SKINCARE TIP :: Avoid Fragrances and Harmful Chemicals

Nadia Lam


A lot of fragrances and other chemicals can be irritants to the skin. Skincare products may be contributing to our sensitive skin and we may not realize it.  There are chemicals that are helpful to us and chemicals that are downright dangerous.  Below is a list of just a few of the worst offenders.



Benzene is known to be a carcinogen. Harmful amounts may be absorbed through the skin; it is irritating to the mucous membranes and poisonous when ingested. Because it is usually a trace element, it will not show up on the list of ingredients of cosmetics.

Colours and dyes (FD & C, or D & C)

Artificial colours are made from petroleum and coal tar, and are believed to be cancer causing agents. They penetrate the skin, can cause allergies and are irritants to the skin and eyes. They are found on labels as FD&C, or D&C and are followed by a colour and a number

DEA (diethanolamine)

This is a synthetic solvent, detergent and humectants widely used in brake fluid, industrial degreasers and antifreeze. It is mostly used in liquid soap, shampoo and conditioner. It can be harmful for the liver, kidneys and pancreas. It may cause cancer in various organs. Irritates skin, eyes, and mucous membranes and is a health risk especially to infants and young children.


Due to its bad reputation, it is sometimes hidden under the name DMDM hydantoin or MDM hydantoin. The trade name is Formalin. A common ingredient in shampoos, it is a disinfectant, germicide and fungicide and is used as a preservative in shampoos. There is a suspected link to some cancers and it also causes a breakdown of DNA in the skin. Unfortunately, due to the fact that formaldehyde is often used as a preservative in surfactants (washing substance), it is not often listed as an ingredient.

Parabens (methyl, ethyl, propyl and benzyl)

Cheap preservatives used in beauty-care products that make it possible for them to survive the long trip from China, sit on store or warehouse shelves for years or be exposed to extreme temperatures. When parabens are applied as a cream, the chemicals appear in the blood within hours. Parabens have been shown to mimic oestrogen, disrupting our bodies’ endocrine (hormone) system and have been found in human breast tumours possibly linking them to breast cancer.  Where possible use glass containers for your personal beauty products.

Propyl Alcohol (also known as isopropyl alcohol and rubbing alcohol)

Unfortunately propyl alcohol is not on the list of ingredients as it is used as an antiseptic in the bottling procedure, so theoretically it is not an ingredient. Traces can be found though in most cosmetics, creams, shampoos etc. Possible effects of propyl alcohol include mental depression, headaches and even cancer. The fatal ingested dose is 1 fluid ounce.


Phthalates are industrial chemicals that make plastics soft. They are found in over 70 percent of beauty products and are absorbed through the skin. They have been found to cause birth defects, infertility and other illnesses. If you use plastics, try to transfer the contents to glass containers when possible

Propylene Glycol (common name Antifreeze)

Propylene glycol is the main ingredient in anti-freeze, brake and hydraulic fluid. Propylene glycol, the most widely used cosmetic ingredient is found in moisturisers, baby lotions, makeup, shampoos and hair conditioners. Material safety data sheets on propylene glycol warn users to avoid skin contact as it is systemic and can cause liver abnormalities and kidney damage. Note: it is widely used in baby wipes.

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and Sodium Laureth Sulphate

Up to 50% of most shampoos are made up of these ingredients. Originally invented to clean garage floors, SLS has been linked to cataracts and cancer. SLS can actually damage the outer layer of the skin, causing dryness, scaliness, and loss of flexibility. SLS denatures protein and can change genetic material found in cells (mutagenic).

Synthetic Perfumes

Fragrance is used extensively in skin and hair care products and is often the leading cause of allergies and skin problems. Complaints to the FDA concerning perfumes include headaches, dizziness, violent coughing, vomiting and skin irritations and rashes.

Alkyl-phenol ethoxylades

This ingredient is used in the production of shampoo making. Its chemicals mimic oestrogen causing havoc with lowered sperm counts. It has also been linked to breast cancer from the high levels of oestrogen. I could write a whole book about dangerous chemicals, but this gives you some idea about what people are using in the commercial market place for beauty products.


This is a wax like substance produced in the intestine of the sperm whale. There is no danger to the whale, but, it is an animal product.


Used for eye gels. The gelatin is obtained from the bone cartilage of animals.


Lanolin, a purified wax extracted from sheep’s wool, easily becomes rancid. It does not penetrate the skin making it useless to use as a carrier for essential oils.

Mineral Oil

Mineral oil is a petroleum by-product. Although it has a long shelf life, which makes it useful as a commercial item, it does not penetrate the skin making it useless for natural skin care.

Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum jelly, a mineral fat, does not penetrate the skin.  It is also a derivative of crude oil which is from gasoline.


This is used in skin lightening creams. The FDA proposed a ban in 2006 as it is thought to be carcinogenic and it causes a condition of the skin, where after regular use, causes a thickening and darkening of the skin.

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