What Beauty Manufacturers Don't Want You to Know

The last time I went to the pharmacy to buy myself a new bottle of lotion, I spent a long time deciding what to buy. This product advertised aloe vera extracts, this one a firming agent. One of them promised deep moisturizing action, and yet another to give me a beautiful, bronze glow.

What none of these lotions contained on the front of their labels was, “Danger, this product could harm your health.”

The scary but true fact is that the skin care industry holds itself to different regulations than the FDA. While products might be labeled “organic” or “natural,” there is no third party setting these regulations. Rather, the industry itself decides how to define these terms.

There isn’t even consistency within the industry – differing companies often abide by differing standards. Some adhere to the FDA’s standards for organic foods (95% of the ingredients must be organic), others to California’s less-stringent 70% rule. “Natural” is even less defined, often being used to label products that contain at least one ingredient derived from a natural substance. This leaves quite a lot of room for interpretation.

For instance, the product I found with aloe vera extracts labeled itself as a “natural” product – however, when I checked the ingredients list on the back, it contained methylparaben, sodium lauryl sulfate, and diethyl phthalate. None of these chemicals are natural – and some of them have been linked to cancer, respiratory illnesses, and endocrine functions.

Just as a point of reference, the European Union has a list of over 1,000 prohibited substances, yet the FDA prohibits only eight.

Since neither beauty corporations nor the government is going to look out for your health when it comes to beauty products, it’s incredibly important to be able to self-regulate which chemicals you put on top of your skin. This involves gaining a working knowledge of which chemicals to avoid and which products use them, how to read a product label, and informing yourself about what tricks manufacturers can use to get away with legally misleading you.

A few of the products to look out for are phthalates, parabens, and DEA. Phthalates are used in lotions and other beauty products to make them smoother, last longer, and penetrate the skin better. Phthalates, however, have been linked to endocrine disruption, neurodevelopmental disorders, neurotoxicity and toxicity in the brain, kidneys, liver, and lungs. There is even a probable link between phthalates and asthma and allergies.

Parabens are preservatives that prevent the growth of bacteria. Sounds like a good thing, right? However, similar to phthalates, parabens also disrupt the endocrine system. They mimic estrogen in the body, increasing the risk of breast cancer. Pregnant women should be especially careful of paraben use, since traces of the chemical have been found in breast milk, blood, body tissues, and the developing fetus.

DEA stands for diethanolamine and is a carcinogen. Though it has fallen out of favor somewhat within the industry, it still often contaminates both TEA and MEA – chemicals that are still used.

Manufacturers sometimes try to hide the inclusion of these chemicals in their product labels. Phthalates, for instance, don’t have to be clearly labeled. Any cleanser that contains “fragrance” could have phthalates in it. Shop for products which list the ingredients for their “fragrance” and stay away from products with diethyl phthalate (DEP) in it, as this is a known carcinogen.

Parabens are a little easier to spot, since the word “paraben” is usually a suffix in a longer word such as “methylparaben,” “propylparaben,” or “butylparaben.”

“Water” as an ingredient is also used to mask the inclusion of other chemicals. Manufacturers sometimes dilute chemicals in a water base, meaning that while the product usually only lists “water” as an ingredient, that “water” has been infused with toxins you’d rather avoid. Stay away from products that list “water” in the top third of the ingredients list.

The most important part of being a smart consumer is to know exactly what it is that you’re purchasing. Don’t simply believe what manufacturers are using to advertise a product. Do your research, read the ingredient list, and keep yourself informed. If a product labels itself as “organic” or “natural,” make sure that it actually is. Skin is the body’s biggest organ – you should be treating it right.

Are these beauty products dangerous?
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