Every year about this time my street becomes enchanted with little ghosts and goblins, all trying their best to scare me into an extra piece of candy from the bucket. If there is one thing that I associate with the month of October, it is that evening at the end of the month where the chill in the air collides with spooks and spirits, otherwise known as Halloween
As we approach the spooky holiday, stores are bursting with costumes, candies and decorations. During a recent trip to a costume store, I picked up a package of costume make up and took a glance at the ingredients. If the spooks in the store weren’t enough to make me shudder, the ingredient list in my hand was. So many toxic chemicals, many of which would find their way onto little faces. This got me thinking not only about the toxic chemicals in Halloween makeup, but all the ones commonly found in all beauty products.
In honor of the scariest day of the year, I want to round up ten of the scariest beauty ingredients that are found all too commonly in skin care and beauty products today.
Pick up a standard beauty product off a shelf and you will likely come across a list of ingredients that you have never even heard of. Many of them are also a challenge to pronounce. However, this scary gem is one that many of us are familiar with and have heard that we should try to avoid it. Yet, it still finds its way into our products. Do you ever wonder why?
Parabens are used as a type of preservative that inhibit the growth of bacteria, mold and yeasts. The issue with parabens is that once they are absorbed into your body, they mimic the effects of estrogen. Parabens have been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer because of their ability to turn on hormone receptor positive cancer genes. Research on biopsied breast cancer tissue showed that many tumors contain traces of parabens in the tissue. Parabens have also been associated with skin cancer, reduced sperm count and endocrine disruption.
Phthalates are another ingredient that we have come to know by name as one that should be avoided, yet it maintains a significant presence in certain beauty products, especially nail polish, hair sprays, lotions and fragrances.
Phthalates are added to reduce brittleness, and increase softness and flexibility. Like parabens, phthalates are also hormone disruptors, except they do not specifically mimic estrogen. Instead they have a general disruption effect on the endocrine system with effects estrogen and testosterone equally, meaning that males and females can be equally affected by the negative side effects of this additive.
Formaldehyde is used in skin care and beauty products as preservative to prevent bacterial growth. Among the main complaints of side effects with products that contain formaldehyde are skin, eye and nasal irritation. However, the major concern with this ingredient has more to do with long term consequences than short term side effects.
Formaldehyde has been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the EPA. With increased exposure comes increased risk. People who work in salons and are exposed to formaldehyde containing products such as nail polishes and hair straighteners are thought to be at an increased risk of certain cancers, such as leukemia.
Triclosan and Triclocarban:
Triclosan made quite an impact on the market in the 90s as one of the best antibacterial ingredients. Suddenly, hand sanitizers, soaps and other antibacterial products were boasting the ingredient on their label.
Triclosan is an endocrine disruptor that affects both thyroid and reproductive function. In addition to the potential negative effects on the body, triclosan has been through to contribute to bacterial resistance, which is a bad thing for all of us. Want one more scary fact about triclosan? It is commonly used in toys, clothing, cooking utensils and furniture…none of which are regulated by the FDA.
Defined as reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) is commonly found in perfumes, exfoliants and surprisingly in many processed foods.
BHA has a wide scope when it comes to the many ways it can be detrimental to your health. Possible side effects associated with BHA exposure include thyroid disturbance, interference in reproductive development, liver damage and stomach cancer.
This ingredient found in scrubs, exfoliating body washes, cosmetic and toothpaste is not only bad for your health, but for the environment as well. Polyethylene is commonly used in products that contain exfoliating or polishing “beads”. They are preferred over many natural exfoliants because they are softer and gentler on the skin, at least at first.
The problem is that polyethylene is also a skin irritant, and it is strongly advised to not use products containing this ingredient on broken skin. Most of us know someone who get a little overzealous when it comes to exfoliants, if we aren’t guilty of the act ourselves. It doesn’t make good sense to use an ingredient in an exfoliating product that is not to be used on broken or irritated skin, regardless of how gentle the product is intended to be. It is also considered a probable human carcinogen and is easily absorbed.
Finally, polyethylene is not filtered out in sewage systems, so it eventually travels to and pollutes major water sources. This ingredient is double bad news.
The tricky thing about fragrance is that federal law does not require companies to list which fragrance ingredients they use. Therefore, you commonly see just the word “fragrance” on ingredient lists. This one word can hide a multitude of unfriendly ingredients.
Fragrance is thought to be one of the top five allergens in the world, probably because it often causes urticaria, psoriasis and respiratory distress. Depending on which type of fragrance ingredient is used, fragrance can also disrupt the endocrine system.
How do you know what fragrance ingredients you are getting? You don’t. You can contact the company and ask for specific information, but chances are you will not get the answers you are looking for. Your best bet is to choose products that are either fragrance free or scented with natural ingredients that are freely listed on the label.
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) / Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES):
This ingredient, listed by either of the two names, is found in an overwhelming majority of personal care products.
SLS is basically a detergent, so if a product produces any type of suds or foam, there is a good chance that SLS is behind the reaction. SLS is found in soaps, body washes, face cleansers, toothpaste and mouthwash.
Many of the ingredients on this scary list are included because they provide a certain “feel” to the product or they inhibit bacterial growth. SLS on the other hand is a major element in how we have come to expect these products to function. Have you ever used a natural shampoo, only to be disappointed in the amount of suds? This is because you have been conditioned to expect suds and foam to feel clean by all the companies that add SLS to their products.
SLS is thought to be a major skin and eye irritant, causing canker sores and acne in people who are most sensitive. A more serious potential side effect is that SLS can combine with other chemicals in skin care products to produce a compound called nitrosamines, a known carcinogen.
If you think that this ingredient sounds like something that you should be putting in your engine rather on your skin, you are correct. Propylene glycol is created through a three-step process that starts with propene. The FDA regards this ingredient as generally safe, and the amounts that you might find in your skin care products have been determined to be pharmaceutical grade and safe.
I don’t know about you, but this whole thing still gives be the heebie-jeebies. While considered generally safe, propylene glycol is also classified as a skin irritant at concentrations as low as 2%.
Styrene Based Ingredients:
Finally, we come to styrene, which is added to cosmetics for color. When do you most need cosmetics that provide a significant color impact? Halloween! And, who is most likely to use these cosmetics? Unfortunately, children.
Styrene is a polymer that produces a film like layer. This gives more opaque coverage than costume cosmetics that do not contain styrene. It is listed as a moderate hazard by the cosmetic database and can potentially cause respiratory distress and immune system compromise.
Unfortunately, styrene is not the only harmful ingredient found in Halloween cosmetics. Heavy metals and other toxic ingredients are also found in many costume cosmetics. It is said that children aged 4-14 are most vulnerable to these toxic ingredients, and here we are smearing their excited, little faces with them.
What can you do? First, if you must use Halloween make up, stay away from dark and metallic colors. Secondly, use natural pigments and cosmetics as an alternative. Or, better yet, leave the little face free of cosmetics altogether and focus the attention on the rest of their costume instead.
It is an unfortunate fact that the FDA does not regulate the cosmetic industry as much as it should. The result is a toxic infiltration into some of your favorite cosmetics and skin care products. This is one trick that is definitely not a treat. The best defense in knowledge, and then giving your support to companies that make a commitment to clean, safe products.