Do you ever read the label of your beauty products and wonder what the heck is half, if not most, of the stuff they put into your shampoo and perfume?
The majority of the ingredients look like a bunch of made up words to the average person. Unless you’re well-versed in cosmetic ingredients, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell if a certain brand was including harsh chemicals into their formula.
And to be perfectly honest, a lot of companies take advantage of this lack of knowledge, filling everyday makeup and toiletries with ingredients that are destructive to your health, all so to preserve the product, or have the right texture, color, scent or effect, despite the potential side effects.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to read the labels of cosmetics, but reading through all of that doesn’t mean much if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
Here are some of the most harmful (yet common) ingredients to watch out for in makeup, skin, body and hair care products.
There are several variations of benzophenone, but you can tell if a product contains it if the label lists the exact word, BP followed by a number, or words with “benzone.” Benzophenone is included to protect products with sunscreen from UV light, and it’s been linked to cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, etc.
Butylated Compounds BHA & BHT
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are both used as preservatives in cosmetics, personal care products, as well as food. They’re linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity, organ-system toxicity and irritations.
You would never suspect that coal tar would be a common ingredient in personal care, but the reality is that many brands use it to treat dandruff and other itchy, scaly skin conditions. Studies have found that exposure to and application of coal tar can lead to skin tumors and neurological damage.
Formaldehyde and FRPs
You’ve probably already heard of formaldehyde being in nail polish and hair products. Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (FRPs) are also found in shampoos for babies and adults, and they’re used to prevent bacterial growth in water-based products. But did you know that formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling gas that can be absorbed through the skin and has been linked to allergic skin reactions and even cancer? Formaldehyde is easy to spot, but FRPs come in different names, so be sure to look up every ingredient on labels.
HEALTH CONCERNS: Cancer, skin irritation
It’s such a broad term to include in a list of ingredients, considering there are a bunch of chemical compounds that result in the product’s scent. Used interchangeably with “perfume,” “parfum,” “aroma” and “essential oil blend,” there’s no clear indication whether the fragrance was made with natural or synthetic materials. Some studies have indicated that chemicals (like acetaldehyde and benzophenone) used in fragrances have been linked to allergies and sensitivities, and even worse, cancer, reproductive and developmental toxicity.
Hydroquinone is another toxic chemical that Pinays and other women of color are exposed to through their products. A common ingredient in skin lighteners, hydroquinone has been linked to cancer, organ system toxicity and respiratory tract irritation. It’s sometimes used in cleansers, moisturizers, conditioners and nail products.
You might notice that some products will say they’re paraben-free. What exactly are parabens, you might ask. Normally, you won’t see parabens as its own ingredient, since there are many varieties but all contain the suffix -paraben. Found in lots of bath products, parabens are essentially preservatives. While they do prevent the growth of microbes, they are also chemicals that disrupt your endocrine system. Not only that, but they can be absorbed through your skin, blood and digestive system.
There are a few kinds of phthalates:
- Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) – common in nail polish to avoid cracking
- Dimethyl phthalate (DMP) – common in hair sprays to avoid stiffness
- Diethyl phthalate (DEP) – helps scents last longer, often not listed since it’ll fall under “fragrance”
- Di-2-ethylhexylphthalate (DEHP) – common in eyelash glue
There is a reason why phthalates have been banned in cosmetics in the European Union, and that’s because they have been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity.
Would you want a beauty product that shares the same ingredient as adhesives, gasoline, paint thinners and rubber? Toluene is toxic, but it’s included in hair dyes and nail polishes because offers more pigment and gives a smoother finish with the colors. Just like you would with gasoline, exposure to the chemical can cause dizzy spells, headaches and even cracked skin. Long-term exposure is linked with developmental and reproductive toxicity, irritations, and respiratory complications.
Triclosan and Triclocarban
Triclosan (TSC) and triclocarban (TCC) are used for its antibacterial purposes, which is found in a variety of products. However, they’re pretty controversial since they have the ability to penetrate your skin and end up in your urine! This is a major concern that may lead to endocrine disruption, environmental toxicity, and the emergence of trisclosan-resistant bacteria.
So remember this: Don’t just buy a product because your friend recommends it. It never hurts to check out the label and do a little research to make sure these beauty products are safe for you to use!
Sheena is the lead fashion writer here at Pretty Me Philippines and has contributed articles for numerous lifestyle blogs and online publications. Other than keeping up with the latest trends, she loves baking and home DIY projects.