Do you know what chemicals are lurking in your beauty products? Every few months there is another beauty product ingredient in the news with data showing it will a) give you cancer, b) mess up your hormones, c) is otherwise bad for your body and, more often than not, d) all of the above. Before you toss your entire makeup bag in the trash, there are a few important factors to keep in mind.
Your skin is your largest organ. According to a survey of 2,300 individuals by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), respondents used an average of nine different cosmetic products every day on their skin with an estimated 126 ingredients; so it’s worth knowing what you’re putting on, and in, your body. While some skin care ingredients’ molecules are too large to actually penetrate the skin, there are many others that can and do.
As consumers we presume cosmetics being sold to us are safe. In reality, under United States law cosmetic products and ingredients do not need FDA approval before they go on the market (with the exception of color additives). Instead, it is the responsibility of the companies and individuals who market cosmetics to ensure the safety of their products. When there are problems with a product or ingredient, the FDA can investigate. To date, the FDA has only ever banned or restricted 11 chemicals from cosmetics. For comparison, the EU Cosmetics Directive has banned more than 1,300 chemicals.
Just like the products themselves, the labels do not get or need FDA approval before they go on the market. This means there is no clear definition for terms like “all-natural,” “organic” or “botanical.” Just because a product is made with “natural,” “organic” or “plant-based” ingredients doesn’t mean that it is necessarily any safer or better for your skin. There are many plants that contain substances that may be irritants or even toxic — even if they are organically grown. Remember, poison ivy is “natural” and “plant-based,” but you probably don’t want to slather your face with a lotion made from it!
Science is always moving forward. Research continues to refine its findings. As a result, we are always learning. We continue to discover the effects of long-term exposure to some ingredients previously thought harmless and that some ingredients previously thought dangerous actual contain chemical compounds too big to actually penetrate the skin. In other words, it’s important to stay informed. The safety and effectiveness of beauty ingredients is a moving target.
Here are seven of the most controversial skin care ingredients and what the latest research has to say about their safety.