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Skincare Myths & Facts

"A doyen of the cosmetics industry was candid about the secret of his company's success. "We sell hope," he said.
  Each year the cosmetic market is flooded with new, fabulously exciting and lyrically described 'wonder products,' designed to titillate the imagination and appease our appetite for illusion. That their cost is totally disproportionate to their effectiveness is of little consequence when the fufilment of dreams is at stake.
  Nevertheless, the 'hope' that supports a billion-dollar industry is not new. Since time immemorial every conceivable product-animal, vegetable, mineral or magical-seems to have been used to adorn, improve and transform the human body, as fancy and fashion have dictated.
Elizabeth Francke "The make-your-own Cosmetic & Fragrance Book for Australians." (1982)
The following information has been provided by the manufacturers of the 'Mother Earth Aromatherapy' skin care range.
Fact 1: Did you know that the skin is our largest organ? Much of what we apply is absorbed directly into the bloodstream.
For instance; when Lavender essential oil is rubbed onto the skin, traces can be found in the kidneys only hours later. Another example is Wild Yam, sometimes taken internally, but when added to a skin cream base, the absorption rate is much greater.
Never underestimate how much we absorb through the skin & just how important our skin is to us.
Fact 2: Did you know that chemical skincare can affect your health?
The myriad of chemical laden skincare products on the market is definately effecting some individual's health. Some reactions that people are having are short-term, others long-term & many consumers simply do not believe that there could be a connection!
Fact 3: Did you know that skincare only needs to be 5% natural to be called natural? Government regulations will not keep you safe!
Regulations regarding skin care are not as strict as one may expect. For instance, a product is considered natural if it contains a minimal amount of a natural substance such as a few drops of essential oil or 5% cold pressed oil.
Fact 4: Did you know that 884 of the chemicals available for use in cosmetics have been reported to the government as toxic substances?
National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
MYTH 1: The more it costs the better it is.
Choice magazine has already proven that this is certainly NOT the case.
MYTH 2: Good skincare stops wrinkles.
The fact is that we are ageing, some faster than others. No 'miracle cream' can prevent or stop wrinkles!
MYTH 3: Government labelling regulations keep me safe.
This is not always the case. Take the time to read your ingrediant labels. If products don't have the ingrediants listed, the manufacturer isn't giving you the information that you require to make a conscious decision.
Think carefully before purchasing a product that does not list all ingrediants. be self responsible, read ALL ingrediant labels.
If you can't read it, research it!
The following information has been taken from several sources. References will be included at the end of the article.
The following is a list of chemicals and synthetic ingrediants indentified in skin care products. For most citations you find find in the 'verdana' font descriptions that have been written by people who own and manufacture 'natural' skin care products. In the 'times' font, you will find information written by Paula Bejoun-The Cosmetics Cop, with references to scientific studies that have been undertaken in regards to the synthetic chemicals. Keep in mind that Paula is an acclaimed author of several books concerning the cosmetics industry and cosmetics, but she also sells her own line of skin care products, which contain both natural and synthetic ingrediants.
I have decided to give you both sides of the story because the natural skin care companies have their own reasons for demonising synthetic ingrediants, and often make claims concerning many harmless synthetic ingredients without any scientific back up to support their claims. This is all in order to sell their own products. I personally lean on the side of natural skin care products because I believe that the less complicated a product it the less likely it will be able to irritate my skin, and I like aromatherapy based products. But on the otherhand, I'm not about to start chucking out all my products with chemicals in them just because a company who is in the cosmetics industry is scare mongering against the competition to sell their own products. You can make your own decision, but do it based on the facts.
  • Acetates (amyl, butyl, ethyl, propyl): Acetates are generally found in nail polish and nail polish removers. They are skin irritants and have been found to be a fairly nasty neurotoxin. 

    butyl acetate. Solvent used in nail polish and many other products.
    ethyl acetate. Compound made from acetic acid and ethyl alcohol, used as a solvent in nail polish and nail-polish removers. May irritate skin.

  • Alkyl Acrylate C10-30 Crospolymer: Alkyl Acrylate is a plasticising agent which has been responsible for sensitisation and allergic contact dermatitis when not completely polymerised

    acrylates/C10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer film-forming agent. A large group of ingredients that are typically found in hair-care products but are also widely used in skin-care products, particularly moisturizers. These range from PVP to acrylates, acrylamides, and copolymers. When applied they leave a pliable, cohesive, and continuous covering over the hair or skin. This film produces excellent water-binding properties and leaves a smooth feel on skin. Film-forming agents can be skin sensitizers for some individuals.

  • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA's): Declared as the miracle 'natural' face lift, AHA's burn off the top layer of skin. Not only do they leave the skin exposed to the multitude of chemicals that float around they also make the skin more sensitive to sun damage.

    AHA. Acronym for alpha hydroxy acid. AHAs are derived from various plant sources or from milk. However, 99% of the AHAs used in cosmetics are synthetically derived. In low concentrations (less than 3%) AHAs work as water-binding agents. At concentrations over 4% and in a base with an acid pH of 3 to 4, these can exfoliate skin cells by breaking down the substance in skin that holds skin cells together. The most effective and well-researched AHAs are glycolic acid and lactic acid. Malic acid, citric acid, and tartaric acid may also be effective but are considered less stable and less skin-friendly; there is little research showing them to have benefit for skin.
    AHAs may irritate mucous membranes and cause irritation. However, AHAs have been widely used for therapy of photo damaged skin, and also have been reported to normalize hyperkeratinization (over-thickened skin) and to increase viable epidermal thickness and dermal glycosaminoglycans content. A vast amount of research has substantially described how the aging process affects the skin and has demonstrated that many of the unwanted changes can be improved by topical application of AHAs, including glycolic and lactic acid (Sources: Cutis, August 2001, pages 135–142; Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, July 2000, pages 280–284; American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, March-April 2000, pages 81–88; Skin Pharmacology and Applied Skin Physiology, May-June 1999, pages 111–119; Dermatologic Surgery, August 1997, pages 689–694 and May 2001 pages 1–5; Journal of Cell Physiology, October 1999, pages 14–23; and British Journal of Dermatology, December 1996, pages 867–875).

