Shedding Light on the Cosmetics Industry

The cosmetics industry is highly unregulated. The FDA only conducts pre-market reviews of certain cosmetic color additives and active ingredients that are classified as over the counter drugs. Besides color additives, and a few prohibited substances (see list below), cosmetic companies are free to use any ingredient without government review.

[The FDA currently prohibits the following ingredients in the making of cosmetics: Bithionol, mercury compounds, vinyl chloride, halogenated salicylanilides, zirconium complexes in aerosol cosmetics, chloroform, methylene chloride, chlorofluorocarbon propellants and hexachlorophene.]

Although the aforementioned ingredients are banned, there are many toxic and harmful ingredients commonly used in personal care products. Some of these ingredients include parabens, synthetic colors, fragrance, phthalates, etc.

  • Parabens: widely used as a preservative to prevent the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast. Parabens mimic estrogen and are known to disrupt hormone function, which is linked to increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive toxicity. Parabens can be found in makeup, moisturizers, hair care products, and shaving products, among others.
  • Fragrance: Fragrance formulas are complex mixtures of natural and synthetic chemical ingredients. Under U.S. regulations, individual fragrance ingredients do not have to be listed. These combinations can be listed simply as ‘fragrance’. This is due to the fact that these combinations of chemicals are referred to as ‘trade secrets’, and companies cannot be forced to tell their ‘trade secrets’. Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and possible effects on the reproductive system. ‘Fragrance’ is found in many products such as perfume, cologne, shampoo, conditioner, body wash and moisturizers.
  • Phthalates: A group of chemicals, such as dibutyl phthalate, found in hundreds of products to increase the flexibility and softness of plastics. Phthalates are linked to endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and organ toxicity. Phthalates are found in deodorants, perfumes/colognes, hair sprays and moisturizers. Unfortunately, many phthalates are hidden under the term ‘fragrance’, so are difficult to detect. Phthalates are banned in cosmetics sold in the European Union.

These are just a few examples of a long list of toxic ingredients added to our products. Check out 10 Toxic Beauty Ingredients to Avoid to learn more.


Our skin acts as a sponge and is constantly absorbing everything, from sunshine to the parabens hidden in our skin care products. Just as we must be mindful of what we are putting inside our bodies, we must also be mindful of what we put on it. Despite the tremendous amount of toxic chemicals in our products, there are individuals and companies like Laurel Whole Plant Organics and By Nieves, creating pure products that are marvelous for our bodies and the earth.

Laurel Whole Plant Organics is a flower and herb based facial care line that is dedicated to organic, biodynamic, raw, and unrefined ingredients. I just started using the Laurel Whole Plant Organics line and am blown away by the quality and love that radiates from the products.

On her website, Laurel says, “As we are awakening and learning where our food comes from, this is also a time to be aware of where our skin care comes from, how its made, and what is in it. The most effective skin care is raw, organic, farm sourced, handcrafted and made with love. It’s time to raise the bar for skin care ingredients.”

Laurel’s products are free of parabens, synthetic fragrances, endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, GMOs, non-organically grown plants, and toxic chemicals of any kind.

By Nieves, based in Northern California, features a natural, handmade body care line produced with organic ingredients. Products such as the ‘Face Fix’, contain no emulsifiers, surfactants or preservatives.

This information can be unsettling, and it should be, but not all hope is lost.

If you would like to know more about a product you already own or are thinking of purchasing, the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep is a database of over 69,000 personal care products and a wonderful resource. The website allows you to search by product and then offers a rating reflecting the known and suspected hazards of ingredients.

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