Choose Safe Cosmetics
Beauty should be more than skin deep. Be conscious of the toxic chemicals that may be in the cosmetics and toiletries you use.
Some beauty products contain carcinogens and endocrine-disrupting chemicals that increase breast cancer risk. Ask yourself which products you can do without; the best way to avoid chemicals is to use fewer products. Each product you cut from your beauty ritual decreases the number and quantity of chemicals to which you're exposed.
What are all those chemicals on the ingredient label? Find out which ones are linked to breast cancer.Science overview of chemicals in cosmetics >
Although it's just one little word on the ingredient label, "fragrance" can contain dozens, even hundreds, of chemicals—including hormone-disrupting phthalates, synthetic musks, and ethylene oxide. Fragrance manufacturers claim the formulas are confidential business information. So, until we change the law so consumers have the right to know what’s in our products, it's best to avoid synthetic fragrance and opt for products that are fragrance-free or that contain natural fragrances like essential oils.
Unfortunately, the beauty industry is virtually unregulated in the U.S., and many toxic chemicals like phthalates and parabens can be found in the most common of makeup, shampoos, lotions and other personal care products. Look for natural beauty products or make your own out of common household ingredients.
Read labels for specific information on a product's ingredients, rather than relying on claims like "organic" or "natural." A USDA-certified organic seal means 95% or more organic ingredients. But a claim of "made with organic ingredients" or "made with natural ingredients" still leaves plenty of room for harmful synthetics.
Good: words that you've heard before, like aloe or lavender. Bad: words you can't even pronounce. Chemicals sound like chemicals. Avoid products with DMDM hydantoin and imidazolidinyl urea; parabens or any word ending in "-paraben"; "PEG" compounds and words ending in "-eth"; triclosan and triclocarban; triethanolamine (TEA); hydroquinone and oxybenzone. You also want to avoid synthetic fragrance, which can contain hundreds of chemicals, including toxic phthalates.
If you go for a mani-pedi, select a nail salon that stocks only nail polishes free of the toxic trio (formaldehyde, toluene—which can be contaminated with benzene—and dibutyl phthalate). Also look for a nail salon that has good ventilation for the entire shop. Choosing a nail salon that engages in these safety practices can help protect your health and the health of the workers who are there every day.
We all have our favorite makeup and toiletries. To find out whether your go-to products are safe or not, try Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep cosmetics safety database. This easy-to-use resource ranks the safety of specific brand names on a scale from one to ten. This is an easy way to find out which products you can use guilt-free and which ones may need replacing.
A possible source of aluminum in breast tissue may be the use of underarm antiperspirants, so try to find an aluminum-free formula. Check for safer alternatives on Skin Deep, the cosmetics safety database, or try a home-made solution like diluted baking soda.
Individual brands aside, some products are just bad news. Things to avoid:
- Anti-aging creams with lactic, glycolic, AHA and BHA acids
- Hair dyes, especially dark permanent dyes
- Liquid hand soaps with triclosan/triclocarban
- Nail polish and removers with formaldehyde, DBP or toluene (which can be contaminated with benzene)
- Skin lighteners with hydroquinone
- Heavily scented products
- Moisturizers, ointments and skin creams with petrolatum (which can be contaminated with PAHs)
- Fungicides, shaving creams, hair gels and hair coloring containing nonylphenol
- Hair spray, gel, mousse or shaving cream that contains isobutane, a propellant that can be contaminated with 1,3-butadiene
- Sunscreens with UV filters that mimic estrogen
Related Blog Posts
Following the lead of Johnson & Johnson, companies are beginning to reformulate products to make them safer for consumers.
In-depth article highlights the Breast Cancer Fund and explores the government's failure to regulate toxic chemicals in cosmetics.
UC-Berkeley study finds metals linked to breast cancer in lipsticks and lip glosses.
Congress introduced the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2013. The legislation would give the FDA authority to regulate personal care products, most of which are not currently tested for safety under our outdated system.