If a product is on the shelves, then is it considered safe? Some people are under the impression that if a product is available commercially, it has undergone testing to verify its safety.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. The FDA doesn’t regulate cosmetics. From their website: “Under the law, cosmetic products and ingredients do not need FDA premarket approval, with the exception of color additives.”
This does help many skincare companies get their products on the market. But it doesn’t help you. As a consumer, it’s up to you to learn about the ingredients used commonly in skincare which are potentially harmful.
What Goes On Your Skin Goes In Your Body
Our skin absorbs up to 60 percent of what we put on it. Even if a chemical doesn’t affect us right away, some stay in the body for a long time. Additionally, these ingredients aren’t always being used because they’re effective. Often they’re put in products simply because they’re cheap or readily available. There are so many skincare products on the shelves what can you do?
Skincare Ingredients To Avoid
Check the ingredients label! Ingredients found in face washes, lotions, sunscreens and more have been linked to everything from allergic reactions to hormonal disruptions to cancer. What’s worse is that they can go directly into your bloodstream and build up over time when applied to the skin or hair.
How To Choose Safer Cosmetics
There are so many chemicals in our products how can you remember all of them? If you are unsure a quick and easy way to check is at the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database. Type in the ingredient and you will find what you need to know about it. Each product is given a score based on the ingredients it contains. It’s a quick and easy way to figure out if the products you are using on yourself and your children are safe.
According to the Environmental Working Group, the average woman uses 12 products containing 168 unique ingredients every single day. Most contain endocrine disrupters, which can affect hormonal balance and fertility. Some contain ingredients with clear links to cancer.
There is almost zero federal regulation of the cosmetics industry in the United States. There are over 1,300 chemicals banned for use in cosmetics in the European Union alone due to questions over their safety. In comparison, the U.S. has only banned 11.
If you complain the company does not have to report the complaint to the FDA. And even if the FDA is alerted of the complaint? The FDA has no authority to issue a recall of cosmetic products. That means there’s basically no way to be sure a product is safe before it’s sold, and no way to get unsafe products off of store shelves. There are lots of chemicals that are known to be dangerous but are still widely used in the cosmetics industry.
With food, specific marketing terms are regulated by the FDA, but they aren’t regulated whatsoever with skincare and cosmetic products. “Natural” products can contain just as many harmful ingredients as conventional products. Even products labeled “unscented” can contain fragrances.
The only way to know for sure if there are harmful ingredients in your makeup or skincare products is to read the label. Because there is little to no regulation of harmful ingredients in personal care products, it is up to us to choose safer products for ourselves and our families.
On a day to day basis, we are exposed to potentially dangerous chemicals from all kinds of sources—pesticides, plastics, car exhaust, and more we can’t control. Choosing safer skincare and cosmetic products is something we can control, and it’s a big part of our daily lives, which means removing harmful ingredients can have a big impact.
Common Toxic Chemicals That Are Best Avoided
- Parabens: Found in makeup, moisturizer, shaving gel, shampoo, personal lubricant and spray tan products.
Parabens are preservatives found in everything from soap to lotion to makeup. If it has water in it, it probably has a paraben to keep it from growing bacteria. Examples include methylparaben, proplyparaben, isopropylparaben, and isobutylparaben. If “paraben” is in the word, avoid it. The FDA acknowledges several studies linking parabens, which mimic estrogen, to breast cancer, skin cancer, and decreased sperm count. It has not ruled that it is harmful. Paraben-free products will be labeled as such as paraben-free Meladerm Cream.
- Hydroquinone: Found in skin lighteners.
The FDA warns that this skin-bleaching chemical can cause a skin disease called ochronosis. It may cause “disfiguring and irreversible” blue-black lesions on exposed skin. It has also been linked to cancer. Its use in over the counter skin creams is banned in the EU and many other countries. There is a safer hydroquinone alternative called Alpha-Arbutin.
- Mercury: Found in skin lighteners.
Illegally imported skin lighteners can contain mercury. It can poison adults and children and is especially toxic during pregnancy. Never put mercury on your skin! Be wary of imported skin lighteners, don’t buy products without ingredients clearly labeled, and always avoid products with “mercury,” “calomel”, “mercurio” or “mercurio chloride.”
- Artificial Fragrance/Parfum: Found in moisturizers, deodorant, lotion, face cream, shampoo, conditioner.
Federal law doesn’t require companies to list on product labels any of the chemicals in their fragrance mixture. Recent research from the Environmental Working Group and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found an average of 14 chemicals in 17 name-brand fragrance products. None of them were listed on the label. Fragrances can contain hormone disruptors and are among the top 5 allergens in the world. Buy fragrance-free or a product containing natural essential oils wherever possible. Manufacturers aren’t required to reveal what’s actually in their fragrances. You’ll simply see Fragrance or Parfum on the ingredients list when it could actually be a cocktail of carcinogens, allergens, endocrine disruptors, and irritants.
- Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS): Found in shampoos, soaps, various beauty, and cleaning products, and even some foods.
SLS has been shown to cause or contribute to skin irritation, canker sores, disruptions of skin’s natural oil balance and eye damage. It is also widely believed to be a major contributor to acne (especially cystic acne) around the mouth and chin. They are surfactants that can cause skin irritation or trigger allergies. Additionally, chemical compounds known as “nitrosamines” are common by-products of the sulphation process. 90% of nitrosamines are believed to be carcinogenic.
- Toluene: Found in nail polish and hair dyes.
It is a volatile petrochemical solvent that can be toxic to the immune system and can cause birth defects. If you’re pregnant, be especially careful and avoid nail polish containing toluene entirely. Phthalates (dibutyl phthalate, toluene, and formaldehyde) Found in nail polish and other nail products, perfume, makeup remover. Examples include DBP, DEHP, DEP, and others. Like parabens, phthalates are endocrine disruptors and can cause hormonal and reproductive problems and birth defects. These chemicals, known as the “toxic trio,” have been linked to birth defects, endocrine disruption, headaches, and respiratory problems. Bad news for nail salon workers and those who frequently get manis or pedis. It’s advised that pregnant women avoid nail products altogether. Try to only use non-toxic nail polish brands or look for “toxic-trio-free” products.
- Polyethylene Glycol (PEG): Found in scrubs, body wash, makeup, toothpaste.
PEG is often contaminated with both ethylene oxide (a known carcinogen) and 1,4-Dioxanewhich readily penetrates the skin. Polyethylene has been noted as a skin irritant and should never be used on broken skin. It’s banned in Canada. Many face or lip scrubs and exfoliating washes are made from polyethylene (used because they’re gentler on the skin than natural exfoliators like walnut shells). Polyethylene beads in scrubs and body washes also are not filtered by our sewage systems. This means they can collect pollutants and travel into waterways, where they’re consumed by fish and marine animals.
- Formaldehyde: Used as a preservative in cosmetics.
It’s a known carcinogen that is also linked to asthma, neurotoxicity, and developmental toxicity. It can be found in preservatives such as quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, and imidazolidinyl urea.
- Oxybenzone: Found in sunscreen
Oxybenzone is one of the highest-risk chemicals found in sunscreen. Sunscreens come in two different forms: chemical and mineral filters. The most common sunscreens on the market use chemical filters such as oxybenzone. It acts like estrogen in the body, alters sperm production in animals and is associated with endometriosis in women. Studies on cells and laboratory animals indicate that oxybenzone and its metabolites may disrupt the hormone system. It also has high rates of skin allergy. Chemical sunscreens should be avoided at all costs—especially with children. Oxybenzone can also be found in moisturizers, lip balm, and makeup. Opt for safe, physical sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium oxide instead. These are chemical-free, mineral-based ingredients.
- Diethanolamine: Found in bubble bath, body wash, and shampoos.
Diethanolamine is a foaming agent. It’s a known carcinogen and respiratory toxin, which is why the EU has restricted its use in personal care products. Despite this, it’s still used in the US. It’s often abbreviated as DEA on cosmetic labels.
- Triclosan and triclocarban: Found in toothpaste, deodorant, antibacterial soap.
Triclosan is an antibacterial agent once used in antibacterial soaps. Even the FDA agrees that there is no health benefit to humans who use triclosan, and in 2013 ruled that manufacturers using it had to demonstrate that there were no long-term detrimental effects. Triclosan (in liquid products) and triclocarban (in bar soaps) have been linked to hormonal disruptions, bacterial resistance, impaired muscle function, impaired immune function, and increased allergies. Instead, use naturally antibacterial and antiseptic agents like tea tree oil.
- BHA: Found in cosmetics.
The National Toxicology Program classifies butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” It can cause skin depigmentation. In animal studies, BHA produces liver damage and causes stomach cancers such as papillomas and carcinomas and interferes with normal reproductive system development and thyroid hormone levels. The European Union considers it unsafe in fragrance. Opt for a BHA and phthalate-free perfume.
Try More Natural Products
The cosmetics, shampoos, lotions and other products you apply to your skin can be just as harmful as anything toxic you put inside your body. It is essential to nourish your body from the inside out as well as the outside in. Ingredients found in face washes, lotions, sunscreens and more have been linked to everything from allergic reactions to hormonal disruptions to cancer. What’s worse is that they go directly into your bloodstream and build up over time when applied to the skin or hair. While there are numerous studies with a variety of perspectives on this topic, everyone can agree that using more natural products is the safest bet for you and the environment.