The Toxic Truth About Cosmetics and Skincare Products

Many of us use a long list of skincare products and cosmetics as part of our beauty regime on a daily basis, but are you aware of what actually goes into these products, and the potential harm they may be doing to your body?

For starters, here are a few interesting (or terrifying) facts:

  • According to the Environmental Working Group, 89 percent of 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety by the FDA
  • In the US, the government doesn’t require any health studies or pre-market testing on personal care products
  • As a result, many cosmetics are thought to contain carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and other chemicals that may pose health risks
  • The figure is unclear, but it is believed that up to 60% of what we put on our skin gets absorbed into the bloodstream. And absorption rates on our face and scalp are 5-10 times higher than on other parts of our body.

It gets worse: the list of toxic additives present in many cosmetics is huge. U.S. researchers report that one in eight of the 82,000 ingredients used in personal care products are industrial chemicals.

Some of the harmful ingredients that can be found in your makeup drawer include:

  • Mercury (often listed as thimerosal on ingredient labels), found in some eye drops, ointment and deodorants;
  • lead acetate, found in some hair dyes and cleanser;
  • formaldehyde and toluene, found in nail products;
  • petrochemicals, found in some hair relaxers, shampoos, mascara, perfume, foundation, lipstick and lip balm;
  • coal tar, found in dandruff shampoos, anti-itch creams and hair dyes;
  • placenta, found in some hair relaxers, moisturizers and toners;
  • phthalates, found in some nail polish, fragrances and hair spray.

Others that should be avoided at all costs include (but are certainly not limited to): Cocamide DEA/lauramide DEA, Diazolidinyl urea, Ethyl acetate, Parabens (methyl, ethyl, propyl and butyl), Petrolatum, Propylene glycol, Siloxanes, Sodium laureth/sodium laurel sulfate, Talc, Triclosan, and Triethanolamine.

Toxic Effects

Take parabens, for example. These are a group of compounds widely used as anti-microbial preservatives in food, pharmaceutical and cosmetics products, including underarm deodorants. Parabens are absorbed through intact skin and through the gastrointestinal tract and blood. U.K. researchers found measurable concentrations of six different parabens in 20 human breast tumors. The study highlights the need for more research on the potential link between products containing parabens and increased breast cancer risk.

Another example is phthalates (pronounced THA-lates). These are plasticizing chemicals that are probable human reproductive or developmental toxins and endocrine disruptors. Phthalates cause reproductive birth defects in laboratory animals, particularly males.

Two phthalates often used in cosmetics (dibutyl and diethylhexyl) have been banned in the European Union. Unfortunately, phthalates are still found in some nail polishes and hair sprays, and are commonly hidden on ingredient labels under the term “fragrance.” I recommend that you try to steer clear of products with fragrance, especially pregnant women, babies and pubescent young adults.

makeupThe Solution

So what can we do to try to limit our exposure to these chemicals, whilst still looking good? There’s certainly no easy answer, because sifting through the marketing jargon to determine a product’s eco-status is harder than you’d think. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and UK equivalents, doesn’t review or regulate this stuff, so words like “natural” or “hypoallergenic” are essentially meaningless.

Thankfully, some organizations have made the process simple. The Environmental Working Group has a Skin Deep online database, where you can instantly check the safety of over 78,000 personal care products.

My advice to you? Read your labels, understand what you’re putting on your skin and try to consider a gentler, less toxic alternative if you can.

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