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The ugly side of make-up

September 9, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Can your make-up, lotions and shampoos make you sick? Stacy Malkan believes they can. Malkan has spent years researching the possible toxic chemicals in beauty products and lays it out in her book, "Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry."

Chemicals of concern:

Parabens -- used to preserve products. The chemical is estrogenic and classified as an endocrine disruptor - found in most conventional products on the shelves, like lotions, shampoos, body washes and face cream. Many natural products companies are replacing it with mixtures of other (non-estrogenic) chemicals, grapeseed oil, or air-tight containers.

Petroleum-based surfactants such as sodium laureth sulfate, PEG compounds - used to make products sudsy. According to product tests, these chemicals are usually contaminated with the carcinogen 1,4 dioxane - found in most conventional bubbly products such as bubble bath, shampoo, body wash, dish liquid. Many natural products are moving away from these petrochemical surfactants because so many petrochemicals can be contaminated with 1,4 dioxane. There is no simple list to avoid, but you can search on Skin Deep for products that don't have contamination concerns

Synthetic fragrance (listed as "fragrance") - an unknown mix of chemicals that aren't listed on labels. Often contains phthalates (toxic to the reproductive system), and chemicals linked to asthma and allergies - also found in most products on the market. Many natural companies are using essential oils as a good alternative or look for products with "no fragrance added"

Hydroquinone - used in skin lightening creams. Carcinogen, highly toxic to the skin. There is no alternative (while hydroquinone and some toxic metals provide temporary lightening effects, there is no way to alter the pigment of skin)

Dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde and toluene - the "toxic trio" of chemicals that used to be widely used in nail polish. Some old formulations at home or in salons will have these three chemicals, but most companies have already or are currently reformulating to remove them, due to pressure from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

Related links:

About Stacy Malkan:
Stacy Malkan is co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a national coalition of health and environmental groups working to eliminate hazardous chemicals from personal care products. Her award-winning book, "Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry" (New Society 2007) tells the inside story of the campaign's five-year effort to hold the beauty industry accountable to women's health. Stacy is a former journalist and newspaper publisher, who now works as a leading media strategist for national and international environmental health campaigns. She lives in Berkeley.

Buy the book on Amazon: Not Just a Pretty Face


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