Sunday, 30 September 2012

Top 5 Ingredients You Might Like to Avoid, Part 1 (editorial)

Feel free to skip this post if you don't care what the stuff you put in your hair, or rub into your face is made of.  If, however, you have even the faintest interest or actively avoid potentially harmful ingredients then please read on - all the biggest offenders are included here, and this list should be particularly useful if you suffer from any skin concerns such as eczema, dermatitis or acne.  This will help you know for future reference what to look out for.

Paraben & Propylene Glycol

Parabens... (methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, benzylparaben)

Parabens are cheap preservatives and come in many forms, and have been widely used in the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries for many years. Most scientists consider them safe as they're generally metabolised and excreted efficiently. The E.U. still limits the amount of parabens in cosmetics, though, to 0.4% of the total ingredients.

My concerns are the debated links to cancer – particularly breast cancer. Parabens can mimic oestrogen, a hormone linked to the development of breast tumours, and some studies have shown parabens actually located in the breast tumours themselves.

The less well known concern is the chemical reaction you get when U.V.B. light reacts with certain parabens to increase skin D.N.A. damage, which has a visibly ageing effect on the skin.

People with sensitive skin should also be concerned about allergic reactions. Parabens are a recognised trigger for contact dermatitis, rosacea and other skin irritations, so avoid!

SLS/SLES... (sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl ether sulfate, sodium pareth sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate)

These detergents and surfactants are, like parabens, widely used and very cheap. They're also effective foaming agents. They're so effective, you'll find them in cleaning products such as washing-up liquid and floor cleaner as well as your everyday shampoo, foam bath and face wash.

They are irritants, especially to the skin and eyes, so if you have a reaction you must run the affected area(s) under clean, running water for a few minutes. You may need to seek medical advice if the burning sensation doesn't ease after ten minutes – and take the packaging with you, the doctor may need to read it!

Did you also know that SLS/SLES can reduce the thickness of your hair? Your hair goes through growth and loss phases, this is perfectly natural. What is not natural is how these disputed foamers can, according to The Hair Loss Control Clinic, increase the length of your losing phase and reduce your hair growth cycle!

Thankfully, most people aren't irritated by SLS/SLES et al., and they aren't classified as carcinogenic, but there is no need to risk any side effects when there are plenty of products formulated without these harsh ingredients.

Mineral oils... (petroleum, petrolatum, paraffinium liquidum etc.)

These ingredients are great barriers and can leave a waterproof film on the skin, but that isn't a good thing as they can tamper with the skin's natural moisturising action. When that process is interrupted, you find you need to keep applying more mineral oil-based product, because your skin is drying out faster than ever!

There is no reason why anyone would use a mineral oil when there are so many harmless alternatives. Manufacturers use mineral oils because like so many questionable ingredients, they're cheap. They're not as abundant as they used to be, however, as the world's supply has apparently peaked. Natural oil alternatives not only allow skin to 'breathe' but can be sustainably sourced which is another advantage they have over mineral oils.

If that's not enough to tempt you away, what about the risk of blocked pores? It won't affect everyone in the same way, but mineral oil-based products are more likely to 'sit' on your skin, and if your skin can't breathe or secrete natural oils you'll get blemishes!

Propylene glycol... (1,2-Dihydroxypropane, 2-Hydroxypropanol, Methylethy Glycol, 1,2-Propanediol, Propane-1,2-Diol)

This ingredient is often used to help a product absorb below the outer layers of the epidermis; it does this by altering the structure of the skin. It also helps prevent the product from melting or freezing in extreme temperatures.

It can be hard to spot as it comes listed under so many different names. You can find this in natural form (vegetable glycerine and grain alcohol), but that's expensive, so more often than not propylene glycol in ingredients listings will be a synthetic petrochemical mixture combined with a humectant. It has no colour and little odour and is generally considered to be of low toxicity when ingested. However, eczema can often be caused (or exacerbated) by contact with the artificial form of this ingredient, and may be the root cause of allergic skin reactions. So if you have eczema, or have suffered or are suffering from contact dermatitis and similar conditions you need to be especially careful to avoid this ingredient. It'll only make your condition worse.

Propylene glycol and glycol ethers in indoor air have also been linked to an increased risk of respiratory and immune disorders in children such as asthma and hayfever, according to the Karlstad University. Their 2010 study focused on water-based paints and cleansers, so it's an idea to avoid those, too, if you can.

DEA, TEA, MEA... (diethanolamine, triethanolamine, monoethanolamine)

Evidence is mounting up against these ingredients, with both the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) warning that they are carcinogenic.  I.e. They can cause cancer, particularly liver and kidney cancer.

There are a multitude of other issues with these ingredients, too. They are, for example, drying to hair and skin and can be the cause of allergic reactions, including itchy eyes.

It's not always easy to avoid them, though, as they're very commonly used – predominantly in foaming products, but can also be found in gels, creams and lotions. They're likely to be listed on ingredients labels as Cocamide DEA, TEA-Lauryl Sulfate or Lauramide DEA etc.

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