Most beauty, makeup, and personal care products are made with toxic chemicals that disrupt hormones and metabolism, and according to numerous scientific studies, can cause cancer.
A few years ago, I would have glossed over words like cause cancer (aka “carcinogenic”) or disrupt hormones (aka “endocrine disruptor”).
But now that I have heavily invested money and time into detoxing and chelating chemicals out of my body and brain, I see the importance of paying attention to what I use. And it is surprisingly simple to swap out products with toxins for healthier options.
Why Are Toxic Chemicals Used?
Many companies that manufacture and sell beauty, makeup, and personal care products often add chemicals for numerous reasons, including:
- Some chemicals help preserve products and extend the shelf life. Longer expiration dates means that more can be sold and less thrown out.
- Many chemicals make manufacturing less expensive. e.g. a synthetic imitation rose scented fragrance vs. adding essential oils from real cold-pressed roses.
- And other chemicals can make products look “good” or work “better” so consumers will purchase them, become brand-loyalists, and buy more.
Lipstick and lip gloss are good examples. In a study by The University of California (1), nine toxic heavy metals, including chromium, cadmium, manganese, aluminum and lead were detected in the eight lipsticks and 24 lip glosses that were tested. Because the metals are contaminants from the pigments and base materials, not actual ingredients, they are not disclosed on the product label. However, these contaminants get absorbed through the lips and consumed orally with every application:
Cosmetic ingredients do not remain on the surface of the skin. They are designed to penetrate, and they do. Scientists have found many common cosmetic ingredients in human tissues, including phthalates in urine, preservatives called parabens in breast tumor tissue and persistent fragrance components in human fat. (2)
In the U.S., the FDA does not regulate the toxic chemicals much. From the Environmental Working Group:
Myth – The government prohibits the use of all dangerous chemicals in personal care products, and companies wouldn’t risk using them.
Fact – With the exception of color additives and a few prohibited substances, cosmetics companies may use any ingredient or raw material in their products without government review or approval (FDA 2005). Whereas the European Union has banned more than 1,000 ingredients from use in cosmetics, the FDA has only prohibited the following (FDA 2000a): BIthionol, Chlorofluorocarbon propellants, Chloroform, Halogenated salicylanilides (di-, tri-, metabromsalan and tetrachlorosalicylanilide), Methylene chloride, Vinyl chloride, Zirconium-containing complexes, Prohibited cattle materials…
Endocrine / Hormone Disruptors
Unfortunately, most of those cost-saving chemicals can harm or disrupt health by impacting the endocrine system. But what does that mean and why does it matter? Here is a brief recap of the endocrine system and hormones:
The endocrine system is a collection of glands that secrete hormones directly into the circulatory system to be carried towards distant organs. The major endocrine glands include the pineal gland, pituitary gland, pancreas, ovaries, testes, thyroid gland, parathyroid gland, hypothalamus, gastrointestinal tract and adrenal glands. (3)
Hormones are used to communicate between organs and tissues to physiological regulation and behavioral activities, such as digestion, metabolism, respiration, tissue function, sensory perception, sleep, stress, growth and development, movement, reproduction, and mood. (4)
I believe that our bodies gently let us know there is something wrong with symptoms like dry skin, rashes, weight gain or PMS. And when the toxins accumulate and fill up in our tissues and organs, our bodies start yelling with serious illnesses, diseases and even cancer (as many of these chemicals are carcinogens and that means they can damage cells and cause cancer).
Even if we did not wear makeup or use personal care products, we all still breathe polluted air and consume polluted water and food from manufacturing bi-products. And then some of us actually pay to put more chemicals on our bodies, which are inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
The Price Of Beauty
Most of us will never connect the dots as we walk for a breast cancer cure while wearing pink ribbons and carcinogens, a.k.a. “anti-aging” “beauty” products, often made by the find a cure for cancer sponsors.
Television commercials, glamour magazine marketing campaigns, actresses in television shows & movies, and YouTube tutorials may also indoctrinate women and girls into believing that painting our faces and slathering or spraying products onto our body and hair equals beauty.
Sometimes a calamity like illness or cancer will debunk deep-seated cultural beliefs and behaviors. In my case, I my body was mercury poisoned and radiated. Because my body and brain were full of the heavy metals, my liver could not detox other additional toxic chemicals or metals without affecting everything from my sleep, to hormonal imbalances, and weight gain.
It took guts to give up makeup (and gluten and the cell phone!) Thankfully my SO has always preferred how I look without makeup. But it was uncomfortable to go out with friends and not apologize because I was not wearing makeup. And I definitely did not want to take photos with anyone capturing imperfect skin.
(Have you seen Inside Amy Schumer’s funny parody – Girl, You Don’t Need Makeup? ?)
Replacing Toxic Body Products
Even though I knew I could no longer use them, I had a hard time throwing out hundreds of dollars worth of department store cosmetics and more “natural” lotions, shampoos, and makeup that I had purchased (see appendix) — even ones from health food stores.
