What Are the Chemicals in My Beauty Routine Doing to Me?

by Rachel Collins

Everything is made up of chemicals. Your breakfast, parts of your car, the sidewalk, your clothing, and all matter that you interact with at any given moment consists of these substances. When we talk about chemicals in our food and products, there is a distinction, as some chemicals can be harmful or toxic.

Beauty is no exception, and for the most part, makeup, skincare, and other personal products are used daily. Keep in mind that some products are gentle, but others are not, and may be linked to diseases such as lung, liver, or kidney cancer. 

While there are lots of lists and guidelines for you to identify bad skincare ingredients, there are a few that stick out. This list is not exhaustive, but it will get you started on what to watch out for when purchasing products.

What Ingredients to Avoid in Skincare

Avoiding the following ingredients–some highly toxic and others better to keep away from in general–will only benefit you. There are plenty of alternatives and clean beauty lines, which guarantee a more environmentally friendly and safe product for you and your family.

1.    Phthalates in Cosmetics

Phthalate exposure can come from perfumes, nail polishes, shampoo, or hairspray, and is a rampant issue, mostly concerning children and fertile women. There has not been much research for any long-term symptoms, but studies suggest that phthalates can disrupt hormonal balance and reproductive systems. Allergies, asthma, premature puberty, eczema, and lowered IQ are all connected to phthalates and this chemical may also be a potential carcinogen. A lot of researchers have also considered a link to detrimental effects on the liver, kidneys, and immune system.

You can look for phthalates on the ingredients list, but they may be under the title “fragrance,” so it is ideal to purchase from brands that are explicit about what they include in their products.

2.    Diethanolamine (DEA) Beauty Products

Alone, this chemical is benign. The problem is that DEA is added to soaps and shampoos to create a foaming texture. It may have a negative reaction with other ingredients and form nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA). Studies have shown that tests on laboratory rats with this reaction cause stomach, intestine, liver, and bladder cancer.

At this time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not banned DEA, as they don’t believe it is a critical risk. They do provide a list of ingredients that may contain DEA, which can help you find them if you want to avoid DEA.

3.    Products With Heavy Metals

Heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, nickel, and lead are all considered “a serious threat,” as evaluated by ScienceDirect. Various products like lipstick, hair dyes, whitening creams, foundations, and sunblock creams were tested for five safety measures: systemic exposure dosage (SED), the margin of safety (MoS), hazard quotient (HQ), hazard index (HI), and lifetime cancer risk (LCR). According to their findings the continued use of products with heavy metals “can cause serious threat to human health, particularly skin cancer on long time exposure.”

Unfortunately, heavy metals are not always listed clearly on the ingredients list, making them challenging to avoid. For products that are more likely to contain heavy metals, you can opt to limit use or shop strictly clean beauty products that are honest about their ingredients.

4.    Talc & Asbestos in Makeup

Talc has had a long history with asbestos. Like DEA, talc is safe on its own. However, talc and asbestos deposits are found together, which leads to frequent contamination. Asbestos is a known carcinogenic fiber associated with mesothelioma. As talc boosts the powdery consistency of many beauty products, there could be an increased risk of asbestos exposure.

When shopping for cosmetics, talc has a variety of names like talcum, talc powder, or magnesium silicate. You can use makeup with talc but be aware that talc could contain asbestos.

Bottom Line

What you put on your skin and in your hair matters. As there are chemicals that can have lasting health effects on your body, you should be aware of what lotion you are applying or the powders in your makeup bag. The FDA does not have tight regulations to monitor these toxins in cosmetics. Recalls are voluntary and although the FDA does not manage production prior to products going on the market, they can test for specific ingredients. As an informed consumer, you have the ability to learn about chemicals to prepare you for a healthier lifestyle.

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