What's in your soap?
Read the ingredients panel of many of the soaps on our supermarket and chemist shelves and you will see a long list of unpronounceable chemicalsthat look as though they are straight out of a science textbook.
That is because some commercial soaps are basically detergents, says Adam Balogh from the Olive Oil Skin Care Company. These can cause irritation, drying and even allergic reactions, he says. “No wonder there are so many people with skin problems.
“It is so important to know what you are putting on your skin, and to use natural products with a few gentle ingredients that will actually benefit your skin, leaving it cleansed, moisturised and feeling nourished, naturally,” Balogh says.
body+soul asked the experts for a list of the top 10 problem ingredients found in many commercial soaps – and some natural alternatives your skin will love.
1. Artificial colours (such as Blue 1, Red 33, Yellow 5 and Titanium Dioxide) It is best to choose soaps with no colour added as the fewer chemicals in a skincare product the better. “The idea behind [natural] soaps is to keep them as natural as possible and free from synthetics like colouring agents and artificial fragrances,” Balogh says. He says the main colouring agent in commercial soaps is white (titanium dioxide). Also common in sunscreens, it is generally considered safe but some research suggests that it can be a carcinogen if inhaled in extremely small particle sizes.
2. Artificial fragrancesDerived from petrochemicals, these fragrances may be listed as “parfum” or “fragrance oil” on the pack and can cause allergy and skin sensitivity. Grace Culhaci, founder and CEO of organic personal care company Pure and Green Organics, advises people who prefer a scented soap to look for one that uses organic essential oils as an alternative.
3. Triclosan Antibacterial and antimicrobial soaps often contain triclosan, which can cause skin irritation. “In 2010, Australia’s Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme released a report stating that triclosan can pass from mothers into their breast milk,” Culhaci says.
4. Sodium Lauryl and Laureth SulfateThese are chemical foaming agents that can cause skin irritation and inflammation. Dermal therapist Isabella Loneragan, from Northern Sydney Dermatology, says they can be found in all sorts of products that require a foam, including soaps and shampoos. “It is best to look for disodium laureth sulfosuccinate in skincare products, which is superior in its safety, stability and mildness, while offering a soft foaming ability,” Loneragan says.
5. Methylisothiazolinone Research suggests this can be a neurotoxin, a substance that affects the nervous system. Associate Professor Rosemary Nixon, from the Skin and Cancer Foundation, says it has recently been allowed in higher concentrations, with experts seeing more allergic reactions.
6. Tetrasodium EtidronateThis is a chelating agent used to soften water and prevent soap scum. “However it aggravates skin problems, particularly eczema,” Culhaci says.
7. Propylene GlycolThis is a thickening agent that is known to break down skin cells and cause irritation. Nixon describes it as a rare allergen. “That means that there is the possibility that allergic reactions may occur, so we would prefer that other chemicals are used,” she says.
8. Chemical additives such as Mineral Oil and Petroleum Oil“Mineral and petroleum oil often create a smooth sensation when applying, which can be a selling point for consumers, but they are often comedogenic – they can create blackheads or create an occlusive layer on the skin which reduces its ability to breathe,” Loneragan says.
9. Tetrasodium EDTAThis is a synthetic preservative made from formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, and sodium cyanide. It can be irritating to the eyes and mucous membranes.
10. Coca -midopropyl BetaineThis is a synthetic cleansing agent known to cause allergic dermatitis. It is listed by Australian author, health and environment researcher Dr Peter Dingle as one of the severe chemicals in cosmetics that should be avoided wherever possible.
11. Cleansing advice