer in addition to endocrine and reproductive disruption. This is concerning because compared to other UV filters, oxybenzone has been shown to be able to penetrate deeper into our skin and be absorbed into our bodies.
Our environment is also beginning to pay for widespread oxybenzone use, with its presence in ocean water causing genetic damage to coral reef ecosystems. This problem became so concerning that Hawaii just passed a bill to ban sunscreens containing oxybenzone in 2018.How to Ditch Oxybenzone in 5 Seconds?
Opting for mineral (aka physical) sunscreens is a quick solve for eliminating oxybenzone from your life. Mineral sunscreens use active mineral ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide that form a shield on your skin instead of using chemicals that interact with your skin.
Butylated hydroxyanisole, not to be confused with the exfoliant beta-hydroxy acid (also shortened as BHA) is a synthetic antioxidant derived from petroleum to stop oils and fats from spoiling. In beauty, it is used to effectively preserve our emollient products, usually waxy ones like lipsticks and eye shadows.Why is BHA bad?
You may be asking “aren’t antioxidants good for us?” Well, in this context, it’s being used to prevent oxidation in our products, not our skin. Unfortunately for us, BHA has been linked to cancer, with the US National Toxicology Program classifying it as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”. Even though most BHA studies showing these links have been done on animals and there is no conclusive evidence for long-term harm to humans, it is now required in the state of California for companies using BHA to apply warning labels that let customers know its connection to cancer.
BHA is also a very common food additive, so while a little BHA is not going to kill us, we probably don’t want to be swallowing more of this through our lipsticks.How to Ditch BHA in 5 seconds?
Eliminate lipsticks or eyeshadows that have BHA or BHT (closely related ingredient) in their ingredient lists. Vitamin E has been cited as a great, natural alternative for BHA so look for lipsticks that use vitamin E instead.
Polyethylene glycols are petroleum-based compounds made from ethylene glycol (a compound commonly used in antifreeze). Without looking at the dark side, PEGs can seem like a dream ingredient. In addition to being an effective emulsifier that makes our products creamy, it also stabilizes the other ingredients AND helps with carrying these ingredients deeper into our skin. That’s because PEGs can penetrate our skin and open it up to further absorb hydrating and nutrient-dense ingredients. PEGs come in a variety of forms with varying molecular weight that is signified by a number i.e. PEG-100 or PEG-4, with a lower number meaning that it will be absorbed into the skin more easily.Why are PEGs Bad?
PEGs’ ability to penetrate the skin is also its biggest flaw – it can break down the top layer of our skin, which can be especially dangerous for broken or sensitive skin. Additionally, PEGs are not always pure and can come with toxic impurities like ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, known carcinogens. While PEGs can make some skincare products more effective, those with damaged or sensitive skin should definitely steer clear.How to Ditch PEGs in 5 Seconds?
Even though PEGs can come in many different forms, they are very easy to spot - just look for PEG followed by a number in ingredient lists. Because PEGs are so versatile and widely used, eliminating it will take some diligence. But your healthy skin barrier will thank you for it later!
Enjoyed this post? Let us know what other beauty topics you want to learn about below, or follow us on Instagram @paradox for more content like this! You can also learn about how we source our ingredients here and find out more about our clean beauty oil here.