boston12-12-copyIt’s not just what you put in your mouth that matters…it’s also what you put on your skin. Acting as a protective barrier for the body, our skin also acts like a sponge, absorbing anything applied to its surface, which includes chemicals found in most of our daily beauty and hygiene products.

According to a recent dermatological consensus, about 90% of the ingredients found in over 10,000 cosmetic and skincare items have not been evaluated for safety by the FDA, with the European Union going on to ban more than a thousand consumer ingredients due to reported risks of cancer, birth defects, and reproductive problems.

With such worrisome information, it may be tempting to “go green” and opt for organic-only products. And while that’s definitely a start, it’s important to understand that even self proclaimed organic or “all natural” products have few restrictions placed on them in the way of making such claims, and can continue to use harmful ingredients and additives without penalty.

The best rule of thumb when shopping for cosmetics and personal care items is to read the label and check the ingredients. Some may be innocuous enough, but others are definitely red flags. Here are the top five ingredients to be avoided at all costs:

1. Parabens
Parabens are commonly used preservatives added to most products to prevent yeast, mold, and bacterial growth. However, parabens can mimic the hormone estrogen, which can contribute to breast cancer development over time. Absorbed through the skin through the use of shampoos, cleansers, deodorants, and cosmetics, paraben chemicals have since been identified in breast tumor biopsy samples.

2. Phthalates
Phtalates are actually a grouping of chemicals added to hundreds of products to increase the softness and flexibility of plastic materials. Phthalates can be detected as dibutyl phthalate in items such as nail polish, lotions, and perfumes, while dimethyl phthalate is commonly found in hair spray. Phthalates have been linked to breast cancer and birth defects in both men and women. Additionally, they’ve been known to trigger allergic reactions and respiratory complications.
Phthalates can be cleverly disguised and thus go undisclosed as “fragrance,” making them difficult to detect. Which leads to #3…

3. Fragrance
Fragrances are particularly tricky to single out and avoid, as so many products use them liberally and with little follow-up info. The term “fragrance” was created by manufacturers in the early 20th century to protect their secret formulas, a trend that’s more or less become standard industry practice today. A labeled fragrance can pretty much mean anything, from a single floral note to a laundry list of hazardous chemicals.
Fragrance mixtures are routinely targeted as respiratory, allergen, and dermatitis aggravators, with additional reproductive risks posed. When shopping for personal and household products, try to look for items that are fragrance-free.

4. Formaldehyde
Much like parabens, formaldehyde preservatives (FRP’s) are used in a variety of products such as cleansers, shampoos, make-up removers, and deodorants to prevent bacteria from growing. Deemed a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Carcinogens (IARC), formaldehyde chemicals have been linked to nasal and nasopharyngeal-related cancers, with allergic reactions and weakened immunities also reported.

5. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)
Otherwise known as surfactants, sodium chemicals can be found in more than 90% of our products, particularly those with foaming qualities. SLS’s are frequently detected as eye, skin, and lung irritants. What’s more, sodium lauryl sulfates have been found to potentially interact with other chemicals to form dangerous carcinogenic combinations that can lead to respiratory and kidney damage. Non-foaming products often containing sodium lauryl sulfates include mascara and acne treatment creams.