There are a lot of reasons we love clean, natural skin care: it’s good for us and the environment; it embraces a conscious, intentional way of living; it utilizes the rich, natural world we call home instead of relying on synthetic creations. There’s also a very important reason to love clean skin care: your health and safety.
This is not just an issue for your skin—it’s a holistic health concern. Over time, more research and tragic stories come out about people who have developed cancer or other long-term health issues because of ingredients in their skincare products. How do things like this happen? Read on to learn more about what ingredients to avoid in skincare.
You’ve probably seen labels on moisturizers and shampoos announcing they’re paraben free. But what are parabens, and why have so many brands and retailers banned them from their products.
Parabens are a set of chemicals that act as preservatives, meaning they prevent and reduce the development of harmful bacteria and mold in products. They’re most commonly used in water-heavy products like shampoos, body wash, conditioners, shaving creams, and lotions. Because of their prevalence, this means that starting from a young age, people can have extended, heavy exposure through their lives. The four strands watch out for are propylparaben (the most common), isopropylparaben, butylparaben, and isobutylparaben.
For an extremely in-depth and well-researched breakdown on all the potential dangers of parabens, we highly encourage you check out the EWG’s guide on them, from which a lot of our own research is sourced from. But if you don’t have the time, we have all the important details here.
Essentially, parabens are so bad because they’ve been identified by the Danish Centre on Endocrine Disruptors to be just that—endocrine disruptors, also referred to as hormone disruptors. Your body’s endocrine system is the body’s natural mechanism for circulating hormones. There are many different, important hormones that make your body function, but the most well-known one is estrogen. In particular, studies have suggested that parabens act as estrogen in the body, causing hormone disruption and throwing off natural reproductive functions.
Estrogen, of course, is strongly linked with the reproductive system. So parabens can cause some havoc, affecting normal functions, development, fertility, and birth outcomes. This is true in both men and women.
Parabens are also linked with potentially increasing the potential for breast cancer. On top of that, they can also irritate the skin, which is exactly what skin care products are not supposed to do.
Fortunately, because of the increased awareness of their danger, major retailers like CVS and Target have committed to removing all parabens from their personal care products.
Talc powder has recently been in the news because of a high-profile court case involving the cosmetic supergiant Johnson & Johnson. A lawsuit alleges that the company marketed their baby powder products towards women’s hygiene and infants, all while knowing their product was linked to ovarian cancer. Now, the company owes 22 women and their families over 4 billion dollars.
Talc powder is a mineral composed primarily of three things—magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. While there isn’t much evidence that talc is a carcinogen on its own, the problem is that talc is formed by the same parent rock as the deadly mineral asbestos. Many talc sources are contaminated with asbestos fibers, which we know to be cancer-causing.
According to the EWG and the US government, there is no amount of asbestos that is considered safe. Approximately 15,000 Americans die from related illnesses each year, whether it be ovarian cancer or mesothelioma. So, alarming. Unfortunately, it only gets worse because talc is not only present in baby powder -- you can also find talc in makeup, body powder, powdered skin care and even toys.
There’s also no way to know if your product with talc in it is contaminated or not (unless you have handy access to a chemistry lab). So our thoughts? Better safe than sorry.
Do regulations help?
The short answer is that in the US, mostly no. It’s a common misconception, but the FDA (the Food and Drug Administration, the government body responsible for regulating consumables and pharmaceuticals) does not regulate the skin care industry. The only thing the FDA regulates in this case is misleading/false advertising, not the actual ingredients that go into the product.
This means there are hardly any guidelines when it comes to skin care and cosmetics ingredients, trials, or efficacy. All that’s required is that manufacturers show that their product is generally safe. Things are slightly better in the EU, which takes a more preventative, proactive approach to banning harmful ingredients.
To date, there’s a huge discrepancy of over 1,000 banned skin care ingredients in the US v.s. EU. Korea, a major exporter of skin care ingredients, also regulates to be more aligned with the EU and also includes facility guidelines.
So by and large in the US, most regulation is self-regulation. It’s up to companies themselves to be transparent in how their products are made and where their ingredients come from (we personally think this is extremely important, so you can read up on our process here). Or, they can opt-in to third-party regulators like the Environmental Working Group (which covers a broad category of products and negatives) or the Leaping Bunny program, which is specifically for regulating animal testing and alternates.
And of course, you can also regulate yourself by only using clean beauty products that are transparent about their ingredients. Treat your body with all the care it deserves.