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Do You Know What’s in Your Cosmetics?

It’s not often that we bother to do our own research on those long-and-complexly-named chemicals that we find on the back of our cosmetics. I can hardly reel off the ingredient list on my face cream, let alone my toner and concealer.

Can you?

We tend to recognize the particular ingredients we’re allergic to. And maybe there’s that one product that has been making headlines for being recalled off the shelves, or that other dangerous chemical compound we’re warned to be on the lookout for. But as for the rest of them? So long as they give us a healthy glow and don’t cause us to break out in hives, they pretty much pass Go with us.

No matter; surely the companies that produce these products know what they’re doing. We can trust them to have done the research and keep us safe…can’t we?
“Can you believe what they put in this skin cream?”, my daughter (a biologist) exclaimed to me over the phone one day, before reciting a long list of chemical ingredients. “Donʼt they know how bad petrochemicals are for you?”

The truth is, while extensive FDA regulations require cosmetic manufacturers to provide unadulterated products that are labeled correctly, they are not required to prove the safety of their products. They may be held liable for damages, but unlike drug companies, they are not required to test their products extensively before sale. Plus, imported cosmetics are rarely inspected at all.

So it could be years before dangerous or negative side effects from cosmetics are discovered. We are basically guinea pigs in a massive experiment to determine the long-term safety of our cosmetics.

As we continue to discover increasing numbers of harmful ingredients previously assumed to be safe, it becomes clear that it is up to us to protect ourselves from the potential dangers of volatile man-made chemicals in cosmetics.

The world we live in now is not the world of our grandparents.

Literally thousands of man-made chemicals flood our environment in our food supply, in the air, on our clothes (flame retardants), in pesticides and herbicides, in building/housing materials, in plastics, and in our soaps, shampoos, and make-up. Who knows how severe the cumulative effects of these exposures will be?

My personal philosophy is to minimize my familyʼs exposure to man-made chemicals as much as possible. That means eating organic food, using natural products for cleaning, and buying organic or natural personal care products. It is somewhat ironic that natural products generally cost more, even though fewer numbers of ingredients are involved. However, just as processed foods are cheaper to produce than real, whole foods, cosmetics and body care products that use pure, high quality ingredients are often more expensive than those made with synthetic substitutes.

Since quality goods do regularly cost more, we all have to make compromises while choosing the products we can afford. However, some ingredients are more harmful than others and should definitely be avoided regardless of cost. The following ingredients are thought to be problematic because they either disrupt hormones (endocrine disruptors), cause cancer (carcinogenic), or they are toxins:

  • Parabens: Endocrine and reproductive disrupters.

  • BHA and BHT: Endocrine disrupters and carcinogens.

  • Diazolidiny Urea (also DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea):Releases formaldehyde in the body/carcinogenic.

  • Dibutyl Phthalate: Suspected endocrine disruptor and reproductive toxicant.

  • Diethanolamine: Possible carcinogen.

  • Sodium Lauryl (th) Sulfate: Possible carcinogen.

  • Petrolatum: Possible carcinogen.

  • Parfum (fragrances): Allergens, carcinogens, and neurotoxins.

  • Triclosan: Endocrine disrupter / causes antibiotic resistance.

  • PEG – Polyethylene Glycol: Carcinogen.

  • Siloxanes: Suspected endocrine disruptors and reproductive toxicants.

  • Coal tar dyes (CL + 5 digit # or FD&C): Heavy metal toxins and carcinogens.

Keep an eye out for these synthetic additives in your personal care products, and consider substituting for safer alternatives when possible.

After checking your personal care products, be sure and read your lipstick container next. A disconcerting study published in Environmental Health Perspectives showed the presence of heavy metals in 75% of lipsticks tested. A full 100% contained the metals chromium, manganese or aluminum. No amount of lead is considered safe for human consumption, and lead is easily swallowed when lipsticks containing it are applied (and reapplied) to the lips. It is worth the extra effort and cost to find lipstick that doesnʼt contain lead or other metals.

Many cosmetic producers argue that there is no danger from their products because our skin provides a protective barrier that is not easily penetrated. But we know that if the particle size is small enough or the base cream used is soluble, then products like hormone creams or medicine patches are easily absorbed through the skin.

We also know from blood and urine tests that hundreds of these additives have indeed found their way into our bodies. Since we donʼt know the cumulative effects of recurring man made chemical exposure, a wise precautionary position could be to assume that any chemical placed on the skin can potentially be absorbed.

I have heard the argument for years that since every chemical out there has the potential to kill us, why bother being careful? Something is bound to kill us someday. But there must be a thoughtful balance between complete denial of potential danger and paranoid overreaction.

