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How to Make Sure Your Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Are Safe

Aug 17, 2007
Choosing safe products can be a daunting task without the proper knowledge and tools. Many product packages are deceptively designed to make you believe that the product inside the package is herbal, all natural, safe and gentle, when in fact the product contains little or no natural or herbal ingredients, is contaminated with carcinogens and is irritating to the skin. This is the case because of the lack of regulation in the cosmetic and personal care product industry. But armed with a little knowledge and some helpful tools, there is much you can do to protect yourself.

Here are 10 things you can do to make safer and healthier choices when selecting your toiletries.

Read the ingredients on the label.
The packaging may say such things as natural, herbal or hypoallergenic. This has nothing to do with what's really in the product or how safe it is. Manufacturers make a lot of claims on the package to "sell" the product. They can do this because some of the terms don't have official definitions and they can use them however they want. To really find out what's in a product, you must read the ingredients in the small print, you know, the ones that you sometimes need a magnifying glass to be able to see.

Interpret and understand the ingredients.
Once you find the ingredients, you have to be able to know what they are and if they are safe, harmful, questionable or untested. A great many ingredients have chemical names that only a cosmetic chemist would understand. However, you don't have to be a cosmetic chemist. The book, Dying To Look Good, makes it easy for you to choose products with safe and healthy ingredients.

Choose products without parabens.
Parabens are xenoestrogens or endocrine disrupters. They disturb the hormone balance in your body. They are also skin sensitizers and have the potential to cause allergic reactions. They have been found in breast cancer tumors, but it is not known if they cause breast cancer.

Stay away from products containing amines.
Chemicals that fall into the category of amines can combine with nitrosating agents to form nitrosamines, which cause cancer. Nitrosamines are formed during the manufacturing process when an amine combines with a formaldehyde-releasing preservative. Some of the amines commonly used in cosmetics and personal care products are Cocamide MEA, Cocamide DEA, TEA, sodium lauroyal sarcosinate and amino methyl propanol. Several of the formaldehyde-releasing preservatives include sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin and diazonlidnyl urea.

Steer clear of products containing talc.
Talc is found in talcum powder, baby powder and makeup. It is a carcinogen if it contains asbestiform fibers. The quantity of asbestiform fibers in cosmetic-grade talc is unregulated in the U.S. Some research suggests a link between talc and ovarian cancer.

Be cautious about products that contain fragrance.
Manufacturers are not required to disclose the ingredients used in frgrances. A single fragrance may contain hundreds of different chemicals. Some of the chemicals used in fragrances are hazardous, such as benzyl chloride, methyl ethyl ketone, methylene chloride, toluene and phthalates. Fragrances may also contain chemicals that cause cancer. Even products listed as fragrance free may have fragrance added to mask offensive odors.

Avoid D&C and FD&C Colors.
Most D&C and FD&C colors are derived from coal tar which is a carcinogen. Most coal tar colors are potential carcinogens, may contain carcinogenic contaminants and cause allergic reactions. These colors must be certified by the FDA to contain not more than 20 ppm of lead and arsenic, but the certification does not address any other harmful effects these colors may have on the body.

Beware of products containing chemical preservatives.
Chemical preservatives can be irritating and are the number one cause of contact dermatitis. Some preservatives you should watch out for are benzethonium chloride, BHA, BHT, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, phenoxyethanol and methylisothiazolinone.

Watch out for "and other ingredients."
This means there are one or more ingredients that the manufacturer considers a trade secret and does not want to list on the label.

Be wary of products with long lists of ingredients.
Many of the chemicals used in cosmetics and personal care products have not been tested or have not been adequately tested. Even those that have been tested have only been tested individually, not in combination with other ingredients. Nobody knows the effects of the many different ingredients used in thousands of different combinations, the effects of using numerous different products, one on top of the other, or the effects of repeated use of ingredients or products over time.

Protect yourself and your loved ones. Become a label reader and learn how to decipher the ingredients for safety.
About the Author
Dr. Christine H. Farlow, D.C. has been researching ingredient safety since 1991. She is the author of three books, including the new, second edition of DYING TO LOOK GOOD. To learn more about the safety of ingredients in your cosmetics and personal care products, visit www.dyingtolookgood.com.
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