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Cancer-Causing 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 you!

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 ingredients.

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 should avoid:

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 do.

Preservatives. Many 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 problems."

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 damage.

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.

This article is shareware. Give this article away for free on your site, or include it as part of any paid package as long as the entire article is left intact including this notice. Copyright © 2005 Christine Farlow.