Better Options in Beauty Products

Are There Safer Options?

With all the information available now and with our increasing awareness of the dangers of some of the products we use, many are searching for healthier options in their choice of cosmetics and hair color. Because of this, many companies have started changing their formulations to include more natural ingredients. Some have truly made improvements to the safety of their products and some have merely masked the dangers by adding in some natural ingredients but not removing the toxic ones. This way they can make claims of being “natural“ although they are just as harmful. The movement to more natural products has also sparked a growth in new start-up companies who tout themselves as having more natural, organic products. This is definitely great progress as it gives consumers better options. There are definitely safer products out there, but we do need to have the right information to ensure that we’re getting what is advertised. Because of the lack of regulation, knowledge is key for the consumer. We need to look for companies that believe in full disclosure and happily display their complete ingredient lists.

The Safety of Products

Most of us take for granted that the popular cosmetics, soaps, lotions, hair color and hair care products that we buy and use from our local salons, drug and department stores are safe. Why, as consumers, would we be able to buy and use a product on our skin, lips, eyes and hair every day if they were harmful?

In fact, 89 percent of all ingredients in cosmetics have not been evaluated for safety by any publicly accountable institution. Over 90% of all ingredients in commercially available cosmetics are of synthetic origin. Many of these are directly linked to serious health risks like cancer, infertility, kidney and liver disease and severe skin issues. Of the 20,000 different off-the-shelf cosmetic products that are for sale in the US and Canada, over 80 percent of the products surveyed contained one or more ingredients that have caused documented adverse reactions in humans and animals.

The FDA has banned or restricted only 9 ingredients in personal care products in its entire 67 year history (FDA 2000). On September 6, 1997 the Boston Globe reported that “The General Accounting Office, the investigative branch of Congress, has identified more than 125 cosmetic ingredients suspected of causing cancer- and others that may cause birth defects.”! Many of the harmful chemicals still used abundantly in cosmetics in North America have been long banned in the rest of the world’s countries.

The typical adult uses nine cosmetics/ personal-care products a day with an average daily load of around 126 chemicals. Most of these chemicals are absorbed into your body through your skin. Others, found in lipstick and lip balm, you actually eat as they come off your lips when eating, drinking or wetting your lips.

Why companies don`t use better options:

Chemicals, dyes and fillers are found in almost every cosmetic product because they can be manufactured incredibly inexpensively and have a very long shelf life. If they were to discontinue using these chemicals for more healthy alternatives they would be severely cutting their profit margins to give you chemical free beauty products.

Large corporations in the personal-care industry are only motivated to be interested in their profits because the United States and Canadian Governments and specifically the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate or require any kind of federal, unbiased testing before a cosmetic or personal-care product hits the shelves. Since the industry is not regulated, many cosmetic companies don’t even bother to list the ingredients on their products. The FDA leaves it up to the cosmetics manufactures to test their own products. In essence, YOU the consumer are the Commercial Cosmetic Industry’s guinea pig. No wonder virtually none of them need to test on animals anymore.

Why European?

Of course, the ideal is to purchase products locally. Unfortunately, the standards for cosmetics here in North America have a long way to go to catch up to Europe’s high safety standards. Because we have not found any permanent colour lines locally–or even in North America–that we consider safe enough, we have looked to Europe for better products because we know they are very strictly regulated in comparison to our own. A large number of the chemicals we still use here have been banned from use in Europe. European legislation guarantees consumer health in a more adequate way then the corresponding legislation in North America and other countries in the world.

 European regulations:

Stringent requirements adopted by the European regulations concerning compositions and testing for toxicology have increased costs dramatically. Suppliers from emerging countries with cheaper goods are more appealing to the general public. However, many are not aware of the difference. The higher price we pay for less toxic products may well be worth it considering the potential dangers.

In 1976 Europeans established the Cosmetic Directive to define cosmetic safety requirements. Two decades later the Scientific Committee has been applied to examine approximately 1000 ingredients. Now many European Manufacturers must take into account the toxicological profile of each ingredient, its chemical structure and the consumer exposure level. They are also required to prepare a report containing manufacturing procedures, compositions and safety of each product, which must be available upon request by health authorities.

In February 2003, the European Union passed a new amendment to their Cosmetic Directive that prohibits the use of known or suspected carcinogens, mutagens and reproductive toxins (CMRs) from cosmetics. These amendments went into force in September 2004. Authorities can examine the mandatory reports required of the manufacturers in order to assess product safety. All raw materials classified carcinogenic, mutagenetic or reprotoxic are banned. In North America the cosmetic regulations are just the opposite. Regarding banned chemicals, the FDA gives very few indications and there is a lack of control. The FDA and Health Canada are not authorized to approve or revise raw materials on the basis of their safety data. The FDA and Health Canada cannot impose a series of toxicological tests on cosmetics and they do not require the manufacturers to conduct toxicological and other safety tests prior to bringing a product to the market. The safety of cosmetic ingredients is left to be assessed by experts appointed by the cosmetic manufacturers.

