Thursday, September 4, 2014

Skincare Dissection #1: Body Shop Gentle Facial Wash

What Is Skincare Dissection?
In a single sentence, skincare dissection is about learning exactly what is in our skincare products, and what effects it has on our skin and health.

Often times when we want to purchase skin care, we tend to prioritize convenience and fall for promises of fast or instant results. We scan for pretty looking packaging, and go for products that smell nice ( yes I know we all do the sniff test if we can, even I do!). The last thing we do is read the ingredients list right?! You make a quick scan, see words that are hard to pronounce and even harder to understand (hated chemistry with a vengeance in school)... oh well... if it looks pretty and smells ah- mazing, there's no harm applying it on our skin right? 

Well the only way to know the truth is to dissect that ingredients list and find out!

Note - For easy reference: 
  • green coloured ingredients are considered safe and very good for your skin, 
  • brown coloured ingredients are considered safe or have no known toxicity but have neutral skin benefits (these are usually fillers, emulsifiers or cheaper oils), and 
  • red ingredients are considered toxic.
If you have any skincare product you want me to dissect, just email to Pics and ingredients list supplied will be very helpful as well!

Disclaimer: I will list information here based on my online research, but it is ultimately up to you to decide on whether a product is good or bad. My intention is not to discriminate against any skin care products, but merely to educate you on its contents. In fact, I have many commercial skin care products lying around in my home, and the main reason I have them is because they are affordable and easily available. As much as I'm educating others, I'm also educating myself in the hopes that we all can make informed choices and consciously purchase products instead of just mindlessly grabbing them off the shelves purely based on appearances. Any views on products is my personal opinion and should not be construed as facts.

Body Shop Vitamin E Gentle Facial Wash

 This facial cleanser has been sitting in my shower for a VERY long time, at least 1 year, maybe more. Why? Well because I bought it thinking it would help cleanse my dry and sensitive skin. Well known brand...Check! Nice packaging.... Check! Nice smell ( sniff sniff)... Check! Lovely promises boasting of natural ingredients.... Check! Did I check the ingredients list? Hell No! I just believed whatever the sales assistant told me, and she/he (?!) said that it is suitable for dry sensitive skin, and that many customers have bought this product. I was in a hurry so I just paid for it and went home. 

Mind you, back then I did not know of the Oil Cleansing Method yet. I had tried to use honey to wash my face, but my skin became itchy and red. I didn't want to use any soap cleansers because they dried out my skin pretty bad, and so in my desperation I fell for the bold print on the front of the tube which says:

"Vitamin E GENTLE Facial Wash. Creamy skin-caring daily cleansing with built-in antioxidant protection. Rinses away make-up and impurities. ALL SKIN TYPES."

So I used it for a few days, but still had that dry feeling after every wash, especially if I did not put on moisturizer. Then it occurred to me to read the ingredients list, and that's when I saw the one ingredient that I had advocated against and avoided like the plague (for use on the face) - SLS! (Major face palm moment!) I would never in a million years guessed that SLS was in there, after all this is a cream based cleanser and there was no sudsing! Anyways, I felt stupid for a long time after that but I never got around to throwing the tube away. There was still so much cleanser inside, and so I thought maybe I could use it to clean something! Although I never did use it again since then, today it has finally served its purpose as my first skincare dissection specimen, after which I will happily lay it to rest at the bottom of my bin :)

Okay let's start dissecting! It's gonna be a lengthy session full of mind boggling info, but once you are  familiar with the terms, it does get easier. Since this is our first, it will seem like it's never ending so if you ever feel your brain slipping away and losing focus, hang in there k! Do note that the ingredients are listed according to its concentration in the product. The higher the concentration, the earlier it appears on the list.

So this is the ingredients list:

Aqua, Glycine Soja OilCocamidopropyl Betaine, Coco-Glucoside, Triticum Vulgare Germ Oil, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Acrylates/Steareth-20 Methacrylate Copolymer, Phenoxyethanol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Benzoate, Parfum, Benzyl Benzoate, Hydroxycitronellal, Disodium EDTA, Limonene, Geraniol, Linalool, Citronellol, Tocopherol, Cinnamyl AlcoholCI 17200, CI 14700.

Aqua - water
On the list of ingredients, water is often listed as "aqua." If everyone knows it is water why do they still bother? In Canada and the US, cosmetics ingredients are labeled using the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) system, "a system of names for waxes, oils,pigments, chemicals, and other ingredients of soaps, cosmetics, and the like, based on scientific names and other Latin and English words." In Latin, water is called "aqua".  So if you're using INCI to label your products, you use "aqua" on your product labels.
It does not state what type was used. Is it purified? Is it clean? Is it distilled? Is it treated? Is it tap water? We will never know...

Glycine Soja Oil - Soya Bean Oil 

Soya Bean Oil is sometimes considered a skin neutral oil. It is an emollient, but it does not have as much skin benefiting components as other oils such as Sweet Almond, Olive or Coconut oils. It is however very cheap because it is a GMO oil, like corn oil. 

