What Does 'Chemical Free' Mean and What Ingredients Should You Avoid in Your Skincare?

There's a big push these days to go "chemical free," which is great and healthy and awesome, but... what does it mean, exactly? Ingredient listings on skincare, cosmetics, cleaning products and even food can get pretty un-pronouncable pretty fast. And even 100% natural products (like ours) contain some chemical-looking ingredients.

It's confusing, but fear not! We're all about complete transparency here at VM and we want to help educate you on what is going onto and into your body, because once you know what to look for and what to avoid, it's actually super simple.

So to start, let's look at what exactly a “chemical” is.

WHAT IS A 'CHEMICAL'?

Scientifically speaking, a chemical (or chemical substance) is a form of matter that has specific and constant properties. Any substance consisting of matter is technically a chemical. 

Natural chemicals include gases (like oxygen and hydrogen), solids (like rocks and soil) and liquids (like water). These chemicals are not intrinsically good or bad; they just are. 

Increasingly, though, the term "chemical" refers to an artificially created or purified substance that mimics some natural phenomena (such as smell, preservative effect, etc). This is particularly true in the beauty and cleaning industries and in the natural health media. 

When water and chlorine are both classed as chemicals, but you'd only survive drinking a glass of one of them, you start to see the difficulty in using a single word to describe everything.

So. When we say “chemical-free” in terms of our health, we obviously don’t mean all chemicals- water and plant fibres are the good guys! A better way to talk about avoiding substances that aren't good for us is to say we are “harmful chemical free."

WHY HARMFUL CHEMICALS ARE USED

Chemical substances often replace natural ingredients in our household products because they are cheaper, they act as preservatives (which is convenient because we want our products to last), they mimic smells that we like, they inhibit bodily functions we don’t like (sweating, for example) or because they make things foam. Generally these synthetic substances are less expensive and easier for manufacturers to get in bulk.

For a while in the 1940s and 50s chemical was the way of the future – we had improved on nature itself and now things lasted longer, cleaned better, smelled nicer and generally made us feel like we were looking after ourselves more effectively. And all for a very low price. It was glorious!

Some of the developments and uses of chemicals were incredibly effective and useful, but there were also a lot that have proven extremely difficult for our body to filter out and deal with - and the results are not quite as pretty as that lush pink bubblegum body wash you used as a kid.

Many of the chemicals that once seemed so useful were slowly accumulating in our bodies, exhausting our filter systems, changing the way our bodies had to work, and even causing cells to mutate. These are what we mean when we talk about "harmful chemicals"

SO WHAT SHOULD I AVOID?

Our motto is that you should never put anything on your skin you wouldn't eat, and we really, truly, actually, fully, totally believe it.

The skin is the largest organ of the body and acts like an external digestive system: everything we put on our skin is absorbed by our body and goes into and through our vital organs. So it follows that you only want to feed it nutrients and harmless chemicals. 

Below is a list of harmful chemicals commonly used in cosmetic and skincare products and exactly what they have been proven scientifically to do to your body.

Mineral Oil Also called 'parafin,' 'liquid petroleum' or 'paraffin oil,' Mineral oil is a byproduct of the distillation process to produce gasoline. Personally, that's enough information for us to decide it shouldn't go on our skin, but mineral oil has been used in skincare and cosmetics for a loooong time due to its ability to prevent moisture loss. (Ever hear of Vaseline, paw paw ointment or petroleum jelly?)

Mineral oil acts like cling wrap on the skin, locking in moisture. What this means, though, is that it also traps in sweat and dirt, clogging pores and increasing the likelihood of acne and infection. Even the so-called 'cosmetic-grade' mineral oil is listed as comedogenic, meaning it clogs pores.

