What Are You Really Putting On Your Skin?

Michelle Heltay

Posted on November 06 2019

What Are You Really Putting On Your Skin?

With the rapid growing demand for natural organic beauty products, especially personal organic products, it’s not surprising to see so many people confused as to what is really natural and what isn’t. It is estimated that by 2018, global demand for organic personal care products will reach $13.2 billion (1)

With that amount of skin care products being pushed out onto consumers world wide, there often comes confusion, misinformation and little white lies. What are we really putting onto our skin? How do we know if a product is genuinely natural, has organic ingredients and is free of all things nasty and harmful?

Well, for one thing, we need to learn to read labels (just like we do for our food) and understand what’s being put into our personal care products. But that in itself, can nearly be a full time job – keeping up with all the new ingredients, new natural alternatives and latest natural discoveries.

One disturbing trend I’ve noticed in personal care products is even products labelled as ACO (Australian Certified Organic) or USDA Certified Organic have less than desirable ingredients in them. Why, you may ask, is this permitted? Well, for one thing, if a product is to be kept on the shelf, it needs some kind of preservative. Like it or not, anything that is sold in a shop will need a chemical additive of some sort to extend shelf life. Remember, once a product has been manufactured, it is then packaged, stacked into a box, sent out from the warehouse to either a middle man (another warehouse) or to the end retailer. That process can take 4 weeks alone. Then, once the product is unpacked and placed enticingly on the shelf, it awaits the consumer to purchase it. The next step is the consumer takes the product home and keeps it in their bathroom. The consumer may have purchased this product for future use as opposed to immediate use so it may sit in the humid bathroom for up to 3 months or more before being used.

Once the product has left the manufacturer, there is no telling what environmental conditions the product will undergo so usually some kind of moderately powerful anti microbial, anti bacterial, anti fungal, mold resistant preservative will be added.

Unhealthy Ingredients

There are thousands of chemicals in personal care products and we absorb many of them into our bodies.

Coming top of my list is:


Including methyl, propyl, butyl, ethyl and isobutylparabens. Linked to cancers – especially breast cancer, decreased sperm count and premature puberty. Parabens are sinister little chemicals, mimicking estrogen; the primary female hormone. The US FDA has known since 2007, that parabens penetrate the skin (2) [Ed note: the original link had different information detailing the dangers of parabens. The new updated information currently on the page (Page Last Updates: 12/15/2014) has different information. These chemicals have been identified in biopsies of women with breast cancer. Parabens are found in deodorants, facial cleansers, shampoos, make up, body washes, food and pharmaceutical products.

Propylene Glycol

A synthetic liquid material that absorbs water, commonly used as a skin conditioning agent and penetration enhancer. It has been used to manufacture everything from brake fluid, vaccines and even hand lotion. It’s classified as a skin irritant, linked to allergies, eye irritation, respiratory problems and causing dermatitis.

PEG (Polyethylene glycol)

A penetration enhancer, often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide – both known carcinogens. PEG’s are petroleum-based compounds that are widely used in cosmetics as thickeners, solvents, softeners, and moisture-carriers.

PEG compounds show some evidence of genotoxicity (3,4) and if used on broken skin, can cause irritation and system toxicity (5)

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found 1,4-dioxane in 57 percent of baby washes in the US! Avoid any ingredients containing the letters  “eth”


Triclosan is found in antibacterial products, hand santizers and some deodorants. It is a well known endocrine disruptor, especially of the thyroid and reproductive hormones. It is a skin irritant.


This is very murky water. Most fragrances are listed as a 10 on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the worst for chemical dangers and toxicity. Basically whenever I see fragrance on the label I immediately know it’s a chemical shitstorm. Many hidden chemicals reside under the label of ‘fragrance’. These ingredients do not have to be individually listed or even specified.

Fragrance is connected to headaches, nausea, dizziness, asthma, respiratory distress, potential effects on the reproductive system and allergies.

Fragrance was created to protect a company’s “secret formula”.

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)

An industrial degreaser found in more than 90 percent of personal and household care products. It is used as a surfactant to make soap foamy. These are nasty skin, eye and lung irritants. There is concern about the potential of SLS to interact and combine with other chemicals to form nitrosamines – a carcinogen.

