If you want to clean up your skincare: avoid these two ingredients

Photo by Matthew Tkocz on Unsplash

These days we hear more and more often that some of the components in our make-up kits can be harmful. A lot of us brush off these concerns, as we think that such components are present in very small doses, or we don’t see any effects, so why bother? Unfortunately, certain chemicals are bioaccumulating, which means that even though we get very little exposure to them daily, they get stored in our bodies, and the compound effect over decades can be devastating. Daunting as it may be to think of a complete overhaul of our bathrooms’ and bedrooms’ drawers contents, we can take small steps and phase out the ‘bad guys’ slowly. Phthalates and parabens are good ‘baddies’ to start with.

Endocrine disrupting chemicals or EDCs are used in most of our everyday products like cosmetics, food wrappers, paint and containers. Parabens are preservatives that are used in many skin care products and cosmetics and have been found in breast cancer tissue [1]. Research shows that the use of chemical combinations can create what is known as the “cocktail effect” and as little as the intake of 1 paraben and 2 pesticides can together affect the sex of a fetus [2].

Phthalates are used as plasticizers in plastic, to maintain the smell of a perfume and even to give nailpolish its plasticity – but phthalates are also hormone disruptors. 

Nutritionist Ingrid Franzon launched her motivational Swedish book Kanariefåglarna ryter (A yellow canary alert) in 2005. Since then she has spoken to thousands of people around Sweden and motivated people to make safe consumer choices. One cosmetic and skin care suggestion she gives is to seek out products free from parabens and phthalates by first going to the pharmacy, then the beautician, grocery and finally the health food store before making a choice.

It took about two years before the health food store cosmetics started to seriously consider paraben and phthalate free alternatives. Five years later, pharmacies started marketing brands that were labeled free from phthalates and parabens. There is more to be achieved to get truly natural mainstream skin care products with natural oils and totally free from chemicals – but it is clear that consumer choice can make a difference!

How to avoid parabens and phthalates? With parabens, it’s relatively easy. You will see the word ‘paraben’  (usually as methyl-, ethyl- or butylparaben) towards the end of the ingredients list. Just make sure that the product does list ALL the ingredients (this is not always the case, especially outside Europe, but it is with most well-known or responsible brands). When it comes to phthalates, they are rarely listed on the labels (usually hiding under ‘fragrance’ or other components). However, there are ways to detect them, and here is a good article from Huffpost about how to do that. Unfortunately, if you REALLY want to avoid phthalates, you will have to ditch your favourite perfume (unless it is oil-based and deliberately phthalate-free).


  1. Byford JL et al (2002) Oestrogenic activity of parabens in MCF7 human breast cancer cells. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Vol 80 (1): 49-60.
  2. Davis, DL, MG Gottlieb and JR Stampnitzky. (1998) Reduced ratio of male to female births in several industrial countries: A sentinel health indicator? Journal of the American Medical Association 279:1018-1023.

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