April 21, 2016
Last Updated:
March 4, 2021

These Chemicals Could Be Lurking In Your Beauty Products

Americans are increasingly speaking out about the dangers lurking in some foods—such as antibiotics and artificial food coloring—but ingredients in our cosmetics bags are often ignored. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the personal care products industry is largely unregulated, meaning you could be slathering questionable chemicals onto your skin and hair every day. Here are some of the ingredients to avoid for a healthier you, inside and out:

Next time you’re buying makeup, lotion or shampoo, look for ingredients on the labels that end in “paraben.” Studies have linked the long-chained forms of this preservative to reproductive issues in women. In particular, steer clear of the hard-to-pronounce ones including propylparaben, isopropylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben, the EWG says.

The FDA already advises parents to avoid using BHA-containing products (beta hydroxy acids) on their infants and children, so why not avoid it as an adult, too (just in case)? While the FDA has tentatively concluded that BHA doesn’t pose a threat to adults, they’re continuing to evaluate its long-term safety. In addition, groups including the EWG remain concerned that BHA may cause endocrine disruption and is a possible carcinogen. When checking your ingredient labels, keep in mind that BHA may also be listed as salicylic acid (most commonly used in cosmetics), beta hydroxybutanoic acid, tropic acid and trethocanic acid.

Triclosan is an ingredient found in some toothpastes as well as antibacterial soaps and body washes. In 2014, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill banning triclosan-containing products in the state (except for individual products approved from the FDA). The bill goes into effect in 2017. Although the verdict is still out on the health effects of triclosan, some studies suggest it may create antibiotic resistance, as well as hormonal effects. The FDA is performing ongoing reviews of the ingredient as of the last consumer update, but currently the administration says triclosan isn’t known to be hazardous to humans. But if you can, why not try to avoid the ingredient in your personal care products? Again, just in case.

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If you’re prone to skin allergies, you may want to stay away from cosmetics with “fragrance” listed in the ingredients. After all, the FDA doesn’t have the same legal authority to require allergen labels on cosmetics as it does for food—so if you have a fragrance sensitivity, this means you’re on your own to protect yourself. Fragrances are sometimes made with phthalates, which the FDA continues to monitor, but says there’s currently no clear evidence that the ingredient poses a health risk. However, the EWG has placed phthalates on its “Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disruptors” list, saying studies have linked it to hormonal changes, obesity, diabetes and thyroid issues.

Avoiding all chemicals in personal care products can be super tricky, not to mention next to impossible. But the more you can avoid chemicals, the better. When in doubt, get creative and make your own natural products with ingredients such as aloe and coconut oil. And be sure to check out our list of DIY beauty recipes.

Do your cosmetics contain these ingredients? Share your thoughts in the comments below.  

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