The Most Common Toxic Ingredients in Skincare Products That You Need to Avoid and Why
Everything that we apply to the skin is absorbed into the bloodstream, yet the majority of people use many products without questioning their integrity. Every day when we shave, shampoo, condition, shower, apply body lotion, cleanse the face, tone, moisturize, and apply our makeup, we may have fed dozens of harmful chemicals to our body through the skin. In truth, each product may contain harmful chemicals within the limits set by the law, but the cumulative effect of using many products is worrisome. We are lucky if they react immediately because then we stop using the offending product. The rest of the products do not have immediate effects but accumulate in the body over time and cause damage to our endocrine system, our nervous system and other body systems and organs. Let’s look at a few of the most common additive perpetrators.
Most products, including body washes, hand washes, shampoos, soaps, toothpastes, and body lotions contain synthetic colors derived from petroleum or coal tar sources. Synthetic colors are generally skin irritants that are suspected to cause cancer in humans and are linked to ADHD in children (Marta, 2009). The European Classification and Labeling considers it to be a human carcinogen and the European Union has banned them.
If it says lavender or lemon do not be fooled into believing the fragrance is natural. Most perfumes and personal care products contain artificial fragrances such as diethyl phthalate and 3,000 others that damage our health. The Skin Deep Database run by the Environmental Working Group says that fragrance mixes (the average perfume has 14 chemicals) have been linked to dermatitis, hormone disruption, respiratory distress, asthma in children, migraines, worsening of asthma in adults, allergies, multiple chemical sensitivities and potential harm to the reproductive system. (Scientific American)
To make sure that the products last very long on the shelf, manufacturers add synthetic preservatives such as parabens, BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing agents.
Formaldehyde usually causes allergic skin reactions, and irritation of the throat, eyes, and nose (ATSDR). The International Agency for Research on Carcinogens (AIRC) considers these chemicals as cancer-causing in humans. Some studies have linked them to work-related cancers like nasal and nasopharyngeal (FDA). Certain studies of people who are always exposed to formaldehyde in the workplace found more cases of throat and nose cancer than expected.
Parabens possess estrogen-mimicking properties that have been linked to increased risk of breast cancer. As research has found, the perceived flood of estrogen above normal levels can trigger reactions such as increasing breast cell division and the growth of tumors (Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss). Researchers estimate that women are exposed to around 50mg of parabens each day from cosmetics (St-Onge, 2012) and they have identified parabens in biopsy samples from breast tumors.
Both BHA and BHT cause allergic skin reactions in some people. BHA is an endocrine disruptor. BHT promotes cancer under certain conditions. In animal trials, prolonged exposure to high doses of BHT were found to cause kidney, liver and thyroid problems and to affect blood coagulation and lung function. High doses of BHT tend to imitate estrogen and suppress the expression of male sex hormones, causing male fertility problems.
Phthalates (pronounced tha-lates) are used in cosmetic fragrances to make the scent linger. They are known endocrine disruptors, i.e. they interfere with the endocrine system and produce unpleasant neurological, developmental, reproductive, and immune effects. They have been linked to increased risk of breast cancer (Lopez-Carrillo and others, 2010), early breast development in girls, and reproductive birth defects in males and females (Barrett, 2005). They are also linked to liver cancer generally, birth defects in boys, reduced sperm motility and testicular atrophy or structural abnormality in adult men (Mercola, 2010).
Sulfates (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) / Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
These are foaming compounds found in body washes, shampoos, facial washes and hand washes. They are known to be skin, lung, and eye irritants. SLS interacts and combines with other chemicals to form nitrosamine, a carcinogen. The combinations can lead to many other problems like kidney and respiratory damage. In studies, SLS had a degenerative effect on cell membranes because of its protein-denaturing characteristic (Mercola). Both chemicals have been connected to endocrine disruption, poisoning of organs, skin and nervous system, eye irritation, environmental poisoning, and reproductive/developmental toxicity, mutations and cancer (Mercola).
Petroleum, Paraffin and Mineral Oil
Petroleum, Paraffin and Mineral Oil cannot be metabolized, so essentially, once allowed to enter the body, they will persistently accumulate without being expelled. They are also “occlusive”, meaning they create an airtight seal that doesn’t let anything else in or out, thereby blocking pores and the skin’s natural respiration process. Notably, during the manufacturing process, they can be contaminated by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that cause allergic reactions and skin irritation. Research has linked exposure to PAHs over a long period to cancer (St-Onge). A study carried out in Long Island, New York, showed that women with high levels of PAH-DNA adducts had a 50% higher risk of developing breast cancer. While the safety of pure and highly refined petroleum and mineral oil is inconclusive, there remains the fact that they do not nourish the skin and are synthetically derived.
Triclosan is widely used antimicrobial chemical that has been added to antibacterial soaps since 1972. It is a known skin irritant and endocrine disruptor that particularly affects thyroid and reproductive hormones (FDA). Studies done so far have found that triclosan contributes to making bacteria antibiotic-resistant (Yazdankhan & others, 2006). In fact, researchers never found evidence that washing with antibacterial soaps containing triclosan provides more benefit compared to washing with regular soap and water. Triclosan is now known to cause impaired muscle function, heart disease, heart failure, and impaired skeletal-muscle contractibility (Mercola).
Many skincare and hair products contain isopropyl alcohol. It dissolves the natural oil on the scalp causing extreme dryness leading to breakage. Many beauty products do not even list the alcohol on the label because it is below the percentage in which the FDA requires an ingredient to be listed. Inhaling this alcohol can cause dizziness, nausea, depression, and headaches. Note that there are many different types of alcohol, with organic alcohol collectively accepted as the only safe and beneficial type of alcohol in beauty products.
These are just a few of many chemicals that are found in many personal care products that many people unknowingly pile on their skin daily. The truth is that the chemicals in these products are slowly creating chronic illnesses and life-threatening conditions as they often go under the radar. Even worse, the products go into our water systems and other natural systems on our planet where they accumulate, harming water life, plant life, soil health and more, thereby causing more harm to us in the long run as we live amongst, breathe in, and consume their contaminated byproducts.
Luckily, there are effective beauty care alternatives that are proven to be entirely natural, safe, and nontoxic. There doesn’t have to be any synthetic ingredient at all (whether proven safe or not) to get a desired outcome and to feel good about what we’re putting on our body and into the environment. At Earth Harbor Naturals, we do all of the worrying so that you don't have to.
FDA, Cosmetics Safety Q&A: Personal Care Products, https://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm136560.htm
Mercola, Dr. Hidden Dangers in Personal Care Products Infographic.
López-Carrillo L1, Hernández-Ramírez RU, Calafat AM, Torres-Sánchez L, Galván-Portillo M, Needham LL, Ruiz-Ramos R, Cebrián ME., Environmental Health Perspectives, Exposure to phthalates and breast cancer risk in northern Mexico, 2010.
Marta, Truth in Aging, Cosmetic Colors and Dyes, Which Ones are Safe? 2009.
Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss, Scientific American, Should People Be Concerned About Parabens in Beauty Products? Scientific American
Scientific American, Scent of Danger: Are There Toxic Ingredients in Perfumes and Colognes?
St-Onge, E., Collective Evolution, You Have The Right To Know: 17 Chemicals To Avoid In Cosmetic And Personal Care Products, 2012.
Yazdankhan, SP & others, Triclosan and antimicrobial resistance in bacteria: an overview, 2006