Remember when smoking was seen as glamorous and harmless? No one batted an eye at cigarettes until science showed the horrific effect they had on human health. What if the same is to come of some of the cosmetic ingredients we apply daily to our skin?
It is up to us as consumers to educate ourselves about which ingredients are potentially too dangerous to risk exposing ourselves and our families to on a regular basis. If you do want to educate yourself about what’s out there and what to avoid, you can start with five of the most toxic ingredients that we’ve outlined below.
#1: Artificial Fragrances
When it comes to causing skin allergies, artificial fragrances are a likely offender. And what’s worse: they’re in just about every mass-produced, mainstream skincare product. Talk about a nightmare!
Artificial fragrances can be composed of more than 200 chemical constituents, including known carcinogens such as methyl chloride. How is this possible? Well, the main body of information that deals with artificial fragrances is funded by the International Fragrance Association. Tests are done by the same people who make and sell the products, meaning there are very few regulations. Seems rather suspicious, doesn’t it?
To avoid artificial fragrances, be on the lookout for “parfum” listed near the end of the ingredients label. Often, products marketed as “unscented” will still contain artificial fragrances in the ingredients. If you want to add your own natural fragrances, using essential oils is a safe way to do so.
#2: Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) and Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)
These two chemicals are almost as difficult to pronounce as it is to digest the damage they can cause. In fact, the state of California now requires warning labels on products containing BHT and BHA. Linked to several health concerns including endocrine disruption, developmental toxicity, reproductive toxicity, and cancer, we highly encourage adding BHT and BHA to your list of “Absolutely Nots.”
If you wouldn’t eat it, it doesn’t belong on your skin!
BHT and BHA are used as preservatives in a variety of personal care products, such as hairsprays, makeup, antiperspirants, fragrances, and moisturizers. When applied to the skin, they can induce allergic reactions, causing inflammation, irritation, and an unwanted trip to the dermatologist. They can also be used as preservatives in food. A safe bet is that if you wouldn’t eat it, then it doesn’t belong on your skin!
Thankfully, these chemicals don’t try to hide themselves. They are usually plainly listed on the ingredients label as BHT and BHA.
Think of phthalates as an elusive criminal on the run. Usually disguised on labels or not listed at all, these plasticising chemicals can be extremely harmful and should be avoided at all costs.
Phthalates cross the placenta and are linked to birth defects.
While everyone should avoid phthalates, women who are pregnant should be especially aware of the effects they can have on unborn children. Phthalates cross the placenta during pregnancy and have been linked to a variety of birth defects. This includes attention deficits, disruption of the endocrine system, liver damage, decreased sperm counts in boys, and early breast development in both boys and girls. This is due to the characterization of phthalates as a xenoestrogen. Xenoestrogens disguise themselves as estrogenic hormones in the body, silently causing damage while the mother is unaware of what is happening.
Phthalates are commonly found in perfumes, hair spray, nail polish, deodorants, and lotions, as well as plastic packaging and toys. As mentioned before, they are difficult to identify on an ingredients label. However, they are commonly hidden under the term “fragrance.”
Think of parabens as the just-as-evil cousin to phthalates. Parabens are also estrogen-mimicking preservatives widely found in cosmetics and skin care products. And, like phthalates, they are not always listed on ingredients labels.
Parabens can age the skin and penetrate into the body tissue.
Among the most disturbing information about parabens is that they have been found in breast cancer tumors. As a xenoestrogen, there is also evidence that suggests they may disrupt the endocrine system and cause developmental and reproductive disorders. When applied topically, studies have shown that parabens can age the skin and penetrate it to migrate into the body tissue. Even more discomforting is that the U.S. Center for Disease Control has detected parabens in virtually all American’s bodies. So how do we elude something that seems so unavoidable?
To steer clear of parabens, keep an eye out for the prefixes methyl, butyl, ethyl, propyl, and isopropyl. Hydroxybenzoic acid and hydroxybenzoate are also common names that parabens hide behind.
#5: Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives
Formaldehyde is a restricted ingredient in cosmetics in Canada — go Canada! As a known human carcinogen, it is not surprising that steps are being taken to ban this toxic ingredient.
However, there are many ingredients that can release low levels of formaldehyde that have not been banned. DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, methenamine, quarternium-15, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate are all formaldehyde-releasing preservatives to look out for on ingredients labels.
Formaldehyde and the preservatives listed above are widely used in hair products, moisturizers, nail polish, body wash, and cosmetics. When present in these products, people can be exposed by inhaling it, ingesting it, or by absorbing it through the skin. This can lead to allergic skin reactions, rashes, and irritation in the eyes.
How to Avoid Toxins & Stay Sane
For many, a commitment to health might sound more like a commitment to paranoia and deprivation, but that does not need to be the case. Yes, it is certainly overwhelming to add more things to watch out for on top of our already existing concerns. But, there are natural, eco-friendly products out there that are meant to make this simpler for you.
Reduce the number of products you're using to reduce your chemical exposure.
Activist Skincare gives your skin the treatment it needs while ensuring that only the safest ingredients are used. As a holistically-minded company, we're committed to using the highest standard of ingredients, meaning you don’t have to worry about unlisted or disguised chemicals in your products. And when you get a custom-formulated skincare product that is tailor-made to you, you're able to reduce the total number of products you're using and therefore the number of chemicals you're exposed to.
This article is not intended to invoke fear, but rather to inform. Replace the word “paranoid” with “informed” in your vocabulary, and you have already taken the first step. Being informed will allow you to make more educated and conscious choices for yourself, for your family, and for the planet as a whole. As an aware consumer, you can contribute to a healthier lifestyle in others and a more sustainable world. How cool is that?