Death by Cosmetics: How Our Beauty Products Are Killing Us

How many of you love the idea of a younger, sexier you? How many of you spend money regularly on things that promise you’ll look younger, hotter and sexier?

Beauty products are an enormous industry in this country. I mean, who doesn’t want their 18-year-old skin back?

Well I’m sorry to burst your beauty bubble, but the latest and greatest beauty products are chock-full of chemicals that are harming your body. Cosmetic companies are making $50 billion a year by selling us empty promises.

How It Started

Let’s start at the beginning. After WWII there was an abundance of cheap oil called petroleum with a surplus of scientists needing work. Especially after the war, Americans were looking for convenience and inexpensive products to make their lives better. Enter the cosmetic industry.

Today, our cosmetics and personal care products are made up of 95% petroleum. The problem is it’s not just one chemical we’re put in contact with. In one day we’re exposed to 168 different chemicals9. We may know what one chemical does, but do we know how 168 chemicals act together in our body? Oh the combinations!

It’s thought that one in five cancers is caused by exposure to chemicals we are in contact with daily1. Watching commercials or looking at ads, we can see there are always new items hitting the market and up-and-coming companies trying to sell us the newest and latest hot cosmetic. The chemical combinations in these products are changed and tweaked on nearly a daily basis, making it almost impossible to keep up.

How Does the U.S. Compare?

There must be regulations in place to protect us from these harmful chemicals, right?


The European Union has banned over 1,300 chemicals and restricted 250 more from their products. Canada has banned 600. The United States . . . 302.

And what’s worse is the 30 chemicals that were banned were only banned a few years ago – up until then the United States had just 11 chemicals on the list. With over 80,000 chemicals on the market today, it is said that only 10% of those are actually tested for safety1.

So basically what I’m telling you is there is no regulation on cosmetic products. In fact, personal care products are one of the least regulated items in the United States8. They aren’t tested by any government entity, nor are their reactions and combinations regulated. In fact, the FDA asks the cosmetic companies themselves to determine the safety of their products.

Of course they’re going to say they are safe! Yet we blindly trust these companies, thinking their products have been thoroughly tested for chronic harmful effects. Unfortunately, the almighty dollar is still number one. Of the new chemicals that are in our environment, the EPA states they have no knowledge about what 85% of them do2.

I don’t know about you but I want to know what I am putting in and on my body!

The Last Great Law

The last major cosmetic law passed in the United States was called the Federal Food and Drug Cosmetic Act in 1938 . . . yep you read that right. 1938! This law is over 300 pages and, unfortunately, only 1.5 pages covers regulation of personal care products1.

Over the last 1-2 years there have been many attempts to pass laws banning more chemicals and demanding regulation of cosmetic products. Unfortunately, they normally fail early in the process. Currently, senators from California and Maine are trying to pass a $71 billion reform to the Personal Care Products Safety Act to ensure safer practices and labeling by companies becoming more heavily regulated by the FDA8.

In the 1970s there was a partial labeling act that was passed but allowed companies to not list a lot of the ingredients in their products if they thought they fell under the term “fragrance” or if they thought it was just a contaminant1.

Now this isn’t to say that some progress hasn’t been made recently. In 2015, President Obama signed a bill that prohibited the use of microbeads in our soaps/scrubs due to the damaging effects on our environment. Effective September 2017, triclosan is banned from our foaming soaps due to its toxic effects on our liver and disruption of our thyroid and hormonal function.

That’s the good news . . . bad news is that triclosan will still be allowed in our acne treatments, dish soaps, toothpaste, dishwashing detergents, mattresses, and deodorants. Toxicology research has shown that triclosan increases estrogenic effects in the body and may increase breast cancer risk3.

Why Is This Important?

Our skin is our largest and thinnest organ. Only one tenth of an inch separates our bodies from harmful toxins, and due to its highly permeable state, our skin is able to absorb 60% of what we put on it. Dr. Mercola is famous for stating, “Don’t put anything on your skin you wouldn’t eat.” Genius! But let’s dive a little deeper.

