WHAT’S REALLY IN YOUR COSMETICS
The ingredients lists on beauty products aren’t as scary as you think. Suzanne Wangmann offers a guide
What’s a girl to do? All you want to know is what is in your beauty products and the ingredients list looks like a foreign language.
And, in a sense, it is. Most chemical names are based on Latin, Greek or French, which makes them hard to pronounce let alone remember (you try saying phthalate).
The carbon-based molecules that make up many of the ingredients make it even trickier. Those are the chemicals that start with “meth” (for one), “eth” (two), “prop” (three), “but” (four), “pent” (five) and “hex” (six). This is to describe how many carbon atoms are in the molecule.
It’s hard to get your head around, but it’s important to know about the carbon, because it tells you that a molecule came from a living source, such as a plant, because all living things contain carbon atoms. But then again, so do the mineral oils, because they come from coal – and coal was once a plant too.
There is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation when it comes to cosmetic ingredients. Cosmetics companies will always try to put the best spin on their ingredients. They are, after all, in the business of making money.
Some manufacturers will make their formulations sound green and natural and gloss over the fact that some ingredients in their formulations are synthetic.
Mineral powders are a perfect example. The word “mineral” makes you think they are 100 per cent natural, but many contain bismuth oxychloride, which adds a shimmer synthetic, as well as dangerous, when in fact they’re completely natural and good for your skin.
The alcohol myth
Alcohol in skincare has had a bad rap over the past few decades. Many of us remember applying stinging astringents to pimples, so whenever we see a chemical with the word “alcohol” in it we think it will be harsh and irritating.
In fact, the opposite is often true. Cetearyl alcohol is a good example. It’s a common ingredient in skincare but it’s actually a wax, made from plant oils and natural waxes (usually coconut or palm kernel), and it’s used in skincare products as an emollient and a thickener.
Not all alcohols are the same. In chemistry, an alcohol is any molecule where a carbon is joined to a group of atoms called hydroxyls.
When alcohol as we know it is used, it is usually called ethanol. There are different types of ethanol, such as phenoxyethanol, which has a rose aroma but is used as a preservative and is usually synthetic.
What we think of as alcohol is used in cosmetics but it is “denatured”. This means it has had a substance added to make it undrinkable.
Making it easier
All this makes you wonder why cosmetic companies don’t try to make reading their ingredients lists easier. Well, some have.
Australia’s Pod Puraceuticals lists all the ingredients and their sources on its products. Even the preservatives and fragrances