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There has been a lot of discussion over the years about the use of chemicals in skincare products such as shampoos, face wash, sunscreen and soap. Obviously everything we use contains chemicals, water itself is a chemical; but the truth is that not all chemicals are created equal when it comes to protecting and preserving our skin. So the question becomes, what should we use and what should we avoid? Since the products we use on the hair or skin go directly into the bloodstream, the results can be dangerous. Hormonal imbalance, cancer, various skin irritations, acne and even eye damage can occur. Thus, we need to ensure that we use organic skincare and hair care products that are as close to nature as possible by avoiding certain harsh chemicals. Below is a breakdown of some of the more obvious ones to avoid. The information is by no means comprehensive, but is instead intended to point you in the right direction, and give you a head start in selecting products wisely.

Parabens (Isobutylparaben, Butylparaben, Methylparaben, and Propylparaben): These are commonly found in make-up, moisturisers, haircare and shaving products. Several studies have concluded that parabens mimic estrogen, and have therefore been linked to properties in breast cancer tumors, skin cancer and disruption of the endocrine system, but have not proved conclusively that they are harmful since the current levels pf paraben present in products are deemed safe by the FDA.

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS): Found in body wash, face cleansers, shampoo, soap, toothpaste and shaving cream, SLS is used to create bubble and foam in products. It is believed to be a main cause of acne, and can also cause eye and skin irritation, canker sores and allergic reactions. It can disrupt the skin’s natural oil balance resulting in dryness.

Coal Tar (Aminophenol, Diaminobenzene, Phenylenediamine ): Found in makeup products, hair dye and shampoo, coal tar is a by-product of coal processing and is therefore a petroleum product. It is linked to pigmented cosmetic dermatitis. It is also a recognised human carcinogen, and the use of many of its ingredients in hair dyes has been banned in Europe.

Fragrance: Found in lotions, moisturisers, deodorant, face cream, shampoo and conditioner. Fragrances, also known as parfum, are among the top 5 causes of allergies in the world. They are used most obviously in perfumes, colognes and deodorants, but can actually be found in most personal care products; many persons choose their products based on scent. There are over 3000 chemicals used as fragrances, and side-effects include headaches, dizziness, skin irritation and lung problems.

Petrolatum: Petroleum jelly is a mineral oil jelly used as a barrier to lock in moisture in the skin in some moisturisers. It is also used in hair care products to add shine to the hair. Produced in oil refineries alongside automobile fuel and heating oil, petrolatum is found to be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which can cause cancer. It is also associated with allergies and skin irritation, and may restrict the movement of nutrients and prevent the removal of waste through the skin by blocking the pores.

Diethanolamine (DEA)DEA and DEA compounds are used to produce a creamy or sudsy effect in personal care products such as moisturisers, sunscreens, shampoos and soaps. DEA is also used to counteract the acidity of other chemicals in cosmetic products.

Glucocorticoids: These are among the main ingredients used in the preparation of skin bleaching products. These products may cause or aggravate various skin diseases due to the presence of glucocorticoids.

Hydroquinone: These are used in skin lighteners, and according to the United States FDA, can cause a disease known as ochronosis which causes “disfiguring and irreversible” blue-black lesions on exposed areas of the skin. Some skin lighteners are illegally imported, and these are especially dangerous as they may contain mercury, which is poisonous to adults and children, and is especially toxic to pregnant women. These are by no means the only harmful chemicals in your beauty products, and others will be discussed soon. In the meantime, it pays to be vigilant in purchasing skincare products, and be reminded that not everything labelled ‘organic’ is actually safe. Sometimes manufacturers are able to play by the rules by using the required amount of organic ingredients, while the remaining amount allowed for additives may contain harsh or dangerous chemicals. Terms such as ‘derived from…’ are also used to give false impressions that the ingredients are genuine. So it is important to conduct your own research to ensure that the organic skincare products you are using are healthy for your skin and good for your body.

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