Honest Gum
The Edit
7 common ingredients to avoid in your skin and personal care products

The term 'toxin' is bandied about a lot (especially in the health and wellness sectors), defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as:
“A toxin is a poisonous substance that is a specific product of the metabolic activities of a living organism and is usually very unstable, notably toxic when introduced into the tissues, and typically capable of inducing antibody formation.”
Regardless of ambiguity and the correct use of language, toxin, toxicant, toxic, or toxic chemical, all allude to being detrimental to an organism (including us humans)! Over the past 20 years, the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention have been collecting data and testing the blood of everyday Americans to assess the ‘chemical body burden.’ Over 10,000 people have had their blood tested during this time. Some of the results are astounding. Even people who live in remote and isolated areas have been found to have hundreds of synthetics floating in their blood like a toxic soup and over 287 chemicals have been found in the umbilical cords of newborns. This equates to significant exposure before we even take our first breath. It’s no wonder generalised claims like ‘the skin absorbs 60% of what you put on it’ and ‘it takes 26 seconds to reach your bloodstream’ have become misused.
Protecting yourself and those you love from toxins found in everyday personal care products is a practice of vigilance, education, and discipline. By doing research and implementing changes, you can take a major step towards a cleaner lifestyle and a clearer conscience. Safe alternatives do exist and as a consumer you have the power, via your buying choices, to directly influence the type and quality of products that companies manufacture and sell. 
Below is a list of common chemicals found in everyday skin, hair and personal care products that should be avoided. 
Parfum or fragrance is an umbrella term that constitutes any mixture of fragrance ingredients used in cosmetics, even in products labelled as unscented or fragrance free, because certain fragrance compounds may be used as stabilisers, solvents, or dyes for active ingredients, or for masking other undesirable odours. Listed as either ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ on the label, these words refer to any complex mix of various chemicals. Most mainstream cosmetics may contain up to 200 chemical constituents in the perfume or fragrance component alone. The chemicals and their derivatives found in parfum and fragrance are synthetic petroleum compounds, unlike traditional perfumes that were plant-derived essential oils. 
The International Fragrance Association lists more than 4,000 chemicals used in fragrances globally, including chemicals that toxicologists and environmental exposure researchers agree should be avoided, such as benzophenone, BHA, naphthalene, and phthalates. These compounds are easily penetrable by the body and side effects are numerous, including dizziness, nausea, and headaches. They’ve been found to trigger allergies, eczema, nasal irritation, breathing difficulties, and asthma. Some studies on chemicals are linked to cancer, ovarian failure, sperm damage, and neurotoxicity. Chemicals such as diethyl phthalate and musk ketones can interrupt normal hormone function. Phthalates are incorporated in many products so that scent may adhere to the skin and assist the aromatic staying power. Many fragrance constituents are on the banned list in the EU. 

  • Avoid: fragrance, perfume, parfum, aroma
  • Found in: almost all mainstream cosmetics, personal care products, household cleaning products 
  • Alternatives: high-grade essential oils or products that state they are fragrance and parfum free 
Phthalates, also known as bisphenol A (BPA), are widely used plastics found in cosmetics including make-up, eyelash glue, perfumes, and fragranced products. They are vinyl plastics that increase flexibility, durability, transparency, and longevity of the substance. They’re listed on labels in a variety of ways, or not at all. Health effects include disruption to the endocrine system, damage to the liver and kidneys, breast cancer, birth defects, developmental problems, decreased sperm counts, and early breast development and endometriosis in girls, as well as affecting thyroid function and being linked to obesity. 

