Reading labels on food items is nothing new, but are you reading the labels on your personal care products as well?
It may shock most people that the beauty industry in America is highly unregulated. In fact, the last major federal law passed by the US government to regulate the cosmetics industry occurred in 1938. While the European Union bans approximately 1400 ingredients from personal care products, America only bans eleven which are deemed as harmful.
While not all chemicals are bad (water is a chemical after all!), the toxic chemicals are the ones to be concerned about. Toxic chemicals can negatively impact our bodies in areas to include endocrine and hormonal disruption, neurological damage, biological system impairment, and significant damage to cells and organs. It is no secret that problems such as infertility, asthma, allergies, developmental issues, autoimmune diseases and cancer are on the rise in this country. And considering it takes only 26 seconds for the ingredients from cosmetics and personal care products to enter our bloodstream after application, we should take notice of the most common offenders and make efforts to avoid them.
Here are seven common ingredients to avoid when selecting beauty and personal care products:
Parabens are very common and found in many beauty and skincare products because they increase shelf life. Aside from their anti-bacterial properties, they act as preservatives which allow products to last much longer. This is a plus for beauty companies, but definitely a negative for our bodies. It is important to avoid parabens because of their damaging effects on the endocrine system. Parabens mimic estrogen in the body. In other words, our bodies recognize parabens the same way they recognize estrogen — so in essence as a “fake estrogen”. An excess of parabens can result in high estrogen levels in the body which have been linked to breast cancer, skin cancer, decreased sperm count, as well as hormonal imbalances and reproductive issues.
When you see the word phthalates, think plastic. Phthalates are plasticizing chemicals which help lubricate other substances, help lotions and makeup penetrate and soften the skin, and help fragrances last longer. It’s quite obvious why companies would want to use these little chemical plasticizers, but rather alarming to think of these substances in our bloodstreams. In recent years, phthalates have been linked to an array of troubling issues to include asthma, ADHD, breast cancer, obesity and type II diabetes, neurodevelopmental issues, behavioral issues, autism spectrum disorders, endocrine disruption, impaired reproductive development and male fertility issues.
This one is rather misleading as fragrance is a rather pleasant sounding thing. However, companies are able to disguise an alarming amount of chemicals by listing this single ingredient. Unfortunately, these cryptic “fragrances” which are found in many creams and hair products are largely linked to allergies (both food and environmental), skin issues, respiratory problems, hormone disruption and reproductive issues.
4) SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE (SLS) AND/OR SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE (SLES)
Sodium lauryl sulfate is a synthetic soap which creates a foamy lather as it cleans, and it is present in most body washes, soaps, shampoos, toothpastes and laundry detergent. Since people have grown accustomed to its presence, many feel as if products MUST have significant lather or they do not work. That is not the case. SLS/SLES has been known to be an irritant to the skin and eyes, and helps other chemicals get into the body because of its identification as a penetration enhancer. It has also been linked to allergies, which have become so common and prevalent these days.
5) BHA AND BHT
BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are synthetic antioxidants which are used as preservatives in lipsticks and moisturizers, among other cosmetics. You can also find these widely used as food preservatives. It is obviously cost effective for companies to use ingredients which make their products last longer, but it is disturbing when it is at the cost of our health. BHA and BHT are linked to skin irritation, hormone disruption, and liver damage, and they also have been identified as carcinogens.
It is common knowledge that lead is very harmful, though most associate it only with paint. Yet more than 60% of all lipsticks and lip glosses contain this neurotoxin, in addition to other makeup items. Neurotoxins are toxins that are poisonous or destructive to nerve tissue. With women applying lipstick multiple times a day, this leads to significant exposure over time. Lead exposure is extremely dangerous as it has been linked to many negative issues which are becoming more and more common, such as learning disabilities, behavior issues, menstrual irregularities, and infertility.
Though this one is not found as much in makeup or traditional skin care, it is in a few products which most people use every day. Triclosan is a widely used antimicrobial chemical which can be found in toothpastes, antibacterial soaps, and deodorants. Triclosan is a known endocrine disruptor (especially harmful to thyroid and reproductive hormones) and a skin irritant.
An excellent resource is the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database. You can look up over 60,000 products to see detailed ingredient information as well as an overall rating system. Aim to choose products with a rating of 1 or 2 to significantly lower your toxic exposure.
And fortunately, there are companies out there making better, safer, and healthier products which are of high quality and effectiveness. Check out the following links to Beautycounter and Go Beyond Natural, companies working hard to make safe products available to everyone, as well as fighting for better regulation of our products.
Lightening your toxic load is a very realistic thing you can do to help yourself and your family live healthier lives. I have spent the last three years switching over all of our products to be as clean and toxic-free as possible, while still effective. As someone who spent years struggling with fertility and multiple miscarriages, I feel very strongly about avoiding these harmful ingredients and have made it a priority for my family. It may take a bit of time to make changes, but it is 100% worth it. You cannot avoid every toxic chemical out there, but all the little changes add up to big results and better health overall.
Amanda Koch is a Nutritional Therapy Consultant, Pilates Master Trainer, and Safe Skincare Educator. After dealing with personal health challenges to include infertility, multiple miscarriages, chronic pain, depression and anxiety, she made healing changes in her life with real food, healthy movement, and clean products. She strives to provide resources for women to live well balanced lives which are realistic and effective. She currently lives in Alaska with her Air Force husband and two boys, happy and well. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter!