As consumers become more aware of the toxic effects of chemicals found in food items, they are becoming more careful shoppers and adopting healthier dietary habits.
Healthy eating as a lifestyle has picked up steam in many households, and it is a wonderful sign.
However, here’s a question we don’t ask often enough: Are foods the only household products exposing our bodies to potentially fatal chemicals?
The harmful effects of chemicals found in cosmetics and beauty products rarely get the same attention and unflinching criticism given to chemicals in food products.
There is an urgent need to scrutinize the labels of cosmetics and beauty products, the same way we do with our food labels.
Cosmetics and beauty products contain numerous harmful chemicals that are absorbed by our skin every day.
Cosmetic companies are highly unsupervised. They tend to label products “organic” even if only 60 percent of the fundamental ingredients are actually organic, while the other 40 percent might be whizzing with toxins.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website states:
“Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, cosmetic products and ingredients do not require FDA approval before they go on the market.”
“The agency [FDA] has a number of ways to monitor these [beauty] products but often the available safety information is limited.”
So, you’ll need to look out for yourself. Here are the 10 most toxic ingredients found in cosmetics and other beauty products.
Phthalates can be of different types– dibutyl phthalate or DBP (found in nail polish), diethyl phthalate or DEP (found in perfumes and lotions), and dimethyl phthalate or or DMP (found in hair sprays).
According to the cosmetic industry, phthalates are only harmful in high-doses and consumers are exposed to significantly low amounts through beauty products.
However, environmentalists argue that repeated exposure through cosmetics, even if low, is extremely dangerous.
Phthalates are endocrine disruptors. This means that continuous exposure can meddle with your hormones, causing birth defects, premature puberty, other reproductive and developmental disorders, insulin resistance and cancer.
Exposure to hair spray containing phthalates, as well as other phthalate-exposing mediums, at the workplace during pregnancy was identified as directly contributing to hypospadias (a male birth defect) among children, according to a 2009 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives.
Note: Not all products list their phthalate content on their labels.
Hydroquinone is a substance primarily used in skin-lightening products, such as creams, bleaches, moisturizers and cleansers.
It is also used in hair conditioners and nail-coating products and may be found in face cleansers and moisturizers that do not market skin-whitening abilities.
The European Union has banned this chemical. The FDA labeled hydroquinone a potential carcinogen in 2006 and restricted its over-the-counter availability in the form of beauty products. Currently, a strict 2 percent concentration of hydroquinone is allowed in beauty products in the U.S.
Hydroquinone degrades and reduces the production of melanin in the skin, thereby increasing the skin’s exposure to the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays. This significantly increases the risk of skin cancer.
A 50-year-old woman developed ochronosis, a rare disease characterized by the skin becoming thick and bluish-gray in color, after reportedly using 2 to 5 percent hydroquinone regularly for several years, according to a 2012 study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology.
Triclosan is a chemical used as an antibacterial agent and preservative. It is commonly found in antibacterial soaps and cleansers, hand sanitizers,and deodorants and antiperspirants.
Regular use of products containing triclosan can make harmful intestinal and skin bacteria resistant to its antibacterial effects over time, according to a 2006 study published in Microbial Drug Resistance.
This may compromise your immunity in the long run and make you susceptible to countless bacterial infections and diseases.
The study further identifies a major concern that resistance to triclosan may also increase resistance to certain good bacteria required by the body for several functions.
Furthermore, triclosan is a hormone disruptor. Hormones disruptors have the ability to trigger birth defects, tumors and reproductive disorders.
Formaldehyde is a preservative commonly used in nail polish, lipsticks, hair dyes, shampoos, conditioners, liquid baby soaps, body washes and eye shadows.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer said there is ample evidence to link formaldehyde to cancers, especially nasopharyngeal cancer (cancer occurring in the back of the nose and the upper part of the throat).
In a 2004 study published in the “American Journal of Epidemiology”, the risk for nasopharyngeal cancer was significantly higher among workers exposed to formaldehyde as compared to those who were not, and increased with prolonged duration and intensity of exposure.
According to a 2010 study published in Contact Dermatitis, allergic reactions were positively associated with the formaldehyde content of leave-on cosmetics in a significant number of patients during a patch test, and they were advised to stop using cosmetics containing formaldehyde.
5. Triphenyl Phosphate
Triphenyl phosphate (TPP or TPHP) is the chemical found in nail polish that makes it stick to your nails and last longer.
