questionable consumer product ingredients we take for granted

Cosmetic Ingredients: Approved In US, Banned Elsewhere

When you see parabens, phthalates, and hydroquinone lumped into the ingredient panel of your cosmetic or hygiene product labels, do you know what they are or ever question the safety of the aforementioned ingredients?

Or do you just shrug and assume they have to be perfectly safe, especially since US regulators have approved their use in consumer products. But many of the ingredients we’ve taken for granted are often banned in other countries, and some ultimately in the US after enough adverse effects have been established and reported.

Parabens are a class of chemicals widely used as preservatives in cosmetic and pharmaceutical products – found in commercial moisturizers, shaving gels, makeup, toothpastes, and shampoos. The preservatives efficacy and inexpensive cost have perpetuated its pervasive use.

However, parabens have become progressively controversial as a causal linked to breast cancer tumors and prematurely promoted puberty in tween females has been suggested – as parabens have displayed an ability to mimic estrogen (hormone), or estrogenic, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Phthalates are odorless, colorless additives mainly used as plasticizers – substances added to plastics to increase flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity – and are also frequently used to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

Phthalates are widely used in a variety of products as gelling agents, stabilizers, lubricants, emulsifiers, and in the manufacture of adhesives, electronics, building materials, detergents, plastic wrap, toys, printing inks, paints, textiles, and present in processed food and personal care products.

But in recent years phthalates have been gradually phased out of many items in the US, Canada, and Europe due to health concerns – as research has found, for example in rodent models, evidence that in elevated doses can cause hormonal and metabolic abnormalities, as well as birth defects.

Hydroquinone is a common ingredient found in skin lightening creams – topically applied to epidermal sites of hyperpigmentation in an effort to fade purple, red, or brown discoloration and freckling. While using hydroquinone as a lightening agent can be effective with proper use, it can also cause extreme skin photosensitivity; increasing the vulnerability to the negative UV effects of the sun.

The chemical works by decreasing the formation of melanin, the color creating pigment found in your skin, hair, and eyes. Overtime the discoloration or freckling fades with repeated application of hydroquinone.

However, inhibiting the production of melanin strips the skin of its natural UV protectant. The production of melanin in human skin is called melanogenesis, which is stimulated by DNA damage from UVB-radiation, and acts in response as a photo-protectant.

A lack of melanin, as commonly seen in redheads who have a disproportionate amount of it present in the skin, can increase the likelihood of sunburn and the possibility of melanoma.

The Takeaway: Start researching the ingredients you can barely pronounce, as even I struggle by the third ingredient on some consumer goods. If you don’t know the source of a chemical additive, investigate and assess the safety of its use for yourself.

[Image via Shutterstock]