5 Ingredients to Avoid in Personal Care Products

My dance years were a non-stop show of 90s music, loud costumes, and a lot of make-up. Backstage was a rain shower of sticky, shiny hairspray, buns and bright red lipstick, and layers upon layers of liquid foundation. We toted around miniature duffel bags of drugstore brand cosmetics from competition to recital to competition. Luckily I didn’t know then what I do now.

5 Ingredients to Avoid in Personal Care Products

Safer skincare and make-up hasn’t always been one of my interests.

But now it is. It makes complete sense for me. For someone who has cared about what I put IN my body for so many years, why would I not give the same attention to what I put ON my body? Personal care products have ingredient labels just as food products do, yet they do not get the same critical consideration.

The U.S. law that governs the multi-billion dollar cosmetics industry was passed 80 years ago(!) in 1938 and does not give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to ask cosmetic companies for safety data or issue recalls of cosmetics found to be unsafe.

Say what!?

In the United States, we ban a whopping 30 ingredients from cosmetics, while the European Union bans close to 1,400. In the U.S., it is entirely legal for companies to use toxic chemicals in the products that we put on our bodies every day – even if the ingredients are linked to health issues. Essentially, there is lack of regulation in the beauty industry when it comes to ingredients, and we slather them on ourselves and our families every day.

Not all chemical are bad. But toxic chemicals are, as you guessed it, not good for us. “Toxic” means those chemicals that can harm cells or organs, cause neurological damage, and/or alter important biological systems. In the case of cosmetics, toxic chemicals can enter our bodies through our skin, lips and nails when we apply products, and through our airways when we inhale particles from powders and sprays.

This post isn’t meant to overwhelm you as you make a mental note of all the products you have in your shower and bathroom cabinets. Rather, it is intended to shine a little light on this commonly ignored component of wellness so that the next time you’re restocking your shampoo or mascara, you’ll have more confidence selecting products as an informed consumer.

5 Personal Care Ingredients to Avoid

1. Parabens

Parabens are a preservatives commonly used to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. Parabens are endocrine (hormone) disruptors, which may alter important hormone mechanisms in our bodies. Methylparaben, isobutylparaben, propylparaben are the most common in personal care products and are concerning as they have estrogen-mimicking properties that may play a role in triggering certain cancers.

2. Phthalates

Phthalates (pronounced THAL-lates) make plastic more pliable (think shower curtains). In cosmetics, phthalates are used to make fragrances stick to skin, styling products malleable, and nail polish bend and stick to the curve of your nail.

Phthalates are highly suspected endocrine (hormone) disruptors with some reports of fetal birth defects.

Phthalates are not always labeled as they are likely considered by the producing company as an ingredient in their signature fragrance, whose lists are protected as “trade secret.”

3. Fragrance 

“Fragrance” is considered a trade secret, so companies don’t have to disclose what it is. Hundreds of chemicals can hide under the word “fragrance.” It is usually a synthetic concoction that includes phthalates and synthetic musks, which are hormone disruptors, as well as chemicals that are allergens and neurotoxins.

4. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is used in cosmetic products as a preservative and to prevent bacterial growth. This chemical was deemed as a human carcinogen by The International Agency for Research on Carcinogens and has also been linked to asthma, neurotoxicity, and developmental toxicity.

5. Oxybenzone 

Oxybenzone is a chemical sunscreen agent and ultraviolet light absorber which was added to nearly 65 percent of the non-mineral sunscreens in EWG’s 2018 sunscreen database. Oxybenzone may cause allergic skin reactions and possible hormone disruption. Hawaii just passed a bill banning sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate because studies have shown they have been linked to the bleaching of coral reefs.

Safer Option: Beautycounter

Beautycounter is committed to a health and safety standard that goes well beyond what is legally required in the United States. Beautycounter excludes more than 1,500 questionable or harmful ingredients. Their high-performing, indulgent products are made mostly from responsibly sourced, plant-based ingredients and are rigorously screened to avoid potentially health disruptive ingredients on The Never List™. This list includes the five ingredients above along with thousands of other ingredients that have been associated with a variety of health disturbances.

— My Skin Story + Why Beautycounter

— My Current Favorite Beautycounter Products

Shop Beautycounter

Download the EWG’s Healthy Living App or use their Skin Deep Database to research the safety of your cosmetic and personal care products.

Do you have any favorite safer skincare brands?

Originally published July 11, 2018.