Not many people do, but I enjoyed my best skin during my teen years. I never got acne and I was too lazy to slather any products on my skin. I washed my face with the same soap that I washed my hands with and that was that.
Fast forward to turning 16 and moving to the US, I discovered a whole new world of skincare: cleansers, moisturizers, oils, wipes, serums, and whatnot. I gaped at drugstore aisles stacked with “promising” products, but was still largely unaffected by the marketing because I had no skin concerns to treat.
That changed in my senior year of undergrad for two reasons. Number one: I got acne for the first time in my life because of the stress of being *potentially* unemployed after graduation (silly me). Number two: I discovered the world of YouTube beauty gurus who made me aware of skincare “problems” I never previously considered, for example “pores”–aren’t we just supposed to have pores?
Top the stress of finding employment with the stress of planning my wedding, which was scheduled six months after my graduation, and you have a manic 22-year-old trying to do it all. In those months of vulnerability, I broke my bank buying every product the YouTube beauty gurus swore by. Nothing changed the state of my skin. I remember sitting with my mom and friends with an egg white mask on my face a day before the wedding. In retrospect, that is hilarious.
After the wedding, I moved to Amsterdam and finally did what I should have in the first place for treating acne. I saw a dermatologist. Within a month of proper treatment, my acne was gone. Phew. At that point I should have stopped using the products I was using, but I did not in hopes to treat hyper-pigmentation left from the acne.
Fast forward to the beginning of this year when I was diagnosed with a rare skin illness. It was clear that the illness was not prompted by the products I was using, nonetheless it made me curious to learn about what makes up the products I slather on my skin day and night. I was startled to find so many questionable chemicals in my everyday skincare products. I asked myself if those chemicals were doing anything significant for my skin, and the answer was a resounding no. So, I decided to throw out nearly all of my skincare products.
A list of all products I have thrown out (and why) is on my Instagram story highlights for anyone interested. In this post, I want to share a more general overview of chemicals that I found in my skincare products and the resources I used to identify those chemicals. There is a ton of conflicting information online, so let’s try and walk through it step by step in this post?
Here are the most common potentially harmful chemicals that I found in all of my skincare (each name is linked to the Skin Deep database of the Environmental Working Group):
2. Parabens (methyl, propyl, butyl, and more)
*used as a preservative *although a natural compound, most urea used in cosmetics is man-made in labs *releases formaldehyde, a known carcinogen *read more here
6. Silicones (ending with cone or siloxane)
*not necessarily toxic to the human body, but proven to increase absorption of ingredients that may be toxic *pore-clogging *non-bio degradable, so toxic to the environment
Several studies conclude that chemicals like sulphates, PEGs, parabens, and fragrance are harmful, whereas others declare that those chemicals–as long as used in small amounts–are not harmful.
What are small amounts though? At least, I do not know. And in all honestly, most of the products I discarded had questionable chemicals listed within the first six ingredients. The ingredients of a label are listed according to their concentration in the product, so first listed ingredient is supposed to have the highest quantity and the last ingredient the lowest.
Oftentimes brands hype up the product by one miraculous natural ingredient, making us believe that the ingredient largely makes up the product. For example, one product I discarded is the Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream. If you see the picture on the left from Kiehl’s website, the key ingredients of the cream are Antarcticine and Imperata Cylindrica. Now look at the picture on the right which is the list of full ingredients. The “key ingredients” come much after questionable chemicals. Why do we need a larger amount of chemicals to preserve a smaller amount of natural ingredients?
Similarly, oftentimes the packaging of a product claims it is 100% natural or organic. Considering the packaging in the beauty industry is not regulated, those claims do not have to be true. It is therefore important to check the list of ingredients to validate the claims on the packaging.
One brand that I am conflicted about is Lush. I have loved using their products. They are marketed as if they are “straight from the tree,” an insta follower of mine Sundus aptly puts. That is unfortunately not true. If you look at the ingredients of a Lush product, you will find parabens. For example, this pictures contains the list of ingredients for Lush’s Sympathy for Skin body lotion.
It contains four questionable ingredients: Triethanolamine, Methyparaben, Fragrance, and Propylparaben. The Skin Deep database of the Environmental Working group classifies these ingredients as toxic both to the environment and the human body. Lush claims that it uses those parabens in quantities that are not harmful. That may or may not be true. I wish I had a definitive answer. I have not thrown out my Lush body lotion because the chemicals appear towards the end of the ingredient list, but I am not sure if I will repurchase my Lush products that contain controversial chemicals.
One reason why I am wary of the “quantity” argument is that one product may contain the quantity suitable for daily use, but let’s be real. How many products do we use on a daily basis? Far too many! The cumulative amount of ingredients from all the products we are feeding our bodies may be far greater than the suitable amount.
What is the bottom line? Personally, I do not think products filled with a long list of chemicals are worth my hard-earned money. The chemicals in our personal care products not only impact our skin, but also our internal organs like respiratory, reproductive, and endocrine. May be it is not a coincidence after all that more than half of my circle of friends is battling PCOS or some other kind of hormonal imbalance?
That said, I strongly believe in the “to each their own” philosophy. That is why the links I have added in this post are balanced not sensational, so all of you can make informed decisions for yourself. I am not 100% toxic-free in my personal care products, but I do want to slowly start taking away chemicals from my lifestyle.
When I threw out everything, I went to using apple cider vinegar as a deodorant, castille soap as my body and face cleanser, and coconut oil as a body and face moisturizer. That may be stretching it too far, but hey, I was afraid and wanted to do my body good. Since then, however, I have been doing research on natural skincare brands and will be sharing my findings in a later post. 🙂
Until then, hope you have found this post helpful. If you have questions or comments, feel free to share them so we all can educate ourselves better.