Seeing the words pure, natural, and green on your cosmetics may make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re free of harsh chemicals. In fact, mascara was inexplicably exempted from a recent ban on mercury in cosmetics. Luckily, there aren’t many, if any, companies left in the U.S. that use mercury as a preservative in mascara, but there are still plenty of other chemicals you might want to avoid.
“Preservatives are a challenge for the industry because by nature they’re toxic,” says Stacy Malkan, co-founder of Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry. “Their job is to kill bacteria. But there’s a range of preservatives companies are using—from the more toxic to the less toxic.”
Wondering how to choose the safest products on the shelf? Check out these six tips from Malkan for steering clear of harsh chemicals:
Check the Ingredients
It’s not enough to glance at a product’s label—you need to flip it over and read the list of ingredients, too. Legally, preservatives must be listed on products that contain them, says Malkan. But unfortunately, these chemicals can come with many different names. Avoid cosmetics that list any of these in the ingredients: mercury, thimerosal (a mercury-containing preservative), parabens, formaldehyde, or formaldehyde-releasing chemicals like quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, and imidazolidinyl urea.
Avoid Skin-Lightening Creams
These face creams have been known to contain mercury as a lightening agent, says Malkan. In fact, some studies found mercury in creams that didn’t even list them on the label. And if they don’t have mercury hidden in them, they may contain another harsh chemical that’s banned in countries other than the U.S., says Malkan. Play it safe by ditching them altogether.
Beware of Marketing Claims
“There are no legal standards for words like “all natural” or “hypoallergenic,” says Malkan. So even if a product swears it’s for sensitive skin, scan the entire label for any mention of chemicals or allergens that might irritate you. The one thing you can trust: a USDA-Certified Organic label, says Malkan.
Keep it Simple
We know it’s tempting to check out every new mascara and moisturizer on the market, but try to hold back. Not only should you look for products with fewer ingredients, but you should also use fewer products overall, says Malkan. It’s one of the simplest ways to cut down on your exposure to added chemicals. Your skin—and your wallet—will thank you.
Opt for Unscented
Sure, that sugar cookie-scented body wash smells freaking amazing, but those synthetic fragrances can be packed with unknown chemicals. Look for naturally-scented or fragrance-free products instead, says Malkan.
If you want to know how a product stacks up but the label looks like complete gibberish, head to the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database from the Environmental Working Group, says Malkan. There, you can search more than 78,000 products and get a score of 1-10 based on known and suspected hazards (10 being the most hazardous).
Sources: Women Health Magazine