8 Toxic Ingredients You Should Never Use in Your Skin Care Routine
Last month, I had the opportunity to visit Tata Harper's farm in Vermont, and it blew my mind. It should not have been so shocking. I've been a fan of her natural-ingredient, eco-friendly skin care and makeup line for years. It's ideal for my sensitive skin, and everything smells deliciously botanical with milky, silky textures. But actually seeing the farm-to-vanity process of these products made me realize: they are the real deal.
These are not products that claim to have organic ingredients but are still packed with "processed" stuff. In fact, most Tata Harper formulas have the shelf life of just a few months. She pointed out: why would you want to put something on your face with enough preservatives to make it last for years? Gross. (I immediately went home after the trip and threw away a ton of expired formulas.)
"I started Tata Harper Skincare after my stepfather was diagnosed with cancer," she told me via email. "Through all of the doctor's appointments I learned so much about lifestyle and how little decisions affect health and wellbeing. That's when I started really researching ingredients, and discovered that a lot of the ingredients with the most potential health risks aren't even there to give results; they're just fillers like preservatives, emulsifiers, stabilizers, and thickeners designed to keep the formula stable and give the product its texture. I only use natural ingredients because I believe that no woman should have to compromise her health for her beauty, especially if those ingredients aren't even making her beautiful!"
The more I learned about natural ingredients, the more I only wanted to use them. Every time I wash my face with Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser, I envision the apricot seed powder exfoliating my skin and the French pink clay detoxifying it. Or when I nourish my face with the Rejuvenating Serum, I know rosehip seed oil is rejuvenating my under-eye area, while Spanish lavender extract is relaxing fine lines.
If you are eager to get informed about the harmful ingredients in your skin care products, as well as natural ones to look for instead, keep reading. Tata Harper herself breaks down what to ditch, what to use, and why.
Parabens vs. Leuconostoc Radish Root Ferment
The chemical ingredient: Parabens
Explanation: "Most people are familiar with Parabens. All kinds of products from skin care to hand soap to household cleansers list 'paraben free' on their labels, but not many people know what they actually do. Parabens are used to preserve formulas and prevent mold, and can keep products stable for anywhere from two to five years."
The natural option: Leuconostoc radish root ferment
Why it works: "The same bacteria that keeps fermented foods safe to eat makes this an excellent, completely natural preservative. It guarantees a shelf life of at least 12 months, and has none of the potential health risks like endocrine disruption and reproductive toxicity that parabens have."
Phenoxyethanol vs. Anise Berry
The chemical ingredient: Phenoxyethanol
Explanation: "Phenoxyethanol is less well-known than parabens, but it has the same preservative qualities. So often products listed as paraben-free will have just replaced it with phenoxyethanol. It's restricted in the E.U., and potential health concerns include allergies and nervous system effects."
The natural option: Anise berry
Why it works: "Anise berry preserves the organic compounds in products and maintains the integrity and the efficacy of formulas. It's best used in oil-based products rather than emulsions."
Hydroquinone vs. Sea Fern Extract
The chemical ingredient: Hydroquinone
Explanation: "Many brightening products contain this harsh bleaching ingredient, which weakens skin. It can potentially lead to cancer, organ-system toxicity, and respiratory tract irritation. It is banned for use in personal care products in the E.U. and restricted in the U.S. and Canada."
The natural option: Sea fern extract
Why it works: "Sea fern is naturally detoxifying, and reduces the appearance of dark spots. It stimulates the skin's natural process of eliminating melanin, rather than just bleaching it."
Dimethicone vs. Bamboo Ferment and Irish Moss
The chemical ingredient: Dimethicone
Explanation: "Dimethicone is a synthetic silicon that is used for texture. It gives products a smooth spreadability, can form a protective barrier on the skin, and fill in the look of fine lines and wrinkles. The barrier that it forms can actually trap bacteria and dry skin out over time. It's restricted in Canada for its health and environmental impacts."
The natural option: Bamboo ferment and Irish moss
Why it works: "Both bamboo ferment and Irish moss provide deep hydration for smooth and silky-feeling skin, and form a protective film to prevent moisture loss."
Polyethylene Glycol vs. Cetearyl Olivate
The chemical ingredient: Polyethylene glycol
Explanation: "Polyethylene glycol (or PEG) is actually a class of ingredients that can emulsify a formula and enhance the penetration of other ingredients into the skin. They can often be contaminated with impurities like ethylene oxide (used in mustard gas manufacturing) and heavy metals."
The natural option: Cetearyl olivate
Why it works: "Fatty acids from olives give this emulsifier deeply hydrating properties, helping to smooth skin. It also gives the products it's in a silky texture."
Retinol vs. Rosehip Oil and Sea Buckthorn
The chemical ingredient: Retinol
Explanation: "Retinol (or vitamin A) helps to smooth skin and reduce the appearance of acne scarring and wrinkles."
The natural option: Rosehip oil and sea buckthorn
Why it works: "Oils rich in vitamin A provide the same skin-smoothing effects as retinol, but don't cause the drying, irritation, and sun sensitivity that can come with synthetic forms."
Synthetic Peptides vs. Avocado Peptides
The chemical ingredient: Synthetic peptides
Explanation: "Peptides are used for antiaging products to minimize wrinkles for a 'Botox effect' and boost collagen production for a plumping effect. There are many varieties of peptides used in skin care products."
The natural option: Avocado peptides
Why it works: "These natural peptides hydrate and plump the skin, giving the same youthful effect as synthetic peptides."
Propylene Glycol vs. Honey
The chemical ingredient: Propylene glycol
Explanation: "Propylene glycol helps stabilize products. It absorbs water to help them maintain their moisture levels. It's also used in polyester production and anti-freeze."
The natural option: Honey
Why it works: "Honey is a humectant, meaning it attracts and locks in moisture. It helps balance products and hydrate the skin."