In order to look your best, it’s important to take the best possible care of your hair and skin. However, many common ingredients found in body lotions, body washes, shampoos and conditioners can pose threats to your long-term health and wellness. Follow this guide to know which ingredients to look for – and avoid – the next time you’re perusing products on the beauty aisle.
Found in: Body washes, shampoos, conditioners, hair gels, nail polishes, eye shadow and mascara.
What it is: According to Cancer.gov and SafeCosmetics.org, formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (FRP’s) are derivations of a colorless, strong-smelling gas that is used as an industrial disinfectant to prevent the growth of microbes in a wide variety of products, ranging from building materials to personal-care items. Formaldehyde has been deemed a human carcinogen by the The International Agency for Research on Carcinogens (IARC).
What it affects: Formaldehyde has been linked to occupational cancers, like nasal and nasopharyngeal. It is also a skin irritant.
What to look for on the label: “Formaldehyde,” “quaternium-15,” “DMDM hydantoin,” “imidazolidinyl urea,” “diazolidinyl urea,” “polyoxymethylene urea,” “sodium hydroxymethylglycinate” and “glyoxal.”
Found in: Perfume, cologne, body washes and scrubs, body lotions, shampoos, and conditioners.
What it is: That’s the problem—no one really knows. According to the Environmental Working Group and SafeCosmetics.org, “fragrance” and “parfum” aren’t specific ingredients, they are terms used by the beauty industry to label unique concoctions of chemicals that could potentially be hazardous to your health.
What it affects: These mystery fragrance mixes have been shown to irritate allergies, dermatitis, the respiratory system and the reproductive system.
What to look for on the label: “Fragrance,” “parfum,” “perfume,” “essential oils” and “aroma.”
Found in: Shampoos, conditioners, body lotions, facial and shower cleansers, shaving gels and spray tan products.
What they are: According to the FDA and SafeCosmetics.org, parabens are a collection of distinct chemicals that possess a similar molecular structure. Inexpensive to produce, parabens prevent the growth of microbes, which is why they are among the most commonly used preservatives in personal care products—especially those containing large amounts of water, like shampoos and skin cleansers.
What they affect: During the 1990s, parabens were found to possess the ability to mimic estrogen in the body. Since then, “estrogen disruption” has been linked to breast cancer and reproductive issues. Then, in 2004, Dr. Philippa Darbre, a British cancer researcher, discovered the presence of parabens in malignant breast tumors. Now, researchers are concerned that the absorption of parabens through the skin disrupts the endocrine system, potentially putting you at risk for things like skin and breast cancer.
What to look for on the label: Ethylparaben, butylparaben, methylparaben—basically any ingredient ending in “paraben.”
Found in: Baby oil, body lotions and moisturizers, eye creams, makeup and lip balms.
What it is: According to the Environmental Working Group, mineral oil is a clear, odorless liquid derived from petroleum. Lightweight and inexpensive, mineral oil reduces water loss from the skin.
What it affects: While it may sound natural and harmless, mineral oil does not contain any actual nutrients. Therefore, instead of healing your skin, mineral oil locks moisture into the applied area by sealing it off. Without replenishing your skin with nutrients to support the healing process, mineral oil actually prevents your skin from breathing properly.
Arbonne International health consultant, Kim Anderson, explains that “mineral oil coats the skin like plastic wrap, disrupting the skin’s natural immune barrier and inhibiting its ability to breathe and absorb the ‘natural moisture factor’ (moisture and nutrition).” By robbing your cells of natural moisture and nutrients, mineral oil slows natural cell development, which can lead to increased blackheads and pimples.
What to look for on the label: “Mineral oil,” “white mineral oil,” “paraffin oil,” “petrolatum,” “paraffinum” and “liquid petroleum.”
Found in: Antibacterial soaps and detergents, toothpaste and tooth whitening products, shaving products and deodorants/antiperspirants.
What it is: Originally developed as a surgical scrub for the medical world, triclosan is a preservative designed to fight off microbes.
What it affects: According to reports from SafeCosmetics.org and The Huffington Post, recent studies have shown that this supposed antibacterial agent may actually help make bacteria antibiotic-resistant. Triclosan, therefore, can impact the endocrine system—disrupting the thyroid and reproductive hormones while acting as a skin irritant.
What to look for on the label: “Triclosan” and “triclocarban.”