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In the wake of the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2013, and the rise of natural personal care products, you should be aware of the toxic chemicals surrounding you even if retailers, Wal-Mart included, are beginning to phase them out. Beauty products should make you beautiful, and this article will focus on chemicals in cosmetics that clearly do not contribute to the health of your skin. Many cosmetic companies abuse cheap chemicals or simply add in ingredients for no apparent reason. As a responsible consumer, you should be aware of which ingredients in your products are toxic or detrimental in any manner to your health. Below are ten common toxic ingredients in cosmetics:
1. Imidazolidinyl Urea
Located in most water-based cosmetics, deodorants, hair dyes, shaving cream, and face masks lurks imidazolidinyl urea in concentrations of 0.1-5 percent. This highly water soluble chemical remains on the skin for hours after being applied through any of the mentioned products, and has sufficient time to be thoroughly absorbed by the dermal cells. It serves as a preservative in conjunction with parabens and releases formaldehyde. Listed in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Inventory, imidazolidinyl urea is problematic because it is a known allergen and toxicant in humans. Also, the chemical may be derived from animals and could be a carcinogen. Other formaldehyde releasing chemicals to look out for are DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, methenamine, and quarternium-15.
As aforementioned, parabens are often used with imidazolidinyl urea, so they are often found in similar products. The FDA states that parabens can be found in, “makeup, moisturizers, hair care products, and shaving products.” Parabens act as a anti-microbial preserving agent in products. Multiple parabens are often used in a single product: the most common are methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. These chemicals are of concern because they are found in cancer patients, but they are also found in urine samples of U.S. adults without cancer.
According to the FDA, the following phthalates are most frequently used in cosmetics: dibutylphthalate (DBP), dimethylphthalate (DMP), and diethylphthalate (DEP). Phthalates are used to make plastic or vinyl soft and flexible. It may be shocking to note that the same phthalates that are used in your cosmetics are used in plastic wrap, wood furnishing, lubricants, insecticides, and detergents. Additionally, they are thought to be endocrine disrupters, and animal tests have concluded that phthalates negatively affect hormones and contribute to an early onset of puberty.
Triethanolamine (TEA) is a base that changes the pH of the products it is in. Animal tests have shown that this chemical is highly absorptive in nature and can irritate the eyes, skin, and respiratory system. Long-term exposure to TEA has caused asthma and allergic reactions. As determined by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Assessments, it qualifies as a clear skin toxicant, and is only reasonably safe in cosmetics when restricted.
5. Polyethylene Glycols
Polyethylene glycols (PEG) is used in various creams as a moisturizer, and they account for a class of ingredients that are petroleum-based. PEGs are known to have low toxicity but their impurities, ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, are not. 1,4-dioxane targets the liver and kidneys when inhaled or absorbed by the body. In animal studies, an antimicrobial cream containing PEGs was put on open wounds, and it caused renal failure among other reactions. All in all, information on PEG toxicity is scarce and contradictory, but they should be avoided to ensure safety.
6. Synthetic Colors
Synthetic or artificial colors or dyes are used in cosmetics to make a desired color, but the safety of adding these colors is debatable. The FDA, however, has allowed for seven dyes to be added to products in the United States despite the questionable safety of doing so. Those against the use of such colors state that they are toxic and carcinogenic and possible contributors to hyperactivity or ADHD.
7. Synthetic Fragrances
Synthetic fragrances are allergens that may contain the aforementioned class of chemicals known as phthalates. These fragrances can interfere with the immune system and can, as an allergen, instigate an asthma attack. They are potential neurotoxins and can be found in the blood as synthetic musks when frequently used. Synthetic fragrances may smell pleasant, but they are not beneficial to the wearer or to the general public.
8. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Acting as a detergent in cosmetics, sodium lauryl sulfate, SLS, can produce allergic reactions, drying of the skin, and irritation. The chemical assists in the removal of dirt and oil from the skin and can have a lasting effect on the epidermis of the skin by damaging the hair follicles. SLS was thought to be carcinogenic, but this is an unsubstantiated fallacy; however, it is true that SLS is an irritant as stated above.
9. Stearalkonium Chloride
As an antistatic, preservative, and surfactant, stearalkonium chloride has a variety of uses. The chemical is a suspected environmental toxin and allergen and toxicant. It is found in hair conditioner to control frizz and also in creams, but it is best to avoid stearalkonium chloride because of its allergenic properties.
10. PVP/VA Copolymer
Functioning as a binder or fixer in cosmetics (mostly hair, nail, and skin care products), PVP/VA copolymer is a synthetic vinyl polymer. The copolymer can hinder optimal respiration in sensitive individuals, and is sometimes considered a toxic substance. Additionally, the chemical has been found to be a skin irritant.
These ten toxins should be a warning to consumers that products can be deceptive in their marketing and could be potentially dangerous health-wise. Don’t always take products at their surface value, and be sure to read the ingredients label whether it is lip balm or shaving cream. Also remember that your skin is the largest organ in your body, and what you put on it gets absorbed into your body, so treat your skin well by steering clear of these toxins.
Image Source: Olivia Proença/Flickr