  •  lactic acid. An alpha hydroxy acid extracted from milk, though most forms used in cosmetics are synthetic. It exfoliates cells on the surface of skin by breaking down the material that holds skin cells together. It may irritate mucous membranes and cause irritation. methoxypropylgluconamide. An alpha hydroxy acid that may be less irritating than glycolic acid and lactic acid. However, there is almost no research about this ingredient and very little is known about its benefit and function (Source: Dermatologic Surgery, May 1996, pages 469–473). It most likely functions more as a water-binding agent than anything else. This ingredient was originally patented by Revlon and the study cited above was carried out by Revlon.


  • Butylene Glycol: Butylene Glycol is an anti-microbial agent that causes severe stinging in the eyes, but is non-irritating to the skin or mucous membranes.  butylene glycol. slip agent. Term used to describe a range of ingredients that help other ingredients spread over the skin and help ingredients penetrate into the skin. Slip agents also have humectant properties. Slip agents include propylene glycol, butylene glycol, polysorbates, and glycerine, to name a few. They are as basic to the world of skin care as water
  • Cocoamide - DEA/TEA/MEA: Cocoamides are known to irritate the eyes, scalp and skin. The safety of this chemical has been questioned for centauries and in some countries products are being cocoamide-free.

    diethanolamine. A colourless liquid used as a solvent and pH adjuster. Also used as a lather agent in skin- can hair-care products when coupled with a foaming or detergent cleansing agent. In 1999 the National Toxicology Program (NTP) completed a study that found an association between cancer and tumours in laboratory animals and the application of diethanolamine (DEA) and certain DEA-related ingredients to their skin (Source: Study #TR-478, Toxicology and Carcinogenesis Studies of Diethanolamine, CAS No. 111-42-2, July 1999— and Food Chemistry and Toxicology, January 2004, pages 127-134). For the DEA-related ingredients, the NTP study suggested that the carcinogenic response is linked to possible residual levels of DEA. However, the NTP study did not establish a link between DEA and the risk of cancer in humans. According to the FDA (Source: Office of Cosmetics and Colours Fact Sheet, December 9, 1999), "Although DEA itself is used in very few cosmetics, DEA-related ingredients (e.g., oleamide DEA, lauramide DEA, cocamide DEA) are widely used in a variety of cosmetic products. These ingredients function as emulsifiers or foaming agents and are generally used at levels of 1% to 5%. The FDA takes these NTP findings very seriously and is in the process of carefully evaluating the studies and test data to determine the real risk, if any, to consumers. The Agency believes that at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be alarmed based on the usage of these ingredients in cosmetics. Consumers wishing to avoid cosmetics containing DEA or its conjugates may do so by reviewing the ingredient statement required to appear on the outer container label of cosmetics offered for retail sale to consumers." A study from 1999 on the potential effects of DEA involved applying a pure concentration of this ingredient directly to mouse skin for a period of 14 weeks (minimum) and 2 years (maximum). The study reported no evidence of carcinogenicity when low doses (50-10mg per kilogram of body weight) were used. Internal changes to organs (liver, kidneys) and external signs (inflammation, ulcers) were found as the dosages of DEA increased (up to 800mg was used). (Source: National Toxicology Program Technical Report Service, Volume 478, July 1999, pages 1¾212). Although the results of this study are interesting, it is still unrelated to how DEA is used in cosmetic products, and how consumers use them. In most instances, our contact with DEA in any form is brief, and most likely not cause for alarm. cocamide DEA and MEA. DEA. diethanolamine.
    isostearamide DEA. Used as a surfactant, water-binding agent, and thickening agent.  alkyloamides. Identified on skin-care product labels as DEA (See diethanolamine), triethanolamine (TEA), and MEA (monoethanolamine), these are used primarily for their foaming ability in shampoos, but can also be used as thickening or binding agents. They can be skin irritants. In addition, alkyloamides contain a free amine that can combine with formaldehyde-releasing preservatives in cosmetics, and there is concern that they may form carcinogens.
    . Can be formed in cosmetics when amines (such as DEA, MEA, or TEA) are combined with a formaldehyde-releasing preservative (bronopol or quaternium-15, among others). Nitrosamines are known for their carcinogenic properties. There is controversy as to whether or not this poses a real problem for skin given the small concentrations that are used in cosmetics and the question of whether nitrosamines can even penetrate skin. formaldehyde-releasing preservative. A common type of preservative found in cosmetics (Source: Contact Dermatitis, December 2000, pages 339–343). However, there is no higher level of skin reaction to formaldehyde-releasing preservatives than to other preservatives (Source: British Journal of Dermatology, March 1998, pages 467–476). In fact, there is a far greater risk to skin from a product without preservatives, owing to the contamination and unchecked growth of bacteria, fungus, and mold that can result. However, there is concern that when formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are present in a formulation with amines, such as triethanolamine (TEA), diethanolamine (DEA), or monoethanolamine (MEA), that nitrosamines can then be formed, because nitrosamines are carcinogenic substances that can potentially penetrate skin (Source: Fundamentals and Applied Toxicology, August 1993, pages 213–221). Whether or not that poses a health risk of any kind has not been established. TEA.triethanolamine
    . Used in cosmetics as a pH balancer. Like all amines, it has the potential for creating nitrosamines. There is controversy as to whether this poses a real problem for skin, given the low concentrations used in cosmetics and the theory that nitrosamines can’t penetrate skin.
    TEA-lauryl sulfate
    . While there is abundant research showing sodium lauryl sulfate to be a sensitizing cleansing agent, there is no similar supporting research for TEA-lauryl sulfate. However, because the relationship between the two is so close, I decided to recommend against the use of either of them. The basis for this is a judgment call, made from a desire to protect skin from sensitization; however, there are no specific studies I can cite for this recommendation, although there are those who will understandably disagree with my conclusion.

