How Safe Are Your Beauty Products?

photo: AMB photo

Did you know that everyday, we use, on average, 12 personal care products, exposing ourselves to over 168 unique ingredients? We begin the day with shampoo, conditioner, soap, body wash, shave cream, body lotion, deodorant, hair styling gel, facial moisturizer, foundation, mascara, lipstick, blush and the list goes on…….

Did you know that we absorb up to 60% of what we apply topically to our skin (think of the birth control and nicotine patch) and that children’s bodies absorb even more?

Did you know that there are no rules governing the use of 'natural' and 'organic' on beauty products? That anyone who puts a few drops of natural or organic ingredients into a product and label the product natural or organic. Misleading labelling has become a problem with personal care companies who are capitalizing on the big buzz words: organic, natural, green, pure and producing substandard products that are none of the above. The cosmetic industry has an 'iinnocent-till-proven-guilty' approach to ingredients. Unless a chemical used in beauty products is proven to cause harm to human health, it is classified as GRAS, or “generally recognized as safe.”


So, when did shopping for a moisturizer, mascara, shampoo or deodorant become so complicated?


In Canada, cosmetic products are required by law to list ingredients using the Latin-based scientific terms of the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients system. There is however NO regulatory definition of organic and natural for labelling purposes. What is the difference between natural, botanical and organic products? With beauty products, natural ingredients come from the land or sea and botanical ingredients are derived from plants however the soil in which these natural ingredients must be grown in soil free of herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers to be considered organic.

The only guarantee that a product is organic is a certification logo. This requires the product to undergo a thorough evaluation of its ingredients and standards of manufacturing. ie: EcoCert (France), USDA (US) , Soil Association (UK). However, just because a product does not have a certification logo, do not assume that it isn’t natural or organic. We carry many high quality, organic-containing skin care products that do not bear certification labelling because they cannot cover the yearly costs of certification, don’t believe the ‘hype’ around certification or are waiting for clearer, cosmetic-specific regulations before getting involved. 

I believe that an educated consumer is a healthy consumer. so although there are many chemicals found in personal care products, I’d like to review 12 common toxic chemicals to avoid in order to maintain your health, that of your family and the environment. I went out shopping in search of personal products containing these chemical ingredients and was shocked at the abundance of products containing these ingredients.

1. PARABENS are a synthetic preservative used to extend the shelf life of products and prevent bacteria and fungus from developing. There has been much controversy about this ingredient but paragons are suspected of mimicking estrogen, disrupting the endocrine system and of being associated with breast cancer and fertility problems. Parabens can cause skin irritation and contact dermatitis and studies indicate that methylparaben applied on the skin reacts with UVB leading to increased skin aging and DNA damage. 


2. FRAGRANCE/PARFUM is a ‘cocktail’ of hidden chemicals, many toxic and carcinogenic. Products labelled as unscented or fragrance-free often contain chemicals that mask the scent of other chemicals. Exposure may induce headaches, asthma, rashes, coughing and sneezing. Seeki out plant sources for natural fragrance oils (rose, lavender, vanilla, cedar).

3. ALUMINIUM is an ingredient commonly found in most antiperspirants. It prevents sweating by clogging the pores which results in an inability to eliminate toxins. It is a common skin irritant with suspected links to Alzheimer's disease. There are many natural yet effective deodorants (not anti-perspirants) on the market.

4. CHEMICAL SUNSCREENS are oxybenzone and avobenzone which accumulates in fatty tissue and is linked to  allergies, hormone disruption and cellular damage. Titanium dioxide or zinc oxide are safer sun protection alternatives. However, the key to effective sun protection in reapplying broad spectrum sun protection every 2 hours. The SPF system is misleading when it comes to how much of the sun's harmful rays different factors absorb: SPF15 absorbs 93% of harmful rays, SPF30 absorbs 97% and SPF 50 absorbs 98%. Using an SPF50 does not offer you double the protection of a product with half the SPF.

5. SULFATES (labelled primarily as Sodium Laurel Sulfate) are foaming agents found in everything from bar soap to shampoos to toothpaste and bath products. They are a detergent that can cause irritation of the skin and eyes and disrupt natural skin oil production. Sulfates can become contaminated by 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen.

6. PROPYLENE GLYCOL is a humectant which enhances product absorption and prolongs product shelf life. It was developed for use in anti-freeze, as a de-icer, in brake fluid and is found in many skin care products. Side effects include irritation and sensitivity to the eye and skin. If sufficiently absorbed by the body, it may cause serious health conditions (liver and heart damage and damage to the central nervous system). it’s often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide, both known carcinogens.

7. FD&C COLORS are synthetic dyes used to make eye makeup remover bright blue and facial cleanser lime green. Banned in Europe, these pretty colours are often coal derived and possess carcinogenic health risks. They are labelled FD&C followed by a colour and number (FD&C Yellow 5). I recommend seeking natural pigmented products.

8. FORMALDEHYDE is a probable carcinogen and irritant which acts as a preservative in nail polish, make-up and sunscreens. Urea is a formaldehyde releaser with links to asthma, headaches and is a known human carcinogen. Instead, seek products containing natural preservatives.

9. DEA TEA MEA are suspected carcinogens restricted in Europe. They are used as emulsifiers (to make products creamy), foaming agents and pH adjusters found in most personal care products that foam as well as in hair dye, mascara, foundation, fragrance + sunscreen. They can cause hormone disruption, irritation of the eyes, skin, respiratory tract, sore throat, asthma and allergic contact dermatitis.

10. PHTHALATES (DMP, DBP, DEP) are being slowly removed from many products in Canada and the U but are still present in many beauty products (synthetic fragrances, nail polish and hair spray). They are plasticizing chemicals used to make products more pliable.  Phthalates disrupt the endocrine system and accumulate in the body, especially in fat cells and milk, making it easy for a woman to unknowingly contaminate her children through breastfeeding. Phthalates also disrupt the environment as they break down because they release harmful dioxins, which pollute the soil, air and water and promote health problems in animals.

11. MINERAL OIL is a petroleum derivative found in baby oil, lip balm, lip stick, lip gloss, petroleum jelly, mascara, moisturizers, concealer, foundation, face powder, hair gel and body wash which acts as a conditioning agent.In reality, it seals the skin creating a barrier which feels slick, but hinders the skin’s ability to eliminate toxins and decelerates skin function and cell development = premature aging of skin and other health & skin disorders (contact dermatitis).

12 TRICLOSAN prevents bacterial contamination and is found in anything antibacterial (soap, hand sanitizer, deodorants, toothpaste, and cosmetics). 
Although there is not enough evidence for Health Canada to ban it, studies have proven that triclosan alters hormone regulation in animals, may contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant germs and may be harmful to the immune system. Minnesota became the first state to ban triclosan this past spring. Triclosan reacts with chlorine (in tap water) to produce chloroform.

How can you shop for healthy beauty products?


1. Place our credit card-sized guide of '12 TOXIC ingredients to avoid when shopping for personal care products' in your wallet to refer to when the shopping for beauty products.

2. Choose products carefully by reading labels and asking questions in order to make informed choices about what you put on your skin every day.

3. Seek the advice of a skin care professional to recommend the appropriate organic, chemical-free alternatives for healthy skin, both inside and out.

4. Shop at a business that you trust has done their homework and retails personal care products that are truly good for you.

5. Your journey to healthy beauty should be gradual. Do not become overwhelmed. Replace products with organic and natural products as you need them. Have fun with it!


(Excerpts from Oresta's talk at the Glebe Community Wellness Day - October 2, 2014)

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