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“Skin Intellectualism” – How to Manage the Cosmetic “Dirty Dozen”



Today, we are more informed than ever before about what’s in our food and the other products we use on a daily basis. Now, it’s time get curious about our skin care. Skin Intellectualism, a term coined by Alexia Inge, the cofounder of Cult Beauty, which is a UK-based, online beauty mecca. Skin Intellectualism defines recent changes in consumer behavior in an industry where consumers are adopting an inquisitive approach towards their skin care routines and equipping themselves with scientific knowledge that traditionally only dermatologists would know. As conscientious consumers, we should be aware of the chemicals in our skin care products.


Understanding the label on a cosmetic product can be tricky, so here’s a quick guide to understanding which chemicals should be avoided. But don’t go throwing away everything under your bathroom sink – these are chemicals to be aware of and to limit their use. Always be sure to consult your dermatologist first before making any changes to your skin care routine. Read on to learn how to become a Skintellectual!


Coal Tar

Found in: hair dye, shampoo (especially those formulated for dandruff and psoriasis)

Watch out for: estar, impervotar, KC 261, larvitar, picis carbonis, naphtha, high solvent naphtha, naphtha distillate, benzin B70, petroleum benzin [3,4], Coal, Tar


This chemical has been banned in Europe. It’s a carcinogen that has been linked to cancer and tumors. It claims to alleviate itching and flaking, but instead you can try using sweet almond oil, coconut oil, or diluted neem oil.


Dibutyl phthalate, Toluene and Formaldehyde

Found in: nail polish and other nail products.


Nicknamed the “Toxic Trio,” these chemical are linked to birth defects, endocrine disruption, headaches, and respiratory problems. Companies like OPI and Zoya are working to remove the toxic trio from their products. Nail polishes from RMS Beauty or Priti NYC offer non-toxic nail polishes in amazing colors.


Found in: cleansers, lotions, makeup, hair coloring products, paraffin treatments.

Watch out for: DEA, TEA ,cocamide DEA/cocamide MEA, DEA-cetyl phosphate DEA oleth-3 phosphate, lauramide DEA, linoleamide MEA, myristamide DEA, oleamide DEA, stearamide MEA, TEA-lauryl sulfate


Ethanolamines are chemicals used as pH adjusters. They’re used alongside absorption enhances, which can potentially increase their adverse side effects. This class of chemicals is typically labeled as DEA, TEA, and MEA. DEA is banned in Europe, while TEA and MEA have been linked to tumor growth, cancer, and hormonal disruption in children.


Formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasing preservatives

Found in: Nail polish, body washes, conditioners, shampoos, cleaners, eyeshadows, and nail polish treatments.


These chemicals are used in cosmetic products to prevent bacteria growth. However, they have been deemed as a “human carcinogen” by the Internal Agency for Research on Carcinogens. Formaldehyde has been linked to nasal cancers and harming the immune system, and it can cause allergic reactions.



Found in: Makeup, moisturizer, shaving gel, shampoo, and spray tan products

Watch out for: isopropylparaben, methylparaben


While the FDA has labeled parabens as unharmful, the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products have labeled long chain parabens like propyl- and butyl- parabens and compounds such as isopropyl and isobutyl parabens as weak endocrine disruptors that can cause reproductive and developmental disorders.



Found in: nail products, plasticizers to prevent nail polishes from becoming brittle, fragrance.

Watch out for: DBP


This is a group of chemicals is used to increase the softness and flexibility of plastic. Commonly listed as dibutyl phthalate in nail polish and as diethyl phthalate in perfumes and lotions, some scientific studies have shown these chemicals to be “endocrine disruptors”, and have been linked to increased risk of breast cancer, early breast development in girls,and preporucite birth defects.



Found in: scrubs, body wash, makeup, toothpaste


These chemicals make up those tiny beads found in scrubs and exfoliating washes. This synthetic chemical is commonly contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, possible a human carcinogen. Polyethylenes are skin irritants and should not be used on broken skin. Furthermore, these little beads can not be filtered by our sewage system and thus pollute our waterways and are eaten by fish and other marine animals.



Sodium Lauryl Sulfate/Sodium Laureth Sulfate:

Found in: shampoo, body wash, mascara, and acne treatments.


Probably the most common chemical that beauty gurus abhor is sodium lauryl sulfate. Found in more personal care and cleaning products than you would think, the major concern surrounding sulfates is their ability to irritate the skin and exacerbate inflammatory conditions such as perioral dermatitis.


Found in: toothpaste, deodorant, antibacterial soap

What to use instead: antibacterial and antiseptic agents like tea tree oil


An antimicrobial chemical that is a part of the gang of endocrine disruptors. Studies show that triclosan can potentially make bacteria antibiotic resistant. This chemical is usually found in toothpastes, antibacterial soaps, and deodorants.



Overall, the best advice is to always take time to read the ingredient labels products you’ll be using. Opt for products with the fewest ingredients, and avoid scented and antibacterial household products. Homemade remedies are a great alternative, or try shopping at stores such as Credo Beauty and Thrive Market, both of which are committed to selling only natural and non-toxic products.


Thank you to Hello Glow.com, Huffington Post, Free Range Skincare, and David Suzuki for the information on these chemicals.

Image Credits: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7

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