Everything your skincare should not be doing. Skin function compromise, disruption and damage from 3 ubiquitous skincare ingredients.

Everything your skincare should not be doing. Skin function compromise, disruption and damage from 3 ubiquitous skincare ingredients.

Everything your skincare should not be doing. Skin function compromise, disruption and damage from 3 ubiquitous skincare ingredients.

Ubiquitous meaning occurring everywhere at the same time, common ingredients in skincare products from natural or synthetic sources contain chemicals that cause inflammation, oxidative stress, cell modification and cell death. These chemicals cause skin function compromise, disruption, damage and undesirable skin changes or worse complete skin function breakdown which results in redness, dryness, irritated, uncomfortable, sensitive, accelerated ageing, loss of suppleness and sagging skin.

Three of the largest chemical categories used in skincare are also responsible for the most skin function compromise, disruption and damage.


Surfactants which include emulsifiers and solubilisers. Anything that foams, detergent is a surfactant, or mixes an oil (plant or mineral) and water together is a surfactant.

Surfactant comes from surface-active-agent and are chemical compounds that decrease surface tension. They consist of two functional groups; one is hydrophilic or water soluble and the other is lipophilic or oil soluble and the feedstock for synthesising the surfactant can be from petrochemical or natural sources, typically coconut or palm oil. It is important to remember that it is the structure and properties of the chemical that determines the interaction with our skin irrespective of the source of the raw materials. Meaning surfactants produced from plant material also compromise, disrupt and damage skin function. Lecithin is the the best example of a true natural surfactant all other "natural" surfactants are synthesised and highly processed.

In cosmetics surfactants are used for cleansing, foaming, thickening, dissolving, emulsifying, solubilising, penetration enhancement, gelling, dispersing and wetting agents which allows the product to spread more easily and evenly. They can also be used for antimicrobial properties. They are used for product attributes such as texture and slip and cause impaired skin barrier, inflammation, oxidative stress and influence cell signalling.

Surfactants are capable of interacting with proteins and lipids (oils) in the stratum corneum (skin barrier) and on penetration may result in damage to cell membranes and structural components of keratinocytes (skin cells responsible for the skin barrier structure) releasing proinflammatory mediators. Surfactants can cause irreversible changes in cell structure and lead to cell death. They change skin pH which results in abnormalities in the production of intercellular matrix lipids (ceramides, free fatty acids and cholesterol, responsible for the skin barrier function that prevents water loss and penetration) and components of the NMF (natural moisturising factors) in the stratum corneum. Studies have reported an increase in transepidermal water loss from the skin due to the application of surfactants.

Common synthetic surfactants in skincare are; Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES) Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)

Common plant derived surfactants in cosmetics Coco glucoside, Decyl glucoside, Lauryl glucoside, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Sucrose cocoate, Caprylyl/Capryl glucoside Cocamidopropyl Betaine.


If the first ingredient is water/aqua /eau/ fruit water/ hydrosol/ fruit extract/ fruit ferment filtrate/ Aloe vera, it is all water and will contain a preservative or preservation system, meaning several preservatives are present.

Preservatives are there to stop microbiological spoilage and extend the shelf life of the product and cause microbiome disruption and death, increase collagen degrading enzymes, suppress collagen producing fibroblasts, cause inflammation and oxidative stress. Preservatives in skincare are initiating biological processes that you should be eliminating or suppressing to maintain healthy vibrant fully functioning skin.

Collagen production, is a key factor in maintaining the skin's structural framework. Fibroblast cells in a study published recently (April 2023) were more sensitive to the tested preservatives. This is of particular concern as collagen depletion is associated with sagging and less youthful-looking skin.

Collapse of fibroblast cells results in less collagen production and increased collagen degrading enzymes and our skin loses structure and shape.

Common preservatives in skincare; Phenoxyethanol, Benzyl benzoate, Methylisothiazolinone, Benzyl alcohol, Potassium sorbate, Sorbic acid, Parabens.


