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  1. Knowledge is Power - Ingredients to Avoid

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    Going shopping for natural products can be a minefield. You're surrounded by products promising natural ingredients, x%reading ingredient lists can be confusing organic, essence of marigold etc, etc; but unless you have a basic knowledge of what you want to avoid, you’re in danger of ending up with something that is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Buying from health shops is no guarantee of authenticity – there are many shops where the owners don’t know what is and isn't a 'natural' product on their shelves. It's not their fault - there is a multi-million pound industry geared towards shifting units and if companies can sell a few more by jumping on the green bandwagon, then there's little to stop them.

    But if you go in armed with knowledge, you can quickly find the natural product brands that you’ll be happy to put on your and your family's, skin.

    Don’t be daunted by what at first sight looks like a foreign language. Legally, companies have to use an international standard of names e.g. sunflower oil has to be listed as Helianthus Annuus, but you’ll find many natural products also put the ‘common’ name alongside it.

    As you get more familiar with the no-no’s, you’ll find that you can skim read a list of ingredients and the names will jump out at you.

    This checklist is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a great quick starter. If you want to know more, there are some sources at the end of the list for you to read on.

    Needless to say none of these will appear in any green brand worth its salt.

    AVOID

    Parabens – (butylparaben, ethyl paraben, propyl paraben, methylparaben) . Preservatives that may disrupt the endocrine system and cause reproductive and developmental disorders. They are now being excluded in many mainstream brands.

    DEA (Diethanolamine) derivatives e.g. cocomide DEA. When combined with certain other ingredients can release Nitrosamines which are known carcinogens.

    Formaldehyde releasers:

    DMDM hydantoin which releases Formaldehyde over time. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen at certain doses.

    diazolidinyl urea: Formaldehyde releaser as above

    imidazolidinyl urea: Formaldehyde releaser as above

    quaternium-15 : Formaldehyde releaser as above – also a common allergen

    Phthalates – Used for consistency and to fix fragrances which means they may be hidden under the ‘Parfum’ or ‘Fragrance’ ingredient.  Studies have linked phthalates to reproductive system disorders.

    PEG/Ceteareth/Polyethylene compounds – frequently contaminated with 1,4-dioxane which is a probable human carcinogen

    Sodium Lauryl Sulfate & Sodium Laureth Sulfate – common skin irritants

    Cocamidopropyl Betaine – common skin irritant

    Fragrance/Parfum       Can include hundreds of different chemicals. Companies are allowed to hide the individual ingredients under the catch-all ‘Parfum’ or ‘Fragrance’ so that their formulation remains secret, but this makes it impossible to identify known allergens or ingredients you’d prefer to avoid. Look for products scented with essential oils.

    Phenoxyethanol:  A preservative previously allowed by organic certification bodies including the Soil Association but now on their list of banned ingredients. Linked to dermatitis and neurotoxicity

    Benzyl Alcohol: Preservative, common skin irritant

    Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate: Preservative, common skin irritant

    Read more at http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ which is an American organisation or for a balanced view at http://personalcaretruth.com/ again a U.S site with a scientific approach to skin care ingredients information.

    I feel this should end with the Crimewatch disclaimer – don’t have nightmares, do sleep well!. Although reading about the dangers of skincare ingredients can make you feel like nothing is safe, you’re taking the first step and arming yourself with the knowledge to make the buying decisions that you’re happy with.

    What do you think? Does the information out there on the big wide web scare you or empower you?