You've probably seen countless articles and blogs about toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare (we have a couple too!), but that's only because it's a critical message to help consumers who want to go green (or blue) in their beauty ritual. The E.U. has banned over 1,300 chemicals from skincare, and the U.S. has only banned 11! So this means it's up to us as consumers to make educated and informed decisions about what ingredients we're putting on our skin. As an indie grass-roots beauty brand, we at Earth Harbor are passionate about helping educate and empower consumers like you to make wise decisions when selecting clean beauty products, allowing you to cast a well-informed vote with your dollar.
In 1938, when the FDA changed laws regarding the cosmetic industry, it only prohibited the sale of cosmetics with any "poisonous or deleterious substance," or any "filthy, putrid, or decomposed substances," which permitted the addition of a plethora of preservatives. Still, the 1938 law was only enacted to ban ingredients simply from a safety standpoint. In the 1950's, members of congress made efforts to refine the cosmetics laws, but they were never passed.
Presently, there are more regulations on food, drugs, drinking water, pesticides, cars, toys, guns, electronics, and tobacco than there are on the cosmetic industry. There are more regulations on pesticides sprayed on crops than on the substances put on our bodies.
At Earth Harbor, if an ingredient is not proven to be safe and effective, it's left out. We are passionate about bringing you customizable formulas that replace toxic synthetic ingredients with their safe botanical superiors. This is how it should be, sunshines.
Our founder, Ali Perry-Hatch, is a certified toxicologist whose mission is to put clean, sustainable, toxin-free beauty products on the market. Offering self-care products beyond non-toxic, synthetic-free and plant-based is only part of the equation; educating consumers on what toxic synthetic ingredients are, why they are used, and avoiding them is the other. We want all you merbabes to be healthy and safe with your skincare ritual, and be well-informed about the ingredients you consume and put on your bodies.
Ingredients to Avoid
This ingredient is most commonly used in the beauty industry as a preservative, which helps prevent mold and bacteria growth, thereby increasing the shelf life. The Environmental Protection Agency has linked certain parabens to some types of cancer and has even been identified as a potential endocrine disruptor.
Sulfates are a cleansing agent which results in products having a rich, foamy lather. When reading skincare or cosmetic labels, you may see sulfates labeled as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Ether Sulfate (SLES), both of which can cause skin, eye, and lung irritation. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), in particular, is incorporated into skincare products to give the product a rich lather, but since SLS can remove natural oils from the skin, it can result in dry skin and skin that is prone to product sensitivity. There are plenty of safer alternatives to sulfates, but they aren't particularly necessary in skincare.
Synthetic Fragrances and DyesThis is probably one of the most misleading ingredients on a skincare label since there is very little regulation on the term "dyes" and "fragrance". There could be hundreds of compounds that make up a particular fragrance or dye, none of which are required to be individually labeled. Synthetic dyes and fragrances can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions, which is why Earth Harbor believes it’s important to look to nature to find many beautiful fragrances and colors to use in our skincare products— noting that we never include an ingredient that doesn't also serve a therapeutic purpose for skin! At Earth Harbor, we harness the sweet scents and colorful palette of mother nature, using mindful ingredients from both land and sea in each and every formula. For example, our NYMPH NECTAR Superfruit Radiance Balm gets her cute coral hue from natural ingredients like mango seed butter, cranberry seed oil, and turmeric, and her tropical garden scent thanks to papaya and blueberry.
PEG (Polyethylene Glycol)
This is often used in skincare products as a thickener to aid in product absorption and help prevent moisture loss. While preventing moisture loss sounds logical, PEG works by creating a suffocating layer over the skin to prevent moisture loss. It has been shown to create systemic toxicity, especially when used on broken or damaged skin. Acute systemic toxicity is when the toxic side-effect of a compound can be felt in every organ system.
Phthalates are used in the beauty industry as a softener and a vessel to allow the scent of a product to linger after application. They can hide on an ingredient label as fragrance, parfum (or perfume), and while there are dozens of phthalate types, most end in the word "phthalate." There are many health impacts associated with phthalates, but common phthalates have been shown to impact the hormone and endocrine system.
aka Cyclomethicone, are a synthetic group of ingredients that come from silicone. Most commonly, they are used in shampoos to help prevent hair from being frizzy and enhance shine. Siloxanes are known to bioaccumulate on marine life and mammals, while other studies have indicated they are an endocrine disruptor and can cause reproductive harm.
DEA is often used in the beauty industry for several uses like balancing pH, but most often as a foaming agent. Over the years, there has been great concern over this ingredient's use, but it has shown to accumulate in the body and settle in organ systems, including the brain! After this chemical is combined with other ingredients in a skincare product, it can enhance it's toxic outcome, even causing liver and kidney cancer in some studies.
This is a "safer" alternative to toxic preservatives used in beauty products, but the jury is still out on whether this ingredient is genuinely safe and effective. The caveat to using this ingredient is that the FDA, as recent as 2007, deems this product "safe for topical use" if used at a concentration of 1% or less. Studies point toward the notion that phenoxyethanol can cause allergic reactions, central nervous system damage in infants, among other issues. While staying true to the Earth Harbor philosophy, until an ingredient is proven safe and effective, it's left out of our skincare gems.
Used as a time-released preservative in skincare products, formaldehyde unnecessarily exposes us to toxic chemicals. For many years, formaldehyde was suspected as a carcinogen, and was eventually proven to be one. This chemical preservative is often used in mortuaries, labs (to preserve specimens), and several commercial germicides and fungicides. While this ingredient is already banned in many countries, the U.S. is slowly beginning to ban this ingredient, starting with the commercial industry such as plywood manufacturing.
Alcohols are ingredients in skincare that don’t always bed. Like volatile alcohols, some can damage the skin's protective barrier. Fatty alcohols or other plant-based organic alcohols, like those found in Earth Harbor skincare gems, are derived from sources such as coconut and sugarcane. They are very skin-safe, non-drying, non-sensitizing, and can soothe the skin while delivering nutrients.
In ConclusionWhen you begin to dissect the ingredients on the back of your beauty products, along with other harmful chemicals that are present in many common household cleaning products and beyond, it's alarming how many toxic chemicals you are unnecessarily exposing yourself, your family, and the environment to every day. And what's worse is many of these ingredients provide an unnecessary purpose to a product, but it's a purpose that we've been conditioned to expect in products such as bright colors, exotic fragrances, and extra foaming agents. The ingredients listed are only a small snippet of ingredients to avoid, but we hope that this empowers you to go blue in your skincare ritual and begin looking at labels with a different lens. For more on going blue in your beauty ritual and a deeper list of ingredients to avoid, dive into our blue beauty blog post.