No matter how minimalist your grooming routine, you should be aware of the ingredients that are in your beauty products. Man or woman. Young or old. It’s something to be aware of, because nobody wants harmful chemicals sitting on their skin and scalp all day. The array of ingredients that are in cosmetic items today can range from mild irritant to full-blown carcinogen.
“Our skin is our largest organ, and it absorbs everything we put on it, so paying attention to what’s in your beauty products is essential,” Harper says. “The current laws regulating cosmetics in the U.S. haven’t been updated since 1938, and under them the FDA has no authority to test chemicals in cosmetics or require safety testing before they reach the consumer market.”
That’s pretty alarming news. She goes on to say, “The FDA has only banned 11 chemical ingredients in the U.S., while the E.U. has banned almost 1,400, so it’s really important to educate yourself and be your own advocate when shopping for personal care products.”
While those are some pretty scary statistics, the point is to arm you with knowledge. There are plenty of great beauty products out there that don’t contain any toxins—you just need to know where to look. Keep an eye out for these five toxic ingredients commonly found in your daily grooming products, and consider switching to some more healthy options.
Yes, you read that correctly. The embalming agent that you probably recall from high school science class can be found in many beauty products. “Worse yet, it’s also a known carcinogen,” Lee says. She recommends always looking for nail polishes that say “formaldehyde-free,” and asking your stylist if your Brazilian Blowout contains the ingredient. But you may need to look further than that, as some products may contain formaldehyde “releasers” that, when water is added, slowly release the toxin into your products as a preservative. Lee recommends looking out for products that do not contain DMDM hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl Urea, Diazolidinyl urea, Quaternium – 15 and Methenamine.
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Dr. Cates, Harper and Lee all agree that this is one to watch out for. Lee likens adding synthetic fragrance to a company having a “secret sauce,” where they don’t have to disclose the ingredients.
“One of the ingredients I try to avoid most is synthetic fragrance, which is actually made up of up to 4,000 individual ingredients,” Harper says. “Fragrance is considered a trade secret, so manufacturers are not required to reveal their contents, which can lead to exposure to all kinds of potentially toxic chemicals, like petrochemicals derived from crude oil, carcinogenic benzene derivatives, phthalates, and others linked to cancer, birth defects and nervous system disorders.”
That is a lot to take in, but an easy problem to solve. Harper recommends looking for products marked “fragrance-free,” but also making sure to read the list of ingredients on the label.
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This controversial ingredient is commonly found as a preservative in beauty products, but it is one to avoid as it causes reproductive issues in men and women. “Parabens are known xenoestrogens, which means they have estrogenic activity in the body,” Dr. Cates explains. “Parabens are suspected hormone disruptors and may interfere with male reproduction. One study detected parabens in human breast cancer tissue,” Lee adds. With these types of results, paraben-free is the way to go for man, woman and child.
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BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are common preservatives. “Not only are they potential skin allergens, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified BHA as a possible human carcinogen,” Lee says. “Long-term exposure to high doses of BHT has been shown to cause liver, thyroid and kidney problems in mice. Further, some evidence suggests BHT may mimic estrogen at high doses, resulting in adverse reproductive effects.”
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Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
SLS is a foaming agent commonly found in shampoos, face washes and shave creams. “Sodium lauryl sulfate, also known as sodium laureth sulfate or PEG, is another common one that’s banned in Canada and restricted in Europe,” Harper says. “It’s found in products like cleansers, body washes and shampoo—anything that creates suds and can potentially lead to cancer and birth defects.”
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