Toxic Beauty

020515_ToxicBeauty2Do you know what’s lurking in your bathroom?

No, not the usual dirt and grime. Go scrub your tub already! I’m talking about ingredients in your everyday beauty and personal care products that are potentially compromising your health.

According to the Environmental Working Group, the average woman uses 12 products containing 168 different ingredients daily. Men use about six products exposing themselves to about 80 different substances.

But if sold in our highly regulated country the products must be safe, right? Wrong!

In fact, under U.S. law, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have the authority to require cosmetic manufacturers to submit their safety data for review. Also, the agency does not approve or even test the vast majority of products or ingredients before they go on the market. The burden is on the FDA to prove that a particular product or ingredient is harmful when used as intended. Unlike our friends in the European Union who have banned over 1,000 ingredients used in cosmetics the FDA has regulated the use of a mere 10 as listed HERE.

How are we exposed to these harmful chemicals? They are being swallowed, breathed in or, in most cases, absorbed through the skin. Consequently, some common cosmetic ingredients turn up in people’s bodies. Among them: phthalates (industrial plasticizers), parabens (preservatives), and persistent fragrance components. Even baby products that are labeled as “hypoallergenic” or “natural” are not necessarily safer as cosmetic marketing terms are not regulated.

The Environmental Working Group and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics urges consumers to stay away from products that contain the following:

BHA or butylated hydroxyanisole: Antioxidant and preservative

Concern: Hormone disruptor, possible human carcinogen, can cause skin depigmentation

Found in: Food, food packaging, and personal care products sold in the U.S.

Coal and other coal tar ingredients (Aminophenol, Diaminobenzene, Phenylenediamine): Byproduct of coal processing

Concern: A known human carcinogen banned in Europe

Found in: Hair dye, specialty products such as dandruff and psoriasis shampoos

Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (FRP’s) such as quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol) and several other preservatives: Used to inhibit bacteria growth.

Concern: Known human carcinogen linked to asthma, neurotoxicity, developmental toxicity and allergic skin reactions

Found in: Hair straightener, nail polish, body wash, conditioner, shampoo, cleanser, eye shadow 


Concern: Hormone disruptor, one of the top 5 allergens in the world. Companies do not have to list any of the chemicals in their fragrance mixture due federal law’s classification of trade secrets. 

Found in: All types of cosmetics

Hydroquinone: A skin bleaching chemical that inhibits the production of melanin

Concern: Linked to cancer, organ toxicity

Found in: Skin lightening cream


Concern: A neurotoxin

Found in: Hair dye 

Methylisothiazolinone, methylchloroisothiazolinone and benzisothiazolinone: Preservatives, commonly used together in personal care products

Concern: Among the most common irritants, sensitizers and causes of contact allergy. May be neurotoxic. 

Found in: Shampoo, conditioner, body wash

Oxybenzone: Sunscreen agent and ultraviolet light absorber

Concern: Found in the bodies of nearly all Americans, linked to irritation, sensitization and allergies. Possible hormone disruptor.

Found in: Sunscreen

Parabens (specifically Propyl-, Isopropyl-, Butyl-, and Isobutyl- parabens): Estrogen-mimicking preservatives

Concern: Endocrine disruptors, may cause reproductive and developmental disorders. The CDC has detected parabens in the bodies of virtually all Americans. 

Found in: Shampoo, face cleanser, body wash, body lotion, foundation

PEGs/Ceteareth/Polyethylene compounds: A family of synthetic conditioning and cleaning agents

Concern: Frequently contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which the U.S. government considers a probable human carcinogen and which readily penetrates the skin.

Found in: Creams, sunscreen, shampoo

Petroleum distillates: Petroleum-extracted cosmetics ingredients

Concern: May cause contact dermatitis, often contaminated with cancer-causing impurities. They are produced in oil refineries at the same time as automobile fuel and heating oil.

Found in: Mascara

Phthalates: A class of plasticizing chemicals used to make products more pliable or to make fragrances stick to skin

Concern: Hormone disruptors

Found in: Synthetic fragrance, hair spray, nail polish

Resorcinol: Common ingredient in colorants 

Concern: Skin irritant, toxic to the immune system and frequently cause allergy. Can disrupt normal thyroid function. 

Found in: Hair color and bleaching products

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS and SLES): Surfactants 

Concern: Skin, lung and eye irritant. Often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane – a petroleum-derived carcinogenic compound

Found in: Shampoo, body wash, bubble bath, toothpaste

Toluene: Volatile petrochemical solvent and paint thinner

Concern: Can cause birth defects. Toxic to the immune system. 

Found in: Nail polish

Triclosan & Triclocarban: Antimicrobial pesticides 

Concern: Hormone disruptor, toxic to the aquatic environment

Found in: Liquid soap (triclosan) or soap bars (triclocarban)

Vitamin A compounds (retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinol): An essential nutrient

Concern: Increased skin irritation especially when applied to sun-exposed skin. May damage DNA and speed the growth of skin tumors when used topically. 

Found in: Moisturizer, anti-aging skincare, lip products, make-up

So, now that you have the facts what the heck are you supposed to do next?

First, do not panic and replace all of your products at once. When it comes to swapping your toxic cosmetics for safer alternatives I recommend you go slow. A) It can be expensive to buy everything new. B) Even safe cosmetics can cause an allergic reaction. If you replace one product at a time versus an entire 12-step skin care regimen it would be much easier to pinpoint what causes the allergy. Perhaps start with whichever product you use most. Maybe you have stuff you will never be able to let go of entirely. For me, that would be a couple of expensive eye shadow palettes and a handful of name brand lipsticks. I am keeping them for a special occasion. 

Second, do your research! Finding new stuff can be overwhelming and confusing. There are many cosmetics companies that use “greenwashing” marketing terms like “all natural” but their products are anything but. After a while you will find manufacturers you can trust to make safe products that are as effective and luxurious as your old stand-bys. It may take some time. I, for example, have yet to find one specific type of hair product that works in order for me to give up some of my beloved toxic stuff completely. Baby steps!

Lastly, I encourage you to check the EWG’s SkinDeep Cosmetics Database every so often for updates as their list and recommendations change with evolving science and the availability of new information on cosmetic ingredients. I also suggest getting the SkinDeep app on your smart phone. Unless you learn all the aforementioned terms by heart (I know I didn’t and still have a hard time even pronouncing most of them) it comes in handy while out shopping. After a while you will become a pro at recognizing more and more of the harmful chemicals as listed above.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts on safe products I have been using!

3 thoughts on “Toxic Beauty

  1. Pingback: Tickled Pink | The Healthy Haus

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