If someone told you to rub a mixture of formaldehyde, lead and chemically engineered dyes on your skin, you would think they were insane, right? Well, that’s what most of us do every single day. We don’t usually think of our beauty products as a chemicals, but that’s exactly what they are. Everything from lotion, foundation and even deodorant is comprised of formulated chemical ingredients and substances; many of which, are dangerous to our health. Unlike food products, cosmetic products are not subjected to ingredient regulation or safety checks.
In the United States, there are no laws that require cosmetic companies to demonstrate the safety of their products. As a result, thousands of toxic and harmful substances are used in the beauty and makeup products we use every day. Only eight substances in the US have been banned for use, compared to Europe which has banned 1,373 chemicals.
What you put on your skin is just as important as what you put in your body. Like reading the ingredient list on a food product, be sure to check your cosmetics for these toxic substances to keep yourself protected.
Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (FRP’s) are used to prevent bacterial growth in products. However, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, meaning it has been proven to cause cancer in humans. It is commonly found in lotion, shampoo, conditioner, eye shadow, nail polish and body wash. Be careful, as it may be labeled as quaternium-15, dimethyl-dimethyl (DMDM) hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea or sodium hydroxymethylglycinate.
Paraben preservatives are used to prevent bacteria, mold and yeast growth in cosmetics. Unfortunately, they are also found in breast cancer tumors. It contains estrogen-mimicking properties which are absorbed through the skin and can be found in these commonly-used products: body wash, deodorant, shampoo, facial cleanser and most makeup. Look out for methylparaben, propylparaben, isoparaben and butylparaben ingredients and avoid products that list them. More paraben-free cosmetics are becoming available, so look for those the next time you go makeup shopping.
Toluene, which is also listed as tulol, benzene, phenylmethane and methylbenzne, comes from petroleum or coal tar sources. It is a potent solvent, strong enough to dissolve paint and paint thinner—definitely not something that belongs on your skin! It comes as no surprise that a chemical this strong can cause serious side effects including nausea, skin irritation and respiratory damage. It has even been linked to immune system toxicity. Pregnant women are advised to avoid toluene vapors as it can cause developmental damage in their baby. It is commonly found in nail polish, nail treatments and hair coloring and bleaching products.
Get this, triclosan is actually classified as a pesticide, but is used as a preservative in common cosmetic products such as antibacterial soap, deodorant and toothpaste. How scary is that? Triclosan preserves products by preventing bacterial growth. However, the chemical is known as an endocrine disruptor that can affect your body’s thyroid and reproductive hormones and cause skin irritation. Some studies also raise concern that triclosan can contribute to creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
This ingredient is used in products that create suds, like shampoo and body wash, and acts as a buffering agent to reduce the irritation of sulfates. It has been linked to breast cancer in animals and is a documented carcinogenic.
This widely-used chemical can be found in a range of products from toys to plastics, flooring, food packaging and beauty products. Phthalates are used to make products more pliable, and are often used in nail polish, perfume, lotion, hair spray, shampoo and soap. Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors and studies have linked them to reproductive birth defects, increased risk of breast cancer and early breast development in girls. Phthalates can be hard to avoid because they are not always blatantly listed on products since it can be categorized under the “fragrance” listing. However, it is commonly found in hair spray, moisturizer, perfume and deodorant. Always opt for phthalate-free products to reduce your overall exposure. Check out these brands for options.
Now you may be asking yourself: what is the solution? Using natural and safe products can decrease your exposure to these harmful chemicals. Notable stars, like Shailene Woodley, have chosen to stick to all-natural products. Woodley has told interviewers that brands like 100% Pure and Living Libations are her go-to sources.
The best solution is to educate yourself. Utilize information resources, like Think Dirty, a free mobile app, which scans the barcode of cosmetic and personal care products and provides easy-to-understand information of potentially toxic ingredients. The app even gives you suggestions on “cleaner” product alternatives. Another option is to take matters into your own hands and make your own products. There is an abundance of remedies and beauty treatments that can easily be made at home using natural ingredients you probably already have in your pantry.