Are toxic beauty ingredients hiding in your products? I stumbled across a video about toxic hair products marketed to black women and girls a few years back. It shocked me. Researchers found out that many endocrine and hormonal issues, breast cancer cases, uterine fibroids, and early onset of puberty found among many black women could be linked to the products we were putting in our hair.
While the video I watched focused on toxic ingredients in black hair care products, many mainstream beauty products contain toxins we should never be putting on our skin. Finding all of this out was so overwhelming and I didn’t know what to do. So, for a while, I did nothing.
If you’re in the same boat, I thought I’d help you out by giving you a brief list of 7 toxic beauty ingredients to avoid and how they might be affecting your health.
Why are toxic beauty ingredients so bad for your health?
Our beauty products are about so much more than what we put on our skin or in our hair. Anything that you put on one part of your body will affect the rest of it. If you put toxins on your skin, they will enter your body. They don’t just sit on the surface. In fact, products placed on the skin absorb into your bloodstream much faster than the food you eat. Skincare products absorb almost immediately, while food takes a little while.
List of Harmful Ingredients in Beauty and Personal Care Products
Also known as: Ethylparaben, butylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben (anything ending in -paraben)
Parabens are preservatives that help to prevent the growth of mold, fungus, and other bacteria in personal care products. You would typically find them in shampoos, conditioners, lotions, face and body cleansers, and scrubs. If parabens help prevent your products from going bad, why are they so harmful? Well, because they may cause endocrine disruption, development and reproductive issues, and possibly cancer.
Studies show that Parabens actually mimic estrogen by binding to receptors in your body. They can also increase the production of breast cancer cells at high enough concentrations.
The good news is that many mainstream brands are starting to remove Parabens from their beauty products. Stick to products with the label “paraben free” to ensure that these harmful chemicals aren’t in your beauty products.
Also known as: DEP, DBP, DEHP, and fragrance
Phthalates are solvents in many cosmetic products to help moisturize and soften the skin. The problem with Phthalates is that they can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive systems. Shockingly, even though the EU banned Phthalates in skincare products, the US still allows them.
You can find Phthalates in popular color cosmetics, fragranced lotions, body washes, hair care products, and nail polish.
I want to also mention that brands often disguise Phthalates in many beauty products. Brands can legally add any chemical they want to products without disclosure as long as they use the label “fragrance.” I’ll share more about the harm in products labeled “fragrance” or “parfum” later in the article.
Try avoiding products with the label fragrance and/or look out for products labeled “phthalate free” and choose those instead. Thankfully, there are many out there.
Also known as: Quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bromopol) and glyoxal.
It’s crazy to think that Formaldehyde is even on this list! Unfortunately, Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde Releasing Preservatives (FRPs) are in many of our beauty and cosmetic products. Formaldehyde and FRPs prevent bacteria from growing in water based products.
FRPs may cause cancer, allergic skin reactions, and many other health issues. We all know that Formaldehyde is poisonous, so there’s no reason it should be going on our skin even if its in small amounts.
It’s also important to know that Formaldehyde isn’t listed on labels. While it’s not actually placed in the products itself, FRPs experience chemical reactions and release Formaldehyde into the products. Look out for the ingredients I listed in the “also known as” section and avoid those as best as you can.
4. Polyethelyne Glycol
Also known as: PEG, PEG-4, PEG-100
Polyethelyne Glycol (also known as PEG) isn’t actually a single ingredient. It’s actually a class of ethylene glycol polymers that moisturize, keep products stable, and help other ingredients to penetrate the skin more easily.
You might see PEGs with a number next to it on a product label. For example, it might say PEG-4 or PEG-100. The lower number means that your product will absorb into your skin more easily.
The main problem with PEGs is that they cause other toxic chemicals to penetrate your skin. If formaldehyde is in your skincare product, PEGs will make sure that all of it absorbs into your skin. That’s no good at all. Besides that, PEGs actually carry a ton of impurities itself such as lead, nickel, and arsenic.
Toluene is typically used in nail products and hair dyes. It can cause temporary effects like headaches, dizziness, and cracked skin. More long term effects include reproductive damage and respiratory complications. Once again, while the EU restricts the use of Toluene in cosmetics, the US still allows it.
Thankfully, a few popular brands like Sally Hansen, OPI, and Orly have removed Toluene from their products. If you go to the nail salon often, I would recommend bringing your own polish that you know to be safe.
6. Artificial Fragrance
Also known as: Parfum
Why are fragrances bad for your skin?
I know, they smell great but unfortunately, they should be avoided. Brands can add a ton of ingredients to products and throw them under the label fragrance. Guess what? The government does not require it to be disclosed. Presumably, many of these ingredients may be toxic and we wouldn’t even know it.
Artificial fragrances are in practically every category of product from shampoos, soap, body wash, and deodorant, to scrubs, moisturizers, and of course perfume.
Personally, I would avoid products with fragrance listed on its label. I know it can be challenging but try to choose fragrance free if you can. Another great option is organic perfume because its made with essential oils that provide safe and natural fragrance.
7. Triclosan and Triclocarban
Triclosan and triclocarban are antimicrobial agents in many soaps, detergents, toothpaste, antiperspirants, shaving products, and color cosmetics. They kill bacteria and fungus and prevent odors.
In 2005, the FDA found that antibacterial washes containing Triclosan or triclocarban were no better at protecting the public from bacteria than plain soap and water. Unfortunately, these ingredients may be endocrine disruptors, impacting thyroid function and homeostasis. A 2009 study also found that triclosan enhances the expression of androgen and estrogen sensitive genes.
Try to avoid antibacterial soap and just use regular soap and water since studies show that there isn’t much of a difference between the two.
What to do now?
I know that list was shocking and a bit scary but there’s nothing to worry about. Now that you are more aware of these toxic beauty ingredients, you can take better measures to avoid them.
Here are a few things you can do:
- Be sure to check your labels when shopping for new products. Keep a list of toxic ingredients to avoid and reference it when you go shopping.
- Try using more organic and all natural products. You might not be able to switch all your products right away but you can start off with a few.
- Get crafty and look up DIY recipes for your favorite skincare items. There are plenty out there that you can follow to create great lotions, body scrubs, and even deodorants!
- Go fragrance free if you can or use essential oil based perfumes.
- This is a lifesaver: Use the Think Dirty app to scan the products you have in your home and remove any with a high toxicity level.
- Always do your research! Just because a brand says its “green” or “organic” doesn’t mean it is.