The chemicals in beauty and household products are never far from sight.  However, looking into a washing machine, kitchen sink, or bathroom mirror as you cleanse your face, can make you feel like your clothes, dishes, and your face are getting a makeover. Psychologically, we like to see something happening when we are trying to power through even most mundane household chores. Who hasn’t secretly enjoyed the gratification of blitzing the kitchen, leaving it germ-free and the floor clean enough to eat off? Or, the moment of satisfaction looking at freshly folded laundry, smelling like a field of lavender in Provenance.

As glorious as those fragrant bubbles might look, all those suds don’t necessarily equal cleaning power. The sad reality is, these products are hiding a plethora of chemicals, fragrances, and solvents likely to be playing havoc with your skin. Or, at worst, making it irritated and itchy.

What’s in your beauty and cleaning products that’s so bad?

The western world’s obsession with personal and household cleaning products exposes us to an extensive list of nasty skin irritants.   The worst offenders are your kitchen and laundry products.  In addition, there is little regulation of the chemicals that go into these products. Furthermore, there is virtually no requirement to list the ingredients on the label.

The cosmetic and beauty industry is only slightly more regulated, and are required to list ingredients on the label. However, there is a legal loophole that protects formulation secrets, which allows toxic ingredients to be included in a product.  These are hidden under a blanket heading of ‘fragrances’.  As a result, leaving many of us unaware that these toxins are in the products we buy.

The worst offenders and why you should care?

These are the top offenders. However, this is not an extensive list, by any means.

  1. SLES & SLS
  2. Parabens & PEGs
  3. Fragrances

1. SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulphate) and SLES (Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulphate)

Walk into any supermarket and pick up a range of beauty products (body washes, shampoos, conditioners, detergents, washing powders, toothpaste, and even face creams).   Then you look at the ingredients,  it might shock you.  For instance, you will find Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) or Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulphate (SLES) lurking among those listed on the label.

So what is it exactly? According to the Health Report website, ‘Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (a chemical that is also listed with over 150 different names) used as a powerful foaming agent. Furthermore, it started its career as an industrial degreasant and garage floor cleaner.  In addition, when applied to human skin, it has the effect of stripping off the oil layer on the skin.   At worst, with continued use it continues irritating and eroding the skin, leaving it rough and pitted.’

Above all, its use in the cosmetic and household cleaning products is extensive and mindboggling. You wouldn’t dream of soaking yourself in a bathtub of washing-up liquid, or washing powder, would you?  Stop to consider the difference, for a moment: person or a garage floor.  At the end of the day, it’s still an industrial foaming degreaser. Is this something that you really want on your skin?

Here is what EWG’s Skin Deep Database1 have to say about SLS and SLES:

  • The Environment Canada Domestic Substance List, under Organ System Toxicity (Non-Reproductive), classifies SLS as expected to be toxic or harmful, and as a medium human health priority.
  • The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Assessment classifies SLS as a ‘Human Irritant’, with strong evidence of being an irritant to the skin, eyes or lungs.
  • The Environment Canada Domestic Substance List rates SLS for Eco Toxicology as a suspected environmental toxin.

Other studies worldwide looking into SLS and SLES confirm a range of heath concerns:

  • SLS and SLES’s can penetrate the skin, causing reproductive and developmental toxicity tissue damage that could result in chronic liver, brain, heart, lung damage, and may include cancer
  • They can cause eye damage, affect the immune system, and irritate the skin.
  • In toothpaste, they can cause damage to tissues in the mouth, ulcers in the mouth and gum disease
  • Shampoo containing SLS can cause dandruff and hair loss

2. Parabens & PEGS (Polyethylene Glycol)

Parabens – methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, benzylparaben, and butylparaben – are the most common preservatives in use today. They are the alkyl esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid, and were first used in the 1920s as antibacterial and antifungal agents. However, not long after they were being incorporated as preservatives for foods, drugs, and the cosmetics industry. There has been significant scrutiny of Parabens, questioning their role as skin allergens. Furthermore, b implicating them as potential endocrine disruptors. Most notably, the reproductive hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. In other words, the possible health risks could include chronic diseases, cancers, developmental disorders, and fertility problems as outlined in this study2.

