Beauty, Features

Safe Cosmetics: What You Need to Know

The average American woman uses twelve personal care products per day, resulting in exposure to more than 120 chemicals. Many of these chemicals are likely linked to cancer, birth defects, asthma, allergies, and other health issues. What’s even scarier is that products often contain hidden carcinogens that are not listed on labels, such as formaldehyde and 1,4-Dioxane. They can even be found in some children’s bath products. When walking down the beauty isle of a store, most people can’t help but notice phrases such as “all-natural” and “sulfate free” plastered on the packaging of so many products.  We think that these are good things, and that these products are safer to use. But what do they actually mean? This debate is a lot more complex than something being always bad or always good. For example, parabens are a group of substances that are used as preservatives in cosmetics. The EU banned five different parabens, but several of the most commonly used parabens have been deemed safe.  So while a product saying “paraben free” might make you feel more comfortable, another product containing parabens might not actually be unsafe.  In fact, according to Perry Romanowski, a former cosmetic formulator, parabens can actually make a product safer. “We’re already seeing increases in microbial contamination in products.” He points to a sunscreen from a natural brand that was recalled due to microbial contamination. “So you could be making a product less safe,” he says. Certain alcohols, such as isopropyl alcohol or isopropanol, methyl alcohol or methanol, butyl alcohol or butanol, ethyl alcohol or ethanol, should definitely be avoided. A general rule for this is to avoid chemicals ending in “anol.” In addition to certain alcohols, sulfates, the ingredients in shampoo that causes it to lather, should be avoided. They are particularly controversial. Studies show that ingredients such as sodium laureth sulphate, oleth, and myreth, all test positive for 1,4-Dioxane, a proven cancer-causing petrochemical. A general rule is to avoid sulfates that end in “eth.” What’s up for debate is whether there are enough of these petrochemicals in shampoos to cause long-term effects, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. This kind of grey area exists for hundreds of other chemicals that have been called into question. This worry has changed the cosmetics industry, and it’s not over yet. According to an article in ShopSmart, a supplement of Consumer Reports, sales of natural products have increased approximately 78% from 2005 to 2011. Questionable marketing is a side effect of this consumer concern. ShopSmart published a story detailing the ways in which companies are making a profit on your apprehensions. “Everybody wants to make it look like their products are good for you and healthy and natural. All the mainstream brands are doing this,” says ShopSmart editor in chief Lisa Lee Freeman. Romanowski even recalls a story of “greenwashing.” “It’s done all the time,” he says. “We launched a line called V05 Naturals. We just took our regular formula and squirted in some different extracts, changed the colour and fragrance and called it natural.” Next time you plan to purchase some new products, do some research first. Online retailers, such as Sephora, commonly list the ingredients of each product on their website, making it convenient for you to quickly do some research. Additionally, The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is particularly helpful.

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