The cosmetics and skin care industry rakes in a whopping $130 billion every year in the U.S. alone. But unlike other heavy-hitting industries, cosmetics remains largely unregulated — which makes it a minefield for consumers. Avoiding toxic, chemical-laden ingredients that are potentially harmful can be tricky; so we’re here to help you navigate the murky waters of personal care product safety.
HOW MANY PRODUCTS WITH HARMFUL INGREDIENTS ARE WE USING?
According to the Environmental Working Group, the average American woman uses 12 products containing 168 different ingredients daily. Many of these everyday products, including lotion and soap, contain known carcinogens — yikes. And since most are specifically formulated to penetrate the skin’s layers, all the ingredients (good and bad) are making their way into our systems.
As a health-conscious human, the best place to start is simply being aware of what kinds of hazardous chemicals are going into the products we’re putting on (and therefore into) our bodies. Here are some of the most common toxic ingredients to look out for and avoid.
Hard to pronounce, easy to spot, phthalates are used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. When it comes to personal care products, they are most commonly found in soaps, shampoos, hair sprays, and nail polish. While the effects of phthalates on humans hasn’t been sufficiently researched yet, they’ve been shown to affect lab animals’ reproductive systems, and that’s enough for us.
Used as preservatives, parabens like methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, and butylparaben can penetrate the skin and — get this — act as additional estrogen in the body, potentially turning on the growth of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers. They show up in quite a few personal care products, including lip balm. Looking for a paraben-free option? Check out our Pucker Paste and kiss toxins goodbye.
With a strong tie to the psyche, our sense of smell is a powerful thing - so it’s no surprise we love to smell good. From soap to lotion to shampoo and everywhere in between, personal care products are filled with luxurious scents. But those little luxuries could be costing you more than money. Most manufacturers add scent the cheap and easy way: artificially, using chemicals like musk xylene, which is a known carcinogen. Many other synthetic fragrances are derived from petroleum or coal, which can irritate the skin, cause allergic reactions, or aggravate respiratory issues.
The trouble is, fragrance blends are considered a trade secret — meaning companies are not required to disclose the potentially thousands of chemicals hiding behind the deceptively innocent word ‘fragrance’ on an ingredient list.
Take a look at a product label — see anything called FD&C or D&C? Those are artificial colorants, usually derived from petroleum or coal tar sources. Suspected human carcinogens and skin irritants, synthetic colors are banned in the EU. So just like you probably wouldn’t want to eat artificial dye, you may not want to put it on your skin, hair or nails.
An antimicrobial agent commonly found in toothpaste, antibacterial soaps and deodorants, triclosan is a known endocrine disruptor and a skin irritant. What’s more, the medical community has raised concerns that it may be facilitating antibiotic resistance. All that aside, there’s no real evidence that these anti-bacterial products provide any benefit over sudsing up with good ol’ soap and water.
TPHP can affect hormones, metabolism, and reproduction. It’s most commonly found in nail polishes, and can show up in the body in as little as 10 hours after application. Consider skipping the polish altogether and going au naturale with a bit of organic jojoba oil to nourish those cuticles. If you absolutely can’t go without, try one of these non-toxic polish options.
While it has been prescribed to treat psoriasis for more than a century, modern studies have shown the chemicals found in coal tar to be known carcinogens. You’ll likely find it lurking in mascara, where it functions as a colorant.
HOW CAN I AVOID THESE HARMFUL CHEMICALS?
Do Your Homework
The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is awareness - the fact that you’re reading this right now is a great first step. Buy from fully transparent manufacturers who have a commitment to making products with no harmful toxins or chemicals. Look for companies like P3 Pure that combine this with a voluntary adherence to the stringent USDA organic standards used for food, put sustainability at the top of their business values, and commit to being cruelty-free.
Check the Label
Just like you would with food products, check the labels on your personal care products! Even brands who claim to be ‘natural’ may not be. If that seems a tad overwhelming, download the EWG Skin Deep app to search millions of personal care products and see exactly what’s in them, as well as how the EWG rates their overall threat to your health.
It requires a bit of dedication, but being picky with your personal care products is well worth the time and effort!
Oishi S. — Effects of butylparaben on the male reproductive system in rats. Toxicology and Industrial Health, vol 17, pp 31-9, 2001
Pinsky, C., & Bose, R. — Pyridine and other coal tar constituents as free radical-generating environmental neurotoxicants. Molecular and cellular biochemistry, 84(2), 217-222
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