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) is mostly used in face washes to dissolve the natural oils on your skin.  Above all, it meant to help remove make up, and to keep pimples at bay. However, this is the same caustic acid, which is used to dissolve baked-on fat in your oven.   Consider the difference: person or an oven. It’s still caustic acid.  Is this something that you really want on your face?  Furthermore, studies into PEG shows it is a recognised toxin that can cause immediate or delayed allergic eczema reaction in some people3.

In the same family as PEG is Propylene Glycol (PG) which is commonly used in cosmetics, deodorants, aftershave, and hair products as a solvent.  In addition, the antiseptic and preservative properties of PG make its use widespread.  However, it’s also the main ingredient in brake fluid and antifreeze.   Consider the difference: person or a radiator. Above all, it’s still an industrial coolant. Furthermore,  studies on PG reveal it to be more of an irritant than an allergen.  As a result, most skin reactions to the chemical tend to be due to its toxicity, rather than an allergic response4.

3. Fragrances

As reported by the EWG’s Skin Deep Database, the term fragrance may refer to a combination of several thousand chemicals (3163 to be precise).  In addition, many of those that are hazardous and hidden behind this innocent looking word.

Some of the worst offenders misrepresenting the term fragrance are household products such as detergents, washing powders, fabric softener, air fresheners, cleaners, and polishes. Product manufacturers are not required by law to list all the ingredients on the packaging. Similarly, many of which are derived from petrochemicals and contain synthetic fragrances, even when advertised as ‘fragrance-free’. Fragrant laundry products are designed to stay in clothes and not fully rinse out. However, this means these lingering chemicals come into contact with the skin and become potential irritants for those living with a variety of skin conditions.

Perfumes, colognes, and scents used in skincare and cosmetics also fall into a colossal loophole under the labelling law. Cosmetic companies are under no obligation to disclose the potentially hundreds of chemicals in their product formulas.  This is because they are protected by trade secret laws. So, the term ‘fragrance’ on the back of your cosmetic products could literally include a wide variety of nasty toxins and chemicals.

What can you do? Read the labels and banish toxins for good

We often forget that our skin the largest organ on the body. And, because our skin is porous, it absorbs everything we put on it. That means all the body creams, perfumes, deodorants, shampoos, conditioners, and even our nail polishes, and any toxic chemicals in these products wind up in our system.

You certainly wouldn’t think about eating or drinking these products.  However, when you slather them on your skin that is essentially what you are doing.

Many companies do make all natural products that work just as well or better. Do yourself a favor, the next time you go to buy your favorite beauty product, look at the label. If you are going to put it on your skin, know that it is going to end up in your body.  As a result, if you don’t feel comfortable with what is in it put it down.

Manuka Biotic: Natural Skincare for the Whole Family.

Our commitment to creating an all-natural skincare range stems from a 25 year old family tradition of sustainable, chemical-free farming, and a passion for producing the world’s only certified organic Manuka oil.

Manuka Biotic products are proudly free from SLE, SLES, Parabens, PEGS, PABA, EDTA, Petrochemicals, Mineral Oils, Phenoxyethanol, Propylene Glycol, Phthalates, with no artificial fragrances, and colourings, free from animal testing or animal derivatives, and our product packaging is environmentally friendly and able to be recycled.

You can be confident that Manuka Biotic contains ingredients designed to promote healthy skin, while also being safe for the whole family.

While our products are free from toxins and irritants, we recommend new customers try our creams on a small area of skin to ensure it suits their skin before introducing it to their daily skincare regime as it is possible for you to be allergic to a particular ingredient even if it is natural.

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  1. EWG Skin Deep® Cosmetic Database, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
  2. International Journal of Toxicology, “Final amended report on the safety assessment of Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Isopropylparaben, Butylparaben, Isobutylparaben, and Benzylparaben as used in cosmetic products.” 2008;27 Suppl 4:1-82. doi: 10.1080/10915810802548359
  3. Fisher AA, “Skin reactions to propylene glycol”, Contact Dermatitis. 1975;1(2):112-6
  4. Fisher AA, “Immediate and delayed allergic contact reactions to polyethylene glycol”, Contact Dermatitis, 1978; 4:135-8
  5. EWG Skin Deep® Cosmetic Database, Ingredients hide behind word fragrance