**Remember: the higher up the list an ingredient appears, the more of it that particular product contains.

Skin Deep rating is on a scale of 0 – 10 (with 0 being the lowest toxicity rating and 10 being the highest). This rating gives an indication of the safety of an ingredient but it isn’t definitive. Some EWG Skin Deep ratings are based on a lot of research and others are based on limited data:


Alcohol denat: denatured alcohol. This is the same alcohol that you find in alcoholic drinks but regulations stipulate that when used in cosmetic products it must be denatured. This means that a substance is added to make the alcohol taste bad. It’s used as a thinning agent or as an astringent. It also has antimicrobial properties. (Skin Deep rating = 2)

Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis): a clear, gel extracted from the leaves of the succulent aloe plant. Has excellent cooling, soothing and softening properties. Is safe to use neat on the skin as a topical treatment for sunburn, burns, cuts, bites or mild irritation. One of the most significant active ingredients in natural skincare. (Skin Deep rating = 0-1)

Althea Officinalis extract: (marshmallow extract) extracted from the roots of the plant, this is an emollient with good skin conditioning and softening properties.  (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Alumina: the inorganic compound Aluminium oxide. Used as a thickener and emulsifier. Some evidence suggests that alumina is a neurotoxin and can accumulate in the system. (Skin Deep rating = 5)

Aluminium: it’s long been reported that a build up of aluminium used in underarm deodorants can cause breast cancer, however, Cancer Research UK says that this is false and that the study from which this conclusion was drawn was not strong enough to support their conclusions. If you’re at all concerned though, there are increasing numbers of excellent deodorants out there that don’t use aluminium and it can be quite easily avoided.

Aluminium hydroxide: a form of aluminium used in cosmetics as a colourant. Some evidence to suggest that it is a neurotoxin. (Skin Deep rating = 4)

Aluminium stearate: an aluminium salt from stearic acid. Used in skincare and cosmetics as a thickener, colourant and emulsifier. There is evidence to suggest that it is a neurotoxin although the FDA has approved it for limited use in food products. (Skin Deep rating = 4-5 depending on usage)

Aqua: water

Anthemis nobilis: (chamomile) can be extracted from either German, Roman or English chamomile. Renowned for its soothing action on the skin, it also has antibacterial properties. Ormenis Multicaulis oil is derived from the chamomile flower. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Antioxidant: a substance that helps to inhibit the oxidation of other substances. It is also thought to protect skin cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals and oxidation are believed to be partly responsible for the ageing process.

Apricot kernel oil: see Prunus armeniaca

Arachis hypogaea oil: (peanut oil) pale yellow oil pressed from peanuts. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Avocado oil: see Persea americana


Benzalkonium/Benzethonium chloride: a preservative with worldwide restrictions on its use. A known skin and eye irritant, there are also concerns about its effect on the immune and respiratory systems. (Skin Deep rating = 6)

Benzoic acid: a white, powdery substance found in benzoin and other plant resins. Licensed for use as a food preservative. Protects products against the growth of yeast and bacteria. (Skin Deep rating = 3)

Benzyl alcohol: a synthetic preservative. Some studies indicate it can be an allergen. (Skin Deep rating = 6)

Bergamot essential oil: see Citrus bergamia

Borage seed oil: see Borago officinalis

Borago officinalis seed oil: a vegetable oil from the seeds of the borage flower (otherwise known as Starflower), rich in skin-nourishing fatty acids. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Boswellia carterii essential oil: (frankincense essential oil) created from the resin that oozes out of the damaged bark of the frankincense tree. It has a deep, warm, sweet fragrance and has excellent rejuvenating and healing properties. As such, it’s often used in skincare as an anti-ageing ingredient. (Skin Deep rating = 1)


C12-15 Alkyl benzoate: Skin conditioning agent or emollient. Has anti-microbial properties. (Skin Deep rating = 1)

Calendula officinalis extract: (marigold extract) has a calming, anti-inflammatory effect on the skin and has been investigated as a natural remedy for eczema. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Camellia oleifera extract: see Camellia sinensis