  • Cetrimonium chloride: Cetrimonium chloride is used as an anti-fungal and as a softener in hair products. It can be irritating to the skin and eyes, and it is harmful if swallowed.
  • Copper Gluconate: This mineral salt can cause eczema if it comes in contact with the skin. If it comes into contact with the eyes it can result in conjunctivitis and oedema of the eyelids. copper gluconate. Copper is an important trace element for human nutrition. The body needs copper to absorb and utilize iron, and copper is also a component of the powerful antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase. Copper supplements have been shown to increase superoxide dismutase levels in humans (Source: Healthnotes Review of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, The synthesis of collagen and elastin is in part related to the presence of copper in the body, and copper is also important for many other processes. For example, there is research showing that copper is effective for wound healing (Sources: Journal of Clinical Investigation, November 1993, pages 2368–2376; and Federation of European Biochemical Sciences Letter, October 1988, pages 343–346). However, wound healing is the result of many biophysical processes that have nothing to do with wrinkling.
  • Denatured alcohol: Denatured alcohol is industrial alcohol with substances added to provoke vomiting or toxicity on ingestion. denatured alcohol. alcohol. A group of organic compounds that have a vast range of forms and uses in cosmetics. In some benign forms they are glycols used as humectants that help deliver ingredients into skin. When fats and oils are chemically reduced, they become a group of less-dense alcohols called fatty alcohols that can have emollient properties or can become detergent cleansing agents. When alcohols have low molecular weights they can be drying and irritating. The alcohols to be concerned about in skin-care products are ethanol, denatured alcohol, ethyl alcohol, methanol, benzyl alcohol, isopropyl, and SD alcohol, which can be extremely drying and irritating to skin (Sources: "Skin Care—From the Inside Out and Outside In," Tufts Daily, April 1, 2002; eMedicine Journal, May 8, 2002, volume 3, number 5,; Cutis, February 2001, pages 25–27; and Contact Dermatitis, January 1996, pages 12–16).
  • Formalin: is used as a disinfectant and germicide. It has a 'B' classification, which means it is a probable human carcinogen. Formalin can cause local toxicity and promotes alllergic reactions. It may also cause eczema and dermatitis and is extremely dangerous if ingested.
  • Fragrance/Fragrant Oils: are pure chemicals. When inhaled they are transported straight into the bloodstream. They are extremely toxic and dangerous. These fragrant chemicals are common in room fresheners, perfumes, spray deoderants and many household products.
  • Glycerol Laurate: is a foam stabilising agent which can cause burning of the eyes and may irritate the skin.
  • Imidazolidinyl Urea & Diazolidinyl Urea: After the parabens, these chemicals are the most widely used preservatives. They are both well established as one of the primary causes of contact dermatitis. 
  • imidazolidinyl urea Formaldehyde-releasing preservative (Source: Contact Dermatitis, December 2000, pages 339–343).
  • Isopropyl Myristate: is used as a emollient and emulsifier. It is a known skin irritant.

    isopropyl myristate. Used in cosmetics as a thickening agent and emollient. Historically, animal testing has shown it to be a cause of clogged pores (Source: Archives of Dermatology, June 1986, pages 660–665). That type of testing was eventually considered unreliable and there is no subsequent research showing this ingredient to be any more of a problem for skin than other emollient, waxy ingredients used in cosmetics

  • Lanolin: Made from the wax coating on the wool of sheep, lanolin has been used in cosmetics for years. Unfortunatley, nearly all the sheep are dipped in chemicals and eat grass with fetilisers thus contaminating the lanolin with various harmful chemicals.

    lanolin. Derived from the sebaceous glands of sheep. Lanolin has long been burdened with the reputation for being an allergen or sensitizing agent. That has always been a disappointment to formulators because lanolin is such an effective moisturizing agent for skin. A recent study in the British Journal of Dermatology (July 2001, pages 28–31) may change all that. The study concluded "that lanolin sensitization has remained at a relatively low and constant rate even in a high-risk population (i.e., patients with recent or active eczema)." Based on a review of 24,449 patients who were tested with varying forms of lanolin, it turned out that "The mean annual rate of sensitivity to this allergen was 1.7%"—and it was lower than that for a 50% concentration of lanolin. It looks like it's time to restore lanolin's good reputation. That's a very good thing for someone with dry skin, though it can be a problem for someone with oily skin, because lanolin closely resembles the oil from human oil glands.
    acetylated lanolin
    . Emollient derived from lanolin. acetylated lanolin alcohol
    . An ester of lanolin alcohol uses as an emollient and occlusive agent. An ester is a compound formed from an alcohol and an acid with the elimination of water, and are common among cosmetic ingredients.
    lanolin alcohol
    . Emollient derived from lanolin.isopropyl lanolate
    . Derived from lanolin, it is used in cosmetics as a thickening agent and emollient.
    trioclanolin. Derived from lanolin and used as a texture enhanced, most commonly in powder-based products such as eyeshadows and powder blush.

  • Mannitol: is an anti-caking flowing agent, thickener and stabiliser. Dehydration, convulsions, vomiting, chills and dizziness have been documented after ingestion of large doses of this substance. Heart failure, brain haemorrhage and fatalities have also occurred. mannitol. Component of plants that has potent antioxidant properties (Source: Photochemistry and Photobiology, August 1999, pages 191–198).
  • Methylchloroisothiazoline: This is a synthetic preservative, considered to be a skin sensitising agent. It has been associated with contact dermatitis when used in paint.
  • Mineral Oil (paraffinum liquidum) and petrolatum- prpyl-, methyl-, eth-, or -ene: Mineral oils are made from crude petrol. They are used as an emollient and carrying agent in cosmetics as well as baby (Baby Oil) and sorbelene cream. They can be dangerous if ingested and should not be used on babies as they are thought to be carcinogenic. Mineral oils may suffocate the skin by creating an oil film that keeps the skin from taking in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide. It is also a major envirnmental pollutant. Mineral oil also causes a Catch-22 situation as far as moisture in the skin is concerened. When applying the product it may appear to releive the skin's dryness, but in actual fact it is causing the skin to become dry, so more product is required to keep the skin 'moist'. Also, if you are a lady who has acrylic nail extensions and have a lot of trouble with 'lifting' of the acrylic, it has most likely been caused by the mineral oil in your hand creme , hair wax, body lotion or face cream. Check your products for liquid paraffin, petrolatum or mineral oil and get rid of them! This is a common ingrediant in skin care products as it is a cheap ingrediant. In the words of a standard cosmetic textbook, "...the continued use of mineral oil tends to dry the skin." (The Principle and Practise of Beauty Culture, Florence E.Wall, A.M., F.A.I.C.)