Cocamidopropyl Betaine - synthetic surfactant 

Cocamidopropyl betaine is a synthetic surfactant (a.k.a detergent); it has been associated with irritation and allergic contact dermatitis, reactions that could be due to the ingredient itself or to impurities present in it, such as 3-dimethylaminopropylamine. Although it is made from coconut oil, it is by no means a natural ingredient.

Coco-Glucoside - synthetic surfactant
Coco-glucoside is a synthetic surfactant produced by chemical reaction between glucose and coconut oil-derived ingredients. It has a low irritaion score

Triticum Vulgare Germ Oil - Wheat Germ Oil

A great oil for moisturizing dry skin, although too much of it can clog pores.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate - SLS - synthetic surfactant
An additive that allows cleansing products to foam. According to the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database, SLS is a "moderate hazard" that has been linked to cancer, neurotoxicity, organ toxicity, skin irritation and endocrine disruption. Classified as a human irritant - strong evidence (only for products for use around the eyes, on the skin, or may be aerosolized (airborne). SLS is an emulsifier and foaming agent commonly used in cosmetic products and industrial cleaners. SLS is present in most body washes, soaps, shampoos, toothpastes and laundry detergent. According to, although SLS is derived from coconuts, it is contaminated with a toxic byproduct during the manufacturing process.

Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer - thickener and stabilizer
A film forming agent that's used as a thickener and stabilizer in cosmetic products. Mainly used in clear gels and liquids, as well as some sunscreens and facial scrubs. It’s typically designed to keep dispersions mixed in water from lumping. The film also provides water-binding properties to products. You can find this ingredient in a wide variety of cosmetic products including sunscreen, facial moisturizer/lotion, anti-aging treatment, eye cream, exfoliant/scrub, cleanser, hair dye and styling gel.

Acrylates/Steareth-20 Methacrylate Copolymer - thickener and stabilizer
A film forming agent that's used as a thickener and stabilizer in cosmetic products. According to EWG, it is determined safe for use in cosmetics, subject to concentration or use limitations - Safe for use in cosmetics with some qualifications.

Phenoxyethanol - preservative
Phenoxyethanol, also known as Ethylene Glycol Monophenyl Ether, is a glycol ether and bactericide (that functions as a disinfectant, antiseptic or antibiotic) that is primarily used as a preservative in cosmetics and beauty products. It is also seen as a fragrance additive, a fixative for perfumes, an insect repellent ingredient in sunscreens, a topical antiseptic ingredient, and solvent (Wikipedia).
Studies have shown that Phenoxyethanol can be an extreme irritant to the eyes and skin, and can even cause blistering; it is hazardous in the case of ingestion and inhalation as well. The Cosmetic Database rates it as a moderate hazard and notes cancer, allergic reactions, skin, eye and lung irritation, organ and neurotoxicity as possible effects of using products containing Phenoxyethanol. It has shown effects on sensory organs even at low doses, and brain and nervous systems at moderate doses in animals, and causes cell mutation.
According to research, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) data sheets show “chromosomal changes and genetic mutation effects in testing as well as testicular atrophy and reproductive damage in mice.”

Tocopheryl Acetate - Vitamin E - anti-oxidant
Tocopheryl acetate is a form of vitamin E, a natural skin-conditioning agent and antioxidant. It is the ester of acetic acid and tocopherol and is often used as an alternative to pure tocopherol (or undiluted vitamin E) because it is considered more stable and less acidic. Tocopheryl acetate is considered a moderate hazard by the Environmental Working Group's Cosmetics Database, which notes concerns regarding cancer, contamination of hydroquinone (an FDA-restricted whitening compound), and organ system toxicity. The CIR demonstrates strong evidence that it is a human skin toxicant, and in vitro tests on mammalian cells showed positive mutation results, linking it to cancer.It has also been determined that tocopheryl acetate is a skin sensitizer that can instigate immune system responses such as itching, burning, scaling, hives, and blistering of skin (source). A 1991 study published in Contact Dermatitis found that four cases of contact dermatitis were caused by cosmetic creams that contained tocopheryl acetate (source).Despite toxicity concerns, tocopheryl acetate is FDA approved and has received its GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) rating. 