Camellia sinensis extract: (green tea extract) (also Camellia oleifera extract) green tea is popular as a drink but it’s also used in skin care because it has antioxidant properties and is thought to prevent the breakdown of collagen in the skin. (Skin Deep rating = 2)

Cananga odorata oil: (ylang ylang essential oil) an oil derived from the flowers of a tropical tree. It has a very sweet, almost musky smell, which makes it sensual and soothing. It’s often used by aromatherapists to ease depression or anxiety. (Skin Deep rating = 2)

Caprylic/capric triglyceride: an oily substance derived from fractionated coconut oil and glycerin. It helps to prevent moisture loss in the skin and may also be used to thicken products. (Skin Deep rating = 1)

Castor oil: (ricinus communis oil) a vegetable oil obtained from the seeds of the plant. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Cera alba: beeswax. Used in products that require a creamier, thicker consistency. Also has skin protecting properties. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Cetearyl alcohol: made up of two fatty alcohols (Cetyl alcohol and Stearyl alcohol), that occur naturally in small quantities in both plants and animals. Used to prevent cosmetic emulsions from separating into their oil and liquid components. (Skin Deep rating = 1)

Cetearyl glucoside: a corn- and coconut-derived emulsifier. It is produced without the use of chemicals or solvents and was granted approval by ECOCERT France for use in cosmetic products. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Cetyl esters: a synthetic wax used for its lubricating action on the skin’s surface. It is a synthetic version of a natural substance found in whale blubber that shares similar properties. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Cetearyl olivate: a conditioning agent made up of cetearyl alcohol and fatty acids from olive oil. (Skin Deep rating = unknown, no data available)

Cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 dimethicone: a polyethylene glycol and polypropylene glycol polymer. This is a synthetic ingredient used as a skin conditioning agent. PEGs and PPGs should not be used on damaged skin because of toxicity concerns. See also PEGs. (Skin Deep rating = 3-6 depending on usage)

Chamomile: there are two main types of chamomile – German (Matricaria recutita) and Roman (Anthemis nobilis) chamomile. It has sweet, almost applely smell and is an excellent skin soother. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Chlorophyllin-Copper-Complex: the green pigment in plants that is responsible for photosynthesis. Used in cosmetics ingredients as a green colorant. (Skin Deep rating = 3)

Citral: used as a fragrance ingredient and found in a number of natural sources including lemongrass, lemon myrtle, lemon and orange trees. (Skin Deep rating = 6)

Citric acid: an organic acid found widely in plants and animals. Used to preserve products and sometimes to impart a lemony fragrance. (Skin Deep rating = 2)

Citronellol: a colourless, oil liquid with a fragrance that’s reminiscent of rose. It’s used in cosmetics as a fragrance ingredient. (Skin Deep rating = 4)

Citrus aurantium dulcis oil: (sweet orange) this oil is extracted from the peel of the orange and has an uplifting, cheering aroma. It has strengthening and refreshing properties and helps to lift the emotions. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Citrus bergamia oil: (bergamot essential oil) bergamot is a type of bitter orange but the fruit is unpleasant to eat and is grown solely for the production of the essential oil. It has a lemony fragrance and, as such, is good for lifting the spirits. Remember to take care when using citrus oils for aromatherapy. It is phototoxic and you shouldn’t massage it into your skin just before going into strong sunlight. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Citrus medica limonum peel oil: (lemon peel oil) this oil is pressed from the peel of the fruit and has a fresh, zesty fragrance that is used for its uplifting effects. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Cocamidopropyl betaine: a synthetic surfactant derived from coconut oil. It is a medium strength surfactant and, while it has been shown to be an irritant in some people, is unlikely to cause allergic reactions particularly when impurities are controlled. It also has antiseptic properties. (Skin Deep rating = 5)

Coco glucoside: a surfactant derived from coconut oil and fruit sugar. Thought to have one of the lowest ratings for irritation of all the surfactants used. (Skin Deep rating = unknown)

Cold-pressed: this term is used to describe natural oils that have been produced without the use of heat. See also Virgin. These oils are better for you because they contain more nutrients. Refined oils are heated to high temperatures and this process strips the oil of many of its essential nutrients. Always look for virgin or cold-pressed when buying oils for massage or consumption.

