Sulfates are a broad term for several different chemicals, primarily sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate, which are used in products like cleansers and toothpastes to create a lathering effect. While there are lots of claims on the internet that sulfates cause cancer, there's no actual evidence to back that up. However, there is plenty of evidence that sulfates can be really irritating to a lot of people's skin, so we avoid using them for this reason—and because there's no way to ensure that sulfates are derived from a vegan source.
At Ghost Democracy, we hold our products to the strictest standards when it comes to clean and effective formulas. We're not looking to jump on the "clean skincare" bandwagon by just being paraben-free — that's not enough. Our goal is to set the bar higher for what clean skincare should be: exceptionally clean. That's why each and every one of our products is painstakingly formulated to go beyond the basic restrictions. Instead of making you guess what "clean" means, we want you to know exactly where we stand. These ingredients will never appear in Ghost Democracy products.
Silicones are absolutely great at trapping substances against your skin, which is why they've become incredibly popular in beauty products that claim to be hydrating—they have the ability to keep moisturizing ingredients on your skin for a long time. However, they don't just trap the good stuff—they keep everything, including oil, dirt, and bacteria. This can lead to breakouts, and can ultimately make your skin drier and impede cell renewal.
You might not expect to see essential oils on a list like this, but let's set the record straight: essential oils may be derived from plants, but that doesn't mean those plants are great for your skin. A lot of essential oils are really irritating to many people's skin, and can potentially be damaging—whether or not your skin shows irritation immediately after application.
It's certainly more challenging to make lovely-smelling skin care products that don't contain fragrances, but we think it's worth the extra effort. Fragrances can cause allergic reactions for people with sensitive skin, and we'd rather err on the side of caution.
Phthalates can make plastics more flexible, and are legal to include in skincare products in the United States. However, they are restricted in the EU because there's a lot of evidence that they may be really problematic, including having the ability to disrupt any system in your body that's controlled by hormones. They may cause tumors, affect reproductive health, and be harmful for pregnancies—and there's also evidence that they're bad for the environment.
Parabens are preservatives that can help keep products more shelf-stable. However, they definitely cause skin irritation in a lot of people, and may be behind some much more important, bigger issues, like breast cancer and hormone disruption, which can harm fertility and affect pregnancies negatively.
Chemical sunscreens made from UV filters like avobenzone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone cause more harm than good. Recent studies have shown that they may be absorbed through the skin, leading to skin irritation, hormonal imbalances, pregnancy disruptions, and even skin cancer. That’s why our sunscreens are mineral-based and made with zinc oxide. It’s the safest, reef-safe ingredient for skin health and the environment. It acts as a physical sunblock on the skin, reflecting rays away from the epidermis, not converting them into heat through their absorption.
It's hard to ensure that mineral oil is vegan, its extraction process is connected to the oil industry and thus bad for the environment, and it's simply far less effective than some other ingredients, like panthenol, which preserves moisture while increasing skin elasticity and softness. There is also some evidence that it's comedogenic, and this substance may enter our systems through our skincare products, then stay there, slowly building over time since it can't be metabolized.
Sometimes referred to as "coal tar dyes," most synthetic dyes stem from non-renewable sources that aren't great for the environment. They're also known irritants for some people's skin, and may have effects on issues like ADHD, although there's limited evidence to support this. Still, we'd rather stay safe than sorry.
Used to keep products temperature-stable and help our skin absorb active ingredients more easily, this common skin care ingredient can also cause serious skin irritation. And while increasing certain ingredients' ability to penetrate the skin is great, it leaves the skin more exposed to environmental toxins, too.
While formaldehyde is an absolutely excellent preservative, it's not so great for our skin. There's some strong evidence that it may cause cancer, and while this ingredient may not be terribly dangerous with limited exposure, it may build up in your system over time, too.
These ethanolamine compounds are used to emulsify ingredients and balance pH, but they've also been linked to everything from liver cancer to hormone disruption. They're still legal in the U.S., but DEA is illegal in the European Union, and we'd just as soon avoid them.
PEG compounds can perform a bunch of functions in skin care products, including softening, thickening, and moisturizing. However, there's a chance they may be carcinogenic, and if they're used on broken skin (think acne or a shaving cut), they can cause irritation.
This compound is frequently used as a stabilizer to keep products looking, feeling, and smelling the same after a long time on the shelf. However, it can also disrupt your skin cells, making it easier for anything to get in—both good ingredients and environmental toxins.
Did we mention all our products are cruelty-free and vegan?
Used as a solvent in some cleansers, 1,4-Dioxane has also been shown to be irritating. It's also been shown to harm the liver and kidneys in high concentrations, and may potentially be cancer-causing.
Sometimes used to adjust the pH in skin care products, this ingredient can be irritating to skin, and when mixed with other chemicals that may be found in skincare products, can form carcinogenic compounds.
Ghost Democracy is a vegan brand, and we are careful to avoid any animal-derived ingredients, including animal fat and musk. While ingredients like lanolin, which is a form of animal fat, are safe to use, they're not in line with our views on environmental and animal safety.
Used to keep bacteria from growing in certain skin care products and to create foam in others, benzalkonium chloride is also a common irritant, and can be especially bad for people with asthma and eczema.
This ingredient is commonly used to keep products safe from sun exposure. However, there's some evidence that it may build up in our systems over time, and can affect reproductive health, hormones, and may possibly be linked to cancer.
Commonly used in beauty product packaging, this compound can leach from the bottles into the products themselves. We've seen some compelling evidence that BPA may affect children's developmental growth, and may also increase blood pressure in adults.
