Science Lab glass tubes on a desk

Chemical Skincare: Is It Beauty or Beast?

The beauty industry has evolved significantly, offering various chemical-based skin care products alongside natural and vegan cosmetics. However, with so many options available, it's crucial to know what we're applying to our skin and whether it's safe. In this article, we'll explore the pros and cons of chemicals in skin care, debunk common misconceptions, and provide safety tips for their use. So, let's unveil the truth behind chemical skin care and determine whether it's beauty or beast.

Closeup image of Chemicals in glass wonky lab bottles for checmicals in skincare
Chemical Skincare

Benefits of Natural & Vegan Skin care

Natural and vegan skin care products include natural ingredients that nourish and safeguard the skin. They are usually milder on sensitive skin due to fewer additives and preservatives. Moreover, these items are not tested on animals, or made with animal fats such as lard or tallow, making them an excellent option for those who promote eco-friendly and sustainable beauty practices.

The increasing trend for natural and vegan cosmetics has made them more available and affordable, making them an ideal pick for those who look for high-quality skin care products but are on a budget.

What is chemical skincare?

Chemical-based skin care products are created with a combination of various chemicals. They come in multiple forms, such as creams, lotions, serums, and masks, and can be tailored for specific skin types and concerns. Even though some chemical-based products may be harsh and irritating, others are gentle and non-irritating.

The benefit of using these products is that they are highly effective and provide quick results. It's essential to understand which ingredients may irritate your skin.

Pros of Chemical Skin care

Available

One of the most significant benefits of skincare is its ready availability. They are often easier to find than natural alternatives because they are widely available in most supermarkets, pharmacies, and online stores. This means that most people have access to some form of skincare if they have skin issues.

Highly effective

One of the other main advantages of conventional skincare products is their often high effectiveness. For example, products containing retinol are excellent for treating signs of aging, while those with salicylic acid can help reduce acne breakouts.

Additionally, these products can be tailored to suit different skin types and concerns, making them an excellent choice for those seeking more targeted solutions.

Popular Positive Ingredients in Skincare

When it comes to chemical skin care products, a few key ingredients are commonly loved by many people:

Retinol

Skin creams, lotions, and serums often contain Retinol, a type of vitamin A. This ingredient possesses anti-ageing properties and can also aid in treating acne.

Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) commonly used in skincare products. It is derived from willow bark and is known for its ability to exfoliate the skin by penetrating deep into the pores and breaking down the buildup of dead skin cells, oil, and debris. Salicylic acid is also known for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, making it an effective treatment for acne-prone skin.

Additionally, it can help to improve skin texture and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid is a type of alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that is commonly used in skincare products. It is derived from sugar cane and is known for its ability to exfoliate the skin by breaking down the bonds between dead skin cells, allowing them to be easily removed. Glycolic acid is effective at improving skin texture, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and increasing skin hydration by stimulating the production of hyaluronic acid.

Additionally, it can help reduce hyperpigmentation and age spots by accelerating the skin's natural exfoliation process. Glycolic acid is typically found in concentrations ranging from 5% to 30% in skin care products such as toners, serums, and peels.

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is a sugar molecule that occurs naturally in the body. It is found in high concentrations in the skin, connective tissues, and eyes. In skin care products, hyaluronic acid is used for its ability to attract and retain moisture, making it an effective ingredient for hydrating the skin.

In addition to its hydrating properties, hyaluronic acid has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, making it an effective ingredient for protecting the skin against environmental damage and improving overall skin health. It is commonly found in moisturizers, serums, and other skin care products designed to hydrate and plump the skin. And therefore, it can also help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and improve the skin's barrier function.

Cons of Chemical Skin Care

So let's talk about the baddies in the skin care world. Unfortunately, there are still products on the market today with additives (often called Fillers) that could be better for your skin and are often terrible for the environment. Laws are changing, but as with anything, it takes time, so it is crucial for you to be aware of these “fillers” and, where possible, avoid them.

For my information on this topic, I specifically reference Beat the Microbead, a campaign started in 2012 by the Plastic Soup Foundation to bring attention to the problem of microbead pollution in personal care products. The campaign aims to educate people about this issue and develop solutions to Beat the Microbead. Today, the campaign raises awareness about all microplastics in cosmetics and personal care products.

The campaign engages people, cosmetic brands, and governing institutions to spread awareness, provide tools like the Beat the Microbead app to help consumers make informed choices, and support solutions to the problem. It doesn't mean your product doesn't contain some form of plastic; I'm looking at you, Nivea (with tears because I LOVED their products).

Ingredients that cause issues in Chemical skin care

Fragrance

Artificial fragrances are one of the significant causes of skin problems. They are regularly added to products to mask the smell of other chemicals but can lead to various issues such as skin irritation, allergy, and respiratory ailments. Fragrances are typical in many skin care items, including those with chemicals which can cause skin issues due to their allergens and irritants.

Fragrances are composed of multiple chemicals, some of which may cause contact dermatitis, a type of skin irritation that may cause redness, itching, and swelling. Furthermore, fragrances may make the skin more vulnerable to reactions. For those with sensitive skin or a history of allergies, avoiding fragrances in skin care products, including those with chemicals, is wise to preserve healthy skin.

Choosing scent-free or naturally scented products can help to reduce the risk of skin irritation and other health detriments related to synthetic fragrances.

Triclosan

Despite its initial perception as a safe element for human use, Triclosan is an antimicrobial agent used for decades in many personal care products, such as soaps, toothpaste, and hand sanitisers. But recently, research studies have highlighted the risks of this chemical on human health and the environment. It is known that triclosan can enter the environment and has been found in various water sources.

