Cosmetics can make you look beautiful. But can they also make you sick? Let’s take a look.
Is Your Makeup Safe?
FDA’s legal authority
Important safety tip: The FDA does not have the legal authority to evaluate the safety of cosmetics before they are marketed. Furthermore, cosmetics companies may use almost any ingredients they choose except for color additives.
Who is responsible for cosmetic safety?
The companies and individuals who make or sell cosmetics are solely responsible for the safety of their products. Neither the law nor FDA regulations require specific tests to demonstrate the safety of individual products or their ingredients. Cosmetic companies don’t even have to share their safety information with the FDA.
Cosmetic ingredients best to avoid
Note: It’s a good idea to check the list of ingredients before you buy any cosmetic or personal care product. It may not tell you everything, but it will tell you quite a bit.
• “Fragrance” or “Parfum”
These terms are catch-all words that can mean any of many different chemicals that go into making synthetic fragrances. A number of these chemicals have been linked to asthma, allergies, and hormone disruption. Note: Companies are not required to list fragrance ingredients.
Parabens are preservative chemicals that have been found in 70 to 90 percent of cosmetics. They have been linked to breast cancer and may disrupt the endocrine system. Parabens are easily absorbed by the skin. Check for any ingredient with “paraben” as part of its name, including “methylparaben.”
• Triclosan & triclocarban
This is an antimicrobial, or germ-free chemical that has been linked to thyroid damage and partially blamed for the rise in superbugs like MRSA. Most likely to be found on labels claiming to be germ free.
A powerful preservative and known as a human carcinogen, according to the International Agency on Research on Cancer. Also may cause asthma. Its use has declined.
• Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives
Formaldehyde is a well-known human carcinogen. Unfortunately, many common preservatives in cosmetics and personal care products, when mixed with other ingredients present, will start releasing formaldehyde. Check for ingredients such as DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quaternium-15, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate.
• Sodium laureate sulfate and other PEG compounds
Sodium laureate sulfate is a foaming agent used in shampoos and facial scrubs. It’s commonly contaminated with dioxane and ethylene oxide, and products listed as PEG (petroleum based compounds)—and can be a source of carcinogenic contamination.
These extremely tiny particles are usually untested before being used in cosmetic and personal care products and are undeclared on product labels—even though they can be directly absorbed into the bloodstream. They are used in bronzers, eye shadows, lotions and in a large number of sunscreens that use particles of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to form physical barriers against UV rays. Experts are divided about value of nanoparticles as sunscreens vs. their potential safety issues.
Powdered sunscreens or sprays which can easily be inhaled, however, definitely have serious safety issues. They can provoke inflammatory responses, oxidative stress, and cell damage.
This preservative agent is used everywhere, even in products described as “all-natural” or “organic.” It is, however, classified as an irritant by the European Union, and a restricted substance in Japanese cosmetics. It can be harmful inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through the skin.
The color additive “kohl” has not been approved by the FDA for use near the eye. Kohl consists of salts of heavy metals such as antimony and lead and could cause lead poisoning.
The National Toxicology Program classifies butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” In animal studies, BHA has produced liver damage and stomach cancer, and interferes with reproductive system development and thyroid hormone levels.
The European Union considers it unsafe in fragrances. It is found in food, food packaging, and personal care products sold in the U.S.
• Coal tar hair dyes and other coal tar ingredients
Coal tar, a byproduct of coal processing, is a known human carcinogen, according to the National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Banned in the EU, but still used in North America in dry skin treatments, anti-lice and anti-dandruff shampoos, and as a color plus number, i.e. FD&C Red No.6.
A skin bleaching chemical that can cause a skin disease called ochronosis, with blue-black lesions that, in the worst cases, become permanent black caviar-size bumps.
• Petroleum distillates
These are petroleum-extracted cosmetics ingredients, commonly found in mascara. They may cause contact dermatitis and are often contaminated with cancer-causing impurities.
This is a common ingredient in hair color and bleaching products. It is a skin irritant, toxic to the immune system, and a frequent cause of hair-dye allergy. The federal government regulates exposures to resorcinol in the workplace, but its use is not restricted in personal care products.
• Lead and other heavy metals
Heavy metals are banned as unsafe for use in cosmetics in Canada, Japan, and the European Union. They are restricted in the U.S. where they are used in lipstick and other lip products, whitening toothpaste, eyeliner, nail polish, foundations, sunscreens, eye shadows, blush, concealers, moisturizers, and eye drops. Even small amounts of heavy metals can be dangerous because they tend to remain in the body and accumulate. Health concerns include cancer, and developmental and reproductive toxicity. Check labels for these ingredients: lead acetate, chromium, thimerosal, hydrogenated cotton seed oil, and sodium hexametaphosphate. Note: Products that contain heavy metals as contaminants do not list them on ingredient labels.
Read our article on lipstick safety for more information on this surprisingly controversial topic.
For more information:
• safecosmetics.org - lead and other heavy metals
• rodalesorganiclife.com - dangerous cosmetic ingredients
• mayoclinic.org - mrsa infection
• treehugger.com - cosmetic ingredients to avoid
• fda.gov - eye cosmetic safety
• asknelly.com - is your lipstick safe?
• davidsuzuki.org - toxic chemicals in cosmetics
• ewg.org - tips for safer products
• fda.gov - cosmetic laws and regulations