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The Ugly Side of Beauty Products

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Skin Deep: The ugly truth about beauty products.

By Jean Munoz Keese

While many of us read labels to know what we put in our bodies, we don’t always read the labels for what we put on our bodies. And because there are no legal standards for defining “organic” and “natural” cosmetics, it is entirely up to us, the consumers, to read labels and do our homework.


Here are two ingredients you may want to steer clear of in beauty aisles and at cosmetic counters:

  • Parabens: Found in 75-90% of cosmetics, parabens are a common preservative. The FDA claims this ingredient is safe, yet they continue to evaluate its risks given consumer organizations’ concerns about cancer risks. Parabens have also been linked to developmental and reproductive toxicity and endocrine disruption, according to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep research (
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) & 1,4-Dioxane: Whether or not stand-alone Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is itself harmful is debatable. However, the presence of 1,4-Dioxane is found in products that have undergone a manufacturing process called ethoxylation. 1,4-Dioxane is a hormonal disruptor and known carcinogenic ingredient that is often not even listed, yet it’s found in many “natural” or “organic” products as well as conventional products. While some companies do remove this harmful ingredient, it is not required by law, and there is no way for us to know whether or not 1,4-dioxane is in a product. Your safest bet is to avoid any products that contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate.

Tween girls, who are particularly inclined to use a stew of cosmetic products on a daily basis, are especially vulnerable to toxic ingredients and hormone-disrupting chemicals. Moms looking to minimize their own exposure and their daughters’ can pick up Absolute Beauty: Radiant Skin and Inner Harmony through the Ancient Secrets of Ayurveda, by Pratima Raichur (Harper Collins, 1999). The book’s comprehensive approach to beauty from the inside out includes tips on nutrition, individualized skin care regimens, and recipes for homemade products and “potions.”

For more information on beauty product ingredients and socially responsible companies, visit:

Jean is a freelance health writer, Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist, Yoga & Pilates instructor and owner of Sattva Yoga, Pilates & Ayurveda in Rocklin. She lives in Foresthill with her husband and their 1-year-old son.