Almost everything you put on your skin will be absorbed into your body. Some ingredients in lotion are designed to stay within the upper layers of your skin, while others could potentially be absorbed into your bloodstream. Some ingredients make your skin more sensitive to the sun, others clog your pores or cause your skin to break out. What should you avoid?
Ingredients in Lotion – The Popular Brands
The other day I decided to take a look at the ingredients in lotion typically found on store shelves. I chose five very popular brands of body lotion that I used to buy. These are the same types of brands that most people are probably using on a regular basis. In the past I purchased lotions based on the promises found on the front of the label…moisturizes for 24 hours, non-greasy, dermatologist recommended, clinically proven to heal dry skin, etc.
I was always hoping to find something to solve my dry skin woes, smelled good, didn’t leave my skin feeling too greasy, and actually lived up to the label’s claims. I think I tried almost all of them (this was way back when I did not know any better). Then I learned how important it was to pay attention to the ingredients in lotion.
Turn It Around – Read That Label!
Today, the first thing I do is turn that bottle around and read the back. And 99.9% of the time, I put it right back on the shelf.
Sad to say that most all lotions I have found, even in the health food stores, do not live up to my expectations. Yep, I’m REAL picky. It is hard to create a product that will satisfy everyone’s needs, bring the company a decent profit, and not break down when it has to sit on the store shelf for an indefinite period. That is why the majority of my purchases are through companies that sell online, often these companies make their products in smaller batches, and yes, they cost more.
Getting back to the five bottles of body lotion I mentioned above. I took a snapshot of the labels so I could research the ingredients…a huge undertaking!!…but also looked into other compounds commonly found in body lotions. Sometimes their names are long or sound complicated, but they may not actually be considered harmful.
For example, Ascorbic Acid is Vitamin C, Cocos Nucifera Oil is coconut oil, and Butyrospermum Parkii Butter is Shea butter. Some of these lotions contain these safe, plant based ingredients as well as oat kernel flour, aloe leaf juice, palm oil, and eucalyptus leaf extract. I did not include these on the list because I already know they are perfectly safe. The ingredients below read like a science experiment in a chemistry class, in other words, they are most definitely not found in nature.
What I did find, however, is that even though many these ingredients in lotion were created in a lab, they have been designated as low to moderate risk by the FDA and other organizations that have tested them. That makes me feel a teensy bit better, especially since I used these products for many years before opting for healthier choices.
What Is the Big Deal?
Why then, am I questioning the items on this list if most are deemed low to moderate risk? First, because most are chemicals created in a lab rather than ingredients found in nature, and I’ll take nature’s loving embrace whenever I can!
And second, because lotions are used every day, often several times a day, they are used in combination with so many other products, and this is in addition to the toxic exposures we come in contact with – second hand smoke, pollutants, additives to our water, pesticides on our foods. When you add it all up (year after year), it may no longer be considered a low to moderate risk (but you are free to choose what YOU are comfortable with).
I know we cannot completely eliminate all the bad stuff we will be exposed to on a regular basis, but if we can make better choices, then we can minimize the risk of acquiring unexplained health problems—allergies, migraines, contact dermatitis, irritable bowel, chronic fatigue, or even cancer.
Of note, you will frequently see that an ingredient may cause disruption to the endocrine system. What does this mean? It means it messes with your hormones, one example being estrogen, which can lead to breast cancer, endometriosis, and female reproductive disorders. Other hormones that may be affected could lead to weight gain, male reproductive disorders, diabetes, thyroid disorders, immune disorders, and cancer. Get my point?
Doing the Research – Putting It All Together
Full Disclosure: In order to determine the safety of the items on the (very, very long) list below, I used a few different resources, one being the Skin Deep by Environmental Working Group – EWG.org. But a word of caution about this source, there are some authorities in the scientific world, such as the Society of Toxicologists, that do not agree with their ratings. One authority says their goal is good, for safer cosmetics, but their methodology is suspect and unreliable.
