It may come as a surprise – but water (‘Aqua’ or ‘Eau’ on a product ingredients list) is actually something to be wary of when you’re selecting skincare. That’s because whilst water is, of course, fine on its own, when it is added to beauty products it can act as a cheap filler to bulk up the product in question. As a consequence, an emulsifier is then required to bind the oil and water together, in addition to mould, yeast and bacteria inhibitors, stabilisers, pH correctors and preservatives. This means that even the 'best quality’ ‘natural’ and ‘botanical’ products are less than good for your skin.
Emulsifiers, despite the innocent-sounding name, have a lot to answer for when it comes to modern-day products causing, and even exacerbating, skin disorders. This is because most emulsifiers are soap-based and leave a soap residue behind, which has catastrophic effects on the skin’s natural biology. In addition, soap-based emulsifiers themselves can be incredibly damaging due to the process they go through during manufacture, known as ethoxylation. This chemical process involves adding a known carcinogen, ethylene oxide, which results in a toxic by-product called 1.4-Dioxane.
So how do you know whether your favourite cosmetic products contain emulsifiers? It’s unlikely that they’ll be listed clearly as ‘emulsifier’ – so look out for ‘Emulsifying Wax’, ‘Polysorbate’, ‘Stearate’, ‘Steareth’, ‘Cetearyl’ and ‘Ceteareth' in the ingredients list. They’re usually halfway through or towards the end of the list. This soap residue also prevents your skin from healing properly as it inhibits the formation of lipids and enzymes which keep skin healthy, as well as damaging the lipid barrier itself and removing the skin’s own natural moisturising oils, leading to premature ageing and dryness.
Whilst all the harmful side-effects of petrochemical additives and preservatives in our cosmetics and skincare products are less than desirable, there is one in particular which leaves your skin desperate for nourishment. This occurs when the lipid barrier, the important protective part of our skin, is damaged, as because of its nature, soap residue slowly attacks and emulsifies the lipids (healthy fats) in our skin throughout the day. Then, upon washing, these emulsified skin lipids are actually rinsed away with the soap residue. This works in much the same way that the soap-based emulsifier was used to help bind the water and oil-based ingredients and carry them into your skin; the soap now binds with your skin’s natural oils and carries them out – leaving your skin drier than before. If you think about it, you may actually have experienced these effects yourself – notably the tight, dry feeling you get when your hands and face have been washed with soap. But why is dry skin a problem? Dry skin is unhappy, damaged skin; and over time if it continues to suffer it will age faster and will be more susceptible to developing skin disorders.
Why is pH important?
Many products are emerging which promise a ‘lower pH’ level than their less-desirable counterparts – but in actual fact, this could be just as damaging for your skin. pH is a scale – with one end acidic and one end alkaline. The pH level of your skin is around 4.5 - 5.3 – on the acidic side. This number varies from person to person and increases with age. Most skincare products claiming to be ‘pH neutral’ have a pH of around 6 - 7 – more on the alkaline side. Because this pH is not compatible with your skin’s natural requirements, these products disrupt the fine balance leading it to produce excess sebum, become dry or develop more serious issues as a consequence.
What could I use instead?
The bottom line is: soap-based emulsifiers used in the majority of skin care creams and cosmetic foundations actually damage the skin and ultimately, leave the skin drier than if no skin care product was used at all. And you paid for the privilege! So how do you go about choosing products which actively improve the health of your skin by working with it, not against it?
Despite all the chemically-formulated products on the market, nature has always provided us with the perfect ingredients with which to keep our bodies in great condition. Our ancestors used them for centuries – and many of them you will recognise as ‘ingredients’ in popular products – such as shea butter and coconut oil. Natural oils and butters are nutrient-rich food for the skin and at Absolutely Pure you'll find only skin-loving products that are low in polyunsaturates and high in saturated fats which actively nourish and feed the skin as they closely match your biological make-up.