Fragrance/parfum/aroma which includes "natural" essential oils, synthetic chemicals and phalates, known endocrine (hormone) disruptors. Smell contains volatile aroma molecules that need to be very small so you can perceive them. Very small chemical molecules are irritants to our skin and cause an allergic or inflammation response that triggers a cascading oxidation sequence and results in oxidative stress and skin cell changes including but not limited to hyperpigmentation.

Fragrance/parfum/aroma can contain 100’s of chemicals undisclosed to protect intellectual property or commercial trade secrets. This means unlike the other ingredients in skincare the manufacturer does not have to disclose the components of fragrance/parfum/aroma except to individually label the 24 fragrance allergens in the EU. It was originally a list of 26 fragrance allergens two have subsequently been banned.

On 26th July 2023, the European Union (EU) adopted Regulation (EU) 2023/1545 to update labelling of fragrance allergens with regards to individual labelling requirements in cosmetic products by adding 56 new fragrance allergens and updating restrictions to some of the already listed 24 fragrance allergens. This brings the total of fragrance allergens to 80 that have to be individually noted on the labels if concentrations are greater than 0.001% in leave-on products and greater than 0.01% in rinse-off products.

This regulation came into force on the 16th Aug 2023. A long transition period of 3 to 5 years has been given to the cosmetics industry to adapt to the new requirements of Regulation (EU) 2023/1545

For new cosmetic products to be placed onto the EU market, they need to comply with the new requirement by 31st Jul 2026 (within 3 years).

For existing cosmetic products already on the EU market, they need to comply with the new requirement by 31st July 2028 (within 5 years).

The changes proposed to the labelling requirement of fragrance allergens has been in progress since 2012 and took 11 years to formalise and now even though another 56 chemicals are known fragrance allergens the industry has another 5 years to make changes to existing products and label accordingly to inform customers of the potential harm.

Fragrance substances natural and synthetic are used in cosmetic products and other household products, washing powder, candles, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, childrens toys etc to provide a characteristic, pleasant odour in fact the aroma can be considered a trademark of the product but these smells can induce contact allergy and sensitisation. They are only present in the product for an evocative smell often to mask unpleasant, chemical smells from other ingredients within the product and provide no skin benefit. This includes essential oils which contain concentrated volatile aroma compounds and known to cause adverse skin reactions from concentration and exposure. Essential oils are a leading cause of allergic reactions, inflammation, photo-sensitivity, photo-toxicity and contact dermatitis.

Question every ingredient. The source of the ingredient. How that ingredient was manufactured and its true purpose before you apply to your skin. Is the ingredient there for product attributes NOT your skin health? Because surfactant, preservative and aroma chemicals will compromise, disrupt and damage your skin function which is directly linked to your skin appearance.

Does the skincare product have a long shelf life (greater than 12 months) it will mostly likely contain preservative/s. If it contains water and an oil, it will contain a surfactant if the product has been emulsified. If it contains any water soluble or water attracting ingredients it will require preservatives. If the skincare product smells pretty, it will contain fragrance/parfum/aroma chemicals.

Surfactants, preservatives and aroma chemicals are in the skincare product for product attributes with their effects on skin function and health rarely considered during formulation and have been the source of irritation, inflammation, oxidative stress. redness, dryness, atopic dermatitis (eczema) allergic reactions and accelerating skin ageing.

Useful websites to check skincare ingredients. Beat the Microbead, INCIDecoder, CosDNA, Skincarisma, Yuka app. 

If any website makes it difficult for you to find the full list of ingredients it is not to be trusted.They do this by curating/highlighting/showcasing hero ingredients or active ingredients only and using the terms fragrance/parfum. Watch the trap of claiming 98% natural or organic and then the first ingredient is water often the product is 98% water with preservatives and fragrance neither are good for your skin and water is cheaper from the tap.

Vitis V Face TonIQ contains ONLY grapeseed derived, naturally occurring ingredients as per the legal definition (AICIS). It does not contain surfactants, preservatives and is fragrance/parfum free and unscented. It does contain essential (necessary, required, indispensable) compounds that you naturally lose with age to nourish, fortify and boost your skin function so that you can achieve and maintain your most nourished and radiant skin.

Image credit Trnava University - Unsplash

Interactions between surfactants and the skin – Theory and practice




Regulation (EU) 2023/1545