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Woman putting skin cream on her face.

How safe are your beauty products?

Are the ingredients in your skincare and makeup really safe? Donna Mitchell, a facilitator at Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, gives the low-down on what ingredients to avoid and how to choose safer products.

Why should we care about ingredients?

“What you put on your body is as important as what you put in your body,” says Mitchell. “Many of the chemicals in our beauty products are absorbed into our bloodstream. Research suggests that the cumulative effect of daily use over a period of years may have an impact on your health.”

Women apply an average of 12 personal care products containing 168 ingredients each day. Men use on average six products with approximately 85 unique ingredients daily.

Some ingredients have been linked to:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Cancer
  • Developmental issues in children
  • Endocrine, thyroid and hormone issues
  • Liver damage
  • Neurotoxicity
  • Reproductive disorders
  • Skin DNA damage
  • Tumor growth

Aren’t cosmetics ingredients regulated?

“You may think, as I did, that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates and tests ingredients in our personal care products for safety,” says Mitchell. “But then I learned that the FDA does not have the power or responsibility to regulate any chemicals or ingredients in cosmetics and skincare products.”

Cosmetic ingredients — other than color additives — do not need FDA approval before they are sold in stores. Consider this: The United States has only banned or restricted 30 cosmetic ingredients, while the European Union has banned nearly 1,400.

“It’s basically up to the companies to test their own ingredients for safety and toxicity, and regulate themselves. But do they actually regulate themselves?” she asks. “Many ingredients in our personal care products go untested for safety and toxicity.”

What are personal care products?

Personal care products include:

  • Body lotion
  • Body wash
  • Conditioner
  • Deodorant
  • Facial cream
  • Hair styling products
  • Makeup
  • Nail polish
  • Perfume
  • Shampoo
  • Shaving cream
  • Skin toner
  • Soap
  • Sunscreen

Ingredients to avoid

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit and non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment, recommends avoiding:

  • Animal-based ingredients
  • Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)
  • Boric acid and sodium borate
  • Coal tar hair dyes and related ingredients (aminophenol, diaminobenzene, phenylenediamine)
  • Formaldehyde
  • Formaldehyde releasers (bronopol, DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidzaolidinyl urea, quaternium-15)
  • Fragrance, perfume or parfum
  • Hydroquinone
  • Lead
  • Methylisothiazolinone, methylchloroisothiazolinone and benzisothiazolinone
  • Nanoparticles
  • Oxybenzone
  • Parabens
  • PEGs/ceteareth/polyethylene compounds
  • Petroleum distillates
  • Phthalates
  • Resorcinol
  • Toulene
  • Vitamin A compounds (retinol, retinyl acetate, retinyl palmitate)

Because these ingredients have been found to have certain negative side effects, more research is needed to determine the long-term hazards or safety.

How to choose safer ingredients

Thanks to consumer interest, there are now many safer options on the market today. Check out EWG’s Skin Deep Database to find safer products and check ratings for items you already use.

Note: The FDA does not regulate the word “natural,” so if you find a product that claims to be all-natural, you still need to read the ingredients label.

Whenever possible, use products that contain as few ingredients as possible. You can even look to your pantry for some great beauty staples, including:

These oils can be used as body and hair moisturizers, makeup removers, cuticle oil and more. To add a pleasant scent, add a few drops of essential oils to these “carrier oils.” As always, check with your doctor before applying even naturally sourced products and oils.

Learn more ways to protect your health and stay well.

Need to make an appointment with a Piedmont physician? Save time, book online.


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