Monday, August 29, 2011

Phthalates, Parabens & Sulfates, oh my!

The phrase "your skin is your body's largest organ" is often repeated, but I wonder is people really think about what they put on their skin every day.  I know I don't. Your skin is your body's largest organ, and the ingredients in skin care products are specifically designed to penetrate it. Your skin is highly absorbent. It absorbs 60% of what you put on it - in other words, 60% of each ingredient of a product that you put on your skin is absorbed into your bloodstream.

The FDA does not require cosmetics to be tested for safety. It's up to you to monitor what you are putting in your body. These are the substances that I personally look out for:

  • phthalates - a chemical group used to add flexibility and dissolvibility to other ingredients, may cause organ damage and has been linked to liver toxicity and certain types of cancer; often found in perfumes, hairspray, and nail polishes
  • parabens - a common type of preservative used to extend the shelf life of shampoos, lotions, toothpastes, hand soaps, shaving gels, and other goods; can contribute to certain types of cancer
  • sulfates - a surfactant (detergent); not as bad as phthalates or parabens, but is a skin irritant to which some people are extremely sensitive
  • formaldehyde - a preservative found in eye shadows, mascaras, and nail hardeners; a known human carcinogen
Basically, I read the ingredient list of products before I purchase them, and if they contain any of these substances, I take a pass. This isn't to say that I religiously avoid everything with these things in them. I'm often taken in by shiny packaging, and only realize later that I should have looked at the label. I have the easiest time finding better lotions and hair products because the packaging is usually labeled "paraben and phthalate-free" if it is. In the future, I hope to make even better choices by researching products online before I buy them.

As I said before, the beauty industry is unregulated. Companies are not required to test products or ingredients for safety before they’re sold, manufacturers can use whatever chemicals they want in their products, and are not required to disclose their ingredients. A "Toxic Substances Control Act" was passed over thirty years ago... but takes as its premise that chemicals are safe until they have been proven unsafe. There is a self-policing Cosmetic Ingredient Review; however, the scientists on this panel are funded by... the beauty industry.

The information in this post was gathered from: Sara Snow's Fresh Living by Sara Snow, Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things, and


  1. Anonymous8/29/2011

    Good post! Have you read a book called No More Dirty Looks? I haven't read it yet, but if you are making the switch to all-natural products, you might like it. There is also the NMDL blog, which is a great natural beauty source. Another nice blog is The Flaxen Owl.

  2. I actually just ordered No More Dirty Looks and The Green Beauty Guide from Amazon! I saw that No More Dirty Looks was on sale for $5.98, so I had to get it. I checked out NMDL and the Flaxen Owl, and they look really helpful, thanks for your tips!