Buyer Beware: Dangerous Skincare Ingredients

We all know the saying “You are what you eat.” But what about the products you put on your skin? Your skin is your body’s largest organ. What you put on it penetrates into your bloodstream and tissues. You should be as concerned with the products you and your family use on your skin as you are with the food you eat. If you aren’t, no one else will be.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor or regulate the ingredients used in skincare products. In fact, skincare products are among the least regulated consumer products sold in the United States. The law not only allows companies to put harmful chemicals into our products, including those marketed to babies, but leaves the industry to monitor itself. Many of the chemicals commonly used by manufacturers in the U.S. are banned or restricted in the European Union and Canada. These chemicals are known to cause cancer, reproductive damage, skin irritation, birth defects and more. So why are they still being used?

Manufacturers of skincare products claim that the chemicals are not harmful in small doses. I don’t know about you, but most people I know use multiple products each day (makeup, soap, lotion, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste, perfume, etc.) and each product may contain multiple toxins. The FDA also fails to monitor how these products are labeled. Companies may use terms like “organic,” “all-natural” or “herbal” very loosely, and some ingredients are not required to be listed on the label at all.

Parents must be especially watchful of the ingredients list when choosing products for babies and children who are still developing, and are thus at greater risk. Children’s skin is about 30 percent thinner than adult’s skin. Because they breathe in more air than adults, they also inhale more toxins. Sodium lauryl sulfate, for instance, is found in most shampoos marketed to adults and children and is a known skin irritant. Sodium lauryl sulfate has been linked to premature hair loss, scalp irritation, eczema, dandruff and poor eye development in children. It is also found in toothpaste, liquid soaps, body gels and more.

Fragrance, commonly used to mask the odor of toxic, synthetic chemicals, can affect the central nervous system, suppress the immune system, disrupt the endocrine system and cause cancer. It is found in a wide variety of products marketed to adults and children, including perfume, lotion, baby oil and baby powder. Even products labeled “unscented” may contain hidden fragrances, so you must read the label carefully. Look for products that are truly fragrance-free or that are scented with essential oils.

You should also beware of propylene glycol. It is found in almost every type of skincare product and can cause skin irritation such as hives, eczema and allergic reactions, neurotoxicity, developmental toxicity and cancer. Propylene glycol is also the active ingredient in antifreeze. You should avoid products containing propylene glycol. If you have infants, check your baby wipes and baby lotions, and look for alternatives such as aloe.

Instead of engaging in debates over how much of these chemicals should be allowed in our skincare products, the government should be requiring manufacturers to stop using them altogether, especially when research implicates them in serious illness, disease and allergic reactions. Click here to send a letter to your local elected official letting them know you expect policy changes that protect consumers from daily toxic exposure. In the meantime, there are companies out there that choose safe, non-toxic ingredients. Visit the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database to find them and to find out just how toxic the products you are currently using are.

Trudeau, Kevin. More Natural “cures” Revealed: Previously Censored Brand Name Products That Cure Disease. Elk Grove Village, IL: Alliance Pub. Group, 2006.