Toxic Cosmetics: Know What's in Your Medicine Cabinet

Many cosmetics contain levels of harmful chemicals that are dangerous to your health – and unregulated by the EPA and FDA. Are you poisoning yourself with the soap, shampoo, lotion, toothpaste, and makeup you use? Take matters into your own hands and educate yourself about the toxic chemicals that are commonly found in personal care products.

In 2011, UC San Francisco researchers reported that out of 268 pregnant woman studied, 100% of them carried up to 163 chemicals that could be passed on to their fetuses. These included pesticides and flame-retardants with proven health risks, as well as other chemicals from everyday household products and cosmetics. It’s important to realize that while our bodies may be able to tolerate a single chemical in a small dose, over time we are each exposed to thousands of chemicals that our bodies can absorb and store. This is referred to as “body burden.” The rise of diseases such as breast cancer, autism, and Parkinson’s parallels the rise of synthetic chemicals in our daily lives.

Since government regulations may never catch up with the thousands of dangerous chemicals in our everyday products, there are a few key things you can do to protect yourself. You can research the products you currently use at EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database or look up individual ingredients at Examine labels closely. Labels on cosmetic products that tout themselves as “all-natural,” “dermatologist-tested,” “hypoallergenic,” “fragrance-free,” and “non-comedogenic” are meaningless. Look for products with the USDA Organic seal, which means they contain at least 95% certified organic ingredients. They may still contain toxins, though it won’t be as likely. Also beware of products with the following toxic chemicals:

  • Lead – We all know how dangerous lead paint is, but did you know that lead is still found in some lipsticks and hair coloring kits? This is a neurotoxicant (a toxin that can cause damage to the nervous system).
  • Mercury – Another neurotoxicant, it’s sometimes listed as “thimerosal” and can be found in some cosmetics such as mascara, skin-lightening creams, and anti-aging products.
  • Formaldehyde – A known carcinogen, formaldehyde is found in many nail polishes and bath products. The state of California recently discovered that some nail polish containing formaldehyde was falsely labeled as being toxin-free. Look for brands recommended by the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.
  • Parabens – These are estrogen mimickers that can lead to cancer, and are found in shampoo.
  • Triclosan – Found in antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizer, it contributes to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and has been linked to hormone disruption.
  • Phthalates -- Another hormone disruptor, they are also linked to asthma, allergies, and liver and kidney lesions. They’re hidden in the fragrances of many products.
  • Fragrance – Chemicals used to scent products can be listed as “fragrance” without any specifics to avoid revealing proprietary information. Stay away from products that use this designation.
  • Nanoparticles – These are microscopic ingredients that can penetrate cell walls and have been largely untested. They’re found in lotions, makeup, and sunscreen. Check out the book Sunscreens: Biohazard for a detailed study on nanoparticles and their connection to obesity, diabetes, asthma, and ADHD.
  • Petroleum -- Watch out for mineral oil, petrolatum, liquid paraffin, toluene, and xylene. These are often contaminated with the carcinogen 1,4 Dioxane.

The good news is that there are many cosmetics that have been verified to be nontoxic, such as Hemp Organics lipstick, Mineral Fusion makeup, Jane Iredale makeup, and Surya Liquid Henna Hair Color, which is available at the Santa Monica Co-Op and Whole Foods. You can also browse through the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to find their best-rated products, or get really crafty and make your own.

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