The front of your beauty products talk a lot about what the product can do: hydrate, plump, smooth, calm and protect. But the back of the label tells you how. This is where you’ll find the full ingredient list and where you’ll want to pay special attention. Even “clean beauty” products contain chemicals ingredients that are harmful to your health and the health of the planet.
So what can you do to protect yourself? Look carefully at your labels for the five major skin care ingredients to avoid. The following are common offenders found in everyday products – from toothpaste to face wash.
What is BPA?
You might be familiar with bisphenol A if you’ve ever looked for the best BPA-free water bottles. BPA has been used in plastics, food packaging and epoxy resins since the 1960s. According to the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, “epoxy resins are used as lacquers to coat metal products such as food cans, bottle tops and water supply pipes.” But guess what? It has also been found in cosmetic containers and the actual cosmetics themselves.
What’s the concern?
A National Health and Nutrition Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found detectable levels of BPA in 93 percent of the more than 2,500 urine samples collected. This observation is concerning, because it reveals the degree of exposure and potential risk of developing certain health issues. Recent research has concluded that absorbing and metabolizing BPA can interfere with estrogen receptors, which leads to several endocrine and metabolic disorders, including breast cancer, prostate cancer and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
How to avoid BPA:
- If you can, choose products packaged in glass or steel rather than plastics. Many essential oils are available in glass bottles and are useful for making your own beauty products or perfumes.
- When plastic is unavoidable, choose plastic packages that are BPA-free, like Tom’s of Maine Rapid Relief Natural Toothpaste. Or, look for packaging with recycling codes 1, 2, 4 and 5. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) encourages consumers to always steer clear of #7 plastics!
- It also helps to buy larger containers of your favorite personal care products, as this will help reduce your overall exposure to plastics.
What is BHT?
Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) is a popular preservative used in processed foods, including canned goods, condiments and cereals. It acts as antioxidant to preserve fats in foods. In beauty products, it’s added to fight against the free radicals that degrade cosmetic formulations when exposed to oxygen. You’ll mostly find BHT in eyeliner, lipstick, blush and foundation. It is commonly combined with BHA, or butylated hydroxyanisole.
What’s the concern?
BHT is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, there is no doubt that BHT is metabolized by the body, which means it has some biological effect to human health. What type of effect it has is yet to be determined. Animal research has shown BHT to promote and prevent risk of cancer. Still, the Center for Science in the Public Interest says BHT warrants caution. If you’d rather be safe than sorry, below are some tips to avoid BHT in your everyday routine.
How to avoid BHT:
- Read your product labels carefully, keeping an eye out for BHT or its full name, butylated hydroxytoulene.
- If you’re still not sure if your bath and beauty products are safe, use the EWG database to help you find toxin-free alternatives.
What are parabens?
Parabens are also chemical preservatives that are widely used in food, beauty and hygiene products. They prevent the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast, thereby protecting you from getting sick or having an adverse reaction. The types of parabens used in cosmetics primarily include methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and ethylparaben. These are typically used in combination with one another to help prevent a broader range of harmful microorganisms.
What’s the concern?
Along with BPA, parabens are among a class of chemicals known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). In other words, they have the potential to effect your body’s natural production of estrogen. Some say this can lead to an increased risk for breast cancer. However, research has, so far, shown a weak estrogenic effect.
A 2004 study in the Journal of Applied Toxicology reported 18 of 20 tumor samples contained small amounts of parabens. As Harvard Health points out, the study did not sample other body tissues to determine if parabens may have been present elsewhere as well. Essentially, the study did not show cause and effect. That said, you may choose to avoid parabens simply because they are a man-made chemical or because you fear the risks outweigh their benefits.
How to avoid parabens:
- Most brands will clearly state if their product is paraben-free. If you’re not sure, though, you can always call them directly and ask.
- To make it even easier, shop the selection of bath and beauty products at Vitacost.com using the “Paraben Free” filter under “Specialties.” There, you’ll find paraben-free body wash, lip balm and more.
What are phthalates?
“Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There are many different types of phthalates. Some are used in vinyl flooring, adhesives, detergents, automotive plastics and raincoats.
A 2010 survey by the FDA found that diethylphthalate (DEP) “is the only phthalate still commonly used in cosmetics,” primarily as a solvent in fragrances. However, some companies still use dibutylphthalate (DBP), particularly in nail polish to reduce cracking. Dimethylphthalate (DMP) is another type of phthalate found in toxic beauty products. Manufacturers use DMP to make hair spray more flexible.
What’s the concern?
Researchers at the CDC found “measurable levels of many phthalate metabolites in the general population.” This indicates that exposure to phthalates is widespread in the U.S. They also found that adult women have higher levels of urinary metabolites than men when it comes to the type of phthalates used in cosmetics and personal care products.
All that exposure is leading to serious health implications. The Environmental Science and Pollution Research International published a study in 2018 that found a connection between phthalate exposure and new-onset diabetes in children. In 2016, the Journal of Diabetes published similar findings, reporting that exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, such as phthalates, may affect the risk of type 2 diabetes.
How to avoid phthalates:
- Look for “phthalate-free” on your favorite beauty products. Many brands proudly tout this feature on the front of their labels.
- Otherwise, read the ingredient list and make sure your products DO NOT contain the following: phthalate, DEP, DBP, DEHP and fragrance.
What are microbeads?
Microbeads are solid plastic particles made of polyethylene, polypropylene or polystyrene. They are less than one millimeter in diameter and are commonly used as an abrasive in personal care products, including face washes, soaps, shampoos and hand sanitizers.
What’s the concern?
The main issue is that plastic does not dissolve. Instead, these microbeads get rinsed down your drain. They’re so small and buoyant that they easily slip through filtration systems at your local sewage plant, which means they end up in our oceans, lakes and streams.
According to the Alliance for the Great Lakes, “microbeads can absorb toxic chemicals commonly found in the water.” When fish mistake the microbeads for food, they then consume the toxic plastic. This not only has serious implications on aquatic life, but also impacts people who then eat the contaminated fish.
How to avoid microbeads:
- Thankfully, avoiding microbeads is easier than ever. Following Illinois’ lead, Congress and President Obama passed a federal law that banned the sale of personal care products containing microbeads by 2018.
- With the ban in place, look for clean beauty products that contain natural exfoliators, such as sea salt, raw oats, walnuts, almonds or sugar. Since you probably have many of these in your pantry right now, consider making your own DIY body scrub.
Take note: This is not a comprehensive list of skin care ingredients to avoid. However, it’s a good place to start if you’re trying to transition to clean beauty products. Indeed, it can be overwhelming to overhaul your entire beauty cabinet. But if you take it one product at a time and remember to follow the tips above, you’ll have no problem easing into a healthier skincare routine.