Think about the last time you hit Sephora – we bet you didn’t stop to think about whether that toner or moisturiser could actually be harmful for your body. In the recent years, with so much emphasis placed on clean beauty and organic skincare (even the Koreans are switching over), it was only going to be a matter time we started looking into the safety of the ingredients.
Considering that much of what we place on our skin is absorbed into our bloodstream (think nicotine and birth control patches), it makes sense that we should know what we’re actually applying on our faces, and the ingredients we need to be avoiding.
Penetration vs absorption
Before we get into it though, you should first know the difference between penetration and absorption when it comes to applying stuff on your face. The former is when a chemical only reaches the deeper layers of our skin, while the latter actually makes it into the bloodstream. Our skin is made up of many layers – epidermis, dermis, hair follicles, sweat glands and hypodermis – and the chemicals found in our products reaches varying layers depending on their composition and molecular size.
For example, oils and oil-based products can penetrate the first layer, but not especially deeply, as the epidermis contains a lot of water and oils and water simply don’t mix. This is why many skincare products contain a blend of oil and water (an emulsion), allowing them to be more effective. Water-based products like toners or shampoos are unlikely to be absorbed by the skin, as the epidermis is unable to absorb water.
In short, if your products are mostly oil or water-based, you can use them without stressing too much.
Not all chemicals are created equal
So what about those chemicals that can penetrate deeper than oils? Well, the truth is, the skin is made up of so many layers (acting like a filter, in a sense) that very few chemicals actually make it into the bloodstream. Apart from the different layers, our skin also contains various enzymes that break down foreign substances, ensuring that nothing too toxic gets past it. Furthermore, some products like sunscreens or skincare that contain antioxidants are actually designed to remain on the surface of your skin (so no excuses about skipping sunblock now), so slather away.
Ingredients to avoid
That being said, our bodies can only protect us so much, and we as consumers should be doing our due diligences and ensuring that what we’re applying is, at the end of the day, as safe for us as possible. We can’t be perfect, but the next time you are shopping, read the labels and stay away from any product that contains:
- Sodium lauryl/Laureth sulphate, Ammonium laureth sulphate
- Heavy metals
- Artificial fragrances
- Diethanolamine (DEA), Triethanolamine (TEA), Monoethanolamine (MEA)
- Diazolidinyl Urea, Imidazolidinyl Urea
- Propylene Glycol and PEG’s
- PVP/VA Copolymer
When to avoid them
So what if your HG product contains 1 or 2 of these ingredients? Unless you are absolutely unable to swap it out for something else, the amount of time the product comes into contact with your skin matters too. You can relax your standards if the products in question don’t stay on your skin too long, like makeup or hand soap. Products that do stay on longer, on the other hand, are where you should pay more attention. Think skincare, body powder, face wipes, bath bombs or shampoo and conditioners (it comes into contact with your entire body when you wash it off).
The general rule of thumb…
Ok, now that we’ve probably confused the heck out of you, we don’t want you to get too stressed each time you go shopping either, because where is the fun in that? The truth is, it is going to be almost next-to-impossible to avoid everything bad for our bodies, and even if we do come into contact with something that isn’t wholesome once in a while, it is ok because our bodies are a lot better at protecting itself and purging out the nasties than we think.
Think about all the pollution we inhale, and the not-so-healthy food we unknowingly eat – we’re still alive and kicking, right? The next time you are out shopping for a new beauty product, try to shop from a brand that is known for using wholesome, natural ingredients and whenever in doubt, Google the ingredients list. Or, you can even download the app called Think Dirty. After typing in your product name or scanning the barcode, the app searching through its massive database of products and shows you the ingredients list, providing a rating (from neutral to dirty) on carcinogenicity, reproductive toxicity (perfect for pregnant women) and allergies.
Watch out for the second part of this 2-part article to find out more about why your skin deserves the best ingredients (just like your body does), plus our product recommendations.