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  • The Toxic Truth Behind Beauty Products | with Emily Bathgate

    June 19, 2023 7 min read

    The toxic truth about beauty productsUnveiling the dangers and embracing natural beauty.

    Each year, approximately $22 billion is spent on beauty products in Australia, with Australian women contributing approximately $3,600 each to the beauty industry. Beauty is synonymous with self-care and feminine embodiment… but many beloved beauty products contain a cocktail of chemicals that can be linked to a host of health problems, and it’s believed that we apply 16 of these products on average per day. So, is our love for beauty impacting our long-term health as women? And how can we take care of our beautiful bodies with this in mind?

    We look at the recent lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson for the talc-based products more than 15,000 women believe have contributed to their cancer diagnoses, consider that many of the thousands of chemicals used in beauty and self-care products have not been accurately tested for safety, and take into account that infertility and hormonal imbalance seems to be of growing concern… and it’s hard to not feel more than a little worried.

    In fact, it’s a huge part of the reason I started studying naturopathy and launched my own natural skin + lifestyle brand, The Purist Collection after my mum was diagnosed with a genetic form of cancer.

    Toxic Beauty Ingredients

    From disruption of our endocrine system (as these chemicals mimic or interfere with the body’s hormones), to skin sensitivities and even increased cancer risk, many of the chemicals that feature in popular beauty products threaten not only our health but the health of the environment too.

    Here are some of the common harmful chemicals used by the beauty industry, what you need to know about them, and why we should steer clear!


    Parabens are preservatives commonly found in various beauty products, including lotions, shampoos, and cosmetics. They are used to prevent the growth of bacteria and prolong product shelf life. However, research suggests that parabens can mimic oestrogen in the body, contributing to hormone imbalances and endocrine disruption. They have been detected in breast cancer tumours, although the link between parabens and cancer is still being studied. Parabens can also cause allergies and skin sensitivities. Moreover, these chemicals are not easily biodegradable and can contribute to environmental pollution once entering into water systems [1] [2].


    This group of chemicals are used to enhance the flexibility and fragrance of beauty products, such as nail polish, fragrances, and hair sprays. They have been linked to endocrine disruption, potentially affecting reproductive health and hormone balance. Phthalates can interfere with the normal functioning of hormones and have been associated with female fertility issues. Additionally, these chemicals have been found to cause allergies and skin irritations topically. Through their manufacturing and disposal, phthalates also pose a risk to our marine life and ecosystems [3] [4].

    Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES)

    SLS and SLES are surfactants commonly used in beauty and personal care products such as shampoos, soaps, and cleansers. They create lather and foam, giving the impression of effective cleansing. However, these chemicals can strip the skin and hair of their natural oils, leading to dryness and irritation at best, and skin allergies, sensitivities, redness, itching, and inflammation at worst. They can also penetrate the skin and potentially disrupt the endocrine system, although further research is needed to establish the extent of their impact. In the environment, SLS and SLES can be toxic to aquatic organisms and may persist in water systems [5] [6].

    Synthetic Fragrances

    Synthetic fragrances are widely used in perfumes, body sprays, and many other beauty products to enhance their scent. However, manufacturers are not required to disclose the specific formula of chemicals used in fragrance blends (as they are considered trade secrets, and therefore protected). This lack of transparency makes it challenging to assess the potential health risks associated with synthetic fragrances. What we do know is that they are known to trigger allergies and sensitivities in some individuals, impacting both respiratory and skin health. Synthetic fragrances can contain phthalates and other potentially harmful chemicals, contributing to endocrine disruption and hormone imbalances. Additionally, when these fragrances are washed off, they can accumulate in water systems and harm our marine life [7] [8].


    Also known as Botulinum Toxin, Botox is a known neurotoxin that has been touted as "one of the most poisonous biological substances known" and is the toxin responsible for botulism, an uncommon but very serious nerve condition, amongst many other health issues. However, it is an extremely popular ‘anti-ageing’ treatment, with its popularity set to continue to soar (especially with the hype of ‘preventative’ Baby Botox for young women), with the global market size set to grow to USD$9.09 billion by 2029 [9] [10].

    Protecting & Detoxifying Our Bodies

    If you’re anything like me, discovering the toxic (literally!) side of the beauty industry is initially quite confronting and overwhelming. Your brain might be working overtime right now to think about all of the beauty products you use, which of them contain which ingredients, and how you’re going to restock your entire bathroom cupboard. And my advice here is to start slowly – any step in a healthier direction is a great one! But more on this shortly.

    Firstly, you’ll want to focus on supporting your body’s own natural detoxification processes. Luckily, our bodies are equipped to naturally and consistently allow the toxins from our beauty products, environments, and diets to be transformed into less harmful substances for elimination through our liver, gut, kidneys, skin, and lungs.

