Personal care products are filled with unhealthy ingredients. Conventional products in a drug store never live up to my standards. Even most products in a health food store still have a lot of junk in them. That is the point that bothers me the most because people buy these items in a health food store thinking that they are free of possibly harmful ingredients when it's not the case.
I have become quite the label reader and it takes me a long time to pick out products in a store when I need to buy them – which is why I rarely buy them anymore (I make my own products instead). It is important to learn how to read labels but sometimes it feels like you need to be a scientist to figure out what any of the words mean.
Here are some of the ingredients to avoid because of their possible health effects…
Parabens (esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid) are used in personal care products as antimicrobial agents to preserve the product and prevent spoilage. When reading labels the ingredient might say Methyl, Propyl, Isopropyl, Butyl, and Isobutylparabens. The major problem with parabens is that they are estrogen mimicking substances that disrupt hormones. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology in 2004, called Concentrations of Parabens in Human Breast Tumours, reported that parabens were found in samples of tissue from human breast tumors in 19 out of 20 studied. Although the FDA acknowledges the hormone like qualities of parabens they still state the following (updated in 2007), “FDA believes that at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens. However, the agency will continue to evaluate new data in this area.” I don't know about you but I'm not willing to take their word for it.
Retinol is a common ingredient in facial products like moisturizers, anti-aging products, and acne products. Words to look out for on lables might be Differin (adapelene), retin-A, renova, tretinoin, retinoic acid, retinol, retinyl linoleate, retinyl palmitate, tazorac and avage, and tazarotene. Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A which encourages skin to regenerate which makes skin appear younger. The problem is that that new skin is more sensitive to sun damage, and can actually increase risk of sun damage and skin cancer when used in daytime products. The skin is not only sensitive to the sun but also to anything else you may use on it.
It is even more important to be cautious about Retinol during pregnancy or breast feeding because of the high levels of vitamin A. If you are pregnant and you have been using skin-care products with retinol, don't panic. No studies have definitively linked topical use of retinol to birth defects or harm to unborn infants. To be on the safe side, though, avoid skin-care products with this ingredient. Read more about this on BabyCenter. If you like the effects of products with Retinol in them and how it makes your skin look read my post on this effective natural alternative, Effective Natural Alternative to Retinol.
Fragrance is a term you see on most products. In the ingredient list it will simply say the word fragrance which seems harmless – especially next to all those chemical looking words that we don't recognize. The problem with fragrance is that Federal law doesn't require companies to list on product labels any of the chemicals in their fragrance mixture. This means we have no idea what is in it and if there are any health concerns.
Recent research from EWG and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found an average of 14 chemicals in 17 name brand fragrance products, none of them listed on the label. Fragrances can contain hormone disruptors and are among the top 5 allergens in the world. Fragrance can also be an issue if you have food allergies – you don't know if there are hidden things like gluten in there as well. To be safe, by fragrance-free products or products made with essential oils instead.