ingredients that your beauty products should NOT include

If you were to look at your beauty closet right now, chances are you'd find at least a couple of ingredient-based skincare products. Think about it—you buy products based on hero ingredients sold to you by marketers, but have you ever stopped to think what should not be in your skincare? Alarmingly, the list is rather long. So, we decided to speak to the experts to put together a comprehensive list of the most common cosmetic ingredients that should set off warning bells the next time you’re reading your beauty labels. 


Alcohol in your cosmetics could refer to ethanol, methanol, denatured alcohol or ethyl alcohol and is generally found in products like perfumes, astringents, lotions, creams and serums. “When used in high concentrations, alcohol can cause excessive dryness, cause the skin to peel and also erode its structural integrity. It also stimulates oil production in the skin—a cause for concern for acne-prone skin,” explains Dr. Greeshma Nair of The Ayurvedic Company. Instead, look for ingredients like cetearyl alcohol and cetyl alcohol that are comparatively milder.


According to dermatologists, one of the most worrisome ingredients found in sunscreens is oxybenzone that is used as a chemical filter. When absorbed by the skin, it can cause allergies and hormonal disruptions. Dr. Yuti Nakhwa, dermatologist and founder, Elixir Skin and Hair Clinic particularly advises keeping pregnant women and children away from it. “It’s better to use a mineral or physical sunscreens—their formulations contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide that protect you by deflecting the sunlight.”


This is probably the most common culprit that you’ve heard of, even if you’re a beauty novice. Simply put, parabens are synthetic compounds that are used as preservatives to give your products a longer shelf life. Unfortunately, very few cosmetics are bereft of them—they’re found in everything from shampoos to shaving gels, creams to makeup and even your toothpaste. New research has found links between parabens and cancers, allergies, hormonal disruptions and fertility issues. According to Dr. Niketa Sonavane, dermatologist and founder, Ambrosia Aesthetics, while parabens used in cosmeceuticals are in extremely low concentrations, the cumulative absorption increases with continued exposure to multiple products over time. Some safer alternatives according to Dr. Nair include extracts of grapefruit seed, rosemary and neem, essential oils of thyme, oregano and tea tree, phenoxyethanol and potassium sorbate.


While you maybe familiar with formaldehyde, it may often go unnoticed on beauty labels as it’s also referred to as formalin, glyoxal and bronopol. This compound is commonly found in nail polish, eyelash glue, hair serums, foundations and mists. You’re also likely to have heard the name during a straightening job at the salon (as your eyes and throat, burned). Apart from causing inflammation in the eyes, nose and throat, it is also associated with wheezing, nausea and skin irritation. A powerful preservative, Dr. Nair points to its use in preserving human cadavers. Dr. Sonavane further labels it a known carcinogen and disruptor of hormones. Dr. Nair instead suggests looking for products containing honey, olive oil, coconut oil and castor oil.


What’s the fuss about talc, you think? Well, a lot if your talc contains asbestos. “Inhalation of asbestos is known to cause cancers in and around the lungs,” shares Dr. Nair. Talc is usually found in dusting powders as well as powder-based makeup like eyeshadows and blushes. Safer alternatives according to Dr. Nair include starch derived from corn, maize, arrowroot, tapioca, oats or baking soda.


Phthalates are generally used as binding agents, solvents and preservatives in products like hair sprays, perfumes, deodorants, shampoos, gels, and lotions. Dr. Nair puts this down as a dangerous chemical as it’s linked with respiratory, neurological, behavioral and reproductive issues and suggests avoiding it completely. 


Another ingredient that you need to be wary of in cosmetics is fragrances, more so if you’re someone who has a tendency to develop allergies. “The term ‘fragrance’ is an invisibility cloak for potentially hazardous ingredients—you have no idea what’s in it. It could also contain phthalates,” says Dr. Sonavane. Whether they’re synthetic or natural, fragrances can trigger allergies, asthma and rashes. They’re best avoided in skincare and makeup, altogether.

Heavy metals 

Often, makeup contains heavy metals like lead, mercury and zinc. They’re used in everything from lipsticks to eyeliners—and they’re what gives them that metallic sheen. According to Dr. Nair the risks associated with heavy metals include cancer, endocrine disorders, developmental delays and neurological disorders. “Opt for safer alternatives like natural surmas and tint-based colours to eliminate lead from your make up” she recommends. It’s also advisable to use more neutral shades in makeup, since stronger the pigments, stronger the chemicals.


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