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When you put on sunscreen before going outdoors, or when you wash your hair with your favorite shampoo, you probably don’t worry too much about the ingredients. After all, the FDA must approve everything that goes into these products, so they’re probably safe – or are they? Here, we’ll look at some harmful ingredients in popular products that you might want to avoid.
Sulfates are common in almost any kind of soap you use, including shampoo and body wash. You might find ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate in these soaps and shampoos. Though they’re common, they can also be very harmful ingredients. Sulfates have been linked to numerous conditions, including cancer, skin rashes, and depression. Multiple studies have shown that these sulfates enter your body through the skin where they can leave residue behind in your heart, liver, lungs, and brain. Fortunately, sulfate-free products exist, and they’re widely available.
Triclosan is a common component in antibacterial soaps, toothpaste, and even some shampoos. Although the FDA has changed the way antibacterial products are sold and marketed, it still considers triclosan safe despite studies showing otherwise. In fact, a study published in November 2014 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences proved that these harmful ingredients cause cancer in mice. Another study in Toxicological Sciences found that exposure to triclosan advances the age at which rats experience puberty, and it suppresses the production of hormones like estrogen and testosterone.
Polysorbates are essentially “de-foaming” agents found in food like wine and ice cream, and they’re also used as emulsifiers in vitamins, medicines, and vaccines. It serves as a surfactant in cosmetics, too. Although considered safe and non-toxic by the FDA, studies have shown that polysorbates are harmful ingredients that can disrupt the production of hormones like estrogen and testosterone. One such study conducted in Slovakia found that newborn rats exposed to polysorbates suffered a variety of issues, including ovarian deformities, hormonal changes, damage to the vagina and uterine lining, and even infertility.
Parabens are tricky to identify. There are several paraben ingredients you might find on the labels of soaps, shampoos, and other similar products, including butylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben, or even alkyl parahydroxy benzoates. They’re preservatives that prevent the growth of bacteria in a variety of products, and while the intention is good, the toxicity of parabens makes them ingredients to avoid. Studies have shown that parabens mimic the properties of estrogen, which can not only increase the risk of breast cancer in women, but also wreak havoc in the male body by causing symptoms resembling those of high estrogen levels – including gynecomastia in a few rare cases.
When you see the term “fragrance” on product labeling, you should steer clear if possible. The FDA allows companies to hide their secret formulas – the ones that make their products smell nice – by grouping all the chemicals used to create that scent into one simple word. Neither the FDA nor the consumer knows what goes into a fragrance for certain, so you could be putting toxic chemicals on your skin every time you use these products. The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database lists studies in which fragrance in products has been linked to respiratory problems, allergies, and even reproductive effects.
These four ingredients are commonly known as “sunscreen ingredients”. They’re used to help block harmful UVA and UVB rays from penetrating the skin, thus reducing your risk of sunburn and even skin cancer. However, multiple studies have shown that the very same ingredients designed to protect you may cause cellular damage and cancer. In fact, one Swiss study showed that children who applied sunscreen with benzophenones experienced temporary thyroid disruption on the days they used sunscreen. Another study conducted by researchers at the NIH found that high concentrations of benzophenones led to low sperm quality, lowered fertility rates in women, and even an increased risk of developing endometriosis.
Although many of the products on store shelves are designed to improve your health, the truth is that many contain ingredients that could harm you. Be sure to do your research on the ingredients you put on your skin or into your body, and try to buy all-natural products whenever possible to lower your exposure to these harmful ingredients.