If you’re concerned about your health, you probably read the label when buying groceries. It’s a great way to find out how much fat, salt, and sugar are in a product you’re putting in your body.
But often people buy cosmetics and skincare products based on what the pretty labels promise, not what the products actually contain. It’s understandable — many labels feature a dozen ingredients or more, and you probably don’t recognise half the words! But understanding skincare labels is important because your skin is absorbent and those ingredients could end up in your bloodstream.
So, here’s a handy 5-step guide to deciphering the ingredients list on skincare products so you can make healthy choices:
Step 1: Check concentration levels
Ingredients on skincare labels are listed in descending order of concentration. So, ingredients at the top are present in high concentrations, while those at the bottom might barely be present. To be listed at all, an ingredient must make up 2% or more of the product.
This is important to know because the part of the label that is marketing a product to you may conflict with its ingredients. If you’re thinking of buying a moisturiser because the label has pictures of macadamias on it, check the label. If macadamia oil is near the bottom of the list, there may only be a very small amount present.
Instead, you want to see the most potent ingredients at the top of the list!
Look our for toxic preservatives
Almost all skincare products contain water, so some kind of preservative is needed to prevent bacterial contamination.
One of the most common preservatives used is paraben. This is an estrogen-mimicking chemical that has been linked to increased breast cancer risk and potential reproductive problems for men. Keep an eye out for methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben — if you see those on the ingredients list, don’t buy.
It’s entirely possible to preserve skincare products without parabens. Natural skincare companies like Okana use weak acids to slow bacterial growth. Sometimes these preservatives don’t even need to be added because they occur naturally in other ingredients. For example, one of the preservatives in Okana’s Apple Juice Foaming Cleanser is an amino acid derived from apples.
Step 3: Learn a little Latin
There may be words on the ingredients list you don’t recognise. If they look like they could be spells from Harry Potter, they are probably Latin words. Generally, these are the scientific names for botanical ingredients. For example, hamamelis virginiana is American witch hazel and aloe barbedensis is a naturally growing aloe plant used make aloe vera.
Generally, natural ingredients like these are good but if you’re unsure your might want to check online For example, borago officinalis or star-flower can be used to treat a range of skin conditions but can also have harmful side effects for some people.
Step 4: Check chemical names
It’s easy to feel cautious when you see chemical names on an ingredients list, but don’t assume the worst straight away. After all, the scary-sounding dihydrogen monoxide is simply water, while sodium anisate is completely natural chemical obtained from anise and fennel.
But there are plenty of chemical names you should avoid. You can always look up ingredients on your phone if you’re unsure but a few key chemicals to look out for are:
Sodium lauryl sulfate
Step 5: Avoid added fragrances
We all like nice smells, but when they’re created with artificial fragrances alarm bells should ring.
Some fragrances may be composed from essential oils or flower extracts, while others are cocktails of chemicals — including known carcinogens and irritants. The problem is, a regulatory loophole allows companies to avoid listing the actual ingredients that make the ‘fragrance’ listed in the label.
As with second-hand smoke, fragrances can be harmful to both users and bystanders, especially are in sprays or misting products. Immediate effects from chemical fragrances can include contact dermatitis and severe headaches, and long-term health risks are a real possibility.
Studies have found up to 4% of the general population are sensitized to typical fragrance ingredients. In New Zealand, that’s nearly a quarter of a million people!
Find a brand you can trust
If you want to spare yourself reading through ingredients lists every time you buy a skincare product, find a brand you can trust and stick to it. Okana is a great choice because the company is a committed natural skincare company that avoids thickeners, stabilizers, fragrances, and synthetic preservatives altogether.
In fact, Okana is one of the only skincare companies in the world to consistently use advanced self-preserving formulas and food-grade ingredients for mass production. Most Okana products contain just a handful of natural ingredients, so you get products that are potent and safe.
Researchers from Reading University, UK, recently identified Matrixyl, a chemical included in everyday skincare products, as a genuinely effective anti-wrinkle ingredient – despite its lack of publicity.
