So what’s the deal with chemicals found in commercial beauty products? Are they really that bad for us? And, if you do decide to try a clean product, how can you be sure you’re getting the best quality? We’re glad you asked.

HORMONE DISRUPTORS IN COMMERCIAL BEAUTY PRODUCTS

According to a study conducted by the environmental working group (EWG), the average woman uses 12 personal care products or cosmetics each and every day, allowing her skin, mouth, and lungs to absorb an average of 168 chemicals that may have toxic effects in the body.
Many of these chemicals find their way into the bloodstream, where they wreak havoc with our hormones and internal organs. Most of these chemicals overwhelm the liver as it works daily to clean toxins from our system, but some of the chemicals in cosmetics are endocrine disruptors that cause a condition called estrogen dominance.

Increased exposure to many of these toxins can also cause premature skin aging and collagen destruction. Chronic exposure to free radical damage from these chemicals wreak havoc in the cellular environment of the skin and eventually start destroying collagen, thus creating unhealthy skin.

THE TOP OFFENDERS

AND HOW TO SPOT THEM I promise you this article isn’t intended to scare you: while the state of the commercial beauty industry looks a little bleak from some angles, there are some great companies out there creating amazing products that are clean and safe. To choose a good product, as a physician, I always recommend checking the ingredients and making sure they’re free of these top-offending endocrine disruptors:

■ PARABENS

Parabens have been used as a preservative in cosmetics since the 1950s, but more and more research is showing how dangerous they are to our bodies to absorb or ingest on a daily basis. Predominantly, parabens have been linked to breast cancer – they’re believed to mimic estrogen in the body and contribute to reproductive types of cancer such as breast and ovarian cancers among others. Malignant breast tumours have even been shown to have trace amounts of parabens in them! When looking at the ingredients in products, most parabens will be easy to identify: butylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, etc. However, they can also be listed as alkyl parahydroxybenzoates.

■ PROPYLENE GLYCOL

In cosmetics, propylene glycol is used in small amounts to keep products from melting in high heat or from freezing. It also helps ingredients to penetrate the skin. Unfortunately, it is also considered a neurotoxin by the CDC, and is an active ingredient in antifreeze!

■ PHTHALATES

Phthalates have traditionally been used as a plasticizer in nail polish, to create flexibility in hair sprays, and as a fixative in fragrances. They’re also another estrogen mimicker, and a known carcinogen. Additionally, they’re considered to be reproductive toxicants: they can have a very negative impact on fertility, especially in adult males (but also in women).

■ TPHP

Triphenyl phosphate, or TPHP, was developed as an alternative to phthalates in the last decade and has been used in many of the same products. Unfortunately, TPHP is now being shown to be a toxin that disrupts our endocrine system and is extremely carcinogenic!

SO… WHAT NOW?

Are you feeling a bit overwhelmed? Don’t be! In the case of “clean” vs. commercial cosmetics, my number one recommendation is to do a little bit of research on the company you’re buying your products from. If their website warns of the toxins I’ve mentioned and explains that they’re free of harmful chemicals, chances are you’re in good hands, but I would still read each and every label.

If they simply have a “paraben free” sticker on their label, you might want to do a little more digging, because some companies will still try to cut corners while capitalizing on the growing “clean” beauty product industry.

EWG provides consumer guides and lists of truly clean and safe products and companies. EWG has a database of beauty products and you can type in some of the products you’re currently using at home into the EWG database to check them out on a toxicity scale and find out how toxic they are. Visit EWG at ewg.org/skindeep.