Take a few minutes to consider everything you put on your body in one day. Clothes, shoes and a backpack may come to mind. Think a little deeper about what you put on your skin: lotions, soap, anti-acne solutions, makeup, aftershave, deodorant, perfume and cologne. The laundry list of cosmetics and toiletries (and their ingredients) could fill libraries.
My interest in these topical hazards began on my Hawaiian winter vacation. My family went to a drugstore and purchased the needed sunscreen for the trip. On the way home, we stopped at a fruit stand and were verbally assaulted about “cancer causing sunscreen”.
Confused? I was, too. After all, isn’t sunscreen supposed to prevent cancer? I went straight to the Internet. According to Dr. Loren Pickart of Skin Biology, there are six main active ingredients in most sunscreens: PABA, avobenzone, benzophenone, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
You may know zinc oxide from the cheesy TV shows with lifeguards—white gel spread upon their noses (the pure form of zinc oxide – it works simply by directly reflecting the sun’s rays). Titanium dioxide works in a similar way. PABA, avobenzone, oxybenzone and benzophenone are quite different, however. They work by changing the chemistry of how skin reacts with sunlight. Their side effects include changes in estrogen levels, free-radical generation and accumulation in fat cells to be released when that fat is burned.
This new information shook my world, to say the least. Had my loved ones had been slathering cell-mutilating creams on me since I was an infant? I know their intentions were good, but how could they not do their research? Possibly blind faith in labels and brands. What else had I used that was a possible carcinogen? What am I using now?
I ransacked my toiletries kit and looked to Skin Deep’s Cosmetics Safety Database. The database rates nearly all available cosmetics based on their ingredients on a scale of zero to 10 (zero being most safe and 10 being very dangerous). Recognizing that some of their research isn’t comprehensive, the database includes a percentage of how much is known about the potential hazard of an ingredient. For example, many women’s body washes and perfumes rate very high on the toxicity scale. However, the 100 percent data gap shows that there is no proof that fragrance is actually harmful.
It behooves you to do some research; use the Consortium Library’s research avenues to find out if DMDM Hydantoin (found in most lotions) really is contaminated with formaldehyde, or if aluminum zirconium (the active ingredient in anti-persperant) disturbs organ systems. Furthermore, ask a dermatologist, doctor or chemist.
An article published in the Washington Post in 2009 reported that over half of the baby products tested by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics contained trace amounts of 1,4-dioxane or formaldehyde, both carcinogenic compounds according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Another article published by Environmental Health Perspectives in 2001, chemicals such as dibutyl phthalate (DBP) found in nail polish and other cosmetics are linked to birth defects in humans. Considering that many women who wear cosmetics and nail polish are in their prime childbearing years, reading this article was less than encouraging.
When discussing these claims, Gilbert Ross, editor of The American Council on Science and Health noted that, “it is difficult to evaluate (groups) claims, as scientific support and specific references are rarely provided.”
Regardless, I decided to err on the side of caution.
The research project was two things for me: a humbling experience and a wake-up call. Many of my family members didn’t want to hear that their sunscreen was hazardous or that their $60 face cream is potentially carcinogenic. Being told to consider the safety of your lifelong routines is difficult. The wake-up call came from the few hours I spent staring at sunscreens and facial moisturizers in the drugstore.
Brands could not be singled out, SPF’s were not reliable and not even the Skin Care Foundation itself seemed trustworthy, as some of their approved sunscreens were the biggest chemical offenders. In the end, I decided to just do my homework.
Now, I look at the active and inactive ingredients of products I use everyday. I’m still not too happy about my facial soap, deodorant or conditioner, but they all work great.
Considering that I wasted nearly a full day of sunny vacation time researching, I have to say it is more worth living a full and happy life than worrying about the minute chance that your toiletries will kill you.