For years, we have seen endless “all-natural” marketing when it comes to cosmetics and toiletry products. But what are these natural products saving us from? And is everything labeled “all-natural” actually free of unhealthy or unsafe ingredients?
The key is to be your own investigator. Read those labels. To help we have compiled a list of seven common unhealthy and unsafe ingredients in cosmetics and/or toiletry items that have links to real health concerns.
1. Talcum Powder
Commonly Found in: Baby powder and other powders
Talcum powder has been used as a cosmetic for centuries, but it made headlines in 2013 when the first baby powder lawsuit resulted in Johnson & Johnson getting handed a guilty verdict. There are three ways that talcum powder is harmful. First, the lungs: Even though it’s called baby powder, health and safety organizations have long urged people not to use talcum powder on babies, as it can irreparably harm the lungs through talc pleurodesis and other problems. Secondly, talc (the naturally occurring mineral from which talcum powder is made) is often found in deposits near asbestos, a known carcinogen, and traces of asbestos have been found in talc products.
The third and biggest concern, however, is that talcum powder is linked with ovarian cancer in women who use it on their pelvic area. Given these dangers, it is best to stay away from talcum powder altogether.
Commonly Found In: Makeup, shampoo, moisturizer, shaving creams
Let’s start with one of the much-discussed ingredients: Parabens. Parabens are a group of ingredients (such as propylparaben, ethylparaben, and more) that often extend a product’s shelf life. The Environmental Working Group breaks down each of these parabens and labels them by toxicity. Some, such as potassium or calcium paraben, are low hazard. But others, such as butylparaben and isopropylparaben are a high hazard.
The main concern lies in parabens disrupting the endocrine system, which can potentially lead to breast cancer or early puberty.
Commonly Found In: Nail polish, perfume, shampoo
Phthalates is a group term to describe a certain set of chemicals often used to make plastic sturdier, and sometimes used for dissolving. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have a firm position on phthalates. Yet, studies have shown a link between phthalates and decreased hormone levels, endometriosis, low sperm quality, obesity, resistance to insulin, ovarian aging, and even cancer.
Commonly Found In: Eyelash glue, perfume, hair products, nail polish
Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are sometimes used in cosmetic and toiletry products to increase their shelf life. The National Toxicity Program labels Formaldehyde as “known to be a human carcinogen.” The California Department of Public Health has suggested there could be possible cancer toxicity as well.
To add to the list even further, the Environmental Working Group has labeled it a 10, which is the highest number on their hazard rating system.
Commonly Found In: Lipstick
For an ingredient that has a long history of negatively affecting health, lead may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to lipstick. Yet the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found that 61% of lipsticks contain some level of lead. The FDA explored this claim and came up with a list of lead content in 400 lipsticks, many of which come from L’Oreal USA.
The Environmental Working Group has a comprehensive list of all the potential health problems that can arise from lead consumption (as well as references). These concerns include: developmental, reproductive, kidney, blood and respiratory toxicity – and cancer.
6. Diethanolamine (DEA)
Commonly Found In: Shampoo, soap, shaving cream
Diethanolamine (DEA) is often used as an emulsifier or foaming agent in our bathroom products. That is how you get the sudsy quality. While the European Commission has banned DEA in cosmetics, it is still allowed in the United States. The FDA does, however, point to a study by the National Toxicology Program in 1998, in which they found a correlation between DEA and cancer in lab animals.
Since there has not been human testing, DEA is still approved by the FDA. The California Department of Public Health, however, listed Codamide DEA with possible cancer toxicity.
7. Retinyl Palmitate
Commonly Found In: Sunscreen, lipstick, moisturizer, face makeup
We will finish our list with the ultimate irony: an ingredient, often found in sunscreens, that has been shown to increase development of skin tumors… when exposed to sunlight. Retinyl Palmitate (also known as Vitamin A Palmitate) is often added to cosmetic products as a skin conditioner. Yet, in a study by the National Toxicology Program, the use of retinyl palmitate creme enhanced the photocarcinogenicity activity of mice.
The Environmental Working Group also lists other negative health concerns linked to retinyl palmitate including reproductive toxicity.
What To Do About These Troubling Ingredients
Now that you have this information, take a peek in your medicine cabinet or under your sink and see if any of these unhealthy chemicals have been hiding in your favorite products.
If you would like to shift away from using these ingredients without breaking the bank, replace each item as it runs out with a chemical-free option. In a few months, you should have a cosmetic and toiletry collection you can feel safe using. You can even ask for some safer replacements as holiday gifts so that you go into the new year with healthier set of products.
But never take “all natural” marketing at its word. Even natural ingredients – like talc and lead – can be extremely harmful, making the “all natural” meaningless. Use the information here to make fully informed decisions as you carefully read each cosmetic item or toiletry product’s ingredient list.