5 Ways Cosmetics Can Kill You

Do you know what’s in your cosmetics? Neither did I – until I realized that when it comes to what gets absorbed by our skin, ignorance is not bliss. And don’t think the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) got your back; the U.S. government has very little control over what goes into personal care products. With more than 10,500 ingredients, many of which have never been evaluated for safety, it turns out that the face of cosmetics is far less than perfect. In fact, based on findings from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, we discovered a bunch of ways cosmetics can even kill you.

1 – Faulty Fragrance: “This fragrance may cause swelling, fevers, infertility, obesity…”


There’s nothing wrong with wanting to smell good. But the same scent that makes you feel so sexy can also trigger unattractive allergic reactions, including asthma, headaches, chest tightening, wheezing, swelling, and rashes. And that’s just in the short term. Many of the chemicals found in fragrances are also associated with infertility, obesity, thyroid malfunction, and cancer.

Buyer beware: Halle by Halle Berry, Quicksilver, and Glow by JLO each contain seven different hormone-disrupting chemicals.

2 – Bubble Bath Blues – “Rubber ducky, you’re so toxic…”


You want to pamper yourself at the end of a long day, and you decide a bubble bath is the way to do it. But you might be better off popping open a bottle of bubbly. The contaminants 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde have been found in countless bath products – even those purported to be “safe” for kids! These are known carcinogens, folks, and small exposures do add up.

Buyer beware: Read it and weep: Johnson’s Baby Shampoo (of “no more tears” fame) has been on the toxic offender list for more than two years, and has yet to clean up its act.

3 – Lead in Lipstick: Don’t lick your lips!


You’ve probably heard reports for years about the presence of lead in your favorite lipstick. And you may have figured, “Hey, I’m not eating my lipstick, so I’m in the clear, right?” Wrong. Lead is a neurotoxin that can cause learning, language, and behavioral problems – and recent science indicates that there is no safe level of lead exposure.

Buyer beware: In a 2009 study, the FDA found the highest lead levels in Cover Girl, L’Oreal, Body Shop, Maybelline, and Revlon lipsticks.

4 – Knocked Out at the Nail Salon: Hold your breath!


The stink that greets you when you walk into a nail salon? No surprise here – it’s rotten for your health, too. The toxic chemicals in nail polish, nail polish remover, and artificial nail products are suspected to cause asthma, reproductive harm, and even cancer. Nail techs are particularly susceptible to the toxicity, reporting decreased attention and processing skills and increases in asthma and other breathing problems.

Buyer beware: In recent years, many manufacturers have reformulated their nail products to remove dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde, and toluene, but some nail treatments by Nail Tek, OPI, and Essie still contain the toxic trio of ingredients.

5 – Another Sunscreen Surprise: Speeding the development of tumors and lesions, ugh!


It’s one thing to find out that the products you’ve been using to look pretty might not be up to par; it’s quite another to discover that the products you’ve been looking to for protection can actually make your situation worse. The FDA has recently discovered that retinyl palmitate, when applied in the presence of sunlight, may actually speed the development of skin tumors and lesions. The issue? This form of vitamin A is added to about 30 percent of all sunscreens.

Buyer beware: There is still no FDA position on the safety of retinoids in cosmetics, and most cosmetics companies have not removed these ingredients from sunscreens and other skin and lip products.

Sadly, there are many, many more toxic offenders in our purses and on our shelves. Check out Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database so you can do your best to avoid death by cosmetics.

-Robyn Tellefsen

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