Cosmetics: make sure to read labels

Published Mar 13, 2013 at 2:00 pm (Updated Mar 13, 2013 at 2:00 pm)

Better-for-you makeup and skin care products seem to be found everywhere, but just because something claims to be good for you on the label isn’t always the case. Recently, the Go Green Club at Peters Township Library presented a program called “Choosing Your Best Natural Cosmetics and Skin Products.” The Feb. 23 talk was headed by Go Green Club member and retired science teacher Pam Kuhn.

Kuhn told the crowd of nearly 20 women that an average American can have as many as 400 chemicals in their bodies.

“Some get washed out, but some don’t break down,” Kuhn said, adding the ones that don’t break down can sometimes lead to illness.

“We do have control over the personal care products we buy,” Kuhn said. The average woman uses about 12 personal care or makeup products each day. The average man uses about six, and teen girls can use up to 17 per day. She said that unlike food and drugs, the manufacturers of personal care products are not regulated by the federal government. Kuhn added that while a product may say “natural” on the label, there are no guidelines that define what that term actually means.

Some personal care products, like makeup and lotions, can contain chemicals that are absorbed into the skin. Products like hairspray can also give off vapors that may contain harmful chemicals. Kuhn said products can contain neurotoxins, which can damage the brain and nervous system, hormone disruptors, carcinogens and teratogens, which are chemicals that can cause birth defects.

Kuhn said the folks most vulnerable to the effects of the chemicals are babies, teens and seniors. Many of the chemicals are biocumulative, which Kuhn said means that, “Every day we are using those things, they get absorbed.” She added that while some chemicals may not be harmful on their own, when they are combined with other chemicals, they could be harmful.

“Everyone is different to how we react to the chemicals,” Kuhn said.

According to, there are nine chemicals of concern which are: triclosan, formaldehyde, hydroquinone, parabens, nitrosamines, synthetic musks, 1.4-dioxane, phthalates and lead. Kuhn added that lead can be found in some brands of red lipstick.

Kuhn said personal care product manufacturers must list all the ingredients used in the product. She said to look at the label and start at the end and try to avoid products containing parabens, DMDM hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl urea, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Triclosan, Triclocarban and Triethanolamine (or “TEA”).

Also, Kuhn added that “fragrance” can contain as many as 200 chemicals and manufacturers are not required to list all of those chemicals.

After the presentation, Kuhn pulled up the Environmental Working Group’s website and folks attending had the opportunity to look up some of the products they use every day to see how harmful they ranked.

To research personal care products, Kuhn recommended visiting and then clicking on the link for EWG’s Skin Deep Guide to Cosmetics.

Natural cleansers

• Face Scrub:

Combine two tablespoons of wheat flour and enough milk to make a paste. Use as facial scrub.

• Eye Makeup Remover:

Combine two tablespoons of canola oil and one tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil.

Dab a cotton ball or tissue into the oil and wipe eyelids and lashes to remove eye makeup. Rinse with cool water.

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