More Than Skin Deep: Are Toxins Lurking in Your Cosmetics?

Priscilla E. Warshowsky,  M.A., M.Ed

How many skin and hair products do you think you use each day?  The figure may shock you.  

On average, women use 12 products a day comprising 168 different ingredients, and men use 6 products with 85 ingredients!

These products include shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, nail polish and remover, skin lotion, toner, moisturizing lotion, sunblock, shaving cream, bath gel, and many more.  What are the dangers of using all these products?  After all, Americans have been conditioned by the media to always smell good, look clean and seem fresh, and companies are thrilled to fill that perceived need.  Attractive sleek packaging is designed to promise beauty, youth, and sexiness.

Many dangerous chemicals are added to everyday self-care and beauty products. Let’s look more closely at two of these ingredients that may play a role in memory loss.

  •   Aluminum is used in deodorants and has been linked to Alzheimer’s. It’s best to buy deodorant that states “Aluminum Free”.  Instead of using aluminum foil for cooking and wrapping, use parchment paper.  Drinks in aluminum cans or plastic bottles are not healthy in any form. 
  • Mercury is a known neurotoxin.  A small amount of it is permitted by the FDA to be used as a preservative in eye makeup, as well as in skin lightening and anti-aging creams. If the words “mercurous chloride,” “calomel,” “mercuric,” “mercurio,” or “mercury” are listed on the label, mercury’s in it—and you should stop using the product immediately. Health experts, in the absence of research studies, are concerned about its role in causing MS and Alzheimers.

So where to find products that do not have some or all of the above preservatives?  One place to start is the cosmetics aisle of your local health food store or Whole Foods.   The cosmetics store Sephora carries a diversity of products, some of which are free of the above preservatives.  You can also order online.  

The website provides information that is extremely helpful in learning about this topic and suggests appropriate products.  They have a large database of “clean” products ranging from personal care to household cleaning products.

If you eat healthfully and read ingredients on food labels, why not do so for your hair and skin?   Unhealthy ingredients in food and cosmetics both get absorbed into the body through the skin, nose, and gut.  Your health depends on products that are free of toxic chemicals.  You can feel clean and fresh and contribute to the health of the environment by using safer cosmetic and self-care products. 


For further information on these and other toxins please consult these resources:

A Consumer’s Dictionary Guide to Cosmetic Ingredients by Ruth Winter (excellent and detailed dictionary of hundreds of ingredients)

No More Dirty Looks:  The Truth about your Beauty Products and the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics by Siobban O’Connor and Alexandra Spunt

 (breezy writing recommending clean product lines for makeup and personal care products)

Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry by Stacy Malkan

(an exposé of how multinational companies keep unsafe ingredients in their products and how grassroots organizations can fight them) (Environmental Working Group).  Consult their Skin Deep database. 

Priscilla E. Warshowsky is a Certified Holistic Health Counselor and a Master Gardener and practices in Rye, NY.


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