    mineral oil. Clear, odourless oil derived from petroleum that is widely used in cosmetics because it rarely causes allergic reactions and can't become a solid and clog pores. Despite mineral oil's association with petroleum and the hype that it is bad for skin, keep in mind that petroleum is a natural ingredient derived from the earth and that once it becomes mineral oil, it has no resemblance to the original petroleum. Cosmetics-grade mineral oil and petrolatum are considered the safest, most non-irritating moisturizing ingredients ever found (Sources: Cosmetics & Toiletries, January 2001, page 79; and Cosmetic Dermatology, September 2000, pages 44–46). Yes, they can keep air off the skin to some extent, but that's what a good antioxidant is supposed to do; they don't suffocate skin! Moreover, mineral oil and petrolatum are known to be efficacious in wound healing, and are also considered to be among the most effective moisturizing ingredients available (Source: Cosmetics & Toiletries, February 1998, pages 33–40).

    Paraffinum liquidum. Polybutene. A polymer derived from mineral oil and used as a thickener and lubricant.
    Protol. Trade name for mineral oil.

  • Oleochemicals: New evidence shows that oleochemical trans fats used in virtually all "natural" and "organic" body care products, when topically applied to the skin, can inhibit prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are hormone-like messengers produced in most tissues of the human body that have many important physiological actions. Many intelligent people have been hoodwinked by slick detergent and emollient manufacturers“ greenwashing campaigns over the years into believing that oleochemical detergents, fatty acids and stearates (to name a few) are "natural" and environmentally-friendly because they are "vegetable-based." Oleochemical manufacturing of detergents and emollients is very energy-intensive and involves the use of toxic metal catalysts such as nickel or copper chromate (a carcinogen) and toxic petrochemical reagents. In the processing of oleochemical fatty bases for example, oils are heated in the presence of a catalyst to 500 to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit or higher and the temperature may be held for twenty four hours or longer. They are then reacted with methanol (a very toxic petrochemical alcohol) and sulfuric acid (a toxic environmental pollutant).
    Parabens (Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Butylparaben, Ethylparaben, Isobutylparaben): These are the most widely used preservatives. These chemicals cause allergic reactions and rashes in quite a high percentage of users and should be avoided, especially by children who are particularly prone to developing atopic eczema. The parabens are added to products as they inhibit microbial growth and extend the shelf life of products. They are known to be toxic in both liquid and powder form, but they are still widely used in cosmetics. Parabens also mimic oestrogen, and this is of particular concern to women as increased exposure to exogenous sources of oestrogen has been linked to increased risk of breast and uterine cancer. People exposed to these chemicals accumalate it in their bodies. It has also been shown that parabens perform their task of inhibiting enzymes so well that once they enter the bloodstream via the skin, they may continue to inhibit the body's own enzymes, including those used for digestion, putting stress on the body's natural digestive processes.

    parabens. Group of preservatives, including butylparaben, propylparaben, methylparaben, and ethylparaben. They are the most widely used group of preservatives found in cosmetics. It is estimated that more than 90% of all cosmetic products contain some form of paraben. They are considered to cause less irritation than some preservatives. There is research showing that in animal models (and in vitro) parabens can have weak estrogenic activity. Whether that poses any health risk for humans using cosmetics is unknown. The very technical findings of the study, which involved both oral administration and injection into rat skin, did show evidence of a weak estrogen effect on cells in a way that could be problematic for binding to receptor sites that may cause proliferation of MCF-7 breast cancer cells. The study concluded that “future work will need to address the extent to which parabens can accumulate in hormonally sensitive tissues and also the extent to which their weak oestrogenic activity can add to the more general environmental oestrogen problem.” (Source: Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, January 2002, pages 49–60).
    Does this mean you should stop buying products that contain parabens? That’s a good question, but the answer isn’t simple or conclusive, even by the standards of the study itself. This is a potentially serious issue and the FDA is conducting its own research to determine what this means for human health (Source: The Endocrine Disruptor Knowledge Base (EDKB), To keep the concern in perspective, it is important to realize that parabens are hardly the only substances that may have estrogenic effects on the body.
    Any estrogen, including the estrogen our bodies produce, may bind to receptor sites on cells either strongly or weakly. Either this can stimulate the receptor to imitate the effect of our own estrogen in a positive way, or it can generate an abnormal estrogen response. Ironically, plant estrogens, or phytoestrogens (such as those found in soy), also produce chemicals that mimic estrogen. It is possible that a weak plant estrogen can help the body, but it can also be possible for a strong plant estrogen to make matters worse. For example, there is research that shows coffee to be a problem for fibrocystic breast disease. The reason for this is thought to be because coffee exerts estrogenic effects on breast cells (Sources: American Journal of Epidemiology, October 1996, pages 642–644; Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association, Spring 2002, pages 85–90;
    A study in the Journal of Applied Toxicology (Volume 24, Issue 1, January-February 2004, pages 5-13) mentioned that “although recent reports of the oestrogenic properties of parabens have challenged current concepts of their toxicity in these consumer products, the question remains as to whether any of the parabens can accumulate intact in the body from the long-term, low-dose levels to which humans are exposed.” The study discussed the fact that traces of parabens have indeed been found in human breast tumors, but was quick to point out that it is unknown if this would be the same in healthy breast tissue. Parabens present in tumors may not be the causative factor but rather a result of parabens when cancer cells are present.