Skin Deep/EWG has a rating system for Low, Moderate, and High Hazard designations. It should be stated that these ratings are based on the ingredient itself, rather than the concentration levels found within products. In other words, if used alone, the ingredient may be considered high risk, but if used in a low concentration within a product, it may be considered safe. As another example, if you take one or two acetaminophen to help with pain or fever, you get the desired result without much (if any) risk, but if you swallow the whole bottle, you’ll die of liver failure.
The other known flaw with Skin Deep/EWG is that when they did not have data from safety studies, they rated the product as zero, which means they are implying it is safe, when they simply do not have enough data to rate it. So…why did I use their data? Because I want to identify why it would be used in the first place and to understand the potential hazard of an ingredient (if any), that’s all. And I still prefer to avoid potentially risky ingredients, as stated above, I believe some of them can be accumulative with prolonged use.
I also found valuable information on TruthInAging.com – they provide explanations that are easy to understand, it is important to scroll down the page on their website to read about the Functions and Safety of the ingredients. In addition, I looked at multiple other websites to compile this list as well, like SafeCosmetics.org, CosmeticsInfo.org, DrAxe.com, and many more.
One final caveat…it should be said that anything deemed “safe” is always subject to an individual’s sensitivity and/or allergic response to the ingredient; therefore, you should always test first to determine how your skin will react to any product.
The Top 10 Ingredients in Lotion to Avoid
- Artificial Colors
- Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)
- Formaldehyde/Formaldehyde Releasers
- PEG + a number (PEG-4, 6, 8…)
- Petroleum/Petrolatum/Mineral Oil
- Phthalates/Diethyl Phthalate
- Sunscreens (noted on the list below)
Here’s the Whole List – Check It Out
Below is the whole list. It contains ingredients most commonly found in lotions and it is by no means complete; there are many more ingredients being used in skin care products today. You can use this as a reference for your own lotions, or if you prefer, you can check out the websites mentioned above.
- Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer – controls viscosity (thickness) and stabilizes emulsion (blend or mixture)
- Alcohol Denat – denatured alcohol acts as an anti-foaming agent, controls viscosity, used to make creams feel lighter, can cause dry skin and breakouts
- Ammonium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate – used as a cleansing and foaming agent to remove oils and dirt
- Arginine – this is an amino acid (one of the building blocks of protein) that acts as a skin conditioning agent
- Artificial Colors FD & C / D & C – these colors are considered safe, however, they are derived from petroleum and coal tar (see Petroleum below), some people have a strong sensitivity or allergic reactions to dyes, some studies link dyes to hyperactivity/ADHD in children, and Red 3 is linked to cancer
- Ascorbic Acid – this is Vitamin C, it is an antioxidant that can improve the signs of aging
- Ascorbyl Palmitate – combination of Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) and a fatty acid, used as an
- Avobenzone/Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane – (see Sunscreens below) a common sunscreen ingredient that protects from UVA rays; it breaks down in the sun releasing free radicals which can increase the risk for cancer, one source states it can mimic the hormone estrogen and should be used with caution
- Behentrimonium Methosulfate – used as an antistatic agent, though considered safe, has restricted use in cosmetics, may cause allergic reactions
- Benzophenone – (see Sunscreens below) absorbs UV light which helps prevent damage to scents or colors in cosmetic products, also used in the printing industry, noted to be a possible carcinogen
- Benzyl Alcohol – used as a solvent and preservative, has restricted use in cosmetics
- Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) – used as an antioxidant, preservative and stabilizer, concerns for endocrine organ disruption, system toxicity, and ecotoxicity
- Butylene Glycol – used for skin conditioning, to control viscosity
- Candelilla Wax (Euphorbia Cerifera) – from a shrub found in Mexico, used for film forming, skin-conditioning, increases viscosity
- Carbomer – used to control viscosity, to form a gel
- Ceramide AP, NP, and EOP – helps to retain water
- Cetearyl Alcohol – increases viscosity and production of foam
- Cetyl Alcohol – increases viscosity and production of foam, helps with the ability to spread
- Cetyl Esters – considered a wax, used for skin-conditioning
- Cetyl-PG Hydroxethyl Palmitamide – used for skin-conditioning, has restricted use in cosmetics
