Natural beauty is quite a hard thing to define – even skipping from site to site, you’ll find different parameters. I took it upon myself to find out just exactly why certain ingredients are often avoided, so you can make your own mind up about each.
After all of my research, I have learnt to avoid using blanket terms – “sulphates” are any kind of chemical compound reacted with sulphur, some being poisonous, others harmless. The amount an ingredient is used also affects where it sits between harmful and harmless.
On top of that, natural products can still be harmful – you wouldn’t rub lemon juice in your eyes, would you? Be conscious in your decisions, listen to your body, and read up on any ingredients you’re unsure about.
Key rules to remember when looking for cleaner, greener beauty products:
- The word “natural” is not regulated on packaging/marketing for beauty products
- Certified cruelty-free products can still contain animal-derived ingredients
- Vegan is not a synonym for natural, nor cruelty-free
- Certain ingredients might be great for one person, but terrible for another
- Always, always, always, check the ingredient list
- If you’re still unsure, refer to EWG’s Skin Deep database before purchase
Beauty ingredients to avoid
Before reading through the list, make sure you always listen to your body and your skin, and ensure anything you eat, or wear, is considered safe above everything else.
A.L.S., S.L.E.S., S.L.S.
(Ammonium lauryl sulphate, sodium laureth sulphate, sodium lauryl sulphate). These are used to enhance frothing and foaming of beauty products. They are degreasants, removing the natural oil of skin.
This metal has been linked to health problems, although it is not proven. Often found in deodorants and/or antiperspirants, it could pose more of a problem in this application as underarms absorb liquid into the bloodstream very effectively.
Obviously bee bi-products aren’t vegan, but the ingredients aren’t created equally either. Honey, beeswax, and propolis do not cause any harm to the insects when collected, but bee venom and royal jelly do.
Carmine is a very popular colourant in beauty products. It is derived by crushing or boiling female cochineal beetles.
D.E.A., M.E.A., T.E.A.
(Diethanolamine, monoethanolamine, triethanolamine) Synthetic ingredients that have all been linked (but not proven) to cause health problems.
This comes directly from emus, thus is not vegetarian, and a bi-product of the emu meat industry. It is also unregulated.
(Also listed as cormalin, formic aldehyde, methanal, methyl aldehyde, oxymethane). Often found in nail polish, it is a known carcinogen.
(Also listed as perfume, parfum). Fragrance is often listed in ingredients, and while some brands insist it is not synthetic, such as Lush, it does make finding wholly natural products difficult. Avoid if you’re unsure.
(Also listed as glycerol). Used to prevent changes in cosmetics when exposed to high heat or cold conditions. In large quantities, these can cause liver and kidney problems.
Made from hair cells, it can be derived from various animal sources.
Lanolin is an oil that is extracted from animal wool, thus not harming or endangering the life of an animal, but it’s not suitable for vegans and has been known to cause skin irritation.
(Also listed as paraffinum liquidum). While mineral oil is technically a natural oil, it is derived from petroleum. As a long-lasting, cheap alternative to refined plant oils, it’s widely-used – baby oil is almost pure mineral oil. It is non-toxic, but it can disrupt the skin’s natural processes, causing oiliness or dryness.
(Also listed as sodium palmate, sodium palm kernelate, and many more). Palm oil is one of the most cheaply made plant-based oils around, but this is in part due to its intensive agriculture and the reckless deforestation palm oil plantations are causing – find out more here. Avoid, unless stated as sustainably sourced.
Parabens are one of the most popular ingredients in beauty products, as they are highly effective synthetic preservatives. There is still questioning as to whether these are harmful, however many products can now be found without them.
There are so many alternate names for petrochemicals, so its worth checking each product’s ingredient list separately. Essentially, these are chemicals derived from petrol, just like mineral oil.
Chemicals used in plastics, food packaging, beauty products, and fragrances, they are linked to numerous health conditions, although reasons why are not clear.
Shellac is derived from a resin excreted by female lac beetles.
Silk is created by silkworms, and the process of collecting silk kills the worms.
Snail gel is not vegan and it’s also not regulated, with snails being “stimulated” in different ways to gain the gel.
(Look out for ingredients ending in -cone). Silicones cannot be readily absorbed by the skin, meaning it may trap dirt, sebum, and bacteria against the skin.
Could be derived from animal urine, thus not vegan. Nowadays, urea is actually synthetic.
A little note…
Finally – remember that any list of harmful ingredients to avoid can never be exhaustive, nor catered to you personally. Check the ingredients, and mindfully gauge your skin’s reaction every time you try something new!