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Ingredients You Should Look Out For When Buying Natural Beauty Products

By GMB Dr. Sandy Krafchik


A typical cosmetic/beauty product contains between 15–50 ingredients. Researchers have estimated that, when combined with perfumes, women apply approximately 515 chemicals onto their skin each day! These chemicals enter the body via numerous routes: swallowing/inhalation/absorption through the mucous membrane of the eyes, mouth or nose/dermal absorption (via the skin). In fact, the skin absorbs approximately 60% of the chemical ingredients in cosmetics. Once absorbed, the chemicals are distributed to the body’s organs within seconds. There are almost 13,000 chemicals used in cosmetics, but only 10 percent of these have been tested for safety!


When you use e.g. body lotion, deodorant, shampoo or nail polish, you may be applying harmful chemicals to your body, even if the product claims to be non toxic and safe. Therefore, always read the product label! Fortunately, today there are many natural (non toxic) beauty products available on the market.


The skin is the body's largest organ and it serves as a protective barrier against the environment. However, it is porous and allows some substances in and others out e.g. out through the sweat glands. Chemicals applied to the skin are absorbed into the skin and then distributed via the bloodstream into the body’s organs. Exposure to chemicals can therefore cause


  • Localised skin reactions such as drying, irritation, changes in skin colour etc.

  • Systemic health problems affecting either a specific organ (liver, kidney, or bladder) or an entire body system (immune system, nervous system, respiratory system, or reproductive system).


Most cosmetics contain a combination of the following ingredients: water, emulsifier, preservative, thickener, emollient, colour, fragrance and pH stabilisers.


The following 2 natural face masks from Skinfood NZ are some of our favourites at GMB. They contain none of the harmful ingredients listed below and are made up of only natural ingredients which have numerous beneficial effects on the skin.


1) Skinfood NZ Kiwifruit & Tangerine Repairing Sheet Mask

This repairing mask contains New Zealand Kiwifruit extract & Tangerine oil which combine to help restore & protect the skin, as well as Vitamin C brightens the skin.

Benefits of kiwi fruit on skin

  • Rejuvenates

  • Cell Regeneration

  • Firming

  • Prevents Skin Diseases

  • Controls Excess Sebum Production

  • Anti-Aging

  • Fights Acne

  • Prevents Sun Damage

  • Lightens Dark Circles


Tangerine oil has antifungal and antiseptic properties. It counteracts acne and skin impurities.


2) Skinfood NZ Pomegranate & Peach Rejuvenating Sheet Mask

  • This concentrated mix of pomegranate & peach, with collagen nourishes and replenishes the skin.

  • Pomegranate is rich in antioxidants which promotes collagen production in the skin. It is also rich in fatty acids which help to reduce inflammation and protect & restore damaged skin.

  • Peach extract is rich in healthy vitamins, minerals & essential fatty acids to support skin health.

  • Collagen adds structure to the skin, giving it elasticity & plumpness. As we age natural collagen production can decline but adding collagen into our skin's diet helps skin to remain smooth, plump & reduce the appearance of fine lines.


Ingredients to look out for when buying cosmetic products

The first 12 ingredients listed are referred to as the “Dirty Dozen” and are the most common ingredients to avoid in cosmetic products.



This is a preservative that prevents the growth of bacteria and mould. Parabens mimics oestrogen and disrupts the endocrine system. It has been linked to fertility problems and breast cancer. Parabens can cause skin irritation, contact dermatitis and Rosacea. Studies indicate that methylparaben applied on the skin reacts with UVB leading to increased skin ageing and DNA damage.


Found in most personal care products.

PHTHALATES (dibutyl, diethyl, dimethyl)

Phythalates are endocrine disruptors and shudies have shown that they are linked to breast cancer, reproductive birth defects and damage of the kidneys, lungs, and liver.


Found in most nail polishes, perfumes, lotions, and hairsprays.


Triclosan is used as an antimicrobial chemical. Studies have shown that it is an endocrine disruptor, skin irritant and contributes to antibiotic resistant bacteria.


Found in hand sanitisers, antibacterial soaps, toothpastes, deodorants and cosmetics.


