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Naturally nasty: the top 10 natural ingredients you need to avoid

The Left Brain’s lesson:

Here at the Beauty Brains we get tons of comments and emails telling us how all-natural ingredients are the best thing you can use on your hair and skin. We’ve previously explored the topic and have explained why we believe “natural” ingredients are neither superior nor inferior to “synthetic” ones. Both sources can provide good and bad ingredients.

Being a biologist at heart, I thought this list of natural ingredients to avoid was interesting.

Naturally Toxic Ingredients

10. Patulin: The patulin toxin produced by fungi found on rotting apples. It’s not especially dangerous but a few studies have shown it can cause DNA mutations.

Watch out if you’re making your own apple juice to put in your DIY personal care products

9. Aflatoxin: Another toxin naturally produced by our fungi friends. Aflatoxins make their way into food crops like corn and peanuts. The compound has been shown to cause liver cancer in lab animals & has been associated with live cancer in humans. Governments monitor and regulate food for acceptable amounts of aflatoxin.

Be careful about contaminated corn or peanut compounds in your cosmetics

8. Ergotamine: This is an alkaloid produced naturally by a food fungus that grows on rye and wheat plants. If not properly processed grains contaminated with ergotamine can end up in your bread and cause the disease ergotism. Not a problem if you don’t mind gangrenous infections of the limbs and hallucinations.

This toxin is the starting point for making the drug LSD.

7. Mistletoe Lectin: People love mistletoe at Christmas but did you know this naturally growing plant is extremely toxic to humans? Any part of the plant can poison you and if ingested can cause vomiting, hallucinations, and blurred vision.

Avoid any product said to contain Mistletoe extract. Unless hallucinating & vomiting is your idea of a good time.

6. Saxitoxin: This is a toxic material naturally produced by a common algae found in oceans around the world. When conditions are right, the little microscopic organisms produce saxitoxin, or red tide. If enough of it is introduced into your body, it causes paralysis and death. On occasion, people can get exposed to the poison by eating contaminated shellfish.

Apparently algae extracts aren’t always advisable.

5. Batrachotoxin: Frogs are cute except for maybe the poison dart frog that makes one of the most toxic compounds known. Batrachotoxins are naturally produced by certain species of frogs, beetles and birds. If you get some of the compound in you, expect paralysis of your breathing muscles followed by death soon afterwards.

Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment to stop the nasty effects of this natural substance.

4. Ricin: With a natural sounding name like ricin it’s got to be good right? Wrong. Ricin is a protein toxin that comes from castor beans. Yeah, this is the same plant that gives us the beneficial castor oil. If you’re exposed to enough ricin, it’ll cause diarrhea and death.

Thankfully, man-made, synthetic purification processes can separate the good parts of the castor bean from the toxic ones.

3. Alpha-Amanitin: This is a simple, natural, toxic peptide produced by a mushroom. If you happen to eat some alpha-amanitin laced mushrooms you’ll feel cramps & diarrhea within 24 hours. Left untreated your kidneys and liver will be damaged beyond repair and you will die. This little natural molecule is considered one of the deadliest compounds known.

Synthetic chemicals have nothing on this natural killer.

2. Anthrax Toxin: This natural ingredient is one you’ve probably heard about. This toxin is a combination of three proteins produced by a bacterium (Bacillus anthracis). It most often kills domestic animals like sheep and cattle but it can kill humans too. And you only need to be exposed to it on your skin. Anthrax ultimately causes death by respiratory and cardiac failure.

And you thought protein was always good.

1. Botulinum Toxin: No list of natural toxins would be complete on a cosmetic site without the mention of this neurotoxic protein. While deadly, this compound can be used in small doses to remove wrinkles. Botox treatments are all the rage and are one of the most popular & profitable forms of cosmetic surgery. If you ingest this toxin however, you can expect paralysis, blurred vision, vomiting, among other symptoms. Ultimately, this natural compound will lead to respiratory failure and death.

But in the hands of a good cosmetic surgeon, there’s not much to worry about. Yikes!

So, the next time you hear someone droning on and on about how much better natural ingredients are than synthetics just remind them of these 10 All-Natural Nasties.

Natural does not = good.

Synthetic does not = bad.

You have to look at each compound on an individual basis to make a judgment about them. And as Botox demonstrates, there is a safe way to use “toxic” ingredients no matter where they come from.

Have we missed any natural toxins? Leave a comment and the Beauty Brains community know.

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