With so many sophisticated skin care products on the market today, it’s tough to keep track of all the ingredients being used. We all want results, from skin brightening to reliable blemish coverage, but at what cost?
Products advertised as ‘natural,’ ‘chemical-free,’ and ‘simple’ are everywhere, but what do these labels really mean? Are they regulated or purely superficial? Ingredient lists are long with unfamiliar names.
Figuring out how to pronounce everything is a task on its own, let alone deciphering what they all are. How can you, the consumer, discern which cosmetics contain wholesome skin care ingredients that will be the healthiest and safest for you and your family?
To help you get started, we’ve compiled a comprehensive, fifteen-item guide to steer you through the sea of toxic chemicals in cosmetics. Here’s your jumping off point!
Let’s begin with a short video to ease us into the process. Beauty Experienced offers an informative overview of what ingredients are harmful and which ones are not.
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They also review which companies are manufacturing products you should take home and which ones are better left on the shelf.
15 Harmful Toxins That Might Be in Your Medicine Cabinet!
Now, let’s get rid of those cosmetics that contain dangerous chemicals!
This black powder, with its unassuming name, is used for pigmentation in products such as mascara and eyeliner. Although you might appreciate its rich color, it has been linked to organ system toxicity.
According to the website safecosmetics.org, carbon black has also been tentatively linked to cancer, and it’s “classified as expected to be toxic or harmful” by the EWG. You can find this item on the label under carbon black, D&C Black No. 2, or acetylene black.
Hydroquinone, due to its skin lightening properties, can be found in products marketed primarily toward women of color. Respiratory tract irritation and cancer are two health concerns linked to this ingredient.
Medical author Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD cites that in 2006 the FDA proposed a complete ban of this chemical. Watch for it in cosmetics on store shelves today as companies are still allowed to include up to a four percent concentration of it. On the label, you will find this listed as hydroquinone or tocopheryl acetate.
More commonly known as the chemical that makes Teflon, polytetraflouroethylene is routinely found in pressed powders, blush, bronzers, and eye shadows. This chemical is popular in anti-aging products as it provides a smooth finish.
It poses a concerning risk to young women as it has been shown to delay menstruation, cause late breast development, and contribute to cancer. In addition to its health concerns, polytetraflouroethylene is not biodegradable.
When reading the label, this chemical might also be listed as polyperfluoromethylisopropyl ether or perfluoroalkylethyl phosphate.
Present in hair dyes and nail care products, this ingredient helps to sustain color and promotes a smooth finish in nail polish. While effective, it should be noted that it has already been restricted in the EU due to its connection to organ system and reproductive system toxicity.
Since it is most likely ingested through inhalation, recommendations from safecosmetics.org suggest that well-ventilated areas are essential when using products that contain Toluene. This ingredient is listed as itself on product labels.
Lead is one of the obvious no-no’s. If you don’t want it in your paint, you don’t want it in your skin care products, right?
Although we immediately recognize this ingredient as harmful, it is important to remember that it is a carcinogen–accused of causing reduced fertility, miscarriage, and delays in the onset of puberty in females.
According to Dina ElBoghdady, lead is present in lipstick and hair dyes. This has proven to be a controversial subject between the FDA and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
There is no level of lead exposure considered to be safe, so consumers should take note when purchasing cosmetics. Avoid ingredients such as: lead acetate, chromium, thimerosal, and sodium hexametaphosphate.
Talc can be found in items from eye shadows and blush to deodorant. Used for its absorbent properties and as a color additive, it is similar to and speculated to be contaminated with asbestos.
Repeatedly reviewed by the FDA, this chemical has been rated as non-threatening when used as directed. It should be noted, however, that there is suggested link to ovarian cancer and respiratory problems. Talc is frequently listed on labels as talcum powder or cosmetic talc.
Used frequently as preservatives and in fragrance recipes, parabens exist in make-up and shampoos. They are often used to prevent the growth of yeast and bacteria in cosmetic products.
As it has the ability to mimic estrogen, this chemical may interfere with hormone function. It has also been associated with breast cancer. Treehugger.com includes parabens on its list of ingredients to beware of when buying your cosmetics.
