Skin Wellness: 3 Ingredients To Know About

August 23, 2018 | Jennifer Murphy

Here is our FIRST guest blog post! Our friend and soap creator, Dorathy Lachman of Hyssop Tree, breaks down common ingredients in everyday products that we use on our skin that we should be conscious of when applying to our skin.

We all know that our skin is the largest organ in our body (fun fact: it gets 5-10% of all your heart’s blood), but there are some other interesting things that we need to know in order to take good care of our skin.

Sometimes it’s easy to think about our skin like a roof over our bodies, but that’s a little simplistic. The fact is, our skin is quite complex and we’re still learning new things about it!

The outermost layer of our skin is only 15 – 20 cells thick, and it puts in overtime in protecting our bodies from not-so-good things. This layer works not just in physical ways, but also in chemical ways. It’s actually only 5-20% water, compared to the body’s 70% water composition. This rather interesting property helps the skin keep some chemicals out.

Other chemicals actually pool at the skin’s surface, making the skin a reservoir. This means that the chemicals stay on the skin’s surface (despite washing… eek!) and release over time, working around the cells in the outer layer of our skin and into our bodies. Since our skin not only can’t protect us from these compounds but can also serve as a holding-tank for them, it’s really important not to expose ourselves to these chemicals in the first place.

Here are three ingredients you should know about when you’re considering maximizing the wellness of your skin.


A Polycystic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) is actually a group of chemicals that are formed when things like coal and oil are burned. One of the most common places your skin is exposed to a PAH is in anything containing petroleum products, because petroleum is a by-product of oil refinement. It appears that because of documentation requirements, the petroleum products used in the US do not have to be PAH-free (unlike the European Union).

PAH’s actually stick around on the surface of the skin, using the skin as a reservoir. After it crosses the outer layer, some PAH’s are broken down by the skin into a toxically active compound inside your body.

You’ll find PAH’s in your ingredient list under these names: petrolatum, petroleum jelly, paraffin oil, mineral oil and white petrolatum.

Products that might contain PAH’s include: lotions, creams, and other cosmetics.


Phthalates are a class of compounds that are common in the plastics and cosmetics industries. One particular phthalate, diethyl phthalate (DEP) is used as a fixative in fragrances so that the scent doesn’t dissipate.

Phthalates are known as endocrine disrupters, meaning they can look a lot like hormones to the body. (You might be familiar with another endocrine disrupter: BPA.) The phthalate DEP not only crosses the skin barrier, but it also can accumulate in the body’s fat stores. Phthalates have been linked to reproductive toxicity and cancer.

Names you want to look for in your ingredients list include: phthalate, DEP, DHEP and fragrance.

Products you’ll want to investigate include anything with a fragrance like soap, shampoo, and body sprays.

Since not all fragrances contain DEP, there are some companies that will label their “fragrance” as “phthalate free.”


Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is a surfactant, a compound often used as a detergent. There is a lot of controversy regarding the toxicity of this specific compound (which I won’t go into), but I did find something very interesting. Studies have shown that after washing your hands with SLS, the permeability of your skin changes. And depending on what moisturizer you use after you wash your hands, it can change even more. Fortunately, there are a lot of cleansing products that don’t contain SLS, if that’s the wellness choice you make.

You can find this ingredient listed as SLS, SDS (for sodium dodecyl sulfate), or sodium laurilsulfate.

Products you want to check include anything that makes bubbles: toothpaste, soap and shampoo as well as many cleaning agents.

Sometimes it can seem the more we learn, the more confusing it can get. It can also seem very difficult to find products that are suitable.

Personally, I had a very hard time finding a soap that met my standards. The more I researched, the more frustrated I became. So I finally started making my own soap. One thing led to another and I now make soap for Hyssop Tree. Not only do they meet my incredibly high standards (including being free from the ingredients above), but they also build community resiliency. Each soap you purchase sends one to someone in need. Check it out at

As you consider what wellness choices to make for your skin, remember that being informed and knowing your personal wellness needs are a great place to start.

Dorathy is the founder of Hyssop Tree, a local soap company that supports community resilience. When not making soap, you can find her asking questions and learning something new!