Wednesday, Jul 30, 2014 11:20 pm est

How to avoid harmful chemicals in beauty products

Posted on March 11, 2014 | by Rebecca Riddle


Between hair-care products, lotions, makeup, soaps and other beauty staples, girls expose themselves to a variety of chemicals on a daily basis. Unfortunately, many of these products can come with significant health risks. Though cosmetics must list the ingredients they contain, the ingredients are not subject to FDA regulation. Instead, the FDA regulates the product. Therefore, consumers must pay close attention to the  ingredient labels. No one wants to give up their beloved beauty products, but there are certain chemicals that should be avoided, and steps that can be taken to limit exposure.

Parabens, which act as preservatives in makeup, moisturizers, shaving creams and other products, are alarmingly common and can be hazardous to health. Parabens can disrupt normal hormone function, leading to an increased risk of breast cancer because they mimic estrogen. Some studies have also linked parabens to disruptions in the male reproductive system and have also established possible links to skin cancer.

Parabens are so common that it is nearly impossible to avoid them altogether, but luckily many companies are now marketing paraben-free products, making it easier to avoid exposure. It is especially important to avoid paraben in products that cover larger areas of the body, such as body lotion. Burt’s Bee’s Fragrance Free Body Lotion is a paraben-free option that also offers the benefits of natural Shea Butter and Vitamin E ($13).

Sulfates, such as sodium lauryl sulfate, are potentially hazardous due to possible contamination from dangerous byproducts during the manufacturing process. These sulfates give products the ability to foam and are often used in shampoos. While research has been inconclusive on whether the sulfates used in beauty products cause cancer, these sulfates do have to ability to cause skin and eye irritation.

Products containing sulfates should not stay on the skin for long and should be rinsed off as quickly as possible. Due to the increased awareness and skepticism about these chemicals’ safety, many new sulfate-free shampoos have emerged on the market. Until recently, sulfate-free shampoos were only available from expensive salon brands, but L’Oreal and Aveeno now both have lines of sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners which also help preserve color-treated hair ($7-8).

Formaldehyde, a toxic and cancer-causing substance, is used in cosmetics to prevent bacterial contamination. Many cosmetics also contain chemicals called formaldehyde releasers, which release small amounts of formaldehyde over time. Nail polishes and nail strengthening treatments commonly contain formaldehyde, so try to buy formaldehyde-free nail polish such as Zoya’s line of polishes ($9). When using regular nail polish, make sure to apply it  in a well-ventilated area in order to reduce the amount of formaldehyde you inhale. Hair-smoothing treatments, such as the popular Brazilian Blowout, have also been found to contain high levels of the chemical. The risk of formaldehyde should always be taken into serious consideration.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, March 12 print edition. Rebecca Riddle is a contributing writer. Email her at


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Felipe De La Hoz

Multimedia Editor | Felipe De La Hoz is a Colombian national studying journalism at the College of Arts and Sciences. Having been born in Colombia and raised in the United States, Mexico and Brazil, Felipe is a trilingual travel aficionado and enjoys working in varied and difficult environments. Apart from his photography, Felipe enjoys investigative reporting and interviews, interviewing the likes of Colombian ex-M-19 guerrilla fighters and controversial politician Jimmy McMillan. He has covered everything from governmental conferences to full-blown riots, as well as portraiture shoots and dining photography. Having worked under Brazilian photojournalists for Reuters and AFP, Felipe hopes to one day work on demanding journalistic projects and contribute to the global news cycle.

Ann Schmidt

News Editor | Ann is a liberal studies sophomore who lived in Florence during her freshman year. She plans on double-majoring in journalism and political science and is always busy. She is constantly making lists and she loves to laugh.


Daniel Yeom

Daniel started at the Features desk of WSN last Spring, writing restaurant reviews whilst indulging on free food and consequently getting fat. Last Fall, he was the dining editor, and he this semester he is senior editor. Daniel is in Gallatin (living the dream) studying Food & Travel Narratives, incorporating aspects of Food Studies, Journalism, and Media, Culture, and Communication. He loves food more than life itself.

Hannah Luu

Deputy Multimedia Editor | Hannah Luu is a ridiculously great Deputy Multimedia Editor. She is a sophomore from Northern California. If you think Northern California means San Francisco you might need to closely examine a map. She is passionate about NPR and being half Asian.

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