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How to Check the Safety of Your Beauty Products

Are you concerned about possible harmful ingredients in your beauty products? Have you ever thought about what’s in your facial moisturiser or your favourite foundation?

Debate has raged for some time about whether the ingredients in products used on our skin can be absorbed into the skin and potentially into our blood stream. Some argue that our skin is made up of different layers with different compositions and that this makes penetration beyond the very top layers unlikely. But, here’s my opinion:

  1. There have been studies that prove ingredients applied to our bodies can end up in our blood stream. For example, this study from 2015 revealed that Triphenyl Phosphate in nail polish showed up in the urine of women who had applied the nail polish to their nails some 10-14 hours after application. Triphenyl Phosphate is associated with endocrine (hormone) disruption and neurotoxicity.
  2. Claiming that an ingredient does not penetrate the skin or enter the blood stream (whether true or not) does not justify using that ingredient in personal care or cosmetic products – if it’s nasty, it’s nasty. And by nasty, I mean toxic. Sunscreen manufacturers that use chemical UV absorbers in their formulas claim that those chemicals do not penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin but research results from June 2017 have shown that one such ingredient – Avobenzone – breaks down into toxic compounds when exposed to sun and water: precisely the conditions when most of us use sunscreen, like spending time outdoors on a sunny day or going for a swim at the beach. So, even if Avobenzone is not absorbed into the skin (and that’s debatable), why would you want to put something on your skin that transforms into potentially dangerous compounds?

So, how can you check the safety of your favourite products? Well, first of all, don’t rely on advertising. Lack of regulation allows manufacturers to use words like ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ without justification. The best way to make certain the ingredients in a product really are more ‘natural’ is to become a label checker. Yes, it takes a little effort but you’re probably used to doing it for food labels, right? It’s no different for cosmetics and toiletries. Of course, when it comes to ‘organic’ products, your best insurance is to choose ‘certified organic’ products. These products must meet minimum organic content to be able to display organic certification logos on their packaging.

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So, back to reading labels. I know what you’re thinking. Read the label? Really? With all those long words, how will you know what safe and what’s potentially harmful? Like anything, understanding ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products is something you get better at the more you do it. Grab that bottle of moisturiser and check out its ingredients online. A good place to start is the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Safety Database. You can enter the name of an ingredient, product or brand, hit the search button and get a safety rating between 1 and 10 (1 being the safest and 10 the least safe). Many Aussie products and brands are not rated on the system – it is skewed more towards American brands – but it is excellent for searching ingredients. Bear in mind, too, that the scoring system is not ‘black and white’ and there are several factors that can affect an ingredient’s safety rating, including how much research data exists in relation that ingredient. For example, in the image below, you can see the results for a search of “water”. The two parts of the rating to check are, firstly, the score (in this case 1) and, secondly, the data (in this case “Robust”). Because the data is robust (i.e. there’s been a lot of research into water and its effects and we know a lot about it) you can be confident in this safety rating for water. You can then click on the ingredient itself for more information about it and details of any concerns, restrictions, etc.

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Now, let’s take a look at a less researched ingredient, say, Phenyl Trimethicone – a silicon-based polymer used as an anti-foaming agent, hair conditioning and skin conditioning agent. You’ll notice from the image below that Phenyl Trimethicone also has a safety score of a 1 (the lowest hazard rating) but in this case the available data is “Limited”. So you need to appreciate that when the EWG gives this ingredient a rating of 1, that score is based on the limited research data available for this particular ingredient at this point in time.

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While the EWG rating system may not be perfect (is anything in this world perfect?), it can be a really useful source of information and will give you a general idea about an ingredient’s safety. It’s certainly a great place to start if you want to learn more about the ingredients in your products and their general safety.

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