Collagen: a fibrous protein that supports and connects bodily tissues. It’s found in the skin, bone, muscles, cartilage and tendons. In the skin, it works with elastin and keratin to strengthen and to aid flexibility and resilience. The levels of collagen found in the skin are reduced with age.

Coumarin: a crystalline solid, white in appearance, with a sweet smell that’s reminiscent of vanilla. It’s used in cosmetics as a fragrance ingredient. (Skin Deep rating = 6)

Cyclopentasiloxane: a skin conditioning agent or emollient. (Skin Deep rating = 3)


Dehydroacetic acid: a preservative that kills microorganisms. (Skin Deep rating = 1)

Diethanolamine (DEA): Used as a ‘wetting agent’ in hair and skincare products, and to produce a nice, rich lather in shampoo. There is evidence to suggest that DEA is a skin irritant and an immune and respiratory toxicant. It’s also shown to have an adverse effect if flushed into natural waterways like rivers or lakes. May show up on ingredients lists as the following: Cocamide DEA/Cocamide Diethanolamine, DEA Lauryl Sulfate/Diethanolamine Lauryl Sulfate, Lauramide DEA/Lauramide Diethanolamine, Linoleamide DEA/Linoleamide Diethanolamine, Oleamide DEA or Oleamide Diethanolamine (Skin Deep rating = 7)

Disodium EDTA: a substance used in skincare and cosmetic products to reduce the reactivity of metal ions, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, that may be present. (Skin Deep rating = 1)

Disteardimonium hectorite: an organically-modified magnesium silicate. Used in cosmetics as a stabiliser and thickener. (Skin Deep rating = no data)

DMDM hydantoin: used as a preservative. Concerns have arisen because it breaks down to release formaldehyde, which has been linked to cancer. It is also a known skin and eye irritant. (Skin Deep rating = 7-8)


Ethylhexylglycerin: a synthetic compound derived from plants and grains. A natural preservative used as an alternative to parabens. Considered safe but studies have indicated it has been found to cause contact dermatitis and skin irritation. (Skin Deep rating = 1)

Ester (natural): a component in the chemical make-up of essential oils. Different oils will have different levels. Sometimes these components are isolated for use in cosmetic products.

Eucalyptus globulus: (eucalyptus) the oil has cooling, refreshing and antibacterial properties. It is ideally suited for normal to oily skins. Particularly useful in inhalations as a decongestant. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Evening primrose oil: see Oenothera Biennis

Extra virgin olive oil: see Olea Europaea


Frankincense essential oil: see Boswellia carterii


Geraniol: a pale-yellow oil with a fragrance that’s reminiscent of rose. It’s used in cosmetics as a fragrance ingredient. (Skin Deep rating = 5)

Geranium essential oil: see Pelargonium graveolens

Glycerin: a sugar alcohol that has humectant properties (i.e. it attracts water to the skin to aid hydration). It can be obtained from both natural and synthetic sources – look for products that use vegetable-derived glycerin. (Skin Deep rating = 1)

Glyceryl oleate: obtained from naturally occurring oils and fats. Used as an emulsion to prevent a product from separating and as an emollient (to smoothe and soften the skin). (Skin Deep rating = 1)

Glycine soja oil: (soya/soybean oil) a vegetable oil with many applications in skincare. It’s used as an antioxidant, a surfactant, to thicken and also as a skin-conditioning agent. (Skin Deep rating = 0)


Helianthus annuus oil: (sunflower seed oil) oil pressed from the seeds of the sunflower. A light-textured oil containing potassium, vitamin B, vitamin E and omega-6 fatty acids. Remember to choose a cold-pressed, unrefined oil. The above ingredients will only be found in these oils. The heat used in refined oils will destroy them. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Humulus lupulus: (common hop) a herbal extract from the fruit of the hops plant. Used for its astringent and toning properties. (Skin Deep rating = 2)

