We’ve all been hearing buzzwords like “natural”, “organic” and “non-toxic” products, particularly in the last few years, but what does all this have to do with us, as consumers? For one, most of us use a wide variety of personal care products on a daily basis – shampoos, soaps, bodywash, lotions, deodorants, cosmetics, and so on. Unfortunately, a lot of these products expose us to numerous dangerous chemicals. Now, keep in mind that literally everything you can see, touch, breath, or ingest is made up of chemicals, so I always raise an eyebrow when any company claims to provide “chemical free” products. However, what we do need to look out for are the harmful ones that are in so many of the products we use.
Ok, but we live in a governed society where, surely, the powers that be have laws in place to protect us from dangerous ingredients, right? WRONG!! It’s hard to believe, but under current US law, the FDA has very little authority to control these harmful ingredients in cosmetics and other personal care products. Many traditional cosmetic companies have lobbied hard against industry regulation for years and years. Unfortunately, for the consumer, they have been successful.
Fact - Manufacturers do not have to register with the FDA, or provide the FDA with ingredient statements.
Fact - Manufacturers have no obligation to provide the FDA with access to safety records.
Fact - Perhaps the most unbelievable (and frightening), the FDA does not have the power to recall cosmetic products that pose a risk of serious adverse health consequences!
So, what do we do? Well, it seems that for now, we must do our own homework and educate ourselves on how to identify potentially harmful products. Please take time to read the ingredient panel on your favorite products. Some brands are quite skilled in hiding harmful ingredients by using vague terms like “fragrance”, little known abbreviations and by other means. At the end of this post, I have some tips on how you can better identify these dangerous ingredients.
The following list, I will call the “Uggh-ly Ingredient List”. It is comprised of 15 of the top offenders (IMHO) and their offenses.
Sulfates can irritate your eyes and skin. Deriving them from natural sources like palm oil is causing the destruction of rainforests. So please look for ethically sourced palm oil. When sulfates are washed away, they can be toxic for the aquatic species. Many mascaras available in the market contain Sulphates
Parabens are preservatives and are found in a variety of products, from soaps to lotions and makeup. Research shows that they cause increased production of the hormone estrogen (female sex hormone) and interfere with reproductive and brain function.
Phthalates are salts or plasticizing chemicals used to enhance the texture of a product. They are used in nail polishes, perfumes and lotions to name a few. Also used in shampoos, they are reproductive and developmental toxins.
- Synthetic colors
Some synthetic colors are derived from petroleum or coal tar. Do you have some favorite lipsticks? Now is the time to think about what goes into the pigments. The heavier the pigment, the higher the chances of increased coal tar percentages.
Coal tar is also present in many eyeshadows, hair dyes, medicated shampoos, anti-itch creams, cosmetics, mouthwash and toothpaste. It causes skin irritation, allergic reactions, organ toxicity, neurological damage and is a known carcinogen.
Carbon Black is used as a pigment in cosmetics such as mascara, eyeliner and lipstick. Is known to cause organ toxicity which can result in cardiovascular disease, lung disease and lymphatic cancer.
Fragrances are found in skincare products like perfumes, moisturizers, shampoos, cleansers and conditioners. They are made with chemicals that are associated with respiratory disorders, skin allergies, dermatitis and side effects in the reproductive system. Avoid products that list the generic term “fragrance”, as this one ingredient can contain literally hundreds of questionable chemicals. Look instead, for scents in products that are plant-derived.
Triclosan is a common chemical found in tubes of toothpaste, antibacterial soaps and deodorants. It is effective against microbes, but it is also an endocrine disruptor and a skin irritant. Some studies reported that triclosan can lead to gut inflammation and tumor growth in mammals.
Triclosan breaks down slowly and hence, is considered a potential threat to the environment. Like sulfates, triclosan is also dangerous for aquatic life.
Toluene is a petrochemical solvent found in most hair dyes and nail polish. They can be dangerous for your immune system and may carry the risk of birth defects and blood cancer. Toluene can also affect the human central nervous system and can lead to fatigue, headache, nausea and drowsiness.
