What's in Our Beauty Products?

It’s amazing how times have changed. Less than a generation ago, we didn't have to study our labels or research GMOs. But with increasing amounts of additives, chemicals and preservatives being used in the food and products we consume, we now realize it's up to us to take care of our health and protects ourselves. First stop: beauty products. 

Numerous harmful chemicals are hidden in even our most expensive shampoos, soaps and makeup. Sadly, similar to the food we ingest, when we apply these products to our bodies, toxins are absorbed through our skin and enter our bloodstream.

The scariest part is that the beauty industry has the freedom to add any ingredient without government review or approval, and many of these highly-unregulated, synthetic chemicals are skin irritants, skin penetrators, endocrine disrupters, and carcinogenic.1 For a list of ten beauty ingredients to highly avoid, see below. 

1. Parabens. One of the most commonly used preservatives in beauty products, Parabens prevent the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast. They are also believed to hold estrogen-mimicking properties that are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.2

2. Synthetic colors. If you see FD & C listed on the bottle, these are synthetic colors derived from petroleum or coal tar sources. They are suspected to be a human carcinogenic, a skin irritant and linked to ADHD in children.3  

3. Fragrance. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep Database, fragrance are associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and have potential negative effects on the reproductive system. Fragrances can be found in pretty much all beauty products, including makeup, hair, face, and body.4 

4. Phthalates. A group of chemicals used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastic, Phthalates can be found in nail polish, perfume, lotion and hair spray. They have been linked to the increase incidence of breast cancer.5 

5. Triclosan. Triclosan is a skin irritant that's widely used as a antimicrobial chemical. It's also an endocrine disruptor, especially to thyroid and reproductive hormones. It can be found in toothpaste, antibacterial soaps, and deodorants.6  

6. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) / Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). These chemicals are known surfactants and can be found in more than 90% of our personal care products. They act as detergents, wetting agents, emulsifiers, foaming agents, and dispersants. When combined with other chemicals, they can form Nitrosamines, a carcinogen leading to issues like kidney and respiratory damage. Nitrosamines can be found in shampoo, body wash, mascara, and acne treatment.7 

7. Formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is used in many cosmetic products to prevent bacteria growth. It was declared a human carcinogen by The International Agency for Research on Carcinogens (IARC) in 2012, and it has been linked to nasal and nasopharyngeal cancer, allergic skin reactions, and proven to be harmful to the immune system in general. It can be found in nail polish, body wash, hair products, cleansers, and eye shadow.8  

8. Toluene. Derived from petroleum or coal tar sources, you can find Toluene listed under many different names on your bottles such as benzone, toluol, phenylmenthane and methylbenzene. Typically found in nail polish, hair color and bleaching products, Toluene can affect your respiratory system, cause nausea, irritate your skin, and if pregnant, can even cause developmental damage to the fetus.9

9. Propylene glycol. A small organic alcohol, known as a skin irritant and penetrator, this chemical can cause dermatitis and hives, and is found in moisturizer, sunscreen, makeup and hair products.10

10. Sunscreen chemicals. Under the common name of benzophenone, PABA, avobenzone, homosalate and methoxycinnamate, these chemicals absorb ultraviolet light, which possibly causes cellular damage and cancer.11 

So, what to do with all of this information? Become aware. Read labels. And over time, find sources for gentler alternatives. We, as consumers, are in charge of our spending and our bodies, and taking control of what we put on our skin is one of the first steps to becoming healthier. If we collectively avoid certain ingredients, thereby eliminating the demand for toxic products, cosmetic chemists will start taking note and looking for alternatives. By making changes, we'll become a part of the beauty product revolution and make way for healthier generations to come. #beautyofchange.10

To find out what’s in your beauty products, search the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database and download a wallet size  Shopper’s Guide to Safe Cosmetics for assistance when shopping. 

"The Earth is what we all have in common." – Wendell Berry