Hyaluronic acid: (Sodium Hyaluronate) HA is found in the connective tissues where it works with collagen to maintain skin tone and structure. It also works to retain moisture in the skin, helping to keep it soft, plump and working to reduce fine lines. Levels of HA will decline with age so it is seen as a potent anti-ager when added to skincare products. HA can also be taken in supplement form. Although HA is found naturally in the body, it can be sourced both naturally and artificially. Check the ingredients list to ensure that any HA included is derived from plants. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Hydroxystearic acid: a fatty acid, used in cosmetics and skincare as an emulsifier. (Skin Deep rating = 1)


Illicium verum oil: (star anise) obtained from the outer layer of the star-shaped fruit of the Illicium verum tree. Studies indicate it has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Isononyl isononanoate: a synthetic emollient. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Isopropyl Myristate: derived from the fatty acid Myristic acid. Has many applications in skincare and is used as a surfactant, stabiliser, anti-caking agent and thickening agent, amongst other things. (Skin Deep rating = 0-1)

Isostearic acid: a fatty acid found in animal and vegetable fats and oils. Used in skincare and cosmetics as a binding or emulsifying agent. (Skin Deep rating = 1)


Jojoba seed oil: see Simmondsia Chinensis



Lauramidopropylamine oxide: used as a foaming agent. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Lauramidopropyl betaine: a synthetic compound. It’s produced by the chemical modification of the fatty acid Lauric acid. It’s used in cosmetics as a surfactant or cleansing agent. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Lauryl glucoside: a surfactant (sugar/lipid based) (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Lavandula Angustifolia essential oil: (lavender essential oil) this oil is pressed from the flowers of true lavender. It is renowned for its antiseptic properties and is also used widely for its soothing, sleep-inducing properties. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Lavender essential oil: see Lavandula Angustifolia

Lemon peel essential oil: see Citrus medica limonum

Levulinic acid: an organic substance produced from natural sugars (sucrose). Used as a fragrance or a skin conditioning ingredient. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Limonene: a naturally occurring substance with a strong smell of oranges, found mainly in citrus oils but also pine trees and mint. Can cause contact dermatitis or skin irritation and should only be used in small quantities in cosmetic products. (Skin Deep rating = 6)

Linalool: a fragrance ingredient with a floral smell reminiscent of bergamot. Can be derived from many natural sources such as mint, cinnamon and citrus. (Skin Deep rating = 4)


Marigold extract: see Calendula officinalis

Marshmallow extract: see Althea Officinalis

Mentha arvensis oil: (field or wild mint) shares similar properties to peppermint and spearmint. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Mentha viridis oil: (spearmint) has similar but less powerful effects to peppermint.  Has a cooling, invigorating and refreshing effect as well as antiseptic properties. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Methicone: a silicon-based polymer, used in skincare and cosmetics as an emollient and skin conditioner. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Mica: naturally occurring silicate mineral. A common ingredient in mineral make-up. It has light-reflective properties. (Skin Deep rating = 2)

Mineral oil: see Petrolatum


Norway spruce essential oil: see Picea excelsa


Oenothera Biennis oil: (evening primrose oil) is rich in gamma linolenic acid (GLA) which helps to nourish dry, dull or damaged skin. A healthy diet should include GLA to support the maintenance and regeneration of the skin. It can be taken in supplement form. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Olea Europaea oil: (olive oil) an oil pressed from the fruit of the olive tree. Most people are familiar with this as an edible oil, used for salads or cooking. However, it also forms a great base for massage, or it can be used as a basic cleanser or moisturiser. Add granulated sugar or sea salt to make a basic body scrub. The used of the word ‘virgin’ indicates that heat wasn’t used during the production of the oil. This creates a better quality oil, as crucial nutrients are lost if the oil is heated. Look for virgin, extra virgin (the highest quality oil) or cold-pressed on your labels. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Olive oil: see Olea Europaea

Ormenis Multicaulis oil: see Anthemis nobilis


Panthenol: derived from Vitamin B5 and also known as Pantothenic Acid (PA). PA occurs naturally in living cells and the process of oxidation converts both Panthenol and PA to Vitamin B5 in the skin. Used for its moisturising and skin smoothing properties. (Skin Deep rating = 1)

