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  • Writer's picture Miryam Van Horn

Pretty Bottles, Toxic Ingredients?

As a makeup artist for nearly twenty years I have seen trends come and go, innovation in skin care technology advance, but nothing has taken over as the honest conversation happening now regarding what is in the countless pretty bottles of makeup and skin care.

About a year back a retailer popular with tweens pulled a batch of makeup for testing positive for asbestos. So as we peruse the wonderland aisles of skin care, health wellness and makeup shouldn’t we be asking, “Is this safe?”

With the market saturated more than ever with the next latest ingredient and solution, it’s important to be sure to read and familiarize yourself with ingredients. Just as we shop for the best and safest food, we shouldn’t expect any less from our self-care products. Companies following a stricter approach and protocol for a safer ingredient list are moving away from the word “natural” and labeling their brands “clean” as in “cleaner beauty” – free of toxic and questionable ingredients.

Sephora, for example, is leading the way in categorizing brands that develop safer formulas with clean ingredients and safer processes. Sephora has labeled all clean beauty products with their clean seal noted with a check mark. Customers are now able to shop, on line or in-store, by refining their options to this category.

Since 1938, Congress has not passed one law that protects consumers from dangerous ingredients living in lotions, body washes and all self-care products across the spectrum. That is nearly 75 years allowing companies to develop formulas using a full range of non-federally tested ingredients. But what are those ingredients and how do you know what to look out for? No doubt you've noticed products now labeled "free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates and synthetic fragrance", below are some definitions to help understand what they mean:

  1. Parabens (methyl-, isobutyl-, propyl- and others) A class of preservatives commonly used to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. Parabens are endocrine (or hormone) disruptors, which may alter important hormone mechanisms in our bodies. Found in: shampoo, face cleanser, body wash, body lotion, foundation.*

  2. Phthalates (DBP, DEHP, DEP and others) A class of plasticizing chemicals used to make products more pliable or to make fragrances stick to skin. Phthalates disrupt the endocrine system and may cause birth defects. Found in: synthetic fragrance, nail polish, hairspray, and plastic materials.*

  3. Polyethylene glycol (PEG compounds) PEGs are widely used in cosmetics as thickeners, solvents, softeners, and moisture-carriers. Depending on manufacturing processes, PEGs may be contaminated with measurable amounts of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, which are both carcinogens. Found in: creams, sunscreen, shampoo.*

  4. Synthetic flavor or fragrance An engineered scent or flavoring agent that may contain any combination of 3,000-plus stock chemical ingredients, including hormone disruptors and allergens. Fragrance formulas are protected under federal law’s classification of trade secrets and therefore can remain undisclosed. Found in: all types of cosmetics. *

So next time, don’t let a lovely-shaped bottle pull a fast one on you. Before heading in store or shopping on-line, do some research to help make the best decision that's right for you.

*You can find out more on toxic ingredients and their effects on the body by visiting

Sources: National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, CosIng, Health Canada, The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, EWG Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.

So next time you shop the aisles, don’t let a lovely-shaped bottle pull a fast one on you.

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