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The Top 10 nasties in skincare to avoid

The Top 10 nasties in skincare to avoid

It can be tricky deciphering what's ok & what's not when reading through ingredients so here are the top ten you want to avoid.


Used as a preservative to prevent bacteria growth. A known carcinogen, it can also cause allergic reactions, skin irritations, dermatitis, headaches & fatigue, & is linked with ALS, a neuro-degenerative disease.


A widely used preservative added to prevent the growth of bacteria, mould and yeast, it generally extends the shelf-life of a product. Commonly found in makeup, body washes, deodorants, hair products & cleansers, parabens contain oestrogen-mimicking properties which disrupt hormones, affecting fertility & reproductive organs, increasing the risk of breast cancer & causing skin irritation. A few to watch out for are methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, benzylparaben.

Palm Oil

Used as surfactant, which creates the “lather” in products. The demand for this product has decimated Indonesian forests & it’s Orangutan population throughout South-East Asia. Look for products that use traceable sustainable sources, or that are Palm Oil free. Palm Oil derivatives can be described in hundreds of different ways- it can be very difficult to identify if it is present in a product, or its source. Go to for a comprehensive list of Palm Oil derivatives.


Found in multitudes of products including perfume, shampoo, body wash & moisturiser (not to mention children’s plastic toys, food containers & building materials, to name just a few). Known as “everywhere chemicals”, phthalates are termed “plasticisers”, increasing flexibility in plastic products, & are added to cosmetics to make lotions “stick” & scents last longer. They can be vaguely listed as “fragrance”, or you may see them described by a 3 or 4 letter acronym that defines their chemical structure.

One you might recognise is BPA, found in plastic products. DEP, DBP & DEHP are common phthalate acronyms to look out for in cosmetics, but there are many, & it is basically very difficult to know if they are present. While our bodies can process them relatively quickly, prolonged exposure can lead to health concerns such as endocrine problems, reproductive issues, fetal development disorders & an increased risk of breast & other cancers. Many phthalates have now been banned in Europe by the EU.


A·teeny, tiny little balls of plastic that are used in personal care products such as body scrubs, hand soaps & toothpastes, as well as in cleaning products. They may be listed as Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), Nylon (PA), Polyurethane & Acrylates Copolymer. These plastic particles, barely visible to the human eye, are too small to be filtered out by water systems & so head straight down the drain & into the ocean, entering the food chain.

Contaminated marine species make their way to our dinner plates, & then head back down the loo to re-enter the food chain. These microplastics can cycle through Earth’s natural systems indefinitely- once they enter the environment they are impossible to eliminate. They are not degradable, & like all plastics they can remain in the environment unchanged for up to 1000 years! At this point Australia has not yet banned microbeads from skincare.

Out of sight need not be out of mind. Go to for more information.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) & Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

Added to 90% of personal care products to give it the fluffing or foaming action, it is often found in shampoo, body washes, mascaras & acne treatments (as well as to some foods). Known to be a skin, lung & eye irritants. Not identified as carcinogenic but may be contaminated with a known carcinogen in the manufacturing process. These chemicals are banned in Europe.

Sunscreen Chemicals

A ·nasty group of chemicals that act as a screening agent to absorb damaging UV light, these chemicals are easily absorbed into the body. They are endocrine disruptors & are associated with cancer, fertility & reproductive disorders, fetal developmental disorders, as well as skin & lung problems. Common names are benzophenone, PABA, avobenzone, ethoxycinnmate, homosalate, oxybenzone & octinoxate. These sunscreen chemicals can wash off our bodies during swimming, causing damage to aquatic & reef systems, & are responsible for sunscreen-induced coral bleaching.

NOTE: Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are natural minerals used as UV blockers. They are not absorbed into the body & are considered safe to use as sunscreen. However, even sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide can be blended with harmful chemicals- so be sure to choose Zinc oxide or titanium dioxide-based sunscreens that are blended with healthy natural ingredients.

Synthetic colours

Derived from petroleum or coal tar (a known carcinogen), synthetic colours can contain toxic heavy metals that are absorbed through your skin & can remain stored in your body. Health impacts can include allergies, reproductive & developmental disorders, & even cancer. Look for products that are tinted with naturally derived colours such as coffee, seaweed, turmeric or beetroot.

Toluene (methylbenzene)

A petrochemical that is derived from petroleum or coal tar, it is commonly used in paint thinners, nail polish & treatments and hair colour/ bleaching products. It is a neurotoxin which can impact our health through ingestion, absorption or inhalation. It can cause respiratory & reproductive problems, dementia, nausea & skin irritations, as well as damage your nervous system, liver & kidneys.

Triclosan (TCS)

Think hand sanitiser & all things antibacterial. Triclosan is a widely used antimicrobial chemical used in hospitals & found in toothpaste, antibacterial soaps & deodorants. It is a well-known endocrine disruptor & is linked to concerns around the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

*Our use of antibacterial hand gels & soaps has increased of late. However, there is strong evidence to support that the practice of 20 seconds of handwashing using soap & water is as effective as using sanitiser gels, &, that there are no added benefits to using products containing triclosan. When you are unable to wash with soap & water try to use triclosan-free alcohol-based sanitisers (with a minimum of 60% alcohol). 

For more information & guidance visit & consider buying/borrowing the book or app to help you determine the toxicity of products.

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