Thursday, August 23, 2012

Beauty’s Chemical Beasts

Consumers use several personal care products a day containing more than 200 different chemicals.

Do you know what beasts lurk in your beauty products? You should because, if you’re like most people, you use 15 to 25 different cosmetic products a day containing more than 200 different chemicals.

The term cosmetics includes shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, deodorant, hand soap, sunscreen and much more—a range of products that carry loads of chemicals. In fact, some of the chemicals found in personal care products are also used in heavy manufacturing industries to grease gears, stabilize pesticides and soften plastics. However, of the 10,000+ chemicals used in cosmetics, only 11 percent have been assessed for health and safety by the FDA or other government agency. But that’s not all. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) “Skin Deep Database” says that one-third of all personal care products contain at least one chemical linked to cancer.

Here are a few—but certainly not all—chemicals to look out for and avoid:

  • Phthalates, chemicals commonly used in nail polishes and to fragrance personal care products, cause birth defects in animals, while U.S. testing indicates that phthalates are retained in human tissue at much higher levels than previously thought.
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a surfactant used extensively in shampoo, soap, toothpaste and many other personal care products. SLS can irritate skin for up to a week, causing free radicals and inflammation, while damaging skin proteins and healthy skin oils.  
  • Parabens are chemicals used in makeup, moisturizers, shampoos, shaving gels and more. They can increase the risk of breast cancer and male reproductive problems. When exposed to sunlight, parabens can help set the stage for skin cancer.
  • Propylene glycol (PG) is used in antifreeze, degreasing agents and in over 4,000 skin care products and cosmetics—in a supposedly “safe” form. The EWG, however, cautions consumers that it’s linked to cancer, toxicity and allergies. PG is also associated with skin irritations, including contact dermatitis and uticaria.
  • Toxic preservatives—including compounds that release formaldehyde, a probable carcinogen—are used to prolong the shelf lives of many personal care products. One of these, DEA (diethanolamine), can cause eye and skin irritations and, at high doses, can cause liver cancers and precancerous changes in the skin and thyroid.
  • Certain coloring agents and dyes in cosmetics are common allergens and irritants, while others contain lead acetate, a heavy metal that’s toxic to the nervous system.
  • Triclosan is a popular, nonessential ingredient used in many antibacterial soaps and other personal care items, such as deodorants and mouthwashes. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that triclosan—at relatively low concentrations—is linked to muscle function impairments in humans. Triclosan reduces contractions in cardiac and skeletal muscles, which can potentially contribute to heart disease and heart failure.

Avoid chemical “beauty beasts” in your personal care products. Instead, choose chemical- and toxin-free products.  While you’re at it, check out what Stacy Malkan, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, says: