The Chemicals In Your Cosmetics: What to Look Out For

Body Cosmetics Personal Care

the chemicals in your cosmetics

I’m something of a girly-girl. I don’t like to admit this and I feel rather silly writing it, but I think you should know that this is not coming from some hippie chick with armpit hair down to her knees and Birkenstock sandals permanently attached to her feet (not that I have anything against this type of woman – power to ya, sister! – but if you think that is who’s writing this, you may have a skewed image of the facts to follow).

Did you know that on the average day, the average women wears 515 chemicals?

Say what!?

It’s true. These chemicals are found in her face wash, face lotion, shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, deodorant, perfume, mascara, eye shadow, foundation… and so the list goes on. These items are all classified by the FDA as “cosmetics.”

The practically completely unregulated cosmetic industry 

That’s a mouthful, huh? Well here’s the quick and dirty:  the US has one of the shortest lists of chemicals that have been banned for use in cosmetics – 30 compared to over 1,000 banned by the European Union! Worse yet, the industry’s review council has reviewed only 20% of the ingredients used in personal care products (some “review council”).

The FDA itself states, “Cosmetic companies have a legal responsibility for the safety of their products and ingredients.” That is, the legal responsibility is the hands of the companies, not the FDA. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics:

“Major loopholes in federal law allow the $50 billion cosmetics industry to put unlimited amounts of chemicals into personal care products with no required testing, no required monitoring of health effects, and inadequate labeling requirements. Neither cosmetic products nor cosmetic ingredients are reviewed or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they are sold to the public. FDA cannot require companies to do safety testing of their cosmetic products before marketing.”

The Breast Cancer Fund notes:

“Many of these substances are also used in industrial manufacturing processes to clean industrial equipment, stabilize pesticides and grease gears. And we can all agree that an ingredient that effectively scours a garage floor may not be the best choice for a facial cleanser.”

So what we have is a sort of anything-goes situation on our hands, in which we – the consumers – are left in the dark and exposed to a number of chemicals that we would never dream of putting on our bodies.

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A breif sampling of common chemicals in your cosmetics

Parabens are used as antifungal agents, preservatives, and antimicrobials. Parables are known endocrine disrupters, i.e. mess with your body’s natural hormone production. The World Health Organization and United Nations this year concluded: “Exposure to E.D.C.s during fetal development and puberty plays a role in the increased incidences of reproductive diseases, endocrine-related cancers, behavioral and learning problems, including A.D.H.D., infections, asthma, and perhaps obesity and diabetes in humans.” In addition, parabens have been found in 99% of breast cancer tissues sampled. Their presence in these cancerous samples lends to the thought their presence may increase the risk of breast cancer.

Ethylene oxide is found in fragrances and is commonly used to manufacture popular brands of shampoo. It is classified as a known human carcinogen and is one of the 48 chemicals that the National Toxicology Program (NTP) identifies as mammary carcinogens in animals.

Aluminum is often the active ingredient in antiperspirant deodorant. This metal mimics estrogen and can also cause direct damage to DNA. Studies have not shown a direct causal link to breast cancer risk, but breast tissue has been shown to concentrate aluminum in the same area where the highest proportion of breast cancers are originally diagnosed.

Phthalates (di-n-butyl phthalate a.k.a. DBP and di 2-ehtylhexyl phthalate a.k.a. DEHP) are not often listed on cosmetics ingredient labels, though the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found them in nearly three-fourths of tested products. A loophole in the law allows phthalates (and other chemicals) to be added to fragrances without disclosure to consumers. Phthalates are known endocrine-disruptors and have been shown to impact the sex organs of infants when exposed to the chemical in vitro.

Coal tar is used to control itching and scaling, to soften skin, and as a colorant. Coal tar is a known human carcinogen.

Lead, mercury, and other heavy metals often find their way into products. EWG believes that lead may be a contaminant in over 650 products listed in Skin Deep. It has been identified in sunscreens, foundation, nail colors, lipsticks and whitening toothpaste. Additionally, several ingredients derived from plant sources, such as oils and rice derivatives, may be polluted with heavy metals such as lead and mercury.

The average woman wears 515 chemicals

So what can you do?

Feel overwhelmed? Don’t! Healthier, better, non-toxic options exist! Consider going DIY as much as possible. For example, did you know that virgin coconut oil makes a great all-natural moisturizer? Or that raw honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg make an awesome skin clearing mask? Or that baking soda is a fabulous exfoliant? Or that corn starch can double as a dry shampoo? Or that avocado nourishes hair like no other? Well did ya!?

If you’re not a DIYer, there are luckily a number of resources to help you purchase safer products. Use the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database to learn about the ingredients in your beauty products and find safer options, and check out the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. If you’re an iPhone user, check out the awesome new app Think Dirty.

Sources and further reading:

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  1. But you would only use the avocado as a mask maybe once a week at most ($1.00/avocado) and a 16 oz. jar of organic coconut oil is maybe $7.00, and you use way less than a typical lotion so it probably would last twice as long as a 16 oz. body lotion (which costs more than $7 on average)… so honestly, you save money. And I have found this to be true of ALL of my natural DIYs, both beauty and home-care products.

  2. I understand this and fully agree that we should stop using the chemical-laden products, but it would be really expensive to use coconut oil and avocado every day for the rest of your life. Just sayin.

  3. Thank God I am allergic to most perfumes, wear makeup once in a great while (work from home) and don’t sweat profusely! I hardly ever wear deodorant… now to check on my toothpaste and change shampoo!

  4. You can still wear makeup if you want! Just go DIY or do some research beforehand. Fortunately, there’s a ton of great non-toxic brands dedicated to health AND quality beauty products. They’re out there!

  5. What about hair removal? I mean aside from shaving legs and underarms.. How do you rid yourself naturally from unwanted hair?