The sneaky toxins you use every day (and how to avoid them).

Natural Instinct
Thanks to our brand partner, Natural Instinct

By now you’ve heard of the dangers of BPA in your plastic water bottles and food containers, but what about the other sneaky toxic and carcinogenic chemicals lurking in your bathroom cupboard and makeup bag?

When you’re looking for effective skincare products, it’s easy to gloss over potentially toxic ingredients when you practically need a science degree to decode those long ingredient lists. It doesn’t help that lots of brands appear to be natural but aren’t.

What you put on your skin can be more harmful than what you put in your body. Here are five potentially dodgy chemicals you probably aren’t aware you’re using every day – and how to avoid them.

1. PEGs

Propylene Glycols (PEGs) help to form a soluble lotion, assist in moisturising the skin and increase the penetration of other skincare ingredients. Which sounds harmless enough, but PEGs are often contaminated with a whole host of nasty chemicals. In other words, those nasties are hitching a ride on the bullet train being delivered straight into your skin cells.

Lead, iron, nickel, cadmium and arsenic are all impurities found in various PEG compounds. What’s especially alarming is Ethylene oxide, used in World War I nerve gas, has been found in PEG-4, PEG-7, PEG4-dilaurate, and PEG 100.

Most skincare brands today aim to remove these toxins before they end up on your face or in your hair, but do you really want to take that gamble?

How to avoid them: some skincare and personal care products appear to be PEG-free but can be listed under another name. Look out for ingredients like Ceterath-20, Polyethylene Gylcols, and PEGs followed by a number sequence like PEG7, PEG4, PEG2.

toxins in everyday products
“Most skincare brands today aim to remove these toxins before they end up on your face or in your hair, but do you really want to take that gamble?” Image via iStock.

2. Phenoxyethanol.

Phenoxyethanol is synthetic preservative commonly used as a paraben substitute in commercial skincare. In 2013, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a public warning about a nipple cream containing phenoxyethanol. At the time, the organisation said,”Phenoxyethanol is a preservative that is primarily used in cosmetics and medications. It also can depress the central nervous system and may cause vomiting and diarrhea”.

Phenoxyethanol is also associated with reproductive damage and genetic mutation in mice. Yeah, not something you want to be putting on your face.

How to avoid it: look out for oil-based products, as they do not need additional synthetic preservatives to extend their shelf life.

But if avoiding toxins in skincare is important to you full stop, put Aussie brand Natural Instinct on your radar. Natural Instinct use naturally occurring Sodium Benzoate, which is approved for use by EcoCert, as the main preservative in their (suitable for the whole family) skincare range.

Put Aussie brand Natural Instinct on your radar.

3. Mineral oil.

If hearing that mineral oil is derived from petroleum isn’t enough to turn you off, the fact that it can cause acne and premature ageing might. The mineral oil in cosmetics is of a higher grade and has gone through more rigorous processing than the oil that goes into your petrol tank. But there is still inconclusive data surrounding the safety of highly refined mineral oil.

How to avoid it: look for products that contain natural and certified organic oils like rosehip, jojoba, avocado and wheatgerm oil instead.

4. Artificial fragrances.

Fragrances and parfums in your beauty products sound harmless, because they’re just what make it smell nice, right? WRONG.

“Parfum” and “fragrance” are catch-all words that can potentially disguise thousands of chemicals. Thanks to a loophole in the law that doesn’t require cosmetic brands to disclose individual ingredients, because they’re considered trade secrets, there is no way of knowing what’s actually in them.

How to avoid them: fragrances are in most personal-care products, and the only way you can avoid them is to choose products with natural oils and essences like Natural Instinct. The Think Dirty app is also an excellent resource for anyone who is concerned about limiting their exposure to toxic ingredients.


Found in popular antibacterial soaps, cleansers, mouthwashes and deodorants, triclosan has the notorious claim to fame of having a chemical structure similar to Agent Orange.

toxins in everyday products
“Fragrances and parfums in your beauty products sound harmless, because they’re just what make it smell nice, right? WRONG.” Image via iStock.

How to avoid it: run to your kitchen/bathroom/garage and bin anything containing triclosan. Some natural and organic companies have begun to develop chemical-free hand sanitisers, and you can find many natural DIY recipes online. Or you could just go back to using soap and water to wash your hands.

Let’s face it, with so many toxins invading our personal care and household products it is virtually impossible to eliminate all of them, but it makes sense to be informed and limit our exposure as much as possible. Doesn’t it?

How do you eliminate toxins in your everyday life?

Here are some Mamamia staffers sampling – and falling madly in love with – Natural Instinct…

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