These foaming agents are used to break down water in grease. SLS/SLES are skin irritants and are rapidly absorbed and retained in the eyes, brain, heart, lungs and liver, which can cause harmful long-term effects. These chemicals can slow healing, cause cataracts in adults, corrode hair follicles and impair hair growth.


Found in more than 90% of personal care and cleaning products e.g. shampoos, mascara, acne treatment, body wash, face wash, hand soap, toothpaste, bubble bath and household cleaning products.


These petrochemical pollutants are derived from crude oil and are found in many cosmetic products. They seal off the skin creating a barrier which feels smooth but doesn’t allow the skin to breathe, which is essential for the optimal functioning of the skin. This eventually slows down the skin’s function and normal cell development, resulting in premature ageing and many other health and skin disorders such as contact dermatitis.


Found in baby oil, lip balm, lip stick, lip gloss, mascara, moisturisers, concealer, foundation, face powder, hair gel, body wash, eye shadow, paraffin treatments, petroleum jelly, and hair conditioner.


It permeates through inhalation and can also cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, reproductive and developmental toxicity, asthma, neurologic and behavioural toxicity, immunological toxicity and skin reactions. It has been banned for use in cosmetics in Sweden and Japan.


Recognized by the EPA as a carcinogen, it’s linked to lung cancers, Hodgkin lymphoma, leukaemia, and myeloid leukaemia.


It is listed under various ingredients: quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol), glyoxal and oxaldehyde.


Found in most nail polishes, body washes, conditioners, shampoos, cleansers and eyeshadows.


It is used to produce synthetic colours and acts as an anti-dandruff agent. Coal tar ingredients are known carcinogens and may be contaminated with heavy metals which are toxic to the brain. These dyes can cause skin sensitivity and/or irritation.


Found in hair dye, shampoo and as colourant in cosmetics.

BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene)

BHA and BHT are synthetic antioxidants used as a preservative to extend the shelf life of cosmetic products. They disrupt hormones, cause liver, thyroid and kidney problems and are likely carcinogens.


Found in Commonly found in lipsticks, moisturisers, nappy creams and other cosmetics.


Propylene glycol is a small organic alcohol compound that is used as a skin conditioning agent. It is classified as a skin irritant and can cause urticaria and dermatitis. It is used in anti-freeze solutions, in brake and hydraulic fluids, as a de-icer, and as a solvent. There is no difference between the propylene glycol used in industry and that used in personal care products!


Found in makeup products, baby wipes, lotion, toothpaste, deodorant moisturisers, sunscreen, conditioners, shampoos and hairspray.


A skin lightening chemical that inhibits the production of melanin and is linked to cancer, organ toxicity and skin irritation.


Found in skin lightening creams.


Mercury is a metallic element used as a preservative and antiseptic. It is known to damage brain function.


Found in ear and eye drops, mascara


DEA, MEA and TEA are surfactants and pH adjusters that have been linked to kidney, liver and other organ damage. They can cause hormone disruption, irritation of the eyes/skin/respiratory tract, sore throat, asthma and allergic contact dermatitis and can impair foetal brain development.


Found in: most personal care products that foam: bubble baths, body washes, shampoos, soaps and facial cleansers.


They are also found in hair dyes, mascara, foundation, fragrances, sunscreens, dry cleaning solvents, paint.

TOLUENE (benzene, phenylmethane, methylbenzene)

These are volatile petrochemicals derived from petroleum or coal/tar sources. Studies have shown that the vapours can cause birth defects and should therefore always be avoided during pregnancy. It also toxic to the immune system.


Found in nail polish


Synthetic colours are used to make cosmetics “pretty,”. Synthetic colours should be avoided as many can be carcinogenic. These appear on the product label as FD & C or D & C preceding a colour and a number e.g. FD&C Red No. 6 / D&C Green No. 6.


Found in cosmetics

CHEMICAL SUNSCREENS (benzophenone, PABA, avobenzone, homosalte, exthoxycinnmate)

Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing UV light. They are endocrine disruptors which are easily absorbed into the body and can cause cellular damage and cancer.