Apparently, Matrixyl could double the amount of collagen produced by the skin, giving you a fresh-faced look.
Matrixyl stimulates the body to make more collagen, a natural skin-plumping agent, and more hyaluronic acid, which also helps skin look younger.
It is found in creams made by High Street brands such as Olay and Ponds, and in designer brands such as Chanel and Dior.
Experts are now convinced that its inclusion is the secret behind which anti-ageing creams work and which don’t.
Matrixyl could double the amount of collagen produced by the skin, giving you a fresh-faced look
Matrixyl was first patented in 2000 by Sederma, a French company that is the world leader in developing anti-ageing ingredients.
The first scientific paper showing that Matrixyl stimulated collagen production and improved the texture of sun-damaged skin was produced in 2005 by scientists working for Procter & Gamble.
They performed a three-month trial involving 93 women aged 35 to 55, who were asked to put a moisturizer containing Matrixyl on one half of their face and the same moisturizer without Matrixyl on the other half.
The scientists then reported a “significant improvement and reduction in fine lines and wrinkles” in the skin that had been treated with Matrixyl.
Olga Gracioso, of Sederma, says: “We know Matrixyl is effective, but manufacturers want consumers to believe efficacy is coming from something else – an ingredient that is unique to their product.
“That’s why they are constantly coming up with new formulations and prefer not to highlight that they still contain Matrixyl.”
In other words, cosmetic companies would rather shout about how their products contain another new ingredient than hail one that several companies use, even if that’s the one that actually makes all the difference.
Companies are constantly trying to come up with different fragrances, textures, serums and oils. Matrixyl has been included in these for years, but because so many cosmetic products already used it, no one tried to focus on it as a selling point.
A new research reveals your long-lasting bright lipstick could contain a host of chemicals that may seriously harm your health.
Concerns are growing about links to muscle problems, hormone disruption and poisoning by heavy metals, as well as raised risks of allergies and even a form of arthritis.
Among the substances sparking alarm are chemicals such as parabens, methacrylate, lead and cadmium.
The latest to hit the headlines is a substance called triclosan, which is used as a preservative in popular lipsticks. Research out last week linked triclosan to muscle and heart problems. The chemical has also sparked fears that it causes bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics and turn into superbugs.
Johnson & Johnson, the producer of Listerine mouthwash and Neutrogena soap, has pledged to remove triclosan – along with a host of other worrying chemicals – from all of its skincare products.
The latest research on triclosan suggests that it may hinder the process by which muscles – including the heart – receive signals from the brain.
Molecular bioscientist Professor Isaac Pessah found a “dramatic” 25% reduction in heart function within 20 minutes of laboratory mice being exposed to triclosan. He warned that there is “strong evidence” that it could affect human health. His study also found that triclosan can seriously reduce muscle power.
Previous studies have found that triclosan may have links to thyroid and fertility problems. It may increase women’s levels of male hormones – androgens – causing symptoms such as acne, weight gain, excessive hair growth, menstrual dysfunction, and infertility.
The chemical is under investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over fears that it damages people’s health. The European Commission says it is legal for humans, but its use remains “under evaluation”.
A new research reveals your long-lasting bright lipstick could contain a host of chemicals that may seriously harm your health
The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) in UK has dismissed the latest research as irrelevant because it only involved tests on mice rather than humans. The association adds that the amounts of triclosan used in the experiments exceeded the maximum permitted levels in cosmetics.
It stresses that all cosmetic products sold in the UK are controlled by European safety legislation, adding: “There are many false allegations levelled against cosmetics manufacturers, accusing them of selling unsafe products and using harmful ingredients. These allegations are just that, false.”
However, mounting concerns over the effects of such “safety-approved” chemicals last week moved the skincare giant Johnson & Johnson to announce that it will go far beyond the current requirements of European and American regulators.
It has pledged to remove a host of potentially harmful chemicals from its products, including triclosan and parabens – a type of preservative commonly found in lipstick.
There are concerns that parabens may act like the female hormone oestrogen and interfere with women’s menstrual cycles. Research by Dr. Philippa Darbre, an oncologist at the University of Reading, has even linked parabens to an increased risk of breast cancer.
