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Contaminants in Cosmetic Ingredients

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So, you may know which ingredients are best avoided in cosmetic products. But many contain dangerous contaminants not listed on product labels.

A contaminant is a byproduct of chemical processing and not intentionally added to the product. Toxic chemicals, like formaldehyde and 1,4-Dioxane, are commonly found in products such as shampoo and baby wash with no mention on the product’s label. These chemicals are linked to cancer and other health problems.

Genetically Modified Ingredients

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Genetically modified organisms are frequently plants that have been modified by scientists working for large corporations to engineer new traits into a field crop. Wikipedia provides a wealth of information on the topic of GMO food. This US PIRG (the national lobbying office of the state Public Interest Research Groups) report provides extensive data on the GMO issues.

GMO crops pose a great risk of largely unexplored threats to human health and the environment. For instance BT Corn is a GM corn from Monsanto that has inserted into its DNA a special trait from the bacillus thuringiensis bacteria that produces a powerful insecticide which kills a common corn pest: the corn borer. However, farmers have reported that the borer has grown resistant, while the plant is continues to kill additional insects such as the Monarch Butterfly and the Lacewing. Meanwhile, contaminated corn exposes humans to this modified DNA.

In the EU, GM maize (or corn for animal consumption) was approved in 1998. Since then, no new GM crops have been approved, despite complaints from the US and rulings by the World Trade Organization. Other GM plants are only allowed in Europe on university study fields under very strict supervision that strictly prevents any pollen drifting. In Europe, Norway, Austria, Germany, UK, Spain, Italy, Greece, France, Luxembourg, and Portugal have bans on GM crops. However, due to the presence of GM maize in Europe, the possibility of contaminated corn exists. It is for this reason Lavera uses Talc instead of Corn Starch in some of its makeup products.

Organic farmers in the US are often finding that their crops are testing positive for GMO cross-contamination. The source of the problem comes from the cross-pollination of organic crops with GMO crops in neighboring farms, the presence of GMO seed in bags of "organic" seed, greed – misrepresentation of GMO products as organic for higher prices, and other factors. “According to the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, in 2004, 45 percent of corn, 85 percent of soybeans and 76 percent of cotton being grown in the United States were GMOs.”

According to an article from the Dow Jones, the USDA is wanting to “to cement into law its authority to do nothing when unapproved biotech material is discovered in crops”. This is the same USDA that certifies skin care products with the Certified Organic seal.

According to the article, “Dow AgroSciences in February 2008 reported discovering traces of an unapproved biotech material in three lines of corn seeds. The USDA said the unapproved biotech seed was planted on about 53,000 acres of U.S. farm land in 2007.” There have been number a class action lawsuit claimings damages for crops for human use being contaminated by gmo crops: StarLink Corn Products, Ponto vs Aventis Crop Science.

There is currently no requirement to test for GMO in organic crops and end products and little testing. According to Matthew Dillon, director of advocacy for the Organic Seed Alliance, “GMOs are an ‘excluded method’ in an organic program... It could threaten the farmer’s certification to ‘knowingly’ plant seed with GMO presence.”

The list of GM crops available is quite large:
Hawaiian Papaya
Sugar cane
Sugar beet
Sweet corn

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS)

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Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) is found in most shampoos and toothpaste. It is a known skin irritant and is absorbed through the skin and retained in the heart, liver and brain for long periods of time. It can cause damage to the eyes, even when absorbed through the skin. Exposure can lead to coughing, headaches, nausea and vomiting. It is an ingredient of great concern for scientists, especially when children are exposed to it. Oddly, Skin Deep only rates this ingredient a 3.

Sodium Laureth Sulphate(SLES) is a milder version of SLS with an added ether chain and is regularly found in cleansers and shampoos. It is added to thicken and give a richer consistency. It can cause skin irritation, and should be kept away from children.

Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate(ALS) is also commonly used in shampoos and cleansers. It can irritate eyes, skin and lungs but is much milder and safer than SLS. Lavera uses ALS in the Basis line Shampoos. The Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database rates this ingredient 1-2.

Sodium Lauryl Sulphoacetate(SLSA) sounds very similar to Sodium Lauryl Sulphate, and its very easy for one to draw the conclusion that its equally bad for the body. In fact that is not the case - the two are very different. Sodium Lauryl Sulphoacetate is a very mild foaming agent and has a Hazard Ranking of 1 (low hazard) in the Skin Deep database. It is derived from coconut and palm oils and creates a rich lather that can easily be rinsed away. Its molecular size is considerably larger than SLS - it is too large to penetrate the skin, unlike the much smaller SLS molecular that does penetrate the skin and lead to skin irritations and other problems.

