Skincare and toiletries can be called organic and natural, even if they contain a tiny percentage of organically grown ingredients. The only way to be sure that the product you are using is genuinely organic is to use products that are certified by a recognised and independent organic body, and even then, standards differ across countries. Generally the higher the certification of a product (e.g. Soil Association certification) then the better chance of it not harming the environment (or humans!)
Here are the top 5 nasties
1. Parabens - They are chemical compounds derived from Para-Hydroxybenzoic Acid, the various forms have a huge array of names including methyl, ethyl, propyl, butyl and benzylparaben. These are used as anti-fungals and to extend shelf life of products. They can cause skin irritation, contact dermatitis and rosacea in people with paraben allergies. Studies have shown that are weakly estrogenic and can be absorbed by the body through the skin. While current studies do not causally link parabens with tumours, neither do these studies demonstrate that parabens are safe; the long-term health effects of exposure to parabens are essentially unknown. Some companies will specify no parabens in their descriptions, for example the Green People
2. Tetra sodium EDTA-This is a preservative that’s made from formaldehyde and sodium cyanide. It is also a penetration enhancer, meaning it breaks down the skin's protective barrier, going right into your bloodstream. Many companies trying to be "natural" will use Tetrasodium EDTA instead of parabens to preserve their products. Sadly it's in such widespread use that it has emerged as a persistent organic pollutant (POP) and is therefore damaging the environment and food chain. Try Essential Care
's Soil Association certified range, where they have the policy of "If in doubt, leave it out".
3. Diazolidinyl urea, Imidazolidinyl urea-The most common preservatives after parabens. It has been scientifically and medically proven that they are a primary cause of contact dermatitis (e.g.eczema). These chemicals are commonly known as Germall II and Germall 115. Both these chemicals release formaldehyde, which can be toxic. It's often found in foot products to soften the skin.
4. Sodium lauryl/laureth sulphate - This is a cheap, harsh detergent used in shampoos for its cleansing and foam-building properties. It can be absorbed into the body from skin application. Generally derived from petroleum, it can cause skin, scalp and eye irritation and other allergic reactions. Try Faith In Nature
's brands that avoid the use of SLS or SLES.
5. Petrolatum - Also known as petroleum jelly (aka Vaseline), this mineral oil derivative is used for its emollient properties in cosmetics. It has no nutrient value for the hair or scalp and can interfere with the body's own natural moisturising mechanism, leading to dryness, chapping, dandruff etc. It often creates the very conditions it claims to alleviate. Manufacturers use petrolatum (as they do parabens and EDTA) because it is unbelievably cheap.