I love natural beauty, but it’s not like I’m some crazy Birkenstock wearing woman with stinky underarms.
I wear lipstick as much as the next girl—I just like to know mine’s lead-free. Think I’m kidding? Studies have shown that two-thirds of lipsticks contain lead, which is a neurotoxin. And that we women eat about nine pounds of the stuff over our lifetimes.
All gag reflex aside, it’s super important to know what’s in our health and beauty products, because they’re designed to be put on our skin. And as we all know from high school health class, as much as 60% of what goes onto your skin goes into your body.
When you’re shopping, use these as red flags to put products back on the shelf—and out of your life. So how to know what’s good and what’s bad in beauty? Look for these red flags. When you see these on a label, more chemicals tend to follow. Avoid them and you’re one step closer to being a natural beauty. Birkies optional.
1. PARABENS are a common preservative found in conventional personal care products from moisturizer to sunscreen; look for them prefaced by “methyl,” “ethyl,” “propyl,” “butyl” and “isobutyl.” Parabens have been linked to breast cancer and reproductive disorders, according to the Breast Cancer Fund.
2. PHTHALATES are reproductive toxins which can affect the development of children yet are so prevalent that repeated studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found phthalates in the urine of nearly every subject they tested. If you see the word FRAGRANCE on a label, you can be pretty sure the product also includes phthalates.
3. ANTIBACTERIALS such as TRICLOSAN in personal care products can compromise the immune system (ah, the irony) and may make bacteria resistant to antibiotics. According to the FDA, hot water and soap work just as well to kill bacteria.
4. 1,4-DIOXANE and SODIUM LAURYL/LAURETH SULFATE are found in things that suds up like shampoos, baby wash, bubble bath, toothpaste and liquid soaps. 1,4 dioxane is a human and animal carcinogenic and a nasty byproduct of processing harsh chemicals with ethylene oxide to make them less harsh. Got sodium lauryl sulfate? Ethyoxylate it and you get sodium laureth—the “eth” indicates the process–but you also get 1,4 dioxane.
5. FORMALDEHYDE causes cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. It can be produced from the breakdown of DIAZOLIDINYL UREA, IMIDAZOLIDINYL UREA and QUATERNIUM compounds, so avoid those as well.
6. PROPYLENE GLYCOL and ETHYLENE GLYCOL, also found in brake fluid and antifreeze, have been linked to asthma and allergies. Look for products made with naturally derived softeners.
7. CHEMICAL SUNSCREENS like OXYBENZONE are linked to hormone disruption and skin allergies; RETINYL PALMITATE in sunscreen can increase skin cancer risk, according to EWG. I like zinc, which provides a physical barrier to the sun, and no longer leaves you with big white splotches on your nose.
When you’re shopping, use these as red flags to put products back on the shelf—and out of your life.