Unhealthy Ingredients in Skin Care Products
It sounds shocking, but there may be dangerous chemicals lurking in your skin care products. You may think that you are just taking care of your skin, but manufacturers are sneaking in ingredients that can cause allergic reactions, infertility and even cancer. Chances are good that you have heard of the growing reports of toxic chemicals in moisturizers, lotions, face and body wash, and cosmetics, but knowing how to read the labels will keep you better informed.
The word "fragrance" is a tricky one. It's a catch-all term that can mean almost anything. Companies are not required to disclose what's in their "fragrances" because that is considered proprietary, but that is the source of many dangerous substances. Even products that are labeled unscented can contain fragrances to mask the scent of other chemicals.
Phthalates are a group of chemical compounds with a variety of uses--among other things, they make plastics, PVC, and vinyl more flexible. In animal and some human studies, phthalates have been linked with a whole host of health concerns, including birth defects, asthma, early puberty and low sperm counts.
What is worse is that phthalates are extremely common. In a 2002 study, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found phthalates in more than 72 percent of personal care products tested, including fragrance-containing shampoos, deodorants and hair gels, even though the word "phthalates" wasn't on any of their labels.
A 2005 report in the medical journal "Environmental Health Perspectives" concluded that a mother's exposure to phthalates during pregnancy was associated with genital abnormalities in baby boys.
Parabens are used as preservatives to protect against microbial growth. You will most commonly see them listed on cosmetic product labels as methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben and butylparaben. Parabens have estrogen-like qualities and have been found in breast tumors, although there is not yet a definitive causal link between parabens and breast cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) position is that the amount of parabens used in cosmetics is insignificant. "At the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens," they state. "However, the agency will continue to evaluate new data in this area."
Formaldehyde, a key component in most embalming fluids, is known as a probable human carcinogen. It can also cause skin and lung irritation. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics explains that common preservatives in skin care products release formaldehyde over time inside the container. Watch out for quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea and diazolidinyl urea, which are all likely to contaminate products with formaldehyde.
Know that 1,4-dioxane is a contaminant present in many skin care and cosmetic products, in particular anything that has suds (like body wash, shampoo, hair relaxer and bubble bath). Exposure to high levels of 1,4-dioxane can cause kidney and liver damage and death. Animal studies have linked 1.4-dioxane to liver cancer and cancer inside the nose. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services anticipates that 1,4-dioxane is likely to be recognized as a human carcinogen. The following ingredients are likely to contain 1,4-dioxane: sodium laureth sulfate, PEG, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, polyethoxyethylene and polyoxynolethylene.
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