Just when you thought you were making headway on healthier living, the last thing you probably want to hear is that you are using toxic cosmetics and personal hygiene products. Your soap, shampoo, nail polish, hairspray, shaving cream, perfume, hair color, cosmetics, lotions and creams could very well be loaded with ingredients that are toxic, can cause cancer and/or disrupt your endocrine system.
Your skin is your largest and most permeable organ and what you put on your skin ends up in your bloodstream and is distributed throughout your body.
A FEW STATISTICS
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG.org), the average US woman uses 12 personal care products per day, containing 168 different chemicals. Even though most men use less, they are still exposed to about 85 chemicals daily. Teens, using an average of 17 personal care products a day, are in the highest exposure levels, particularly teen girls who commonly use more of these toxic cosmetics, skin and hair products.
While any one application may be insignificant, many of these dangerous ingredients can accumulate over years of regular use. When EWG tested teens to find out which chemicals in personal care products were found in their bodies, 16 different hormone-altering chemicals were detected.
HOW COULD THIS BE HAPPENING?
The main problem is the lack of regulation. Toxic cosmetics and skincare products can come on the market without any type of approval required. Only after a product is reported as potentially harmful or misleading can the FDA take regulatory action. Here is the official FDA statement:
“FDA’s legal authority over cosmetics is different from our authority over other products we regulate, such as drugs, biologics, and medical devices. Under the law, cosmetic products and ingredients do not need FDA premarket approval, with the exception of color additives.”
As well, there are loopholes that allow some ingredients to not be disclosed at all, such as chemicals that are grouped under and listed as “fragrance.” Companies can claim their fragrance formulas are a “trade secret,” and not disclose what ingredients are included.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
Here are some of the worst offenders:
Carcinogens (meaning they can cause cancer):
Some cosmetics and hair/skin care products contain known carcinogens. The term “carcinogen” means that it is a substance that can lead to or cause cancer.
Formaldehyde is a good example. Commonly used in mascara and eyeliner as well as nail products, shampoos, hair dye and liquid soap yet it has been linked to cancer.
Another example is Lead. We’ve made a big stink about no lead in paint or children’s toys. Meanwhile, it is commonly found in lipstick, nail polish, foundation and whitening toothpastes. A recent study by the FDA tested popular brands and found 400 that contained up to 7.19ppm of lead.
Similar heavy metals such as mercury and arsenic are also commonly used in a wide variety of personal care products including lipstick, whitening toothpaste, eyeliner and nail polish.
Other common carcinogens that are being used include: Coal tar (used in shampoos, soaps and hair dyes), Carbon black (mascara and eyeliner), phenacetin, benzene, untreated or mildly treated mineral oils, methylene glycol, ethylene oxide, chromium, cadmium and its compounds and crystalline silica or quartz. All of these have all been identified by The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as known carcinogens and are commonly used in many toxic cosmetics.
There is also a group of chemicals that have been found to be disruptive to the endocrine system. It is your endocrine system that produces and regulates all hormone production in your body. These endocrine disruptors can affect the body’s development, growth and hormone balance by mimicking, blocking or disrupting the body’s natural hormone production and pathways.
Phthalates are a group of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (found in cosmetics like nail polish and perfumes, including “fragrance” ingredients in other cosmetic products). They have been linked to breast cancer and are endocrine disrupters. A study by the University of Maryland reported that exposure to phthalates could cause reproductive abnormalities and decreased production of testosterone in males, as well as decreased male fertility.
Triclosan is used in antibacterial soaps, deodorants and toothpastes to limit the growth of bacteria and mold. This chemical, which is classified as a pesticide, is a known endocrine disruptor.
Parabens are the most widely used preservatives in cosmetics, and are readily absorbed through your skin. 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.
WHAT TO DO
The simplest thing you can do to avoid using toxic cosmetics and skin/hair care products is to utilize the extensive list that the EWG.org offers. : http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/
EWG has evaluated over 80,000 products on the market as to their ingredients and rated them from 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst of these toxic cosmetics and personal hygiene products (of greatest concern), and 1 the best. Some even have the label of “EWG Verified”, meaning their ingredients have been found to be safe.
There are two great ways to research your favorite brands or a new brand to discover if a toxic chemical is lurking in your makeup:
- You can look up specific products to check the rating and ingredients to determine if you want to keep using it or not. Use the Search function to do this.
- You can use the menu function to look up types of products to locate what brands of a type of item are the healthiest options. For example, if you want to buy shampoo, you can go to the menu along the top, look under “Hair” and click on “Shampoo” on the dropdown menu. It will list the shampoos with the best ratings first.
Start with the items you use most often, check the EWG rating of these products and change out to healthier versions if needed. From there, you can either gradually phase over as you run out of something or move more rapidly – it’s up to you.
Also realize that by switching brands to healthier versions, you will be helping to sway the market overall away from toxic cosmetics and other personal products toward using ingredients that pose no threat our good health.
Debbie Baumgarten is an author and founder of HealthKick.info, helping others with easy healthy living habits and information.