Why Should I Look Out For Parabens and Sulfates? (Pt 2 of 2)

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Many consumers today have spent vast amounts of money to improve their appearance. Cosmetic surgery  and the topical skincare industry are multi-billion dollar businesses.  It’s a simple law of economics that the higher the demand, the more skincare manufacturers will flood onto the marketplace. When demand for cheap, readily available products is high, quality ingredients tend to take a backseat over inferior, more accessible ones.

Many skincare products are unfortunately rushed to market to meet this demand without any real consideration to research and development. Most of the budget may go into the marketing of the product. On the surface everything looks great. The bottles and jars that the creams come in look appealing. The magazine advertisements are glossy, complete with a youthful looking model or a well known celebrity who may not even use the products themselves. But underneath the jar lid, one can typically find un-pronounceable ingredients chemically formulated to “imitate” their natural predecessor.


Sulfates is another name for a common skincare ingredient called “Surfactants” which are designed to dissolve oils and hold dirt in suspension so it can be rinsed away with water. Mostly used in skin cleansers and shampoos.

Surfactants are compounds that lower the surface tension of a liquid, allowing easier spreading, and lowering of the interfacial tension between two liquids, or between a liquid and a solid. Surfactants may act as: detergents, wetting agents, emulsifiers, foaming agents, and dispersants.
What all this means is sulfates are used to make the product lather or foam. However, that rich “lather” you get from sulfates may not really be good for your hair and skin as they can strip away natural oils. Despite what many been led to believe, the lather or foam does not actually help you get cleaner.
Natural Surfactants.
As is usually the case there are natural alternatives that do the job much better and safer than synthetics. Natural Saponins (foaming agents) gently cleanse the hair and scalp without stripping away the natural oils. These natural surfactants are a core component of any organic skin care regime.  Some recommended organic skin care surfactants include, castile soap, yucca extract, soapwort and quillaja bark extract.

According to Skin Deep – the cosmetic ingredient database, , Synthetic Surfactants To Avoid Include: Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate, Ammonium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, Sodium Lauroyl/Cocoyl Sacrosinate, Cocomidopropyl Betaine and Quanternium -7,15,31,60 or Disodium Oleamide which can be a potent carcinogen when mixed with Nitrosamines.

Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate, Ammonium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate are the most commonly used in shampoos and lathering types of skincare. They rate around  4 on the scale of 1 to 10. Studies and results are conflicting for potential toxicity, so most err on the side of caution.

Time Saving Tip: This class of toxins is quite easy to pinpoint. They are listed on labels as either ending in -eth (Laureth) or contain the phrase PEG (Poly Ethylene Glycol) or PPG (Poly Propylene Glycol).

According to some sources, while many of these particles are too large to penetrate the skin, they can result in allergies and health problems. Increasing use of Sodium Laural sulfate (SLS) in skin care can cause major skin irritations and even organ system toxicity. Other studies show that chemicals like this clog the skin pores and don’t have any benefit to the skin.

Unfortunately, cosmetics are the lowest priority for the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Their priority, naturally, has to be the foods and drugs we are consuming. They do not have the funds, staff, or authority to monitor what cosmetics companies are putting in their products. In addition, no ingredient has to be approved for use in products, and according to the FDA website.

There are two major classes of surfactants used in synthetic skin care products:

1) Ethoxylated Surfactants: The chemical reaction required to mix Ethylene and Propylene Oxide together has a serious side effect, that is they can be contaminated with Dioxane‒a potent carcinogen.

2) Amides: These are listed on labels containing the term TEA (Tri Ethanol Amine), DEA (Di Ethanol Amine) and MEA (Mono Ethanol Amine).

Why are these chemicals hazardous? Well, all compounds containing TEA, DEA and MEA undergo nitrosation with other chemicals to form nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic.

So again, it is up to you to be the educated consumer. Understanding what you purchase and how it can potentially affect you and your family.

When in doubt, it is best to choose naturally-based products or wholly organic ones than to use skin care products that contain potentially dangerous preservatives and chemicals, especially ones that are applied directly and/or massaged into the skin.

By Rachelle Dupree

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