  • PEG Chemicals (PEG4, PEG7, PEG4-dilaurate, PEG100, Steareth 20, Ceteareth 20): A number of chemical emulsifiers are used by the cosmetic industry and the most commonly used are the ethoxylates. these are abbreviated to, for example, PEG-20-stearate. The name comes from the fact that these emulsifiers are based on the chemical "ethylene oxide". Actually the ethoxylates are long chains (polymers) of ethylene oxide, typically coupled to something else, such as a lipid molecule. Unfortunately the ethoxylates slowly break down, thereby releasing free ethylene oxide. This is a problem because ethylene oxide is very toxic. Ethylene Oxide was used during World War 1 as a toxic gas. Such toxicity occurs in much higher doses than the ones that occur in skin care products, but today we know that ethylene oxide is potentially dangerous even in small doses, simply because it is strongly mutagenic. The fact that it causes mutations means that it damages our DNA, which we know increases skin ageing and potentially enhances the risk of developing skin cancer. After such random mutations, cells of the skin may no longer be able to fulfil their natural purpose if gene coding for their activity is no longer intact.

    PEG compound. PEG stands for polyethylene glycol. Various forms of PEG compounds are mixed with fatty acids and fatty alcohols to create a variety of substances that have diverse functions in cosmetics, including surfactants, binding agents (to keep ingredients blended), stabilizers, and emollients.
    PEG-100 Stearate.polyethylene glycol. Also listed as PEG on ingredient labels, polyethylene glycol is an ingredient that self-proclaimed "natural" Web sites have attempted to make notorious and evil. They gain a great deal of attention by attributing horror stories to PEG, associating it with antifreeze (however, antifreeze is ethylene glycol, not polyethylene glycol), and there is no research indicating that PEG compounds pose any problem for skin. Quite the contrary: PEGs have no known skin toxicity and can be used on skin with great results (Sources: Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews, June 2002, pages 587–606; and Cancer Research, June 2002, pages 3138–3143). The only negative research for this ingredient indicates that large quantities given orally to rats can cause tumors, but that is unrelated to topical application.
    Polyethylene, when it is not combined with glycol, is the most common form of plastic used in the world. It is flexible and has a smooth, waxy feel. When ground up, the small particles are used in scrubs as a gentle abrasive. When mixed with glycol, it becomes a viscous liquid. In the minuscule amounts used in cosmetics, it helps keep products stable and performs functions similar to glycerin. Because polyethylene glycol can penetrate skin, it is also a vehicle that helps deliver other ingredients deeper into the skin. It is even used internally in medical procedures to flush and clean the intestinal tract.
    cetyl dimethicone. A silicone polymer that functions as skin conditioning agent. cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1- dimethicone. A silicone that functions as a skin-conditioning agent and emulsifier. dimethicone. dimethicone copolyol. dimethicone fluoroalcohol dilinoleic acid. A film-forming agent that has water-binding properties due to its linoleic acid component.
    . Silicone with a drier finish than dimethicone.
    phenyl trimethicone. Silicone with a drier finish than dimethicone. simethicone. A mixture of dimethicone with silica; related to silicones, but used as an antifoaming agent. silicone. Substance derived from silica (sand is a silica). The unique fluid properties of silicone give it a great deal of slip and in its various forms it can feel like silk on the skin, impart emolliency, and be a water-binding agent that holds up well, even when skin becomes wet. In other forms, it is also used extensively for wound healing and for improving the appearance of scars (Source: Journal of Wound Care, July 2000, pages 319–324)
    emollient. Supple, waxlike, lubricating, thickening agents that prevent water loss and have a softening and soothing effect on the skin. They can be natural, like plant oils; manufactured, like silicones; or processed from a natural substance, like mineral oil. The assortment of technical-sounding names for all these ingredients is nothing less than astounding. There are more of them than you can imagine. They range from cetearyl alcohol to isopropyl myristate, triglycerides, myristic acid, palmitic acid, PEG-60 hydrogenated castor oil, glyceryl linoleate, cyclomethicone, dimethicone, hexyl laurate, isohexadecane, methyl glucose sesquioleate, decyl oleate, stearic acid, octyldodecanol, and thousands more. There are also more understandable or at least familiar "natural" versions of emollients, such as lanolin, hydrogenated plant oils, shea butter, and cocoa butter.

  • Petro-chemicals: (ingrediants ending with 'line' or 'lene' or beginning with 'propyl') petrolatum. Vaseline is pure petrolatum. For some unknown and unsubstantiated reason, petrolatum has attained a negative image in regard to skin care, despite good research to the contrary. Topical application of petrolatum can help the skin's outer layer recover from damage, reduce inflammation, and generally heal the skin (Source: Acta Dermato-Venereologica, November-December 2000, pages 412–415).
  • Phenoxyethanol: Used as a perfume fixative and a solvent for inks. Toxic doses are known to cause vomiting, headache and central nervous depression. phenoxyethanol. Common cosmetic preservative that is considered one of the less irritating ones to use in formulations. It does not release formaldehyde
  • Propylene Glycol: A chemical solvent and humectant, it has been related to a variety of disorders from liver abnormalities, kidney damage and depression to allergic dermatitis and eczema. Propylene glycol is a petro chemical and it's solvent use makes it one of the most widely used ingrediants in skin care products. Petro-chemicals produce xeno-estrogens which can affect our reproductive areas, causing long term effects for women, such as hormonal imbalances leading to PMT, acne, fertility problems, pigmentation and osteoporosis. The propelyne glycol that we apply to our skins via cosmetics is also a substance used to de-ice aeroplanes and a common ingrediant in anti-freeze. Propylene Glycol goes by a variety of names such as 1,2-dihydroxypropane, 1,2-propanediol, methyl glycol and trimethyl glycol. Propylene glycol (along with other glycols and glycerol) is a humectant or humidifying and delivery ingredient used in cosmetics. You can find Web sites and spam emails stating that propylene glycol is really industrial antifreeze and the major ingredient in brake and hydraulic fluids. These sites also state that tests show it to be a strong skin irritant. They further point out that the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on propylene glycol warns users to avoid skin contact because systemically (in the body) it can cause liver abnormalities and kidney damage.

