Free From: What You Don’t Want in Your Skin Care

When perusing the labels on skin care products, it’s not uncommon to see a list of ingredients that it is “free from”. Most of us are interested in the active and effective ingredients being used in the formulation of our favorite products, and we are becoming just as curious about the ones which are potentially problematic when it comes to our skin and health.

Buried within the often long and complicated list of ingredients, you’ll find chemical names that may sound scary but are in fact quite harmless and/or beneficial.  You’ll also find others that you may wish to avoid. This is when a “free from” section on the label can be helpful. While the ultimate decision is left up to the consumer, a well-informed choice is better than a blind one.

Here are a few “free from” ingredients that we like to keep an eye out for and why we and others may want to avoid them:

  1. Silicones: Commonly found in skin care and hair care products, silicones help make products easier to apply onto the skin and give hair a smooth look and feel. Silicones are often the reason why some skin care products have a silky, luxurious feel to them. Although they are generally considered safe to use topically, some people may find that, due to the occlusive property of silicones, pores can become blocked – possibly problematic for those of us who struggle with acne. Silicone build-up on the skin may also lead to a dull complexion, particularly if you’re neglecting your cleansing routine. The bigger picture consequences of silicones, however, is the damage to the environment. Silicone molecules are resistant to biodegrading and take between 400-500 years to decompose. Similar to the detrimental effective of microbeads, silicones have the potential to disrupt the ecosystem and aquatic life for centuries after we’ve washed them off our skin and hair.
  2. Added Fragrance or Parfum: Added fragrances are one of the most common causes of allergic reactions when it comes to skin care. Although never specifically written out on the label, added fragrance or parfum can be comprised of hundreds of different ingredients, not all of which are synthetic. Even naturally-derived fragrances may lead to contact dermatitis, eczema, hives and rashes. Whether the fragrance is added to enhance a product’s smell or to cover up the less-than-pleasant odor of other ingredients, looking for “free from” fragrance or parfum means one less thing you have to worry about.
  3. Parabens: Parabens have widely been used as preservatives in food and cosmetics since the 1950’s. For the last decade or so, parabens have been much maligned due to a study that showed a possible link between the preservative and breast cancer. While many countries and safety organizations still consider parabens safe to use in the concentrations found in skin care, a quick search on the internet will also reveal research suggesting that parabens can lead to health problems. The only clear thing is that more study is needed to determine whether or not there truly is a risk. However, if there are safer alternatives to parabens that will preserve the freshness and efficacy of your skin care, they are worth seeking out.
  4. Synthetic Colorants: There’s no question that a beautiful color can catch your eye. Think of the hundreds of millions of dollars regularly spent on labelling and marketing, not to mention the money spent on studying how design and color can influence your brain! But is it really necessary to artificially change the shade of your night cream or shampoo? Dozens of different chemicals go into the making of one dye, and like the above-mentioned fragrance and parfum, it’s impossible to know which ones will affect your skin negatively. As an aside, we regularly get asked if there is added color in Apothekari A is for Anti-Aging Retinal Serum because of its vivid mustard yellow shade. The answer is a definite no; that’s just the natural color of retinaldehyde!
  5. SLS and SLES: Sodium Laurel Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate are foaming agents that deliver squeaky clean skin and hair. That squeaky clean feeling, that many of us like, is a result of the stripping away of our skin’s natural oils. Tight, dry and irritated skin then has to be soothed with oils or moisturizers in order to feel comfortable again. We’ve come to expect our cleansers, soaps and shampoos to suds up when we use them, so much so that when no foam is produced, we think that the job just isn’t getting done. Although producing less foam than traditional surfactants, alternatives such as Sodium Cocoamphoacetate and Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine are much more gentle to the skin while still cleansing effectively.

Reading ingredient lists can be a daunting task, but looking at the “free from” list can be a good first step. You can take a look at our own line of treatments, Apothekari Dermaceuticals “Free-From” list here. Apothekari is free from:

  • Parabens
  • Formaldehyde
  • SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) and SLES (sodium laureth sulfate)
  • Phthalates
  • Silicones
  • Synthetic fragrances
  • Synthetic colourants
  • Cruelty-free/No animal testing.