TPP is an endocrine disruptor and chronic exposure to it can cause various developmental and reproductive disorders. Exposure to TTP has been linked to infertility.
In a 2015 study published in Environment International, subjects applied a brand of nail polish containing 0.97 percent TPP and provided urine samples before and after doing so. DPHP (a metabolite of TPP) increased around seven-fold 10 to 14 hours after nail painting.
This proves TPP enters our bodies through the skin.
Expecting mothers must not use nail polish as it may negatively affect the development of the fetus. Salon employees who regularly work with nails are also a high-risk group.
We all know what a “fragrance” is, and what an enticing effect it has on our senses. Perfumes, deodorants, colognes, lotions, cosmetics and many other beauty products contain a variety of appealing scents.
In reality, a fragrance is often a toxic and complex mix of natural essences with countless synthetic chemicals.
Studies conducted by “Campaign for Safe Cosmetics” under the supervision of the Environmental Working Group reported 38 secret chemicals, with as many as 14 not mentioned on the labels, in perfumes by top brands (with the highest number found in top fragrances by American Eagle, Chanel, Britney Spears and Giorgio Armani).
Some chemicals found in the studies had not even undergone human safety tests before use.
These chemicals can accumulate in tissues, cause endocrine disruption (leading to reproductive and developmental disorders) and allergic reactions, the studies further note.
7. Coal Tar (Phenylenediamine)
This is a chemical found in permanent hair dyes. These dyes are the most popular as they last the longest by inducing significant chemical changes to the hair shaft. Needless to say, the skin, when exposed to hair dye, is likely to absorb its chemicals.
Those who have gray hair or those who like to keep changing their look may use hair dye regularly. This repeated exposure can prove dangerous.
Hair dye poisoning has recently emerged as significantly contributing to a number of deaths, especially in the developing world.
Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) is a derivative of coal tar that may cause rhabdomyolysis (destruction of muscle cells), laryngeal edema (an allergic reaction that obstructs breathing) and renal failure, according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Emergencies, Trauma and Shock.
Toluene is a toxic substance found in nail products such as nail paint and nail paint removers. It is the chemical responsible for giving your nails a smooth, glossy finish after you are done coating them. It is also found in hair dyes.
Inhalation is the most common route through which toluene finds a way to enter your system.
Chronic toluene exposure through these products can cause headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, and skin irritation. Industrial workers exposed to toluene for prolonged periods report loss of memory, loss of appetite and a loss of coordinating abilities.
It can also cause reproductive disorders and respiratory problems through regular inhalation.
Children of pregnant women regularly exposed to toluene run the risk of developing central nervous system, muscular and attention deficit disorders and learning disabilities.
Methylparaben (MP), propylparaben (PB) and butylparaben (BP) are the most common parabens used as preservatives in cosmetics, sunscreens, shampoos, toothpastes, shaving gels, moisturizers, topical medications and spray-tanning solutions.
These chemicals are potential endocrine disruptors and are linked to reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity and neurotoxicity.
Plus, products containing MP, if applied on the skin, can react with ultraviolet (UV) sunrays and cause cell death, DNA damage and consequent skin aging, according to a 2006 study published in Toxicology.
While no direct link between parabens and cancer has been established, the toxic effects of MP combining with UV rays may be a cancer trigger, according to a 2008 study published in Chemical Research in Toxicology.
Furthermore, a significant amount of paraben was found in 20 breast tumors, with MP accounting for 62 percent of the total paraben extract, according to a 2004 study published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology.
Parabens also may trigger itching, redness and dermatitis in some people who may have a paraben allergy.
10. Sodium Laureth Sulfate/Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS/SLES)
Sodium laureth sulfate (SLS) is a foaming agent most commonly found in shampoos, soaps, body wash gels, cleansers, hair dyes and bleaches, and toothpastes.
SLS is considered harmful to the skin, hair, mouth and eyes. The harsh SLS in shampoos rips your hair and scalp of natural oils and moisture, making it rough, brittle and more prone to breakage.
Furthermore, shampoo often tends to drip and enter the eyes. This can highly irritate one of the most sensitive organs of your body and cause shrill pain.
According to a 2004 study published in Exogenous Dermatology, an SLS solution was applied to the forearm-skin of subjects for 24 hours to determine whether it was a “corrosive irritant”.
Results showed that the skin remained irritated 3 weeks following the study, thereby establishing the claim as correct.