A list of toxic chemicals found in makeup and cosmetics
There are many toxic and potentially toxic synthetic chemicals used in cosmetic products. Talc, hair dyes, deodorants – we look at them all, and see what they have inside, from dodgy petrochemicals to pesky parabens…
Toxic chemicals to look out for in your cosmetics
Aluminium compounds or salts – Aluminium salts such as aluminum chlorohydrate and aluminium zirconium are commonly used in antiperspirants. Some studies have linked the use of aluminium containing antiperspirants with breast cancer. Aluminium from a mother can enter her unborn baby via the placenta and breast milk. Exposure to high levels of aluminium has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. It can also cause contact dermatitis.
Artificial Colours – Some artificial colours used in cosmetics are carcinogens or contain carcinogenic impurities. Others may cause contact dermatitis, sensitisation or irritation. Many of the coal-tar colours used in cosmetics have been found to cause cancer in animals. In the EU colours are identifiable by the prefix CI (standing for colour index) followed by a five-digit number relating to its chemical structure e.g. CI12490.
Diethanolamine (DEA) – Diethanolamine compounds are used as emulsifiers and foaming agents in cosmetics and dishwashing detergents and produced by reacting the carcinogen ethylene oxide with ammonia. DEA can affect hormones, cell functioning and development. It interacts with nitrite preservatives or contaminants in a product or with nitrogen oxide in the air to form the carcinogen NDELA on the skin. It is readily absorbed through skin and accumulates in organs.
DEA containing ingredients include
- Cocamide DEA
- Cocamide MEA
- DEA-Cetyl Phosphate
- DEA Oleth-3 Phosphate
- Lauramide DEA
- Linoleamide MEA
- Myristamide DEA
- Oleamide DEA
- Stearamide MEA
- TEA Lauryl Sulphate
- Triethanolamine (TEA)
Formaldehyde – Formaldehyde is a suspected carcinogen and common skin and eye irritant. It is also a common contact allergen and can cause skin sensitisation. Some ingredients used in cosmetics and other products degrade into formaldehyde, but contaminants do not have to be listed on cosmetic labels, so avoid the following ingredients which are formaledhyde releasers: Diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, DMDM Hydantoin, quaternium-15, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bronopol), sodium hydroxymethylglycinate and benzylhemiformal.
Fragrances – Fragrance chemicals often end up in our environment and have been detected in U.S. steam samples, rivers and lakes. Many substances used by the fragrance industry result in poor indoor air quality and can potentially cause neurological problems, respiratory and skin irritation, migraines, asthma, cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders, allergic reactions and multiple chemical sensitivities. The law does not require a list of fragrance ingredients in chemical products, merely the inclusion of the term ‘parfum,’ ‘fragrance’, or ‘aroma,’ which could mean anything up to 100 or perhaps more different fragrance chemicals.
Hair dyes – In 2005, the Scientific Committee on Consumer products (SCCP), which advises the EU Commission on questions related to the safety of consumer products concluded that some studies suggest increased risks for hair-dye users of developing acute leukaemia and chronic lymphoid leukaemia and an increased risk of bladder cancer for U.S. women using hair-dyes repeatedly over a prolonged period of time.
Hydroquinone – Used as a skin lightening agent. Hydroquinone has been linked with cancer, skin irritation and abnormal skin darkening in laboratory animals. In high doses it can cause a disfiguring skin condition where the collagen and elastin fibres degenerate and skin darkens. Hydroquinone is restricted to prescription products, but skin lightening products are often made and illegally sold in the UK.
Parabens – A number of studies have found parabens (commonly used in cosmetic products and deodorants as preservatives) to be oestrogenic (mimic oestrogen in the body) and certain parabens have been detected in the breast tissue of women diagnosed with breast cancer. Reportedly, the main influence in the onset of breast cancer is exposure to oestrogen over a lifetime. Parabens have also been found in human blood and urine and may cause contact dermatitis and skin sensitisation in some individuals.
Alternative names for parabens include
- Benzyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid (p-hydroxybenzoic acid)
- Butyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid (p-hydroxybenzoic acid) Parahydroxybenzoic acid (p-hydroxybenzoic acid)
- Ethyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid (p-hydroxybenzoic acid)
- Methyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid (p-hydroxybenzoic acid)
- Parahydroxybenzoate (p-hydroxybenzoate)
- Propyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid (p-hydroxybenzoic acid)
Petrochemical compounds – Organic (Carbon based) compound derived from crude oil, petroleum or natural gas, formed millions of years ago in the earth’s crust from decayed plants and animals.
Some toxic petrochemical compounds include
- Butylene glycol –skin and respiratory irritant.
- Ethanolamines – can be contaminated with the carcinogen NDELA.
- Glycol ethers – absorbed easily through skin, dissolve the skin’s protective oils. Can cause nausea and anaemia when inhaled.
