The Dangers Lurking in Your Everyday Beauty Products

We’ve all heard the age-old saying, “it hurts to be beautiful,” but would you continue using common beauty products if they were actually causing substantial harm to your body? Stacy Malkan is the co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and author of “Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry.” In a recent report for goop, Malkan says that the current law, which was enacted in 1938, gives the FDA almost no authority to regulate cosmetics.

“Right now, companies are allowed to put nearly any chemical into personal care products sold in the U.S.—even known carcinogens—without any safety testing, and without disclosing all the chemicals on labels,” Malkan says. “… Current science tells us that even low doses of certain chemicals can contribute to cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities, and other health problems that are on the rise. Each day, the average American woman uses about a dozen personal care products containing more than 100 chemicals that we ingest, inhale, and absorb through our skin, so they end up inside us.”

While you may not want to toss all of your makeup and toiletries, being educated about ingredients in products means making better decisions when it comes to choosing what you put on your skin or clean your teeth with. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database where you can type in any brand and see the data for the amount of toxicity in products.

Here are the beauty culprits that warrant a critical second look—and some non-toxic alternatives to try.

Face Wash and Body Scrub

Microbeads, also known as polyethylene, are present in face washes, body scrubs and exfoliators, as well as toothpastes like Crest 3D White and Crest Pro-Health. Dr. Amy Forman Taub, medical director and founder of Advanced Dermatology and skinfo Specialty Skincare Boutique in Glencoe and Lincolnshire, says microbeads are tiny beads of plastic used in skincare products for exfoliation. In addition to damaging skin, Forman Taub says microbeads are dangerous to the environment because they wind up at the bottom of lakes and oceans, where they are eaten by fish and end up in our food chain.

“I have never been a fan [of microbeads] as they can cause irregular microscopic damage to the skin,” says Forman Taub. “It is better to use a Clarisonic brush and/or an exfoliating ingredient like alpha hydroxyl acid or salicylic acid.”

Recently, dental hygienists began finding plastic-like beads stuck in the gums of their patients. While the American Dental Association released a statement explaining that is sees no harm in the use of microbeads, many dentists have become alarmed at the damage microbeads can cause to gums. Crest has said it will begin phasing out microbeads through 2016. In the meantime, it may be safest to toss your products containing polyethylene until we know more about the ingredient.

The alternative: Avoid exfoliants and toothpastes that contain microbes. Try Burt’s Bees Citrus Facial ScrubCowshed Moody Cow Balancing Shower Scrub and the suggested toothpastes below.



Many lipsticks and glosses, regardless of cost or brand, contain metals. Since metals aren’t ingredients, companies do not have to name them in the ingredient list or on labels. Lipsticks may contain lead, which is a neurotoxin that can be dangerous even in small doses, according to a 2014 CNN report. A recent University of California study revealed that while there may be a very small amount of lead in each tube of lipstick, when a woman is constantly reapplying lipstick throughout the day, she is ingesting as much as 87 milligrams of lead a day. Forman Taub concurs with the findings of the studies on lipstick, and she says you can check the level of lead in your brand here.

“Lead has been found in lipsticks that are sold in the U.S.,” she says. “There is a wide variation in the amounts of lead found in different brands of lipstick. The FDA has stated that there is not enough lead in lipsticks to warrant a concern. However, critics of this point to the fact that women often put lipstick on multiple times a day and lead levels are cumulative.”

Amanda Herzberg, marketing associate for natural beauty brand Cate McNabb Cosmetics, says beauty products that we put on our skin, including lipstick, enter our bodies through absorption or ingestion.

“Cosmetics consumers are becoming more aware of the potential risks associated with using chemical-heavy products and regularly exposing themselves to countless, potentially harmful ingredients, including alpha hydroxyl acids, phthalates and parabens, among others,” Herzberg says. “These types of chemically derived ingredients are suspected of creating many adverse health effects from mild skin allergies to possible cancer-causing contributions.” 

The alternative: There are fantastic natural lipsticks and glosses on the market. Cate McNabb Cosmetics offers 20 beautiful, natural lipstick shades that are stripped of nearly all chemicals and infused with nourishing natural ingredients. Or try organic and natural Ilia lipsticks and lip conditioner and RMS Lip2Cheek, which doubles as a blush and lip color.

All Pinned Up, $16, Cate McNabb Cosmetics


Most people aren’t willing to sweat or smell, but there are healthier options than many of the conventional deodorants on the market. Aluminum is an ingredient found in the majority of antiperspirants and deodorants to stop perspiration. It’s also the number one ingredient to avoid when you’re choosing a deodorant since aluminum has been linked to breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, among other health issues. Many deodorants also contain preservatives (parabens), fragrance (phthalates), triclosan, propylene glycol and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene). Triclosan alone is classified a pesticide by the FDA and a “probable carcinogen” by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Another issue of concern is shaving. When you shave, that area of skin becomes especially porous and sensitive, and in turn, your skin is more absorbent of the products applied to that area.

The alternative: Find a natural deodorant that keeps you fresh such as Poofy Organics Max Geo Deodorant. This is the best natural deodorant I’ve found yet. It has a refreshing scent and it actually works (even on a runner friend of mine)!


A recent report by Bloomberg News revealed that popular toothpaste, Colgate Total, is the only US made toothpaste that contains triclosan, an anti-bacterial chemical ingredient that has been linked to cancer-cell growth, fertility problems, and stunted development in animals. Triclosan is also found in body washes, deodorant (as stated above) and antibacterial liquid soap.

Although some consumer companies have begun to omit triclosan from toothpaste, most still add sodium saccharin (petroleum-based sweetener), sodium fluoride and SLS (sodium laurel sulfate) in toothpastes. Saccharin sweetens toothpaste and does nothing to prevent tooth decay, and some people believe that the artificial sweetener is a harmful carcinogen. Sodium fluoride is used to treat tooth decay, yet it’s also an insecticide and disinfectant, and is the reason the FDA has warning labels on toothpaste. Fluoride has been linked to Alzheimer’s, cancer, kidney damage and gastrointestinal problems, among other health issues. SLS is a surfactant and detergent, which is added to cause toothpaste to foam up when brushing. In the meantime, it’s also a skin irritant that is drying to your mouth and often causes canker sores.

The alternative: Poofy Organics Happy Teeth Toothpaste, Tom’s of Maine Simply White Toothpaste, Earthpaste, Red Seal Natural Toothpaste or Dr. Ken’s All Natural Toothpaste all get the job done without any of the potentially harmful ingredients.