When we eat food, it goes into our stomach where HCL and digestive enzymes break it down, allowing minerals and vitamins to enter our bloodstream. But when we put products on our skin, the chemicals and metals we’re exposed to have no enzymes; therefore, they are absorbed into our blood unfiltered.

Over the course of a year, we have the ability to absorb 5 pounds of chemicals into our body5. It’s no wonder why so many women under the age of 50 are getting invasive breast cancer, young girls are getting their cycles earlier and earlier, infertility rates are growing, and women are entering menopause on average 2-4 years earlier4.

Think about when we as women shave our underarms, we take off the top layer of skin, exposing the fragile new skin to deodorant and products full of aluminum and chemicals. In close proximity to our underarms lie a great number of lymph nodes – our body’s drainage system. Here we are, trying to protect those around us from our B.O., when in reality we’re placing ourselves in harm’s way.

Endocrine Disruptors

Many of the chemicals in our environment can be labelled as endocrine disruptors. Meaning, when they get into our body they disrupt the function of our endocrine and hormonal system. They function in a way that mimics our own hormones by increasing or decreasing the concentration, turning one another on, interfering with signaling, starting apoptosis (cell death), competing with essential nutrients at receptor sites, and decreasing organ function over time6.

Our cells have an amazing ability to heal themselves but are very fragile to what they’re exposed to. We all have a genetic predisposition to chronic illnesses, but these genes have the ability to be suppressed if we treat our body correctly. This is called epigenetics. If we expose our cells to chemicals, we’re telling our cells to express the “bad” parts, which in turn makes us feel poorly and causes chronic disease.

In the face of continuous emotional and physical stress, why are we constantly increasing our stress by adding a cocktail of chemicals that break us down and inflame us? Why are we exposing our unborn children in the womb to these chemicals when they are growing and requiring essential nutrients? There is a reason more women are experiencing more hormonal symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings, irregular cycles and heavy periods. We are constantly absorbing endocrine disruptors and estrogen-like chemicals that are affecting our progesterone/estrogen balance, causing irregularities in our hormonal system.

Common Offenders

There are many offenders on this list of chemicals that disrupt our endocrine system and cause a bevy of chronic diseases. Here are a few of the primary offenders:

Parabens – commonly found in deodorants, shampoos, shaving gels, toothpastes, lotions, and sunscreens, parabens are linked with breast tumors in women. Paraben residues were found in concentrations 1 million times higher than estrogen in breast tissue tested4. These chemicals are finding their way into our bodies and taking over healthy tissues.

Phthalates – Often referred to “gender bending” chemicals, phthalates that cause male species to become take on more feminine qualities, increasing infertility and lowering sperm counts1.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate – This is a known carcinogen found everywhere, including detergents, household cleaners, shampoos, hair color, body washes, toothpastes, hand soaps, bath oils, and laundry detergents5.

Artificial Fragrances – These are the allergens primarily responsible for asthmatic and allergic reactions.

Bromine – Bromine can cause significant iodine deficiencies, leading to increased risk of breast, thyroid, ovarian, and prostate cancer, and is commonly found in hair dyes, cosmetics, soft drinks, mattresses, medications, plastics, and pesticides. In addition, products containing bromine can cause rashes, abdominal pain, metallic taste, and cardiac arrhythmias7.

Benzophenone – Strongly linked to cancer and commonly found in nail polish, lip balm, and sunscreen8.

Carbon Black – Used in products like eye liner, mascara, and lipstick, with strong correlations with increased risk of cancer8.

Formaldehyde – Found in shampoos and baby soaps, a known carcinogen8.

Heavy Metals

We are exposed to heavy metals in small amounts every day of our life. They’re naturally occurring in our environment and make their way into our products and foods, intentionally or not.

Some heavy metals are used in our products purposefully in order to give them color, and are considered “raw” ingredients. Often these are not listed on the labels because they are seen as “by-products” or “impurities” stemming from the cosmetic process. When we’re exposed to these metals in large amounts, coupled with an already disrupted endocrine system, we see an unhealthy accumulation in the body.

