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When I first looked into making skincare almost 15 years ago, I quickly discovered that all was not well in the world of cosmetics. To make skincare products in the usual way, with added water, requires the addition of both preservatives and a range of other synthetic ingredients. We have talked about the problems with synthetics in skincare before, in particular the preservatives and the emulsifiers. Although I was dimly aware of this all those years ago, I had never thought that toxins could be lurking in my moisturiser, cleanser, shampoo, makeup, perfume or scented candles.  It turns out that the synthetic ingredients added to these products to give them a long shelf-life, a pleasant feel or an attractive fragrance could come at an enormous cost to our health. 

Surely all these synthetic ingredients are tested for safety?

Like most people, I presumed that if a product is on a shop shelf it must be safe, because toxic ingredients would not be permitted in commercially available products. The problem is that the laboratory and animal testing used to assess the safety of synthetic ingredients are short term tests.  There is no way to test their effects over the many decades each of us use them in the real world. Nor are they tested in tandem with exposure to other potential toxins, in different age ranges, or when skin diseases are present. This is why at Mokosh we took the decision to avoid all synthetics in our skincare. To use a synthetic ingredient that is considered safe based on short term laboratory tests was a gamble we did not want to take.

Every time I go back and check the latest science on some of the synthetic ingredients commonly used in skincare, I feel alarmed for the health of our community. But that’s not all – many of these synthetic ingredients are released into our waterways affecting wildlife and the health of our ecosystems. The good news is that you can have your healthiest skin ever without going near a synthetic ingredient. Our water-free products eliminate the need for preservatives, emulsifiers and the enormous range of potentially harmful synthetics that you don’t need on or in your body. Still need convincing? Read on!

Ingredients to watch out for


These are ‘plasticisers’ added to skin creams to improve their feel and the way they spread, they’re included in nail polish to improve its flexibility, and in synthetic fragrances in a huge range of products (think scented candles and deodorisers) to increase the longevity of their scent. The phthalates are potential hormone disruptors and known carcinogens in high doses.


The parabens are the most widely used preservatives in cosmetics. They are known to be absorbed through the skin and have oestrogenic effects in the body when present in high enough doses. Their use in cosmetics is supposed to be kept below a certain percentage to reduce the risk of causing hormonal changes. However, some studies showed the parabens were included in cosmetics at higher than the recommended concentrations. Also, they are more easily absorbed through the skin of infants and children, and through inflamed skin. The intact form of parabens – ie the active form that acts as an estrogen – has been detected in the skin, fat, blood, urine, umbilical blood and placenta of humans (1). Of particular concern was a recent study that showed even low doses of parabens can result in estrogen-like effects in laboratory animals – even at doses within the recommended existing safety limit for parabens (2). Parabens are also anti-androgenic, which means they inhibit the effects of testosterone, and may also increase the risk of weight gain. 

There are also concerns about the effect of parabens released into our water systems – parabens have been detected in waterways, and in the tissues of fish, marine mammals, marine birds and their eggs (3).


These preservatives are commonly used in skincare and work by releasing low levels of formaldehyde over a long period of time, to kill bacteria and fungi that contaminate water-containing cosmetics. Examples of these include DMDM hydantoin, quaternium-15, and diazolidinyl urea. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, but when used at the recommended concentration, they are considered safe. However, when they are present in combination with other substances such as bromopol and amines, they can form nitrosamines, which can penetrate the skin and are also known carcinogens. Formaldehyde donor preservatives are also known as skin sensitisers (4). 


PEGS (polyethylene glycols) are petroleum-based compounds that are widely used in skincare products as thickeners, solvents and emulsifiers. In themselves, they are not particularly concerning, but, during manufacture, they may become contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a probable carcinogen, and ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen. You can identify PEGS in your ingredient list by the terms PPG, PEG, and polysorbate and look for ingredients that end in –eth such as laureth, steareth, ceteareth. Although some manufacturers strip the dangerous contaminants from the PEG ingredients, there is no way of knowing whether a company does this – it is up to the consumer to request the information (5).


Triclosan is a preservative and anti-bacterial that may be added to toothpaste, mouthwash, hand sanitiser, and anti-bacterial soaps. Triclosan is easily absorbed by the skin and through the mouth. There are concerns that it is a potential hormone disruptor, and that it may also contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It also has a potentially severe environmental impact – in water triclosan can be converted to dioxins, which are serious environmental pollutants, and can also combine with chlorine to form chloroform, a probable carcinogen.

Combinations of toxins and confounding factors

Unlike the sterile and controlled environment of the laboratory, in the real world, our human population has a range of genetic backgrounds, all with different abilities to metabolise and eliminate toxins. It is also important to remember that the skin barrier is less effective in the very young and in the old, and in inflamed or damaged skin. This means that a safe dose of a toxin for a healthy adult may not be safe for a newborn baby, or the developing foetus in a pregnant woman, or a child with eczema. Finally, we are exposed not just to one potential carcinogen, like those poor laboratory rats – we are exposed to a cocktail of them. The air, our water and our food all contain toxins at various levels, and when we add known carcinogens and hormone disruptors from our cosmetics, even in small doses, we are performing a very uncontrolled experiment in safety on ourselves. There is really no way to predict whether the toxins in our cosmetics will be the final straw that tips us into a serious disease state.

Reducing your toxic load

We are able to exert some control over the level of toxins in our bodies by our choice of food, water and cosmetics. Consuming whole organic foods as much as possible, drinking good quality filtered water, and choosing clean, toxin-free skincare makes sense. When it comes to skincare, our award-winning range proves that you don’t need synthetics in your skincare to have beautiful, healthy skin. In fact, we regularly receive messages from our customers telling us that since switching to Mokosh, their skin issues are resolved and they have their best skin ever. Making the switch to clean, nutrient-rich skincare was never so easy!


(1) Matwiejczuk, N. et al (2020) ‘Review of the Safety of Application of Cosmetic Products Containing Parabens’. Journal of Applied Toxicology.

(2) Sun, L. et al. (2016) The estrogenicity of methylparaben and ethylparaben at doses close to the acceptable daily intake in immature Sprague-Dawley rats. Sci. Rep. 6: 25173

(3) Julian, C and Magrini, GA. (2017) “Cosmetic ingredients as emerging pollutants of environmental and health concern.” Cosmetics



About The Author

Marion O'Leary

Mokosh Skincare was created by Marion O’Leary, a former veterinarian and medical scientist, in response to concerns about the health risks of ingredients used in virtually all skin care. She drew on knowledge from Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine, and western science to formulate a range that is made using only 100% certified organic ingredients. She is convinced that skincare made this way significantly improves the health of the skin, in the same way that a whole food, synthetic-free diet is healthier for our bodies. Environmental sensitivities and social justice underpin the business ethos, with inclusion of fair trade ingredients, palm oil free certification, organic certification, cruelty free accreditation, packaging in glass and paper, and regular donations to environmental and humanitarian causes.

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