Women in North America use, on average 12 beauty products per day.  This includes skin care, hair care, and cosmetics.  Drug store, department store and even specialty beauty products can contain potentially harmful chemical compounds that have been linked serious health conditions including cancer.

In short, our skin absorbs whatever is applied to it as is evidenced through the growing use of transdermal patches for medications. As a result, many women are turning their attention towards natural and organic beauty products.  Some healthcare professionals suggest that we should not put anything on our bodies that we are not willing to ingest, as the result is much the same.

Organic cosmetics and beauty products use natural compounds in the place of dangerous chemical preservatives, coloring agents, and moisturizers. There has been recent media attention on lipstick as it has been shown to contain lead.  Scientists estimate that women will ingest over four pounds of lipstick and lip gloss in their lifetime; for individuals that desire to decrease the chemical burden in their body, it is wise to consider lipsticks and other beauty products that are void of potentially dangerous ingredients.

Hazardous Chemicals Commonly Found In Beauty Products

It is important to note, that cosmetic companies do not have to list all ingredients on packaging, including lead and no premarket testing is required of beauty products to ensure their safety.  Currently, the only dyes are regulated.  Many of the chemicals below can be found on the labels of cosmetics and beauty products, at all price ranges, and may be listed under various names.

  • Coal Tar Colors:  Used in hair dyes, and some cosmetics.  Shown to be an allergen and skin irritant to some individuals.
  • Diethanolamine or “DEA”: Commonly found in shampoo and facial cleansers, provides the rich lather.  It has been shown to combine with other ingredients to create nitrosodiethanolamine  or NDEA which has been linked to cancer of the bladder, liver, stomach and esophagus.
  • Formaldehyde:  Used in eye shadow, mascara, nail polish, shampoo, blush and other products.  Has been shown to be hazardous to the reproductive system.
  • Lead:  Used as a preservative in lipstick, hair dyes, eye makeup and other products.  Lead is a known neurotoxin that causes learning problems and other health challenges.
  • Glycol Ethers or “EGPE, EGME, EGEE, DEGBE, PGME, or DPGME”:  Found in nail polish, deodorant, perfume, and other cosmetics.
  • Mercury:  Commonly used in skin-lightening cream, eye makeup, and other cosmetics as a preservative.  It has been shown to be toxic and presents adverse reactions to the nervous system, respiratory system, kidneys, and gastrointestinal system.  Women that are pregnant or nursing are advised to minimize their exposure of mercury and limit the consumption of some fish because of high levels of mercury.
  • Parabens or “Methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, butyl-, isobutyl-, etc”:  Commonly used in products for adults and children including shampoo, creams, lotions, deodorants, shaving cream, and cosmetics.  Parabens have recently been found in breast cancer tumors.
  • Phenylenediamine or “PPD”:  Used primarily in hair dyes.  Believed to be a human carcinogen and can lead to skin irritations and respiratory disorders.
  • Phthalates or “DBP, DMP, or DEP”:  Commonly used in fragrance, perfume, deodorant, nail polish, hair products, lotion and, creams.  Thought to be responsible for liver and kidney lesions, and may lead to reproductive abnormalities.

Of course, not all drugstore and department store cosmetics contain dangerous chemicals, but price and labeling aren’t necessarily a foolproof indicator: these chemicals are found at all price points in the beauty industry. For individuals concerned about the ingredients they are using every day on their skin, natural skin care products, and organic skin care products can provide an effective alternative.

Price and labeling aren’t necessarily a foolproof indicator: these chemicals are found at all price points in the beauty industry.

Popular Organic Ingredients

The chemicals listed above can be replaced with organic ingredients for the same effect.  However, there are some ingredients that occur in natural cosmetics that simply cannot be organic.  This includes algae, as it is not farmed, it is harvested from the sea.  Some of the most popular organic ingredients for beauty products are listed below.

  • Grape Seed Extract: Powerful antioxidant high in Vitamins C & E that protects and strengthens tissue and improves skin tone.
  • Beeswax:  A natural thickening agent and emulsifier. Natural anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, antioxidant, antibacterial properties that soften skin and enhance elasticity.
  • Lavender Oil:  A powerful natural antiseptic that kills bacteria, absorbs oil and has a pleasant aroma.  Also extensively used in aroma therapy practice.
  • Jojoba Seed Extract:  A hypoallergenic oil used for centuries for wound healing, moisturizing, and skin disorders.  Helps to control sebum production, restores skins natural pH balance, and moisturizes skin and hair.
  • Rosemary Extract:  High in antioxidant, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, it fights free radicals, strengthens capillaries and rejuvenates skin and hair.
  • Arnica Extract: A natural antiseptic, astringent, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory compound that stimulates circulation for anti-aging results.
  • Pomegranate Seed:  An antioxidant used to fight free radical damage and spur regeneration of new skin cells.
  • Apricot Kernel:  Used in scrubs and exfoliators to soften and clarify skin.

Benefits Of Drugstore Cosmetics

Not all drugstore cosmetics and beauty products contain hazardous chemical compounds.   Drugstore and department store cosmetics and beauty products are typically priced more reasonably than organic beauty products, however, it is important to carefully review ingredient lists and research individual products as some manufacturers vary ingredients and chemicals depending on whether it is blush, foundation, shampoo, lipstick, lotions, and other products.

Benefits Of Organic Cosmetics And Beauty Products

While organic cosmetics and other beauty products may be more expensive than drugstore brands, they do provide individuals with effective alternatives to potentially dangerous chemicals.  In addition, natural and organic beauty products are effective and recommended for individuals that have allergies and sensitivities to chemicals, while providing the same level of coverage, moisturizing, exfoliation, and performance as other products.

Notes & Side Effects

Cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to FDA premarket approval, with the exception of color additives.  Individuals that experience redness, rash, blistering, or other adverse effects when using any beauty product should Report Adverse Reactions To Cosmetics To The FDA.  Considerations and potential side effects for individuals using organic beauty products are typically limited.  However, individuals that have experienced adverse reactions or allergic reactions to bee stings should use an abundance of caution when using products containing bee products including bees wax, propolis, and honey.

Sources & Further Reading

Campaign For Safe Cosmetics:  http://www.safecosmetics.org/
Shopper’s Guide To Safe Cosmetics:  http://static.ewg.org/skindeep/pdf/EWG_cosmeticsguide.pdf
USDA National Organic Program:  Cosmetics, Body Care Products, and Personal Care Products:  http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5068442
FDA Authority For Cosmetic Regulation And Testing: http://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/ucm074162.htm
List of Hazardous Chemicals Found Commonly In Cosmetics:


Kathleen McCoy is professional beauty, education and healthcare analyst and writer. A University of Maryland graduate, Kathleen has traveled and studied extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa and North America covering skin care and natural beauty techniques from around the globe.

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