Are there harmful chemicals in your skincare products?

Taking care of your skin is about more than just how you look. Skin is a protective barrier between you and the world while regulating your body temperature, keeping you hydrated, producing important hormones, and more.

So, a good skincare routine is important for health as well as beauty — but are the products you use helping or harming?

Toxic trade-off 

Some companies produce skincare products and topical medicines that include antimicrobials, antifungals, and preservatives to increase the shelf life of their products. Sure, it’s nice to have products that can sit in the cabinet for months without spoiling, but it can be a toxic trade-off.

Many skincare products are absorbed deeply into the skin. In the lower dermal layers, they can enter the bloodstream, which is bad news if they include harmful chemicals. That’s why Okana is committed to creating 100% natural products that are self-preserving so you can look after your skin safely.

So, before rubbing that new lotion into your skin, take a close look at the ingredients list and don’t use products that contain the following:


Parabens should never be rubbed on your skin. Keep an eye out for methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben or butylparaben — these are all different types of parabens, and they’re all harmful.

Parabens accumulate in your body over time and are known to disrupt hormone function. Parabens bind to the estrogen receptors on cells, which can make your body think there is a sudden flood of estrogen in your system. This had been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer and reproductive problems. Parabens have also been linked to a range of immunological, neurological and dermatological problems.

Skincare and cosmetic companies that are still using parabens are under pressure to find new, safer ways to preserve their products.

Formaldehyde releasers 

Formaldehyde releasers do just what it sounds like — slowly release formaldehyde into products to preserve them. This chemical makes products last longer but it is also quite toxic. Low levels of formaldehyde are okay, but if you’re applying multiple skincare and cosmetic products that contain this chemical you could be at risk of sensory irritation and skin sensitisation, breathing difficulties, asthma, and increased cancer risk.

Keep an eye out for the following ingredients:

  • DMDM Hydantoin
  • Imidazolidinyl Urea
  • Diazolidinyl Urea
  • Quaternium-15
  • 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1, 3-diol
  • 5-Bromo-5-Nitro-1, 3-dioxane
  • Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate.

Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) 

SLS is used to make products foam or lather up. Its purpose is to make bubbles, which cut through oil and dirt to clean your skin or hair. The problem is SLS alters your skin’s pH balance, which should be around 5.5 — a sweet spot that is slightly acidic.

When your skin’s pH is artificially moved to the alkaline end of the spectrum like this, it can become dry, itchy, and vulnerable to bacteria. People with acne are often drawn to foaming cleansers to cut through the excess oil on their skin, but this creates bigger problems by leaving their skin vulnerable to bacteria.

But there are natural ways to make a cleansing product bubbly. Okana’s Apple Juice Foaming Cleanser gives you all the satisfaction of lather, minus the drying and alkalinising effects of SLS.

Coal tar

Coal tar is frequently used as an ingredient in creams and treatments used for psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis.

Around 10 000 different compounds make up coal tar. The main compounds are hydrocarbons and carbon. In its natural form, coal tar is a thick, black, viscous liquid that smells like a freshly tarred road.

Coal tar is probably safe in concentrations below 5% but prolonged exposure has been linked to cancerous tumour growth. So, if you’d rather avoid the potential risks — and avoid supporting the coal industry —  avoid products with these ingredients:

  • Coal Tar Solution
  • Tar
  • Coal
  • Carbo-cort
  • Coal Tar Solution
  • Coal Tar Solution USP
  • Crude Coal Tar
  • Estar
  • Impervotar
  • KC 261
  • Lavatar
  • Picis Carbonis
  • Naphtha
  • High Solvent Naphtha
  • Naphtha Distillate
  • Benzin B70
  • Petroleum Benzin


Hydroquinone is included in products that lighten the skin or claim to correct hyperpigmentation by reducing the number of melanin-producing cells in your skin. Hydroquinone is usually not a major health risk but there are definitely reasons to avoid this chemical.

If you have sensitive or dry skin, you may experience an increase in dryness, reddening of your skin, irritation, or severe itching. If used for longer than five months, hydroquinone can occasionally cause ochronosis — a skin condition characterised by swollen pimples and bluish-black colouring on the skin.

It’s also not recommended if you’re pregnant because 35-45% of the chemical is absorbed into your system through the skin. While it has not been established that hydroquinone can harm the foetus it’s safety is also not established. Considering the high level of absorption, it’s best to avoid this ingredient!


Triclosan turns up in a wide variety of products, from cosmetics to toothpaste, and it’s bad news. It was first used in hospitals as an antimicrobial agent but today it’s mainly used as a cheap way to preserve personal care products.

The Mayo Clinic recommends avoiding products containing triclosan because it alters hormone regulation, might contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and could be harmful to your immune system.


There’s a debate raging in health circles about oxybenzone, which is used in sunscreens, hair sprays, and cosmetics as a UV absorber.

There’s no solid evidence of harm to humans – beyond rare allergic reactions —  but oxybenzone does penetrate the skin and accumulate in the body. A 2017 study of rats indicated that oxybenzone might act as a hormone disruptor in high enough concentrations, and studies of exposure in humans have found mixed but worrying results.

Given all that, you’re probably safer with minerals like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to protect against UV.


Alcohol is considered a harmful skincare ingredient because it eats away at the surface of your skin, which can interrupt the skin renewal cycle and cause nasty problems. Because alcohol can cut through oil on your skin, it is sometimes used in acne treatments — avoid these like the plague, as the alcohol will make acne problems worse in the long run.


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