Investigators have also found other worrying chemicals in some lipsticks. A report in the Journal of Hazardous Materials in 2010, for example, examined the ingredients of a broad range of lipsticks, and discovered that they often contain significant amounts of heavy metals – namely cadmium and chromium.
These are linked to problems such as dermatitis (skin inflammation) and possible kidney damage in the long term.
“Their extraction from the human body takes over 40 years,” the study warned.
Similar studies have found lipsticks containing methacrylate, a form of adhesive, which can irritate the skin.
Some research even links lipstick use with the development of a chronic and severe arthritis- a type of auto immune disease called systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). The condition makes sufferers produce antibodies that attack healthy tissue, and this leads to inflammation and damage. Lupus can affect the skin, joints and internal organs, including the kidneys.
In 2008, investigators at Tufts Medical Centre in Boston examined the results of previous research studies into this, and concluded that “using lipstick at least three days a week is significantly associated with an increased risk of SLE”.
Women who started wearing lipstick before the age of 16 have significantly higher risk levels, as do women who wear it seven days a week. The researchers suggested that the lupus may be set off by chemicals and heavy metals in lipstick being absorbed by the sensitive tissues that line the cheeks and the back of the lips, called the buccal mucosa.
Perhaps the best-known worry about lipsticks concerns lead poisoning which builds up over time in the body and can cause brain and nerve damage.
Manufacturers don’t actually add lead to lipstick: it’s naturally present in the minerals they use for bright pigments.
Lead levels in lipsticks have been studied by the American safety watchdog, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In its most recent test last year, the FDA found that most of the 400 lipsticks studied contained lead and, worryingly, that the maximum level detected had more than doubled between 2009 and 2011.
Nine of the lipstick brands with the most lead are sold by L’Oreal, the world’s largest cosmetics maker. L’Oreal’s “Color Sensational” Pink Petal had the most lead of any lipstick tested, at 7.19 parts per million. The average lead concentration in the 400 lipsticks tested was 1.11 parts per million.
In response, L’Oreal said: “The lead levels detected by the FDA in the study are also within the limits ¬recommended by global public health authorities for -cosmetics, including lipstick.”
Campaigners fear that toxic substances in lipstick are easily absorbed into the bloodstream through the lips and mouth, and that women repeat their lipstick applications multiple times a day.
It has been estimated that the average woman could swallow between 500 g and 1,500 g of lipstick in her lifetime if she were a modest but regular user.
Lead consumption may be particularly dangerous at certain points in a woman’s life. As the official journal of The International Society of Regulatory Toxicology & Pharmacology points out, “pregnant and nursing mothers are particularly vulnerable to lead in lipsticks, because the metal passes through placenta and human milk and can affect the foetus or infant’s development”.
All these worries prompt Pat Thomas, a UK expert and author on cosmetic safety, to urge women to moderate both their use of lipstick and the brightness of the colors they choose.
“The lists of permitted ingredients lag seriously behind research on safety,” Pat Thomas warns.
“This includes substances such as parabens and triclosan.”
She adds: “As for lead levels, it depends on the lipstick. More and more manufacturers are using mineral products for the pigments in their lipstick. These minerals are mined from the ground, and any mined product will contain lead, as well as other potential dangers such as arsenic and cadmium.”
Ironically, lead levels in some lipsticks have increased because of consumer demand for more “natural” cosmetics. Make-up made with natural ingredients might sound healthier for your skin – and often they are – but with intense modern lipstick shades, the opposite can be true, thanks to the high lead levels in some mined pigments.
“The proportions vary according to the color. All of them will have some level of lead. As a rule of thumb, you can almost guarantee that if it’s a really intense color that lasts for a long time, it will contain the highest levels of lead.”
Pat Thomas acknowledges that the levels of lead in even the brightest hues are comparatively low. But against that, she adds, we have to balance the unknown danger of smearing such substances around our mouths so regularly.
“If it is a concern for you, then go for glosses and sheer colors,” says Pat Thomas.