We all love looking our best. But do you ever wonder if what you’re putting on your face or body might be doing more harm than good?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has come under fire for its lack of regulation of several ingredients in foods, supplements, and medicines. Worse still is that they’ve got even less control over what goes into makeup and skincare products.
Pre-approval is not required for beauty products, which means that companies can put whatever they like on the market – where it makes its way from store shelves to your home. The only approval process in place is a very small procedure for color additives and ingredients classified as over-the-counter drugs.
That leaves a huge portion of the personal care and beauty industry unregulated, at least as far as manufacturing goes. This has raised a lot of concern among consumers who’ve discovered there are plenty of potentially toxic substances in the products we use.
Having said that, it should be noted that the format and volume of these ingredients can have a major impact on the damage they can cause when used in cosmetics or skincare. A tiny dose of one ingredient may not cause any damage, while a larger dose of another may have long term implications.
Worried about the products you’re using? Take a look at the most publicly denounced ingredients and find out how valid the associated health concerns are.
Parabens are commonly used as preservatives, preventing the growth of yeast, mold, and bacteria. They possess estrogen-mimicking properties, which has raised concerns that they may cause cancer or infertility when absorbed through the skin.
There are reports of paraben chemicals present in breast tumor biopsies, but it should also be noted that other studies have found that parabens absorbed through the skin via body washes, makeup, facial cleansers, and shampoos are metabolized in the skin and expelled without causing any harm.
Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to increase the softness and flexibility of plastics. They can be found in nail polish (dibutyl phthalate), hairspray (dimethyl phthalate), and perfumes and lotions (diethyl phthalate). They’re banned from products in the European Union but are still often seen on ingredients lists right here in the US of A.
Known endocrine disruptors, phthalates have been linked to early breast development in young girls, increased risks of breast cancer, and reproductive birth defects in both genders. They don’t bind to other chemicals, meaning they can leach into environments (like your body) where they are detected as pollutants.
The phthalate exposure level from skin, hair and face products is not yet known to be dangerous. The European Union’s banning shows a conservative approach, while in the United States the FDA has opted instead to continue monitoring the situation. For now, it’s up to US citizens to decide if they want to keep using products containing these chemicals.
Although dry skin is a problem for babies, there are often circumstances where you need to absorb moisture to take care of your little ones too. Talcum powder has been used for that purpose in baby powder, as well as in feminine hygiene products, makeup, and other formulations since as far back as the 1800s.
Concerns around talcum powder have arisen because talc and asbestos occur very near each other in the earth in their natural forms. When talc is mined, asbestos particles can be mixed in with the mineral, contaminating the entire extracted load. This may be linked to ovarian, lung and other forms of cancer
The theory is that if asbestos-containing talcum powder is inhaled or travels into the body via feminine hygiene products it can lodge in human tissue and give rise to cancerous growths. That sounds terrifying, especially when you consider that talc is still used so commonly today – even by a lot of major lipstick brands. Recently, several big companies have been sued over this issue.
To date, Johnson and Johnson lawsuits have cost the corporation over $724 million. Companies have removed certain products from the market or replaced the talc with cornstarch or another powder. However, the jury is still out on whether talc-containing makeup and skincare are carcinogenic. Manufacturers say they ensure the talc they use is asbestos-free, and those that canceled product lines say they did so mostly because public opinion had become so bad.
A type of silicon, siloxane chemical compounds are derived from the compound elements oxygen, silicone, and alkane. In cosmetics, especially lipstick, siloxanes are used as smoothening and moistening agents to make the application a lot silkier. Siloxanes are another group of substances that have been linked to reproductive system damage because of their possible endocrine system disruption.
However, siloxanes’ risks are also up for debate. Some scientists say it is well-tolerated in the body and essential for treatments and healthcare; others demonstrate its potential for harm. More research is needed into how much exposure would be damaging, how much would be safe, and how these substances can accumulate in human tissue.
Toluene is a petrochemical – it’s derived from coal tar or petroleum sources. On cosmetics and personal care products, you might see it listed as toluol, benzene, methylbenzene, or phenylmethane. As a solvent, it can dissolve paint. When it’s in your system, it can cause nausea, skin irritation (the most common complaint), and respiratory distress.
If expecting mothers are exposed to the vapors, they’re believed to damage the fetus. Once again, that all sounds pretty nasty, but more research is needed. To date, only animals and not humans have been studied reliably, and evidence suggests the substance is not bioaccumulative. If you’re concerned, avoid nail varnishes and hair treatments that contain this chemical.
Make Your Own Product Choices
This list of five ingredients is by no means exhaustive; there are plenty of other suspect substances in skincare and makeup. However, generally more research is required into how much of each substance is too much, and how much is acceptable.
What’s clear is that the FDA moves slowly and is not the most reliable source of information when it comes to toxic product ingredients. So, empower yourself. Look up the ingredients on your makeup bottles and note your reactions. Choose the products you’re happy with and take control of your look and lifestyle.