Gaping loopholes in public-health laws give cosmetics companies the license to use almost any ingredient they want in their products, whether it's sunscreen or baby shampoo, without any restrictions or requirements for safety testing.
In fact, nearly 90 percent of the 10,500 personal-care-product ingredients known to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not been evaluated for safety by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, the FDA, or any other publicly accountable institution, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
Considering every man, woman, and child slathers, sprays, or rubs on nearly 10 different cosmetics and personal-care products on any given day, the safety of the basic ingredients in these products-and their impact on our health and the environment-is a pressing issue with much at stake. For ingredients that don't belong in your shopping cart, let alone on your skin, read on for the EWG's top purchase no-nos.
1. Placenta: Um...eww? While extracts from human and cow placenta can give you glowing skin and lustrous locks, these same extracts in cosmetics also pack a raft of hormones that may be enough to result in breast growth in toddlers, according to a few recent case studies, says EWG researchers.
2. Mercury: Even at low levels, mercury can damage brain function, so why, in these so-called enlightened times, are they still used in cosmetics? The EWG found mercury in Paula Dorf mascara, listed as the mercury preservative "thimerosal." Watch out for mercury in eye drops, as well.
3. Lead: We've written at length about the hazards of lead poisoning and how it can harm a child's developing brain. It's hard to believe, but this neurotoxin is in Grecian Formula 16 and other black hair dyes for men. It won't just stay close to your follicles, either; studies have found lead residues on door knobs and cabinets.
4. Fragrance: Fragrances fall into a colossal loophole in federal law that doesn't require companies to list on product labels any of the potentially hundreds of chemicals in a single product's fragrance mixture, says the EWG. Because fragrances can contain neurotoxins and are among the top five allergens ever, the EWG recommends we go the fragrance-free route.
5. Hydroquinone skin lightener: Because hydroquionine can cause a skin disease called ochronosis-which creates disfiguring and irreversible blue-black lesions-even the FDA warns us to avoid this skin-bleaching chemical, which certainly tells you something.
6. Nanoparticles: As yet untested, these tiny little inventions are found in cosmetics in forms ranging from tiny wire cages (called "buckeyballs") to minuscule bits of metals used as sunscreens. The kicker? Companies don't have to declare them on ingredients lists.
7. Pthalates: These plasticizer chemicals are downright cruel to male sex organs, causing sperm damage, feminization of baby boys, or infertility. If you have a bun in your oven, avoid dibutyl phthalate in nail polish. These vile toxins can also hide under "fragrance" on your product's label, which is another case for choosing fragrance-free items. 8. Petroleum by-products: Used to make emollients for face cream, petroleum byproducts-made by the same factories that make gas for your car-also contain cancer-containing impurities. Ingredients include carcinogens in baby shampoo called 1,4-dioxane and coal tar in scalp-treatment shampoos. ::Environmental Working Group Cosmetics Database Get natural skin care tips from Discovery Health. Difficulty level: Easy to moderate