Did you know that organic and natural do not always mean healthy?
Products labeled natural or organic often contain synthetic chemicals, and even truly natural or organic ingredients are not necessarily risk-free. The global market for organic personal care products was valued at more than $7 billion in 2012, capturing the attention of consumers who prefer more natural or plant-based products (Cosmetics Design 2013). Products labeled “organic” or “natural” can contain petrochemicals, and those certified as organic can contain as little as 10 percent organic ingredients by weight or volume (Certech 2008). (6)
It took time, effort, and more money to find non-toxic, or less toxic, replacement products. Unlike my frantic gluten-substitution search, I tried not to stress as much about personal care products. I replaced the necessities, postponed researching the nice-to-have products, and ditched the rest.
Thankfully, there are more companies and entrepreneurs catering to the growing number of enlightened consumers. So do not fear — you can still wear makeup!
In general, I try to use single ingredient products when possible and sometimes refer to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics ratings database for new products. I will change things out on my essentials list as I continue to find new or better products:
- Toothpaste – Redmond Earth Paste (unfortunately it has xylitol and clay may have metals).
- Floss – Dr. Tungs Smart Floss. I need a thicker floss than dental tape (fluoride free).
- Mouthwash – Salt water w/high quality essential oils.
- Shampoos&Conditioners – Unscented Every Day Shea. Sometimes I add in high quality essential oils like Tea Tree. I also use Moroccan Method shampoos, however, it is expensive and literally takes a quarter of a bottle to wash my long hair and not the quarter size suggestion.
- Bar Soap – Kiss My Face Aloe Vera Soap.
- Skin Moisturizer – 100% Organic, Virgin, Unrefined Shea Butter and 100%Pure Body Cream.
- Face Moisturizer – Shea butter, Jojoba oil, and Eminescence Facial Recovery oil (given as a gift).
- Lip Care – Shea butter.
- Makeup – Recently purchased liquid eyeliner and blush for special occasions from 100% Pure. but do not like some of the ingredients so still looking for non-mineral-based options. I have a list of companies from other health advocates that I will research when I get the time.
- Feminine Products – Avoid conventional pads and tampons made with chlorine, synthetic material, and toxic chemicals (like BPA, BPS, phtalates, and DEHP), GMO cotton, or bleached with chlorine is important.
- Switched to organic cotton re-usable pads and organic cotton Organyx disposable pads (or Natracare disposable pads but the adhesives are not as sticky)
- Tried a DivaCup but did not fit even after cutting the stem. May try Intimina Lily Cup (made from 100% FDA approved medical-grade silicone) and sea sponges.
- Food Grade 3% Hydrogen Peroxide
Personal Care Products I Avoid
- Deodorant – Clean out bacteria in the body instead.
- Liquid Hand Soap & Hand Sanitizer (avoid triclosan and triclocarban).
- Perfume (avoid fragrance or diethyl phthalate).
- Nail Polish & Nail Polish Remover.
- Sunscreen – Wear hats, sunglasses, and clothing to prevent burning if I am in the sun for longer than an hour. The body needs direct exposure to make vitamin D.
- Hair Dyes (and straighteners), Gels, and Sprays.
We detected 16 potentially toxic chemicals — phthalates, triclosan, parabens, and musks — in blood and urine samples from 20 teen girls. Studies link these chemicals to potential health effects including cancer and hormone disruption. (5)
Here are 6 examples of chemicals in personal care products that disrupt the endocrine system:
- Use: Plasticizing agent used in a lot of personal care products.
- Impact: “A growing number of studies indicate that chemical family damages the male reproductive system.”
2. Triclosan & Triclocarban
- Use: Antimicrobial pesticides in liquid soap (triclosan) or soap bars (triclocarban).
- Impact: Triclosan disrupts thyroid function and reproductive hormones. Overuse may promote the development of bacterial resistance. Hard to avoid if you want to wash your hands in a public restroom.
- Use: Preservative to extend the shelf-life of products for the benefit of the manufacturer.
- Impact: Xenoestrogens, meaning they mimic estrogenic activity in the body. (Think estrogen dominance problems like PMS, menstrual cramps, etc.) They can cause reproductive and developmental disorders according to the EWG.
4. Fragrance / “Perfume” (Note: Many chemicals are not listed on products because they can be hidden under this umbrella term.)
- Use: Synthetic chemicals added to our personal care products to make them or us smell “nice”.
- Impact: Hormone disruptor
5. Formaldehyde releasers
- Use: In most nail products, and in around 1/5 of cosmetic products.
- Impact: This preservative is often inhaled and is a known human carcinogen (can cause cancer), neurotoxin, and can also cause DNA damage, and allergic skin reactions.
6. Ethanolamines such as DEA, MEA, TEA
- Use: Make lotions creamy and cleansers foamy but don’t have to be there.
- Impact: Become carcinogenic when reacting with other chemicals. e.g. DEA linked to bladder, esophagus, liver, and stomach cancers.