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Shop healthy. Avoid diseases.

Bernard-Henri Louvat
CEO & Founder of Tera. I am a serial technology entrepreneur and I occasionally write articles for our blog. Drop me a line at blouvat@hellotera.com if you feel like it!

How to Live a Non-Toxic Lifestyle: Beauty & Makeup

Your skin is your body’s largest organ. Make sure to protect it by buying from conscious brands who care
Don’t let the charm of makeup blind you to the hidden toxins. Buy from trustworthy brands who care about your health.

This article is the fourth in a multi-part guide to living a non-toxic lifestyle and how the Tera app can help. Click here to start at the beginning.

In the world of beauty and cosmetics, the choices seem endless, promising radiant skin and flawless looks. However, hidden amidst the allure of beauty products are potentially harmful ingredients that can have long-term effects on your health and well-being.

From parabens and phthalates to synthetic fragrances and heavy metals, the beauty industry has been known to include these toxic substances in makeup and skincare products, all while touting their benefits. It’s essential for consumers to be savvy and discerning, able to distinguish between products that enhance natural beauty and those that may jeopardize it.

In this article, we embark on a journey through the complex landscape of clean beauty, uncovering the toxic ingredients commonly found in makeup and skincare products. We’ll delve into the science behind these ingredients, the potential health risks they pose, and how to decipher product labels effectively. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to make informed choices that prioritize your health and radiance, aligning your beauty regimen with your commitment to overall well-being.

In this next edition of our non-toxic lifestyle series, we’ll discuss some of the dangerous ingredients to avoid in common makeup products, how these ingredients can impact our health, and recommend five brands to boycott and five brands to support. Please note the brand lists are in no particular order. For more information, consider picking up a copy of Darin Olien’s insightful book, “Fatal Conveniences,” which played a key role in shaping the content of this article.

Face Makeup

Top 5 Ingredients to Avoid

Parabens: Parabens are synthetic preservatives that have been linked to hormone disruption and have raised concerns about their potential role in breast cancer development. A 2019 study published in the journal Environmental Pollution found that parabens can be detected in human breast milk and may be passed on to infants.

Talc: Talc is a mineral that is often used in face makeup products to absorb oil and give a matte finish. However, talc can be carcinogenic, especially when inhaled. It can also irritate the skin and eyes. A 2010 study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that talc can cause inflammation in the lungs.

Lead: Lead is a heavy metal that can be found in face makeup. Lead is toxic and can cause a variety of health problems, including neurological damage and cancer. Other heavy metals, such as cadmium, mercury, and nickel, can also be found in some face makeup products. A 2013 study published in the journal Environmental Health found that lead exposure in children can lead to cognitive impairment and other neurological problems.

Phthalates: Phthalates are often used to make fragrances last longer in makeup products. They are known endocrine disruptors and may impact hormone balance. A 2005 study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found a decrease in anogenital distance among male infants with prenatal phthalate exposure, suggesting hormonal disruption.

Coal Tar Dyes: Coal tar dyes, such as FD&C Red №6 and FD&C Blue №1, are used in some cosmetics and have been associated with cancer and allergic reactions. A 2002 study published in the journal Cancer found that coal tar dyes can promote the growth of skin cancer cells.

Other ingredients to avoid:

  • Fragrance
  • Formaldehyde
  • BHA and BHT
  • Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)
  • Retinyl Palmitate

Top 5 Brands to Boycott

  1. Olay
  2. Maybelline
  3. Revlon
  4. Cover Girl
  5. Estée Lauder

Top 5 Brands to Support

  1. Araza
  2. RMS Beauty
  3. Kari Gran
  4. Fitglow Beauty
  5. Mad Hippie

Eye Makeup

Top 5 Ingredients to Avoid

Carbon black: Also called D&C Black №2, acetylene black, or channel black, this black powder is made from the incomplete combustion of carbon-based materials, such as coal tar and petroleum. One of the main concerns about carbon black is that it can irritate the eyes and respiratory system. Inhalation of carbon black dust can cause coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. It can also irritate the eyes and cause redness, tearing, and discharge.

