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7 Most Harmful Body Pollutants in Your Beauty Products

by Staci Marks on April 10, 2012

We give very little thought to the products we use on our hair and skin beyond what we know via advertising. We may use expensive products recommended to us by beauticians, but often our choices are guided by which products will supposedly get rid of acne, make our hair look shiny, or smell the best. In truth, we should be basing our cosmetic purchase decisions on which products contain unsafe ingredients. So many of the products we know and trust could be doing serious damage to our health. In order to preserve the shelf life or create a bubbly texture, many of the products are laced with harmful chemicals that — with even moderate exposure — can cause cancer, hormonal imbalance, and other skin and organ abnormalities.

  1. Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate

    Sodium lauryl sulfate is a chemical found in most shampoos, soaps, and bubble baths that makes them foamy or sudsy. Before its usage in hair and skin products, it was used as a commercial floor cleaner made to degrease even the oiliest surfaces down to a raw finish. When combined with skin, it not only strips the oils, but erodes down several layers of skin causing it to flake off. When used on the scalp, it can corrode the hair follicle and stop growth altogether. Due to its low molecular weight, it is absorbed by the body and builds up in the heart, liver, and brain where it wreaks havoc. Ethoxylation is sometimes procured in sodium lauryl sulfate, which changes it to sodium laureth sulfate and makes it less corrosive. Many “organic” products that claim not to have sodium lauryl sulfate have this. However, the process of changing to the laureth alternative creates 1,4-dioxane, which causes hormonal problems and cancer.

  2. Diazolidinyl Urea

    Diazolidinyl urea is used in various cosmetics as a preservative. However, the component in it that acts as a preservative is formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is the same chemical used to embalm dead bodies, and in living people can cause irritation, gene mutations, and even cancer. In Europe, this ingredient has been banned for its tendency to cause contact dermatitis, joint and chest pain, and immune dysfunction, among many other symptoms. However, it is still readily used in the United States. Likewise, if “urea” sounds familiar, that’s because it is — it is derived from animal urine. Some products are required to put the warning “contains formaldehyde,” but in others, a thorough inspection of the label must be done to find diazolidinyl urea on the list.

  3. Diethanolamine

    Diethanolamine is a chemical that is routinely used as a wetting agent in shampoos, lotions, and other cosmetic creams. When these products have time to sit on the shelves of retail stores or in your bathroom cabinet, the diethanolamine reacts with other chemicals within in to produce the carcinogenic nitrosodiethanolamine. This is known to cause stomach, esophagus, liver and bladder cancers. And if you’re wondering why the FDA hasn’t eradicated products that use diethanolamine, they have. In 1979, the FDA required products to eliminate this chemical. Yet, it still exists on the shelves. The problem is that the FDA has very little power over what cosmetic and hair care companies add to their product.

  4. Ceteareth-20

    Ceteareth-20, used in some baby wipes and sensitive skin care products, contains Ethylene Oxide and 1,4-dioxane, both of which are known to have carcinogenic properties. Even though 1,4-dioxane can be removed from products to lift the risk, most cosmetic manufacturers simply opt not to do it. Ceteareth-20, specifically, is moderately dangerous; it is dependent on how it is used. Even at low doses, it causes irritation on the skin, predominantly around the eyes, mouth, and lips. Likewise, as an active penetration enhancer, it gets into your bloodstream at an accelerated pace. It is therefore shocking that it is used mainly in skincare products geared towards sensitive skin.

  5. PEGs

    PEG-100 Stearate is a compound made of natural oils and Stearic Acid to form water-soluble ester, although it also exists in synthetic derivatives. In the beauty care industry, it is often used in moisturizers. In general, the Environmental Working Group has linked PEGs to cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, contamination concerns, irritation, and organ system toxicity. According to the International Journal of Toxicology, the Ethylene Oxide found in PEGs can cause uterine, breast, and brain cancers as well as leukemia. When burn victims were treated with PEG-based antimicrobial cream, kidney toxicity was developed. Still, it continues to be FDA approved since it supposedly won’t do excessive damage to healthy skin, but why would you want to use a product that has been shown to have these associated dangers if your skin is healthy?

  6. Phthalates

    Phthalates are found in many cosmetics such as lotions, soaps, shampoos, and other cleansers, as they help hold color and scent, as well as in nail care products. Phthalates also cause extreme hormonal disruption, both in full grown adults and unborn children when pregnant women use products containing them. When pregnant women are exposed, phthalates can interfere with development, altering hormone levels, especially in baby boys. In grown men, phthalate exposure is associated with low sperm count and even infertility. They have also been shown to cause an increase in breast tumor cells and can cause anti-estrogen treatments to be less effective. Regardless of the obvious risks associated with phthalates, many companies refuse to list them on the labels, likely due to the obvious stigmatism against them. Thus, we have no real way to avoid them.

  7. Talc

    Talc is a mineral found mostly in powders, from baby powder to designer perfumed powders. It is also used in deodorants. When talc is processed from talc rocks to the trace minerals, asbestos-like fibers are not removed, which makes it dangerous. Asbestos is a carcinogen known for causing tumors in the ovaries and lungs of cancer victims, and talc particles incite the same response. Frighteningly, talc particles can even move through the female reproductive system and become embedded in the ovarian lining. Talc miners are subject to lung cancer from inhaling the powder and several thousand infants each year die or become sick from breathing in baby powder containing talc. Although the FDA made a resolution in 1973 to limit talc particles in various products, it was never followed through, and talc continues to exist in many of the powders we use today.

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