Are you being exposed to harmful ingredients in personal care products you use every day? Take a moment and think about how many personal care products you use on a daily basis. Your morning likely starts with brushing your teeth, followed by soap, shampoo, and conditioner in the shower. Then there’s shaving cream, perfume, deodorant, makeup… the list goes on and on. And that’s just your morning routine.
We all know that everything you put in your body affects your health. But many people don’t realize that what you put on your body can also be harmful to your health. We always read nutrition labels, but when was the last time you looked for harmful ingredients in your personal care products?
From skincare to cosmetics and shampoo to body lotion, Americans are applying an average of 9 personal care products to their bodies each day. That means many of us are exposing ourselves to about 126 unique chemical ingredients before we even step out the door in the morning. If you’re a woman who wears makeup, that number is probably much higher.
So, could the ingredients in your personal care products be harmful to your health? Definitely! Chemicals and other toxic substances can be absorbed through your skin, right into your bloodstream, and all that toxic exposure adds up over time.
Eventually, exposure to harmful ingredients in personal care products and cosmetics can lead to allergies, sensitives, cancer, birth defects, and other serious health problems. Choosing personal care products with toxic ingredients could have a significant impact on your overall health, now and in the future.
What Every Consumer Should Know About the Personal Care and Cosmetics Industry
In the US alone, the personal care and cosmetics industry takes in about $50 billion per year. Meaning it’s one of the largest and most highly marketed industries in the country.
Whether you’re a man, woman, or child, you likely use a variety of personal care products each day, so there’s no limit to this market.
Our government approves the use of around seven new chemicals every day. Many of them are approved in just a few weeks, often with minimal safety testing. Unfortunately, many of these chemicals wind up in the cosmetics and personal care products we use each day.
The FDA does not regulate the safety of personal care or cosmetic products. Instead, these products are governed by a panel called the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR). This panel is industry-funded and appointed, which raises serious concern about bias and thoroughness of safety testing in personal care products.
Sadly, many people think their cosmetics and personal care products are safe because they found them on the shelf in their pharmacy or a high-end department store, but that’s simply not the case. The harmful ingredients in personal care products you use every day present a serious threat to your health.
The Most Common Harmful Ingredients in Personal Care Products
If you want to remove the harmful ingredients from your personal care routine, start by taking a look at the ingredients on the products you already own. Then, when you shop for new personal care products, scrutinize the labels just like you would the nutrition labels at the grocery store.
Here are 11 of the most common toxic ingredients to avoid in your cosmetics and personal care products:
Toluene is a petrochemical that could be listed on ingredient labels as toluene, methylbenzene, phenylethane, toluol, or benzene. It is a powerful solvent that can be used as a paint thinner. Pregnant women should avoid it at all costs because the fumes can cause fetal developmental damage. Toluene is also known to cause skin irritation and have adverse effects on the respiratory system. It’s found in hair dye and bleaching products, as well as nail products.
· BHA & BHT
BHA and BHT are two harmful ingredients in personal care products that are used as preservatives in skincare and cosmetics. Not only can they cause severe allergic reactions in some people, but they are also potential endocrine disruptors and carcinogens.
This harmful ingredient is usually listed on personal care products as diethyl phthalate, dimethyl phthalate, or dibutyl phthalate. It’s commonly found in lotions, deodorant, hair spray, perfume, nail polish, and more. Phthalates are known to disrupt the endocrine system. This could lead to a higher risk of breast cancer, early breast development in children, and a higher rate of birth defects. Sometimes, phthalates are hidden in a product’s fragrance formula. It’s best to completely avoid products with any type of artificial fragrance listed on the label.
· Propylene Glycol
Propylene glycol is a common harmful ingredient in personal care products like body wash and shampoo. It’s known to irritate the skin and could even cause dermatitis or hives in some people.
Triclosan is a popular antimicrobial chemical found in toothpaste, hand sanitizer, antibacterial soap, and deodorant. It’s a known endocrine disruptor that affects reproductive and thyroid hormones. For many people, it’s also a skin irritant.
· Synthetic Colors
Synthetic colors usually appear on ingredient labels as FD&C or D&C, followed by numbers. These colors are derived from coal tar or petroleum, and they can cause severe skin irritation in some people. They’ve also been linked to ADHD in children. Even more alarming, synthetic colors are banned for use in the European Union because they are believed to be a human carcinogen.
· Fragrance / Perfume / Parfum / Aroma
Fragrance is one of the most harmful ingredients in personal care products because it’s a sneaky way to disguise other toxic ingredients. Many chemicals can be hidden in personal care products and labeled with the term fragrance or one of its aliases. Some of these scent chemicals are known to harm the reproductive system. They also disrupt endocrine production, which could cause hormonal imbalances. Fragrance is also a leading cause of respiratory problems, allergies, and dermatitis for many people with sensitivity issues.
Parabens are harmful ingredients in personal care products that are used as a preservative. They prevent the growth of yeast, mold, and bacteria. While that may sound good in theory, parabens can actually mimic estrogen in the body. This could increase your risk of breast cancer. Parabens have actually been found in breast tumor biopsy samples.
· Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
Over 90% of personal care products contain these harmful surfactants. If the product is foamy, there’s a good chance it contains sulfates. Unfortunately, sulfates are known to be eye, skin, and lung irritants. There is also concern that they may interact with other chemicals and create cancer-causing nitrosamines.
Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are included in personal care products to prevent the growth of bacteria. However, formaldehyde is known to be a carcinogen that could be harmful to your health. It may also cause a severe allergic reaction in some people and could be harmful to the immune system.
How to Protect Your Family from Harmful Ingredients in Personal Care Products and Cosmetics
Take these steps to protect yourself and your family from exposure to harmful ingredients in personal care products, skincare, and cosmetics you use every day.
- Familiarize yourself with the toxic ingredients mentioned above and eliminate them from your life.
- Read labels carefully and seek out clean beauty products that carry the USDA Organic Seal of Approval. Products with this seal must be at least 95% organic.
- If you can’t afford to throw away products you already own that have toxic ingredients, replace them with safer alternatives as they run out.
- Look for natural skincare ingredients that can replace the harmful chemicals. For example, tea tree oil works great for killing germs and bacteria on the skin, so it’s an effective natural replacement for toxic triclosan in personal care products.
- For more information about toxic ingredients in cosmetics and personal care, visit the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website. They have an extensive database of more than 25,000 personal care products. Each product is rated on a scale of 0-10, based on its level of toxicity.
You will never be able to avoid exposing yourself to every harmful toxin. But you can minimize your exposure and the damage to your body that accumulates over time. Choosing clean, organic personal care products, cosmetics, and foods is a great place to start. You only have one body. It’s worth taking the time to educate yourself about the toxins in your environment and how to avoid them.