Why you need to clean up your skin care routine

Did you know your skin is your body's largest organ? And as it's porous, what you put on it is as important as what you eat and put into your body - our skin can absorb around 60-70% of what we put on it. Add to that, studies have shown that the face is several times more permeable than other areas on your body so the creams we put on our faces have a high chance of entering our blood stream and travelling round our bodies. 

Skincare is big, big business. An article in the Times tells us that women spend, on average, around £1352 per year on skincare. We can't get enough of it. Adverts tell us that products will make us look younger with scientific spiel most of us don't get under the skin of. 

How to swap to

But did you know that a lot of the high street and luxury products that are being bought are full of toxins that may actually be doing more harm than good? Our skin is exposed to an abundance of toxins every day through pollution and environment that can cause disease, imbalances and hormone disruption and we are only exacerbating the problem by putting more on our skin. Most of us don't know what many of the things are on the ingredients list of our beauty products and that's worrying, especially as these ingredients are as harmful to our planet as they are to us. 

Add to that, most of these products are still being tested on animals. Despite cleverly worded cruelty statements on websites, many, many companies (and definitely those that are selling any products in China) are still testing and it is thought around 500,000 animals are suffering for our unfaltering appetite for these products which is heartbreaking. 

The nasties

Parabens ~ parabens are preservatives that were introduced in the 50's. The purpose of them is to prolong shelf life, preventing the growth of mould and bacteria. The most common three are butylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben. In 2004 a study found these parabens in the breast tissue of 19 out of 20 of the women studied. Parabens are believed to disrupt hormone production by mimicking oestrogen. Too much oestrogen can trigger tumours and cell mutation so this is far from ideal. 

Synthetic colours ~ love the funky colour of your shampoo or body cream? Unfortunately, the colour is probably due to a synthetic concoction that may include heavy metals and lead. These dyes can cause irritation, block pores and research has linked them to thyroid issues, allergic reactions and kidney disease. 

Synthetic fragrance ~ many of our products are scented with nasties! So while they may have a luxury feel to you because of their scent your skin doesn't share the same view. While an ingredients list will simply list 'fragrance' just one 'skincare' product can contain up to 200 chemicals to achieve the fragrance and can include phylates (see below), aldehydes (links to neurodegenerative diseases - brain disease), petroleum (crude oils), toluene (see below) and many other toxins linked to birth defects, respiratory disease (such as asthma) and cancer. Furthermore, a 2001 study by the Environmental Protection Agency found synthetic fragrances were shown to disrupt hormone activity. 

Triclosan ~ Triclosan was present in 75% of over 2500 urine samples collected in a nationwide health survey in 2003-4. Triclosan is not only proving to be toxic to us but also is devastating news for marine life as its highly toxic to fish and other marine animals. 

Phylates ~ phylates are everywhere - in our skincare, home cleaning products, detergents, make up and hand washes. Researchers have linked them to asthma, ADHD, type II diabetes, behavioural issues and altered reproductive development. 

SLS/SLES (Sodium Laurel Sulphate/Sodium Laureth Sulphate) ~ the jury is out on these. Lush published an article saying you shouldn’t stress about SLS yet while there is still extensive studies and debates happening around its link to cancer it has proved to be an irritant. For me, if I can avoid something so questionable, I do. 

Formaldehyde ~ formaldehyde is a toxic chemical used in construction and many household products - it’s classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency of Research on Cancer. While it may not be listed in it's named form in the ingredients of your skincare preservatives DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quaternium-15, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate slowly release formaldehyde into your cream. 

Toluene (also termed benzene or methylbenzene) ~ toluene naturally occurs in crude oil and is an irritant and toxic to the respiratory tract. Worryingly it can cross the placenta and be delivered through breast milk. Lots of info here

Propolyne Glycol (aka methyl ethyl glycol and trimethyl glycol) ~ this is an additive and is present in antifreeze. It is thought to be toxic to the liver and kidneys. There have been some alarming cases linking PG exposure with cardiovascular (heart) disease. Dr Axe says: “One such patient was an 8-month-old who suffered a heart attack after four doses of topical medication to treat a burn,”.

Petroleum and mineral oil ~ these are derived from crude oil (basically petrol - ewww) and many studies have shown our body can't metabolise it (get rid of it). They're found in many, many skin and beauty products and can block goodness getting into your skin and bad stuff getting out. They are also linked to oestrogen dominance and as explained above, this is bad news. 

