The Truth Behind Those Not-So-Nasty Skincare Ingredients – Skin Rocks

The Truth Behind Those Not-So-Nasty Skincare Ingredients

There are a number of ingredients used within skincare that often get demonised – particularly by the non-certified ‘clean’ beauty movement. Here, we share the facts on the ones that receive the most negative press.  


What do they do? 

Act as a preservative to keep your products free from bacteria, fungi and yeast ― making them safe to use over a long period of time.  

Why they have a bad rep: 

A study of 20 women in 2002 found that parabens were present in human breast cancer tumours as well as non-cancerous tissue. Although other substances were also found, the narrative was focused solely on parabens, showing them in a bad light. The validity of this study has since been discredited. However, this single study has led to claims throughout the industry that parabens cause cancer, which is not accurate.

Why they’re safe: 

Parabens are proven to be safe at the concentrations found in topical skincare, which is below 1%. 

Example ingredients:  
  • Methylparaben

  • Ethylparaben

  • Propylparaben


What does it do? 

Enhance the sensory experience of a product and mask any unpleasant odours that frequently come from raw ingredients.   

Why does it have a bad rep: 

Certain individuals can be sensitive to fragrance and can experience irritation, which can lead to a compromised skin barrier. Due to this, they are often advised to be avoided by all. Many also believe synthetic fragrance (containing chemicals that aren’t of natural origin) is particularly ‘bad’ compared to natural fragrance (containing ingredients only from a natural origin, such as essential oils).

Why it’s safe: 

Although some may find fragrance irritating (be that natural or synthetic), others might not. Whilst synthetic fragrance tends to get the most negative press, the reality is that synthetic fragrance is often much more thoroughly tested than natural fragrance is. This means that we often have more safety information on synthetic than natural fragrances and may, therefore, deem them safer. Ultimately and as with every ingredient, it all comes down to the individual and their skin’s inclination towards sensitivity.  

Example ingredients:  

Fragrance typically consists of a complex blend of numerous ingredients. Where a fragrance blend has been added, it will be listed on the ingredients list as 'perfume', ‘parfum’ or 'fragrance'. Brands are also required to declare certain common allergens if they will be present in the product above a set level. 


What do they do?

Work as an emollient (skin smoother) and form a protective barrier on the skin, preventing trans-epidermal water loss and giving products their slip.  

Why they have a bad rep: 

Many believe that silicones can cause congestion and breakouts due to their part-occlusive nature. Others describe silicones as ‘suffocating’ due to the film they form on the skin, in turn contributing to causing breakouts. 

Why they’re safe:  

The silicones used in cosmetics/skincare are proven to be safe for topical use. Although they do hold part-occlusive properties, they are not the same as your traditional occlusive; the film that silicones form on the skin is porous - i.e., things can still pass through the barrier - so they are not ‘suffocating’ the skin (your skin also does not breathe). Additionally, silicones themselves do not clog pores as they are too large to be absorbed by the skin.

Example ingredients:   
  • Cyclopentasiloxane 

  • Methicone

  • Dimethicone 

  • Phenyl trimethicone

Essential Oils 

What do they do?  

Highly concentrated liquid plant extracts which give products their scent. Some may also be used for additional skin benefits. 

Why they have a bad rep: 

Similar to fragrance, essential oils can cause irritation for some individuals – particularly when used neat.  

Why they’re safe:  

While some may find these ingredients irritating, others can get on perfectly fine with them. If there is an issue, this usually lies in applying essential oils neat to the skin (or ingesting them!). When it comes to skincare the risk should be minimal as they are diluted within a cream or carrier oil. 

Example ingredients:  
  • Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender)

  • Pelargonium Graveolens (Geranium)

  • Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) 

  • Rosa Damascena (Rose)


Words by Ceyda – Team Skin Rocks 

Qualifications – MSci Chemistry