Talc is used to absorb moisture and is majorly found in baby powders, eye shadows, blush, deodorants and some soaps.
However, talc is directly associated with ovarian cancer. This became front and center when a woman who was using talc made by Johnson & Johnson for 35 years, died of ovarian cancer. Additionally, when inhaled, talc can cause lung tumors.
Safer alternatives are kaolin clay, corn, rice, or tapioca starch and oat flour.
Lead is found in many lipsticks. It is not directly added to lipsticks, but is a major contaminant found in the colorants used in lipsticks.
This heavy metal that is naturally found in the earth's crust. We are already exposed to enough lead in our air, food and water, so make sure your lipsticks and eyeliners are lead-free.
- Chemicals In Sunscreens
Chemicals like PABA, benzophenone, oxybenzone, ethoxycinnmate and homosalate are used in sunscreens. They are believed to absorb light, but they cause more damage to the body instead of protecting. These sunscreen chemicals are endocrine disruptors. Look, instead, for physical sunblocks - minerals such as titanium oxide or zinc oxide.
- Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)
PEG is used as a thickening agent in skincare products like lotions, sunscreen and shampoos. It is associated with certain cancers and respiratory disorders. It can also strip off the natural oils (sebum) from your skin and trigger the sebaceous glands (oil-producing glands) to make more sebum that can make the skin greasy.
Formaldehyde is often used as a preservative in skincare. Formaldehyde can be found in nail polishes, hair straighteners, hair gels, nail hardeners, shampoos, deodorants, lotions and makeup. It is associated with developmental toxins, hair loss, scalp burns, asthma and neurotoxicity. When inhaled, formaldehyde can cause dizziness and suffocation. Use products with naturally derived preservatives, like Benzyl Alcohol, Salicylic Acid, Glycerin and Sorbic Acid instead.
Diethanolamine is a foaming agent that is commonly found in body washes, shampoos, cleansers and bubble bath. It is a cancer-causing agent and a respiratory toxin.
Hydroquinone is used in skincare for skin lightening. It is used to treat pigmentation related to acne scars, freckles, melasma, age spots and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Hydroquinone functions by reducing the melanin pigment-producing cells (melanocytes).
However, hydroquinone is a known carcinogen. Prolonged use can lead to whitening of the skin, as it reduces melanocytes to a great extent.
Petrolatum has a softening effect and is used in lip balms and moisturizers. While it creates a barrier to prevent water from escaping, it also prevents absorption of moisture from the air. It can cause skin irritations and allergies. The European Union has restricted this ingredient due to its association with cancer. Also, if not refined well, harmful chemicals like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) can be retained in it.*Above information is from Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
And How Do I Know If A Product Contains Harmful Chemicals?
- Read the labels on your skincare products before you buy them.
- SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) and SLES (sodium laureth sulfate) are the common sulfates that you spot on the labels of your shampoos and other personal care.
- Chemicals under methyl, butyl, propyl classes fall under parabens.
- Toluene is often labelled as benzene, phenylmethane, toluol and methylbenzene.
- PEGs can be spotted as numbers like 100, 120, 14M, 30, 32, 40, 75 and so on.
- Formalin, formaldehyde, glyoxal and bronopol on the labels of skincare products indicate formaldehyde.
- Diethanolamine is abbreviated as DEA on skincare products.
- Ethanol, methanol, denatured alcohol, ethyl alcohol are all drying alcohols.
- Mineral oil, benzene, paraffin wax and compounds that end in -eth are also petrolatum ingredients.
- FD&C or D&C represent artificial colors. F means food and D&C means drugs and cosmetics.
- Look for beauty brands that are transparent and disclose all their ingredients in a straightforward manner.
👉 Bottom line – I know it takes a bit of effort, but looking a little deeper into what is actually in your personal care products goes a long way in keeping yourself and your family safer from toxic exposure. So with that, I am wishing everyone optimal health 🌈 - Lucy