With the recent increase in popularity of naturally-derived and organic products, many people are becoming more concerned about certain ingredients thought to be irritating or even harmful. Should you avoid such controversial ingredients and stick to natural products, or are they really nothing to worry about? Much of the confusion comes from the fact that the FDA doesn’t approve personal care products, nor is the term “natural” regulated.
Most estheticians advise their clients to make note of any products that cause reactions and avoid them in the future. But if you’re inclined to do a little sleuthing and discover which ingredient caused your reaction, or if you haven’t had any reactions and just want to be an informed consumer, it’s helpful to know what to look for. The following five ingredients are commonly used in skin and hair care products, and have been flagged by some as potentially irritating or even harmful.
Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate (DLS)
DLS is a chemical salt, which when used in shampoos or cleansers lets the products spread out and penetrate more easily; essentially, it increases foaming action. Manufacturers have taught us to expect shampoos and cleansers to foam to believe that they’re being effective. Of course you should avoid DLS if you believe you are sensitive to it, but some studies have shown that it can produce harmful byproducts such as 1,4 Dioxane and Ethylene Oxide, two chemicals linked to cancer.
TEA is a chemical compound derived from Ammonia. It acts as a cleansing agent and foam booster, and prevents separation. It is most commonly used in facial moisturizers, cleansers and shaving creams. It can be a skin and mucous membrane irritant, but it has been linked to certain cancers, especially when contaminated with nitrosamines.
Parabens – Butyl-, Ethyl-, Methyl- and Propylparabens
Parabens are chemical preservatives used in up to 90% of cosmetics and personal care products, and are currently a hotly debated topic. As preservatives, they keep your products from spoiling; however, some studies have suggested that parabens may act like estrogen in the body. Estrogen has been linked to breast cancer and hormone disruptions, but the studies are far from conclusive and it is clear that much more research is necessary.
Propylene Glycol is a thick, clear alcohol that is used to thin liquids and enhance the skin’s absorption of other ingredients in products. It is also suspected to be a hormone disrupter, although studies are inconclusive. The main thing to be aware of is that because it helps other substances absorb into the skin, it can cause issues if the product contains irritants.
Polyethylene Glycol or Polyethylene (PEGs) Polyethylene Glycol and Polyethylene are both chemicals derived from Petroleum, and are used as thickening agents or to keep products from separating. Studies have shown that PEGs can be contaminated with 1,4 Dioxane during the manufacturing process, or more commonly, can cause hives or eczema.
More research is needed before we’ll have conclusive evidence that any of these ingredients are harmful. If you suspect one of them is causing irritation, you might see if it shows up in more than one of your products. Or, if you’d like to avoid potential irritants all together, you can experiment with Natural Products to see what works for you.