WHAT NOT TO WEAR ON YOUR FACE
Story by Sally Glover
Photo provided by Pai Skincare
If you kept a log of the beauty brands in my bathroom over the past decade, you’d have seen the same ones year after year. You could definitely describe me as brand loyal. But lately I’ve been passing over those tried-and-true products for a healthier slice of the beauty market with British brand Pai Skincare. And it’s not so much because Pai promises me Ayurvedic herbs or Abyssine from the depths of the ocean, like my trusty old brands do. It’s what’s not in their products that impresses: no parabens, sulfates, petrochemicals, phthalates (huh?), formaldehyde, alchohol, or artificial fragrances. That’s quite an accomplishment.
According to Environmental Defence, a Canadian environmental watchdog, the chemicals in most personal care products and cosmetics have been linked to cancer, birth defects, infertility, and some other pretty scary health concerns. So how can you avoid accumulating this toxic tally on your bathroom shelves? You could ask Health Canada, which regulates this sort of stuff for Canadian consumers and has an ingredient “hotlist” of substances it considers inappropriate for consumer use, but the list fairly lengthy and somewhat overwhelming. To simplify things, here are ten ingredients you should do your best to avoid:
Coal-tar: A sticky liquid produced by heating coal, coal tar is the most common coloring agent used in makeup and permanent hair dyes. Banned in EU cosmetics, coal-tar-derived colors are a suspected carcinogen and skin toxicant. Check ingredient lists for P-phenylenediamine, paraphenylene, PPD, p-diaminobenzene, p-aminoaniline, 1,4-benzenediamine, and “C.I.” followed by a 5-digit number.
Parabens: Parabens are estrogen-mimicking preservatives that can lead to breast cancer, cause skin irritation, and affect male reproductive organs. It’s become a buzzword of sorts for the cosmetics industry and many companies have eliminated parabens altogether. Look out for ingredients with “parabens” in the suffix, such as methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben, and steer clear of products that include fragrance or perfume, as they often contain parabens.
Fragrance: The words “fragrance,” “perfume,” or “parfum” usually stand in for a host of hidden chemicals that aren’t listed as ingredients because they are considered trade secrets. Fragrances contain hormone disruptors and are among the top five allergens in the world, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an American nonprofit health advocacy organization. Go fragrance-free.
Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT): These antioxidants are commonly used as preservatives in makeup and skincare products. BHA has been shown to cause liver damage and stomach cancers in animals and both substances are known endocrine disruptors that affect reproductive system development. Check ingredient lists for butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene, or opt for mineral-based makeup.
Formaldehyde-Releasing Agents: Formaldehyde is a carcinogenic substance that can be released by chemicals in hair products, nail products, moisturizer, mascara, foundation, and eye shadow. Avoid products labeled as containing DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quaternium-15, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate.
Sulfates: Commonly found in shampoos, cleansers, and shower gels, sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate are petroleum-based foaming agents and detergents that can cause endrocrine disruption, affect the nervous system, and lead to cancer. Check product labels for ingredients that include laureth sulfate or lauryl sulfate, and look out for words that contain “eth” (“eth” indicates that 1,4-dioxane, an eye and respiratory tract irritant and carcinogen, may be present).
Triclosan and Triclocarban: These antimicrobial pesticides are found in liquid and bar soaps and have been linked to cancer and endrocrine disruption (they’re also extremely toxic to the aquatic environment). Check ingredient lists for triclosan, triclocarban, and Microban (a brand name), and avoid products labeled as “antibacterial.”
Phthalates: A growing number of studies link phthalates to male reproductive system disorders, according to the EWG. Dibutyl phthalate is a known carcinogen associated with genital abnormalities in infants, testicular cancer, and endocrine disruption leading to the development of breast cancer. These toxins can hide under the word “fragrance” on product labels – another reason to go fragrance-free.
Petrolatum: Petrolatum (aka petroleum jelly) is produced in oil refineries at the same time as automobile fuel and heating oil. It may be listed as petroleum jelly, mineral jelly or mineral grease on ingredient lists, and should be avoided due to its possible contamination with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Exposure to PAHs has been linked to breast cancer, skin irritations, and allergies.
Siloxanes: These silicone-based compounds are used in cosmetics to soften, smooth, and moisten, according to the David Suzuki Foundation. They are toxic to the environment and have been associated with endocrine disruption and impaired fertility. Check labels for cyclomethicone, cyclotetrasiloxane (D4), cyclopentasiloxane (D5), and cyclohexasiloxane (D6), or any ingredient with the suffix “siloxane.”
Want to know more? Check out EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database to find out if the products you’re using aren’t quite as pretty as they make you feel. If you think it’s time to give the Canadian beauty industry a healthy makeover, sign Environmental Defence’s petition to modernize our cosmetics regulations.