    As ominous as this sounds, it is so far from the reality of cosmetic formulations that almost none of it holds any water or poses real concern. It is important to realize that the MSDS sheets are talking about 100% concentrations of a substance. Even water and salt have frightening comments regarding their safety according to the MSDS. It is true that propylene glycol in 100% concentration is used as antifreeze, but—and this is a very big but—in cosmetics it is used in only the smallest amounts to keep products from melting in high heat or freezing when it is cold. It also helps active ingredients penetrate the skin. In the minute amounts used in cosmetics, propylene glycol is not a concern in the least. Women are not suffering from liver problems because of propylene glycol in cosmetics.

    And finally, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, within the Public Health Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, "studies have not shown these chemicals [propylene or the other glycols as used in cosmetics] to be carcinogens" (Source:

    Polyethylene glycol (PEG) is another ingredient "natural" Web sites have attempted to make notorious. They gain a great deal of attention by attributing horror stories to PEG. For example, several Web sites state the following: "Because of their effectiveness, PEGs are often used in caustic spray-on oven cleaners, yet are also found in many personal care products. Not only are they potentially carcinogenic, but they contribute to stripping the skin's Natural Moisture Factor, leaving the immune system vulnerable." There is no research substantiating any of this. Quite the contrary: PEGs have no known skin toxicity. The only negative research results for this ingredient group indicate that large quantities given orally to rats can cause tumors. How that got related to skin-care products is a mystery to me.

  • Sodium Fluoride: This is yet to be proven safe. It is poisonous if ingested by humans and is used in rat poison. You will find it mainly in toothpaste.
  • Sodium Hydroxide: A highly corrosive alkaline substance used to alter pH balance in cosmetics. Can cause severe eye and skin burns in concentrated amounts.
  • Sodium Glutamate (Code: 621): Commonly known as MSG when used as a flavour enhancer, it is used in cosmetics to create a shiny look. can create food poisoning symptoms if large doses are ingested.
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate & Sodium Laurel Sulphate (SLES & SLS): One of the worst offenders in skin and hair care products, SLS can be found in shampoo, toothpaste, bubble gel, bubble bath, liquid soap wash and cleansers. Considered to be the commenest cause of eye irritation from shampoos, it also has a drying effect on the skin and is linked to immune system damage, skin allergies, mouth ulcers, cataracts, dandruff, impaired hair growth and hair loss. SLS can cause tissue damage to the eyes, liver, brain, heart and lungs. Consumers must be aware that many of the 'natural' skin care companies claim their products do not contain SLES or SLS but use equally harmful ingrediants for the same purpose, such as ammonium lauryl sulphate.   "Present day detergents are descendants of degreasing detergents developed at the end of World War II in response to the shortage of animal fats and consequent shortage of soap. Animal and vegetable fats and oils saponify (turn to soap) in the presence of caustic soda or caustic potash. But caustic soda and caustic potash will not saponify mineral oils. Now mineral oils are notoriously drying to the skin, and when enterprising chemists discovered a chemical that would saponify mineral oils, it is unlikely that the resulting substance was at first considered as a toilet (cosmetic) product. It was intended as an industrial or laundry cleanser. I am old enough to remember reading about the new, amazing compound that destroyed grease so utterly that a duck bathed in it could no longer swim. Its degreased feathers instantly became waterlogged and pulled the bird down. It took a marketing brainwave to turn this ferocious substance into a product that human beings were willing to put on their bodies.....However, manufacturers take care to ensure that shampoos will not actually damage skin or blind you if they get in your eyes. To this end, we are told without shame, that a standardised test for the irritant properties of shampoos has been set up for the industry. It consists of dripping various concentrations of shampoo into rabbit's eyes. If anyone ever tries to show you a photograph of the eyes of a rabbit blinded by shampoo, I warn you: don't look." Elizabeth Francke "The make-your-own Cosmetic & Fragrance Book-For Australians." (1982)
  • Are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) serious problems in cosmetics? I have received more e-mails and letters than I care to count about this concern. I believe that this entire mania was generated by several Neways Web sites, and has been carried over as if it were fact into other so-called "all natural" cosmetics lines.

    It seems that most of this issue is based on the incorrect reporting about a study at the Medical College of Georgia. As a reminder, here is what is being quoted: "A study from the Medical College of Georgia indicates that SLS is a systemic, and can penetrate and be retained in the eye, brain, heart, liver, etc., with potentially harmful long-term effects. It could retard healing and cause cataracts in adults, and can keep children's eyes from developing properly." This is supposedly quoted from a report given to the Research to Prevent Blindness conference. While the report on animal models extrapolates concerns about the use SLS, it draws no hard conclusions stating that the amount of SLS used was 10% greater then that used in shampoos and done on animals not people. The doctor who conducted the study and delivered the final report is Dr. Keith Green, Regents Professor of Ophthalmology at the Medical College of Georgia, who received his doctorate of science from St. Andrews University in Scotland. I had an opportunity to talk with Dr. Green who stated that he was completely embarrassed by all this. He told me in a telephone interview back in 1997 that his "work was completely misquoted. There is no part of my study that indicated any [eye] development or cataract problems from SLS or SLES and the body does not retain those ingredients at all. We did not even look at the issue of children, so that conclusion is completely false because it never existed. The Neways people took my research completely out of context and probably never read the study at all." He continued in a perturbed voice, saying, "The statement like ‘SLS is a systemic' has no meaning. No ingredient can be a systemic unless you drink the stuff and that's not what we did with it. Another incredible comment was that my study was ‘clinical,' meaning I tested the substance on people, [but] these were strictly animal tests. Furthermore, the eyes showed no irritation with the 10-dilution substance used! If anything, the animal studies indicated no risk of irritation whatsoever!" That lack of outcome is in fact why, as of 1987, Green no longer pursued this research. When I asked if anyone has done any follow-up studies looking at SLS and SLES in this regard, Dr. Green said, "No one has done this because the findings were so insignificant."