Safety and quality standards of the cosmetic ingredients in the global market vary greatly. Large global cosmetic companies who manufacture all over the world may not always follow the same standards. Although they may be originally from Europe, they are often manufacturing their products in other parts of the world or in the USA. They will follow different standards to conform to the market where they are going to be sold.

Stringent requirements adopted by the European regulations concerning compositions and testing for toxicology have increased costs dramatically. Suppliers from emerging countries with cheaper goods are more appealing to the general public. However, many are not aware of the difference in manufacturing or the risks associated with the use of these cheaper, non-monitored products. Examples can be seen in the labeling laws of Europe. There are 26 known fragrances from botanical sources that are known allergens. Similarly, heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and nickel (commonly found in our produce and from other sources in our environment) can cause allergies and can be toxic when exposed in certain levels. Their presence must be carefully monitored since cosmetic regulations are not thoroughly defined in this respect but are left to the individual manufacturers in their respective countries.

Unfortunately, in North America it is buyer beware. Cosmetics made in the European Union may be more expensive but are safer as companies are forced to conform to their higher standards of cosmetic manufacturing.

Demystifying The Ingredients

We have all heard about the dangerous chemicals commonly used in hair colour. Do you know what they actually are and what they mean? Here’s the scoop on some of the most contraversial ones:

sulfates/sulphate– a salt of sulphuric acid. (sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate, myreth sulfate < least harmful  (some sulfates are naturally derived from coconut); used as a foaming agent in shampoos, primary detergent.

  • linked to hair loss
  • not a known carcinogen, but when mixed with TEA, DEA or MEA (common shampoo/colour ingredients) can form carcinogenic substances (nirtosames) but can be neutralized with the addition of vitamins a&c. They get a lot of bad press but are not proven to be harmful.

parabens – esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid. Some parabens are found naturally in plant sources. A preservative used to extend a product’s shelf life; used for holding colour and conditioning agents; synthetic chemicals used as an antimicrobial preservative; used to prevent bacteria. *This ingredient has become increasingly contraversial.

  • in those with allergies can cause dermatitis and rosacea
  • causes corruption of natural hormonal processes
  • may be linked to high rates of breast cancer

resorcinol – chemical compound from phenols, used in the production of dyes and UV absorbers; petroleum-based coal tar to make color last longer; preservative; oxidative chemical stabilizes color so hair hue doesn’t fade after washing.

  • a known irritant
  • recommended avoiding contact with skin and eyes
  • neurotoxin: a toxin that damages or destroys nerve tissue
  • listed as toxic to the skin and the immune system

formaldehyde – organic compound used as a preservative; high concentrations in perfumes and nail polish

  • possible carcinogen, irritant
  • may not break down once rinsed down the drain.. could harm or kill wildlife

petro-chemicals– petroleum based chemical products derived from crude oil: not found as often in semi or demi colours. They are polymers found in gels and styling aids.

  • may contain cancer-causing impurities
  • ingredients such as petrolatum, mineral oil, and paraffin (derived from nonrenewable sources) form a barrier when applied to the skin that does not allow it to breathe and can clog pores

ammonia – compound of nitrogen and hydrogen. Used to aggressively open the cuticle allowing colour molecules to penetrate hair shaft.

  • caustic and hazardous
  • can irritate eyes and the respiratory system
  • corrosive

PPD’s -(para-phenylenediamine)- a developing agent. Made from coal tar, it aids in holding pigmentation in colour. The darker the dye color, the higher the PPD concentration.

  • the main culprit that causes allergic reactions in people.
  • linked to cancer, developmental toxicity, neurotoxicity, and allergies
  • can cause scarring in high doses

TEA (triethanolamine), DEA (diethanolamine), or MEA (monnoethanolamine) – “amines” (ammonia compounds), used as foaming agents, synthetic stabilizers, and to adjust the pH of cosmetics; found in most shampoos, conditioners and styling aids

  • can form harmful nitrosamines when they come in contact with nitrates
  • can cause allergic reactions, eye irritation, and dryness of the hair and skin

propylene glycol – a small organic alcohol commonly used as a skin conditioning agent. •associated with irritant and allergic contact dermatitis as well as contact urticaria in humans; these sensitization effects can be manifested at propylene glycol concentrations as low as 2%.

*Carcinogens are most often formed by the combination of two or more ingredients. Each ingredient in a product can be non-carcinogenic while still being carcinogenic as a whole.


We are continually striving to give clients the best options we can find and will continue to research safer, healthier products available for colour and hair care products. Not only is it better for overall health, but we’re finding that many of these products actually work better than the traditional products. The movement toward natural has just begun and there is still a long way to go. The fact that consumers are demanding safer products will motivate companies to change their old ways and will help to create new companies that meet their demands.