Every day, we are exposed to a mind-blowing number of chemicals in our cosmetics and personal care products.
A couple of years ago, I took a cosmetic toxicology class which taught me how to read ingredient labels, how to find safety data on cosmetic ingredients, and which toxic ingredients to avoid.
I know that cosmetic toxicology doesn’t sound super exciting, but I believe that this class had a huge impact on my long-term health.
Unlike the drug industry which is heavily regulated by the FDA, cosmetic and personal care products do not have to be tested for safety in the United States.
About one in eight ingredients used in cosmetics and personal care products contain hazardous industrial chemicals. And, studies have found that chemical exposure is one of the leading causes of chronic disease in the United States.
Toxic chemicals found in beauty products can cause skin irritation, damage to your reproductive and hormonal systems, infertility, birth defects, and even cancer.
Becoming an informed consumer by reading ingredient labels is the best thing that you can do to protect yourself and the health of your family.
Today, I’m going to teach you a shortcut that will have you reading ingredient labels like a pro in no time at all.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has an online ingredient database called the “Skin Deep Cosmetic Database” that ranks the toxicity of ingredients from 1 to 10 (1 being the safest and 10 being the most toxic), and all the industry peeps use this website to look up information on ingredients.
Just enter the ingredient you are wanting to look up in the search box and you will be given the ingredient’s toxicity rating, as well as any harmful effects that the ingredient has been linked to, such as endocrine (hormone) disruption, or mutagenic effects (carcinogen).
Check out the Environmental Working Group’s ingredient database here (and you might want to bookmark this site for future use).
After you check out this site, I want to challenge you to choose one beauty or personal care product that you use every day. Then find the ingredient list and plug each ingredient, one by one, into the EWG database. My cosmetic toxicology class challenged me to do this and I was completely shocked by the results!
If you want to take your ingredient knowledge a step further, below I’ve listed my top 10 cosmetic ingredients to avoid:
1. Lead: Found in lipsticks and whitening toothpaste. The effects of lead exposure include brain damage, seizures, intestinal problems, kidney damage, and reduced sperm count in men.
2. Parabens: Incredibly common preservatives found in shampoos, deodorants, body creams, lotions, and almost every product that contains water. Parabens are well-known hormone disruptors that mimic estrogen, causing the growth of breast tumors. Parabens have even been found in breast biopsy samples.
3. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives such as quaternium-15, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, and DMDM hydantoin: These ingredients are commonly found in shampoo, nail polish, and liquid body soap, and have been linked to cancer.
4. Phthalates: These are usually hidden in shampoo labels under the generic term “fragrance”. Found in just about every shampoo and nail polish, phthalates have been linked to early puberty in girls and birth defects, particularly causing damage to the reproductive organs of male infants.
5. Nitrosamines: You won’t find nitrosamines listed on ingredient labels because they are the impurities of a wide range of cosmetic ingredients including diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA). Many studies have linked nitrosamines to cancer.
6. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS): A cleansing agent found in industrial cleansers and thousands of cosmetic products such as shampoo, hair color, toothpastes, body washes, liquid hand soap, laundry detergents, and bath salts. During manufacturing, SLS is contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, a chemical that has been linked to cancer.
7. Methylisothiazolinone (MIT): A preservative found shampoo which can cause damage to your nervous system.
8. Toluene: Made from petroleum and coal tar, toulene is found in nail polish and synthetic fragrances. Chronic exposure to toluene has been linked to anemia, lowered blood cell count, kidney and liver damage, and birth defects.
9. Triclosan: Used as a preservative in antibacterial soap, deodorant, and toothpastes. Tricolosan can cause problems with thyroid hormones which regulate your metabolism.
10. Fragrance: “Fragrance” is the generic term used to classify ingredients that give a product its particular aroma. “Fragrance” is concerning because it is protected by the trade secret law, meaning that companies do not have to disclose any ingredients that fall under this classification.
There are over 5000 ingredients that fall under the generic term “fragrance”, many of which have been linked to everything from asthma, skin irritation, hormone disruption, and cancer.
I hope this post has inspired you to become an avid label reader like me. Unfortunately, the majority of the cosmetics and personal care products on the market are full of toxic chemicals because these ingredients are cheap and readily available. And the only way to create change is to become an informed consumer who demands healthier and higher-quality products.
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