According to an organization called Safe Cosmetics, there are approximately 11 carcinogenic compounds that are currently used in everyday cosmetic items. As alarming as that sounds, it only makes up a fraction of the the chemicals that are used. These are known as "group 1", and are known carcinogens. There are approximately 113 agents listed by the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer), which are grouped as follows:
- Group 1: Carcinogenic to humans
- Group 2A: Probably carcinogenic to humans
- Group 2B: Possibly carcinogenic to humans
- Group 3: Not classifiable as to their carcinogenicity to humans
- Group 4: Probably not carcinogenic to humans.
In a moment, we'll briefly discuss some of these carcinogens and their known impact on the human body. However, it is important to understand the laws governing "cosmetics", as well as "fragrances" (which are a part of the cosmetics and personal care category). You might be wondering - why aren't these dangerous chemicals banned or wonder why consumers aren't warned about them on the labels before making their purchases.
In the USA, the FDA terms for "fragrance", as well as "cosmetics" can also be construed as an umbrella term, meaning that there could be a number of harmful chemicals in the formula. Many large manufacturers do this to protect their proprietary formulations for their products. However, this also means that consumers can be at risk of applying carcinogenic substances on, or around their bodies without even being aware - which is perfectly legal in current US legislature.
Several countries have already taken action on current research on carcinogenic substances, although it currently still has a lot left to be desired. For example, Europe has already banned chemical preservatives such as formaldehyde, coal tar, benzene, ethylene oxide, chromium, and arsenic.
Currently, you may not be aware of the type of damage these chemicals may have on the human body. This is also just a handful of many that are currently widely available for sale in many mainstream, popular products. Below is a small list of the categories, which can include several different types of chemicals with known effects.
1, 4-dioxane. A carcinogen linked to organ toxicity. Research shows that this particular chemical is readily absorbed by the skin, and is of serious concern to pregnant, or breastfeeding mothers, infants, and children. Commonly found in products that can be worked into a lather, such as shampoo, hair relaxers, and different types of soap. This is hard to identify on labels, due to its manufacturing process.
Benzophenone. A carcinogen which has been linked to cancer, as well as endocrine disruption, and system toxicity. Benzophenone and related compounds are commonly found in lip balm, nail polish, make up, sunscreens, fragrance, haircare products, and lotion. It is accumulative in the body, which makes it dangerous over long term use.
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). These carcinogens are fairly easily identified, but still allowed to be sold. Research suggests that these compounds cause developmental and reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity, and endocrine disruption. This ingredient serves as a preservative, and is commonly found in personal care, as well as food related products.
Coal tar. This ingredient is a combination of known and highly suspected carcinogens such as benzene, toluene, naphthalene, anthracene, xylene, and creosote oils. It is commonly found for scalp treatment items, or heavy duty shampoo/hair care products.
Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (FRPs). These chemicals are designed to prevent microbes from growing in aqua based products, but are also risky as they are known to be readily absorbed by the skin. It is also a known allergen, which can cause skin problems like irritation.
Fragrance. The FDA defines "fragrance" as an umbrella term, and is considered a trade secret. Companies are not obligated to disclose their ingredients list for this reason. It is also not limited to personal care products- they are often used in household cleaning items such as dishwashing or laundry detergent. Fragrance commonly contains preservatives and anti-contaminants to make scents last longer, and preserve them while not in use. Some ingredients include parabens, nitrosamines, musk ketone, tonalide, and styrene - including some of the chemicals listed above. Most of these ingredients have been linked to adverse effects on the kidneys, reproductive, nervous and respiratory systems. Some small vendors, such as Alpha Dream pheromones (a manufacturer that formulates products for larger companies) have moved onto silicon bases, which prevents many of the issues alcohol based perfumes and colognes have with skin absorption and likely carcinogenic effects.
For the time being, avoiding the large number of concerning chemicals can be quite challenging - although it is highly recommended you do research if you are a user of personal care products. Not only can they have harmful effects right away, many ingredients are also known to bioaccumulate, which means your body will get more toxic over time. You may start experiencing negative effects later in life, so it is important to take care of your body today, for a brighter tomorrow.