A large part of the problem is that chemicals that have not been proven harmful are considered “generally recognized as safe” by the U.S. FDA, regardless of suspicions or concerns that may be expressed by experts. Additionally, many chemicals that are widely known to be harmful continue to be used in cosmetics and other beauty products. Your best defense is to research the chemicals are considered unsafe and get in the habit of reading labels very carefully.
Below are some chemicals that are generally thought to be harmful or potentially harmful and are best avoided:
1. BHA and BHT: Used mainly in moisturizers and makeup as preservatives. Suspected endocrine disruptors and may cause cancer (BHA). Harmful to fish and other wildlife.
2. Coal Tar (p-phenylenediamine): A known carcinogen banned in the EU, but still used in North America. Used in dry skin treatments, anti-lice and anti-dandruff shampoos, also listed as a color plus number, i.e. FD&C Red No. 6. In addition to coal tar dyes, natural and inorganic pigments used in cosmetics are also assigned Color Index numbers (in the 75000 and 77000 series, respectively).Look for p-phenylenediamine hair dyes and in other products colors listed as "CI" followed by five digits.1 The U.S. color name may also be listed (e.g. "FD&C Blue No. 1" or "Blue 1"). Potential to cause cancer and may be contaminated with heavy metals toxic to the brain.
3. DEA, cocamide DEA and lauramide DEA (as well as related chemicals MEA and TEA): Suspected carcinogens used as emulsifiers and foaming agents for shampoos, body washes, soaps. Can react to form nitrosamines, which may cause cancer. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.
4. Ethoxylated surfactants and 1, 4-dioxane: Never listed because it’s a by-product made from adding carcinogenic ethylene oxide to make other chemicals less harsh. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found 1; 4-dioxane in 57 percent of baby washes in the U.S. Avoid any ingredients containing the letters "eth."
5. Formaldehyde: Look for DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine and quarternium-15. Probable carcinogen and irritant found in nail products, hair dye, fake eyelash adhesives, shampoos. Banned in the EU.
6. Fragrance/Parfum: Any mixture of fragrance ingredients used in a variety of cosmetics - even in some products marketed as "unscented", this is a catchall for hidden chemicals, such as phthalates. Some fragrance ingredients can trigger allergies, asthma, headaches and dizziness. Some are linked to cancer and neurotoxicity and some are harmful to fish and other wildlife.
7. Hydroquinone: Used for lightening skin. Banned in the UK, rated most toxic on the EWG’s Skin Deep database, and linked to cancer and reproductive toxicity.
8. Lead: Known carcinogen found in lipstick and hair dye, but never listed because it’s a contaminant, not an ingredient.
9. Mercury: Known allergen that impairs brain development. Found in mascara and some eye drops.
10. Mineral oil: By-product of petroleum that’s used in baby oil, moisturizers, styling gels. It creates a film that impairs the skin’s ability to release toxins.
11. Oxybenzone: Active ingredient in chemical sunscreens that accumulates in fatty tissues and is linked to allergies, hormone disruption, cellular damage, low birth weight.
12. Parabens: Used as preservatives, found in many products. Suspected endocrine disrupters and may interfere with male reproductive functions and linked to cancer, suspected link to breast and ovarian cancer and reproductive toxicity.
13. Paraphenylenediamine (PPD): Used in hair products and dyes, but toxic to skin and immune system.
14. Petrolatum: Used in some hair products for shine and as a moisture barrier in some lip balms, lip sticks and moisturizers. A petroleum product that can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which may cause cancer.
15. Phthalates and Dibutyl phthalate: Plasticizers banned in the EU and California in children’s toys, but present in many fragrances, perfumes, deodorants, nail polish, lotions. Linked to endocrine disruption, liver/kidney/lung damage, cancer. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.
16. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs): A group of chemicals that occur naturally in coal, crude oil and gasoline. One of the more common PAHs is naphthalene. Some cosmetics and shampoos are made with coal tar and therefore may contain PAHs. They have been shown to increase risk for breast cancer.
