Clean up your (Beauty) Act: Cosmetics Ingredients to Avoid

Want to clean up your beauty act but don’t know where to start? Here are some ingredients to avoid when shopping for skincare and makeup.

Navigating clean beauty can be confusing. Ever picked up a face cream or cleanser and seen 'clean', 'organic' or 'green' written across it, but not sure what that means? You're not alone.

There is no universal standard on what qualifies as 'clean' or non-toxic. Different countries have different regulations governing cosmetics and their safety, so ingredients that are considered harmful and banned from use in cosmetics in some countries, are allowed in others. For example, fewer than a dozen harmful chemicals have been banned or restricted by the FDA in the US, and the law does not require cosmetic products and ingredients to have FDA approval before they go on the market. Compare this to the EU where 1,328 ingredients have been banned from cosmetics because they are known or suspected to cause cancer, genetic mutation, reproductive harm or birth defects.

Hong Kong on the other hand, has quite relaxed regulations around cosmetics and skincare products. If another major market in the world— like the US— has deemed the product safe to sell then Hong Kong defaults to this. Your favourite skincare or beauty products could contain plasticisers, surfactants, and harmful preservatives which can enter your bloodstream and bioaccumulate in your system due to chronic exposure.

Want to clean up your beauty act but feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start? You don’t have to get rid of everything in your bathroom cabinet. Start by swapping out products you use the most and have long-term exposure on your skin, like body lotions and moisturisers for example, deodorant, or sunscreen which you wear every day. Or if you wear lipstick or eyeliner often, start there.

Using a paraben-loaded shampoo, or a mascara containing coal tar isn’t going to affect you overnight, but we don’t know the long-term bio-accumulative effects of using these chemicals daily. Many clean beauty advocates choose to err on the side of caution. If you find a clean product that performs better than the conventional product you are currently using, swap it out. Do you have a particular concern you need to address, like sensitive skin, or allergies? Prioritise this and eliminate known skin irritants from your cosmetics and skin care routine.

Here are some controversial and irritating ingredients you might want to avoid: