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As you wander down the health and beauty aisles at Target, have you ever peeked at beauty products’ ingredient lists? If you’re like most people, probably not! Why would you? Well, it’s definitely worth a gander. With more than 80,000 chemicals currently in use, fewer than 10% have been tested for human safety. The U.S. bans only 30 ingredients from use in personal care products, while the EU bans more than 1400 potentially harmful ingredients! This gap in regulation means known carcinogens, hormone disrupters, and skin irritants make their way into products we use daily. Yikes! Now it would be damn near impossible to memorize every single potentially harmful ingredients, so today we are breaking down the top 5 toxins to avoid in your beauty products.
Well mama, because you matter! Pregnant women and growing fetuses are at increased risk for problematic exposure. According to a study conducted by Tracey Woodruff, PhD, professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences and the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at UC San Francisco, “Our findings have found that many chemicals do indeed accumulate in the fetal environment and are absorbed at greater levels by fetuses than by the pregnant women themselves. This may have significant consequences for the growing fetus, since many of these chemicals are known to affect development.”
Now if you’re one of the curious few that’s taken a look at the ingredient list on the back of any given product you might notice that it is quite lengthy. It can be tough to decide what’s safe and what isn’t. Using the same logic of reading food labels, doesn’t really apply here. Fortunately, there are organizations like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) which work to identify harmful toxins that live on the shelves of the supermarket. The EWG provides evidence-based information in their Skin Deep Database about ingredient safety, overall hazard levels plus research on different ingredients.
“Safety” can mean a few different things when referring to personal care products. The safety rating of a product relies primarily on the effect the ingredients have on human health and any potential contaminants. The potential risk of contamination is why a rigid screening process is so vital. For example, one of our favorite clean beauty brands, Beautycounter, uses a 5-step selection process focused on intentionally banning harmful ingredients, rigorous screening and testing, as well as third party testing to ensure consumers are getting the safest products possible.
If you could only choose one thing on our list of toxins to avoid in your beauty products, make it fragrance.
Currently, the EWG has identified fragrance in almost 11,000 products…a real heavy hitter. The EWG ranks products on a scale of 1-10, 1 being the most safe and 10 being of most concern! On that scale fragrance has a rating of 8/10! The whole point of fragrance is self-explanatory: provide a masking scent to a product. But fragrance can irritate the eyes, skin and lungs. It’s also a possible respiratory toxicant.
Fragrance is an easy ingredient to identify and usually appears last on the list! Fragrance will be listed as one ingredient: fragrance, parfum or aroma. The way fragrance is labeled may be misleading because “fragrance” can actually contain dozens of different chemicals! This phenomenon is referred to as the “fragrance loophole” that allows for multiple unlisted ingredients to live in a product under the disguise of “fragrance”. For example, many fragrances contain phthalates which help the smell good stuff stick to your body longer, but if it only appears in “fragrance” cocktail, then it doesn’t have to be disclosed. This loophole is what makes fragrance such a problematic ingredient. The good news is that it is easily identifiable an ingredient list making it easy to remove from your bathroom cabinet!
EWG Rating: 8
Other names: perfume, parfum, aroma, natural fragrance
You may associate Formaldehyde with your high school biology class. This colorless gas forms glues and adhesives to hold structure and in the cosmetic world, formaldehyde is used as a preservative in most nail polish. Preservatives are necessary in cosmetics (mold is not a good thing, y’all!) But the scary thing about formaldehyde? It’s a known carcinogen that may also have serious impacts on non-reproductive organ health. In worst case scenarios, formaldehyde may be linked to asthma, neurotoxicity, and developmental toxicity. More common everyday symptoms of formaldehyde exposure are watery eyes, burning sensation in eyes, nose, and throat, coughing, wheezing, nausea, and skin irritation.
EWG Rating: 10
Other names: formalin, formic aldehyde merthaldehyde, mathanal, methyl aldehyde, oxomethane, oxymethylene
Parabens are a preservative that prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. A good thing, right? We don’t want our products to spoil on us quickly! Parabens are on our list of toxins to avoid in your beauty products because they are known hormone disruptors that mimic estrogen in the body. Hormones require a delicate balancing act, especially when trying to conceive. There are multiple forms of parabens and they are commonly used in thousands of products.
EWG Rating: 7-8
Other names: methyl-, isobutyl-, propyl- are the most common
Phthalates work with fragrance to help scents stick to skin. Again, sounds good right? Sadly, this chemical has evidence of endocrine disruption and possible reproductive toxicity! Because endocrine system is in control of our hormones, it makes phthalates a big red flag, especially when trying to conceive and or while pregnant. Not only can these chemicals affect our own hormones, they can also negatively impact the developing endocrine system of a growing babe, too!
EWG Rating: Varies
Other names: DBP, DEP, DEHP, DNOP, and DiNP.
PEG’s are rampant in cosmetics because they have a great ability to thicken, soften and hold moisture. That makes PEG’s the perfect ingredient for our moisturizers, conditioners, body lotions and anything else we want to feel smooth. Again, this all sounds great…who doesn’t want a thick and soft night cream? While in theory PEG’s may seem useful, they are known carcinogens. There can multiple PEG’s in just one product. Luckily they are super easy to spot; they will almost always start with “PEG-“, like PEG-100, PEG-40, PEG-8, and PEG-12 Dimethicone. Just as with phthalates, this is not a comprehensive list, but rather some of the more common forms of PEG.
EWG Rating: Varies
Other names:PEG-100, PEG-40, PEG-8, and PEG-12 Dimethicone
These top toxins to avoid in your beauty products sound pretty darn terrible, yah? You can’t unlearn this stuff, but it can also feel incredibly overwhelming to hunt down safer products. For ease of mind and sanity, especially through pregnancy, choose trusted brands committed to testing, ingredient transparency, and banning potentially harmful ingredients. Our favorite companies specialize in high-quality, high-performing non-toxic makeup, skincare, and other personal care products like deodorant and haircare, without using any of the 5 toxins listed above!
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