Product Safety 101

As you already probably know, many ingredients used in beauty products are questionable at best and downright dangerous at worst. Since 1938 the FDA has only banned 10 of 12,000 synthetic ingredients used to make personal care items. (In sharp contrast, the Cosmetics Directive in the EU has banned 1,100 compounds suspected of causing cancer, reproductive disorders or genetic mutations.). One of the ingredients finally banned in the U.S. seems kind of obvious: It’s mercury. Mercury used to be a preservative in shampoo, hair color, deodorant, etc., and, when absorbed through the skin, can cause brain, kidney and lung damage. The very fact that mercury was used in beauty products for so long without any repercussions should tell you something about the lack of restrictions in the beauty industry as a whole.

In a 2007 Environmental Working Group study, it was discovered that nearly 400 products sold in the U.S. (including Crest Whitestrips and Neutrogena face cream) still contain chemicals that have already been banned in Japan, Canada and Europe. Additionally, almost all of the products examined in the study contained at least one ingredient that has never been tested for safety…anywhere.

Beauty product manufacturers still love to fall back on the age-old excuse that the ingredients in their products are being applied externally and in such small quantities that they aren’t likely to cause any negative long-term damage. But as we have seen time and time again, this isn’t true. The body’s largest organ–the skin–absorbs close to 60% of products applied topically.

With very few groups in the U.S. concerned about the wellbeing of beauty product consumers (with the exception of a few great watchdog groups like Skin Deep), it only makes sense that we take matters into our own hands by incorporating more all-natural or organic beauty products into our daily routine.

The trouble is that there’s still no standard for what constitutes an “all-natural” or “organic” beauty product. Adding to the confusion, the giants of the beauty industry are now using consumer pressure for safer products as a way to push the same old chemicals with a new, friendly face. By adding a tiny, almost negligible, amount of natural or organic ingredients to their products, (and then filling the rest with toxic synthetics), they can slap an “all-natural” or “organic” label on the front of the bottle. We are then led to assume their products are safer, even though they’re not.

So how do you know if your beauty products are harboring unsafe ingredients? One of two ways:

1. Look for the “USDA Certified Organic” seal. If a product carries the seal, it has received a third party organic certification and contains at least 95% organic materials. Here is a list of 25 beauty brands that contain many products with the USDA Certified Organic seal.

2. Actually read every single ingredient. If you see any of the following on the list, step away from the product:

  • Anything that includes the word paraben (methyl, propyl, butyl, ethyl, etc.)-Preliminary research has linked parabens with breast cancer.
  • Imidazolidinyl Urea and Diazolidinyl Urea-The most commonly used preservative after parabens. These can release formaldehyde and are toxic.
  • BHT-Known to cause cancer in lab rats and linked to many other health problems.
  • Anything that includes the abbreviations DEA, TEA or MEA-These are found in a lot of beauty products. There is clear evidence linking these with carcinogenic activity.
  • Mineral oils such as petrolatum or petroleum-While these aren’t harmful on their own they are often produced cheaply with impurities including that have been linked to breast cancer. Thus, it’s been banned by the EU for use in cosmetics.
  • Sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate-A cheap detergent derived from petroleum that causes many allergic reactions.
  • Fragrance-There is no way to tell what the word “fragrance” really means. Fragrances used in cosmetics can have as many as 200 ingredients and usually includes phthalates which have been linked to reproductive disorders.
  • Any synthetic color (e.g. FD&C Red No. 6 or D&C Green No. 6)-Synthetic colors are also believed to be cancer causing.

If you’d rather use our CliffsNotes to locate beauty products that won’t harm your health, read this article on the safest brands out there.

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