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Published on May 20th, 2008 | by Stephanie Evans

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8 Cosmetic Chemical Offenses

The skin a very permeable organ, so it’s important to know exactly what you’re putting on it.

Because manufacturers can be tricky with their “made from coconut/corn” advertising claims, make sure to watch out for the worst chemical offenses in the realm of cosmetics:

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  • Phthalates.
    Found mostly in nail polishes, these estrogen-mimickers can wreak havoc on the endocrine systems of consumers, causing unwelcome hormonal effects.
  • Lead. You may think that this well-known health hazard has been removed from all cosmetics, but certain types of hair dye still contain it.  Lead acetate has been rated by Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Databse—the Environmental Working Group’s database of product information—as a number 10 toxin.
  • Petroleum Products. These substances, also called petrolatum, can be difficult to spot due to their plethora of aliases.  BHA, a petroleum derivative, has been linked to cancer, developmental and reproductive damage, immune system toxicity, endocrine disruption, neurotoxicity, and environmental harm.Called trioxaundecanedioic acid, toluene, and 4-amino-2-hydroxy-tuolene in many common products, this ingredient might be missed because of its many names, but if you follow the “I don’t recognize this and it’s not easily pronounced” rule, you’ll probably be able to avoid it.
  • Mercury. Also called thimerosal, this is the controversial ingredient blamed for children’s autism because of its use in vaccines.  While even the vaccine industry has removed most thimerosal from most of its products, some cosmetics still contain it, especially some cake-style mascaras.  Some homeopathic formulas have been tagged by Skin Deep for having mercury compounds in them, but the minuscule amounts found in these products are likely not going to cause harm.
  • Fragrance. This ingredient is so unregulated that cosmetics companies don’t even have to list what is in their fragrances!  Many fragrance ingredients are chemically-based, neurotoxic, and allergenic.  Hundreds of different chemicals may be used in its manufacture.
  • Formaldehyde. Also known by formalin, formic aldehyde, oxomethane, and oxymethylene, formaldehyde is used as a preservative.  It has been linked to cancer, cell changes, neurotoxicity, and developmental and reproductive harm. It is primarily used in nail polishes and hair bleach.
  • Propylene Glycol. Used as a wetting agent, propylene glycol is found in many lotions, moisturizers, and liquid foundations.  It has been linked to cancer, mutagenic changes, endocrine disruptions, skin irritation, skin rashes, and liver and kidney damage.
  • PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid). This used to be a common ingredient in many products, including sunscreen, until its possible carcinogenic properties were discovered. Yet you can still find it in some lip balms, shampoos, and body washes!  PABA has been linked to cancer, developmental damage, reproductive damage, cell level changes, and neurotoxicity.

There are many other ingredients that extensive research reveals as harmful to humans (not the mention the planet)—the list could be endless.  Reading the labels is your best defense against toxic cosmetics.  For information on toxins in mineral cosmetics, visit Mineral Cosmetics: Healthy or Hazardous?





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