Most Toxic 20 Ingredients in Your Personal Care & Beauty Products
Does anyone actually read the ingredient labels on cosmetics and personal care products? There are so many of them and they are all so difficult to pronounce. You'd need a chemist to help you decipher how every one of those chemicals is derived, what they do, and the danger they pose.
To make things worse the personal care and cosmetics industry is so shockingly unregulated that it’s nearly impossible to trust manufacturers' claims that are placed on their products. A word such as “natural” can be used by anyone to mean anything. Even the word “organic” can be misleading. You see, a product can only use the certified organic label if all of its ingredients are certified-organic. However, if a product's ingredients are at least 70% organic, it can say “made with organic ingredients." This might seem okay at first glance, but that leaves an entire third of a product's ingredients that can be potentially made up of toxins, carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, etc.
Today, there are more than 80,000 chemicals on the market, many lacking any safety data (particularly those used in the skincare and beauty industry). What’s worse is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency that regulates cosmetics in the United States barely regulates the sale of products that we put on our and on our kids’ bodies every day.
Over the past two decades, the European Union (EU) has banned more than 1,300 chemicals in the product formulas of personal care products and restricted the levels of over 250 more in such products. Canada has followed suit with 600. And the U.S.? Well, we haven't passed a major federal law to regulate the safety of ingredients used in personal care products since 1938, and have only partially banned 30.to date.
Unless a chemical used in beauty products is proven to cause harm to human health (and according to the American Cancer Society, this is very difficult, time consuming, and expensive to prove, so why would anyone want to spend the time and money to do so in such a deregulated industry?), it is classified as GRAS, or “generally recognized as safe.” This classification is upheld by the FDA at which point it's caveat emptor, or buyer beware.
And what about the the three million shipments of cosmetics that are annually imported into the United States from 29,000 foreign companies (few of which are registered with the F.D.A, because they are not required to do so) and 181 countries, many of whose unscrupulous standards are questionable at best (e.g., China)? Would you believe that there are only six FDA inspectors who monitor these shipments, which contain lipsticks, eyeliners, nail polish, face powders, tattoo inks and other products that we not only put on our bodies, but our mouths!
Although the FDA has frequently found contamination, illegal ingredients and other problems in the soaring quantities of imported cosmetics (e.g., bacterial contamination, illegal color additives that can cause skin or eye injuries, ingredients that were not on the label as required, and even unsafe chemical substances like mercury in such dangerous amounts that it could lead to kidney and nervous system damage), agency officials and industry executives said they remained confident that most cosmetics sold in the United States — imported or made domestically — were safe. (Source: NY Times) I don't know about you but that makes me feel like these products are anything BUT safe!
WHAT CAN WE DO?
The most important thing that we, consumers, can and MUST do is to educate ourselves, exhaustively read the ingredient labels of every product we buy, and choose products that do not contain harmful chemicals.
After a good amount of research, I've compiled a list of the top 20 toxins you should avoid. Source: There's Lead in Your Lipstick: Toxins in Our Everyday Body Care and How to Avoid Them and EWG's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database):
1. Mercury: Known carcinogen that impairs brain development. Found in mascara and some eyedrops.
3. Formaldehyde: Known carcinogen and irritant found in nail products, hair dye, fake eyelash adhesives, shampoos. Banned in the EU.
4. Toluene: Reproductive/developmental toxin, known to disrupt the immune and endocrine systems, and fetal development, it’s used in nail and hair products. Often hidden under fragrance.
5. Mineral oil: By-product of petroleum that’s used in baby oil, moisturizers, styling gels. It creates a film that impairs the skin’s ability to release toxins.
6. Coal Tar: A known carcinogen banned in the EU, but still used in North America. Used in dry skin treatments, anti-lice and anti-dandruff shampoos, also listed as a colour plus number, i.e. FD&C Red No. 6.
7. Phthalates: Plasticizers banned in the EU and California in children’s toys, but present in many fragrances, perfumes, deodorants, lotions. Linked to endocrine disruption, liver/kidney/lung damage, cancer.
8. Fragrance/Parfum: A catchall for hidden chemicals, such as phthalates. Fragrance is connected to headaches, dizziness, asthma, and allergies.
9. Ethoxylated surfactants and 1,4-dioxane: Never listed because it’s a by-product made from adding carcinogenic ethylene oxide to make other chemicals less harsh. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found 1,4-dioxane in 57 percent of baby washes in the U.S. Avoid any ingredients containing the letters "eth."
10. Parabens: Used as preservatives, found in many products. Linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity.
11. DEA/TEA/MEA: Suspected carcinogens used as emulsifiers and foaming agents for shampoos, body washes, soaps.
12. Oxybenzone: Active ingredient in chemical sunscreens that accumulates in fatty tissues and is linked to allergies, hormone disruption, cellular damage, low birth weight.
13. Hydroquinone: Used for lightening skin. Banned in the UK, rated most toxic on the EWG’s Skin Deep database, and linked to cancer and reproductive toxicity.
14. Paraphenylenediamine (PPD): Used in hair products and dyes, but toxic to skin and immune system.
15. Selenium Sulfide: Possible carcinogen nad known human respiratory toxicant.
16. Acrylamide: Possible human carcinogen and neurotoxin.
18. Silicone-derived emollients: Used to make a product feel soft, these don’t biodegrade, and also prevent skin from breathing. Linked to tumor growth and skin irritation.
19. Talc: Similar to asbestos in composition, it’s found in baby powder, eye shadow, blush, deodorant. Linked to ovarian cancer and respiratory problems.
20. Triclosan: Found in antibacterial products, hand sanitizers, and deodorants, it is linked to cancer and endocrine disruption. Avoid the brand Microban.