Some chemicals used in makeup and other beauty products aren't exactly pretty.
Federal scientists estimate one in eight of the 82,000 ingredients in personal care products are industrial chemicals, including pesticides, suspected carcinogens, pesticides, and reproductive toxins.
To help consumers make smart choices, the David Suzuki Foundation — a Canadian consumer-advocacy group — has identified 12 chemicals common found in such products that have been linked to serious ailments.
“We’re concerned about chemical ingredients in personal care products because they pose health risks — linkages to cancer and neurotoxicity, [are] harmful to fish and other wildlife, [and] interfere with hormone function,” says Lindsay Coulter, an environmental-health specialist with the foundation. “But luckily there are safer options
“Yes, consumer are always shocked to find out about the toxic ingredients in the products they slather on their bodies each day. They have trust in what stores put on the shelves and what agencies … and manufacturers themselves are allowed to add to products.”
The Suzuki Foundation report —“What's inside? That counts: A Survey of Toxic Ingredients in our Cosmetics” — highlights weaknesses in toxic-chemical regulations and singles out a “Dirty Dozen” product ingredients you should look for that that could put you at risk. In most cases, products made with organic ingredients are safer option.
The report notes 80 percent of common consumer products contain at least one of these ingredients and more than half are made with multiple chemicals on the “Dirty Dozen” list:
No 1: BHA and BHT.
Used as preservatives in moisturizers and makeup, butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene are suspected endocrine disruptors that may cause reproductive problems and cancer, and are harmful to fish and wildlife.
No. 2: Coal tar dyes.
P-phenylenediamine and colorings listed as "CI" (followed by a series of numbers) — in hair dyes and many cosmetics — have been linked to cancer and may be contaminated with brain-damaging heavy metals.
No. 3: DEA-related ingredients.
Used in creamy and foamy products, such as moisturizers and shampoos, diethanolamine and related chemicals can react to form potentially carcinogenic nitrosamines and pose a danger to fish and wildlife.
No. 4: Dibutyl phthalate.
This plasticizer in nail-care products is a suspected endocrine disrupter and is harmful to fish and wildlife.
No. 5: Formaldehyde.
Some chemicals used in cosmetics — including DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, and quarternium-15 — release small amounts the preservative formaldehyde, which causes cancer.
No 6: Paraben.
This makeup preservative — also in methylparaben, butylparaben, and propylparaben — is a suspected endocrine disrupter and may interfere with male reproductive functions.
No. 7: Parfum (or fragrance).
Fragrance ingredients used in a variety of cosmetics can trigger allergies and asthma. Some are also linked to cancer and neurotoxicity, and may pose a risk to fish and wildlife. “If you avoid [only] one of the ‘Dirty Dozen’ ingredients, avoid ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum,’ “ Coulter advises. “It’s in everything, almost always a last ingredient, but [is] so ubiquitous that if it avoid it, you have a higher chance of avoiding the other 11.”
No. 8: PEGs.
Polyethylene glycols are petroleum-based compounds in some cosmetic cream bases and can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which may cause cancer.
No. 9: Petrolatum.
This chemical — in some hair products, lip balms, lip sticks, and moisturizers — can be tainted with cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
No. 10: Siloxanes.
Used in cosmetics to soften, smooth, and moisten skin, these chemicals are suspected endocrine disrupters and reproductive toxins that are harmful to fish and wildlife.
No 11: Sodium laureth sulfate.
An ingredient in some foaming shampoos, cleansers, and bubble-bath products, this chemical can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a suspected carcinogen.
No. 12: Triclosan.
One of the most common antibacterial agents — in soaps, cosmetics, toothpastes, cleansers, and deodorants — this chemical is a suspected endocrine disrupter, may boost the threat of antibiotic resistance in bacteria, and dangerous to fish and wildlife.
In addition to checking product labels for such chemicals, consumers can use a variety of smartphone apps and online resources to find safer alternatives made with organic or natural ingredients.
A new free app, called “Skin Deep
,” developed by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, helps consumers track what’s in 72,000 personal care products — including 2,500 brands and 9,000 ingredients. Users can scan product barcodes or search goods by name to determine their safety.
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