It’s not news that our generation is embracing healthier lifestyles, with the words detox, organic, and natural gaining momentum and greater significance. Many people, when considering the importance of healthy living, examine their diet first. Then, they may start to think about removing harmful chemicals from their household and cosmetic products.

According to New York City dermatologist Anne Chapas, MD, “The FDA doesn’t provide guidance on natural personal-care products, be they toothpaste or mascara…In fact, the cosmetic industry has generally been self-regulated since 1938. Currently, manufacturers of cosmetic products are not subject to inspection or review before going public.”

Basically, it’s up to us to check our own labels. And, if you’ve glanced at the back of your shampoo bottle in the shower lately, you may have noticed a long list of even longer, scary-sounding names. This guide will tell you which of these ingredients you should steer clear of.

1. Sunscreen Chemicals

Avobenzone, Benzophenones, Octylethoxycinnamate, PABA are commonly used ingredients that are added to hair products to protect hair from the sun, because hair needs UV/UVB protection too.  An added benefit of sunscreen in hair products is its color protecting qualities, making color treatments last longer.  On the flip side, because they cannot destroy the sun’s energy, the light energy turns into chemical energy, which is normally released as cell-damaging free radicals.  Other cause for concern is that these chemicals in high quantities can easily be absorbed into the skin and cause skin irritants in most people.

2. Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate

This water-based preservative emerged in the wood and paint industries before making its way to cosmetics, where it’s used in creams and lotions to prevent mold, bacteria, and other germs from spreading. Is it really harmful? Well, Japan seems to think so since it has banned the substance, and The Cosmetic Ingredient Review — an independent review panel — limits its use in cosmetics to .1% or less due to the potential to irritate skin in concentrations of .5% and above. Other allegations include quick absorption into the bloodstream, as well as dermal and inhalation toxicity. The CIR also notes that it should never be used in aerosol products because of inhalation risks.

Watch out for these terms:

IPBC, 3-iodo-2-propynyl butylcarbamate, carbamic acid, Glycacil®, and IodoCarb®

Natural alternatives:

Natural preservative alternatives with anti-microbial properties include grapefruit seed and rosemary extracts; tea tree, neem seed, and thyme essential oils; vitamin E and vitamin C are also options. These natural alternatives prevent oils and fats from becoming rancid; however, their drawback is their shorter shelf life.

3. Lactic acid

This compound originating from sour milk is used in the hair product industry to allow the breakdown of skin and hair impurities to help other skin and scalp ingredients penetrate further.  Prolonged use can lead to eye and skin irritation and for this reason is restricted in Canada. You want lactic acid to be one of the last names on the ingredients list when using a product with this chemical.  High concentration could produce chemically altering effects. Ref:, EWGs Skin Deep Cosmetics Database

4. Lead Acetate

This is a very common color additive in modern hair dye products and — the big “C” word — a possible carcinogen. It has been banned in the European Union and Canada, and, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC”>, it’s one of the most dangerous chemicals found in skin care because it’s “a known reproductive and developmental toxin linked to infertility, birth defects, and developmental delays.”

However, in 2002, the American FDA concluded that, “According to safety tests, no significant increase in blood levels of lead was seen in trial subjects and the lead was not shown to be absorbed into the body through such use.” Therefore, the FDA determined lead acetate to be safe when specific instructions listed on the packaging are followed. Therefore, you may begin to notice the following on products containing lead acetate: “Caution: Contains lead acetate. For external use only. Keep this product out of children’s reach. Do not use on cut or abraded scalp. If skin irritation develops, discontinue use. Do not use to color mustaches, eyelashes, eyebrows, or hair on parts of the body other than the scalp. Do not get in eyes. Follow instructions carefully and wash hands thoroughly after use.”

5. Lanolin

Lanolin is the purified secretory product of the sheep sebaceous gland — or, more plainly sheep sweat. This slightly unpleasant origin has earned the ingredient bad press as a scary ingredient in the past, but it is actually not dangerous if it’s purified lanolin. Although lanolin has been known to cause an allergic response in a very small percentage of people, purified lanolin is a clean, healthy product to use. Extensive research by the CIR deemed lanolin to have “low acute toxicity based on available animal data and human experience,” and went on to say that lanolin and related lanolin materials are safe for human topical application. This is good news considering its moisturizing benefits.

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