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- Trace amounts of asbestos were recently found in eye shadow and concealer.
- The US beauty industry is barely regulated, and the US has not enacted new cosmetic regulations in over eight decades.
- Some products may be safe, but many are untested. "Natural" labels mean little, and the products aren’t necessarily better for your health.
- Here are the risky chemicals that could lurk in your products.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Toxic makeup is nothing new: The ancient Greeks used heavy metals on their skin, and Egyptian queens wore black kohl eye makeup that was made with lead.
But last week, trace amounts of asbestos — a known cancer causer — were found in concealer as well as sparkly makeup marketed to kids at Claire’s, a reminder that toxic chemicals and compounds still lurk in beauty products. In March, Claire’s also voluntarily recalled some of its eye shadow and face powder after asbestos was found in those products as well.
The issue isn’t limited to cosmetics: The FDA recently warned about dangerous bacteria in a no-rinse cleansing foam used by hospital patients, alerted tattoo artists about ink contaminated with microorganisms, and found yeast in Young Living essential oils.
In part, these problems arise because US beauty products are largely unregulated.
"The law does not require cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, to have FDA approval before they go on the market," the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes.
Some toxic ingredients (like asbestos) are inadvertently added during the manufacturing process, while product makers put others in purposefully to help with absorption, shine, shimmer, or a non-greasy feel. Studies suggest that chemicals from the products people put on their faces and bodies can show up later in urine. Certain compounds, especially when mixed together in the body, might up a person’s odds of developing cancer or mess with their reproductive ability.
But it’s nearly impossible for consumers to determine what’s in cosmetics even by reading the labels, since many compounds can be considered trade secrets and hide in the "parfum" or "fragrance" ingredients on a list.
Alec Batis, a former research chemist who once made hair dyes for the L’Oreal group, is an expert in the risks and benefits of chemicals used in beauty products.
Batis, who now works as a paid consultant for beauty companies and recently appeared in a documentary called "Toxic Beauty," told Business Insider that people should be concerned about some chemicals in products like soap, shampoo, and perfume. But not every formulation is dangerous.
"It’s not about hating chemicals," Batis said. "Let’s understand what this stuff really is."
Here’s a look at 11 problematic ingredients that are near-universal bathroom vanity staples.
Phthalates used to be almost ubiquitous in cosmetics, and they’re still in many fragrances today. Studies link the plasticizers to reproductive and development issues.
Phthalates help make plastics durable and flexible. They’re used in raincoats, flooring, hair spray, nail polish, perfume, lotion, shampoo, aftershave, food packaging, and toys, among many other items.
When it comes to makeup, the FDA says on its website that diethylphthalate (DEP) is "the only phthalate still commonly used in cosmetics."
Batis said he’ll wear some fragrance when he goes out, but he washes it off before bed.
"We don’t know the long term effects, and we have to be smart about it," he said.
Parabens are also common in shampoo, shaving cream, moisturizers, and other makeup.
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The chemicals are meant to prevent mold and bacterial growth, but it’s not clear yet how they impact human health at low levels.
Many cosmetic makers have switched to "paraben-free" formulations, but Batis said that doesn’t mean they’re better.
"They switch to other [preservatives], for example, methylchloroisothiazolinone and its sister compounds," he said. "And I’m thinking, ‘Wow. You’re switching to that, which is a known sensitizing allergen.’"
Frequent use of sensitizing allergens like methylchloroisothiazolinone can cause lesions and a scaly red rash in some people.
A chemical called 1,4 dioxane is not purposefully put in cosmetics, but it can show up as part of the makeup manufacturing process, and it is dangerous.
According to the FDA, 1,4 dioxane "is a potential human carcinogen." It sometimes shows up in beauty products that contain detergents, foams, stabilizers or solvents.
The FDA recommends that manufacturers use a vacuum technique so that the cancer-linked byproduct can be avoided. Batis agrees.
"The manufacturing process should be standardized to vacuum," he said. "There’s so many simple solves for some of these things."
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