Not so many things in life can be taken at face value these days. Speaking of face value, how much do you value your face? It’s a reasonable question and the answer you give probably correlates well with the amount of money you spend on skincare and beauty products.

High street skincare and beauty products make up the bulk of what’s available to us, aside from boutique and designer products. It’s not a case of ‘you get what you pay for’ either. It is easy to think that by investing in a really expensive product with pristine packaging, we’re guaranteed to be doing our skin good. That’s simply not true.

There’s no such thing as ‘reassuringly expensive’

We go for the cheaper products because they seem legitimate, and the price isn’t too scary. Or, we go for the expensive products because we really are suckers for branding and to get us to open our wallets, our deepest fears are prayed upon in combination with our natural inclination towards aesthetic packaging.

Beauty may be only skin deep, but we aren’t looking at the deeper layers of this issue often enough; the fact that the high street brands remain so popular, while quality, natural organic products are still classed as ‘alternative’, says it all.

Are you asking the right questions?

How much do we really care about our health? What is more important, having nice looking skin, or having long lasting health? Is this a question of aesthetics? These are the important questions we should be asking ourselves. If we are prepared to spend money on skincare and beauty products, why not spend it on products that will not damage our health?

Another thing worth noting is that some of these products may appear to help your skin in the short term, but the chemicals in them are addictive and the moment you stop using them, your skin dries up. Although they are sold to us as anti-aging, that’s the opposite of what many of them do.

You don’t notice this while using the product as it also contains ingredients to offset that – until you stop. You then think the product was helping, when in fact it wasn’t; you just need to move onto something more natural that will benefit your skin long term.

Beauty may be skin deep but chemicals aren’t

Perhaps the problem is that, although there is readily available information on certain chemicals, we are not digging deep enough. These days the words ‘SLS-free’ and ‘Paraben-free’ are almost trendy, but let’s not be fooled into thinking that this is about our health – it’s about profits. News spread and it probably made more sense to remove these chemicals than risk damaging profits.

If the concern were really about the products containing chemicals, then you’d see bold print claiming that these products were also free of mineral oils, petrolatum, paraffin, propylene glycol and tuolene. Those are only a few of the products you’d want to avoid – there are more!

Chemical cocktails damage your health – and your skin

Here are the main chemicals to watch out for:

Parabens

Parabens are preservatives that (despite the current negative press they’re getting) are still prevalent in high street skincare and cosmetics. Studies have shown that they are linked to cancer. They can disrupt hormones by mimicking estrogen, which plays havoc with the endocrine system. The cumulative effect can lead to serious health problems. You should look out for the names ‘methylparabens’, ‘proplyparabens’ and ‘butylparabens’.

Sodium laureth/lauryl sulfate (SLS)

Sodium laureth (or lauryl) sulfate (SLES) is a foaming agent that makes your shampoos lather easily. It’s in a whopping ninety percent of high street skin and hair care products, but they damage the moisture barrier in your skin, drying it out and making you age faster. They can break through the skin’s barriers very easily, carrying other chemicals through to the bloodstream with them. When SLS combines with other chemicals, something called a nitrosamine may be formed. This is a cancer-causing substance.

Propylene glycol

Another common one, this is found in moisturisers and as a preservative in some healthcare supplements. It can irritate the skin, even causing dermatitis. It has also been shown to damage the liver and kidneys.

Phenol carbolic acid and Acrylamide

These two are put into face creams and skin lotions. The former can cause horrendous symptoms, from circulatory collapse to paralysis, coma and respiratory failure. The latter can cause breast tumours.

Toluene

This highly toxic substance is one to avoid at all costs. It can be found in many perfumes, yet there is no regulation of what goes into perfume – the law does not require that ingredients are disclosed. Is that not alarming?

Perfumes tend to have a perceptible chemical smell underlying that pseudo-sweetness, and it is telling us something. When you consider that tuolene is derived from petroleum and coal tar, it starts to make sense.

If you use perfume a lot, you are more likely to develop anemia, kidney and liver problems, and perhaps a low blood cell count. It has also been shown to harm developing babies in the womb. Stick with essential oils!

Paraffin, petrolatum and mineral oil

These are all petroleum products. They leave a coating on your skin that’s akin to sticking cling film on it. This blocks your pores and holds toxins inside. Another product that promotes aging, you’ll want to steer clear of this if you aspire to retain youthful looks. Even worse news is that these are endocrine disrupting and carcinogenic. There’s no good news with these products.

Now more than ever we are subjected to so many environmental toxins. This has a cumulative effect on our long-term health. We need to be very aware of what we consume – not just through the mouth but through the skin as well.

If you’re not sure what the elaborate names on the back of the bottles mean, refer to this great resource, which will tell you everything you need to know. There are many natural products available now; they aren’t so hard to find. Good luck!