You know how it is: you need a new facial scrub or moisturiser and you’re faced with a mind-boggling amount of options. Do you go for the shiny new jar with the grand promises, or the skincare brand with the familiar logo and acronyms? But do we really know what they are doing to our skin?

Considering our skin absorbs up to 60 per cent of what we put on it, what you put on your skin could be doing you more harm than good, especially if you have sensitive skin or are prone to allergic reactions to products.

When it comes to ingredients we should avoid putting on our skin, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and parabens are the nasties we hear about the most, but what about other harmful products that are not so widely known?


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Caroline Monet, founder of natural skincare brand Caroline’s Skincare, shares the eight ingredients you should avoid in your skincare products.

Benzoic Acid – synthetic
This ingredient is used in cosmetics as a fungicide/preservative and is also classified as an insecticide and can cause illness if ingested. Adverse effects on skin and eye area can be redness and a burning sensation. If Benzoic Acid is inhaled, it can cause damage to the nervous system. Eaten in food, it’s mildly toxic. Benzoic Acid has been linked to asthma problems and increased levels of hyperactivity in children.

Dowicil 200 (also known as Quarternium) – synthetic
Widely used in cosmetic products as an anti-microbial (preservative). This ingredient is absorbed into the skin and can cause a burning sensation and general skin irritation. It is the most common synthetic that causes allergic contact dermatitis.

Bronopol – synthetic
Used as a fungicide (preservative) in place of alcohol in cosmetic products, this ingredient can cause irritation to the skin. Also commonly used in baby wipes. Bronopol is classified as a dangerous substance in Europe.

Cinnamic Acid Compounds – synthetic fragrance/preservative
This ingredient acts as a fixative or preservative in cosmetic products. It is also used as flavouring in toothpastes and confectionary products and can cause contact dermatitis and general skin irritation. It should be noted that the word ‘fragrance’ on a bottle can indicate the use of any of around 4000 ingredients and most of these will be synthetic.

These fragrances can cause problems when inhaled such as headaches, nausea and disorientation as well as skin irritations when applied topically to the skin. People don’t realise the affect that inhaling synthetic fragrances can have. They can affect the central nervous system and in some cases they can cause depression.

Urea – synthetic
Urea is the synthetic version of urine used in skincare and cosmetics, and is often used as a preservative. It releases formaldehyde which in turn can attribute to skin allergies, irritations and when inhaled in concentrated forms can even bring about respiratory problems such as asthma. While it is used in some therapeutic skincare products and may be beneficial for those who suffer severe psoriasis it is preferable that it is not used long-term.

Benzoyl Peroxide – synthetic
This ingredient is synthetic preservative/antiseptic that is corrosive to the skin in concentrated solution and is most often found in acne products. It removes the natural protective barrier and nutrients from skin and can also cause photo toxicity (sensitivity to the sun) leading to skin pigmentation problems as well as bleaching of the skin. It can cause ongoing sensitivity to the skin and premature ageing, and has been shown to produce DNA damage.

Propylene Glycol
This is a form of mineral oil and a well-known skin irritant that can dry out the skin. Used as hydraulic brake fluid and antifreeze, it is found in solvents, paints and plastics and is used as a humectant (moisture retainer) and stabiliser in cosmetics such as acne treatments, soaps, mascara and shampoos.

It very quickly absorbs into the skin and can cause allergic reactions to those who suffer from sensitivity and recurring skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis. It has been shown to be linked to cancer, developmental/reproductive issues, allergies/immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, and organ system toxicity. Its use is being phased out because of toxicity.

Lactic acid
One of the most popular AHAs, lactic acid is used predominantly as an exfoliator and skin freshener. It can cause premature thinning of the skin as well as photo toxicity that can lead to pigmentation problems. It removes the natural, protective barrier from the skin and if used long term can also cause premature ageing. It can irritate and sting sensitive skin.

So when it comes to your skin, be savvy and choose products that heal and nourish and are not toxic or harmful.

What are your favourite skincare products?