Are your beauty products doing more harm than good?

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A walk down the beauty aisle at your local drugstore will bombard you with an array of products all vying for your consumerism. What makes one better than the other?

A look at the ingredient list reveals that many of the products we put on our faces, in our hair and on our skin share ingredients that are unpronounceable. Some of the common offenders are parabens, petrochemicals and sodium lauryl sulfates.

These ingredients are not only unnecessary but can have harmful effects.

Parabens are often found in cosmetics to increase shelf life and stop bacteria from growing, but research shows that these chemicals have been linked with cancer, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

This class of synthetic preservative, often in the form of methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben or isobutylparaben, weakly mimics estrogen, a known contributor to breast cancer. Paraben traces are even found in cancerous tissue and tumors.

Petrochemicals like petrolatum, paraffin and mineral oil, and propylene glycol are used as moisturizing agents, but they too have been linked to cancer and hormone disruption in the endocrine system.

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Petrochemicals are by-products of refining petroleum. They are made from the gray sludge left over from producing gasoline and have to be bleached to get rid of the murky color. They are known to contain toxins that can cause cancer, birth defects and genetic mutations.

Sodium lauryl sulfate, or SLS, causes products—such as shampoo, face wash and dish detergent—to lather. While the lather cleanses, it is harsh on our delicate hair, stripping it of its natural oils and even causing damage to the integrity of the hair strand.

While the hair may look and feel clean, using shampoos containing SLS can cause the scalp to overproduce oil to compensate for the harsh stripping, causing hair to get oily faster and thus need to be washed more. Prolonged use of SLS-containing shampoos can lead to hair thinning and hair loss.

Doesn’t it seem counterintuitive to use “beauty” products that contain ingredients that can have negative effects on our beauty and our bodies?

To combat this, look for brands that have formulas that omit parabens, sulfates and petrochemicals.

Some notable paraben-free cosmetics are Physician’s Formula Organic Wear and Sally Hansen’s Natural Beauty line, available at most drugstores.

Bare Minerals powder foundation is a little more expensive but a great, natural option for foundation.

Burt’s Bees and EOS both make petrochemical-free lip products, as do most other lip products labeled “organic.”

In the past few years, the sodium lauryl sulfate-free shampoo market has grown, and several drugstore brands such as Organix, L’Oreal and Burt’s Bees offer affordable SLS-free options among the plethora of shampoos that contain SLS (including Pantene, Dove, Garnier Fructis and Herbal Essences).  The harsh detergent is replaced with plant-derived cleansers, usually labeled as sulfonates, that still effectively (and gently!) cleanse the hair.

With all of the choices in the beauty world, it can be difficult to decide which products to buy, especially with beauty and cosmetic companies spending millions on advertising and attractive packaging and promising of flawless skin, voluminous hair and soft lips.

Don’t fall for their ploys. Read the ingredients that are going on your skin and will eventually end up in your body. Shop for the brands that make efforts to avoid using harmful ingredients in their formulas.

While the scientific research does not conclusively condemn parabens, petrochemicals and sulfate, it’s best to err on the side of caution, especially with the numerous links to cancer and other serious health concerns.

Don’t let your cosmetics do more harm than good; your body will certainly thank you later.

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