When our body is unable to eliminate these metals properly, they can cause neurological changes, high blood pressure, thyroid dysfunction, and cancer. The Environmental Defense Fund tested 49 makeup products5 including foundation, powders, blush, lipstick, and eyeshadow and found they contained:

  • 90% lead
  • 90% beryllium
  • 61% thallium
  • 51% cadmium
  • 20 % arsenic

Lead is the big one here. An analysis of over 400 lipsticks tested contained large amounts of lead. In 1978 lead was banned from paint, from gas in 1996 . . . but we still allow it in products we put on our skin every day.

Once these harmful metals are in our body and accumulate over years, it can take over 40 years to eliminate them from our body5. This is why it’s critical to remember the long-term picture. Although we feel all right now, what are these elements doing to our body over an extended period of time? With years of compounding exposure, their effects on our neurological system and organ function is beyond damaging.

What Can These Chemicals Cause In Our Body?

Just to name a few…

ADHD, fatigue, weight gain, brain fog, infertility, depression, acne, thyroid disorders, cancer, developmental delays, prostate cancer, mood swings, vomiting, headaches, memory loss, dermatitis, brittle hair, hair loss, cardiovascular disorders, immune suppression and menstrual irregularities.

Wait, I thought cosmetics were supposed to make us feel refreshed and beautiful?

Reading Labels

Often we pick up a product and it says “Natural,” “Organic,” “Preservative-free,” “Chemical-free” and “Dermatologist Approved!”

Great words, but unfortunately these still don’t ensure our products are more regulated by the FDA than others. Look at actual labels for the toxic, harmful, or questionable chemicals and stay away. Also do your research on the companies you are buying from – the Internet is your best friend here. Do they use harmful chemicals or regulate their products?

Action steps

It’s time to take your health into your own hands and ensure you get the best and safest products available. Here’s

  1. Read the Labels – the fewer ingredients the better. Get in the know of chemicals to avoid. Don’t be fooled by false claims on labels, so make sure you do your homework on the companies you’re buying from.
  2. Do It Yourself – There are a LOT of cosmetic items you can make at home to ensure you know every additive. These are super easy and you can add safe essential oils to fragrance them to how you like. I like to know what is going into my products and it’s nice to be able to do it yourself and make it your own.
  3. Use Your Resources – The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a database where you can look up products, companies, and ingredients to grade their safety for use. There are also easy-to-use mobile apps (i.e. “Think Dirty”) you can use to scan the product and rank its safety.
  4. Vote with Your Wallet – Your money counts – use it to make a difference. Educate your friends and family to put their money toward products that are tested and safe. Get involved any way possible to prevent unsafe products from making it into the market.

After reading all of this, how many of you want to go empty out your makeup drawer and start from scratch? I did. It’s literally all gone . . . insert huge sigh.

Every day we come in contact with chemicals from hundreds of sources outside of our control. Our family’s lives and health shouldn’t be at the mercy of cosmetic companies.

Here’s an important lesson to internalize: No one except you is looking out for your health. It’s literally in your hands. You deserve the best and beauty doesn’t have to mean sacrificing your health.

Natural beauty is just around the corner! Let’s see what your body is capable of.

I’m sure you will be amazed at how beautiful you truly can be.


1 Mercola, J. “documentary about your body’s chemical burden.” August 8, 2015.


3 Mercola, J. “Triclosan: cound this commonly used body care ingredient imbalance your hormones?”  July 25, 2011.

4 Mercola, J. “Worst endocrine disruptors revealed, and they could be raising your family’s cancer risk” November 13, 2013.

5 Mercola, J. “New study finds major toxins in many cosmetics.” June 4, 2011.

6 Mercola, J. “10 sources of endocrine disruptors and how to avoid them.” July 15, 2016

7 Mercola, J. “Bromines: avoid this if you want to keep your thyroid healthy.” September 5, 2009.


9 Mercola, J. “Women put an average of 168 chemicals on their bodies daily.” May 13, 2015.

3 replies
    • Kristen Sutherland
      Kristen Sutherland says:

      There are quite a few brands out there that are reputable. Among our staff we like Beautycounter and Honest Beauty, which are online companies. I would recommend, if you would like to shop in stores, to get a list of some companies and then use the EWG database to look them up.


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