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.
A chemical process called ethoxylation generates byproduct 1,4 Dioxane which has been linked to cancer. It is also a kidney, neuro- and respiratory toxicant and skin irritant. An example of ethoxylation is converting the notoriously harsh ingredient Sodium Lauryl Sulfate into the less harsh Sodium Laureth Sulphate. This milder ingredient, commonly used as a foaming agent in cosmetic products, can release 1,4 Dioxane contamination.
To avoid 1,4-Dioxane, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) suggests consumers search ingredient lists for indications of ethoxylation by watching for "eth", "PEG", "polyethylene", "polyethylene glycol", "polyoxyethylene", or "oxynol" in ingredient names.
This is just one example. Formaldehyde can be released into a product over time when common chemical preservatives are used. You can avoid products containing formaldehye-releasing preservatives by watching for quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea and diazolidinyl urea on product labels.
Other ingredients, like Talc, have received bad press because of a contaminant often found in Talc. It is not harmful itself, but can contain asbestos, a known carcinogen. The FDA has approved cosmetic grade talc as nontoxic. However, Lavera uses pharmaceutical grade talc, which is the most pure form of the mineral, to ensure safety.
Pharmaceutical grade talc is also a good example of a safe replacement for cornstarch in cosmetic products. Cornstarch is often used as a thickener, but since certain organic crops in the US have tested positively for Genetically Modified Ingredients (GMOs), companies like Lavera choose to use the safer version of talc in its place.
The FDA in 2009 found lead in all 20 lipsticks it tested. Certainly no manufacturer adds lead as an ingredient to its lipstick formulation. Likely, the lead was a contaminant in the dyes and pigments used as ingredients. Lead exposure can result in permanent brain damage, lower IQ and other behavioral and health problems
Because these toxic byproducts are created when the raw ingredients are processed, they are exempt from labeling laws. Manufacturers do not even have to be aware of them in their own products.
Manufacturers of such products argue that the level of these contaminants in cosmetic products is very low. The problem is not how high the level of toxic chemicals in a product, but how many products we (and our children) use that contain these chemicals each and every day. We have to think exposure rather than quantity in a single use.
Just as eating one salmon dinner would not expose you to unsafe levels of mercury, so one lead tainted lipstick would likely not cause problems. However, given that the average woman consumes up to 6lbs of lipstick over her lifetime, the exposure to lead certainly becomes more troubling.
Learning to spot chemically processed derivatives of an ingredient may not be easy and, at this point, requires some research on the part of the consumer. Choosing products that carry the seal of a reliable certifying body is one way to make certain your products are free from chemical contaminants.
Products that carry the USDA Certified Organic Seal are much less likely to contain contaminants. There have however been some concerns about contamination of organic crops with genetically modified crops. BDIH guidelines require ingredients require ingredients to be naturally sourced and be obtained from organic growth or wild harvest wherever possible. Although less strict on the organic requirement, it is very specific about rejecting synthetic, petroleum-based, and genetically modified crop based ingredients. Though BDIH does allow sulfation, Lavera does not use sulfation in any products.
Changes in cosmetic regulations and requiring cosmetic companies to list all ingredients on product labels, holding them to higher safety standards, would be ideal. In the mean time, it falls on the consumer to really research what a brand's philosophy is and determine their level of commitment to product safety.
At Lavera, we take pride in our 22 years of commitment to the production of the finest natural skin care and cosmetics, with careful attention to the quality and safety of the ingredients in our products. And we are proud that this commitment has been recognized with the 2nd year of being named the greenest beauty brand by the German consumer safety magazine Oeko-Test.
The ingredient labels only tell so much. Trust companies who commit to product safety and full ingredient disclosure. Its great to see that more companies are joining our ranks.