The ‘cult’ure of clean beauty has exploded over the last few years. The problem is when brands focus more on the ingredients their products don’t have rather than what they do have.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve fallen for and been bought into this idea of ‘clean’ over the years.   I don’t want to be putting something toxic on my skin that I put time and money into looking after.  When the messages are more toxic than the product though, that’s a problem.  

Thanks to good old social media, there’s a statistic which is seen flying around all the time. ’60% of what we put on our skin is absorbed into our bloodstream’.  If that’s the case, next time I go to a bar I’m just going to run my arm down the spilled drinks covering it rather than spending 7 quid on a cocktail! 

In reality, that 60% figure comes from a study looking at how solvents are absorbed by the skin, and none of them are used in skincare, in fact most are industrial chemicals! Solvents are also notorious for disrupting the skin, making them easy to absorb.  All in all, not exactly the most accurate comparison to the ingredients in our skincare! 

But we have pores so chemicals must go somewhere right? 

Absolutely! We all have pores so there are a lot of liquids which can penetrate our skin, though how many layers it penetrates is a different story.  That’s when it starts getting science-y as it’s down to how large the molecules are which affects how they can penetrate.  

It’s like the difference between AHAs and BHAs in skincare. AHAs can’t penetrate as deeply, because they have larger molecules so are better for surface exfoliation. Whereas BHAs are better for cleaning out pores as they can penetrate deeper.  

Something being absorbed into your bloodstream is totally different, that means it has to be able to travel all the way through the epidermis and into the dermis.  Given that a large proportion of products have to use ingredients just to help actives penetrate any part of the epidermis, it’s harder than you might think for products to be get through to it.   

After all, our skin is literally designed to protect our organs, including our bloodstream, from nasties reaching it.  If it let everything through that we applied to it then it wouldn’t be doing a very good job!

Graphic showing the layers of skin - epidermis, basement membrane and dermis

The problem with no preservatives in your skincare

When we’ve spent ages applying our makeup for a special occasion, we’ll set it either with a spray or a powder. The last thing we want is for it all to be gone within a couple of hours and all our hard work gone to waste.   

It’s the same with our skincare. 

I would be fuming if I spent £50+ on a serum to find it had started growing mould by the time I was half way through the bottle. Every time we dip our fingers into a pot of moisturiser we’re transferring the bacteria from our body into a lovely environment for bacteria to grow. I definitely don’t want to be transferring that back onto my face! 

One of the favourite preservatives clean beauty brands like concentrating on are parabens. They were made famous in 2004 when a study by Darbre identified them as being present in breast cancer tissue.  The statement published 6 months after the paper was released saying ‘No claims were made the the presence of Parabens had caused breast cancer’ was not so famous.

Nowadays most clean beauty products are marketed as ‘paraben-free’. Don’t even get me started on the fact that now nearly everything is paraben-free then what’s the motive behind telling us..?

The point is, every cosmetic product must meet safety standards and regulations which use the most up to date research. If they don’t they simply can’t be sold.  Regardless of this, a large number of companies still continue to use ‘fear’ marketing to sell products.  New regulations were bought in in 2019 to stop companies publishing ‘free-from’ lists. It was decided they were concentrating more on what their products didn’t have than what they actually did. Just to make it even more toxic – free-from lists tended to include products which have been banned. So companies were listing ingredient they couldn’t legally use anyway! 

But it could be toxic?

Heave you heard of the chemical called dihydrogen monodioxide which has been proven to be toxic in high doses? It’s more commonly known as water, and is vital to keep us alive.  Then there’s one of Agatha Christie’s favourite poisons – cyanide. Fun fact, she used it to kill off a total of 18 characters! But, the tasteless, colourless poison is in fruits which we eat every day including apples, pears & apricots. 

Now personally, I don’t know anyone who’s died from overdosing on H2O, or from eating 40 apple cores in one go and giving themselves cyanide poisoning.  

Almost everything is toxic, if you have enough of it.  That’s why those studies and research into ingredients also look at the cumulative effects, to make sure your moisturiser doesn’t have the same effect as eating 40 apple cores would!

Whether you’re a clean beauty fan, or not really bothered, I’d love to know your thoughts on it – let me know in the comments!