- Citric Acid – considered an alpha hydroxyl acid (like citrus fruits), used to affect the acidity in products, can be used to promote skin peeling to regenerate skin as part of anti-aging, has restricted use in cosmetics
- Diazolidinyl Urea – (see Formaldehyde below) acts as a formaldehyde releaser when exposed to this ingredient on a regular basis it is possible to develop an allergy to it
- Dimethicone – it is a silicon-based polymer that acts as a lubricant, used as a skin-conditioning and antifoaming agent
- Dimethyl Stearamine – used as an emulsifier and anti-static agent, concerns for ecotoxicity
- Disodium EDTA – acts as a preservative, binds with metal ions to prevent breakdown of the product, it should be noted that this ingredient increases the ability of other ingredients to be absorbed into the skin, which means it needs to be used with caution
- Distearyldimonium Chloride – used as an antistatic agent, concerns this ingredient can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs, as well as organ system toxicity
- Ethylparaben – (see Parabens below) used as a preservative, parabens mimic the hormone estrogen and can disrupt the endocrine system
- Emulsifying Wax – this ingredient can be produced via a plant or petroleum based wax and requires the use of certain chemicals in its production that may be considered questionable (Polysorbate 60), it is used to hold oil and water together and is a bit controversial, some companies of all natural products will not use it, while others consider it to be perfectly safe based on their source and/or low concentration level
- Formaldehyde/Formaldehyde Releasers – (there are too many to list, see EWG.com) Releasers act as a time-released antimicrobial preservative, they slowly release formaldehyde which is a known human carcinogen
- Fragrance/Parfum – in general, synthetic scents can be very risky; the term “fragrance” is sneaky, it can be used as a catch all term for thousands of ingredients, several sources report that the vast majority of synthetic fragrances are derived from petroleum (see Petroleum below)
- Glycerin/Glycerol – used as skin-conditioning agent, decreases viscosity, has restricted use in cosmetics
- Glyceryl Dilaurate – used as an emulsifier and skin-conditioning agent, has restricted use in cosmetics
- Glyceryl Stearate – used as an emulsifier
- Glycol Stearate – used as an emulsifier and skin-conditioning agent
- Homosalate – this is an ingredient commonly found in sunscreens, once exposed to the sun, it breaks down into harmful ingredients, concerns are related to endocrine system disruptions and organ system toxicity
- Hydroxyethyl Urea – used for skin conditioning, noted that urea is excreted in urine
- Hydroxyethylcellulose – used to increase viscosity, to form a film, and as an emulsifier
- Isopropyl Palmitate – acts as an antistatic, skin-conditioning agent, and as an emulsifier
- Isopropyl Myristate – used as a skin-conditioning agent, concern for irritation of skin, eyes, and lung
- Lanolin Oil – used as an antistatic, skin-conditioning agent
- Magnesium Aluminum Silicate – used as an absorbent, to help with viscosity and as an anti-caking agent
- Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate – a vitamin C based antioxidant
- Methyl Gluceth-20 – used as a foaming agent meant to help retain moisture
- Methylparaben (see Parabens below) – parabens mimic the hormone estrogen and can disrupt the endocrine system, concerns for allergies/immunotoxicity, biochemical or cellular level changes, has restricted use in cosmetics
- 5 Methylisothiazolinone – used as a preservative, risk for irritation of skin, eyes, and lungs, allergic reactions, ecotoxicity, and neurotoxicity
- Myristyl Alcohol – a fatty alcohol, used as a skin-conditioning agent, enhances foam production, increases viscosity
- Octyl Methoxycinnmate – (see Sunscreens below) used to block UVB rays; concerns this can cause organ system toxicity and reproductive toxicity, should be used with caution by children and pregnant women
- PABA – (see Sunscreens below) used as a UV filter, has been linked to cancer and disruption of thyroid activity
- Panthenol – used as an antistatic and lubricating agent, it is a vitamin B5 derivative
- Parabens – there are several forms of parabens; in general, they mimic the hormone estrogen and can disrupt the endocrine system
- PEG + a number (known as Polyethylene Glycol 4, 6, 8…) used as an emollient, an emulsifier, to help with absorption into the skin, and as a solvent or cleansing agent. The lower the number, the more it is supposed to help deliver the product deeper into the skin (so if you have compromised or sensitive skin you may want to avoid this ingredient). PEG products are supposed to be purified before being added to a product, however, they can contain impurities that are dangerous when absorbed into the skin, some of which are linked to cancer.
- Petroleum/Petrolatum/Mineral Oil – concerns are related to organ system toxicity, according to the World Health Organization and the Environmental Protection Agency it contains 1,4-Dioxane which is a probable carcinogen, also can contain benzene derivatives that are carcinogenic and can disrupt the endocrine system, has restricted use in cosmetics
- Phenoxyethanol – used as a preservative, can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs, as well as organ system toxicity
- Phthalates/Diethyl Phthalate – used as a fragrance ingredient, concerns for endocrine organ disruption and system toxicity
- Phytosphingosine – used as a skin-conditioning agent
- Polysorbate 60 – used as an emulsifier, to dissolve a solvent that would not normally dissolve
- Potassium Hydroxide – used to adjust pH, can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs, as well as organ system toxicity
- Propylene Glycol – used as a skin-conditioning agent, can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs, as well as organ system toxicity
- Propylparaben (see Parabens above) – concerns are related to allergies and developmental/reproductive toxicity, parabens mimic the hormone estrogen and can disrupt the endocrine system
- Resveratrol – used an antioxidant and skin protectant
- Sodium Acetate – used as a buffering agent
- Sodium Alkyl Sulfate – used as an emulsifier to mix oil and water compounds
- Sodium Chloride – this is actually table salt, used to increase viscosity
- Sodium Hydroxide – used to adjust pH and as a buffering agent, can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs, as well as organ system toxicity
- Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate – used as an emulsifier and surfactant
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate – used as a surfactant, can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs, as well as organ system toxicity
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate – used as a surfactant, can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs, as well as organ system toxicity, meant to be used in low concentrations if the product is not rinsed off, rumors that it causes cancer have been proven to be false despite what is found on the internet
- Sorbic Acid – used as a preservative, can cause organ system toxicity
- Stearyl Alcohol – used as an emulsifier, increases viscosity and production of foam, can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs
- Stearalkonium Chloride – used as a an antistatic agent and preservative, concerns for toxicity and possible allergic reaction, has restricted use in cosmetics
- Stearamide AMP – increases viscosity and production of foam
- Stearamidopropyl PG-Dimonium Chloride Phosphate – used as an antistatic agent
- Steareth-21 – used as a surfactant, cleansing agent, and emulsifier, concerns for ecotoxicity and organ system toxicity
- Stearic Acid – a naturally occurring fatty acid, used as an emulsifier, surfactant, and cleansing agent
- Stearyl Alcohol – used as a surfactant and emulsifier, increases viscosity and production of foam, can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs
- Sunscreens – used to block UVA or UVB rays from the sun, concerns that most of these will break down in the sun and can cause organ toxicity and/or reproductive toxicity, some are linked to cancer
- Titanium Dioxide – (see Sunscreens above) used as a sunscreen, concerns for organ toxicity and is a possible carcinogen (specifically when inhaled in powder form)
- Tocopheryl Acetate – used as an antioxidant and skin-conditioning agent, can cause possible allergic reactions, concerns for immunotoxicity
- Vegetable Glycerin – a naturally occurring compound, a lubricant that attracts water to the skin
What Will You Choose?
Now that you’ve read (or skimmed) the whole list of ingredients in lotion, what do you think? If you had not already decided to use products with more pure ingredients, do you think you may consider switching to all natural skin care products? No judgment here, just curious. Let me know what you think.