    Resulting mass emails continued for some time, carrying on the SLS and SLES myth with a slightly different bent. Yet, according to Health Canada, in a press release, February 12, 1999 (, "A letter has been circulating the Internet which claims that there is a link between cancer and sodium laureth (or lauryl) sulphate (SLS), an ingredient used in [cosmetics]. Health Canada has looked into the matter and has found no scientific evidence to suggest that SLS causes cancer. It has a history of safe use in Canada. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that this email warning is a hoax. The letter is signed by a person at the University of Pennsylvania Health System and includes a phone number. Health Canada contacted the University of Pennsylvania Health System and found that it is not the author of the sodium laureth sulphate warning and does not endorse any link between SLS and cancer. Health Canada considers SLS safe for use in cosmetics. Therefore, you can continue to use cosmetics containing SLS without worry."

    Further, according to the American Cancer Society's Web site, "Contrary to popular rumors on the Internet, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) do not cause cancer. Emails have been flying through cyberspace claiming SLS [and SLES] causes cancer … and is proven to cause cancer. ... [Yet] A search of recognized medical journals yielded no published articles relating this substance to cancer in humans."

    That's not to say that sodium lauryl sulfate isn't a potent skin irritant, because it is, and it's considered a standing comparison substance for measuring skin irritancy of other ingredients. In scientific studies when they want to establish whether or not an ingredient is problematic for skin, they compare its effect to the results of SLS. In amounts of 2% to 5% it can cause irritating or sensitizing reactions in lots of people (Sources: European Journal of Dermatology, September-October 2001, pages 416-419; American Journal of Contact Dermatitis, March 2001, pages 28–32). But irritancy is not the same as the other dire, erroneous warnings floating around the Web about this ingredient!
  • Stearalkonium chloride: A chemical used in hair conditioners and creams, stearalkonium chloride is believed to cause allergic reactions. It was developed by the fabrics industry as a fabric softener and is a lot cheaper and easier to use in hair conditioning formulas than proteins or herbs, which help hair health. It is toxic.
  • Talc: Used in talcum powder and various cosmetics, talc has been linked to ovarian cancer, respiratory disease and lung disease. Talc. Finely ground mineral used as an absorbent, and the primary base of most pressed and loose powder. Talc is often criticized and described as a cosmetic ingredient to avoid. The concern about talc is not about its use in makeup, but, rather, the way it was used in pure, large concentrations such as in talcum powder. Part of this story dates back to several studies published in the 1990s that found a significant increase in the risk of ovarian cancer from vaginal (perineal) application of talcum powder (Sources: American Journal of Epidemiology, March 1997, pages 459–465; International Journal of Cancer, May 1999, pages 351–356; Seminars in Oncology, June 1998, pages 255–264; and Cancer, June 1997, pages 2396–2401). However, subsequent and concurrent studies have cast doubt on the way these studies were conducted as well as their conclusions (Sources: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, February 2000, pages 249–252; American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, March 2000, pages 720–724; and Obstetrics and Gynaecology, March 1999, pages 372–376). There is no research showing talc to be a problem in cosmetics
  • Triethanolamine (TEA) see cocoamides: Another commonly known substance used as an emulsifier. This substance is known to be transformed in living tissue into nitrosamines, which are some of the strongest carcinogens known to man. Furthermore, triethanolamine is a contact allergin causing eczema in many subjects upon skin contact. Triethanolamine is also used in skin cae products to adjust the pH. It is also combined with many fatty acids to convert acid to salt (stearate), which then becomes the base for a cleanser. It is linked to eye problems and dryness of the skin and hair. It could be toxic if absorbed into the body over a long period of time.
Mother Earth Aromatherapy. (2004). Natural Skincare-Training Workshop. [Brochure] Perth, Western Australia. Mother Earth Aromatherapy.
Sturt, Cilla. (2002). How Natural is 'Natural'? Wellbeing Body Beautiful; 119-122.
Benhaim, Paul. (2005). Label Gazing. Well Being: 81-85.
Paula Benjoun-The Cosmetics Cop-
The Other Side of The Argument
If there is one cosmetics industry buzz word that gets almost immediate consumer attention, it’s “natural.” Whatever preconceived or media-induced fiction someone might believe about natural ingredients being better for the skin has no factual basis or scientific legitimacy. Not only is the definition of "natural" hazy, but the term isn't even regulated, so each cosmetics company can use it to mean whatever they want it to mean. "If a company wants to call their products natural, it can, and it doesn't matter what they contain. [The] FDA has tried to establish official definitions for the use of certain terms such as “natural” but its regulations were overturned in court. So companies can use them on cosmetic labels to mean anything or nothing at all." (Source: FDA Consumer Magazine, August 2000).

In the world of skin care and makeup, the claims about all-natural products are either exaggerated because the products are laden with lots of unnatural ingredients, or the natural ingredients they do contain are problematic for the skin. Just because an ingredient grows out of the ground or is found in nature doesn’t make it automatically good for skin, and the reverse is also true, just because it is synthetic doesn’t make it bad. Yet there are many beneficial natural ingredients for skin, which makes the whole issue more confusing because consumers are often at a loss (or simply don’t have the time) to determine which natural ingredients are helpful and which are harmful (and more products than I care to count contain a frustrating combination of both).

Fruits, vegetables, or any pure food ingredients are not necessarily the best for skin. When it comes to skin care, more often than not, it is some small element of the plant that has benefit for skin. Extracting this component from the plant almost always requires a process that is synthetically derived. Further, these extracts are far more stable than the whole food. Think about it this way: a plant in its pure form isn’t stable in the least, especially in skin-care products. Just think of how long a head of lettuce lasts in your refrigerator. It would be far worse sitting on the counter in your bathroom! Regrettably, natural or plant-based preservatives have extremely poor antimicrobial or antifungal properties. Complications for skin due to a product being contaminated are a serious consideration when it comes to how a product is preserved.

