“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” ~Albert Einstein
One of my most dearly-held values is curiosity, and I believe that this is particularly important when it comes to your health and what you choose to put into and on top of your body.
I feel like — in general — we are all getting better about doing this when it comes to our food. And that the conversation about what we’re being fed has been more front and center over the past few years. Which: hooray!
And yet I feel like we are not talking about toxic chemicals in our cosmetics and skin care products like we should be.
Or calling out companies for continuing to use ingredients that have been repeatedly identified as carcinogenic or as endocrine disruptors, ingredients that have been directly correlated with breast cancer and reproductive toxicity, respiratory irritation and dermatitis.
You guys! We can do better.
We can demand that the companies selling skin care products and cosmetics do better. We can call them out for continuing to include dangerous chemicals in their products.
And we can do ourselves a favor by reading the ingredients on our personal care products the way we would our food items. And then choosing not to buy from companies who are ignoring decades of evidence showing that the chemicals and compounds they are using are harmful to our health and well-being.
Here’s a list of 5 of the worst (and most commonly found) offenders to look out for when checking the labels on your own products at home:
1. PARABENS (including methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben), which have been shown to “spur the growth of certain types of breast cancer cells” and have been linked to early puberty and early menopause because of how they mimic estrogen in the body. We’ve known about parabens for a long time. How are companies still using them?? I don’t get it.
2. SODIUM LAURYL (or laureth) SULFATE, which has been classified as a possible developmental toxin by the California EPA because of evidence it may interfere with human development. It also almost always contains the compound 1,4-dioxane — a known carcinogen, listed as an 8/10 on the danger scale by the Environmental Working Group. Yep. (This also applies to AMMONIUM LAURETH SULFATE, by the way.)
3. PROPYLENE GYCOL, which is thought to be an endocrine disruptor and has been linked to kidney problems. Propylene gycol is also a known skin irritant, and has been shown to cause dermatitis in very low concentrations. It also helps all those other dangerous chemicals more readily penetrate your skin. P.S. Propylene glycol is also antifreeze.
4. POLYETHYLENE GLYCOLS (usually listed as PEG compounds on your products — i.e. PEG-10 or PEG-12 Dimethicone), which (like sodium and ammonium laureth sulfate) are almost always contaminated with 1,4-dioxane (see above) and have been linked to skin irritation and systemic toxicity.
5. And let’s not forget about that secret ingredient: FRAGRANCE. Which is just a clever way to hide a bunch of super toxic chemicals without having to identify them each individually.
Typically when you see fragrance in the list of ingredients on one of your skin care products, there are a bunch of dangerous chemicals lurking — many of which have been shown to be neurotoxins (toluene is just one possible and common example here). Which means they are actually poisoning your brain and your nervous system.
Say what? I knoooow.
Companies are not required to list the specific blend of toxic chemicals they have used to design their fragrances, but if the ingredients on the bottle simply say “fragrance,” you can pretty much bet there are at least a handful of dangerous compounds hiding inside.
Many of these compounds are PHTHALATES, which are known endocrine disruptors, linked to both male and female infertility, reproductive toxicity and early menopause. Phthalates are also thought to be human carcinogens.
It is virtually impossible to avoid all of these compounds in our daily lives, and I am certainly not doing a perfect job of this myself. I do, however, try my best to use non-toxic products, and I am quick to discontinue using an item if I realize that it does, in fact, contain any of the toxic ingredients above (or several others I haven’t mentioned here).
My diligence about doing so really started when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago and my eyes were opened to just how many of the chemicals in our personal care products might actually be upping my own chances of developing the same disease in the future.
The research on some of the ingredients in skin care and beauty products is conflicted, but there is growing evidence to suggest that these chemicals are dangerous to our health (and also to the environment, but that’s a topic for another article entirely).
For me, it just isn’t worth the risk.
I am not asking you to take my word for it or to give up all your cosmetics tomorrow. But I am suggesting that you educate yourself about the products you are using, to read the ingredients on the back of every skin care product you put on your face, and to — at the very least — know what you are actually putting on your body every day.
Informed consent, for the win.
My hope is that once you realize how toxic some of this stuff truly is, you will decide to seek out alternative options.
Choose to get curious.
It might not be fun because doing so might force you to make some changes, but I personally believe these changes are totally worth it in the long run.
And that ignorance about things like what we rub all over ourselves every day is definitely NOT bliss.
P.s. For some ideas about what to use instead of all this toxic stuff, check out the article I wrote a few years ago about trading shampoo, conditioner, and moisturizer for baking soda, apple cider vinegar, and coconut oil (seriously, this changed my life). Or read this article with several different more health-friendly options. Or watch the video at the end of this article for some other great ideas. And look for a more detailed list of non-toxic alternatives from me in the near future!