All of the above are anionic surfactants (or wetting agents) which are used to lower the surface tension of water.

Lavera, True Natural and Benecos products NEVER contain any parabens.

Mineral Oil & Petroleum Jelly (Petrolatum)

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Mineral oils listed as petrolatum (petroleum jelly) or C-18 derivatives are frequently used in personal care products such as lipsticks, lubricants, baby lotions and oils. They commonly contain contaminants that studies have linked to cancer. UCLA studies links "high levels of exposure to mineral oils to increased mortality and incidence of lung cancer, ... melanoma" Source:

Mineral oils are also known to clog pores, forming a barrier preventing skin from eliminating toxins. Repeated use can even set off skin conditions such as acne and dermatitis.

Petroleum Jelly, or Petrolatum, is a semisolid compound derived from hydrocarbon. It can block the skin’s ability to moisturize itself, leading to chapped and dry skin, which are often conditions it is sold to alleviate. While Petrolatum on its own is not too harmful, it is often cheaply produced and the impurities/contaminants often found in Petrolatum are the concern. Frequently, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons(PAH) are found, which have been linked in studies to breast cancer.

Petrolatum has been banned by the EU from use in cosmetics unless the source can be proven and the product shown to be pure. It is listed as a possible human carcinogen.

Lavera only uses plant oils, never petroleum based oils.


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NEWS UPDATE: FDA's own tests now confirm lead in all 20 lipsticks it tested!

Apply, lick off, and repeat. That’s what we as women do many times a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Sure, it comes off on a glass, a friend’s cheek, a lover’s lips. But over the course of a lifetime, we swallow a fair amount of lipstick. Four pounds according to Glamour Magazine, six pounds according to urban lore, and nine pounds according to the Environment Working Group, a consumer advocacy group. Whomever you believe, it’s enough consumed lipstick that should make any woman ask: What’s in the lipsticks I’m wearing?

According to a study released by Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a division of EWG, more than 60% of the 33 famous brands studied contained lead, with levels ranging up to 0.65 parts per million. All the regular names you’ve known and used. Lead is a known neurotoxin that has been linked to brain damage and miscarriages, among other things. No lipstick ingredient labels list lead.

The Food and Drug Administration does not limit lead in cosmetics, like it does in candy. In fact, one third of the lipstick brands exceed the FDA limit for lead in candy: 0.1 parts per million. The levels ranged from 0.03 - 0.65 ppm. Very small amounts mind you, but lead levels build up in the body over time.

But its not just lead - parabens, synthetic colors derived from coal-tar, synthetic fragrances, phthalates and BHA are questionable ingredients in many lipsticks, with side-effects that range from skin irritations to being suspected carcinogens.

No, you don’t have to swear off lipsticks forever - just pay attention to what you buy. Just as with food, look at the ingredient labels and stick with products that use certified organic ingredients and are certified natural.

Lavera lipsticks are certified all natural by the BDIH, one of the strictest certifying bodies in world. Lavera lipsticks consist of all natural ingredients such as organic essential oils, candelilla wax, jojoba oil, and natural minerals such as titanium, zinc and iron oxides. Lavera lipsticks come in a vivid range of colors and prove that you can look out for your health and beauty at the same time, without compromise!

Methylisothiazolinone (MIT)

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Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) is becoming increasingly popular as a preservative to replace parabens. Even some products claiming to be certified organic use this preservative, as certain percentages of non-organic material is allowed by the USDA.

In lab studies, the bacteria-killing agent was shown to restrict the growth of immature rat nerve cells. Studies on live animals are still needed to confirm the findings. Researchers say the early test tube evidence suggests that prolonged exposure to MIT, or exposure to the chemical at high concentrations, could damage the nervous system.

“The biggest potential concern, says lead researcher Elias Aizenman, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is for the fetuses of pregnant women exposed to high doses of MIT.”

Read more about MIT in the CBS article Shampoo Preservative Concerns.

Synthetic Fragrances

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Synthetic fragrances are commonly used in personal care products and are complex formulations containing as many as 200 ingredients. They are used because they are more affordable than pure natural essential oils.

Most adverse reactions to cosmetics and toiletries are caused by fragrance chemicals, which are known irritants and allergens. Many of us have encountered synthetic fragrances that cause us to sneeze or give us headaches, dizziness, violent coughing or even rashes and other skin irritations.

Most hypoallergenic products are fragrance free.

