• Glauce Fleury

How much do you know about toxic cosmetics?


Finding a simple coconut-based moisturizer on the shelves could require Ethan Hunt’s skills. I’m not kidding. This week I felt like Tom Cruise in one of the sequences of Mission Impossible. Because of a sensitive skin, I want to use lotions that are as natural as possible. I’m giving preference to vegan and cruelty-free brands, and to companies that avoid toxic products.

I tried, but look what I’ve found:

  • Paraben: they keep mold, fungus and parasites away from your product, but have often been found in breast cancer tumours. There’s no proof about their relationship, but I prefer not to buy anything containing paraben.

  • Petrolatum: contains 1,4-Dioxane, a substance pointed out as possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization and the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s hard to believe, but it’s the same substance from which your motor oil is made. Other names for petrolatum are petroleum, mineral oil, xylene, toluene and liquid paraffin.

  • BHT: Butylated Hydroxytoluene is used as preservative, and can induce allergic skin reactions. It’s classified as a possible carcinogen. The use in cosmetics is unrestricted in Canada, but international regulations are stronger than the ones here.

  • Cyclopentasiloxane: ingredients ending in “siloxane” are used in cosmetics to soften, smooth and moisten. In lab experiments, exposure to high doses has been associated to uterine tumours and harm to the reproductive and immune systems. Environment Canada assessments concluded that cyclopentasiloxane is toxic. But currently there are no restrictions on their use in cosmetics.

I could go on and on. The more I read labels, the more confused I get. And I was just looking for a coconut-based moisturizer. Can you imagine how it is when you check in details every body lotion, shampoo, conditioner, lipstick, powder, mascara etc.? It reminds me of chemistry classes. I wondered why those names couldn’t be simpler, and why I needed to know most of them by heart if I wanted to be a journalist.

Perhaps, if I were a bit more interested in chemistry, I’d know better now. But I don’t think if my teachers had the knowledge we have nowadays about the risks of so many chemicals in beauty products. What I keep in mind is, if I can barely pronounce the ingredients’ names, I should stay away from that product. But why isn’t there a better regulation about products that are not considered 100 per cent safe?

The David Suzuki Foundation surveyed Canadians to see how many ingredients of a list full of toxic substances appeared in their personal care products: 80 per cent of entered products contained at least one. The question is, if we care about what we eat, why wouldn’t we care about the products absorbed by our skin? We need to know about toxics in our cosmetics and how to avoid them.

The best way to do this is to insist that your favourite brands offer better options. If they don’t, then you stop buying from them.

Photo credit: © Nuuna Nitely under Creative Commons via Flickr.

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