This is not your usual toxic-skincare-ingredients-to-avoid list. You won’t find the usual suspects here (well maybe one). Silicones, parabens and mineral oil may all have a bad reputation, but it is undeserved. They may not work well for everyone (but that’s true of any ingredient), but they aren’t toxic nor harmful. There’s nothing in your cosmetics that will make you sick. It’s illegal to put toxic substances in them and I can’t see why companies would want to do that either. After all, their aim is to attract more customers, which is kinda hard to do when you kill off those you already have.
The real dangers some skincare ingredients pose are irritations, allergies (and again, every ingredient could potentially cause them) and comedogenicity. So, when I avoid an ingredient, I do so because it’s considered particularly irritating, or because it either dries my skin out or causes it break out. And just because an ingredient doesn’t work for me, it doesn’t mean that it won’t work for you. Concentrations and frequency of use are also important. An ingredient that is irritating in high doses can be perfectly safe in minuscule amounts. But enough with the long introduction. So, what skincare ingredients do I avoid?
1. Palmitates and Myristates
These two groups of ingredients, which include Isopropyl Palmitate, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Isopropyl Myristate and Myristyl Myristate to name a few, are naturally-occurring fatty acids that act as emollients, giving skin a soft and smooth appearance. However, they are also very comedogenic and whenever I use them, huge pimples pop up all over my face! Ewww! If you have dry or normal skin, then their emollient properties may be beneficial for you, but those with oily skin instead should stay far away from them if they don’t want their faces turning into war zones!
Not all types of alcohols used in skincare are bad. Fatty acids, a group of alcohols that includes Cetyl Alcohol and Stearyl Alcohol have emollient properties that are beneficial for the skin. The alcohols you should avoid instead are Denatured Alcohol, Ethyl Alcohol, Ethanol, Methanol, Benzyl Alcohol, Isopropyl Alcohol and SD Alcohol. These ingredients are used as astringents, to thin down solutions and can help other ingredients penetrate the skin better, but they are also irritating and drying. They can disrupt the skin’s protective barrier and cause free radicals formation as well. If a product also contains antioxidants and emollients, these will greatly reduce the side effects of alcohol, which is thus less likely to cause damage to the skin. In this case, the benefits of alcohol may surpass its cons. But as a rule, I tend to avoid products with high concentrations of alcohol.
3. Witch Hazel
Witch Hazel, which has astringent properties, is often touted as a gentle, soothing and natural alternative to Alcohol to help absorb excess oil. But while it is true that this plant has some anti-irritant properties, it also contains a high concentration of tanning, a powerful antioxidant that can irritate skin. In addition, during the distillation process, alcohol (usually in 14%-15% concentrations) is added. And as we’ve just seen, Alcohol can irritate skin as well. In other words, Witch Hazel causes more problems than it solves.
4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is a surfactant that helps water mix with oil and dirt so that they can be rinsed away. However, it is also very drying and irritating. It is so irritating that, when scientists want to verify how much irritation a substance can cause, they compare it with it! Luckily it is not so difficult to avoid this ingredient because very few companies are still using it.
5. Peppermint and Menthol
Both peppermint and menthol (which is derived from peppermint) have a lovely fresh scent and a nice cooling effect on the skin. But they can also irritate it. That’s actually the reason why they are included in many lip plumpers. The irritation they produce causes lips to swell, thus making them plumper. And no form of irritation is ever good for skin. And while I enjoy the fresh feel of menthol of my lips, and don’t avoid this ingredient completely, I use products with it very sparingly.
6. Sodium Cocoate and Sodium Palmate
Sodium Cocoate and Sodium Palmate, which is derived from palm oil, are two surfactants that are mainly used in bar soaps. Although they cleanse skin well, they can also be drying and irritating, and disrupt the skin’s protective barrier. That’s because they are usually formulated at an alkaline (high, about 7 or higher) ph compared to that of the skin which is slightly acidic (low, about 5.5). Although I don’t buy products with these ingredients, I have a few bar soaps formulated with them, which were given to me as gifts and which I use from time to time. I find that, if used sparingly, you can enjoy their cleansing properties (and lovely scents) without side effects. But they definitely shouldn’t be used daily, especially if your skin is dry or sensitive.
Do you avoid any ingredients in your skincare?