We’ve come a long way in the skin care industry. We now know that a lot of the chemical ingredients we’ve used for decades can be harsh, damaging, and sometimes even toxic. We’re turning to more natural, plant-sourced ingredients that truly nourish and protect skin without the potential side effects.
Sometimes we can go overboard in our zeal for what’s “natural,” though, and end up avoiding ingredients that are actually beneficial to skin.
The following seven ingredients, for example, sound like chemicals that could be bad for you, but are actually perfectly safe and beneficial to use. If you see these on your ingredient list, you can rest easy that they won’t hurt you.
Not All Chemicals are Bad
The truth is that most every ingredient can have a difficult-to-pronounce, chemical sounding name. Even jojoba oil is known as Simmondsia chinensis scientifically. “Ascorbic acid” is another name for vitamin C, and different forms of vitamin E are called “tocopherols” or “tocotrienols.”
We can break most anything down to a chemical formula. Even water is H2O, right? So though on the whole, long, crazy chemical names signal potential “danger” to the ingredient-conscious consumer, there are a few that when you see them, you can scan right past them, knowing they won’t hurt you—and may even be good for your skin.
Here are seven of those toxic-sounding but safe ingredients.
- MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane)
Scary long name aside, this is a special biological sulfur found in plants, soils, fruits, vegetables, fish, eggs, meats, and milk. It’s also found naturally in humans. Chemical name, but natural compound.
You may have seen it in joint supplements, as it’s been found in some studies (along with glucosamine) to help ease arthritis pain. MSM for skin? Turns out when it’s applied topically it penetrates deeply to help encourage hydration. It also has a natural anti-inflammatory effect—good for irritated and sensitive skin.
- Hyaluronic Acid
This is another substance that occurs naturally in the human body. A type of carbohydrate (made up of simple sugars), it binds to water and helps to lubricate eyes, joints, muscles, and yes, skin. That’s why you’ll find it most often in anti-aging and moisturizing products.
- Xanthan Gum
This ingredient is another carbohydrate made through fermentation. Manufacturers use sugar from soy, wheat, dairy, or corn, and add a particular type of bacteria called Xanthomonas campetris. The result is a slimy substance that helps to thicken and emulsify skin care formulas.
Even though it may not sound very appetizing, remember that things like beer, sauerkraut, and other everyday items are made through similar fermentation processes. Those who are gluten-sensitive may want to be careful that the source of the xanthan gum isn’t wheat, but there are manufacturers who have made the decision to use only gluten-free and non-GMO-sourced xanthan gum. Otherwise, this one is harmless in skin care. In foods, it can cause digestive upset in some sensitive people.
- Palmitoyl Oligopeptide
Peptides occur naturally in the body. You can think of them as small proteins. Some carry hormones to specific organs, some transmit sensory information throughout the body, and others help form collagen and elastin in the skin—those compounds that help support the structure of skin, reducing sagging and bagging.
A palmitoyl oligopeptide is a peptide attached to a fatty acid. The fatty acid comes from palm oil (thus the “palm” in the name). So you’ve got the collagen-supporting action of the peptide combined with the deeply hydrating action of the fatty acid. All good stuff that helps your skin look younger.
- Caprylyl Capryl Glucoside (and/or Lauryl Glucoside)
Whew! Talk about a long, chemical name. But never fear—this one won’t hurt you. In fact, it’s a safer alternative to regular harsh sulfates, which are typically used in cleansers to make the formula foam up.
Also a “surfactant (cleanser),” this one is formed in the lab by blending a mixture of alcohols with some simple sugars. The raw materials come from vegetables or coconut, and the resulting ingredient has a “zero” hazard rating on the Skin Deep Database.
- P-Anisic Acid (also called “Draconic Acid”)
This ingredient is derived from anise, a flowering plant native to the eastern Mediterranean region and Southwest Asia. P-Anisic acid is found naturally in the plant, and has antiseptic or germ-killing properties. You’ll find it in some natural or organic skin care products instead of potentially toxic preservatives like parabens.
- Maltooligosyl Glucoside/Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysate
This is a complex that comes from carbohydrate syrup (Maltooligosyl glucoside) and corn starch (hydrogenated starch hydrolysate), and helps the skin to retain moisture. It also works to calm sensitive skin, and to reduce the risk of any irritation. This one is also ranked as a “zero” on the Skin Deep Database, and won’t harm your skin.
Are you surprised to learn that some chemical ingredients won’t hurt your skin? Please share your thoughts.