If you have sensitive skin or are conscious about the ingredients in your skincare, you might shop for products with 'clean', 'non-toxic', 'safe' or 'natural' labels, especially as the beauty industry often drills into us that things like chemicals and parabens could have adverse effects on skin. But according to Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist at Skin 55 and author of The Skincare Bible: Your No-Nonsense Guide To Great Skin, these trusted labels are nonsense.
Always on hand to bust skincare myths, Dr Mahto took to Instagram earlier this week to rubbish 'clean', 'non-toxic', 'safe' and 'natural' labels on products. "'Clean beauty' seems to keep hitting my radar," Dr Mahto wrote. "It is quite clear that beauty industry trends are simply providing what the consumer wants: a concoction of plant-based goodies for us to smear ourselves in, devoid of those toxic chemicals. You know the ones. The 'nasties' that cause cancer and disrupt our hormones. Supposedly, anyway." Then came the bombshell for beauty obsessives: "'Non-toxic', 'clean', 'natural' and 'safe' are all marketing terms when it comes to skincare. They have no legal definition."
Dr Mahto went on to defend 'chemicals' in skincare, questioning their bad rap. "On its most fundamental level, everything is a chemical. Water is a chemical; we are a walking, talking mish-mash of chemicals, so why the fear? For chemicals in general, it is the dose that makes the poison. Many things are harmless to us in low doses (as found in our skincare or food) but dangerous in higher ones. For example, formaldehyde is found in low doses in apples but this is not dangerous to our health." She added: "Even plant-based skincare has chemicals in it."
Dr Mahto explained that any product which enters the EU has been carefully tested, thanks to strict EU guidelines. "You can be pretty certain that if a beauty product enters the market in the UK it is safe to our skin and general health due to rigorous industry regulation. Despite this, the marketing phenomenon that is 'clean beauty' is persuasive and compelling, and people are buying into it in their droves." In other words, there is a lot of scaremongering and really, there's no need to be so worried.
Dr Mahto also busted the myth of parabens in skincare at Refinery29's recent Skin Deep with Ole Henriksen panel discussion: "Preservatives are absolutely essential in our skincare," she told the audience. "If we didn’t have preservatives in our products, we would literally be smearing bacteria, viruses, fungi and mould over our faces within about 48 hours of our skincare being left open."
So why the awful reputation? "There was a study that was carried out back in 2005 which linked parabens with breast cancer, and despite the fact that the study was later discredited, the mud stuck. Now there is a demand for paraben-free skincare because people believe it is a nasty chemical." But according to Dr Mahto, we've got the wrong end of the stick. "I think part of the problem comes from an inherent fear of what we don’t know or understand," she wrote. "Seeing long chemical names on product labels can no doubt be confusing, especially when combined with the idea that if it's from Mother Earth or natural, it must somehow be better for you."
Overall, if you've bought a skincare product in the UK which has passed EU laws, you can be reassured that it is safe to use, regardless of whether it contains parabens or other preservatives. And of course, when it comes to finding the best skincare routine for you, it's all about trial and error, so don't let false claims put you off trying new products.