Dangerous Ingredients to Watch Out For in Cosmetics
Enhancing your beauty should not come at a risk to your health.
Hidden Dangers of Cosmetics
The manufacturing and selling of cosmetics is a multi-billion dollar industry. Although cosmetics manufacturing has improved greatly over time and fewer toxic compounds are utilized, many products still contain lead, mercury, and other hazardous chemicals. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not fully regulate safety of either U.S.- or foreign-made cosmetic products. This slideshow covers a few chemicals that you should look out for in your cosmetics.
Lead is a highly toxic metal associated with neurological and organ toxicity. It also can play a role in cancer development. Lead poisoning is exceptionally dangerous for children. Although the FDA has requirements with regards to lead in certain dyes, it does not have stringent regulations on lead found in other cosmetics, such as lipstick. Imported cosmetics may also have high lead content. For safety, keep all cosmetics away from children.
The FDA regulates the use of mercury compounds for use as a preservative in eye shadow and other eye makeup. Certain skin-whitening creams may also be contaminated with mercury. Mercury is a very toxic element that can be absorbed through the skin, which in turn can cause damage to the brain. There is some controversial scientific evidence that links mercury exposure to autism in children.
Triclosan is a compound commonly found in anti-bacterial products such as soap, lotions, and toothpaste. Triclosan overuse in society is thought to be one cause of the increased rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria. Triclosan is considered safe for humans, but the FDA is presently reviewing animal research that supports potentially harmful effects of triclosan, including altering hormone levels in the body, potentially affecting reproduction, child development, and cancer.
Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that occurs naturally at low levels, but is commonly used as embalming fluid to preserve bodies after death. Higher levels of this compound can be irritating to the skin and exacerbate asthma. Formaldehyde is also found in certain cosmetics, particularly nail-hardeners. Use products with formaldehyde in a well-ventilated room, and keep them away from children.
Low levels of 1,4-dioxane, a byproduct of chemical manufacturing, are found in many cosmetics. 1,4-dioxane induces cancer in rats, and exceptionally high levels may cause organ damage in humans. The FDA assures the level of 1,4-dioxane in cosmetics poses no harm to humans, but the actual health effects of 1,4-dioxane are not fully understood. Avoiding products with these ingredients: PEG, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, polyethoxyethylene, and polyoxynolethylene. They may reduce your 1,4-dioxane exposure.
Used in anti-dandruff shampoos, hair dyes, and treatments for psoriasis, coal tar is a known human carcinogen. By causing DNA damage, exposure to coal tar can increase the likelihood of cancer development. Coal tar can also increase the sensitivity of your skin to sunlight, increasing your susceptibility to sunburns, and potentially increase your chance for contracting skin cancer. Products with coal tar should be used cautiously or avoided all together.
Diethanolamine (DEA) is a compound often used in shampoos, lotions, and other cosmetics as an emulsifier and a foaming agent. There is some fear that DEA is a carcinognen. Although animal studies from the US Department of Human Health services did show that DEA could induce tumors, the overall results were actually inconclusive. DEA is not considered a human carcinogen, but it still perhaps should be used cautiously.
Dibutylphthalate (DBP), dimethylphthalate (DMP), and diethylphthalate (DEP) belong to a class of chemicals known as phthalates: common cosmetic additives found in hairspray, nail polish, soap, shampoo, and perfume. According to the FDA, phthalate exposure from cosmetics is safe for humans, but others feel exposure may cause health risks, including potential harm to an unborn child. Cosmetic products must declare all ingredients on their packaging, except for perfumes, which may contain phthalate.
How to Avoid Using Cosmetics with Dangerous Chemicals?
Avoiding cosmetics with unsafe compounds is difficult because cosmetic companies are not required to ensure a product is safe. Furthermore, most scientific studies are based on worst-case scenarios and certain “dangerous” compounds may not greatly affect your health if used as directed. The best advice is to do your research and purchase cosmetics from a reputable company that you trust.