Search the LastingHealth website


July 9, 2024

Is there a chemical nasty lurking in your skincare?

What would you do if you discovered that a ‘natural’ skincare brand you trust was using an ingredient that’s known to have carcinogenic effects? 


Some of us click on products online and read the reviews, thinking, “this will do for me!” Sometimes we order it without giving much thought to the ingredients, we’re sold on the promise of brighter or plumper skin, or because we trust the brand – their products work, we like their ethos, and we trust them to use only ingredients that are safe. 


So, it can be a surprise when checking the ingredients list to find there are known nasties lurking in the formulation. Our go-to app is called Yuka. To use it, simply scan any barcode and it brings back a full list of ingredients of millions of everyday products that have been rated for chemical risk. Most of the chemicals added to everyday skin and body care products are added to extend shelf life, improve product performance, or to add fragrance. Their names are often unfamiliar and hard to pronounce, but this clever app does the hard work for you. 


When the barcode has been scanned, it returns a score and a coloured spot – green, amber, or red. Users hope it will return a green spot with a rating of “good” because it gives reassurance and confidence that the ingredients used in the product are free of endocrine disruptors such as parabens, phthalates, and potential carcinogens.  


But when the app comes back with a red spot against a product, a score of 1/100 and a rating of ‘bad’ it can throw up concerns, “should I be using this?”


Are ingredients a personal choice?


One user recently discovered an ingredient nasty when she scanned her new skincare product, marketed as a natural antioxidant. The barcode scan revealed that one of the ingredients was sodium hydroxymethylglycinate – rated as hazardous by Yuka. Concerned, she emailed the seller to ask about the ingredient, who advised that, “all of our products are safe for use and have been reviewed by an independent toxicologist before we place them on the market.” 


Not convinced, she dug deeper into the potential health effects of sodium hydroxymethylglycinate only to discover that this widely used antimicrobial preservative releases formaldehyde at low levels, and is a known human carcinogen linked to nasal cancer. Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate is permitted for use as a cosmetic ingredient in the the UK at 0.5%. In cosmetic formulations it tends to be used at 0.1%. It must be listed as in ingredient on product labels if it is used at .001% or higher. This concentration is much lower figure than the previous .05% limit permitted before 2022, another indication of the potential risk of chemicals that release formaldehyde.


So, does that mean sodium hydroxymethylglycinate is safe? According to the rules for ingredient usage yes – it’s safe when used at very low concentrations, so it boils down to a personal choice. But because of its known carcinogenic effect and allergic effect, even when it’s used at a low concentration, and in line with regulations, it’s worth checking if it’s an ingredient in any of your skin or personable care products, and avoid it.


Having taken a little more care over ingredients used in her skincare of late, our Yuka “fan” felt disheartened. She told us, “I scan products regularly using the Yuka app – it helps me to make what I think are more informed choices about what products I buy. Sometimes I reject products in favour of those with higher scores (100 equals ‘excellent’). For example, I learned that Epsom salts without any fragrance additives score 100, but when artificial fragrances are added the scores drop much lower.” 


In this instance, the mention of formaldehyde was enough for this user to send the product back. 


Learn more about Yuka and how to download it on your phone. 


Read about formaldehyde in furniture manufacture. 



The information on our website should not be used as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider. If you have any specific questions about any medical matter, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider. is not responsible for the content of external websites. The inclusion of a link to a third-party website should not be understood as an endorsement. 



Image credit: New Africa


Lasting Health