A surprising number of people think their skin is like an envelope with organs inside. But the truth is, your skin is an organ. Like your heart, lungs, brain, liver. Yes, your skin, all eight or so stretchy, springy pounds of it, is a beautifully capable single organ—that’s subject every day to constant bombardment by dangerous personal care and beauty products that aren’t beautiful at all.
Beauty has created a beast
It’s estimated that Americans spent more than $62 billion on beauty and personal care products in 2014. The US average use was nine products daily, containing 126 unique ingredients.
One in four women used and applied more than 15 products every day, as did one man in 100.
A huge proportion of those dollars went to dangerous products.
Using them is what I call—in strong language—a sort of self-mutilation.
Yes, it’s that bad. Thousands of common products are loaded with thousands of chemicals that cause nothing but trouble:
- Reproductive toxins
- Hormone disruptors
- DNA-damaging heavy metals
- Degreasers (they get grime off auto parts!)
- Plasticizers (they can keep concrete soft!)
And, of course, more…and that doesn’t even touch the nasty ingredients in all sorts of plastic packaging. That’s for a different piece.
The beauty beast runs wild
Some essential key points to keep in mind:
- Everything you put on your skin goes into and throughout your body, wholly or in part, just like food.
- It doesn’t all pass through you and vanish. Many toxins, carcinogens, hormone disruptors and immune system threats enter your body…and stay. So even a little bit of a bad product is dangerous—if not immediately, then when it’s accumulated enough over time to do serious damage.
Take note: The US personal care and beauty industry is barely regulated. Little to nothing is in place to stop the billions of dollars of toxic sludge from landing on your skin.
It’s a huge, tangled mess of health threats. A beast.
Even big-business, free-market champion Forbes has warned its readers about this, so you know it’s serious.
Where the beast lurks
Where to start? There’s so much.
Skin irritants? Endocrine disrupters? Carcinogens? Heavy metals? Other toxins?
Doesn’t matter. It’s all bad.
Parabens are preservatives that prevent the growth of bacteria, mold, and yeast. Fine idea, if they didn’t also have properties that are associated with increased risk of breast cancer, as proven by biopsy samples from breast tumors. They’re likely to be in your makeup, body wash, deodorant, shampoo, and facial cleanser.
Synthetic colors are derived from petroleum or coal tar sources. Researchers in the US believe they’re carcinogenic and have found them linked to ADHD in children. They may also be contaminated with heavy metals toxic to the brain. European regulators are convinced that they’re carcinogenic—they’ve banned them.
Fragrance. What doesn’t have a fragrance? Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress, and potential effects on the reproductive system.
Phthalates, when used in industry, increase the flexibility and softness of plastics.
- Dimethyl phthalate in hair spray
- Dibutyl phthalate in nail polish
- Diethyl phthalate in perfumes and lotions
They’re endocrine disruptors, linked to increased risk of breast cancer, early breast cancer in girls, and reproductive birth defects in men and women alike.
Triclosan is an antimicrobial chemical used in toothpastes, antibacterial soaps, and deodorants. It’s a skin irritant and known endocrine disruptor, especially threatening to thyroid and reproductive hormones. Even worse, it appears to contribute to making bacteria antibiotic-resistant—one of our worst-nightmare scenarios globally.
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) / Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) is a surfactant, meaning it helps two different liquids combine, instead of remaining separate. Remember the “breakthrough,” for example, that was shampoo plus conditioner? Find SLS/SLES in more than 90 percent of personal care and cleaning products, including shampoo, body wash/cleanser, mascara, and acne treatments—never mind that it causes skin, lung, and eye irritation. Equally devilish is its potential to help other chemicals form carcinogenic nitrosamines, which can damage kidneys and respiratory organs.
Formaldehyde is a preservative that inhibits growth of bacteria. It and compounds called formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (FRP’s) have been linked to nasal and nasopharyngeal cancers. It can cause allergic skin reactions and may harm the immune system. It’s all over the place—nail polish, body washes, conditioners, shampoos, cleansers, eye shadows, and nail polish treatments.
Toluene is also known as benzene, toluol, phenylmethane, and methylbenzene. It’s a petroleum or coal tar derivative, used to dissolve paint and paint thinner. (Who wouldn’t want that on their skin?) Toluene can damage your respiratory system, cause nausea, irritate your skin, disrupt your immune system, and affect fetal development. It’s in nail polish, nail treatments, and hair color/bleaching products.
Propylene glycol is used as a skin-conditioning agent that’s been linked to causing dermatitis and hives. It can be found in moisturizers, sunscreen, makeup products, conditioners, shampoo, and hair sprays.
Sunscreen chemicals under the names benzophenone, PABA, avobenzone, homosalate, and ethoxycinnmate are endocrine disruptors that can be easily absorbed into the body, where they do additional damage to cells and may cause cancer.
This barely scratches the surface. One database shows 82,000 different ingredients common in the personal care and beauty industry—and claims that 12 percent of them contain dangerous ingredients like those above…and more.
That’s around 9,000 products you want to avoid.
Here’s the best way to do it.
Alternatives to ugly Big Beauty products
Thankfully, many companies that “get it” are producing personal care and beauty products that are superior in every way to Big Beauty products—and free of nasty ingredients.
I’m greatly impressed with Aubrey Organics and Osmosis, and with Eminence, a Hungarian brand. I’m sure there are plenty of other European brands just as good. Their governments have banned the use of many ingredients that run wild in our domestic supply.
You don’t have to drag a list of 9,000 bad choices along with you when you shop. You can find clear, useful, buy/don’t buy lists online that make good choices much easier.
The Environmental Working Group is an excellent source. They rate and rank hundreds of products across all personal care/beauty products.
You’ll also find plenty of DIY care and makeup recipes online. These are ingenious—using cocoa powder, for example, as an ingredient in a home-made, natural foundation. Some ingredients are a bit esoteric, but they’re great fun—and can save you a lot of money.
Don’t let Big Beauty’s toxins get on your skin—and under it.
It’s not pretty…at all.
- “Skin” National Geographic
- “Revenue of the cosmetic industry in the United States from 2002 to 2016 (in billion U.S. dollars)” Statista: The Statistic Portal
- “Fragrance Disclosure” Safe Cosmetics
- “EWG Skin Deep Cosmetics Database” Environmental Working Group
- Haiken, Melanie “Dangerous Beauty: 5 Scariest Beauty Products” Forbes
- Katie, the Wellness Mama. “Homemade Natural Makeup Recipes” Wellness Mama
Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: October 28, 2016