The Secret Chemicals Found in Natural Beauty Products

“Organic” doesn’t always mean free from synthetic chemicals when it comes to your beauty products.

I am always frustrated when I come across a beauty product that is marketed as “organic” or “natural, but contains lots of synthetic chemicals. Many brands argue that a chemical preservative is a necessary evil. In particular Parabens are used to preserve cream products.

But because of all the recent reports about potential long term health problems associated with Parabens, most organic personal care companies are switching to alternative preservatives. Some are cynically putting in anything that isn’t a paraben, but is far more likely to harm you…customers just don’t know about it yet! For example, there is no excuse for putting in Formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.

Other companies use a naturally occurring Paraben, Japanese Honeysuckle. It seems dishonest to me to market your products as “Paraben Free” if you use a natural Paraben. I have put together a list of the most commonly used chemical preservatives in organic beauty products:

  • Alcohol
  • Works as a preservative when present in concentrations of over 20%. Used in such high proportions it can strip away natural oils and be unsuitable for sensitive skin or Rosacea sufferers. If Alcohol is listed near the top of the ingredients list, then a large proportion of the product will be alcohol and completely unsuitable for use in a moisturising product.

  • Benzoic Acid
  • A mild skin irritant thought to exacerbate Eczema.

  • Benzyl Alcohol
  • Considered a skin and eye irritant and has been linked to Contact Dermatitis and Urticaria.

  • Formaldehyde
  • Still used in some “natural” skin care products, Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and skin irritant.

  • Japanese Honeysuckle (listed as Lonicera Japonica)
  • While this might sound innocuous, this is a naturally occurring Paraben. Are natural Parabens better than the synthetic chemical type? A Paraben is a Paraben – whatever its source.

  • Parabens – Butyl, Ethyl, Propyl, Isopropyl, Methyl, Benzyl
  • The debate rages on about these six preservatives. Recent studies have raised concerns over the gradual build-up of these chemicals in the body and linked them to hormone disuption and cancer. A recent Japanese study has linked Methyl-Paraben to premature ageing.  More clinical trials need to be done but, at Pai, we exercise a precautionary approach. If we don’t know enough about an ingredient, we don’t use it.

  • Parfum
  • This term was traditionally used to hide the precise formulae of commercial perfumes. However it is now a common fixture on beauty products’ ingredient lists to hide a multitude of sins – from synthetic fragrances to chemical fixatives and preservatives. 200 different chemicals can be legally covered by the word “parfum”.

  • Phenoxyethanol
  • Used by the majority of ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ skincare brands, this petroleum based preservative is a skin irritant. It is banned in Japan and some European countries.

  • Sodium Benzoate
  • Sodium benzoate is derived from benzoic acid which can occur naturally in berries. This common preservative was at the centre of a food health scare a few years ago. In high doses it has been linked to DNA damage and the onset of degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. In cosmetics it can cause skin and eye irritation.

  • Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate
  • Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate is a common paraben replacement but is a harsh skin irritant and is thought to break down into formaldehyde in the body.