by Jaclyn Lupo
Every day, new products are introduced to the beauty market. However, many of them have little to no transparency with regards to toxic ingredients.. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have to approve any cosmetic products before being released into the market. If a business properly labels a product using the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and is honest with the purpose of the product, abiding by the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, then it is perfectly okay for it to be sold to the public, no matter what it contains. Essentially, we’re trusting the beauty companies to choose safe ingredients for us. Unfortunately, more often than not, the innocent products we use every day are packed with harmful chemicals that can be detrimental to our overall health. It’s time to reset our beauty routines by finding products that are safe, non-toxic, and rejuvenating.
Let’s talk about what “clean beauty” means:
The industry allows companies to market their products as “clean” and “natural” without having to meet any criteria. That means that if we truly want to make our beauty routines healthier, it’s up to us, the consumers, to do our research. From deodorants ans shampoos, to face cleansers and lip balms, responsible brands are beginning to update their formulas to prioritize users’ safety. However, it can be tricky to spot an authentically clean product when the market is filled with items that have hidden, harmful ingredients.
Most beauty products are processed, meaning preservatives are added to elongate their shelf life. Even though the preservatives aren't directly a part of the product, they are still in the formula, which means those chemicals are still making their way into the body. Clean beauty is complicated because a product can have good ingredients, but through processing those good ingredients can easily turn bad.
I’ve always believed that cosmetics should be made in the kitchen, not the laboratory. We should proceed with the same caution towards skincare as we do towards healthcare... The skin “eats'' whatever is placed on it. Our overall health relies on everything we consume, including topical application, which is how most beauty products are applied.
There are plenty of ingredients you should avoid, no matter what. Here’s a quick list of those toxic contents and the effects of daily exposure.
These human-made chemicals are used as preservatives in cosmetics to increase their shelf lives. However, parabens are known to disturb the balance of hormones since they mimic estrogen in the body. Repeated exposure to parabens is concerning because they affect reproductive organs and can ultimately increase one’s risk of cancer. Often, long-chain parabens are listed on products, meaning there will be a prefix in front of the word “paraben.” Some common ones are isobutyl-, butyl-, isopropyl- and propyl paraben.
This is a blanket term disguising all the chemicals used to make a product smell amazing. Since fragrances are considered unique to each brand, they do not have to disclose their formula, and thus, they can disguise the harmful ingredients used. However, phthalates are added to fragrances to make them last longer and they are easier to spot. They are abbreviated as EP, BBzP, DBP, and DEHP on an ingredient list. Phthalates have been linked to hormonal harm, leading to breast cancers, and reproductive problems for both men and women.
3. Aluminum Compounds
Usually found in deodorants and antiperspirants, aluminum is one of the most dangerous metals used in cosmetics. According to recent studies of breast cancer, 1 in 8 US women is expected to develop breast cancer in her lifetime. This terrifying statistic forces us to question the effects of what we are putting on our bodies, especially since many breast cancers are detected close to the armpit where these products are applied. Back in 2009, evidence was released linking aluminum usage to breast cancer. Although the American Cancer Society claims there is not enough data to draw this conclusion, if there’s anything we’ve learned about the way the U.S. government interacts with the cosmetic industry, it’s that the health of the consumer is not prioritized. Stay safe, and steer clear of any product containing aluminum.
4. Ethoxylated Agents
More commonly known as sulfates, these are the ingredients responsible for that bubbly lather found in shampoos and cleansers. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and polyethylene glycols (PEGs) are not considered “toxic”, however, they are known to lead to a variety of skin and eye irritations. Essentially, these harsh chemicals strip the skin and hair of their natural oils, aggravating the skin when used repeatedly.
Often found in Keratin treatments, this ingredient is usually hidden as methylene glycol, formalin, methanol, and methanethiol. When mixed with water during the treatment, the carcinogenic compound is released, leading to a series of risks. The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says common side effects of formaldehyde poisoning are itchy eyes, a sore throat, and nosebleeds. Additionally, the FDA issued a warning that formulas can falsely claim to be “natural” and “organic” or “formaldehyde-free,” so be prudent in choosing your Keratin treatments.
6. Refined Petroleum
This moisturizing agent is harmful to both the environment and human health. In 2011, there was evidence found that mineral oil, aka petroleum, was the number one pollutant in women's bodies. A scarier fact is that vehicle antifreeze, styrofoam, and many facial moisturizers have one thing in common...petroleum as an ingredient.
Powders and eyeshadows usually contain talc. The problem? Impurified talc can contain human carcinogens, aka substances capable of causing cancer. Johnson & Johnson was recently investigated for the presence of talc in their baby powders, directly linked to dangerous cancers.
Make sure your hand sanitizer does not contain triclosan. This ingredient leads to liver fibrosis, skin cancers, hormone disruption, and can even develop bad bacteria on your skin! The FDA issued an official ban on this one, but still, be conscious and double-check that the formula you use doesn’t contain Triclosan..
Amorphous silica is the only silicon that is allowed in cosmetics. However, this is often contaminated with crystalline silica, a known human carcinogen. In many products, traces of crystalline silica have been found, even though it is not on the label. Proceed with caution when using a product with silicon, knowing that there is a high chance it contains the unsafe, carcinogenic version of silicon.
This ingredient is used in chemical sunscreens, it’s also known as BP3. Oxybenzone messes with human hormones and can lead to infertility, birthing defects, and cancer. This ingredient is also extremely harmful to aquatic ecosystems and has contributed to the destruction of the planet’ coral reefs.
Wow, let’s take a deep breath. Before you start worrying about all the harmful chemicals you’ve been exposing yourself to for years, know that you have taken the first step towards a cleaner and safer beauty routine.
If I haven’t convinced you already that these toxic ingredients are terrible, beauty brand OY-L’s founder, Andrea Pierce-Naymon, drew a connection between her teenager’s “innocent” acne products and her diagnosis of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). By using the Think Dirty app, Andrea found that many products used by her daughter were rated dangerously toxic. Alarmed by the dangerous side-effects of what her daughter was using every day, she created a clean beauty brand that focuses on using pure, naturally-derived ingredients . Her mission is to provide “beauty without secrets” and educate people on what’s really in cosmetics products so the public understands the toxicity of the industry. All of the OY-L products are made to order with proven-safe contents.
Hopefully, you will want to build a truly natural and clean beauty routine. Please remember, this is a journey. Take it one step at a time, instead of replacing all your products at once, try changing your deodorant this week, then your facial moisturizer the next, and so on.
All in all, it’s not the label that makes a product natural, it’s the contents of that product. our responsibility to know what’s inside the formulas we use. The beauty industry is beginning to shift towards more ethical and sustainable practices, which makes it easier to find safe products for your skincare routine. Do your research and read the ingredient labels.. I challenge you to put your health first. Question what the companies are selling to you, and please make an effort to know exactly what you are feeding onto your beautiful body everyday.
Jaclyn Lupo is an editorial writer passionate about fashion, sustainability and culture.