Today's world is full of toxins. Between the vehicle exhaust you breathe in while walking down the street and the chemicals found in everyday products, it's practically impossible to completely steer clear of carcinogens... but you'd like to try, right? Without spurring an alarmist reaction, it's important for you to understand that some of the products you use most frequently - your beauty supplies - could contain cancer-causing ingredients. This doesn't mean you need to start tearing through your makeup drawer, throwing everything away, but it does mean you need to educate yourself on the link between cosmetics and cancer and make wise decisions about your beauty product purchases. Here's a guide to help you better understand the cosmetics-cancer link.
Would you like some lead with your lipstick?
Headlines screamed "Lead found in lipstick" after a study by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was released in early 2012 citing more than 400 common lipsticks found with traces of the heavy metal. While the FDA asserts that, used as intended, there's no indication that traces of lead in lipstick could lead to health problems, neither the FDA nor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has set a safe limit for lead in cosmetics. In fact, the CDC even suggests that mothers of small children avoid cosmetics that may contain lead in order to reduce the likelihood that a child could develop lead poisoning. But with major cosmetics brands from Maybelline to M.A.C. appearing all over the list, it makes you wonder: 1) What else could be lurking in my makeup? and 2) How do I avoid potentially harmful substances when it's practically impossible to know what they're made of?
Irritants and carcinogens
There's no way around it - most cosmetics contain chemicals. Some of these are known irritants that have been linked to allergies and skin reactions, while others are outright carcinogens. If you know which ingredients to avoid, you'll be able to choose your cosmetics wisely.
Commonly found cosmetic skin irritants
- Acetone: Most commonly found in nail polish remover, acetone is an irritant that could lead to liver damage if inhaled or consumed directly or indirectly.
- Artificial (synthetic) colors and fragrances: Are known to cause skin irritation and/or allergic reaction in some users and may contain other harmful ingredients, including heavy metals - found in everything from shampoo to makeup; the FDA does not require companies to list the ingredients in a fragrance, and some fragrances contain as many as 4,000 different chemicals
- Benzoyl peroxide: A common acne treatment, benzoyl peroxide can irritate the skin and causes photosensitivity, so sun protection must be worn while using products containing this chemical
- Diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA), monoethenolamine (MEA): Used as emulsifiers and/or foaming agents in hair and skin care products; can cause skin and eye irritation
- Isopropyl Alcohol: Often found in body products, the side effects of skin absorption can include headache, dizziness, nausea and more, especially with continued or heavy use
- Lanolin: Cannot be used in its pure form due to its propensity to cause allergic reaction; lanolin found in cosmetics may be contaminated with various pesticides associated with cancer, like DDT
- Mineral oil: Derived from petroleum, it can lead to clogged pores and slow skin's natural development
- Phenylenediamin (PPD): Found in permanent hair dyes, it can cause mild or severe skin reactions and dermatitis
- Talc/talcum powder: If inhaled, can cause severe respiratory distress
- Ureas: Cosmetic preservatives that can release formaldehyde; Formaldehyde can cause respiratory irritation, skin irritation, allergies, headache, nausea and more
Commonly found cosmetic carcinogens
- Benzene: Found in nail polish and nail polish remover, Benzene is listed as a known carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP)
- 1,4-Dioxane (a contaminant): Petroleum-derived contaminant formed when manufacturing shampoo, body wash and other foaming/sudsing products; Listed as a possible carcinogen by the IARC and a "Reasonably Anticipated" carcinogen by the NTP
- Ethylene Oxide: Found in fragrances; listed as a known carcinogen by both the IARC and the NTP
- Titanium Dioxide and Triclosan (contaminants): Both are manufacturing byproducts that are known carcinogens of both agencies as well as endocrine system disrupters; Titanium Dioxide is found in sunscreens and mineral makeup, while Triclosan is found in soaps, toothpaste, mouthwash and personal care products
For a full list of chemical irritants and carcinogens, download these flyers from La Isha Cosmetics >>
Chemicals and ingredients that disrupt the endocrine system
While not listed as carcinogens by either the IARC or the NTP, some cosmetic ingredients are known to disrupt the endocrine system and hormone production. These chemicals are considered "estrogenic" and are particularly important when considering cancers that are related to hormones, like breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Estrogenic cosmetic chemicals
- Synthetic musks (xylene, ketone, ambretto): Found in fragrances
- Nonylphenol: Primarily found in lotions, but can be found in other products
- Parabens: Preservative found in a wide range of products, including creams and lotions
- Phthalates: Found in nail polishes and fragrances
- Placental extract: Found in shampoos, conditioners and hair products marketed to women of color
Making smart buying decisions
Even with your lists of "ingredients to avoid" in hand, it can be tough to know what products to buy. Do some research and check out sites like the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep website*, which provides a cosmetic database with safety information on more than 25,000 products. You can also learn more about the subject on Cosmetics Info.org, the American Cancer Society, The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the FDA. Ultimately, it's up to you to decide what level of chemical you're willing to put on or in your body each day, but knowledge is the first step toward a better, healthier future.
*Note: At the time this article was published, the Skin Deep website was being updated, but should be available again soon.
Header image credit: http://www.photl.com/255933.html