Parabens: (including methylparaben [Skin Deep rating = 5], propylparaben [Skin Deep rating = 5], butylparaben [Skin Deep rating = 5], ethylparaben [Skin Deep rating = 4]) used as preservatives in skincare and cosmetics. Concerns have arisen around their potential as hormone disruptors due to their ability to mimic oestrogen. However, the debate is extremely complex. Other researchers suggest that the evidence pointing to the link between parabens and breast cancer is flawed. They also point out that the lack of effective preservatives in some natural products, particularly those which are water-based and prone to contamination, could lead to a build up of bacteria which can be much more harmful. For a really interesting perspective on the paraben debate, I can recommend Liz Earle’s book Skin Secrets.

Parfum: artificial fragrances. An added fragrance in a cosmetic product can be made up of many different chemicals, not all of which will have been tested thoroughly for their effects, harmful or otherwise. It is better to avoid artificial fragrances for this reason or at least to ensure that is listed well down the ingredients. (Skin Deep rating = an average of 8 depending on type/source)

Peanut oil: see Arachis hypogaea

PEGS: these are polyethylene glycol compounds and will always be followed by a number, indicating their molecular weight. Most skincare containing PEGs will use smaller weights such as PEG-100 or PEG-150. There are a number of health concerns about PEGs due to their potential to become contaminated with more harmful substances. The two most troublesome substances found in some PEGs are ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. Studies indicate that both substances are carcinogens. Plenty of brands now avoid them completely. However, if your product does contain them it might be worth contacting the brand to find out how they guarantee that their products are free from harmful contaminants. A credible company should give you a considered response. It is recommended that you don’t use PEGs on damaged skin as the toxicity rating will be higher. (Skin Deep rating = 3-6 depending on usage)

Pelargonium graveolens oil: (geranium oil) a soothing oil extracted from the leaves of the plant. It can be used to balance oily skin or to rehydrate dry skin. When used in aromatherapy it is renowned for its calming, sleep-inducing properties. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Persea Americana/Gratissima oil: (avocado oil) an oil from the flesh of the avocado fruit. This oil is really rich and is usually used as an enricher (an added ingredient). Make sure your oil is cold-pressed for maximum efficacy. The heat in the standard refining process destroys many of the beneficial ingredients. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Petrolatum (petroleum jelly): a substance obtained from petroleum and used in cosmetics as a lubricant and moisturising agent. May also be referred to as mineral oil. Studies show that it can block pores, forming a barrier that prevents the absorption of more desirable ingredients and stops the skin from effectively eliminating toxins. Much petrolatum is cheaply produced and may contain contaminants or impurities. While it can be an effective moisturiser for dry skin, it won’t help to improve the underlying health of the skin and any underlying conditions will resurface as soon as the barrier is removed. I’m not a fan and would recommend the right natural, plant or vegetable oil as an alternative. (Skin Deep rating = 2)

Phenoxyethanol: an oily, viscous liquid with a faint odour of rose. It prevents the growth of microbes and helps to stop a product from spoiling, becoming rancid or ‘going off’. (Skin Deep rating = 3-4)

Phthalates: used in cosmetics as a carrier for fragrance/parfum ingredients. There is evidence to suggest that phthalates have been found in breast milk and urine, and that it could alter hormone levels or lead to the development of allergies or eczema in young children. May appear on ingredients lists as benzylbutyl phthalate, di-n-butyl phthalate or diethyl phthalate.

Picea excelsa leaf oil: (Norway spruce essential oil) used for its restorative and immune boosting properties particularly after a cold. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Polyaminopropyl biguanide: a disinfectant and preservative. Can cause skin and eye irritation in high quantities but usually used in very small quantities in cosmetic products. (Skin Deep rating = 2)

Polyglyceryl-4 isostearate: a lipid-based emollient and emulsifier. (Skin Deep rating = no data)

Polyhydroxystearic acid: a polymer of hydroxistearic acid; used in skincare and cosmetics as an emulsifier. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Polysorbate 60: an emulsifying agent that helps ingredients to dissolve in a solvent. It is also permitted as an additive in food products. (Skin Deep rating = 3-6)