On the product label, anything with paraben as its suffix falls under this category. Keep your eyes peeled for products marked ‘paraben-free’.
Formaldehyde is included in everything from hair products and moisturizers to toilet bowl cleaners and vinyl flooring. Womenshealthmag.com warns that you will find it in high doses in “hair straightening treatments and nail hardeners.”
Although it is considered a restricted ingredient in Canada and the EU, you can still find it in products on US store shelves. Elina St-Onge cites formaldehyde as a chemical of concern in her informative article.
While there is controversy surrounding the inherent danger of this chemical, it’s good to beware of its possible effects. Formaldehyde might be listed on the label as itself or quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, and urea.
We’ve all seen the prominent promotion of this chemical in anti-aging remedies. It attracts consumers interested in its ability to restore suppleness to both hair and skin. Often found in moisturizers and lip products, buyers should remain cautious.
Cosmetics including retinyl palmitate are best used at night as they have been shown to become carcinogenic when exposed to sunlight. Beware of retinol, vitamin A, retinyl acetate, and tretinoin on ingredient lists.
Frequently found in news headlines, BPA has been the notorious target of several consumer watch groups and research studies. Found in soaps, hand sanitizers, and sunscreens, you might also find this chemical in the packaging of your cosmetics–in plastic jars or lids.
Among other things, BPA is reportedly linked to brain and nervous system abnormalities, cancer, and diabetes. For more information on BPA, refer to Simon Pitman’s review on cosmeticsdesign.com.
Butadiene is easily ingested via inhalation. This chemical may exist in foundations, shaving creams, and deodorant. It has been shown to increase the occurrence of mammary tumors in animals.
The Environmental Working Group acknowledges that Butadiene is classified as a known human carcinogen by both the EPA and National Toxicology Program. It is, without a doubt, concerning for both people and the environment. This chemical will most likely appear on a label as 1,3-butadiene.
Who doesn’t love a nice, dense lather when washing his/her hair? Sodium Lauryl is one of the agents you appreciate, as it is most likely found in products such as shampoos and face washes.
Unfortunately, research suggests it has other, less loveable properties. In addition to triggering allergies in users, it has also contributed to cataracts in adults. You might find this item listed as sodium laureth sulfate or SLS.
We’ve all heard the warnings surrounding mercury and pregnancy. You may be surprised to learn that according to Cody Fenwick at patch.com, mercury has also been discovered in some cosmetics–including mascaras and many skin creams.
While many symptoms may be hard to pinpoint (insomnia, irritability, and depression), this compound is damaging to brain function, and consumers should take care to avoid it when possible. Beware of ingredients such as mercurous chloride, calomel, mercuric, and mercurio.
The battle against bacteria is raging. Cleanliness and disease prevention are at the top of many of our to-do lists. Triclosan, found in cosmetics, soap, and deodorants, is used as an antimicrobial agent.
A chemical to help us in our quest to disinfect? Unfortunately, triclosan is accompanied by one major health concern–its role as an endocrine disruptor. It’s actually working against us–aiding bacteria in becoming more antibiotic resistant.
Since there is no evidence that agents including triclosan are more effective at bacteria prevention, it might be best to stick with plain old soap and water. Look for triclosan (TSC) or triclocarban (TCC) on labels.
These heavy metals function as whiteners and lighteners. Blush, concealers, and foundations have all been found to include this chemical. In her article on ecosalon.com, Liz Thompson lists metalloestrogens as contributors to the development of reproductive and organ toxicity and allergies.
Unfortunately, these metals may not be listed on the ingredient list.
Next Steps You Should Take
Feeling overwhelmed yet? You might feel as if toxic chemicals in cosmetics are everywhere. They are hard to pronounce, define, and document.
While many companies do use potentially dangerous chemicals, rest assured that there are several businesses out there committed to the manufacturing of environmentally responsible products.
Familiarizing yourself with the most common toxins found in cosmetics is an excellent first step–congratulations! You are one step closer to stocking your medicine cabinet exclusively with wholesome goods.
Being proactive about skin care ingredients is an essential step in protecting yourself and your family.