Furthermore, it can further disrupt aquatic habitats, damage wildlife and contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Due to triclosan's potential hazards, some countries have prohibited its use in personal care products, while some companies have voluntarily removed it from their products. This has led to an increased preference for organic and natural skin care products, which will not contain potentially dangerous chemicals such as triclosan.

Parabens

Parabens are synthetic preservatives commonly used in cosmetic and personal care products and some food, pharmaceuticals, and industrial products. They are chemically derived from para-hydroxybenzoic acid and can be identified on product labels with names like methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben. Parabens are added to products to prevent the growth of bacteria, mould, and other microorganisms that can cause spoilage or contamination. They are effective against a broad spectrum of microorganisms and are relatively low cost compared to other preservatives.

People have been anxious about the safety of parabens, and research has suggested that they could be detrimental to human well-being. Also, scientific studies have established that parabens can gradually penetrate the skin and build up in the human body. Even though the amounts of parabens in personal care products are usually low, long-term exposure may still harm human health.

Therefore, various nations have forbidden using parabens in personal care items or imposed restrictions on their concentration. Furthermore, certain companies have taken it upon themselves to remove parabens from their products and have adopted substitute preservatives. In summary, parabens can lead to skin problems and potentially harm human health, so many people avoid using them in their skin care products.

Sulfates (SLS)

Sulfates, particularly sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), are a type of surfactant commonly used in personal care products, including skin care products, to create foam and remove dirt and oil from the skin. Even though sulfates can be helpful in chemical skin care, some people may have reactions to them. It may cause skin irritation, dryness, and flakiness due to it removing the natural oils from the skin and disrupting the skin barrier. It can also dry the hair and scalp, leading to dandruff and irritation.

In addition, sulfates can irritate the eyes, causing redness and discomfort. Moreover, these substances can be detrimental to the environment when washed down the drain, as they can accumulate in water sources and cause damage to aquatic ecosystems. For this reason, many individuals, particularly those with sensitive skin or skin conditions like eczema, opt to avoid sulfate-containing products and use sulfate-free alternatives.

Plastic Fillers

Plastic fillers refer to materials added to cosmetic formulations to increase their volume, texture, and viscosity. These fillers are often made of synthetic polymers or siloxanes, which are silicone-based compounds. Plastic fillers are commonly used in cosmetic products such as foundations, concealers, and powders, where they can improve the texture and spreadability of the product, making it easier to apply and more comfortable to wear. They can also provide a smoother, more even finish and help to minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

However, some controversy surrounds using plastic fillers in cosmetics, as some compounds have been linked to potential health risks. For example, certain types of siloxanes are toxic to the environment and may have endocrine-disrupting effects. As a result, some cosmetic companies are now opting for natural and biodegradable alternatives to plastic fillers in their products.

Furthermore, plastic fillers are not biodegradable when washed down the drain. They thus can accumulate in water sources, detrimental to aquatic ecosystems causing harm to wildlife and contaminating the food chain, resulting in potential negative impacts on human health. As a result of these issues, many countries have prohibited using plastic fillers in personal care products.

Plastic material can be produced in different forms, including powders, microspheres, and tiny beads. These characteristics make it an attractive option for cosmetic “fillers” it is used to add volume and smooth out wrinkles and fine lines. The following is a list of common ingredients I found in about half the products in my bathroom. It's a shame, there are plenty more, but that's a whole ‘nother blog post!

Top 3 Microplastics found in everyday cosmetics:

  • Carbomer
  • Dimethicone
  • Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Cross Polymer

Top 3 Sceptical Microplastics found in everyday cosmetics:

By the word “Sceptical”, even though these are a type of plastic, the scientific research on them and their environmental effects are minimal.

  • Laureth-4
  • Cyclomethicone
  • PEG-100 Stearate

Natural Skin Care vs Chemical Skin Care: which is better?

There has yet to be a definitive answer regarding the debate between natural and chemical-based skin care. Individuals have preferences regarding these two options, which come with their strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, there are a lot of misunderstandings surrounding both methods, and since everyone's skin is unique, what works for one person may not work for another.

However, people often wrongly assume that natural and vegan products are always the best choice for their skin and the planet. These products can be beneficial, but essential oils can irritate the skin just as much as Fragrance. In addition, people can have different plant allergies If you have a nut allergy, for example, you would not want to use any product with nuts, like Argan Oil or Almond Oil. In this case, chemical skin care products can be an excellent choice for quick and effective results. Also, just because it is a vegan product doesn't mean that the Palm oil used in its place is farmed sustainably.

I prefer certain natural skincare products over their chemical counterparts because natural skincare often utilizes supply lines that promote a more sustainable planet.

If we reward farmers and ethical manufacturers with our business, we support people worldwide who want to do the right thing for the planet. This is powerful and makes others want to follow these sustainable practices.

So if you are navigating this challenging, sustainable world field. Remember to ask the following:

  1. Does this have any of the microplastics listed above? Get the “Beat the Microbead” app on your phone and scan the product in-store to be sure!
  2. Does the packaging of the product state that the ingredients are made with sustainable farm practices? There are so many logos, but this should be clearly stated.
  3. Does the company support Ethical Manufacturing? For example, if the product contains Mica, is it processed ethically and not with child labour?

I hope this helps! I am not against skincare containing certain compounds, but I am allergic to some ingredients, so I always have to do a small patch test before investing in a product. As with anything, you must find what is right for you. If you have allergies, speak to a dermatologist who can arrange tests, and if you cannot get to a dermatologist, conduct your patch tests at home. All European companies accept a 14-day refund if there are any issues.

Visit my shop for the best natural, vegan and sustainable skin care products.

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