Understanding Skincare Product Safety

There is an amazing array of products in the American beauty industry. And they are found everywhere from grocery store shelves to farmers markets to high end boutiques. All of the products come with marketing terms to encourage you to buy and many make astounding promises.

In this 7 Day Glow podcast we are going to learn a little about skincare terms and ingredients to beware of.

Just like there is no magic potion that will take you from large to thin overnight, no product will actually make your skin flawless overnight. Products can diminish the appearance of wrinkles or redness, but not erase them instantly (and in some cases never). 

Your skin is in a constant state of renewal as new cells work their way outward to the skin surface, where they die and are sloughed off. Within approximately four weeks new skin cells are formed, developed and shed from the skin's surface. Our body's unique rate of skin renewal plays into how quickly products will show a difference in our skin. Too often companies make claims of immediate effectiveness when in fact, we are all different and it may take weeks or even months to see a real difference in our skin as the result of a product. 

How long a skincare product takes to work depends on the ingredients in the formula, combined with a long list of individual factors including your age, skin type, other products you use, or even the season of the year.

Ingredients can take from a few minutes up to many months to show a difference in your skin. As a rule of thumb, I recommend sticking with a product for at least six weeks before making decisions about the product's effectiveness.

We all want safe products - and many of us prefer not to use chemicals on our skin. In fact, so many of us want "clean" ingredients in our skincare that the "natural" skincare product category has become one of the fastest growing types of skincare in the USA. There is very little government regulation on the U.S. skincare industry - this includes how companies market and what terms they use to sell their products. 

The terms "safe", "all natural", "green", and "hypoallergenic" have no standard for the meaning behind these terms. And there is no required certification in the U.S. before the terms can be used by companies. Without a standard definition, these terms have become basically meaningless. 

Typically, but not always: 

Natural - means the product contains plant-based ingredients. 

Clean - means the products are "free of" potentially harmful ingredients such as parabens and phthalates. 

Hypoallergenic - should mean the product contains minimal allergy producing ingredients but there is no standard definition for "Hypoallergenic". This means that the term can mean anything the maker wants it to mean.  

Organic - There is some oversight on the use of the USDA Organic label however a product can be made with a mix of organic and non-organic ingredients. Usually this term means the product is made of ingredients that are organically grown and free of chemical pesticides. 

Customers generally assume if a product is made with organic ingredients it does not contain harmful chemicals, this is unfortunately not always true. Instead of relying on terms that have no real meaning, look for better explanations on the label such as Vegan, Cruelty-free, Eco-friendly, GMO-free, Free of harmful chemicals or irritants, Preservative free, Formulated with all natural organic ingredients and USDA Certified Organic.

The key to choosing healthy skincare products is to understand the ingredients in the products you use. When you look at a skincare label you may immediately be overwhelmed by the list of ingredients and their names, but once you become familiar with the top ingredients to avoid you will be well on your way to choosing healthier products.

There is not time in a podcast to go over every single toxic ingredient but I am going to touch on five common ingredients to avoid. 

Number One: Parabens. Parabens are used as preservatives in many skincare products. Parabens can be absorbed thru the skin and have been found in breast cancer tumors. While there have been no conclusive studies proving parabens cause breast cancer, there is growing concern over this ingredient. This is why you are seeing more and more “Paraben free” products on the market.

Parabens can appear on the label under different names but all end in the term “paraben”. For example, benzylparaben, propylparaben, methylparaben, and ethylparaben all fall under “parabens”.

Number Two: Phthalates. Phthalates are found in almost everything AND everyone - even you. A study by the US Centers for Disease Control actually found a trace of phthalates in every single person they tested! Phthalates are commonly used in cosmetics and plastics. 

Phthalates are hormone disrupting and have been linked to reproductive issues, developmental problems in children, and insulin resistance. 

What makes Phthalates especially troublesome is that they frequently are not listed in product ingredients. Phthalates are commonly used in fragrances. Because fragrances are considered proprietary information, companies are not required to release the individual ingredients used to make a fragrance. Either purchase products that are identified as phthalate free or choose products scented with natural ingredients or essential oils.

Number Three: Petroleum. Petroleum is found in a huge variety of products. Petroleum is the same thing motor oil is made of. The problem with petroleum is that it contains 1,4-Dioxane. 1,4-Dioxane is considered by the World Health Organization and the EPA as a probable carcinogen. Petroleum comes under a variety of names including mineral oil, liquid paraffin, petrolatum, and toluene.

Number Four: Oxybenzone. Oxybenzone can be found in a variety of sunscreens. Oxybenzone has been tied to allergies, hormone issues, and skin irritations. As a nation, Americans have been exposed to so much oxybenzone that a study by the US Centers for Disease Control found that oxybenzone is present in 97% of Americans. This indicates that Oxybenzone may already be present in your body so limit your use of this ingredient moving forward as we are not yet fully aware of all of the ways Oxybenzone may affect the body.

Number Five: Artificial and Synthetic Colorants. If you are using conventional cosmetics, it’s likely they are made with artificial and/or synthetic colorants. Many of the synthetic colorants are made from coal tar. These have been shown to be carcinogenic. Because they deposit heavy metals on your skin they can also be the cause of skin irritation and sensitivity. Check your label - if you see anything listed as FD&C or D&C do not buy it.

Thank you so much for joining me today. Hopefully today’s episode will give you a jumping off point for becoming more aware of terminology and ingredients to watch out for when purchasing skincare products and cosmetics. 


I'm Alyssa Van Doorn.

I am the natural skincare formulator, biologist, certified clinical aromatherapist, and obsessed self-care advocate who founded 7 Day Glow's holistic, simple skincare approach. I'm on a mission to empower women with the tools they need to find and maintain their Glow simply and with confidence.

Notice: These statements and blog content have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information in our articles and podcasts are not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and are not intended as medical advice. The content of these blogs, podcasts and associated products is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your physician before using products or following blog/podcast advice.