The cherry on the top of this "no thanks" sundae, though is that it adds nothing to your skin. Mineral oil does not provide moisture itself nor does it contain nutrients that are beneficial for your skin. (In fact, there is evidence that mineral oil is one of the largest contaminants of the human body.) So why use a pore-clogging possible contaminant on your skin when there are so many 100% natural oils, butters and extracts that do actual good for it
Alcohol We always say that alcohol is great for drinking, but terrible for putting on your skin. Traditional perfumes and other skincare products (such as toners and astringents) use alcohol for its quick drying effect. Theoretically, what this does is make synthetic fragrance stick to your skin and tighten pores to keep out impurities. What it actually does, though, is dehydrate your skin and strip it of its natural oils. This weakens the epidermis and can result in toxic effects such as respiratory failure, vasodilation, hypotension, convulsions and paralysis. Further, prolonged use of alcohol on the skin can cause long-lasting pigmentation and structural damage. Yikes!
Phthalates These bad boys are used to increase the flexibility and softness of plastics and they are EVERYWHERE. Pthalates appear in deodorants, nail polish, perfumes, hair spray and lotions, plus a lot of household plastics and containers. They have been linked to be endocrine disruption, asthma, ADHD, breast cancer, birth defects, obesity and type II diabetes, low IQ, neuro-developmental issues, behavioural issues, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development and male fertility issues. Prolonged exposure is known to damage liver and kidneys. That's a long list, huh? Rest assured, you'll find none in any VM products.
PEGS - Plyethylene Glycol PEGS are used as thickeners, solvents, softeners and moisture carriers. They are also used in pharmaceuticals as a laxative. They contain dangerous levels of a toxin called Dioxin, which is used for its antibacterial properties. There is evidence that Dioxin is linked to cancer, nervous system disorders and miscarriages and is know to reduce immunity. PEGS are particularly dangerous for damaged and/or broken skin.
SLS- SLES - The Sulfates Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and Sodium Laureth Sulphate are used to create foam and strip grease, so you'll find them in a lot of shampoos, body washes and facial cleansers. These are the original engine degreaser, though, and have been shown to cause skin irritations, eye damage, depression, laboured breathing and diarrhoea.
Parabens Mthyl, Butyl, Propl and Ethyl are preservatives that sometimes don’t even make it on to the label of the product. They have been isolated in breast cancer tumours and are often found in deodorants. They are also linked to hormone problems in teenagers.
Silicone Silicone makes products spread well and feel soft, so you'll find it in makeup primers, night creams and moisturisers. The most common forms of silicone are dimethicone and cyclomethicone. They stick to the skin and can be hard to remove, clogging pores and making it difficult for skin to breathe.
Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is used in many cosmetics to help prevent bacteria growth. It is classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Carcinogens. It is known to cause allergic skin reactions and may also be harmful to the immune system.

 

SAFE ALTERNATIVES

It's not all doom and gloom, though! For every harmful chemical, there is a natural alternative that works just as well- or better. At Vanessa Megan, we work hard to produce effective formulations using 100% natural ingredients to ensure your skin is safe in our hands. 

Below is a list of ingredients we use in our products that may look scary at first, but are perfectly safe for your skin.

Cetearyl Olivate A natural, olive derived emulsifier that helps blend ingredients together to create a smooth, luxurious texture. Also softens skin. Works in conjunction with sorbitan Olivate.
Citric Acid Natural AHA that adjusts skin acidity to promote cell regrowth and naturally exfoliate. May help even skin tone, treat acne and fight wrinkles.
Cocamidopropyl Betaine Coconut derived surfactant
Coco Glucoside Completely biodegradable, non-ionic surfactant derived from renewable raw materials such as coconut oil and corn and fruit sugars. Mild enough for all skin types.
Glycerin A natural lubricant and humectant that balances water levels in skin to faciliate moisture. Also called "glycerine" or "glycerol,"  smooths and softens skin by helping cells mature properly.
Glyceryl Caprylate Skin conditioning agent, emollient, surfactant and emulsifying agent
Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride A water soluable derivative of guar gum offering conditioning properties
Leuconostoc Natural antimicrobial preservative derived from fermented radish root
Maris Sal Sea salt from the Dead Sea in Jordan, contains essential minerals for skin that may help reduce wrinkles, reduce inflammation, improve skin barriar and enhance hydration. 
Olive Squalane Hydrates, softens, protects and aids in skin regeneration. Reduces wrinkles and promotes healthy skin.
p-anisic Acid Natural preservative with antiseptic properties. Derived from anise plant.
Potassium Sorbate Natural, mild preservative used as alternative to toxic parabens. Prevents the growth of microorganisms and protects natural ingredients from spoiling. 
Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate  Vitamin C derivative known to be a powerful antioxidant with collagen stimulating and skin-lightening properties. Influences melanin production to prevent hyperpigmentation, promotes collagen production and improves the skins appearance.
Sodium Bicarbonate AKA Baking soda, used to balance skin's pH and aid in exfoliation
Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate Sodium salt derived from coconut oil, extremely gentle surfactant and emulsifier. Often used in toothpaste and baby soaps. 
Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate Water-soluable, sulfate-free surfactant derived from coconut. Mild, safe and not to be confused with Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (aka SLS, a widely used toxic alternative)
Sodium Methyl Oleoyl Taurate Salt of a coconut derived fatty acid. Used as mild surfactant and foaming agent.
Sorbitan Olivate A natural, olive derived emulsifier that helps blend ingredients together to create a smooth, luxurious texture. Also softens skin. Works in conjunction with Cetearyl Olivate.
Xanthan Gum Polysaccaride derived from glucose or sucrose; binder, emulsion stabiliser and viscosity increasing agent. May have skin conditioning properties.