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Sunday 21 September 2014

So, do you have any idea what's in your skin cream?

Stars are leading the way from traditional chemical-laden products towards more natural skincare

Katie Roche

Published 20/08/2013 | 05:00

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Madonna is a fan of natural skincare products.
Jennifer Aniston is another celeb who is a fan of natural skincare products
Ali Hewson is a fan of natural skincare products.

HOW do you feel about showering with sodium lauryl sulfate, cleaning your hands with triclosan, toning your face with a splash of alcohol and moisturising with parabens? Put it this way – many of the products we use don't sound very pretty.

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Given the amount of chemicals in our cosmetics, it's no wonder that there's been an increased demand for natural skincare products. Even Bono's wife, Ali Hewson, is now co-founder of her own natural skincare range called Nude, which claims to "be beautiful without parabens, sulfates and silicones".

Jennifer Aniston, aged 44, (left) and 55-year-old Madonna are fans of Dr Hauschka's range, while Jodie Kidd and Kate Winslet like REN's natural products.

Most recently, parabens – a popular substance in cosmetics – were banned in Denmark in products for children and babies.

Skincare giant Aveda has already removed them from its range. The 'greening up' of products is becoming a big trend, but what's wrong with the products we've been using for years?

Dr Jane Mulrooney specialises in ageing and problem skin. She is also owner of natural skincare range Seavite.

"The skin is the largest organ in the body, it's a big surface area and absorbs a huge amount," she says.

Many consumers know little about parabens, which give our skin products a prolonged shelf-life.

But some consumer advocacy groups in Europe see warning signs that link parabens to cancer.

Last year, researchers from the University of Reading found 40 women with breast cancer had parabens in their breast tissue, with 60pc of the samples containing no less than five parabens.

Some studies on animals have shown that parabens can mimic the hormone oestrogen, whose production is a factor in some breast cancers.

While more research is needed, and the link is controversial, what the Reading study did show was that parabens can be accumulated into the skin and human tissues.

Skincare products aren't regulated like food and medicine.

They are tested for topical use and not ingested use, and it's been assumed that ingredients don't cross the skin barrier.

This July saw a major change with new legislation under the EU Cosmetics Directive.

Along with imposing a ban on animal testing, companies must follow strict labelling guidelines, but it's up to them to provide safety assessment.

"There should be more regulation," says dermatologist Dr Patrick Treacy.

"Unfortunately, most regulation is left to the cosmetic companies."

There may be EU guidance on the quantity of chemicals in one product, but the average woman uses up to seven products a day.

Dr Mulrooney thinks women are too good with their skincare regimes – "they're over-cleansing and over-exfoliating".

Susan Kelly, who owns natural skincare line Naturamatics, lives by a mantra: "If you can't digest it, don't use it".

Susan's products are sent to a safety assessor in the UK and it certifies if it is safe for human application.

She uses natural butters like cocoa and shea and oils like jojoba and rosehip. Susan gets her products assessed but it's by choice, not by law.

Instead of using parabens, Kelly uses a food-grade preservative called potassium sorbate.

Another Irish natural skincare business, Primula, uses plant-derived oils, herbs and botanicals.

"I avoid mostly parabens, sodium sulfates and artificial fragrances, and you'd need to be a detective to get your way around the ingredients," says owner Cathy Ginty.

Before setting up Primula, she was an aromatherapist and saw clients with skin issues like eczema and psoriasis.

Once they eliminated the products they were using, their condition disappeared.

"What I found was that people were causing it by what they were putting on the skin, rather than just having a condition."

Researchers have reported that skincare ingredients, like perfume, are one of the most common causes of allergy. Perfume can contain up to a dozen unknown chemicals as it's considered an industry trade secret.

"I do not agree with perfume," says Dr Mulrooney. "They should be left out of products. We see so many reactions from perfume-based products."

Sun cream has the most chemicals of all, containing up to 28 chemicals.

'It blocks pores, causes acne and allows us to stay in the sun longer than we should. It contains, probably, the most unregulated addition of all the chemicals," says Dr Treacy.

Both specialists think people will be begin to choose more natural products.

The skincare industry in Ireland was worth €112m last year. Consumers put a lot of hope in what products claim will bring a glowing complexion, reduce wrinkles and keep skin healthy.

"Consumers should read the back of their products. If a product says it eliminates acne or wrinkles, you'd assume they have significant testing to support these claims," says Dr Treacy.

He also explains that anti-aging claims should be taken lightly. "Cosmetic companies make claims that are outrageous."

With legislation under way and ongoing research, it will be interesting to see if the cosmetic skincare industry changes.

Susan of Naturamatics is adamant that logic will lead the way. People will realise that quality is more important, and "it's also about sustainability – using products that are safe for the environment".

She advises: "If it doesn't say on the jar, 'take a spoonful every day,' then don't."

Perhaps a nice beauty tip for the skincare industry.

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