Myth – Cosmetic ingredients are applied to the skin and rarely get into the body. When they do, the amounts are too low to matter.
Fact – People are exposed to cosmetics ingredients in many ways: breathing in sprays and powders, swallowing chemicals on the lips or hands or absorbing them through the skin. Biomonitoring studies have found that cosmetics ingredients – such as phthalate plasticizers, paraben preservatives, the pesticide triclosan, synthetic musks and sunscreen ingredients – are common pollutants in the bodies of men, women and children. Many of these chemicals are potential hormone disruptors (Gray 1986, Schreurs 2004, Gomez 2005, Veldhoen 2006). Cosmetics frequently contain enhancers that allow ingredients to penetrate deeper into the skin. Studies have found health problems in people exposed to common fragrance and sunscreen ingredients, including increased risk of sperm damage, feminization of the male reproductive system and low birth weight in girls (Duty 2003, Hauser 2007, Swan 2005, Wolff 2008). – EWG.ORG
Myth – Products made for children or bearing claims like “hypoallergenic” are safer choices.
Fact – Most cosmetic marketing claims are unregulated, and companies are rarely, if ever, required to back them up, even for children’s products. The FDA says descriptions such as “hypoallergenic” or “natural” can “mean anything or nothing at all,” and while most of these terms “have considerable market value in promoting cosmetic products to consumers… dermatologists say they have very little medical meaning” (FDA 2000b). – EWG.ORG
Myth – Natural and organic products are always safer.
Fact – Products labeled natural or organic often contain synthetic chemicals, and even truly natural or organic ingredients are not necessarily risk-free. The global market for organic personal care products was valued at more than $7 billion in 2012, capturing the attention of consumers who prefer more natural or plant-based products (Cosmetics Design 2013). Products labeled “organic” or “natural” can contain petrochemicals, and those certified as organic can contain as little as 10 percent organic ingredients by weight or volume (Certech 2008). FDA tried to establish an official definition for the term “natural,” but this initiative was overturned in court (FDA 1998).
Myth – The government prohibits the use of all dangerous chemicals in personal care products, and companies wouldn’t risk using them.
Fact – With the exception of color additives and a few prohibited substances, cosmetics companies may use any ingredient or raw material in their products without government review or approval (FDA 2005). Whereas the European Union has banned more than 1,000 ingredients from use in cosmetics, the FDA has only prohibited the following (FDA 2000a):
- Chlorofluorocarbon propellants
- Halogenated salicylanilides (di-, tri-, metabromsalan and tetrachlorosalicylanilide)
- Methylene chloride
- Vinyl chloride
- Zirconium-containing complexes
- Prohibited cattle materials (including material from non-ambulatory cattle, material from cattle not inspected and passed and mechanically separated beef).
Formaldehyde releasers – Some cosmetics chemicals are designed to react with water in the bottle to generate a little formaldehyde, a preservative, to keep the product from growing mold and bacteria. But formaldehyde is a potent allergen, which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization consider carcinogenic. Formaldehyde releasers include DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, and quaternium-15. Where do you find them? Shampoos, conditioners, bubble bath and other personal care products—even those intended for children. A 2010 study found that nearly one fifth of cosmetic products contained a formaldehyde releaser. Johnson & Johnson, a personal care products giant, is phasing out formaldehyde releasers under pressure from health advocates. We hope other cosmetics makers will follow J&J’s lead.
Parabens – Parabens are used as preservatives in some cosmetic products, but so-called “long-chained” parabens can act as estrogens and disrupt hormone signaling. A recent study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3855500/) by scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health linked one type of paraben to impaired fertility in women. Johnson & Johnson agreed to stop using most parabens in 2012, but they can still be found in numerous cosmetics. Read the labels carefully to spot products that contain parabens, especially the long-chained varieties—propylparaben, isopropylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben.
Triclosan and triclocarban – Triclosan is a bacteria-killing chemical used in Colgate Total toothpastes (to prevent gingivitis), liquid hand soaps, body washes, clothing, cutting boards and other household goods. It has been shown to interfere with thyroid signaling and male and female sex hormone signaling. Triclocarban is the active ingredient in some antibacterial bar soaps. Researchers have linked it to reproductive abnormalities in laboratory animals. Last month, the federal Food and Drug Administration announced that these chemicals should not be considered safe or effective in antibacterial soaps and body washes and gave manufacturers time to substantiate their claims or phase them out of the market. – EWG.ORG