Hi friends! Today we are going to chat about toxins in cosmetics and personal care products. There is a lot of buzz surrounding ‘clean cosmetics’ these days (for the record, clean cosmetics doesn’t have a true definition or any sort of regulation), so I thought just doing a brief overview of the various ways in which personal care products might be contaminated with chemicals, heavy metals, etc, might be useful and/or empowering to some.
I hope you enjoy! Please let me know if you have any questions.
Are there really ‘toxins’ in our cosmetics?
Yes, many there are potentially harmful substances, including toxic chemicals and heavy metals, in cosmetics, and many other personal care products, including shampoos, conditioners, body lotions, etc.
Before we take a deep dive into toxins in cosmetics, I just want to clarify that in this post, I am referring to ‘toxin’ as a harmful substance that is unnecessary to the product, and may be detrimental to human and/or environmental health.
I also want to acknowledge that the dose makes the poison, and yes, everything can be toxic at a certain amount, but for this post, again, I am using the phrase ‘toxin’ to represent a substance unnecessary to the product that may cary health risks at the a normal use exposure level.
I want to emphasize that there is a difference between toxins that are a result of contamination and/or poor manufacturing practices, and synthetic ingredients that are not necessarily bad for human health.
Furthermore, whether or not something is ‘natural’ does not necessarily have implications for its potential risks. Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury are technically all ‘natural’ heavy metals, but these are also found in some cosmetics, and too much exposure to these heavy metals can be detrimental to human health.
On the other hand, salicylic acid (a synthetic compound that acts as a medicine to treat acne) is an example of a synthetic ingredient that is intentional and not harmful in the controlled amount in which it is added to a designated product. There is a lot of greenwashing in the beauty world right now, and I just wanted to clear up any confusion about how I feel about ‘natural’ versus ‘unnatural’ versus ‘toxic’ products. I hope this makes sense. If it doesn’t, please let me know in the comments below!
Now that that is out of the way, let’s discuss toxins in cosmetics and other personal care products (PCPs).
Why do personal care products and cosmetics even have toxins?
Many personal care products and cosmetics are at risk for breeding bacteria. Thus, to extend their shelf-life and prevent them from festering lots of bacteria, manufacturers add preservatives to prevent microbial growth.
Currently, among the list allows many compounds including organic acids, triclosans, chlorhexidine, formaldehyde releasers, and parabens, among others. While these compounds may protect the products from bacterial growth, they may be toxic to consumers.
What sorts of chemicals and heavy metals might be in my product? What are the concerns about these compounds?
As I mentioned above, there are many chemicals and heavy metals that are often found in cosmetics and personal care products.
First, let’s chat about heavy metals. Compounds like arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, and nickel, can all been found in some cosmetics. In 2012, the FDA conduced a survey of 150 PCP including cosmetics, face paints, shaving creams, and lotions, and found:
“The amounts of arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, mercury, and nickel that we found were for the most part very small. We currently do not have information indicating that the amounts we found would pose a health risk.”–FDA website
They acknowledge the presence of these compounds in PCPs, but have stated the amounts in the products they tested are within allowable limits.
They have also created an industry guide for cosmetic manufacturers, describing how they can take actions to reduce the amount of potentially harmful compounds in their products.
Despite the FDA’s reports, other institutions have expressed concern at the potential risks of these compounds in personal care products and cosmetics.
In 2013, scientists at UC Berkeley School of Public Health found lead, cadmium, chromium, aluminum, and other metals at levels that could ‘raise potential health concerns’ in 32 different lip products (like lipsticks and glosses) that were commonly found in drug and department stores.
Lip products are especially concerning when it comes to toxin or heavy metal exposure, as they are more likely to be ingested.
Why is this a potential problem? Let’s talk about lead as an example. Lead is found in many lipsticks. The FDA has guidelines for limiting lead in lipstick, but it is still found in many lip products.
Exposure to lead leads to accumulation of the substance in bones, blood and tissues. It can lead to short-term health effects, like abdominal pain, headache, and memory loss, and longer-term health effects like increased risks of heart disease, kidney disease, and cancer.…