On average, women apply over 168 different chemicals to their body every day. However, most of the beauty products on the market contain toxic chemicals, including endocrine disruptors and known carcinogens (cancer-causing).
We need to highlight endocrine disruptors when it comes to acne. These chemicals mimic hormones in the body and can lead to hormonal imbalances. An imbalance in hormones is a big contributing cause of acne.
Another contributor? Liver toxicity.
The things you eat, drink, or apply to your skin must be filtered by the liver. Which, in theory, is a cake walk because your liver is designed to do this. The issue arises when it becomes inundated with the abundance of chemicals we ingest and apply.
Pre-market safety testing is NOT required for the industrial chemicals that go into your personal care products. They are regulated only after a complaint is made. Researchers have found common cosmetic ingredients in human tissues, including fragrance components in human fat, parabens in breast tumour tissue, and phthalates in urine.
Like many women, I didn’t know how harmful those ingredients are. It wasn’t until I read There’s Lead in Your Lipstick by Gillian Deacon that I learned all of the beauty products I used were filled with toxic ingredients.
BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are synthetic antioxidants used as preservatives in cosmetics like moisturizers and lipsticks. They are possible human carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and may contribute to allergic reactions on the skin.
Coal tar is a combination of several chemicals derived from petroleum. The ingredient is often found in cosmetics and hair dyes (darker colours contain more than light dyes). Coal tar is identified by a five-digit Colour Index (C.I.) number or listed as FD&C or D&C. When you read the ingredient list, look for p-phenylenediamine, aminophenol, diaminobenzene and colors that begin in “CI” followed by a 5 digit number (e.g. CI 19140). Coal tar and coal tar dyes are suspected human carcinogens, skin irritants, and very toxic to aquatic life.
This group of chemicals are foaming agents and they help to adjust the pH of a product. They are often found in moisturizers, sunscreens, soaps, and cleansers. DEA, MEA, and TEA are known to cause mild to moderate skin and eye irritation, and they are slightly toxic to aquatic life. In laboratory experiments, they have been shown to cause liver cancer at high doses. They can also react with nitrates to form nitrosamines, which are possibly carcinogenic.
These agents are used as preservatives in many personal care products. They are found in hair products, moisturisers, baby products, and makeup, and listed as Quaternium-15, DMDM hydration, Diazolidinyl Urea (Germall), and Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate (suttocide). Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are carcinogenic and can irritate the eyes and skin.
Products containing “fragrance” or “parfum” include hundreds to thousands of different ingredients not listed on the label. They are usually found in perfume, cologne, deodorant, cleaning products, candles, air fresheners, and almost every personal care product (even those labelled “fragrance-free” or “unscented”). A lot of the chemicals used in fragrances have not been tested for toxicity, alone or together. However, research shows these toxic ingredients are irritants, can trigger allergies, migraines, asthma symptoms, and usually include phthalates (see below).
Mineral oil is a by-product of petroleum. It’s found in baby oil, moisturizers, and petroleum jelly (Vaseline) to trap moisture in the skin. Mineral oil is also in lip glosses, lipsticks, foundations, and hair products to make your hair shiny. It coats the skin like saran wrap, which clogs your pores. This inhibits your skin’s ability to release toxins, promoting acne and other issues. Mineral oil can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) as well. Exposure to PAHs is linked to cancer and can cause skin irritation and allergies.
Parabens are preservatives commonly found in moisturizers, toothpaste, shampoo, and makeup. They are also used in some fragrances, but you won’t find that listed on the label. On average, women are exposed to 50 mg per day through personal care products. These nasty ingredients can interfere with hormone function, male reproductive functions, and mimic estrogen. Parabens have also been detected in human breast cancer tissues. When applied to the skin, they react with UVB light, leading to increased aging and DNA damage.
This harmful ingredient is mainly used to make plastic flexible and strong, and in nail polish to prevent it from becoming brittle. Phthalates are also an ingredient in fragrances, but are not listed on the label. Other sources are perfume, eye shadow, moisturizer, deodorant, liquid soap, shampoo, conditioner, and hairspray. Phthalates may be an endocrine disruptor as they interfere with hormone function. Health Canada suggests phthalates can cause liver, kidney, and lung damage as well.
PEG is used as a thickener, softener, solvent, and keeps moisture in your skin. It’s often found in cleansers to dissolve oil and grease. They’re also used in pharmaceuticals as laxatives. PEGs can be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, which are possibly carcinogenic. PEGs show evidence of genotoxicity and if used on broken skin can cause irritation and systemic toxicity. They also increase permeability of the skin, allowing for greater absorption of other harmful ingredients.
The purpose of these silicone-based compounds are to smooth, soften, and moisten. They are found in hair products, deodorant, moisturizers and facial treatments. On the product’s ingredient list, look for things ending in “-siloxane” or “-methicone.” Siloxanes and silicones are suspected endocrine disruptors and possible reproductive toxicants. They are also harmful to the environment and influence neurotransmitters in the nervous system.
SLS and SLES are used as detergent and foaming agents. They are often found in facial cleansers, shampoos, shower gels, and household cleaning products like dish soap. SLS and SLES can be contaminated during the manufacturing process with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, which are possible human carcinogens. They are also toxic to aquatic organisms, and skin, eye, and respiratory tract irritants.
This antibacterial agent is used in laundry detergent, facial tissues, and antiseptics for wounds. It is also found in antiperspirants and deodorants, toothpaste, mouthwash, cleansers, and hand sanitizers as a preservative. Triclosan can disrupt hormone function, irritate the eyes and skin, and it’s very toxic to aquatic life because it doesn’t break down in nature. It may contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria as well.
I highly recommend EWG’s Skin Deep to easily check the toxicity of your products. They have thousands of products in their database. And if you can’t find one, you can create your own report by copying and pasting the ingredients into their report builder.
Personally, I recommend (and use) BeautyCounter skincare and makeup products for my clients. They’re a clean and safe brand free from the dirty dozen below (and another 1800+ ingredients).