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The Baddies: Beauty Ingredients to Avoid

As I become more literate in the language of skincare, my evaluation of products has gone from “Oh, this feels nice,” “This package is pretty” and “Yes, this seems to work” to an obsessive evaluation of practically every ingredient and review out there. It’s no longer good enough to be a primer; now you have to be a silicone- and oil-free primer. You call yourself a dark spot corrector? Then what’s your pigment fighter of choice — hydroquinone, vitamin C, niacinamide or arbutin? And don’t get me started on sunscreen: Are your sun filters physical or chemical, what’s your PA ranking, and while we’re at it, what’s the percentage of avobenzone-stabilizing octocrylene?

It’s not a bad addiction, this need to constantly evaluate. Knowledge is power, as they say, and with a booming beauty industry and seemingly every RTW designer getting in on the act, I want to know where to spend my hard-earned dollars and, more importantly, what I’m putting on my face.


The best part about Glow Recipe is that I feel assured that everything they offer on their site is going to be free of what I like to call “the baddies” — those sneaky ingredients hidden in a mile-long list of unpronounceables on the back of a box or in a paper insert that comes with a beauty product. Now that’s not to say that these baddies are scientifically incontrovertible cancer-causing monsters that’ll result in birth defects — if that were the case, the FDA would’ve banned them a long time ago. But in a world increasingly loaded with ambiguous chemicals and toxins, the true effects of which won’t be known for years or even decades, and with a seemingly endless choice in skincare, eliminating the baddies is my quick and easy method of passing on a product and moving on to something that most likely won’t undermine all the antioxidants, vitamins, peptides and collagen-boosters I ply on my skin. After all, I don’t have decades to properly care for my skin and slow the aging process — I’m on the clock.

So what are these baddies? Let’s look at three of them:

Sodium lauryl/laureth sulfates (SLS)

Sodium lauryl sulfate is a surfactant, detergent and emulsifier; its cousin sodium laureth sulfate is a similar chemical with higher foaming ability. SLS is found in all sorts of beauty products and industrial cleaners. And while you’ve likely heard by now that all that foaming action of SLS in your facial cleansers and shampoos strips your skin of its natural oils and ruins your pretty dye job (something not all experts agree on), what you may not have heard is that sodium lauryl sulfate is a known skin irritant, and sodium laureth sulfate is considered a “moderate hazard” by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group. You see, the problem with SLS is in the manufacturing process, which yields a carcinogenic by-product. Uh, hello?

I don’t know about you, but if a skincare product — a product that is supposed to help my skin — contains a known skin irritant at best and a carcinogen at worst, why risk it?


Our new Wish Formula Squish-and-Bubble Mesh Mask foams up easily without any SLS


Parabens, also known as methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben, are phytoestrogens used as preservatives to protect beauty products from microbial growth. The problem with parabens is its potential link to breast cancer — in 2004, a study came out that detected parabens in breast tumors, although it did not conclude that the parabens caused the breast cancer. Indeed, in 2005, the FDA reexamined the safety of parabens and concluded that parabens, at levels up to 25%, were safe to use in cosmetic products.

But critics are skeptical. Many believe that parabens disrupt hormone levels like estrogen and testosterone, and that they can potentially cause chronic diseases, cancers and developmental and fertility issues. And parabens are found in so many personal care products we use today, from shampoos to lotions. In wide-scale biomonitoring studies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that parabens and paraben-related chemicals were detected in the urine sample of almost everyone tested. And just because the FDA considers something safe today doesn’t mean they won’t find that it’s not safe years from now. (Look at trans fats; the FDA only last year announced they would ban trans fats by 2018, though trans fats have been around since the ’60s.)

Don’t feel like taking a chance? Well, it’s not enough to look for the word “paraben” in an ingredient list. Indeed, fragrances can also include parabens. So the best way to ensure that the product you’re about to buy is paraben-free is for the product’s label to explicitly say it’s paraben-free, according to John Meeker, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan in a 2014 story in The Washington Post.

Which takes me to our final baddie:

Synthetic fragrances

According to the EWG, when you see the ingredient “fragrance” in a beauty product (which refers to a synthetic fragrance), you might as well be reading “unknown chemicals.” That’s because a loophole in the FDA’s regulations allows manufacturers to include nearly any ingredient under the umbrella term “fragrance” without having to actually name them individually. When the EWG analyzed the contents of these “chemical cocktails,” they found many ingredients linked to allergic reactions, hormone disruption and other negative health effects.

Now, this “hidden peril” wouldn’t apply to natural fragrances, which only contain ingredients with a natural origin, like lemon oil, lavender oil and other essential oils. According to the International Fragrance Association, synthetic fragrances contain “synthetic aromatic raw materials that have either been chemically created (mostly from petroleum), or started as naturals and have had their chemical structure modified.”

Don’t think that just because a product says “unscented” that that means it doesn’t have “fragrance.” That may only mean that the manufacturer added another fragrance to mask the original scent. (What?!) Glow Recipe works closely with our brands to ensure that any added fragrance is extensively safety tested.


No synthetic fragrances in the Primary Raw Bio Lumpoule!

Because when it comes to skincare, two wrongs most definitely do not make a right.

Get your glow on,

Anna M. Park is the editor of beauty and travel blog

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  • Royce Mar 4, 2016 9:26 am

    I recently got Shara Shara Honey Bomb and there's "fragrance" on the ingredient list...

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