- Isopropyl alcohol – petrol additive that can cause corrosion of the skin. Inhalation can cause coughing and dizziness.
- Mineral oil – mixture of hydrocarbons obtained from petroleum. Untreated and mildly treated mineral oils are carcinogens. Mineral oil can be contaminated with carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).
- Petroleum jelly – mixture of semi-solid hydrocarbons. May be contaminated with carcinogenic PAHs.
- Petroleum distillates – extracted during refining of crude oil – e.g. paraffin wax. Suspected blood and cardiovascular toxicants, neurotoxins and respiratory toxicants. Can cause skin irritation.
- Phenol -Toxic to brain and kidneys, may promote skin cancer.
- Polyethylene compounds – polymers of ethylene oxide – can be contaminated with the carcinogen 1,4-dioxane.
- Propylene glycols – Can cause skin and eye irritation, contact allergies, central nervous system depression.
- Solvents (e.g. acetone, isopropyl alcohol, toluene, xylene) – neurotoxic, respiratory irritants, linked with kidney and reproductive damage.
Phenylenediamines – Dye intermediates used in permanent and semi-permanent hair colourants. Phenylenediamines have caused skin and eye irritation, sensitisation and degenerative changes in the liver and kidneys, in animal studies. Para-phenylenediamine (p-phenylenediamine) is a potent cause of allergic contact dermatitis. Permanent hair dyes containing phenylenediamines have also been associated with an increased risk of various types of cancer in hairdressers, particularly the dark brown and black hair dyes.
Phthalates – Phthalates, used as plasticisers and fixatives in cosmetic products and ubiquitous in consumer products, have displayed endocrine disrupting properties in animal studies. Research has shown that they have an additive effect and can block the male hormone testosterone. They have also been found to cause abnormal reproductive hormone levels in 3-month old infants who were exposed via their mothers breast milk, and have been linked in some studies with male reproductive disorders such as cryptorchidism (undescended testes), hypospadias (where the urethra is abnormally positioned on the underside of the stamen (that’s a euphemism), testicular atrophy (shrinking of the testes), lows sperm counts and testicular cancer. Three have been banned in the UK but they can still be present as fragrance carriers in some cosmetic products.
Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) – An anionic surfactant used in a range of household products including bath and shower products. It is a frequent cause of eye irritation and can cause contact dermatitis. SLS is an industrial floor cleaner and degreasant that damages the protective outer layer of skin and is a known skin irritant and penetration enhancer. When it is used in toothpastes SLS can irritate the mucous membranes of the mouth, predisposing individuals to mouth ulcers. Sodium laureth sulphate (SLS), touted as a milder alternative, can be contaminated with the probable carcinogen 1,4-dioxane.
Sunscreen agents – Many chemical sunscreens can cause irritant reactions. Some of them have been associated with the production of free radicals, which can harm DNA and even cause endocrine disruption. After use sunscreens are washed off and if they survive sewage treatment, traverse into the aquatic environment. Various sunscreens are lipophilic (fat loving) and are likely to bioaccumulate in wildlife and our environment. Many sunscreen agents are absorbed through human skin. Sunscreen ingredients such as para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), avobenzone (parsol 1789), oxybenzone (benzophenone 3) padimate O (octyl dimethyl PABA) can cause photosensitivity and phototoxicity (cellular damage under UV or sunlight). Various sunscreen ingredients have been found to be mildly oestrogenic, increasing the proliferation of breast cancer cells in petri dishes.
Talc – Used to help products stick to skin and for spreadability and translucency. Can become contaminated with toxic asbestos fibres. The US government National Toxicology Program did a rat study and the cosmetic grade talc still caused a range of inflammatory lung disorders and rare adrenal cancers. Research published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention in 2008 suggests that women should not use talcum powder around their genitals as particles of talc may travel to the ovaries, instigating an inflammatory process that promotes the growth of cancer cells. Experts studied over 3,000 women and found that using talc once a week increased the risk of ovarian cancer by 36 percent. The risk increased to 41 percent for those using talc everyday.
Toluene – Added to Californias Proposition 65 list of substances toxic to reproduction because it was found to cause spontaneous abortions or offspring with birth defects. Highest levels occur indoors from paints, paint thinners, fragrance and nail polishes according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Triclosan – Found in toothpastes, deodorants, liquid soaps, mouthwashes. Stored in human breast milk and fish. May promote resistance to certain antibiotics. Breaks down in water to produce a dioxin. Although the dioxin generated is not one of the dioxins that have prompted safety concerns, repeated exposure to chlorine in the wastewater treatment process could chlorinate triclosan, which might then be converted to more dangerous dioxins under sunlight when released from the treatment facility. Triclosan has also been shown to speed the transformation of tadpoles into adult frogs at low concentrations, bioaccumulate in fish and contaminate breast milk.
Buy Toxic Beauty: The Hidden Chemicals in Cosmetics and How They Can Harm Us by the lovely Dawn Mellowship