10 Chemicals You Should Avoid When Buying Beauty Products

Have you ever taken the time to read the list of ingredients in your shampoo, conditioner, liquid foundation or lipstick? Do you know what’s in your nail polish or what your moisturizer is made of? If you’re like most Moms, you’ve got school lunches to make, errands to run, deadlines to meet, meetings to attend and dinner to plan. Ingredients in your beauty products aren’t always your top priority.

But growing research, experience and education are showing us that we should be very aware of what we are using on our hair and skin every day because some of those products may contain harmful chemicals. Here are ten to avoid when you’re buying cosmetics and beauty products of any kind.

10. Diethanolamine

Diethanolamine, or DEA, and DEA-related ingredients and derivatives are organic substances. These substances act as emulsifiers to produce bubbles and foam in beauty products used to clean the hair and wash the skin. DEA is found in such products as shampoos, body washes and other products that foam, create bubbles and are rinsed off. Some DEA derivatives are also found in shaving creams, eyeliners, mascaras, blush, fragrances and even in sunscreens. These substances have been linked to certain cancers, including liver and kidney cancer. Some research even suggests that these substances can accumulate in the organs and lead to organ toxicity. To avoid DEA and its network of related ingredients and derivatives, look for DEA, MEA, TEA, oleamide DEA, cocamide DEA and lauramide DEA on the labels of your beauty products, and replace the ones that contain this harmful ingredient.

9. Dibutyl phthalate

Dibutyl phthalate, or DBP, is used in some beauty products as a plasticizer, which is an agent used to increase a material’s plasticity. DBP is commonly used in products, such as nail polishes, body washes and fragranced lotions. But DBP can affect the normal function of the endocrine system of the body, which includes the thyroid, the pituitary and adrenal glands, reproductive glands (ovaries) and the pancreas. This is called “endocrine disruption,” which can cause problems with metabolism, growth and development, and with reproduction. DBP has also been linked to cancer. To avoid these chemicals, look on product labels for the words dibutyl phthalate, phthalate and fragrance, and don’t purchase products containing those ingredients. Phthalates are also listed on labels as DBP, DEP and DEHP, so read carefully, and pass on products containing them.

8. Parabens

It’s estimated that up to 85% of the beauty products on store shelves contain parabens. These preservatives have been used since the 1950s to prevent the growth of bacteria in cosmetics, shampoos and other products. But parabens have also been linked to problems with the human reproductive system, as they can mimic the hormone estrogen in the body. This process, called “estrogen disruption,” has also been linked to breast cancer. In 2004, researchers discovered parabens present in malignant, or cancerous, breast tumors. To reduce the number of parabens to which you’re exposed, avoid products that contain the words butylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben on their list of ingredients.

7. Fragrance

The word “fragrance” can be found in a majority of beauty products, including sunscreen, soap, shampoo, lotions, makeup, deodorants, facial creams, skin toners, exfoliating scrubs and more. The Food and Drug Administration defines fragrance as a combination of chemicals that gives a product its distinct scent.

The problem with fragrance is that there is little disclosure of the chemicals used to create the scent of a beauty product on the part of the manufacturers, making it difficult or impossible for the consumer to know exactly which chemicals are in scented beauty products. There are over 3,000 materials known to be used in fragrance compounds, some of which have been linked to toxicity in the reproductive system, allergies and even cancer. Some can trigger migraines, allergies and asthma. To reduce your risk from these materials, check the ingredients labels on products you use, and discontinue use of those that merely list “fragrance,” but not the materials used to make the fragrance.

6. Siloxanes

Siloxanes are a type of silicone. You’ll find them in beauty products used to soften, smooth and moisten, such as moisturizers and facial treatments. They are also used to make deodorant slide across the skin more easily and to make hair products dry more quickly. On an ingredients label, siloxanes are denoted by words ending in “-siloxane” and “-methicone.” Some siloxanes are also listed as D4, D5 and D6 on the labels. High doses of some siloxanes have been shown to cause uterine tumors and harm the reproductive system. There is also research that suggests that these chemicals affect neurotransmitters in the nervous system.

5. Sodium laureth sulfate

Sodium laureth sulfate, or SLS, can be found in shampoos, toothpastes, soaps, detergents, body washes and mouthwashes. It is a surfactant, which causes products to lather, thus, in theory, making them more effective cleaners. There is conflicting information about the dangers of SLS, but claims have been made about this chemical and its links to cancer. SLS can sometimes be contaminated by ethylene oxide, which is a proven carcinogen. When checking labels for sodium laureth sulfate, also look closely for sodium lauryl sulfate and other ingredients with the suffix “-eth” in their names.

4. Triclosan

Triclosan is an antibacterial ingredient found in products that intend to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. It has been proven effective in toothpastes in preventing gingivitis. But there is also concern over this additive. Some research suggests that repeated use of products with triclosan in them can cause a resistance to its antibacterial effectiveness. The FDA has researched the benefit of using soaps and washes with triclosan, versus using only soap (without triclosan) and water, and has concluded that there is no hard evidence suggesting that products with triclosan are more effective at preventing infection and illness from bacteria than simply using plain soap and water. For this reason, and because manufacturers have yet to prove that the use of triclosan is safe over a long period of time, the FDA has ruled that products with triclosan that are used with water, like antiseptic soaps and other skin cleansers, may no longer be marketed to consumers. So if you have products in your bathroom or shower that are old, check their labels for triclosan and throw them out.

3. BHA and BHT

Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are synthetic antioxidants used as preservatives in cosmetics, such as lipsticks and moisturizers. BHA, however, has been shown to disrupt the normal function of the endocrine system, and in some situations, BHT can promote tumors. Canada has restricted the use of BHA and BHT in cosmetics, and the State of California requires warning labels on any product that contains these chemicals, letting consumers know that they may cause cancer. So if you don’t live in Canada or California, double check the labels on your beauty products to know for sure if they contain these potentially harmful preservatives.

2. Petrolatum

Petrolatum is used in products as a moisturizer. When it is fully refined, it has no known health concerns, but in the United States, is isn’t always properly refined and can be contaminated with toxic chemicals. These toxic chemicals, called PAHs, can cause cancer. Look out for petrolatum in lotions and other cosmetics under the names petroleum jelly, paraffin oil and mineral oil. If the label says white petrolatum only, it is safe for use, as only white petrolatum is fully refined.

1. Mercury

It’s hard to believe, but mercury can be found in skin creams, antiseptic soaps and in some lotions. The ingredient label may use the words mercurous chloride or calomel to denote the presence of mercury in a product. In 1974, the Federal government banned most mercury in beauty products, but trace amounts of mercury are permissible when used as a preservative. You can often find mercury in skin lighteners and anti-aging solutions, as well as in many products that claim to reduce the appearance of age spots, freckles and wrinkles. Mercury is dangerous because it can be responsible for damage to the brain, lungs and to the kidneys. If any of the beauty products in your bathroom contain mercury, throw them out!

You want to look and feel your best. A woman can go great lengths to maintain her youthfulness, to be beautiful, to have firm skin and gorgeous hair. But what good is beauty if the products we use to help us look our best on the outside are doing ugly things to our bodies on the inside? There are great alternatives to many chemical-laden, dangerous products on the shelves in stores all over the country. It all comes down to being informed, being aware, reading labels and making better choices.


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