Why getting into the habit of reading the ingredient label is important

Globally, consumers are more conscious of the products they’re buying and the impact these products have on their health and the environment. Now, more than ever, they’re questioning the brands they support, their products and if the brands values align with their own. In South Africa this movement has grown too, with the rising popularity of natural and organic retailers like Faithful to Nature, Wellness Warehouse and Shop Zero.

For decades, studies have taken place to find a link between the chemicals used in commercial cosmetic and skincare products and pervasive diseases like cancer. Although a direct link hasn’t been found for many of these chemicals, there have been some alarming findings and developments, such as carcinogens. This is a group of chemicals linked to cancer with the most common one’s being parabens, phthalates and formaldehyde.

Parabens are used as a preservative and found in beauty and skincare products like deodorants and creams. A 2004 study conducted by a Cambridge University researcher found traces of methylparaben in cancerous breast tumours. In another study in 2012 published by the Journal of Applied Technology, it was found that 99% of the breast tissue samples had at least one paraben, while 60% of the samples had a minimum of five.

Phthalates are used to make products softer and are found in nail polish and synthetic fragrances. They’re endocrine disruptors, which means they interfere with your hormonal system increasing your risk of developing hormonally driven cancers like breast and ovarian cancer. Formaldehyde is classified as a carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program in the United States and is used to prevent bacterial growth in products like mascara and shampoo.

Staying 100% clear of carcinogens and chemicals in the world we live in isn’t possible. But wherever you can, it’s good to be more conscious and intentional of what you’re putting into and on your body. Getting into the habit of reading product labels is a great starting point and as a general rule: if you can’t pronounce the ingredient, it’s time to do your research. Many of the skincare products we use can be homemade, like deodorant and toothpaste. Plus, it’s an opportunity to reduce waste and plastic. If you use conventional skincare and beauty products don’t be hard on yourself. Slowly integrating more natural, sustainable and organic products is best as it can become overwhelming if done all at once.