Sodium Hydroxide - pH adjuster 
Considered a strong irritant. Also known as lye, caustic soda, soda lye or sodium hydrate.Sodium Hydroxide is an inorganic compound used to control the pH levels or serve as a buffering agent in cosmetics and personal care products. It was historically used in the formulation of soaps, but is currently seen in a variety of formulas, including bath products, cleansing products, fragrances, foot powders, hair dyes and colors, makeup, nail products, personal cleanliness products, shampoos, shaving products, depilatories, skin care products, and suntan products, as well as chemical hair straighteners and hair wave sets ( and It is also a popular ingredient in industrial solvents as a chemical base for soaps, oven cleaners, detergents and drain cleaners because of its ability to dissolve grease, oils, fats and protein based deposits, according to Wikipedia.Sodium Hydroxide is considered a moderate hazard ingredient by the Cosmetics Database, which notes concerns regarding cancer, and moderate concerns regarding neurotoxicty, organ system toxicity and irritation. It is classified as "expected to be toxic or harmful" and one or more animal studies show brain and nervous system, metabolic, and sense organ effects at very low doses and there are warnings regarding using this ingredient around the eyes or mouth.
Although Sodium Hydroxide has been linked to cancer, specifically of the esophagus, the CDC found that these cases were after 15 - 40 years of exposure, and were caused by corrosion induced by Sodium Hydroxide and "were most likely the result of tissue destruction and scar formation rather than a direct carcinogenic action of sodium hydroxide itself." 

(personal note: you may find sodium hydroxide listed as an ingredient in natural soap. Although it is used in the soap making process, once the process of saponification is complete, the sodium hydroxide and oil molecules have combined and chemically changed into soap and glycerin. So technically, there is no sodium hydroxide in a bar of natural soap)

Sodium Benzoate - preservative
Most commonly used as a mild preservative, it prevents bacteria and fungi from developing in products and formulas and changing their compositions (Wikipedia). When combined with caffeine in Caffeine Sodium Benzoate, it can have a sunscreen effect, and provide UVB protection with antioxidant activity. However, Sodium Benzoate is a controversial ingredient because of its potential to interact with Ascorbic Acid (a Vitamin C derivative) and benzene, a known carcinogen. According to the International Programme on Chemical Safety, Sodium Benzoate is not a toxin or carcinogen on its own, and large amounts of this ingredient would have to be consumed, not applied topically, for adverse effects to be seen. "In mice studies where the animals were fed sodium benzoate, no adverse effects were reported, and the mice’s life expectancies were not shortened, nor was their health affected in any way" (

Parfum - fragrance
The word "fragrance" or "parfum" on the product label represents an undisclosed mixture of various scent chemicals and ingredients used as fragrance dispersants such as diethyl phthalate. Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.

Benzyl Benzoate - fragrance, solvent, and/or preservative
Mainly used as a fragrance ingredient and solvent (helps other ingredients dissolve into a solution). It also functions as an insecticide that kills lice, mites and other insects responsible for causing the skin condition Scabies. A wide variety of personal care products contain this ingredient, including aftershave lotion, shampoo/conditioner, cleanser, perfume, moisturizer, suntan lotion and nail polish. This ingredient has been shown to irritate the skin with some individuals, and should be avoided by those with a perfume allergy. The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) has restricted the use Benzyl Benzoate in fragrances because of the potential dermal sensitization. In Europe, it is listed as an "allergenic" substance and the European Cosmetics Directive requires OTC leave-on products to indicate its presence, even at concentrations of .001%.

Hydroxycitronellal - fragrance
Hydroxycitronellal is a perfume ingredient with a medium strength floral scent, reminiscent of lily and sweet tropical melon. It is produced synthetically from naturally occuring scent chemical citronellal. Known as a human immune system toxicant or allergen.It is banned in the EU.

Disodium EDTA - preservative/ chelator/ stabilizer/ foaming enhancer
Cosmetic manufacturers frequently use this ingredient for a variety purposes. It primarily works as a preservative, chelator and stabilizer, but has also been shown to enhance the foaming and cleaning capabilities of a cosmetic solution. As a metal chelator, it counteracts the adverse effects of hard water by binding with heavy metal ions contained in tap water, which in turn prevents the metals from being depositied onto the skin, hair and scalp. This makes it a particularly useful ingredient for rinse-off products that inherently require water to come into contact with the skin. Essentially, this ingredient deactivates the metal ions through bonding with them, which in turn prevents cosmetic products from deteriorating, maintains its clarity and prevents it from smelling rancid.The FDA permits this ingredient to be used as a food preservative, and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel has assessed it as safe to use in OTC personal care products. Clinical tests have shown that standard concentrations of the ingredient do not irritate, sensitize or penetrate the skin. Though clinical data indicates that disodium EDTA is not well absorbed by the skin, it has been shown to enhance the dermal penetration of other ingredients contained in a product. Thus, cosmetic formulators must excersise caution when combining it with other ingredients potentially harmful if absorbed by the skin.

Limonene, Geraniol, Linalool, Citronellol - fragrance
Naturally extracted scent ingredients. Some are known human immune system toxicants or allergens that are banned in the EU.

Tocopherol - Vitamin E
Tocopherols are a class of naturally occurring chemical compounds related to Vitamin E. Functions as an anti-oxidant and a skin conditioning agent

Cinnamyl Alcohol - fragrance
A fragrance component. Known human immune system toxicant or allergen that is banned in the EU.

CI 17200, CI 14700 - colorants
Classified as not expected to be potentially toxic or harmful


1 comment:

  1. wow, this is very informative and a good start for learning the ingredients contents.
    and i am quite worry now on the stuff i am using on my skin now.
    good write!