I never realised the environmental impact cosmetics had on our health, until I watched BBC's Documentary “Beauty Laid Bare”, which examined the pervasive use of toxic chemicals in our everyday personal care products. There are hormone disruptor chemicals in many products that have been possibly linked to breast cancer. I was shocked the cosmetics industry was not regulated like the food and drug sectors. And like most women, my lipgloss and shampoo are products I would never think to describe as “toxic” or could contain cancer-causing chemicals.
Women use an average of 12 products a day – nearly 200 chemicals – according to a 2004 study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit environment and health advocacy group. Another survey, conducted by a beauty retailer in 2016, found women averaged 16 products a day on their face alone.
Don’t always take products at their surface value and be sure to read the ingredients label whether it is lip balm or shaving cream. Also remember that your skin is the largest organ in your body, and what you put on it gets absorbed into your body, so treat your skin well by steering clear of these toxins.
These six toxins should be a warning to consumers that products can be deceptive in their marketing and could be potentially dangerous health-wise.
Phthalates are a group of chemicals that may be disruptive to the endocrine system, which is responsible for hormone production. Such interference can lead to developmental, reproductive, and neurological damage.
The effects of pthalates
The effects of phthalates may be related to their ability to mimic human hormones. Exposure to phthalates could cause reproductive abnormalities and decreased production of testosterone in males, as well as decreased male fertility.
Where would you find phthalates?
They’re used to plasticise products, making them more flexible or better able to hold in color and scent. From deodorant to nail polish to scented lip balm, the catch here is that these chemicals can be grouped under and listed as “fragrance.” Companies claim their fragrance formulas as “trade secret,” and thus don’t have to specify on the label which ingredients are included. Your best bet is to avoid products that list “fragrance” and choose ones that use plant oils and essences to give them the “yum” factor.
We know that lead is bad for us. We stopped putting it in our paint, right? So why is it showing up in our foundation, lipsticks, and even whitening toothpaste?
Lead is a proven neurotoxin linked to miscarriage, reduced fertility, and delays in the onset of puberty for females. A more recent study by the FDA tested popular brands and found 400 that contained up to 7.19ppm of lead. It is inevitable that some lipstick ends up making it past the target area and into your belly. For those who wear it regularly, this could harm your health in the long run.
How does lead make it into cosmetics?
It isn’t added as an ingredient, but rather makes its way in through contamination. Colour additives are some of the most common sources. The best way to avoid lead is to buy makeup from companies that make products in small batches and avoid contamination, or to buy products coloured with fruit and other natural pigments.
3. Quaternium-15 and other formaldehyde-releasing preservatives
You may already know that treated wood, such as particleboard, can release formaldehyde, but did you know to watch out for it in your makeup?
When some chemicals break down, they release harmful formaldehyde gas, classified as a known human carcinogen. The main risk is through inhalation. The European Union (E.U.) mandates that formaldehyde-releasing preservatives in cosmetics be labelled as such if they exceed .05%. For those outside the E.U., we have to get savvy with our ingredient vetting.
Look for: DMDM hydantoin, BHUT (butylated hydroxytoluene), bronopol, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydrozymethylglycinate, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quarternium-15, Quaternium-18, Quaternium-26, Quaternium-15
Quats have many uses—as preservatives, surfactants, germicides and conditioning agents. Choose products that use natural alternatives that perform similar functions such as rosemary, honey, tea tree oil, grapefruit seed extract, and vitamin E.
4. Peg compounds
Polyethylene glycols, or PEGs, are petroleum-based compounds that are used to thicken, soften, and gelatinize cosmetics, making them a common ingredient in cream-based products. The main issue with PEGs is that they are often contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane.
Ethylene oxide is a known human carcinogen, potentially harmful to the nervous system and human development. 1,4-dioxane is a possible human carcinogen that can remain in the environment for long periods of time without degrading.
PEG compounds also enhance the penetration of other ingredients into your skin. The number next to PEG indicates how many units of ethylene glycol they comprise, such as PEG-4 or PEG-150. The lower the number, the more easily the product absorbs into your skin.
5. Butylated compounds (bht, bha)
This is another unhealthy ingredient that’s thrown into our products so we can keep them on our shelves for a longer period of time. BHA and BHT are used as preservatives in many products.
Skincare and makeup: eyeliners, eye shadows, lipsticks, lip glosses, blushes, foundations, perfumes, moisturisers, skin cleansers
These chemicals are endocrine disruptors, may induce skin allergies, and are linked to organ, developmental, and reproductive toxicity. The E.U. prohibits the use of BHA as a fragrance and the European Commission on Endocrine Disruption lists it as a Category 1 priority substance due to evidence that it interferes with hormonal function. No thank you!
They’re practically famous. If you’ve heard of one class of ingredients you should avoid in your makeup, it’s parabens. They’re the most widely used preservatives in cosmetics, and they have no troubles penetrating your skin.
The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption lists parabens as Category 1 priority substances because of evidence they interfere with hormone function. I only let one thing toy with my hormones, and that’s the moon!
What harm can parabens cause?
Parabens can mimic estrogen, and have been detected in human breast cancer tissue. They also interfere with reproduction, the nervous system, and the immune system—all things we would like to keep in well-working order.
Because parabens have gained such a bad rep, some companies now use phenoxyethanol, but phenoxyethanol is not the good witch of the north! It has many of the same harmful effects.
Swapping your regular makeup products for natural versions can seem like the scariest step in the transition. You found mascara that takes your eyelashes to new heights, a lipstick that makes your pout pop, and a foundation that makes your skin look like it travelled back in time. Why would you give those things up?
Under current law cosmetics companies are not required to conduct safety assessments on their products. Harmful ingredients can be easily masked under confusing or deceptive titles...
Finding safer alternatives for myself is a huge challenge. Although many products are labelled “all-natural” or “organic”, there is little transparency in labelling cosmetics. There is also no real tool out there for consumers to find information easily. Or is there?
Introduction to Think Dirty®
As a responsible consumer, you should be aware of which ingredients in your products are toxic or detrimental in any manner to your health. Think Dirty® empowers and educates the consumer on the cosmetics industry by allowing them to make an informed decision on what products to purchase.
Think Dirty® is committed to helping consumers identify the potential risks associated with the personal care products they use every day. Unlike other ingredient databases, Think Dirty® focus exclusively on the chemical content of the products in question. The company has consciously avoided the widely-used practice of “greenwashing”, whereby the environmental or social responsibility of a product’s manufacturer is factored into the assessment allowing a product to receive an artificially low toxicity rating. The company is solely concerned about the possible impact of a given product on an individual’s health, and their ratings methodology reflects that singular commitment.
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