Ethanolamine compounds: Given various names on labels, such as triethanolamine (TEA), diethanolamine (DEA), and monoethanolamine (MEA), these compounds are used as emulsifiers and fragrances. One of the main concerns about ethanolamine compounds is that they can be contaminated with nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens. Nitrosamines can form when ethanolamine compounds come into contact with nitrates, which are found in some foods and cosmetics.

Styrene acrylates copolymer (SAC): Used as coloring agents in cosmetics and other products, these substances may be contaminated with styrene, a known carcinogen. Styrene can be released from SAC products when they are exposed to heat or light.In addition, there is some evidence that SAC may be harmful to the reproductive system. One study found that exposure to SAC during pregnancy increased the risk of miscarriage.

Heavy Metals: Heavy metals, such as lead, arsenic, cadmium, nickel, and mercury, can be found in some eye makeup products. These metals can be present as impurities in the ingredients or they may be added intentionally to achieve a certain color or effect. Exposure to heavy metals can cause a variety of health problems, including skin and eye irritation, allergic reactions, neurological damage, reproductive problems, and cancer.

Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is a preservative that is sometimes used in eye makeup products. However, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and can also irritate the eyes.

Other ingredients to avoid:

  • Parabens
  • Phthalates
  • Fragrance
  • Coal tar dyes
  • Latex
  • Retinol

Top 5 Brands to Boycott

  1. Tarte
  2. NYX
  3. Lancôme
  4. L’Oreal
  5. e.l.f.

Top 5 Brands to Support

  1. Juice Beauty
  2. Hynt Beauty
  3. Gressa
  4. Kjaer Weis
  5. 100% Pure

Top 5 Ingredients to Avoid

Lead: Lead is a heavy metal that is toxic to humans, even in small amounts. Lead exposure can cause a variety of health problems, including neurological damage, reproductive problems, and cancer. In 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested 33 popular brands of lipstick for lead content. 61%, including those made by the biggest brands in the industry, tested positive for the metal.

Mineral Oils: Mineral oil and petroleum-based ingredients may be used in lipsticks but can potentially clog pores and lead to breakouts, particularly for individuals with oily or acne-prone skin.

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHT) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT): These synthetic antioxidants, used to extend the shelf life of products, can cause skin irritation and have been linked to potential health concerns.

Synthetic Dyes: Synthetic dyes, especially certain red and yellow dyes, have been known to cause skin sensitivities and allergic reactions in some people. This can manifest as redness, itching, burning, or swelling on the skin or lips after applying products containing these dyes.

Silicones: Silicone-based ingredients, such as dimethicone, have occlusive properties, which means they create a barrier on the skin’s surface. For some individuals, especially those with oily or acne-prone skin, this barrier may trap sweat, sebum, and other impurities, potentially leading to clogged pores and breakouts.

Other ingredients to avoid:

  • Parabens
  • Phthalates
  • Fragrance
  • Ethanolamine compounds
  • Other heavy metals, such as cadmium, nickel, and mercury

Top 5 Brands to Boycott

  1. Sephora
  2. ILIA
  3. MAC
  4. NARS
  5. Clinique

Top 5 Brands to Support

  1. Ere Perez
  2. Axiology
  3. Kuwaloo
  4. Inika Organic
  5. Ogee

Fragrance

Top 5 Ingredients to Avoid

Phthalates: Phthalates are chemicals that are used to make fragrances last longer. However, phthalates have been linked to reproductive problems, hormone disruption, and cancer. A 2018 study published in the journal Human Reproduction found that phthalates can increase the risk of miscarriage.