Since my personal bias is to consider food the solution for every problem, (food is our friend!) I naturally consider organic foods a viable substitute for some personal care products. Foods and herbs can provide natural, inexpensive, and safe alternatives and they are literally safe enough to eat! Foods high in antioxidants and healthy fats not only benefit the body from the inside, but can help from the outside too. Here are a few possibilities:

  1. Organic, virgin, cold-pressed coconut oil: It contains lauric acid, an antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial fatty acid. It works wonders on dry patchy skin.

  2. Cucumbers: These are thought to help decrease puffiness around the eyes due to their high antioxidant content. Cooled chamomile tea bags produce a similar effect.

  3. Organic apple juice: It is a natural toner and astringent.

  4. Egg whites: They help remove oil from skin, and an egg white mask has astringent properties to firm saggy skin.

  5. Antioxidant-rich avocados: They are moisturizing and full of healing vitamins.

  6. Brown sugar: Mixed with olive oil and a little water, it makes an excellent exfoliant.

  7. Full fat sour cream: It contains alpha hydroxyl acid, which improves skin tone and texture.

  8. Cornstarch: It can substitute for loose powder to soak up excess oil on the skin.

Natural plants and herbs can provide the cleansing and nurturing ingredients we need to stay healthy when eaten internally or absorbed through the skin externally. Why risk the dangers of synthetic chemicals in products when Mother Nature does such a fabulous job producing superior products naturally?

I know itʼs overwhelming to make drastic changes all at once, so start slowly. Take baby steps and begin by reading the ingredient list on products you are using now. As they run out, consider replacing the worst ones with natural alternatives or products made without dangerous additives. Over time, you can proactively decrease your exposure to undesirable synthetic chemicals and minimize the risk of the side effects they produce.

It’s always better to be vigilant, and to do the research on your own. The companies that produce our cosmetic and care products have their own interests, and there is no guarantee that they will line up with yours. By fully understanding what your own interests are, what results you want out of your makeup products, you can find out the safest, healthiest ways of getting those results and looking great – no dangers included.

**Repurposed by Amy Kisaka, a staff writer for Goddess Connections Publication Women Who Run It.

Lisa Best

Lisa Best MBA, CCN, PhD Holistic Nutrition and Certified Clinical Nutritionist is CEO at Healing with Nutrition. She’s the creator of Health Tip of the Day iPhone and Droid App, which provides natural and easy tips with a holistic flair- with over 200,000 downloads. She also created Health Tips Weekly, a more detailed weekly report on current (hot) health issues. She provides nutritional phone consultations with a special focus in weight loss, diabetes, high blood pressure, IBS, Autism, and cancer diets. To find out more please visit HealingWithHolisticNutrition.com

Comments (2)

  • Avatar

    Amanda Tucci


    An eye-opening article. You certainly said it right – the majority of women don’t think twice about what ingredients are in the products we apply daily. What’s horrifying is that the ingredients used to make makeup don’t just have short term and easily remedied effects – they can lead to things like cancer and infertility. Women on a mass scale need to be continually informed of what exactly is in their favourite products.

    However, having said that, a part of me wonders if women (on a mass scale) would turn away from non-organic makeup after learning of the toxins in them. There’s an (extremely untrue) societal expectation placed on women that says we need makeup to achieve beauty. Do you think women would continue to use run-of-the-mill makeup knowing the health risks?

    • Avatar

      Jo-Ann Chizanga


      In response to your question, Amanda, I do believe that most woman will still continue to use high risk products knowing the negative effects associated with them. The idea of transitioning to health friendly products will require active research and careful consideration with finding products that will work for your skin while still being great for you. It seems to be a daunting task that some women may not consider a priority and would rather take the risk to save time.

      Interestingly enough, I recently transitioned from being a faithful Clinique user in my skincare routine, to using extra virgin olive oil as a cleanser and moisturizer, and apple cider vinegar as a toner. I was fed up with using chemicals that stripped my skin of natural oils and left me feeling dry and moisture deprived. I noticed that my skin was very sensitive and prone to flaking. Soon after transitioning to a more natural regimen, I noticed that my skin had drastically changed; I was no longer experiencing excessively oily skin due to my body over producing to make up for the natural oils that had been stripped away, and I also noticed that my skin had become a lot smoother and overall healthier.

      The skin care market is out to create products that are not beneficial to our overall health and somehow find a interesting way to market these products to people who are unaware and easily deceived. It is important for us to be conscious and aware of what we are putting into our bodies so that we do not reap the negatives effects years later.

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