Potassium sorbate: a preservative (Skin Deep rating = 3)

Propylene glycol: an organic alcohol. Functions as a humectant (i.e. attracts water) and moisturiser, helping to relieve dryness, flaking and tightness in the skin. (Skin Deep rating = 3)

Prunus amygdalus dulcis oil: (sweet almond oil) pressed from the nuts of the sweet almond tree. It’s rich in minerals and oleic acid and is renowned as a skin hydrator. It’s commonly-used as a carrier oil during massage for its slippy quality. Don’t use it if you’ve got a nut allergy. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Prunus armeniaca oil: (apricot kernel oil) a natural oil rich in beta-carotene, which the body converts to Vitamin A. This helps to boost the immune system. The oil has excellent skin-smoothing properties. (Skin Deep rating = 0)



Refined: this term is used in connection with natural oils. Refined oils are heated to high temperatures during their production. These high temperatures destroy many of the essential nutrients in the oil. When looking for oils for massage or consumption, look for virgin or cold-pressed oils, which are produced without heat. These will contain more nutrients and will be better for you. It’s important to note that refined oils are not bad for you. You’ll just get a lot more out of a virgin or cold-pressed oil.

Ricinus Communis Oil: (castor oil) a vegetable oil obtained from the seeds of the plant. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Rosemary essential oil: see Rosmarinus Officinalis

Rosmarinus officinalis: (rosemary) herbal extract from the rosemary plant. The oil is refreshing and stimulating and the plant contains antioxidants. Can help to prevent dandruff in haircare formulations. (Skin Deep rating = 0)


Sage essential oil: see Salvia officinalis

Salvia Officinalis oil: (sage essential oil) a natural oil produced from the culinary herb sage. Sage has been used for its memory-boosting properties and is often taken as a dietary supplement. Care should be taken when pregnant as there is a possibility the oil could trigger miscarriage. (Skin Deep rating = 1)

Shea butter: (Butyrospermum parkii) shea butter is obtained from the fruit of the African Karite tree. It is renowned for its hydrating properties, helping to soften skin by trapping moisture within. This is one of the most commonly used and significant naturally active ingredients. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Silica: a mineral – the most common constituent of sand. Usually used in cosmetics as an abrasive or anti-caking agent. As such, it’s often found in mineral make-up. (Skin Deep rating = 0-2)

Simmondsia Chinensis seed oil: (jojoba seed oil) a vegetable oil that is pressed from the seeds of the jojoba shrub. The plant also produces a wax-like substance that can be shaped into small beads. These are often used as a gentle exfoliant. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Squalane: a naturally-occurring lipid that is used in skincare and cosmetics as an emollient. Note: this product can be derived from both plant and animal sources. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Sodium chloride: inorganic salt used as a thickening agent. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Sodium cocoamphoacetate: a fatty acid derived from coconut oil. It acts as a surfactant helping water to mix with dirt and oil so that it can be rinsed away. Often used in hair products because it can improve the appearance and texture of the hair. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Sodium dehydroacetate: a substance with antimicrobial properties, used in skincare and cosmetics as a preservative. (Skin Deep rating = 1)

Sodium hydroxide: (also known as lye or caustic soda) an alkaline substance used in products to control the pH. (Skin Deep rating = 1)

Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate: a preservative touted as a natural alternative to the controversial parabens. However, while this is derived from a naturally-occuring amino acid, it is extracted using synthetic processes. It has also been shown to be a skin and eye irritant, even at concentrations of less than 1%. It has also been shown to break down into formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, although this happens rarely. (Skin Deep rating = 2)

Sodium lauroyl sarcosinate: a modified fatty acid that helps water to mix with dirt and oil so they can be rinsed away. This substance is licensed as safe in ‘rinse-off’ products but there is insufficient data to determine potential risk when it is used in products where it might be inhaled. (Skin Deep rating = 4)

Sodium laureth sulphate: a cleansing or emulsifying agent used in skin washes; a milder version of Sodium lauryl sulphate. Studies indicate SLS is an irritant and can dry out the skin. (Skin Deep rating = 4)

Sodium lauryl sulphate: a known skin irritant found in large quantities in many cosmetics including body washes, shampoos and bubble baths. (Skin Deep rating = 1-2 depending on usage)

Sodium lauryl sulphoacetate: very mild foaming agent formed from coconut and palm oils. A safer, gentler alternative to the skin irritant SLS (Sodium lauryl/laureth sulphate).