You will find SLS and SLES in shampoo, body wash, cleansers, acne treatments and even in mascara. And of course in most household cleaners that foam up.


Known as Ethanolamines. These are clear, colorless, viscous liquids with ammonia-like odors, which have the combined properties of alcohols and amines. They reduce the surface tension of substances so that water-soluble and oil-soluble ingredients can be blended together. They’re also used to control the pH level of products. Sound innocent enough? Keep reading.

The World Health Organization lists it as an unclassified carcinogen. The Material Safety Data Sheet for ethanolamine notes that skin contact may be harmful. It also states that the material can produce chemical burns and may cause inflammation. Prolonged exposure can result in liver, kidney or nervous system injury.  Further on it notes that animal studies with DEA and MEA have shown a tendency for these chemicals to encourage the formation of tumors and to cause developmental abnormalities to an unborn fetus.

According to the FDA, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) completed a study in 1998 that found an association between the topical application of DEA and certain DEA-related ingredients and cancer in laboratory animals.

These are the names on labels you need to avoid:

  • Cocamide DEA
  • Cocamide MEA
  • DEA-Cetyl Phosphate
  • DEA Oleth-3 Phosphate
  • Lauramide DEA
  • Linoleamide MEA
  • Myristamide DEA
  • Oleamide DEA
  • Stearamide MEA
  • TEA-Lauryl Sulfate
  • Triethanolamine

You’ll find these in products that foam, including bubble baths, body washes, shampoos, soaps, and facial cleaners. They’re also found in eyeliners, mascara, eye shadows, blush, make-up bases and foundations, fragrances, hair care products, hair dyes, shaving products, and sunscreens.


The ingredient that provides a smooth application. For skin care products, it fills in uneven texture and fine lines, which helps create a smooth and flawless look in products like primers, foundations, and lotions. It also provides a protective cover on skin, which is supposed to help keep moisture in, leaving skin hydrated for longer.

In hair care products, dimethicone is used to provide smoothness, particularly in conditioners and detanglers, where the ingredient helps smooth hair and provide better comb-through. Because dimethicone leaves a sort of covering on the hair strands, it can also make hair appear shinier.

So why have I included it in my ‘To Avoid’ ingredients list? Well, it’s actually a silicone-based polymer, or more simply put, a silicone oil. Hmmmm, yummy.

Even though it’s been listed as generally safe, or with a low hazard rating, it covers your skin all day with a thin rubber like coating. That is not healthy under any circumstance! Your skin cannot breathe. While it may lock in moisture, it’s also locking in bacteria, sebum, dirt and the rest of the nasty chemical list included in the skincare items you’ve lathered on your face this morning. Do you notice more blemishes and breakouts when you use a product with dimethicone in it? That’s the reason why. Just like petroleum jelly ends up causing skin to become dryer, more dependant upon it’s use, so will using dimethicone and it’s derivatives.  Bottom line, look for a truly natural product that uses genuine oils and butters to nourish your skin.

Look out for these other silicone products:

  • Methicone
  • Phenyl trimethicone
  • Dimethicone
  • Cyclomethicone
  • Dimethiconol
  • Dimethicone copolyol

Back in 2000, when I launched my very first natural skincare range, JMO Skincare, I was an industry newbie. I knew I wanted a better product for myself and my family and I really wasn’t liking the formulas that were available then. Later, I became more experienced, played with different ingredients, removed a few out and added in more essential oils and natural butters but I was still using Potassium Sorbate. Now, that isn’t a bad preservative but it’s still a preservative.

Nowadays, my latest and final range: Maia Pure Botanicals is completely preservative, chemical, additive and anything potentially harmful free. It’s the way nature intended our skincare to be. I do not sell creams – only oils and body butters (made from, well, nut and seed butters). I have a couple ‘toners’ which are actually liquid skin food and I’ve worked out a stable serum.

Pure, natural skincare. Not tested on animals (except myself, my mother and my son). Safe for the environment with zero harmful ingredients. You can nearly eat it. I wouldn’t recommend it though as I do use genuine essential oils and I don’t recommend those for internal use.

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