Ingredients in Your Cosmetics and Personal Care Products
by Christine H. Farlow
Cosmetics make you attractive, but some of the
ingredients in your cosmetics and personal care products may be killing
If you’re like most Americans, you may
be unknowingly poisoning yourself and your family everyday with the
many cancer-causing ingredients in today’s cosmetics,
toiletries and personal care products. Makeup, shampoo, hair coloring
products, baby powder (Yes, baby powder!), shaving cream, mouthwash and
toothpaste are just a few of the products that contain cancer-causing
But don’t despair! In just a minute,
you’ll know what products to avoid and how to choose those
that are safe for you and your family.
You may be asking yourself, "Why do I have to
check the ingredients to see if they’re safe?
Doesn’t the government do this?" The answer is: Well, kind
of…, but not really!
The truth is the cosmetics industry is very poorly
regulated. With the exception of a handful of extremely toxic
chemicals, manufacturers can put almost anything in their cosmetics
without testing to see if the ingredients are harmful. The Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) can only make suggestions or recommendations
to manufacturers about cosmetic products or their ingredients, but the
manufacturers don’t have to follow them.
To make matters worse, most products are labeled
to "sell" rather than to provide accurate information. Words like
"natural" and "hypoallergenic" (which give us a nice warm feeling about
the product and persuade us to believe that a product is safe) do not
have official definitions. This means the manufacturers can use them to
mean anything they want and not get in trouble with the regulatory
agencies. This often leads to misleading information on the
label…and more sales.
Here’s a rogue’s list
of ingredients in cosmetics, toiletries and personal care products you
Fragrances. Each fragrance can
have up to 600 different ingredients which are not required to be
listed on the label. Even if you’re not sensitive to
fragrances, it’s wise to avoid them because they often have
hazardous ingredients and there’s no way of knowing if they
preservatives contain or release formaldehyde which is a carcinogen,
neurotoxin, irritant and sensitizer. These include DMDM hydantoin,
Imidazolidinyl urea, Diazolidinyl urea, quaternium 15, sodium
hydroxymethylglycinate and bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol).
Other preservatives that may also cause reactions include the parabens,
methylchloroisothiazolinone and methylisothiazolinone.
Talc. It may contain
carcinogenic contaminants and products containing talc, including baby
powder, should never be used on babies and children.
Artificial colors. Many of them
cause cancer. Most of the D&C and FD&C colors are
derived form coal tar, a known cancer-causing agent.
Silica. By itself, silica is
not harmful, but it’s often contaminated with crystalline
silica which causes cancer. Manufacturers are not required to list
contaminants so you’ll never see it on the label.
How big of a threat are contaminants to you and
your family? From 1978 to 1980, the FDA analyzed 300 cosmetic samples
for carcinogenic contamination. Forty percent of the samples analyzed
contained carcinogens. Things actually got worse the next time they
analyzed cosmetic samples. In 1991-92, they found that 65% of the
cosmetic products sampled contained carcinogenic contaminants. More
Recently, in 2004, the Environmental Working Group evaluated the
ingredients in 7,500 personal care products for safety. They found that
"nearly 70% of all products contain ingredients that can be
contaminated with impurities linked to cancer and other health
Polysorbate 60 or 80, polyoxyethylene,
polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, PEG, anything ending in
“-eth,” such as sodium laureth sulfate.
These ingredients may be contaminated with cancer-causing 1,4-dioxane,
which is easily absorbed through the skin. Again, manufacturers are not
required to tell you about the contaminants.
Diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine
(TEA). These two ingredients are found in many cosmetic and
personal care products. Even though they don’t cause cancer
by themselves you should avoid all products that contain them because
DEA and TEA can react with nitrites to form nitrosamines which can
cause cancer. The tricky thing is that nitrites can be present as a
contaminant and not listed on the label. So there’s no way of
knowing whether or not a product with DEA or TEA ingredients is
contaminated with the cancer-causing nitrosamines.
Propylene glycol and sodium lauryl
sulfate. These are common ingredients in shampoos and
they’re both toxic. Propylene glycol is a skin irritant which
causes kidney and liver damage. Sodium laurel sulfate causes genetic
So what’s the bottom line? Even though a
great many cosmetics and personal care products are harmful, there are
products that are safe and healthy to use. But you’re the one
who needs to know what cosmetic and personal care products you're using
are safe. The way the current regulations are structured, the
government simply cannot protect you. Their hands are tied. According
to John Bailey, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Office of
Cosmetics and Colors, "Consumers believe that 'if it’s on the
market, it can't hurt me,' and this belief is sometimes wrong."
Knowing how to read and interpret the ingredient
label on cosmetics, toiletries and personal care products is a powerful
shield. But the manufacturers are fighting back. They’re
designing packaging with seductive designs to make it look like their
products are healthy and made from natural ingredients. Don’t
be fooled by the fancy packaging and persuasive words like "natural,"
"gentle" and "hypoallergenic." When you read the label,
you’ll probably find that is not the case.
As you might suspect, there are more ingredients
that can harm you. But if you start avoiding products with the above
ingredients, you may find that you and your family feel better and more
energetic, allergic reactions may disappear, and your risk for cancer
will, most definitely, be decreased.
Dr. Christine H. Farlow, D.C. is "The Ingredients
Investigator." She has been researching ingredient safety since 1991.
She is the author of three books, including the new, second edition of DYING TO
LOOK GOOD. To learn more about the safety of ingredients in
your cosmetics and personal care products, visit DyingToLookGood.com.
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Copyright © 2005 Christine Farlow.