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Liz Thompson
Liz Thompson

Harmful Ingredients in Cosmetics 101: How To Tell a Safe Product From a Toxic One

Toxic shot

Creative Commons License Photo credit: gcardinal

With everyone going green these days it is often hard for consumers to distinguish a product that is truly safe from one that is just making that claim.  It is perfectly legal, and often practiced, to use terms like safe, natural and organic on a cosmetics product label.  So how can you tell if you are buying a safe product?

First, “natural†simply means that one or more of a product’s ingredients have been derived from a natural source.  This is really no big deal if it is also full of harmful chemical ingredients.  And as for using "organic" on a cosmetics label; Organic = 95% of the ingredients must be organically grown, the remaining 5% may be non-organically produced ingredients, and Made with Organic Ingredients = must be made with at least 70% organic ingredients, the remaining 30% may be non-organically produced ingredients.  That remaining 5%-30% is the dangerous gray area where cosmetics manufacturers can use nearly any ingredient of there choosing.  The U.S. government does restrict the use of certain ingredients, but they are not many.

The following are harmful cosmetics ingredients that should be avoided*:

DEA, TEA, Diethanolamine, Triethanolamine: Emulsifier and/or foaming agent.  Skin sensitizer, can form carcinogenic nitrosamine compounds in the skin or body after absorption if mixed with nitrosating agents.  A respiratory toxin, neurotoxicity hazard and immunotoxicity hazard.

Dibutyl Phthalate, DBP:  Possible reproductive or developmental toxin, potential endocrine disruptor, skin sensitizer, immune system toxin, gastrointestinal or liver toxicant, kidney toxicant, and neurotoxin. The European Union has found it to be dangerous for the environment, very toxic to aquatic organisms and has banned it from use in cosmetics. The EPA Water Quality Standards Database states it is a priority water pollutant under the Clean Water Act and a hazardous air pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

Formaldehyde, Formalin:  EWG lists it as a known human carcinogen, skin and lung sensitizer, gastrointestinal or liver toxicant and neurotoxin.

Parabens, alkyl parahydroxybenzoate, butylparaben, methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparabens:  Widely used as a preservative.  Have been assessed as hormonally active, possible endocrine disruptor, skin sensitizer and skin or sense organ toxicant.

Petrolatum, petroleum jelly:  Emollient or lubricant.  Potentially contaminated with impurities linked to cancer or other significant health problems. The European Union has banned petrolatum from use in cosmetics.

Propylene Glycol, Proptylene Glycol, 1,2-Propanediol. Related synthetics: PEG (polyethylene glycol) and PPG (polypropylene glycol):  Used as humectants (to retain moisture).  Penetration enhancer, which alters skin structure, allowing other chemicals to penetrate deeper into the skin, increasing the amounts of other chemicals that reach the bloodstream.  Suspected respiratory toxin, immunotoxicity and neurotoxicity hazard.

Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate, Anhydrous Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Irium:  Used as a surfactant (makes it foamy).  Penetration enhancer.

Talc, Talcum:  potentially contaminated with harmful impurities linked to cancer or other significant health problems and a respiratory toxicant.

So, if a product label states that the product is 100% Organic you can trust that there are no toxic ingredients.  Otherwise, you should be sure to check the label or consult a reliable source.

*Information on ingredients gathered from The Environmental Working Group, Scorecard.org, and Cosmetics Ingredient Review.

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