Found in Sunscreen


PEG compounds are used in cosmetics as thickeners, solvents, softeners, and moisture-carriers. They may be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, which are both carcinogens. PEG’s can strip the natural oils of the skin leaving the immune system vulnerable. They are toxic to the respiratory system, and skin irritants.


Found in shampoo, body wash, bubble bath, foaming cleansers, creams, sunscreen.


This is a surfactant and disinfectant used as a preservative and associated with severe skin, eye and respiratory irritation and allergies.


Found in sunscreens, moisturisers.


Benzophenone is a possible human carcinogen and hormone disruptor which is used as a fragrance ingredient and to absorb ultraviolet light.


Found in personal care products, soap, nail polishes.


BPA is a hormone disruptor that may also alter DNA. It is used in plastics and resins.


Found in plastic bottles, lining of aluminium food cans, possibly in eyeshadow and styling gel.


Butyoxyethanol is a solvent used to control viscosity, or a “fragrance” additive. It irritates the skin and may cause cancer and reproductive toxicity.


Found in fragrance, hair colour.


Bismuth oxychloride is an irritant to about 80% of people causing skin irritation and sensitisation such as redness, itching, rashes and inflammation.


Found in mineral powder makeup.


Carmine is an insect-based (crushed beetles) ingredient. Companies use it for colour instead of other FD & C and Coal Tar derived ingredients which are considered toxic. Vegans and those with allergies or sensitivities to insects and/or their bites should steer clear of items containing carmine.


Found in cosmetics with reddish dyes and colourings.


These are known endocrine disrupters which can harm the reproductive and immune systems.


Found in skin care, foundation, tinted moisturiser.


These formaldehyde-forming preservatives can cause joint pain, allergies, depression, headaches, chest pain, chronic fatigue, dizziness, insomnia and asthma. They can also weaken the immune system and can cause cancer.


Found in skin, body and hair products, antiperspirants and nail polish.


EDTA is a binding agent that is added to cosmetics to improve stability. It may be toxic to organs.


Found in hair colour, moisturisers.


This is a fragrance ingredient and solvent that is an irritant and a possible neurotoxin, developmental toxin, and causes DNA mutations that may lead to cancer.


Found in anti-ageing creams.


These are chemical preservatives that are among the most common irritants, sensitisers and causes of contact skin allergies.


Found in shampoo, conditioner, body wash.


Oxybenzone is a sunscreen agent and ultraviolet light absorber linked to irritation, sensitisation and allergies, and possible hormone disruption.


Found in sunscreen, moisturisers, foundation and lipsticks with SPF.


This is petroleum derived and considered toxic.


Found in hairspray and cosmetics.


A colourant and fragrance ingredient that is a skin irritant, toxic to the immune system and organs, and suspected to cause hormone disruption.


Found in hair colour.


A nutrient that may damage DNA and speed the growth of skin tumours when used topically. Reports are very mixed on this.


Found in anti-ageing and blemish control skin care.


Its particles are like asbestos and data suggests that it can cause tumours in the lungs as probable respiratory toxin in large amounts.


Found in cosmetic powders, eyeshadow, blush, baby powder.


Toxin Free Tribe. 2018. Top 10 ingredients to avoid in beauty products | Toxin Free Tribe. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 14 November 2018].
DEPTHS OF BEAUTY. 2018. Why Go Natural — DEPTHS OF BEAUTY. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 14 November 2018].
Nova. 2018. The chemistry of cosmetics - Curious. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 20 November 2018].
STYLECRAZE. 2018. 36 Surprising Kiwi Fruit Benefits For Skin, Hair And Health. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 20 November 2018]. 2018. Tangerine Essential Oil Benefits and Uses . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 20 November 2018]. 2018. Dangerous Cosmetics Are Causing Major Harm to Skin . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 24 November 2018].
CDC - Skin Exposures and Effects - NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topic. 2018. CDC - Skin Exposures and Effects - NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topic. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 24 November 2018].
Natural Skin Products - Skinfood. 2018. Natural Skin Products - Skinfood. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25 November 2018].

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