17. Placental Extract: Derived from human or animal placentas and is used in hair conditioners, shampoos and other grooming aids, particularly those marketed to women of color. The National Toxicology Program (NTP) has identified progesterone, the major hormonal contaminant in placental extracts, as a reasonably anticipated carcinogen.
18. Polyethylene glycol (PEG): Penetration enhancer used in many products, especially cosmetic cream bases. Is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide, both known carcinogens. Related chemical propylene glycol and other ingredients with the letters "eth" (e.g., polyethylene glycol).
19. Siloxanes/Silicone: Look for ingredients ending in "-siloxane" or "-methicone." Used in a variety of cosmetics to soften, smooth and moisten. Used to make a product feel soft, these don’t biodegrade, and also prevent skin from breathing. Suspected endocrine disrupter and reproductive toxicant (cyclotetrasiloxane). Harmful to fish and other wildlife. Linked to tumor growth and skin irritation.
20. Sodium lauryl (ether) sulfate (SLS, SLES): Used in foaming cosmetics, such as shampoos, cleansers and bubble bath. A former industrial degreaser now used to make soap foamy, it’s absorbed into the body and irritates skin. Can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which may cause cancer. Look also for related chemical sodium lauryl sulfate and other ingredients with the letters "eth" (e.g., sodium laureth sulfate).
21. Talc: Similar to asbestos in composition, it’s found in baby powder, eye shadow, blush, deodorant. Linked to ovarian cancer and respiratory problems.
22. Toluene: Known to disrupt the immune and endocrine systems, and fetal development, it’s used in nail and hair products. Often hidden under fragrance.
23. Triclosan: Found in antibacterial products, hand sanitizers, antiperspirants, deodorants and toothpaste. It is linked to cancer and endocrine disruption. Avoid the brand Microban. Suspected endocrine disrupter and may contribute to antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.
Resources for more information
http://www.ewg.org/skindeep (best resource out there!)
Cosmetic Brands to Consider
Make sure to read all labels. Some companies are working on removing parabens and other chemicals, but don't trust their claims, you have to be your own advocate here. Also, do NOT trust sales girls. I have been told products are paraben free that are not. I can't stress it enough -- you must read the labels and be your own sleuth!
As the public becomes more educated more and more companies are removing harmful toxins, but until they are all safe you must educate yourself and read labels.
Companies I Recommend:
Jane Iredale (http://www.janeiredale.com) Good quality products, order online or at selected local retail (check website for locations near you). Cons: expensive, all products not available at retail locations so may not get to try out before purchasing.
DeVita (http://www.devitaskincare.com) A full skin care and makeup line from Phoenix, AZ. Can be found online at their storefront and Sprouts also carries some of their products (though not always at the best prices). Also available at various online retailers such as Amazon and Vitacost. Excellent products – I have been using this line for over 7 years. They are a bit pricey so shop around. They introduced a makeup line a few years back that I hear is very nice, but I am a little hesitant to try makeup without the opportunity to try it on first.
Peak Scents/Sister Creations (http://www.peakscents.com) Created by two Arizona sisters with a store in Flagstaff. This line has been around for 15 or more years and contains safe and truly natural ingredients. I used this line for about 3 years and my skin was amazing. Unfortunately I developed an allergy to an ingredient at a time when my skin was ultra sensitive to everything and I had to discontinue use. It was really a bummer because this was by far the best product line I have ever used. I plan to try it again in the near future now that my skin has calmed down. You can order online or visit their store located at 1011 W Elizabeth Drive in Flagstaff. Great family business!
Tarte Cosmetics. Good quality products available at: Ulta, Sephora, some department stores, and online at http://www.tarte.com Pricier line of products so may want to buy from local store so you can return any that don't work for you.
Don't be fooled by manufacturer's claims of "natural" and know that many popular mineral makeups contain potentially harmful ingredients. Brands such as
Bare Eccentuals and Pur Minerals have some products that are relatively safe, but many of their products still contain ingredients recognized as harmful such as parabens, siloxane, etc so make sure to read the ingredient list.
Know the best way to protect yourself? Get the EWG Skin Deep app for mobile phones that will allow you to compare the ingredient list to their database. Available on their website for both iPhone and Anrdoid users at: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/app/