Top Five Ingredients To Avoid In Skincare Products

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Picture this; You're in the store, browsing the shelves and attempting to make the right skincare choices while simultaneously trying to not look like an 'ingredient panel super-geek'!
In the current landscape of 'greenwash-geddon', how can we quickly identify whether a skincare product is natural, gentle, sustainable and good value for money? As opposed to potentially harmful to your skin, the environment, your health and most importantly, over-priced?
Here are the top five ingredients you should be mindful of, when making skincare purchasing decisions. 
Water (Aqua)
It sounds innocuous; but the essence of moisture, often the most plentiful ingredient found in skincare products, is something to keep and eye out for. It's unlikely you see this listed as 'water' as it's in fact more likely to be written as 'aqua'; The international cosmetic terminology for the same thing. 
Water is usually the first and therefore the most abundant ingredient in cosmetics and it's also the ideal environment for nasty microbes such as bacteria and fungi to breed and multiply, guaranteeing to shorten the useable lifetime of the product. 
To prevent that from happening and subsequently protect corporate bank balances, products abundant in water (aqua) are sure to be loaded with plenty of heavy-duty preservatives. Which brings us to our next contender.
And what of preservatives? Several of the most commonly used cosmetic preservatives are well worth avoiding. The parabens group of preservatives have been around since the 1950s and are excellent at preventing the growth of microbes. 
Some years ago, they were thrown into focus as emerging evidence suggested they were disruptors of the endocrine system, with the ability to mimic hormones such as oestrogen. For that same reason, many people including those who have sustained hormone receptive positive breast cancer, avoid the parabens group of chemicals altogether. 
Another popular skincare preservative called Triclosan is particularly effective at suppressing bacterial growth. Again, recent studies have revealed many risks associated with its use, presenting evidence of adverse effects on both thyroid function and an increased prevalence of skin cancers in animal tests. 
Parallel studies have shown that triclosan is a potential allergen, causing allergic skin reactions and dermatitis, particularly in young people. 
Detergents and Sulphates 
So if your skincare is mostly water, why does it appear to have a white, creamy texture? There are many ways to make this transformation with the detergents being top of the list. 
Detergents like SLS or SLES will disperse even the tiniest amount of luxurious, moisturising butters or oils into water, changing its appearance from a clear liquid into a creamy, white, water-based substance. 
Those same detergents will have the same effect on the skin, dispersing the natural oils and causing dryness, soreness and exacerbating skin conditions such as eczema and rosacea. 
As awareness of the adverse effects of SLS and SLES has increased, detergents have begun to take on new disguises, calling themselves names like isethionate, in an attempt to throw consumers off the scent. 
Synthetic Fragrances
So the million dollar question; How do we turn a bottle of water imbued with that heady combination of detergents and preservatives, into something seemingly luxurious for which people are willing to pay a premium for? 
Simply add in a tempting fragrance. Synthetic fragrances travel under the umbrella term 'parfum', the formulations for which are closely guarded secrets. 
Opting for skincare products with 'parfum' on the label is synonymous with choosing products for whose ingredients you have no clue. 
Essential oils on the other hand, distilled from natural derivatives such as fruits, flowers or plants, will be listed using their botanical Latin name on the label, frequently with their English translations alongside in brackets. 
The Synthetic Skincare Fashion Icons
Finally there are the plethora or 'latest miracle ingredients' which come in and out of fashion like flared jeans, falling firmly under the 'science-washing' banner. Let's take a look at the rise and fall of just a few. 
Plastic micro-beads, designed to exfoliate and unclog pores, were all the rage until awareness of the build up of these particles in our environment became elevated. Moreover in 2022, research detected plastic particles circulating in human bloodstreams, further damning the use of these compounds in products. 
Hydroquinone was a standby to promote even skin tone, until a study in 2023 observed carcinogenic reactions in mammals and the ingredient was subsequently banned. 
Popular for many years, SPFs frequently appear in a range of skincare products despite some of the earliest listed active ingredients such as oxybenzone being now classified as hazardous for the skin. 
Retinol compounds have been found to break down under UV light and produce toxic free radicals. The long-term benefits of the ever-popular anti-wrinkle-skin-plumping favourite, hyaluronic acid have also been called into question. 
Chemists suggest that following long term use of the ingredient, it's water-absorbing super powers deprive the lower layers of the skin of moisture, as water us attracted to the surface from where it evaporates. 
Few of the synthetic skincare miracle-workers stand the best of time and interestingly, the most searched skincare ingredient is simple, luxurious and natural coconut oil. 
When it comes to making skincare purchasing decisions, we all have a choice. A choice about whether we spend our money on perfumed water, bearing but a smidgen of oil, laden with preservatives and dispersed with detergent. 
Few of us have the luxury standing around reading labels in detail to determine a products providence, health impacts and safety of ingredients.  
Hopefully the above five tips will aid consumers in quickly evaluating products to make conscious decisions about how to invest in their skincare and wellbeing.

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