Buttoned Up Expert: Organic & Natural: Ingredients 101

Organic & Natural: Ingredients 101

by Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff www.ecostiletto.com

“Pure” and “natural” might be the buzzwords of today’s hottest beauty products, but don’t believe everything you read. In fact, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, because the personal care industry is unregulated, even the word “organic” can be slapped on products chock-full of chemicals that are dangerous to your health. But who has the time to read through the laundry list of ingredients on the back of your label? You do, if you use the EcoStiletto.com cheat sheet on what to avoid.

Did you know that the average woman eats about nine pounds of lipstick over the course of her lifetime—just by licking her lips? It’s a scary prospect when you consider that a 2007 study by the Environmental Working Group found that two-thirds of lipsticks on the market contain levels of LEAD, a known neurotoxin that builds up in your body and can cause birth defects, higher than what the FDA deems acceptable in food. Lead can also be found in black hair dyes marketed to men. Who knew?

Although it’s classified as a human and animal carcinogen by the EPA, 1,4-DIOXANE, a nasty byproduct of processing harsh chemicals with ethylene oxide to make them less harsh, is prevalent on beauty shelves. Got sodium lauryl sulfate? Ethyoxylate it and you get sodium laureth—the “eth” indicates the process. Unfortunately you also get 1,4-DIOXANE, most commonly found in things that bubble.
Got mascara in your eye? Not to worry, just blink it out. That is, unless it contains THIMEROSAL, a preservative derived from mercury, which is can cause brain damage at low levels.

DIETHYL PHTHALATE is a reproductive toxin that can affect the development of children, yet is so prevalent that repeated studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found phthalates in the urine of nearly every test subject. Unfortunately, phthalates aren’t always included ingredient lists; typically they’re referred to as “fragrance” in perfume, hair spray and deodorant.

Look for nail polishes that are free of DIBUTYL PHTHALATEFORMALDEHYDE, a known carcinogen that’s also responsible for turning your nails yellow when you take off the polish. Even big-box brands like OPI, $7.50 and Sally Hansen, $5.77 are now “big three free.” If your favorite nail salon is still using toxic polish, just remember to BYOB!

And speaking of formaldehyde, many common chemical preservatives release the stuff over time, so avoid the words QUATERNIUM-15, DMDM HYDANTOIN, IMIDAZOLIDINYL UREA and DIAZOLIDINYL UREA on your labels. Better safe than sorry!

Finally, be wary of products that advertise NANOPARTICLES, NANOMATERIALS or NANOTECHNOLOGY, popular especially in sunscreens, where this new emerging technology has allowed scientists to break down ingredients—like zinc or titanium dioxide—into tiny particles. How small? A human hair is about 80,000 nanometers in diameter. Problem is, these nanoparticles are so small that they can penetrate cell walls, including organ tissues. Researchers recently found that inhalation of carbon nanotubes led to mesothelioma—the same kind of cancer linked to asbestos. While the U.S. is turning a blind eye to potential dangers of nanotechnology, the E.U. is currently reviewing the risks of nanomaterials in cosmetics, especially sunscreens.

We constantly update our Big List of Thing That Suck for more. Stay tuned!

Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff is the founder and editor of eco-fashion, beauty and lifestyle website EcoStiletto.com, where you can win $100 in sustainable swag each week!