Our skin is the largest organ in our body, and also, a very critical one, as it protects other vital organs, bones, nerves, muscles and ligaments.
The products that we apply onto our skin affect our health and overall well-being more than you probably realise.
The reason is because as much as 60% of what we apply on our skin gets absorbed into our body.
Many of the daily skincare products we use, like moisturisers, body wash, face wash and sunscreen, often contain ingredients that have now been linked to common health issues.
Allergies, hormonal disruption, eczema, cancer, and even reproductive problems, might be influenced in some way by your skincare.
However, it can be difficult to fully know what goes into the products that we use.
The list of ingredients on skincare labels is usually filled with mysterious terms that we are probably unfamiliar with.
So here’s a helpful (but not exhaustive) guide to some common toxic skincare ingredients.
Aluminium, combined with other elements, is found in almost every personal care product, especially deodorants.
Metal is toxic to the body, as it can have oestrogen-like effects in our system.
It also interrupts the healthy functioning of the endocrine system.
Look for terms like aluminium chlorohydrate, aluminium chloride, magnesium aluminium silicate, alumina and aluminium starch, among others.
Parabens is a bad word in skincare products nowadays, and for good reason.
They are a group of chemicals used as preservatives to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
Parabens can penetrate the skin and mimic oestrogen in the body, thus disrupting our delicate hormonal balance and potentially causing breast cancer, skin cancer and a decreased sperm count.
Check the ingredients list for terms like methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and ethylparaben.
Mineral oil sounds like it would be healthy for our skin, but it is actually a by-product of petroleum that coats the skin and clogs the pores.
This interferes with the skin’s ability to eliminate toxins, causing acne, rashes and itchiness.
Look for products that contain natural alternatives like almond oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil and jojoba oil instead.
This one might be a surprising item on this list.
It is a star ingredient for many anti-ageing products, credited for creating soft, youthful skin.
It works by sinking into the skin and speeding up the cell turnover cycle, which causes the body to develop a fresher layer of skin quicker, making your skin appear younger.
Unfortunately, new findings suggest that retinol is a highly reactive molecule that can lose potency as soon as it is exposed to sunlight or air.
Rather than keeping your skin youthful, retinol may actually make it age faster by making your skin more susceptible to the sun.
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) is a commonly used synthetic antioxidant found in foods, cosmetics and skincare products like exfoliants and perfumes.
It’s used to preserve the fats and oils in these products and extend their shelf life.
The US National Toxicology Program has found BHA to be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”.
In one study, when it was ingested by animals, BHA caused benign and malignant tumours, while another study found that BHA caused liver cancer in fish.
While BHA does not cause significant harm in small amounts, eating food and using skincare products that contain it on a daily basis causes you to be exposed to unsafe levels.
Triclosan is a synthetic antibacterial agent that may disrupt thyroid function.
It also degrades into a form of dioxin – chemicals linked to a broad range of toxicities, including cancer.
It’s found in soaps, mouthwash, shaving cream, deodorants and toothpastes, among other products.
Anything synthetic or artificial should always raise a red flag.
Although fragrances do make beauty products smell nice, manufacturers aren’t required to define what the fragrance is made up of.
That makes it difficult to determine how your skin will react when you’re not even sure what you’re applying on it.
Avoid cosmetic and skincare products, as well as many household products such as candles, air fresheners and scented trash bags, and choose products with high-quality fragrances, or even unscented ones instead.
These chemicals are used to increase the flexibility and strength of plastics and aren’t often listed among the ingredients on product labels.
Phthalates have been linked to health issues like asthma and infertility.
They are usually listed as phthalate, DEP, DBP, DEHP and fragrance.
This is used in various cosmetics to soften, smoothen and moisten.
Siloxanes are suspected to be an endocrine disrupter and a reproductive toxicant.
It is also harmful to aquatic creatures and other wildlife.
Look for ingredient terms ending in “-siloxane” or “-methicone”.
Another by-product of petroleum, these are gas hydrocarbons that act as a surfactant when in liquid state.
This ingredient is commonly used in cosmetics to create a thinner consistency in order to make them easier to apply.
They bust through skin cells very quickly and can weaken protein and cellular structure, causing skin irritation.
Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulphate (SLES) are the ingredients in face and body washes, shampoo, toothpastes and mouthwash that create foam and bubbles when used.
These compounds are derived from petroleum and plant sources like palm oil and coconut.
Although it gives you that squeaky clean feeling, it can strip away too much of your natural oils and irritate your skin.
Polyethylene glycol (PEGs) are tiny plastic beads found in face and body scrubs, and also in toothpaste.
They are supposedly gentler on the skin compared to natural exfoliators like rice.
But as it turns out, not only can PEGs cause skin irritation, but they are also often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane during processing, which is considered a potential human carcinogen and can cause liver and kidney damage.
Apart from that, PEGs are also bad for the environment, as they pollute our oceans and are consumed by fish that may end up on our dinner plates later on.
Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, and a functional medicine practitioner. For further information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.