On an ingredient label, fragrances, whether synthetic or natural, are simply listed as “fragrance”, “perfume” or “parfum”, preventing us from identifying the chemical makeup and whether these chemicals may be dangerous to our long-term health.

Lavera, True Natural and Benecos products DO NOT CONTAIN synthetic fragrances - all fragrances are from natural sources such as pure essential oils.

Synthetic Colors

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Synthetic color or FD&C colors are mostly derived from coal tar. Many have been banned from food by the FDA for various reasons: carcinogenicity, allergy inducing, general toxicity, etc. A number caused illnesses in children. They have been shown in clinical studies to cause various types of cancer.

A few of these colors have now been banned from cosmetic use. For instance, the FDA has already banned the new use of Red No.3, a carcinogen that may interfere with nerve transmission in the brain and cause genetic damage.

Long term studies have shown that regular lipstick wearers ingest approximately 2 ½ pounds of lipstick over 20 years. Any synthetic colors are ingested along with the lipstick.

Synthetic colors, if listed on a product, will appear as FD&C or D&C followed by a number, ie. FD&C Red No. 6. Given the various health risks associated with many synthetic colors, if a personal care product uses it, don't use it.

Lavera products use only 100% natural colors and are completely free of FD&C colors.


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Ethoxylation is a chemical process in which ethylene oxide is added to fatty acids to make them more soluble in water. An example of this process is the ethoxylation of sodium dodecyl sulfate to form sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) , often used in shampoos and toothpastes as a foaming agent. The problem with Ethoxylation is its use of a petrochemical called Ethylene Oxide, which generates 1,4-Dioxane as a by-product "known to the State of California to cause cancer". Additionally, it is suspected by the Californian EPA to be a kidney toxicant, neurotoxicant and respiratory toxicant, among others.

1,4-Dioxane is commonly found in many conventional shampoos, body washes, lotions and other personal care and household cleaning products but a recent study commission by the Organic Consumers Association found this substance in many popular "natural" and "organic" brands. This same study found products certified by the USDA National Organic Program and the European BDIH foundation to be FREE of 1,4-Dioxane.

A copy of the Organic Consumer Association Consumer Alert on 1,4-Dioxane can be found here.

In a study conducted by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, 32 out of 48 children’s skin care products tested positive for 1,4 Dioxane at levels of 0.27 to 35 ppm.



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Phthalates is an ingredient found in many beauty and personal care products, most notably as a carrier for fragrance ingredients. Under current FDA labelling regulations, this ingredient can often be labelled just as "Fragrance", although it is major component in the composition of the product. In other products, it is listed, but as an acronym which makes it harder to identify.

For the latest update on Phthalates, click here: Cosmetic Ingredient Linked to Health Problems, ADHD.

Below is a list of common names for the phthalates found in personal care products:

Phthlate NameCommon Usage
BzBP or
benzylbutyl phthalate
vinyl flooring, car-care products, and personal care products
DBP or
di-n-butyl phthalate
in nail polish and other personal care products
or diethyl phthalate
personal care products, such as deodorants, perfume, cologne, aftershave lotion, shampoo, hair gel, hand lotion

Animal-based studies of phthalates have found that the synthetic chemicals can harm reproductive system development, and studies in humans have found that prenatal exposure or exposure through breast milk can alter hormone concentrations.

A recent study was carried out by researchers on 163 babies and toddlers in the Pacific Northwest at the University of Washington and Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute, and was published in the journal Pediatrics. The study's lead author, Sheela Sathyanarayana, an acting assistant professor of pediatrics, said, "We found that infant exposure to phthalates is widespread, and that exposure to personal care products applied onto the skin may be an important source.”

"This is troubling, because phthalate exposure in early childhood has been associated with altered hormone concentrations as well as increased allergies, runny nose, and eczema. Babies may be more at risk than children or adults because their reproductive, endocrine, and immune systems are still developing."

The study recommended that parents, who want to decrease their baby's exposure to phthalates, should limit the amount of baby care products used on the infant, and apply lotions or powders only if medically indicated.

Babies recently treated with infant personal care products such as lotion, shampoo, and powder, were more likely to have phthalates in their urine than other babies.

Researchers found that the use of baby powder, lotion, and shampoo were each strongly associated with higher phthalate levels in the urine. Babies, who were 8 months old or younger, had stronger associations between product use and phthalate concentrations, as did babies whose mothers used more infant personal care products.

Europeans, taking a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach, have banned phthalates from personal care products. This is not the case with US made products. Lavera, True Natural and Benecos products are phthalate free.

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