There are thousands of cosmetic lotions, perfumes, and beauty creams on the market today.
Regardless of what you pay for these products, certain toxic chemicals in most of these products can lead to wrinkles, rashes, acne, premature age spots, and problem skin. How can this be? Aren’t these creams marketed to help the skin?
The skin is the largest organ of the body and is a very quick absorber. In fact, it has been said that the skin absorbs nutrients 10 times more than the stomach. Many cosmetic companies state this isn’t true and that their ingredients can’t pass a certain skin layer, but the proof is in “the patch.” There are patches for people to stop smoking, for aspirin and birth control. They do this because the patch’s substance can be absorbed into the body within seconds to get the desired results.
Read the Label
Gather all your skincare products, perfumes, and cleansers together and check out the ingredients. Here are the categories the ingredients fall into and some popular substances to avoid.
Acids, Alkalies, Buffers & Neutralizers – This has to do with the pH or how acidic or alkaline the product is – because if the product is too acidic or alkaline, it can irritate the skin. Some popular ones are citric acid, often used as an acid, and ammonium carbonate, used as an alkali. Some common chemicals, which are added to buffer and neutralize the acid/alkaline balance, are ammonium bicarbonate (which often causes skin rashes on the scalp, forehead, and/or hands), calcium carbonate (chalk), and tartaric acid (contained in many fruits, but usually obtained as a by-product of winemaking – in strong solutions, it may be irritating to the skin.)
Coloring Agents – According to the FDA, these are usually made from coal or tar, can irritate or discolor the skin. Studies on animals (which is another reason many people might not want to use these cosmetics) indicate many color pigments can be carcinogenic (cancer-causing).
Flavorings – There are many spices, natural extractives, and essential oils used in cosmetics. In fact, of the 3,000 substances for use in food and cosmetics, 2,000 are flavorings – of which only 500 are natural. The rest are synthetics such as amyl acetate (a skin irritant that causes central nervous system depression when ingested and can cause headaches, fatigue, chest pain, and irritation of the mucous membranes), benzaldehyde (artificial almond oil – highly toxic and often causes allergic reactions), and ethyl acetate (irritating and prolonged inhalation may cause kidney and liver damage).
Fragrances – Fragrances cause the most allergic and skin irritations from cosmetics, and some have been proven to cause cancer. Manufacturers know this, yet they seem to turn a blind eye to such details that might interfere with potential profits (the cosmetics industry generated $33 billion last year). More people work in the production of fragrances than in any other additive. The federal regulations stipulate that only fragrances or perfume need to be listed on the ingredients. However, there may be more than 200 ingredients in a particular scent.
The fragrance industry asserts that adequate safety testing is done, there is adequate monitoring of problems, and no increase in complaints concerning fragranced products has been noted. The present system of monitoring complaints is totally inadequate. The FDA’s logging complaints system is set up for users of the products, not for those made ill by others’ use. Someone who calls the general FDA complaint line may not be given instructions on whom to contact. Any complaints on “secondhand” fragrance should be addressed specifically to Lark Lambert, HFS-106, Office of Cosmetics and Colors, Cosmetic Adverse Reaction Monitoring Program, 200C Street S.W., Washington, DC 20204 USA. Telephone: (202) 205-4706. Fax: (202) 205-5098.
Even with the limited method of collecting data, there was an increase in complaints from 1995 to 1997. These complaints included respiratory and neurologic effects. The FDA suspended the Voluntary Cosmetic Registration Program in March 1998 because of budget cuts; it was reinstated 1 January 1999. This program is totally voluntary, and the industry is not required to participate.
The FDA only addresses the safety of materials in cosmetics. Fragrances in household products come under the jurisdiction of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Once the products volatilize, air quality falls under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency jurisdiction. The fragrance industry does not have a centralized data collection program in place. This means that there is no method for accurately collecting data on the negative impact of fragrances.
The “trade-secret” status of fragrances makes it difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint substances that cause problems. Present labeling is misleading, as “fragrance-free” and “unscented” products often contain fragrance chemicals. Avoidance is not possible when labeling does not reflect the contents.
The industry’s position to discount complaints concerning fragrances as reactionary and psychological responses to odors seems to be the industry’s position. Fragrances do enhance our lives, just as music does. But taste in music varies–what is music to one may be noise to another. Also, when there is too much noise or noise is too loud, real health problems occur.
Preservatives – A preservative is used in cosmetics to prevent microbes from multiplying and contaminating the product and the user. When you open any product, the risk of contamination begins. Even if the product does not appear to be contaminated, once it reaches the skin, it may cause infection. One of the popular and more dangerous preservatives is formaldehyde. It is inexpensive and effective – but in 1983, the National Cancer Institute stated that formaldehyde “is involved in DNA damage and inhibits its repair” and “that it potentiates the toxicity of X rays in human lung cells,” so it should be “further investigated.” Unfortunately, it is still in many cosmetics.
Processing Aids – Many ingredients for cosmetics fall into this category. These are compounds that maintain consistency for the product or emulsifiers or stabilizers to have smoothness and uniformity.
One of the most popular processing aids is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is a potent degreasing agent or detergent often found in shampoos. It can cause eye damage, breathing problems, skin spots, cysts, intestinal damage, irritability, headaches, and memory loss. The American Journal of Toxicology indicates that SLS contributes to premature hair loss in men and women.
Many products contain some natural ingredients, but the chemicals surrounding them cause real damage. Don’t be fooled by the marketing hype. Check out the company you are purchasing from – many times, even the essential oils and/or herbs are not 100% pure but rather diluted, affecting their value.
If you are interested in learning more about the actual ingredient names and how harmful each ingredient is, a good book is The Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients by Ruth Winter, M.S. This book lists complete information about harmful and desirable ingredients found in both men’s and women’s cosmetics.
What Can I Use?
Finding 100% organic and safe ingredients in cosmetics can be challenging. But there are several brands of organic and truly “natural” cosmetics available. Check for products that contain only ingredients that you can read on the label and understand. If you see an ingredient that looks like a complicated word from a chemistry book, the chances are that the ingredient is not natural and may be unhealthy.
Several companies sell products that contain 100% organic herbs and oils with no other added ingredients.
When you switch to something more natural, your skin can often go through a purge or cleansing process, where toxins that you have been putting on your skin now come out because they have the opportunity. Going natural may be uncomfortable at first, but if you stick to it for a few months, you will be amazed at the results as your skin starts to rebuild from good nourishment instead of being damaged from toxic bombardment.