By Claire Georgiou, Reboot Naturopath, B.HSc ND
Some of the ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products are toxic chemicals that may be hazardous to your health. In the US over 10,000 hazardous industrial chemicals are used as cosmetic ingredients, many of which are carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, endocrine disruptors, plasticizers, degreasers, surfactants and these go directly onto your skin and into the environment. It has been estimated that only 20% of ingredients in cosmetics have been tested for their safety. It is suggested that each product only provides a small amount of these toxic chemicals but after daily use, multiple products, multiple times per day this certainly adds up and no studies have been done on the accumulative effect of all these chemicals.
When we put a fat soluble substance on the skin or scalp, it will absorb 10 times faster than when it is eaten. Eating protects you to some degree as the digestion provides detoxification pathways through the liver and digestive system which will reduce the chemical load while trans-dermal absorption bypasses these detoxification routes. Often people consider what they eat but do not consider what they put on their skin.
Here are only some of the known hazardous chemicals that are commonly found in many cosmetic products:
1.) Artificial Fragrance
One artificial fragrance can contain hundreds of synthetic chemicals primarily made from petroleum and coal. Companies are not required to tell you what these chemicals are. Synthetic fragrances are cheaper than natural essential oils and scents. Fragrances are considered to be one of the top 5 known allergens and are known to cause asthma and trigger asthma attacks. Of the more than 5,000 ingredients used in the fragrance industry, approximately 1,300 have so far been evaluated. So far testing has been minimal and restricted to local effects on human skin, and short-term toxicity tests in rodents. Fragrances are a major concern for hormone and reproductive dysfunction, cancer, headaches, dizziness, skin disorders, asthma and other allergies.
Phthalates are a family of chemicals that softens plastics which are also found in fragrances, phthalates have been linked to birth defects in the reproductive system of boys and lower sperm-motility and testosterone health in adult men. In vivo and in vitro research links DEHP or its metabolites to a range of adverse effects in the liver, reproductive tract, kidneys, lungs, and heart. Some phthalates are suspected of producing teratogenic or hormone-disrupting effects.
Methylparaben, butylparaben and propylparaben are some of the most common parabens in cosmetics and anything else with ‘paraben’ in the name. A chemical found in underarm deodorants, moisturises and other cosmetics that has been shown to mimic the action of the female hormone estrogen and MAY drive the growth of breast tumors. A study publish in the Journal of Applied Toxicology has found that breast tumors commonly contain parabens and more research is needed. There is also some evidence that parabens may potentiate the damaging effects of UV radiation.
Made from petroleum or coal tar, and found in most synthetic fragrances, nail polish and hair dye, this is used to improve adhesion and add gloss. Chronic exposure linked to anemia, lowered blood cell count, liver or kidney damage, and may affect a developing fetus.
Triclosan is used mainly in commercial antibacterial liquid soaps, cleansers, deodorants, detergents, toothpastes, mouthwashes, antiperspirants, cleansers and hand sanitizers as a preservative and an anti-bacterial agent. The EPA investigated Triclosan and classified it as a pesticide and it is not considered a cosmetic ingredient and it has given high scores as a risk to both human health and the environment.. Triclosan can pass through skin and is suspected of interfering with hormone function in humans.
A 2005 study reported that some triclosan containing toothpastes and soaps create a chloroform gas when the triclosan in these products reacts with chlorinated tap water. This is both toxic and carcinogenic following inhalation or skin absorption, particularly while bathing in warm water.
Due to triclosan being such as persistent environmental chemical it is shown to be in concentrated amounts in the breast milk and umbilical cord of humans long after use has been stopped.
6.) Mineral Oil, Paraffin, and Petrolatum
These products coat your skin like plastic, clogging pores and creating a build-up of toxins. They also slow cellular development, which can cause you to show earlier signs of aging, and are a suspected cause of cancer and disruption to hormonal activity.
7.) SLS & SLES (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate /Sodium Laureth Sulfate)
This is used in cosmetics as a cleansing agent and to make products foam and bubble in shampoo, facial cleansers, bubble bath, toothpaste and body washes. This can strip the skin of its natural oils and leave the skin feeling very dry.
It has been associated with hair loss, dermatitis, eczema, dry scaly skin and eye irritation in some animals and humans during studies. Some products containing SLES have been found to also contain traces of 1,4-dioxane this is classified by the EPA to be a probable human carcinogen.
8.) Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives
These are called DMDM Hydantoin, Diaxolidinyl urea, Imidazolidinyl, methenamine or Quarternium-15. These are commonly found in hair products and skin moisturisers. Formaldehyde is classified as a probable human carcinogen by the EPA, which provides sufficient evidence that formaldehyde causes nasopharyngeal cancer in humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. These act as a carcinogen, causes allergic reactions and contact dermatitis; headaches; irritates mucous membranes; eye damage; linked to joint and chest pain; depression; headaches; fatigue; dizziness and immune dysfunction.
9.) Propylene Glycol and Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)
Made from the same chemical that is used to create anti-freeze, this chemical easily penetrates the skin, there is no difference between the PG used in industry and the PG used in personal care products. It is used in industry to breakdown protein and cellular structure (what the skin is made of) yet is found in most forms of make-up, hair products, lotions, after-shaves, deodorants, mouthwashes and toothpastes and is linked to damage of the liver, kidneys and brain.
Some of these chemicals have mixed scientific results indicating their adverse health effects – I always prefer to stand by the mottos that you shouldn’t put on your skin what you wouldn’t eat and where’s there’s smoke there’s fire. By the time the studies are conclusive it may be too late. Prevention is key! I myself have used natural products for years after I started to take an active interest in what I was putting all over my body, I heard the word petroleum and ran for the hills! That was enough of a word for me!!
There are so many wonderful natural skin care products that can be used in place of these chemical concoctions, if it is good for you to consume and is high in natural anti-oxidants and micro-nutrients then it certainly will be could for you to put on your skin such as avocado oil which is high in natural vitamin E or rosehip oil which is naturally high in vitamin C. If you understand and are familiar with the ingredients then this is certainly a good start to a good product.
Here is a good product list which rates the health of the products that you may use – https://www.goodguide.com/
If you would like to read more about cosmetics by Samuel Epstein, M.D. – Toxic Beauty & Health Beauty
Here is a fun YouTube video to watch that gives a basic rundown on cosmetics and chemical exposure.