When it comes to choosing beauty products, the best advice for consumers is that simpler is better. It’s not always possible to use certified organic products, but it is possible to become educated about the ingredients to avoid. “Choose products with fewer synthetic chemicals, avoid synthetic fragrances, and use fewer products overall,” advises Stacy Malkin, co-founder of Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry. “It is especially important to reduce chemical exposures if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or have small children,” she adds.
We asked Malkin to share those ingredients that the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found to be the most problematic, and you’ll find them listed below. Few cosmetics ingredients have been assessed for long-term health impacts, but those that have—and are known or suspected to be toxic—are still allowed in cosmetics.
Toxic to the brain and reproductive system, possible human carcinogen, and linked to kidney damage. Mercury is found in some eye drops, ointments, mascaras, and skin-lightening creams.
2. Lead Acetate
This compound of lead is a known human reproductive and developmental toxicant and is banned from cosmetics in Europe. Found in some hair dyes and cleansers sold in the U.S.
These chemicals are linked to birth defects, infertility, and reproductive harm. Found in some nail polishes, fragrances, and hair sprays.
A mixture of chemicals that are not disclosed on labels, likely to contain phthalates. Many fragrances have also been found to contain sensitizing chemicals linked to breathing difficulties, headaches, and other allergy symptoms. Found in shampoos, lotions, deodorants, body sprays, perfumes, and colognes.
Toxic to the brain and skin and a possible human carcinogen, hydroquinone can also cause a skin disease called ochronosis that leaves irreversible black-blue lesions on skin. Found in some skin lightening products and moisturizers.
Extremely tiny particles which are largely untested and unlabeled in personal-care products, capable of being absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Found in some eye shadows, bronzers, sunscreens, lotions, and other personal-care products.
Placenta produces progesterone, estrogen, and other hormones that can interfere with the body’s normal hormone functions and may cause an increased risk of serious health problems, such as breast cancer, when used in cosmetics. Sometimes used in hair relaxers, moisturizers, toners, and hair conditioners.
The byproducts of crude oil (appearing on labels as petrolatum, mineral oil, paraffin, and petroleum distillates) may contain known or suspected human carcinogens as well as harmful breakdown chemicals that are not listed on product labels. Found in some hair relaxers, shampoos, anti-aging creams, mascaras, perfumes, foundations, lipsticks, and lip balms.
For more information, go to www.safecosmetics.org.