Heavy metals ~ Lead, Arsenic, Cadmium and Mercury are all a great concern because they can accumulate in the body and have disastrous effects in all of our organs. They are shockingly still found in some our beauty products, especially those with bright colours. 

PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene - aka TEFLON!!!) ~ yes, that stuff that covers frying pans that was recently ousted as highly toxic is also found in beauty products, especially anti ageing products. The concern is the presence of Perfluorooctanoic Acid which is a highly volatile compound. 

Make the switch

It is 100% possible to have an effective and nourishing natural beauty regime which will leave your skin glowing and refined. The natural beauty industry has come on leaps and bounds - there are a wealth of natural and cruelty free products out there that offer something for everyone. My skincare has been 100% natural now for 5 years and having recently turned 39 many people asked me what my routine is as I look younger than I am (I'll take that - thanks!). With my whole heart, I absolutely wish I had made the switch sooner as my skin has never been as good. 

How to swap to natural and cruelty free skin products and why

In my first two years of nutrition study I was lucky enough to have an incredible Naturopath names Ute lead our study. I'll never forget our skin lecture when she announced she was over 60 (30 jaws hit the floor) and she said for 20 years she had used nothing but a natural soap and a wheatgerm (vitamin E) oil. It was enough for me to swap that weekend.

I'm not saying immediately go and clear your entire bathroom cabinet now, but as each product runs out, give replacing it with a natural, cruelty free product a go. And the joy is you become so in love with your natural products you end up with just a very small collection you love, saving you money and space in your home. 

How to swap to natural and cruelty free skin products and why

Beware though - many products claim or give off a false impression they are natural but still contain nasties (just a quick look through the bottles in TK Maxx proves this!), but I'm going to point you in the direction of some great brands, I'll also blog my own skincare routine in the coming weeks. 

I’m focusing on skincare with this post - I'm also working on a few make-up posts. I haven't nailed a completely natural make-up routine yet but I'm almost there (eye make up is proving tricky for someone who constantly has a camera up to the eye!) and it's definitely a work in progress as budget doesn't allow me to buy a load of different options. 

How to swap to natural and cruelty free skin products and why


F Toxins this a great blog that gives practical and well researched facts and advice. Their Instagram feed is also a must for great swap ideas for your toxic products

Smells Like Green Spirit love this fun and lighthearted blog 

Skyntherapy Amy is a specialist in living with acne but is useful for anyone wanting to live with as little toxins as possible

Environmental Working Group  a US based rabbit hole website - full of useful and well researched information

The Ethical Consumer full of interesting and useful guides in their health and beauty section

This blog! Plus, I've a great homemade face mask recipe that I swear by here


Green People ~ Green People were one of the originals and still creating amazing products. Like most brands I get on with some better than others but wholeheartedly recommend their suncream and DD cream. Also their rose pink lippy has been a huge hit around the blogging world. And my mum will absolutely swear by their anti aging facial oil

Glow Organic ~ I really trust this site. The owner Mel has curated products and only sells the she believes in so I know whatever I order I'm going to love. She has some wonderful brands in stock and also has some great articles on the blog

Big Green Smile ~ I like buying hand wash, laundry detergents and shower gels in bulk to save plastic and pennies! They have some great deals. 


Laughing Bird ~ I looooooooooooove their products! Their hand cream is the only natural one that works for my hands and I swear by their Rosehip face oil. Their products are also plastic free. 

Antipodes ~ luxury skincare from this New Zealand brand. I won't be without their Juliet cleanser.


Green People ~ mentioned above, pioneers in natural skincare. 

Evolve ~ truly gorgeous shampoos and conditioners. I haven't tried any of their skincare yet but have heard excellent things. 

Suma ~ co-operative of natural producers. I love their affordable handwashes and laundry detergents. As mentioned above, available at Big Green Smile and also on the pumps at HISBE

Truthpaste ~ nasties free toothpaste that actually works and keeps breath fresh. The best I've used by far. 

Lavera ~ reliable brand with great basics. Available from Big Green Smile.  

Ere Perez ~ beautifully designed brand that will bring a bit of aesthetic to your bathroom. Available at Glow Organic

Nailberry ~ free of the 12 nasties you find in most nail polish in beautiful, on trend colours and not tested on animals/fully vegan. 

Do let me know if there is any more information that could be added to this post in the comments - always happy to answer questions too. Additionally would love it if you have anything to add for the readers of this post. 

Photos (except Antipodes) from a collaboration with The Hunt Continues and Isabel Plett




Formally Emma Gutteridge