Parabens will give me breast cancer?
Propylene Glycol is an anti-freeze?
Even talc isn’t safe anymore? What have I been doing to my children all this time?!
*throws away all skincare products*
I hear ya. Consulting Auntie Google to find out what’s lurking in your skincare products is scary. According to her, EVERYTHING will you give you cancer. She likes to panic that way.
So, don’t ask Auntie Google. Ask Lady Science. She has a different opinion on the bad boys of skincare. Below, she sets the record straight on 7 cosmetic ingredients with an undeserved bad reputation:
WHAT ARE THEY?
Preservatives. Parabens kill any germ, bacteria and fungi that dares slither its way into your precious lotions and potions, so you don’t get an infection. The most common parabens found in skincare products are:
WHY ARE PEOPLE SCARED OF PARABENS?
There are two main rumours that are scaring people off Parabens:
- Parabens were found in breast tissue affected with breast cancer, so that’s incontrovertible proof they’re the only thing that could have caused the disease.
- Parabens are hormone disruptors.
THE TRUTH ABOUT PARABENS: ARE THEY DANGEROUS?
Let’s start debunking the cancer myth. There’s only one study that found a “link” between cancer and parabens and it’s riddled with holes:
- Small sample: Only 20 people were tested.
- No control group: Scientists didn’t bother comparing the diseased tissue with healthy tissue. If parabens were found in healthy tissue, too, then they CAN’T be the cause of cancer.
- Unknown patients’ history: researched didn’t record what (if any) skincare products patients used. How can you blame skincare products with parabens if you don’t even know patients used them?!
And their estrogenic activity? That’s too low to do you any harm.
P.S. That’s just a brief recap. I go into more details why Parabens are safe in this post.
Want to know what ingredients you really need to avoid in your skincare products? Sign up to the newsletter below to receive the “Skincare Ingredients To Avoid” cheatsheet:
2. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
WHAT IS IT?
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is a cleansing agent. It helps oils and dirt mix with water so they can be rinsed away.
WHY ARE PEOPLE SCARED OF SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE?
There are a few rumours going around SLS:
- SLS is irritating as hell
- SLS causes hair loss
- SLS gives you cancer
THE TRUTH ABOUT SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE: IS IT DANGEROUS?
SLS IS irritating as hell. I’ll give you that. I personally avoid it for this reason. If there are gentler options, we should those, right?
But I’m also a stickler for the truth. SLS is irritating enough as it is, there’s no reason to make up rumours to make it sound even more dangerous. Yet, that’s what people are doing.
The last two rumours are BS:
- I couldn’t find ANY proof that SLS causes hair loss.
- SLS isn’t classified as carcinogenic by any regulatory agency or cancer authority.
These last two claims are completely made up.
Related: Should You Avoid Products With SLS?
3. Mineral Oil
WHAT IS IT?
Mineral oil is a byproduct of oil that’s a godsend for dry and sensitive skin. It’s so moisturising, it leaves it soft and smooth for hours. Plus, it creates a barrier on the skin that protects it from environmental aggressors, such as harsh weather and pollutants.
WHY ARE PEOPLE SCARED OF MINERAL OIL?
- IT’S A BYPRODUCT OF OIL! What more proof do you need to realise it will kill you?
- It makes you break out, too.
THE TRUTH ABOUT MINERAL OIL: IS IT DANGEROUS?
Yes, mineral oil is a byproduct of oil but that doesn’t mean that you’re slathering oil on your face. Cosmetic Grade Mineral Oil (the only type of mineral oil allowed in cosmetics) undergoes a strict purifying process that removes all the toxic, nasty stuff in it. The end result doesn’t even resemble petroleum anymore. It’s a completely different thing.
What about pimples? There’s a kernel of truth here. Mineral oil is NOT comedogenic. It’s just occlusive. It creates a barrier on the skin that traps moisture in. But if your skin is dirty or you’re using products with comedogenic ingredients, then it will trap those, too. And those CAN make you breakout.
In plain English: use mineral oil alone is fine. Using it with comedogenic ingredients will make you breakout.