Many companies claiming to be all-natural are anything but. They achieve the appearance of being all natural by listing a natural ingredient description in parentheses next to the more technical-sounding ingredient on their label. Although this appears to be helpful information, it still leads consumers in the wrong direction. For example, ammonium lauryl sulfate, a standard detergent cleansing agent, is listed on an Aveda ingredient label as being derived from coconut oil. While that makes the ingredient sound natural, what the label doesn’t explain is what the coconut oil has to go through to become ammonium lauryl sulfate. Ammonium lauryl sulfate is the salt of a sulfuric acid compound, neutralized with an ingredient like triethanolamine. None of that makes this ingredient bad for skin, and I wouldn't tell anyone to avoid ammonium lauryl sulfate, but that is the more accurate description of that ingredient and it just isn’t “natural”. Along with this deception, products from companies that want you to believe they are all natural often, if not always, contain a vast array of synthetic ingredients.

It is important to point out that many natural ingredients can cause allergies, irritation, and skin sensitivities. Just think of how many people have a hay fever response to a wide variety of plants, and observe how many of these plants show up in cosmetics. Citrus often shows up in skin-care products, but most of us have gotten lemon or lime juice on a slight cut while cooking and know it burns like crazy because it's irritating to skin. Camphor (which is distilled from certain trees), peppermint, menthol, and eucalyptus can all cause an irritant or sensitizing response. All of the following natural ingredients can cause skin irritation, allergic reactions, skin sensitivity, and/or sun sensitivity:
  • Almond extract, Allspice, Angelica, Arnica, Balm mint oil, Balsam, basil, Bergamot, Cinnamon, Citrus, Clove, Clover blossom, Cornstarch, Coriander oil, Cottonseed oil, Fennel, Fir needle, Geranium oil, Grapefruit, Horsetail, Lavender oil, Lemon, Lemon balm, Lemongrass, Lime, Marjoram, Oak bark, Papaya, Peppermint, Rose, Sage, Thyme, Witch hazel, Wintergreen
The label might say natural, but you could be buying a purely irritating product that might cause an allergic reaction. Simply saying a product is “natural” doesn't tell you anything about the efficacy of the ingredients in a product. Remember, poison ivy is natural too, and I can’t imagine a fan of all-natural products applying that to their skin instead of a benign synthetic ingredient.

The notion that natural ingredients are better than synthetic ingredients is even more distressing, because it just isn't true. While vegetable or plant oils may sound better for the skin, varying forms of silicones (i.e., siloxanes, dimethicones, cyclomethicones) are just as beneficial and offer impressive benefits for the skin. But it's hard to glamorize and advertise a "synthetic," unnatural-sounding ingredient. Silicones show up in over 80% of all skin-care, makeup, and hair-care products you buy. Yet you rarely hear about them because the cosmetics companies think consumers won't find them as sexy or alluring as plants, or oxygen therapy, or cellular repair, or a thousand other marketing angles that have nothing to do with what really works for your skin.

I'm not saying there aren't a large range of natural ingredients that are exceptional for the skin, because there are—lots and lots of them—but the idea that they are the "best” (or only) option for skin is just not reality. If you want to use products that contain helpful, non-irritating natural ingredients, what should you look for? The following natural ingredients (though keep in mind the natural form and, at times, the function of these ingredients may be altered after they’re treated and prepared for use in a cosmetic product) each have beneficial properties for skin, mostly by making dry skin look and feel better or functioning as antioxidants:
  • Alfalfa, Algae, Aloe, Andiroba oil, Apricot kernel oil, Artichoke extract, Avocado oil, Babassu oil, Bearberry extract, Beeswax, Black currant oil, Black elderberry, Black tea, Bladderwrack, Borage seed extract, Borage seed oil, Burdock root, Candelilla wax, Canola oil, Carnauba wax, Carrot extract and oil, Castor oil (all forms), Ceramides, Chamomile extracts, Cocoa butter, Coconut oil, Cornflower extract, Corn oil, Cranberry seed oil, Curcumin (tumeric), Elderberry, Evening primrose oil, Flax extract and oil, Ginkgo biloba, Grape seed extract, Grape seed oil, Green tea, Hazelnut oil, Hemp seed oil, Honey, Horse chestnut extract, Hydrocotyl extract, Irish moss, Japan wax, Jojoba oil, Kaolin, Kelp, Kudzu root, Kukui nut oil, Lanolin (all forms), Licorice extract and root, Linseed oil, Lotus seed extract, Macadamia nut oil, Magnesium, Mallow, Matricaria, Nettle, Oat extracts, Olive oil, Oryzanol, Ozokerite, Palm oil, Peanut oil, Pecan oil, Pine cone extract, Propolis, Pycnogenol, Rapeseed oil, Raspberry seed oil, Rice bran oil, Rose hip oil, Safflower oil, Sea whip extract, Seaweed, Sesame oil, Shea butter, Slippery elm bark, Soybean extract, Soybean oil, Sunflower oil, Sweet almond oil, Tea tree oil, Vanilla Planifolia, Walnut oil, Wheat germ glycerides and oil, Wheat Protein, Whey Protein, White tea, Willow bark, Willow herb (fireweed) extract, Yeast, Yucca extract.

Paula Begoun - The Cosmetics Cop

Paula Begoun is the author and publisher of several best-selling books on the beauty industry, including several editions of Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me, Blue Eyeshadow Should Be Illegal, The Beauty Bible, and Don't Go Shopping for Hair-Care Products Without Me. She has sold more than 2.5 million copies of her books and is also a syndicated columnist, with her “Dear Paula” column appearing in papers throughout North America. Her work as a nationally-recognized consumer expert for the cosmetics industry has led to repeat appearances on CNN, as well as programs such as Oprah, The Today Show, 20/20, Dateline NBC, The View, and Primetime.

Well-known for her extensive knowledge of the cosmetics industry, she is a respected resource amongst professionals in a variety of fields impacting the world of skin care. Over the years Paula has been and remains a consultant for dermatologists, plastic surgeons, major cosmetics companies, and industry insiders.


Healthy Person's Guide To Skin Care Ingrediants
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"The Healthy Person's Guide to Personal Care Products" is a guide to both truly natural and synthetic ingredients--a quick reference to help you make an educated decision about what ingredients you want to rub on your skin, put in your body and put into our waterways.
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This site is run and maintained by Kylie Thompson 2005
Last updated- 20 September 2007