Synthetic musks: Synthetic musks are chemicals that are used to give fragrances a musk-like scent. However, synthetic musks have been linked to hormone disruption and bioaccumulation. A 2013 study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that synthetic musks can accumulate in the brain and may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Aldehydes: Aldehydes are chemicals that are used to give fragrances a fresh, citrusy scent. However, aldehydes can be irritating to the skin and eyes, and some aldehydes have been linked to cancer. One such example is acetaldehyde, which is considered a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Benzyl alcohol: Benzyl alcohol is a solvent and preservative that is used in many fragrances. However, benzyl alcohol can be irritating to the skin and eyes, and it can also be toxic to children. A 2012 study published in the journal Pediatrics found that benzyl alcohol can cause neurotoxicity in infants.

Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is a preservative that is sometimes used in fragrances. However, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. A 2016 study published in the journal Cancer found that formaldehyde can increase the risk of nasal cancer.

Other ingredients to avoid:

  • Avoid any product that lists “fragrance” or “parfum” on the ingredients label, as manufacturers are not required to disclose these chemical concoctions and you can guess why they choose not to.

Top 5 Brands to Boycott

  1. Any of the big-name luxury brands (Chanel, Dior, Versace, etc.)
  2. Burberry
  3. Juicy Couture
  4. Curve
  5. Coach

Top 5 Brands to Support

  1. Abel
  2. Floral Street
  3. Theo & Amelia
  4. Oshadi
  5. Amrita

Nail Polish

Top 5 Ingredients to Avoid

Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that is used in some nail polishes as a hardener and preservative. It can cause skin irritation, respiratory problems, and cancer. A 2016 study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that formaldehyde can be absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream.

Toluene: Toluene is a solvent that is used in some nail polishes to make them smooth and easy to apply. It can cause headaches, dizziness, and nausea. A 2012 study published in the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology found that exposure to toluene during pregnancy can damage the developing brain of the fetus.

Dibutyl phthalate (DBP): DBP is a plasticizer that is used in some nail polishes to make them flexible and less prone to chipping. It can cause reproductive problems and hormone disruption. A 2018 study published in the journal Environmental Pollution found that DBP can be detected in human breast milk and may be passed on to infants.

Camphor: Camphor is a natural substance that is used in some nail polishes as a plasticizer and solvent. It can cause skin irritation, headaches, and dizziness.

Xylene: Xylene is a solvent that is used in some nail polishes to make them dry faster. It can cause headaches, dizziness, and respiratory problems.

Other ingredients to avoid:

  • Ethyl Tosylamide
  • Parabens
  • Triphenyl Phosphate
  • Colophony (Rosin)
  • Acetone
  • Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK)
  • Sulfates

Top 5 Brands to Boycott

  1. OPI
  2. Sally Hansen
  3. Essie
  4. Nailtopia
  5. L.A. Colors

Top 5 Brands to Support

  1. Kapa Nui Nails
  2. Manicurist
  3. 100% Pure
  4. Olive & June
  5. Ella & Mila

Choose nail polishes that are labeled as “5-free,” “7-free,” or “10-free.” This means that the polish does not contain five, seven, or ten of the most common harmful ingredients in nail polish. Some brands go as high as 15- or 17-free.

5 Ways the Tera App Can Help

  1. Shop your favorite beauty store with your personal Tera filter: Select Amazon, or Sephora, or Alta, or Credo Beauty or The Detox Market, and quickly find the products that best meet your health preferences.
  2. Ingredient Analysis: With the Tera app, people can inspect the ingredients of their personal care products by either searching for them or scanning their barcodes. The app actively detects and highlights any harmful chemicals, toxins, or potentially risky substances present in the product.
  3. Product Ratings: Tera employs a rating system to evaluate products based on their impact on both health and the environment. This system allows users to quickly assess the overall safety of a product. Higher ratings indicate a lower likelihood of the product containing harmful elements.
  4. Safer Alternatives: Tera doesn’t stop at merely flagging problematic ingredients; it also provides suggestions for alternative products that are safer. It recommends items from ethical brands that prioritize the use of non-toxic and eco-friendly ingredients. This feature helps users effortlessly find products that match their preference for safer options.
  5. Personalized User Profiles: Within the app, users can create personalized profiles. By entering their specific health concerns, allergies, and environmental preferences, the app customizes its recommendations to align with each user’s unique health needs and values.

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