10 Nasty Toxins Found in Mass Market Beauty
If you’re anything like us, you probably try your best to live a healthy lifestyle. You watch what you eat; choose local, clean and organic foods when possible; and make sure to get movement in every week. Maybe you’ve even taken a look at some of the household cleaners and laundry detergents in your home and switched them out for cleaner, more environmentally friendly options.
But have you taken a look at your skincare, bath, body, or makeup products? Your skin absorbs up to 60% of what you put on it, yet so many of us are completely unaware of what’s inside our products. The truth is, what you put on your body is just as important as what you put in it.
It can be difficult to sift through all of the claims made by beauty companies out there. They use terms like “natural,” “organic,” “clean,” “non-toxic,” “chemical-free,” “plant-based,” “cruelty-free”—but what does it all mean? This guide will help you look out for your health by giving you the resources needed to identify skincare, bath, body, makeup, and hair products that are safe and effective.
Lack of Regulation of the US Beauty Industry
The US government doesn’t have our backs—or any part of our bodies, for that matter. If you assumed they were regulating the ingredients that go into your beauty products, you’re unfortunately wrong. In the US, there is no governmental task force inspecting chemicals and ingredients used in personal care items. No one is looking to make sure your soap, lotion, or makeup is safe to use. So ingredients that have been scientifically linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and Alzheimer’s disease are allowed in personal care products.
The last time Congress passed regulatory legislation for personal care products was in 1938, when they restricted just 11 ingredients. That pales in comparison to other parts of the world. In Europe, 1,500 toxic substances are actually banned from personal care products, and Canada bans a list of 500. In the United States, we have banned just 30 ingredients since 1938.
How is this possible? Beauty companies are not required to provide human health data, nor are they required to provide full ingredient disclosure. There are no safety or sanitary inspections for the facilities or laboratories for this industry. The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act basically allows manufacturers to put whatever they want in their products, and the FDA doesn’t even have the power to recall products.
Some states are taking matters into their own hands, with initiatives such as California’s Prop 65 legislation. Prop 65 was passed in 1986 to reduce or eliminate exposures to toxic chemicals by requiring warnings in advance of those exposures. Prop 65 regulates substances officially listed by California as having a 1 in 100,000 chance of causing cancer over a 70-year period, or of causing birth defects or other reproductive harm. Any product containing these harmful ingredients that’s sold in the state must be labeled with a Prop 65 label to alert consumers of the risk. All substances listed show their known risk factors, a unique CAS chemical classification number, the date they were listed, and, if so, whether they have been delisted.
In the absence of government oversight, it’s essential for you as a consumer to look out for your own health.
Guide to Common Toxins
Many people use the word “chemical” to describe the bad ingredients, but that’s not exactly accurate. Even water—H20—is a chemical. Instead, we use the word “toxins” to describe ingredients that can be harmful for different reasons. Some may cause cancer or be linked to infertility, while others our bodies just don’t know how to process. Toxic ingredients are put into beauty products to make them feel or act in the way we expect or to give them a longer shelf life. At Follain, we ensure every ingredient in the products we sell plays a positive role in your health. We restrict substances that are known to be harmful to your health or the environment. For those where the science is iffy, we look for replacement ingredients that have no dubious health impact. For more details, see the full Follain Restricted Ingredients List.
When you shop at Follain, you can be rest assured that every product you encounter is safe and vetted by experts, including our Advisory Board. But if you’re shopping at other retailers, be sure to read your ingredient labels just like you do for food. Here are some of the top substances to avoid:
Commonly listed as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), these chemical surfactants are found in many personal care products: soaps, body washes, facial cleansers, shampoos, conditioners, and toothpaste. They’re responsible for producing that lather we like and the suds we think indicate that we’re getting super clean.
Why to Avoid Sufates
Sulfates can trigger allergies and cause skin and eye irritation, and they have been found to be contaminated with 1,4–dioxane, a suspected carcinogen that’s also associated with organ toxicity and birth defects.
Aluminum is used in antiperspirants to stop you from sweating. It works by blocking the sweat ducts preventing the sweat from getting to the skin’s surface.|
Why to Avoid Aluminum
Our bodies sweat in order to push out toxins and clean its systems. Antiperspirant prevents this normal process, trapping toxins inside our bodies as a result. Aluminum has also been linked to neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, and even cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
3. Synthetic Fragrance
If you see any products with “Fragrance” listed as an ingredient, beware. Fragrance and flavor formulations are considered “trade secrets” and companies have managed to convince the government that their ingredients should not have to be revealed. An engineered scent or flavoring agent can contain anywhere from dozens to thousands of chemical ingredients. There’s no way to know what’s inside, but many contain carcinogens such as Butoxyethanol or Phthalates. If a brand isn’t willing to tell you what ingredients their products are made of, it’s impossible to know if they’re safe. Do yourself a favor and support truly transparent brands instead.