Sodium levulinate: a salt extracted from levulinic acid. Used in cosmetics as a skin-conditioning agent. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Sorbitol: a sugar alcohol. Used in skincare and cosmetics as a skin conditioning agent or as a thickener. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Sorbitan olivate: a surfactant derived from olive oil and sorbitol. (Skin Deep rating = unknown, no data available)

Sorbitan stearate: formed by reacting naturally occurring sorbitol and the fatty acid stearic acid, it is used as a surfactant and emulsifying agent. (Skin Deep rating = 1)

Soya/Soybean oil: see Glycine soja

Stearic acid: a fatty acid. Used in cosmetics and skincare as an emulsifier and stabiliser. (Skin Deep rating = 1)

Surfactant (surface active agent): a substance with the ability to remove dirt from the skin when dissolved in water.

Sunflower seed oil: see Helianthus annuus

Sweet almond oil: see Prunus amygdalus dulcis


Talc: a powdered silicate that has multiple applications in skincare including as an abrasive, bulking agent, absorbent and anti-caking agent. Some safety concerns have been raised as talc can be contaminated with asbestos which is very harmful if inhaled in large quantities. It’s also been suggested that magnesium silicate – a form of talc – is also harmful if inhaled. (Skin Deep rating = 2)

Theobroma cacao (cocoa) seed butter:  made from the roasted seeds of the cocoa tree, cocoa seed butter is extracted during the chocolate making process and in its neat form is a thick, creamy-white solid. It slows moisture loss from the skin and can provide relief for skin aggravated by external irritants. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Titanium dioxide: the oxide of titanium. Used in cosmetics as an opacifying agent or colorant but, most commonly, as a mineral sunscreen. (Skin Deep rating = 1-3)

Tocopherol: vitamin E. Occurs naturally in unrefined vegetable oil. Has antioxidant properties. In cosmetics, look out for vitamin E that is naturally, rather than artificially, derived. (Skin Deep rating = 2)

Tribehenin: an emollient created by combining glycerin and behenic acid (a naturally-occurring fatty acid). (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Triethanolamine (TEA): Used in cosmetics as an emulsifier to combine water and oil-based ingredients. Strong evidence to suggest that TEA is an irritant and an immune and respiratory toxicant. (Skin Deep rating = 5)

Triethoxycaprylylsilane: a silicon-based substance. Used in cosmetics and skincare as a binding agent. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Triticum vulgare oil: (wheat germ oil) oil extracted from the germ of the wheat kernel. Has good skin softening properties. (Skin Deep rating = 0)



Virgin: this term is used to describe natural oils that have been produced without the use of heat. See also cold-pressed. These oils are better for you because they contain more nutrients. Refined oils are heated to high temperatures and this process strips the oil of many of its essential nutrients. Always look for virgin or cold-pressed when buying oils for massage or consumption.

Vitis Vinifera: grape extract. Grape and grapeseed extracts are believed to have antioxidant properties. (Skin Deep rating = 0)


Wheatgerm oil: see Triticum vulgare


Xanthan gum: a sugar-based substance used in cosmetics for its thickening properties. (Skin Deep rating = 0)

Xanthophyll: yellow pigments from the carotenoid group. They are found naturally in the leaves of plants. Used in cosmetics as a colouring ingredient. (Skin Deep rating = 1)



Zinc oxide: the oxide of zinc. Used in cosmetics as a bulking agent or colorant but, most commonly, as a mineral sunscreen. Studies indicate it’s the best non-chemical sunscreen available as it has additional skin healing properties. (Skin Deep rating – 2-3)

Zinc stearate: a salt obtained from the fatty acid stearic acid. Used in the production of make-up products for its lubricating properties. (Skin Deep rating = 3)

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