If you have ever surfed the Internet looking for information about cosmetic ingredients, your findings have probably scared the hell out of you. Pretty much every chemical ingredient is said to be toxic, carcinogenic and cause any kind of horrible diseases which is ridiculous because everything (water, air, plants, humans..) is a chemical. So, I thought it’d be nice to set the record straight on some of the most maligned ingredients used in cosmetics to hopefully help you make an informed decision on what to put on your skin based on fact and not fear-mongering tactics. Let’s get started then:
There are lots of ingredients with a bad reputation, but poor parabens (including Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Ethylparaben and Butylparaben) must be the most maligned cosmetics ingredients ever. They are very effective preservatives that kill and prevent bacteria and fungi from growing in beauty products, thus avoiding them from going bad and cause problems for the skin. These preservatives, which are derived from benzoic acid (a substance found in a lot of plants) are said to be hormone disruptor and cause cancer.
While they do have an estrogenic activity, that’s only a concern in very high doses, while in cosmetics their amount is minuscule (and besides, lots of plants and therefore natural ingredients have some kind of estrogenic activity but for some reason, no one is telling you not to use them). As for cancer, the only study that found a connection between parabens and cancer is inconclusive and has been very discredited by the scientific community. For more info, click here. Just remember, though, that parabens have a long history of safety and products without preservatives are a lot more dangerous and could cause infections if bacteria grows in them.
2: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is a cleansing agent used in cosmetics and personal care products. SLS is said to be irritating, cause hair loss and even cancer. Are these claims true? Well, SLS is very irritating and when scientists want to know how irritating a substance is, they compare it with SLS. However, because of this, SLS can only be used in rinse-off products so that it won’t stay on the skin and cause negative reaction.
It may be used in used in leave-in products, but only in concentrations up to 1%, which are unlikely to cause any problems in most people (although I would avoid leave-in products with SLS just cause there are much less irritating substances that can be used in their place instead). As for the other claims, well, there is no proof that SLS causes hair loss and it definitely doesn’t cause cancer. There are no scientific studies at all that even hint at this possibility. As for the other sulfates (like Sodium Laureth Sulfate), they are milder and much less irritating than SLS so you can just use them safely. If you wanna know more about sulfates, click here.
3: Mineral Oil
Mineral Oil is one of those substances that supporters of natural cosmetics will tell you to avoid at all costs because it is derived from petroleum, which I find ironic, because petroleum is actually a natural substance! Besides, applying mineral oil on your face is not like slathering petroleum all over it. Once refined, mineral oil doesn’t resembles petroleum anymore. It may be derived from it, but they are two different substances!
In addition, there are several types of Mineral Oil. The kind used in beauty products is cosmetic grade mineral oil and there is absolutely no proof that it causes cancer. It doesn’t. Moreover, while it is true that it is an occlusive agent (meaning it forms a protective barrier on your skin), it doesn’t cause breakouts. Instead, it slows down water loss, keeping skin soft, hydrated and moisturized. The only side effect is that it can aggravate acne but if you’re lucky not to have this condition, there’s no reason to avoid mineral oil. For more info, check out my previous post on mineral oil.
Silicones (such as dimethicone and cyclomethicone) are a group of ingredients very used in cosmetics because they give a lot of slip to products, making them feel silky soft on the skin. In addition, they also form a protective barrier on the skin that locks in moisture, keeping skin hydrated. Many people believe that, because of this, silicones are comedogenic and that’s why these ingredients are so vilified. But silicones aren’t comedogenic. Yet, they can cause breakouts in some people. How is this possible?
Well, silicones provide a barrier that locks water in, but it also lock in dirt (if skin is well-cleansed that is) and other ingredients in a product so if those contain comedogenic ingredients, breakouts can occur. But most people can tolerate silicones well without any bad reaction occurring so there is no reason to stop using an ingredients that work well for you just because you know someone with sensitive skin that suffered a breakout from it. That’d be like stop eating pasta because a friend of yours is allergic to gluten. You wouldn’t do that, would you?
Petrolatum (or pure vaseline) is another ingredients that gets a bad reputation because it is derived from petroleum. It is mainly accused of causing cancer and is also said to be banned in the EU. Well, that’s not true, because Italy is in the EU and I have lots of products that contain it, meaning it is considered a safe ingredient here too.
As for cancer, again, I couldn’t find any scientific study at all that found a link between petrolatum and this horrible disease. But I guess spreading such rumours is a very effective way of scaring people into stop using it. Which is a shame, because petrolatum is one of the most moisturizing ingredients available today, can reduce inflammation and heal skin.
6: Propylene Glycol
Propylene Glycol is a humectant, which means it has the ability to draw water from the environment into the skin, keeping it hydrated and supple. It is also used to help active ingredients present in a product to better penetrate the skin. Why has it gained a bad reputation, then? Well, its detractors claims it is dangerous because it is industrial antifreeze that causes cancer as well as liver and kidney problem.
Again, not true. The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry doesn’t even list it as a carcinogenic and no study has ever proved that Propylene Glycol causes cancer. It is true though that Propylene Glycol is used as an antifreeze but at 100% concentrations! The amounts used in cosmetics are much, much smaller (usually less that 5%) and therefore safe. For more info, check out this post.
Talc (hydrous magnesium silicate) is a mineral used in products to improve the feel of products. It also has absorbing properties. So, what is the problem with Talc then? Well, cancer. It seems that a 1990 study has found a link between talc and ovarian cancer, although the researcher themselves have stated that the results of this study are inconclusive and more tests are needed before reaching a final conclusion. More info on this study can be found here. If you are worried, don’t apply talc to your private parts. As for other body parts, there’s no need to avoid talc there too.
The Bottom Line
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that all these ingredients work wonders and don’t have any side effects at all. There are people who can’t tolerate silicones for instance, like there are those that get irritations when they use talc or SLS, while others may use these same ingredients without experiencing any negative reaction whatsoever. My point is that these ingredients aren’t toxic, they aren’t carcinogenic and nothing horrible will happen to you if you use them. Yes, some of them can cause irritations but then any ingredient, even natural ones can do that so if something works for you, don’t stop using it because someone else you don’t even know can’t tolerate it. And don’t stop using it for fear it’ll give you cancer, because it won’t.
Do you know any other cosmetic ingredients that have an undeserved bad reputation?