EWG recommends that pregnant women should avoid nail polish containing dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and everyone should avoid products with 'fragrance' (a chemical mixture that may contain phthalates). Based on the latest findings, the following phthalates have been banned for use in cosmetics in Australia and the EU: dibutylphthalate, diethylhexylphthalate, diisobutylphthalate and dimethyloxyhexyl phthalate. In 2008, after BPAs were shown to disrupt hormone function and impair fertility, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission restricted phthalates in children’s toys. Many personal care product manufacturers have since phased out the direct use of phthalates. Two types — dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) — will be banned in California and Maryland in 2025. 
  • Avoid: bisphenol (BPA), phthalates, DEP, DBP, DEHP, fragrance
  • Found in: lipsticks, fragrances, deodorants, hair products, skin and body lotions, nail polish and nail hardeners, eye shadows, fragrances, plastic 
  • Alternative: not deemed a necessary ingredient 
Talc is naturally occurring mineral substance that assists in absorbing moisture, giving make-up an opaque finish, and preventing it from crumbling. Its notoriety came about after thousands of lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson that their baby powder caused cancer. Some talc may contain asbestos, a known carcinogen, so it should be avoided in powders and other personal care products, unless it’s known and labelled as asbestos free. It’s advised to avoid using asbestos-free talc in the genital areas, especially on babies and women. A possible link between talc and ovarian cancer came to light years ago, but the evidence has been played down, highlighting other potential risks such as obesity, hormone replacement therapy, endometriosis, and smoking. 
Since the J&J lawsuit, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified talc-based body powder as potentially carcinogenic to humans when applied to the genital area and perineum. As part of a response to the court ruling against J&J, Paul Pharoah, Professor of Cancer Epidemiology at the University of Cambridge noted: "The association is biologically plausible. Talcum powder applied to the genital area might get into the fallopian tubes and onto the ovaries and cause inflammation, which in turn could cause ovarian cancer..." The company discontinued sales in North America and vowed to stop selling the powder globally in 2023. Several other manufacturers continue to use talc in deodorant, foundations, eye shadows, and blotting sheets. Annually, the FDA randomly tests cosmetics that contain talc, but the number is extremely limited to 50 or fewer samples. 
  • Avoid: talcum powder, cosmetic talc, asbestos-free talc on genital areas
  • Found in: body powders, baby powders, shower products, lotions, feminine hygiene products, eye shadow, foundation, lipstick, deodorants, face masks 
  • Alternatives: corn starch, arrowroot, kaolin, tapioca, baking soda 
Chemical filters contained in sunscreens can create free radicals when absorbed. They are penetration enhancers when absorbed by the skin, and convert UV light to heat, which may affect cell growth and reproduction. Studies have shown chemical UV filters can even mimic hormones and disrupt the endocrine system. 
One such UV filter, oxybenzone, is similar in its effects to oestrogen and has been found to stay in the body, to be later detected in breastmilk. Not only is it a hormone disruptor, but it’s also commonly linked to allergies, cell damage and low birth weight of babies. Some UV filters are added to products to maintain the shelf life and stability. These are not usually listed on the labels. 
  • Avoid: avobenzene, oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC), ethylhexyl methoxy cinnamate, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (4MBC), homosalate oxybenzone, benzophenone-3
  • Found in: mainstream sunscreens, anti-wrinkle creams, lipsticks, lotions, and fragrance ingredients 
  • Alternative: products containing non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide 
Titanium dioxide has a very fine, powdered, particle-size and is widely found in loose foundations and facial powders. It was originally created for use as a white pigment, though is now used in cosmetics and sunscreen. It’s an effective UV filter and has opaque qualities, which is why it’s found in sunscreen and toothpaste. When applied topically, the threat isn’t as high. The main concern of this ingredient is inhalation due to its particle size, which can lead to respiratory irritation. It’s also a probable carcinogen and has been linked to cancer in some studies. 
  • Avoid: titanium dioxide, TiO2, aerosolised sunscreens
  • Found in: loose mineral make-up, pressed foundation powders 
  • Alternative: wet foundations and preparations
Silicones are found in most hair products, conditioning agents, and skincare products. They’re non-biodegradable and leave an occlusive slick on the skin, inhibiting the natural transpiration process, resulting in irritation and breakouts. In leave-on products directly interfacing with the skin, they are best avoided. In haircare finishing and conditioning products, they are virtually impossible to avoid. 
  • Avoid: dimethicone, dimethicone copolyol, cyclomethicone, cyclohexasiloxane, cetearyl methicone, cyclopentasiloxane
  • Found in: hair products, conditioning agents, moisturisers 
  • Alternative: plant-derived isoamyl laurate, plant-derived waxes and oils 
Parabens are widely used preservatives found in fragrances, cosmetics, and personal care products. Methyl paraben and propyl paraben are the most used in water-based products. Low concentrations of parabens are found in cleansers, shampoos and conditioners, toothpastes, and other cosmetics. There’s growing research, with some studies linking certain parabens to mimic oestrogen and having endocrine disruptive effects in the body. Exposure in humans has been linked to an increased incidence of breast cancer in females, as well as reproductive disruption in males. Allergic reactions and irritations occur when parabens are used in high concentrations. 
The European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety has found that parabens, like propyl and butyl paraben, isopropyl and isobutylparabens, may disrupt the endocrine system and cause reproductive and developmental disorders. They determined methyl and ethyl paraben (subject to concentration limits) are safe to use in cosmetics, but banned five other parabens: isopropylparaben, isobutylparaben, phenylparaben, benzylparaben, and pentylparaben. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN) Cosmetics Committee recently followed suit. The Danish government has gone a step further, as a precautionary measure, in banning the use of propylparaben and butylparaben in products that are used by children up to three years old, in the view that they might be more susceptible and vulnerable to endocrine disruptive effects. California and Maryland have banned isobutylparaben and isopropylparaben in cosmetics, effective January 2025, but other types, like methylparaben and ethylparaben, will remain unregulated. At the time of print, no parabens have been banned in Australia. 
  • Avoid: anything ending in paraben; benzyl, butyl, ethyl, isobutyl, isopropyl, methyl, pentyl, phenyl, propyl, phenylIsopropyl
  • Found in: just about all mainstream cosmetics, skincare products, deodorants 
  • Alternatives: not deemed a necessary ingredient – there are ample natural broad-spectrum preservatives available 
This is an edited excerpt from the book Truth in Beauty, written by Mukti. Truth in Beauty is a comprehensive, easy-to-follow guide designed to help readers navigate the clean beauty movement and achieve a healthier lifestyle. Drawing from her experience as a Cosmetic Formulator, Skin Therapist and Founder of Mukti Organics, Truth in Beauty features compelling facts that lift the lid on the dark secrets of the beauty industry and expose the harmful ingredients found in everyday skincare, cosmetics, and personal care products. 

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About the Author: Mukti Mukti, Founder Mukti Organics

Mukti was one of the pioneers of the green beauty movement in Australia founding what is now one of Australia’s most recognised certified organic brands Mukti Organics in 2000. Armed with a background in natural medicine and beauty therapy, Mukti recognised a gap in the market for a range of organic products that were both results-driven and backed by science. Over the past 24 years, Mukti's unwavering commitment to holistic wellness, and extensive knowledge of ingredients, their functions, and efficacy on the skin, has led her to create a range of award-winning formulations.

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