Why to Avoid Synthetic Fragrance
Synthetic fragrances are known to cause skin and respiratory irritation, triggering allergies, migraines, and asthma attacks. They also contain potential carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, and have been linked to neurotoxicity and birth defects.
These are anti-microbial agents commonly used as preservatives to extend the shelf life of beauty products. You can find them in a wide variety of cosmetic products, including deodorant, shampoo, conditioner.
Why to Avoid Parabens
Parabens have been linked to cancer due to their potential developmental, reproductive, and immune toxicity. They can also pose a threat to the endocrine system (aka, your hormones).
Frequently used as preservatives, these heavy metals are inhibit spoilage by preventing the growth of bacteria, yeast, and/or mold in a product. Mercury and its compounds are mainly found in conventional makeup products like eyeliner and mascara.
Why to Avoid Mercury
Overexposure to heavy metals can cause nervous system damage, and you’re exposed to this toxin in many ways that are likely out of your control: water, dust, foods. That said, it’s best to limit the exposure on things you can control, especially when there are so many choices without mercury. Mercury has also been linked to organ and developmental toxicity.
This chemical is bleach-based and decreases the production of melanin pigments in the skin. It’s often used in cleansers and moisturizers labeled as anti-aging or brightening, and can be found in conventional skincare treatments for hyper-pigmentation.
Why to Avoid Hydroquinone
Hydroquinone is a known carcinogen that removes the skin’s natural defense against the sun (i.e., its ability to tan) therefore increasing the risk of skin cancer.
This one is tricky because it is often listed using other names. Look for ingredients like DMDM hydantoin, Diazolidinyl urea (formaldehyde releasing), Imidazolidinyl urea (formaldehyde releasing), Quaternium-15 (formaldehyde releasing), Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol), Tosylamide (formaldehyde resin). It’s used as a preservative and you can find it in body wash, bubble bath, nail polish, and shampoo.
Why to Avoid Formaldehyde
In addition to causing skin and eye irritation as well as allergies, Formaldehyde is believed to be a carcinogen and linked to neurotoxicity and developmental toxicity impacting developing babies and children.
8. Mineral Oil and Petrolatum
Many conventional moisturizers and other hydrating skincare products contain mineral oils. The name may sound natural, but they are actually petrochemical by-products of oil and gas production. They may also be listed as paraffin or petrolatum.
Why to Avoid Mineral Oil and Petrolatum
Many are contaminated with PAHs, which are carcinogens and are also linked to skin sensitivities and allergies.
This is a very common preservative used in many clean skincare and cosmetic products to prevent the growth of bacteria and extend shelf life. It was originally thought to be a safe alternative to other conventional preservatives, but we changed our stance and officially banned it.
Why to Avoid Phenoxyethanol
Recent research has shown that it’s a skin irritant and nervous system suppressant, while also being linked to reduced fecundity (meaning longer times to get pregnant). However, there are alternatives available and many clean beauty brands have already formulated phenoxyethanol out of their products, so be sure to check the labels. Everything at Follain is phenoxyethanol-free.
These are used in all kinds of skincare, bath, and body products to help water mix with oils or to help with foaming. They are produced by reacting polyol, sorbitol, and ethylene oxide. Look for Polysorbate –20, -40, -60, -80 and others on labels.
Why to Avoid Polysorbates
The production of this ingredient is believed to be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide, both known carcinogens.
Why Clean Beauty Works
One of the myths about clean beauty is that the products don’t work as well as conventional products. That might have been true of your grandma’s home skin remedy, but in today’s world, many of the cleaner products are made with fresh, high-quality ingredients that contain nutrients your skin needs and knows how to use. Many conventional products are just like junk food: full of fillers or ingredients to make you think it’s working (like SLS causing suds).
Ready to Get Started With Clean Beauty?
So, you’re convinced and are ready to make the switch to clean beauty right away. It can seem overwhelming, but don’t worry—you don’t have to do it all at once and Follain is here to help! There are several categories that will have a larger impact than others; read our list of what beauty products you should swap our for clean alternatives first. Pick one and try it out, then add another. Every little bit helps, and before you know it, you’ll be completely clean.
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