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The Dark Side Of The Beauty Industry: Toxic Chemicals In Your Favorite Products

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By Susana Gago

· 4 min read

We are often unaware of the chemicals in personal care products, and many of us have used them without knowing any better. The truth is that not all ingredients are clean, and some can actually poison our bodies, speed up the aging process, and cause irreparable damage. These toxic products try to imitate Nature's gifts with inferior, synthetic, and potentially toxic substances that are masquerading as ‘natural’, ‘pure’, and ‘safe’, but that's nothing but greenwashing.

It is crucial that we learn about the detrimental and dangerous consequences of toxins in the products we use every day so that we can make more informed decisions about what we should and shouldn’t be applying to our skin.

There are chemicals and contaminants associated with cancer found in food, water, and many other commonplace items. However, cosmetics and other personal care products probably have the least amount of government oversight out of any consumer product. 595 cosmetics manufacturers in the US have reported using 88 cancer-linked, birth defect-linked, or reproductive harm-linked chemicals in more than 73,000 products since 2009.

Many of these chemicals should be banned from cosmetics, as proposed in AB 495, the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act. Some of the most dangerous, carcinogens, hormonal and nervous system disruptors:

● Formaldehyde

● Mercury

● Lead

● Asbestos

● Isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, butylparaben, and propylparaben.

● Toluene.

● Triclosan

● Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

● Talc powder

Many of these products are applied directly to the skin, and 60% of them, directly be absorbed into the bloodstream. Some of these chemicals are dangerous even in low doses. They can interfere with the hormone system and disrupt normal development. Studies have shown that “endocrine-disrupting” chemicals, such as parabens and phthalates, may be the most harmful during prenatal and early postnatal development.

72% of products with artificial fragrances contain endocrine disruptors. These added scents and fragrances give us the misleading impression of being more effective & healthier, which is exactly what the manufacturers want you to think. The truth is very different though, as fragrances and chemical scents are highly toxic, and linked to a staggering number of health risks.

Across multiple research studies, chemicals used to make fragrances are classified as allergens, hormone disruptors, asthma triggers, neurotoxins & carcinogens.

Air-freshener-like spray deodorants and perfumes contain synthetic fragrances that are made up of hundreds of chemicals, many of which can be very harmful to the health of not only the person who is ‘wearing’ them but all those breathing the air around them, too.

Despite the alarming evidence, none of the large, mainstream cosmetics companies have pledged to remove carcinogens, parabens, or other poisonous contaminants from their products. They continue to use the same polluting technologies and dangerous formulas created decades ago.

These toxic poisons are very hard to avoid because manufacturers are not required to list them on ingredient labels

Our health, our responsibility

Be cautious of the ambiguous and inaccurate marketing terms on product packaging. ‘Natural’ might cause us to believe that a beauty product is clean and consequently healthy, but because label terms are not properly regulated, marketers are free to manipulate the packaging and convince consumers otherwise.

Beware of brands that claim to be ‘natural’, ‘pure’, ‘organic’, and ‘synthetic-free’ as they may still contain harmful chemicals. These companies use strategies to lure us into a false sense of security, so it is important to be mindful of them.

It’s important to do more than just read labels, you also have to consider which companies you can trust. We are complicit while we buy and use products that destroy our "natural capital" We must look for companies standing up for human and planetary health. In today's world, businesses need to become agents of change and take action to create a positive impact, environmental and biodiversity restoration, fair pay, high-quality clean ingredients, and become a force for good. We must support life-affirming brands that strive to not only sustain but regenerate resources that connect, unite and restore the whole ecological system, for the benefit of all forms of life. Products using commercial viability to deliver broader goals: human and ecological wellbeing.

New laws need to be in place, that hold the beauty industry accountable for the raw ingredients they use. As clearly our governments and corporates do not protect our interests, our well-being, or our health, it is a matter of personal responsibility to stay well-informed and minimize the use of toxins (air, food, drinks, pharma, cosmetics, personal care, and house cleaning products), to reclaim the full spectrum of our health.

If we cannot protect Nature, we cannot protect ourselves.

Illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Susana Gago is the founder of UNAKTI, a female-led ecosystem dedicated to cultivating high-value medicinal and aromatic plants, and transforming them into pure raw materials for the Cosmetic, Health & Wellness industries. As part of her job at UNAKTI, she collaborates with local women farmers and communities, empowering them through regenerative medicinal forest cultivation to step up into leadership roles within their families and communities. 

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