How often do we really think about the products we slather on our faces, spray on our hair and apply to our nails? Personal-care products are such a part of our everyday lives that most use them without pause, assuming that these products are safe and regulated.
In reality, the Food and Drug Administration is not legally required to test the ingredients used in cosmetic products. They don’t even have the authority to recall harmful products. The lack of regulation in the cosmetics industry leads to this frightening statistic: at least four-fifths of cosmetic ingredients in the U.S. have not been assessed for safety.
In the current issue of Ms., we take a hard look at personal-care products and the potential health threats of their ingredients. Below are five toxins commonly found in cosmetics identified by the Environmental Working Group.
1. Mercury, a neurotoxin that can be detrimental to the brain and nervous system, is sometimes used as a preservative in mascara. It can also be found in some skin lightening creams that are illegally imported, so always check the label.
2. Parabens are also used as preservatives in lotions and fragrances and help curb the growth of bacteria and mold so products last longer. However, they can disrupt the production of reproductive hormones like estrogen and are associated with cancer, having been found in 19 of 20 breast cancer patients in a 2004 study.
3. Phthalates, though often not listed on labels, these chemicals are extremely common and can be found in everything from nail polish to fragrances. Used to help products absorb into the skin, they have been linked to thyroid disruption, infertility and birth defects. In adult men in particular, phthalates have been linked to reduced sperm count.
4. Triclosan is an antimicrobial used in liquid hand soap, deodorant, acne treatments and toothpaste. It has been proven to disrupt thyroid functions, contribute to antibacterial resistance, and form chloroform, a potential carcinogen, when exposed to chlorine.
5. Formaldehyde, a powerful allergen and a known carcinogen, can be found in high concentrations in chemical hair straighteners like Brazilian Blowout. The FDA, the World Health Organization, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration and even the industry-run Cosmetic Ingredient Review all agree formaldehyde-based hair straighteners are unsafe. Despite this, no actions have been taken against manufacturers.