Most people don’t bother to check the ingredients of their cosmetics and other health and beauty products because they assume they’re safe, as long as they are sold at popular personal care stores. However, cosmetic companies are not strictly regulated in terms of what ingredients should not be used. The FDA classifies chemicals as “generally recognized as safe” when it is not proven to cause harm to human health. Plus, the labels “natural” and “made with organic” can be misleading. A product can be labelled with the latter if it contains at least 70% certified organic ingredients, leaving 30% room for toxic chemicals.
Consumers must check the labels of their cosmetic products and be careful with these ingredients:
Formaldehyde is used in many products from moisturizers, hair products, nail products, fake eyelash glue to vinyl flooring and toilet bowl cleaners. Ingredients containing formaldehyde include quaternium-15, methylene glycol, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea and diazolidinyl urea. It is considered a carcinogen and an irritant, and raises the risk of depression, insomnia, ALS and ADHD.
Parabens are used frequently as preservatives in most cosmetics, fragrances, and hygiene products such as soap, body wash, shampoo, conditioners, shaving cream and toothpaste products. This chemical can penetrate the skin and disrupt endocrine and estrogen hormones. The chemical is found in tumors of almost all breast cancer patients and it has been linked to fertility problems in women. Avoid products with this chemical by looking for butylparaben, isobutylparaben, propylparaben and isopropylparaben.
Although hard to pronounce, phthalates are commonly used to soften cosmetic products like nail polish. It can be found in eyeliners, blushers, lip gloss, deodorants, fragrances, lotions and hair products. Research have shown that the chemical disrupts hormones as it is linked to early puberty in girls, abnormal reproductive development in baby boys and reduced testosterone and sperm quality in men. It also increases the risk of endocrine disruption, cancer and organ damage. This goes by variants such as diethylhexyl phthalate, dibutyl phthalate and butyl benzyl phthalate.
Lead is a harmful ingredient found in lipstick and hair dyes. It is known as a carcinogen that is linked to abnormalities in female reproductive system development, reduced fertility and miscarriage. A version of it, the lead acetate, is a neurotoxin that can cause memory problems and high blood pressure in adults. Take note of this, as well as chromium, thimerosal and sodium hexametaphosphate when buying cosmetics.
Used for lightening skin, hydroquinone can be found in skin whitening products and moisturizers. This ingredient is related to cancer, respiratory tract irritation and reproductive toxicity. It was banned in the US but some companies are still allowed to use up to a 4% concentration of it. You will find it in the labels as hydroquinone or tocopheryl acetate.
Toluene is present in hair dyes and nail polish, helping sustain color. Because it can be ingested through inhalation, using products with toluene must be used in well-ventilated areas. However, toluene can be an irritant to skin and respiratory tract. Chronic exposure to this chemical is linked to anemia, low blood, organ damage and may affect developing fetus in pregnant women.
7. Retinyl palmitate
Retinyl palmitate is easily absorbed by the skin and is usually found in anti-aging creams, moisturizers and lip products. Studies have shown that the chemical spurs development of cancerous lesions of skin exposed to sun, putting users at risk of skin cancer. Look for retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinol and tretinoin in ingredient labels.