Related: Is Mineral Oil Bad For Skin?
WHAT ARE THEY?
Silicones are a family of ingredients that give slip to products, fill in fine lines and wrinkles and lock in moisture. Its most famous members are Dimethicone, Cyclomethicone and Cyclopentasiloxane. If it ends in “cone,” it’s usually a silicone (there are exceptions).
WHY ARE PEOPLE SCARED OF SILICONES?
Silicones suffocate the skin and make you break out. Those are the rumours, anyway.
THE TRUTH ABOUT SILICONES: ARE THEY DANGEROUS?
Let’s get something out of the way. Skin can’t breathe. It doesn’t have lungs. Silicones (or anything else, for that matter) CAN’T suffocate it.
The rumour started because of the misunderstood nature of the barrier silicones create. Most occlusives, like mineral oil, create an even barrier on the skin. But, silicones have a special molecular structure made up of huge molecules with gaps between each one.
This allows silicones to trap water into the skin without interfering with skin perspiration or the absorption of active ingredients.
P.S. If you have oily skin and use them with comedogenic ingredients, you’ll still break out. But silicones alone can’t give you pimples.
WHAT IS IT?
You probably know it as vaseline. It’s another super moisturising byproduct of oil. Like mineral oil, it creates a barrier on the skin that moisturises it and protects it from environmental aggressors.
WHY ARE POEPLE SCARED OF PETROLATUM?
IT’S A BYPRODUYCT OF OIL!! IT’S THE DEVIL! It will give you cancer. That’s why it’s banned in the European Union.
That’s what critics say…
THE TRUTH ABOUT PETROLATUM: IS IT DANGEROUS?
I guess those who spread this rumour have never visited Europe. I’m an Italian living in London who’s travelled around the continent a bit and I can assure you, vaseline is available in every European country.
Again, pure petroleum can’t be used in cosmetics. But vaseline is refined and processed to make it safe. It’s not dangerous and it won’t give you cancer. There is no scientific study claiming otherwise.
6. Propylene Glycol
WHAT IS IT?
Propylene Glycol is an organic alcohol derived from oil (are you starting to see a theme here?). It keeps your lotions and potions from freezing at low temperatures and melting at high ones.
WHY ARE PEOPLE SCARED OF PROPYLENE GLYCOL?
IT’S AN ANTI-FREEZE! That MUST give you cancer. Or so they say…
THE TRUTH ABOUT PROPYLENE GLYCOL: IS IT DANGEROUS?
First things first. Propylene Glycol IS used an anti-freeze… at 100% concentrations! In skincare products, it’s usually around the 5% mark. Too low to cause any problems.
Don’t believe me? Even the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry doesn’t list it as a carcinogenic.
Related: Is Propylene Glycol Dangerous?
WHAT IS IT?
Talc is a mineral used to absorb excess oil and improve the feel of products.
WHY ARE PEOPLE SCARED OF TALC?
Talc causes ovarian cancer. Recently, Johnson & Johnson has lost several trials involving claims talc in its products cause the disease. If they’ve been found guilty of using a carcinogen in their products, talc must be dangerous, right?
THE TRUTH ABOUT TALC: IS IT DANGEROUS?
I know it’s scary when even the law believes the claims that talc causes cancer. But remember that juries are composed of people who know nothing about science. They don’t know how to read scientific studies, but are terrorised at the mere mention of cancer (for good reason).
When the news came out, scientists were surprised. They’ve been repeating ever since that there’s NO link between cancer and talc.
Although there are some studies showing talc may increase the risk of cancer, these are flawed and report no direct causation. Truth is, we need more studies to be 100% sure one way or another.
In the meantime, I don’t use talc on your private parts (just to be on the safe side). But there’s no need to avoid talc completely.
Related: Is Talc Dangerous?
The Bottom Line
I personally wouldn’t use SLS because it’s irritating and avoid talc on my private parts, but there’s no reason to avoid the other ingredients. They’ve been unfairly maligned because of their synthetic origin.
Are you surprised by what science says about these unfairly maligned ingredients? Share your thoughts in the comments below.