Article: Cosmetic Ingredients: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Category: / 7/14/2014
If you want to find natural makeup products, label-reading is a vital skill to learn. The words "mineral" and "natural" are no guarantee of a product's safety, no matter how big or beautiful they appear on a package. It would be impractical to research every ingredient, so I offer a few tips that I use to help you identify the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to cosmetic ingredients.

The Good:
  • Ingredients you can pronounce. Look for names you recognize. Ingredients such as coconut oil, lavender essential oil, and shea butter tend to be relatively gentle.
  • A high percentage of certified organic ingredients. If a product is listed with several certified organic and/or wildcrafted ingredients, the manufacturer likely made a deliberate attempt to make a natural product. Looking for products with high percentages of organic ingredients (such as 70% or higher), not just those with a token organic extract.
  • Short ingredient lists. This isn't always the case, but a shorter ingredient list can sometimes indicate a more natural product. If the ingredients are items such as argan oil  and iron oxides, the product is probably fairly gentle. However, if the ingredient list is in tiny print and takes up an enormous paragraph, you might be looking at something more synthetic.
"Mineral" doesn't necessarily mean "safe"
The Bad:
  • Propylene glycol - Many sources cite this ingredient as toxic, but it can be hard to determine the validity of these sources. However, many of the more vigilant natural companies respond to concerns of ingredients such as this, even if unfounded. The EWG rates this product a moderately low 3, so do your own research and decide.
  • Retinyl palmitate - Also known as Vitamin A, this ingredient is found in even some "natural" products. One natural company assured me that it was used in a small enough amount not to cause harm, but it's up to you to decide. The EWG rates this ingredient a high 8.
  • Oxybenzone - This common sunscreen ingredient is often associated with that "sunscreen smell." The EWG has found reason to call it a "high hazard," rating a high 8 on their database. Looking for a safer alternative? Try a zinc-based sunscreen.
  • Fragrance - Synthetic or natural, the EWG has no way to distinguish what falls into this broad catch-all ingredient. Companies may sometimes hide other ingredients (such as phthalates) within their fragrances. This is likely why the EWG rates it a high 8. Look for ingredient lists that call out essential oils or other scents specifically, or opt for unscented formulas.
  • Triclosan - This antibacterial agent can be found in some toothpastes, soaps, and other products. The EWG rates this a high 7, but also lists it as one of their top ingredients to avoid.
The Ugly:
  • Parabens - These preservatives are common in many cosmetics, particularly cheaper products. Recent controversies have led companies to remove them, particularly from "natural" products. According to the EWG, the hazard rating of each paraben is different, but watch out for Propylparaben, which rates a whopping 10 on the database.
  • Phthalates - These plasticizers are some of the highest-rated hazards on the EWG's skin deep database. DBT rates a 10 (most hazardous). Watch out for these ingredients in nail polish and other cosmetics.
  • Formaldehyde - This ingredient has been listed as a known carcinogen. The EWG rates it at their highest hazard level. Unfortunately, this can still be found in some nail polishes.
Summary:
Just because the EWG considers a product to be a "low hazard" doesn't mean it'll be safe for you. Always avoid ingredients that trigger allergies, such as redness, irritation, or other symptoms. Ingredients such as talc, titanium dioxide, and other "gentle" ingredients can sometimes produce allergic reactions. Always do a patch test when using new products, and consult a physician, dermatologist, or other licensed medical professional if irritation occurs.

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