by Diane di Costanzo
In pursuit of cleanliness and beauty, we buy approximately $20 billion worth of personal care products every year. Unfortunately, many ingredients in these potions and lotions have the opposite effect on the planet—and some of them are linked to damaging effects on human health. And unlike the pharmaceutical industry, the government does not require safety testing for these products before they go to market. Updating "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" (GG94), we've culled a list of the worst of the worst, ten chemicals you do not want on your skin.
Found in cleansers, deodorants and other cosmetic products, antibacterial agents such as Triclosan encourage the rise of drug-resistant bacteria, according to a studies in the April 1999 Journal of Biological Chemistry and the July 13 2000 Nature.
So-called coal-tar chemicals are found in many "FD&C" or "D&C" colors used in makeup and hair dye. FD&C Blue 1 and FD &C Green 3 are carcinogenic, and impurities in other colors -- D&C Red 33, FD&C Yellow 5 and FD&C Yellow 6 -- have been shown to cause cancer when applied to the skin.
Widely used in shampoos, DEA is a suspected carcinogen, and its compounds and derivatives include triethanolamine (TEA), which can be contaminated with nitrosamines -- compounds shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Contamination is more likely if the product also contains Bronopol (see above).
Found in eye shadows, mascaras and other cosmetics, formaldehyde is "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen," according to the National Toxicology Program's "Ninth Report on Carcinogens" (January 2001). The EPA classifies it as a probable human carcinogen.
In its liquid state, formaldehyde, present in the ingredients DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, and quaternium-15, can be absorbed through the skin and nails. As a volatile organic compound, or VOC, formaldehyde evaporates when the product is wet; levels drop sharply once it's dry. Consumer concern has led many manufacturers to remove it from their nail polishes. Quaternium-15 causes more dermatitis complaints than any other preservative, according to the
Widely used industrial solvents found in nail polish, deodorant, perfumes and other cosmetics, some glycol ethers are hazardous to the reproductive system. Other effects of overexposure include anemia and irritation of the skin, eyes, nose and throat. Avoid those listed on labels as EGPE, EGME,EGEE, DEGBE, PGME, DPGME and those with "methyl" in their names.
HEAVY METALS: LEAD AND MERCURY
A brain- and nervous-system toxin as well as a known carcinogen and hormone disruptor, lead accumulates in the bones. It is found in lead acetate in hair dyes and makeup.
Mercury: A tiny amount of this potent nervous-system toxin, which accumulates in the body, is allowed as a preservative in eye-area cosmetics.
PETROLATUM (vaseline, petroleum jelly)
Commonly used in cold creams, lipsticks, lip protection, baby creams, eye shadows. Petrolatum can cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Furthermore, since it is a petroleum product, its use depletes a non-renewable resource.
Found in many hairdyes,PPD is linked with skin irritations, and respiratory disorders. PPD is mutagenic and reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen, and has been banned in
Used widely in fragrances, deodorants, nail polishes, hair products and lotions, the oily texture of phthalates acts like a moisturizer and helps lotions penetrate skin. Various members of this family of chemical plasticizers have been found to produce cancer of the liver and birth defects in lab animals. Since, phthalates often "hide" behind the term "fragrance;" choose products labeled "fragrance-free" or that are scented exclusively with pure botanical or essential oils.
SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE (SLS)
The Cosmetics Ingredient Review (CIR), a panel of cosmetics-industry experts established to safety-test ingredients (cir-safety.org), reported that SLS also causes "severe epidermal changes" to mouse skin, a finding that "indicates a need for tumor-enhancing activity assays." This year, after review of over 250 existing SLS studies, the CIR concluded that SLS is not cancer-causing. However, Samuel Epstein, M.D., says he is not convinced and recommends avoiding SLS.
This solvent found in nail products can cause liver damage and is irritating to the skin and respiratory tract.