You probably don’t know it, but the products on your bathroom counter contain almost as many chemicals as the average cleaning cabinet. We use cosmetics and personal care items to keep our appearance neat and our bodies clean – yet the majority of personal care products on the market today are chock full of questionable ingredients.
Of the tens of thousands of chemicals used in the manufacture of personal care products, few are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug and Administration (FDA). These chemicals range from allergens and hormone disruptors to carcinogens.
Cleaning up your cosmetic routine can be overwhelming, especially when you consider the long list of tongue-twisting ingredients on most personal care products. Don’t feel overwhelmed! Start by looking for these five common and potentially dangerous ingredients.
Although it sounds harmless enough, seeing “fragrance” listed on the bottle often indicates a whole host of chemicals may be within. Fragrance is one of the most ubiquitous cosmetic ingredients on the market. Even products claiming to be “all-natural” or “unscented” may contain this ingredient. Because fragrance is considered a trade secret, cosmetic companies don’t have to disclose what goes into their blend – but testing has shown that “fragrance” is often made up of a concoction of chemicals, up to hundreds of chemicals, in fact. Some of these chemicals are just allergens or irritants, but others have more serious properties and can be considered hormone disruptors.
Be on the lookout for labels with the words fragrance, aroma, phthalates, or parfum, and opt instead for items containing 100 percent pure essential oils instead.
Triclosan is a common ingredient in antibacterial personal care items such as hand sanitizer, hand soap, antiperspirant, toothpaste and mouthwash. A hormone disruptor, triclosan has the ability to interfere with thyroid regulation, immune system function and even fetal development. Widely used for its antibacterial and antiviral properties, triclosan is another chemical ingredient that is reaching ubiquity – in both the personal care market and the human body. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found traces of triclosan present in 75 percent of individuals tested.
Check product labels for triclosan, chloro, phenol, or irgasan.
A preservative, parabens are an incredibly common ingredient in personal care products such as lotions and shampoos; they’re a cheap and easy way to extend the shelf life of an item. Unfortunately, parabens aren’t just a preservative, but also a hormone disruptor that has been linked to developmental irregularities, reproductive issues and allergies. Parabens are easily absorbed through the skin, blood and digestive system. Fortunately, awareness is starting to rise, and more and more companies are beginning to remove parabens from their products.
Look for any ingredient ending in -paraben.
Retinyl palmitate is a particularly dangerous ingredient, not just for its negative effects, but for its benefits, too. A form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate has antioxidant and anti-aging properties that make it a favorite with the cosmetic companies. Unfortunately, retinyl palmitate is also photocarcinogenic, meaning that when exposed to sunlight, it can actually speed up the development of malignant skin tumors. What’s even more scary? Many sunscreens use retinyl palmitate for its anti-aging properties!
If you have a favorite product that contains this product, limit your use to nighttime only.
SLS and SLES
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) are commonly found in shampoos, cleansers and toothpastes. These ingredients are considered surfactants, and are used for their both their foaming ability and their ability to cut through oil. (This is the ingredient that creates the lather to shampoo and the “suds” to liquid soap.) Unfortunately, SLS and SLES can dry out the skin and have been linked to skin irritations ranging from rashes to canker sores. While this doesn’t sound terribly concerning, consider this: In an effort to make SLS and SLES less harsh, manufacturers put the chemicals through a process called ethoxylation – the byproduct of which is the creation 1,4-dioxane, a cancer-causing chemical linked to suspected kidney and respiratory system toxicity.
Steer clear of product labels that mention sodium laureth sulfate, sodium dodecyl sulfate, sodium salt sulphuric acid, or monododecyl ester.
Not every cosmetic or other personal care product has harmful components. Avoid potentially hazardous chemicals by reading labels carefully and opting whenever possible for ingredients like botanicals, oils and salts. For more information on ingredients in cosmetic and personal care products, as well as to find safe alternatives, check out SkinDeep.org.