    You’ll find lots of info on how you can support this beautiful cleansing ability of your body on my recent blog post here, but to quickly recap, you’ll give it a boost with:

  • An anti-inflammatory, whole-food diet
  • Lots of liver-loving foods
  • Plenty of pure, filtered water
  • Regular exercise and movement
  • Enough quality rest and sleep
  • Dry body brushing, and infrared saunas
  • Reducing your exposure to as many toxins as possible (including your beauty products, cosmetics, and even home cleaning products)
  • Medicinal herbs, like Burdock, Cleavers, and Yellow Dock
  • A naturopathic clinician’s detoxification plan, tailored specifically to you

    Next, I personally think it’s extremely important to consider your intent. Are you using beauty products and treatments to feel better about yourself? In what way? Is it an act of self-care for you? Or is it because the societal beliefs and beauty standards we’re constantly exposed to are telling you that you’re ‘not enough’ as you are, or that you’re *gasp* ‘ageing’ (a very normal, biological, healthy and inevitable process by the way! I am firmly petitioning against ‘anti-ageing’, and instead I’m all for healthy ageing)?

    Remember: the beauty industry is, like any other, one that profits from selling to you. We know the impact that many of its products can have on our physical health but don't forget about your mental health and wellbeing, too. Consume its marketing consciously and carefully.

    Embracing Natural Beauty

    If you’re ready to detoxify your beauty routines and opt for natural and organic beauty products, the great news is that shoppers are becoming increasingly aware of the potential risks involved in lathering their skin in toxins, and so skincare and cosmetics brands are answering the cries for natural alternatives.

    As I mentioned earlier, start small and look at swapping one toxic beauty product at a time (because we know that overwhelm and stress don’t serve the health of the body well, either!). You may still be a little hesitant about making the switch to an all-natural beauty regime, and that's okay. Take your time to explore before you take the full plunge if that feels right. As there are so many products out there; shop around and find what works best for you, your skin, and your budget.

    Word to the wise when shopping: stay informed, curious, and aware. It’s really important to carefully read ingredient lists and labels in a world where (disappointingly) there isn't much regulation around the use of the words 'natural', 'green' or 'organic' in the marketing of beauty products. While some products may lead you to believe they're green, natural, or organic, if the ingredients show that they contain any synthetic chemicals, including artificial fragrances, detergents, or preservatives, THEY ARE NOT NATURAL. No matter what the marketing says.

    Here are some of my favourite locally made low-tox and toxin-free brands:

  • The Purist Collection (though I am biased)
  • Mother SPF
  • AYU
  • Miss Frankie
  • We Are Feel Good Inc
  • Mere Botanicals
  • The Unnamed
  • Heartwood
  • Bare Roots Australia
  • Mukti
  • Sodashi

    And why not try some DIY, too?!

    For More...

  • Watch the 2019 documentary, Toxic Beauty
  • Check out The Environmental Working Group for plenty of resources
  • Listen to one of my recent podcast episodes on Botox and the Dark Side of Beauty
  • Visit my Instagram for tips, tricks and more
  • Shop the Floralia Apothecary in-store or online here

  • [1] Darbre, P. D. (2015). Endocrine Disruptors and Human Health: Could Estrogenic Chemicals in Body Care Cosmetics Adversely Affect Breast Cancer Incidence in Women? Journal of Applied Toxicology, 35(5), 543-554
    [2] Darbre, P. D., Aljarrah, A., Miller, W. R., Coldham, N. G., Sauer, M. J., & Pope, G. S. (2004). Concentrations of Parabens in Human Breast Tumours. Journal of Applied Toxicology, 24(1), 5-13
    [3] Swan, S. H. (2008). Environmental Phthalate Exposure in Relation to Reproductive Outcomes and Other Health End Points in Humans. Environmental Research, 108(2), 177-184
    [4] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Phthalates Fact Sheet
    [5] National Library of Medicine. (2019). Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
    [6] National Library of Medicine. (2019). Sodium Laureth Sulfate
    [7] Schmidt, R. J., Kornilov, S. A., Westfall, A. O., Driscoll, K. J., & Rittenhouse, K. J. (2019). Fragrance Material Review on Synthetic Fragrances Used in Cosmetics. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 130, 382-407
    [8] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2020). Fragrances in Cosmetics
    [9] Nigam, P.K., Nigam, A. (2010). Botulinum Toxin. Indian Journal of Dermatology, 55(1), 8-14
    [10] Botulinum Toxin Market Size, Share & COVID-19 Impact Analysis

    If you need some one-on-one support to get your skin back on track, book a consult with Emily here.
    Love Emily
    Naturopath, Emily Bathgate, offers natural, holistic and evidence-based treatments for a range of skin + general health conditions, addressing underlying causes and setting you up for ongoing skin health + wellness. 

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