This ingredient is sometimes used to make products less thick and viscous, but it may also cause damage to red blood cells and your liver. We'd just as soon stay away from it.
Commonly used as a preservative, we've seen some studies that suggest BHA may negatively impact hormone and reproductive systems—and it can definitely be an irritant to many people's skin.
Sometimes used in products that are intended to treat psoriasis, coal tar may also be carcinogenic in high doses, which makes sense, given that it's derived from burning coal. In small doses, it can also easily irritate skin, and since it's frequently tested on animals, there's no ensuring it's cruelty-free.
Even if a product's label claims that it's formaldehyde-free, some of its ingredients may release small amounts of formaldehyde over time. The list of these chemicals is long, but here are a few to watch for: diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, bromopol, and glyoxal. Formaldehyde can easily cause allergic reactions, may possibly build up in the system, and be cancer-causing.
Commonly used in skin brightening products to help lift dark spots—and in extremely problematic "skin lighteners" that are marketed almost exclusively towards people of color—hydroquinone has been banned in the EU, but is still available in the United States. It's been linked to issues like skin cancer, and may harm the upper respiratory tract if inhaled.
Derived from petroleum and similar to mineral oil, liquid paraffin isn't vegan, and it's simply less nourishing for the skin than many other ingredients. Liquid paraffin is good at locking ingredients onto the skin, but doesn't do much to hydrate the skin itself. There's also some evidence that it may be connected to increased estrogen levels.
Banned in Canada, this ingredient is common in serums and moisturizers as a solvent. It's often not listed on labels, but is lumped under "fragrance," and that's a problem—this chemical is easily absorbed into the skin, is associated with skin irritation, and may even be a neurotoxin.
A common preservative in skin care products, this unpronounceable chemical is an allergen for a lot of people, and even more problematically, may negatively affect your nervous system.
Called MIT, this preservative is great for killing off bacteria and fungi that can grow in beauty products. However, it's also a common irritant, it can negatively affect the environment, and it's also potentially damaging to our nervous systems.
Nanoparticles are great for making mineral-based sunscreens appear less ghostly white on your skin, but the truth is, we don't know a lot about how they impact our bodies in the long-term just yet. The concern is that they're so small, they can penetrate the skin very easily, and potentially cause health hazards.
This is a common sunscreen component that primarily protects against UVB rays. However, it's also been associated with causing cell mutations and harming our coral reefs, and there are other, better sunscreen ingredients out there, so we opt for those.
This ingredient is derived from the placenta of pregnant farm animals. The few beauty brands that choose to use placenta tend to state that it stimulates collagen production. However, there's no peer-reviewed evidence to support this claim, while there is evidence that placenta extract contains progesterone and estrogen, which can be disruptive to our own hormonal balance.
Polyethylene beads are frequently used as exfoliators. There's strong evidence that they're environmental toxins, having been found in the digestive tracts of rainbow trout, and to negative impact the growth of freshwater plant life.
Frequently derived from lauric acid (which in turn often comes from coconuts) polysorbates are often used to help skin care ingredients blend together. While the amount of polysorbates used in most skin care products are probably safe, there are concerns about reproductive and organ toxicity, as well as endocrine disruption and potential skin irritation, so we'd just as soon avoid them.
Often used as an antiseptic in products that treat skin conditions like acne and eczema, resorcinol is a common skin irritant and sensitizer, and even more problematically, evidence suggests that it can disrupt thyroid function, and may negatively affect the central nervous system.
The least expensive form of retinol, retinyl palmitate is also the least effective. While this means it's less immediately irritating to the skin than other forms of retinol, it may still have some pretty unfortunate side effects, and has been linked to developmental and reproductive toxicity and cancerous tumor formation.
A form of silicone frequently used to create a smooth texture, siloxanes may be bad for our hormone regulation, and there's evidence that they're harmful to reproductive health, as well. It's also been suggested that this silicone is harmful to aquatic life.
Used as a foaming agent in cleansers, sodium lauroyl sarcosinate is problematic because it's a penetration enhancer—it alters the skin's structure to help other chemicals penetrate deeper. This may sound like a good thing for helping us absorb good ingredients, but it can help potential toxins absorb more readily, as well.
Thimerosal can be used as a preservative, as well as a brightening agent for the skin. However, it's derived from mercury, which makes it potentially very dangerous. Mercury is well-known for its ability to damage the kidneys, as well as the digestive, immune, and nervous systems.
An antibacterial that can be found in cleansers, triclocarban may be irritating to skin, and has also been linked to disrupting our hormonal systems and organ toxicity. It's also simply a much stronger antibacterial than is really necessary for home use—it was originally intended for hospital workers.
At Ghost Democracy, we hold our products to the strictest standards when it comes to clean and effective formulas. We're not looking to jump on the "clean skincare" bandwagon by just being paraben-free — that's not enough. Our goal is to set the bar higher for what clean skincare should be: exceptionally clean. That's why each and every one of our products is painstakingly formulated to go beyond the basic restrictions. Instead of making you guess what "clean" means, we want you to know exactly where we stand, which starts with a focus on banning the following:
No Essential Oils
No Drying Alcohols
No Added Fragrance
No Mineral Oil
No Synthetic Dyes
No Propylene Glycol
No MEA, DEA, TEA
No PEG Compounds
(Oh, and we're also cruelty-free and vegan because it's just the right thing to do.)
In addition to the above (for all you skintellectuals), we raise the bar even higher by formulating without ingredients that have any potential of being harmful to skin or the environment:
Animal fat and musk
Bisphenol A (BPA)
Sodium lauroyl sarcosinate