5 Toxic Chemicals Lurking in Your Beauty Products


Often, we don’t realize the power we have in making choices that profoundly influence the state of our health, from how we feel, to how we age.  But we really do!  From the powerphenols and quality of fats, we include in our diet, to the timing of when we eat and how we exercise.  These are just some of the ways we can make impactful choices in how well we live and how well we age.   We can consciously choose to include things in our life that activate our cell’s natural autophagy—our internal clean-up crew that keeps us feeling youthful, full of vitality and looking our best at any age.

Another way we can ensure our autophagy is at peak performance is to avoid things that slow it down. An essential part of maintaining health and beauty has to do with the kinds of personal care products you use. According to the Environmental Working Group, 25% of women surveyed use 15 or more products a day, from shampoo and deodorant, to nail polish, body wash and cosmetics, that contain over 125 unique chemicals!

I love living in these modern times that offer us the endless variety of products to suit our particular needs. Unfortunately, when it comes to personal body care products, there is no governing body overseeing the health and safety of the products we use.  It’s incredible, but no studies or pre-market testing proving the safety of these products are required.

So many products claim to be anti-aging, but a closer look at the ingredients reveals they actually can make you look older than you are!  They bog down your detoxification pathways, contribute to stress and inflammation, and require vital nutrients to detoxify and eliminate.  All of this slows cellular autophagy only leading to toxic waste, cell damage and accelerated aging.

Take a look at these top 5 chemicals found in common body and beauty care products you’ll want to stay away from to protect the integrity of your skin and overall health.

Formaldehyde: Classified as a probable human carcinogen, this widespread preservative can be found in things like nail polish and remover, eyelash glue, hair gel, lotions and deodorants.  An article published in Contact Dermatitis found that nearly 20 percent of products contain formaldehyde or formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. This chemical is linked to leukemia, allergies, chest pain, chronic fatigue, depression, dizziness, ear infections, headaches, joint pain, loss of sleep, and can trigger asthma.

Unfortunately, you may have to be a little diligent in your sleuthing of body care products to find sources of hidden formaldehyde.  Often a product will say formalin instead of formaldehyde, or any one of the following names: DMDM hydantoin which is found in over 2000 products; Diazolidinyl urea which is found in about 2000 products; Imidazolidinyl urea which is found in over 700 products; Quaternium-15 which is found in about 400 products; and Hydroxymethylglycinate, found in over 300 products.

What to use instead:  Instead of formaldehyde to preserve your cosmetics and body care products, try DIY masks, cleansers and moisturizers, or choose organic, non-toxic products that use natural preservatives like essential oils and antioxidants.

Mineral oil and Petrolatum:  Found in lotions, creams and ointments, these chemicals coat the skin like Saran Wrap.  They are petroleum derivatives that cover the skin to prevent water loss.  The molecular size is too big to be absorbed into the skin, so instead it stays on the surface, clogging pores and blocking the skin’s ability to breath.

What to use instead:  Luckily there are wonderful natural alternatives that have moisturizing properties without sealing the skin in.  Emollients like jojoba, candelilla, carnauba, as well as cocoa and shea butters make effective and safe natural moisturizers, that truly nourish the skin.  Beeswax is another one of my favorite options with similar moisturizing properties to mineral oil but doesn’t clog pores or cause breakouts.

Oxybenzone:  Oxybenzone is a chemical blocker used in sunscreens, lip balm, and moisturizers. Sunscreens are categorized as either mineral blockers, or chemical blockers depending on the ingredients and what mechanism they use to protect the skin from DNA damage. This chemical has been linked to hormone disruption, cancer and low-birth weight babies. It’s associated with allergic reactions triggered by sun exposure; in a study of 82 patients with photoallergic contact dermatitis, over one quarter showed photoallergic reactions to oxybenzone.

What to use instead: Look for sun care products that are mineral blockers and contain Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide.  When in the sun for extended periods of time, be sure to cover up with light colored clothing like cotton or linen and wear a sun hat to decrease DNA damage and the appearance of wrinkles and brown spots.

Parabens & Phthalates: Found in a variety of products like hairspray, nail polish, perfume, soap, hair gel and lotion; these two classes of chemicals serve as preservatives to keep out bacteria, and act as plasticizers to soften and moisturize the skin. They are endocrine disruptors, wreaking havoc with your hormonal systems and both thought to be potentially carcinogenic.  A 2004 study revealed high levels of parabens in human breast tumors. And a 2005 study found decreased testosterone levels in baby boys exposed to phthalates in their mother’s breast milk.

What to look for:  There are different types of parabens and can be listed under chemical names like: methylparaben, propylparaben, isoparaben or butylparaben.  Look for products that say “paraben-free”. If you see the words “fragrance” or “parfum” on a label, that almost always means phthalates.  Look for the following claims instead: “no synthetic fragrance” or “scented with only essential oils” or “phthalate-free.”  Phthalates are used in many things including the plastic bottles used to contain your body care products, in order to make plastic more soft and pliable.  To avoid phthalates leaching into your cosmetics and personal care products, avoid plastic containers that have the number “3” in the center of the recycling symbol, or when possible choose products that come in glass containers.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS):  A common ingredient in many personal care products from soaps and shampoos to body wash and toothpaste, this chemical creates a powerful foaming action.  While it’s an effective cleansing agent, it strips away the skin’s natural protection-oils and moisture, making it one of the most widespread skin (and eye) irritants used in body care products today.  The Cosmetic Ingredient Review recommends SLS concentrations in body care products at no greater than 1 percent, and that irritation can occur as little as 2 percent.

What to look for:  Avoid this harsh chemical to keep your skin looking supple and smooth by choosing products that have “SLS free” on their label.

As we age, our skin naturally loses collagen and elastin, the proteins that keep skin soft and supple.  Add to this, declining autophagy where our cells aren’t able to remove the toxins and waste as efficiently as they once did, and it’s easy to understand where the visible signs of aging occur as dullness, wrinkles, and discoloration.

Eating certain Powerphenols and foods help mitigate these changes. Avoiding the 5 chemicals listed above in personal body care products is another powerful change you can make in reclaiming your health and encouraging your cells to effortlessly do what they were designed to do:

clean up the cellular waste that gets produced as we go about living our daily lives.

Making changes to your health and lifestyle routine might seem overwhelming at times.  I hope that providing you with a roadmap to prioritize which products to steer clear of, will empower you and offer some relief as you navigate these changes.