Cosmetic products are marketed with the promise of making the consumer more attractive in a variety ways, including clearer skin, shinier hair, less wrinkles, whiter teeth, stronger nails, so on and so on. But the truth is that many of these conventional products are loaded with ingredients that are not only bad for your health but bad for the environment too.
In 2010, the David Suzuki Foundation identified 12 sets of hazardous chemicals that are commonly included in the ingredients of cosmetic products. As described in more detail below, many of these chemibals have been identified as possible carcinogens or at the very least, mild irritants. The David Suzuki Foundation's Dirty Dozen list includes:
- BHA & BHT: common preservatives found in moisturizers and makeup and may cause cancer (BHA).
- Coal tar dyes: derived from petroleum, coal tar is recognized as a human carcinogen and is included in some hair dyes as well as a variety of other cosmetics. Coal dyes can be recognized as a 'C.I.' followed by a five digit number in the ingredients list.
- DEA-related ingredients: these are often found in creamy foaming products, such as moisturizers and shampoos and have been classified as possible human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
- Dibutyl phthalate: suspected of adversely affecting reproduction and healthy development, this chemical is often used as a plasticizer in nail care products.
- Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives: these chemicals are used in a multitude of cosmetic products as preservatives and are known causes of cancer.
- Paraben, methylparaben, butylparaben & propylparaben: used primarily as preservatives, these chemicals pose a possible threat to male reproductive functions.
- Parfum: synthetic fragrances, used in a variety of cosmetics, can bring on asthma attacks as well as trigger allergies.
- PEGs: often included in cream bases and can be contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, which could lead to cancer.
- Petrolatum: can be found in some hair care products to promote shine as well as some lip care products, such as lipstick, as a moisture barrier. It is sometimes contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which may cause cancer.
- Siloxanes: suspected of disrupting the endocrine system, a set of hormone secreting glands within the body, and may adversely affect reproduction. It is primarily used in cosmetics to soften, smooth and moisten.
- Sodium laureth sulfate: often included in foaming cosmetics and can be contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, which could lead to cancer.
- Triclosan: suspected of disrupting the endocrine system and may contribute to antibiotic resistance in bacteria. This chemical is often found in antibacterial cosmetics, such as toothpastes, cleansers and deodorants.
The really scary thing about these chemicals is that they are not limited to use in cosmetic products. Some may appear in the ingredients lists of industrial products or even house hold cleaners. The reason for their prevalence is not necessarily effectiveness, but rather that they are cheaper to use and easier to come by. Whatever the reason, it is best to avoid them whenever possible.
With a little time and research, anyone can make their own cosmetic products at home. But if that doesn't appeal there are several natural and alternative products on the market. The important thing is to read the labels carefully so as not to become the victim of yet anther 'green washing' campaign. A great resource for checking ingredients lists is the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. Their database can be used to get accurate and efficient information on a specific chemical or even a specific brand or product. Thanks to great resources like this and the David Suzuki Foundation, it is possible to make safe and educated decisions about your cosmetic products. Although it may seem a bit overwhelming and like a lot of hassle, it is all for the good of your health; and as l'Oreal would say, 'Because you're worth it!'.