UNCOVERING... Ingredients

Updated: Jan 20, 2019

Are you aware of how many different products you apply to your skin daily?

Source: Elemental Aesthetics

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an average American woman puts on 12 personal care products daily, which can consist of an alarming 168 different chemicals.

What is the problem?

We get it. Ingredients are very tricky and can sometimes be very difficult to decipher, particularly when they come in long, unfamiliar names. But it is important to take note of what we are putting on our skin.

The fact that many of us do not know what exactly we are putting on ourselves is risky. We tend to buy products based on recommendations, reviews, price, and packaging rather than taking a closer look at the ingredients inside.

There are also several common misconceptions regarding ingredients, e.g. are natural ingredients always better than chemicals?

Why should I pay attention to it?

Source: Daily Vanity

Products applied to our skin can get absorbed into our bloodstreams. Just as how you avoid certain food items because it has expired or contains harmful bacteria, there are some ingredients in beauty products that you should avoid for safety purposes. It also varies from person to person since you may be allergic to a particular ingredient that others have no problem with.

Simultaneously, some of these ingredients can be harmful to the marine environment when cosmetics containing them get washed off and drained into sewage systems. That’s not all- marine animals may ingest these harmful substances which can eventually end up in our bloodstream when we consume seafood.

What can I do about it?

  • Research, research, research.

And patch test, if you’re not sure. Read the ingredient lists and check out if they are safe for use, and if you are allergic to them. The ingredients listed first are often used in higher concentrations and decrease in concentration as the list goes on. Thus, you should pay more attention to the first few ingredients listed. However, you should read the list carefully because in the United States, products with ingredients classified as drugs may be listed as “active” and the rest “inactive”, whereby the “inactive” ingredients can be arranged alphabetically instead of by the concentration.

  • Ask, if you’re not sure.

Sending emails, direct messaging your favourite brand on social media, or talking to those who have made their own artisanal cosmetic product can help address clarifications you may have, such as the ingredients used and where they are sourced from.

  • Look out for products with a shorter ingredient list- the fewer things you apply to your skin, the lower the potential exposure to harmful ingredients.

Researching about each ingredient can be difficult and time-consuming but it is important to know the effects they have on your skin. Moreover, there are many articles and online databases that you can easily access with a simple search.

Here are some databases you can check out:

  • International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI)

  • Environmental Working Group SkinDeep

  • Cosmetics Info

  • Paula’s Choice Ingredient Dictionary

  • Reissue

  • Think Dirty app*

  • Environmental Working Grop (EWG) Healthy Living app*

*Do note that databases on these apps are US-based and still expanding, thus they might not have much information on many brands and products.

Here are some Ingredients to you might want to AVOID:

  • Synthetic fragrances

Can irritate and make your skin sensitive (particularly for those with already sensitive skin)

  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

Can cause irritation particularly if you have sensitive skin

  • Phthalates (Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), Diethyl Phthalate (DEP), and Dimethyl Phthalate (DMP))

There are contradicting studies on whether phthalates are endocrine (hormonal) disrupters. Although it has been deemed safe under low concentrations (<1%), you may want to avoid them in your cosmetics for safety purposes


  • I should avoid parabens at all cost because it causes cancer.

False. There is insufficient evidence that parabens cause cancer. Current concentrations in cosmetic products (<1%) are deemed safe for use by INCI.

Not necessarily, all "natural" products do not equate to completely harmless ingredients. Just like any other regular product, they may not be suitable for everyone.

Furthermore, many "natural" products contain synthetic ingredients - chemicals which are artificially made via chemical reactions. This doesn’t make them bad, as many act as preservatives to prolong the shelf life of your product.

TDLR; don’t be afraid of synthetic ingredients. Essentially, everything is made of chemicals! For example, water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen atoms - and that’s a chemical too!

  • All ingredients used in a cosmetic product must be listed on the product.

Yes and no. Both the US and EU require all ingredients to be listed on cosmetics and personal care products. However, with the exception of 26 specific perfume ingredients, fragrances are only required to be listed as “fragrances” on product labels rather than the specific ingredients they are made up of. This can be problematic should consumers be allergic or sensitive to a particular ingredient used in making the fragrance.

  • I can always trust claims on cosmetics and personal care products such as “hypoallergenic”.

Not necessarily. “Hypoallergenic” cosmetics refer to products that manufacturers claim produce fewer allergic reactions. According to the FDA, there are no standards, definitions or regulations as to what “hypoallergenic” entails. Essentially, it can be considered as a form of marketing since manufacturers are not required to submit any form of substantiation to the FDA.

If you are concerned about potential allergic reactions, you need to realise that there is no cosmetic product that is “nonallergenic” or guaranteed to have zero potential allergic reaction. Since everybody’s skin is different, the best way to determine if you are allergic to a particular product or ingredient is by reading product labels and doing a patch test before applying a new product to your entire face or body.

Do stay tuned to our upcoming posts for more information regarding the safety of ingredients. *Spoiler alert* we’ll be uncovering whether some ingredients are really as nasty as some have claimed!

© 2018 by Beauty Uncovered.

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