We all know that the US is woefully behind the times in regulating the ingredients used in our skin care. The 27 countries in the European Commission have banned 1,372 chemicals in cosmetics and skin care products that are linked to cancer or birth defects; the FDA has only banned eight, plus two that may be used only in limited quantities (Hexachlorophene and Mercury compounds).
But that may just change with the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act that was introduced in congress in March. The Act would give the FDA authority to ensure that personal care products are free of harmful ingredients. Until such legislation is passed, however, it’s up to us to monitor our products for potentially harmful ingredients. Read labels, look for these terms, and avoid known problem-causing agents. Here are some of the most important ingredients to be wary of.
Paraben or Urea
These are the most widely used preservatives, often found in body lotions, sunscreens, makeup products, deodorants and shampoos. Parabens are classified as endocrine disrupters, which mimic estrogen in the body and may be linked to an increased breast cancer risk. Ureas have the potential to release formaldehyde in small amounts and are a primary cause of contact dermatitis, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
FD&C, D&C or C.I. #
These synthetic and coal-tar coloring agents are found in many mass-marketed eye shadows, blushes and hair dyes. The ingredients are listed as FD&C, D&C or a five-digit C.I. (color index) number, followed by a color. Be especially aware of Red #40—it’s very common and has been linked to allergic reactions and immune tumors in animals. Yellow #5 (Tartrazine) is another one to avoid; it’s reported to cause severe allergic or intolerance reactions, especially in those with asthma or aspirin allergies.
Petroleum, Mineral Oil or Paraffin
These petroleum-based products are often found in lip balms, mascara and body lotions as a soothing moisturizer. Ironically, they interfere with our body's own natural moisturizing mechanism, leading to dry skin and chapping. They also create a barrier that does not allow skin to breathe, clogging pores and blocking the body’s ability to naturally detoxify.
Sodium Lauryl (or Laureth) Sulfate
This low-cost synthetic detergent is used in facial cleansers or shampoos for its lathering properties. It causes eye irritations, skin rashes and allergic reactions. Although usually derived from petroleum, sulfates can also come from coconut oil that’s processed with petrochemicals. Look for the “sulfate-free” labels.
“Fragrance,” “Scented” or Phthalates, Diethyl Phthalate (DEP)
Fragrance is added to almost every category of skin care or cosmetic product and often contains scent-enhancing phthalates, a proven hormone disrupter. Companies aren’t required to list the actual ingredients that make up a fragrance, and many of them are often suspected toxins. As a result, fragrances are among the top five allergens in the world. Buy unscented products listed as Phthalate-free, or those with fragrance from essential oils.
Don’t have time to read all those labels? Pharmaca carries a number of skin care and cosmetic lines that are free of these toxins. The evanhealy and Dr. Hauschka product lines, for example, are a great way to transition to natural products, says Bambi Stenberg, esthetician in Portland.
“These botanical based products help your skin clear itself of the buildup of synthetic ingredients found in many department store or drugstore brands.” Evanhealy’s Face Care Kits and Dr. Hauschka’s Skin Sets come in starter sizes, formulated for various skin types, and are perfect for trying out a new line.
It’s important to note that detoxification from synthetic ingredients can be a process for some people, says Bambi. As your skin is purifying itself, you may have mild reactions for a week or two, including a few breakouts. This is all perfectly natural and is proof your skin is detoxing, according to Bambi. Keep it up and you’ll have good results and healthy skin in no time.