The average consumer uses about 9 body products on their skin daily, exposing themselves to nearly 130 chemicals a day. Women who use makeup every day might be using as many as twenty different products on their body each day, and are absorbing nearly five pounds of those chemicals every year.
The concerning fact about our beauty routines is that they may actually be putting us at risk. Most people assume that their products are safe, but the truth is that the chemical ingredients in our personal care products are mostly untested and largely unregulated. Only 11% of the 10,500 ingredients regularly used in our body products have actually been assessed for safety by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with only 11 ingredients actually banned. The FDA is operating under a law that Congress hasn’t updated since 1938, without the authority to approve body products before they go to market. Even known carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting chemicals such as formaldehyde, triclosan, and phthalates are still legal in our makeup or lotions. By comparison, over 1,100 of those same ingredients are banned in the EU, many because they are linked with rising rates in breast cancer, asthma, autism, reproductive problems, and other health issues.
Below are a few ingredients to steer clear from, although there are unfortunately many others as well, which can be found here:
Parabens are preservatives that keep bacteria from growing in your beauty products, but they are also estrogen-mimicking compounds. While data is limited, some studies have found parabens in breast cancer tumors, and certain forms of the chemical are outlawed in Denmark. Parabens are found in makeup, body washes, deodorants, shampoos and face washes and might be listed as methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben or butylparaben.
Phthalates, often listed simply as “fragrance”, are banned in the European Union. They have been linked to increased risk of breast cancer, early breast development in girls, damages the male reproductive system, and reproductive birth defects. Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers are especially vulnerable. Phthalates can be found in deodorants, perfumes/colognes, hair sprays and moisturizers, but are much more ubiquitous than they seem; in many products, they aren’t listed at all except as a “fragrance,” which avoids disclosure. To be sure you are avoiding phthalates, you likely need to avoid any products with fragrance as an ingredient.
Tricloson is an antibacterial agent that is a well-known endocrine disruptor, found to disrupt thyroid function and reproductive hormones. Overuse of antibiotic soaps can actually contribute to antibiotic resistance as well, and the American Medical Association advises that regular soap and water serves just as well as antibiotic soaps to prevent spread of infections and reduce bacteria on the skin. Tricolson can be found in toothpastes, antibacterial soaps and deodorants.
The good news is that there are a lot of resources out there to help sort out the differences between beauty products. Instead of trying to decipher paragraphs of ingredients in the grocery store, check out these apps and websites that are designed to be a resource for shoppers like you.
Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep cosmetics database has catalogued nearly 70,000 products — ranging from moisturizers, makeup, deodorant, toothpaste and baby shampoo — into three hazard ratings (low, moderate, or high concern) based on each product’s ingredient information. Search products here, or download the app.
Think Dirty is an app that lets you scan the barcode of a product in the store, and learn about potentially toxic ingredients. They rate products on a scale of 1-10 and offer alternatives. You can check out their site here, or download the app for iPhones or Android.