Cosmetic product safety- Getting to grips

It took me getting sick to actually become aware of the various ingredients in the products I put onto my body. It has been found that women use on average twelve personal care products daily, each with twelve or more ingredients in each of them. There are 10,500 different chemical ingredients available to be used. I have been putting beauty products onto my skin since I was around thirteen and before that used shampoo, soap and shower gels since I was born. So for twenty four years I have applied products and never once wondered what all these weird names on the ingredient list mean. Surely they are all safe if I am putting it onto my body? Absolute ignorant bliss.

My interest started in this when I realised my skin would get all dry and sensitive with the chemotherapy. One night I started researching what type of skin care products I would need during treatment and one link lead to another and somehow it was 3am and I had just entered a new world of cosmetic chemical safety. Words such as ‘carcinogenic’ and ‘neurotoxin’ were jumping out of the page at me which I couldn’t believe. We live in a society today that is very informed and active so I am just so surprised that I have never had an educated conversation with any of my colleagues, friends or sisters about this topic. The answer is that none of us really know or understand what is in these products and it seems to be brushed under the carpet. We won’t lie on a sunbed because it causes cancer but we will apply easily fifteen different products with possible carcinogenic properties onto our bodies when getting ready for a night out. Where is the sense in that? And more importantly why is the cosmetic companies allowed to do this?

Upon researching this stuff I had literally no idea about the governing legislation protecting us. Reading up on it I have realised we are really lucky to live in Europe as opposed to America. The Food and Drug Administration in the states has no authority to demand cosmetics companies to test their products for safety. It does not have the power to control the vast majority of products or ingredients that go on the market. FDA can conduct pre-market assessments only of certain products and only ingredients that are classified as OTC drugs. Cosmetics companies may use any ingredient or raw material in their products without government review or approval, with the exception of colour additives and a limited amount of prohibited substances. The FDA has no authority to recall products. There are no requirements for cosmetic companies to register their cosmetic company, file data on ingredients or report cosmetic-related injuries. Instead, FDA relies on voluntary reporting of this. The miniscule amount of regulation is completed by the very same companies that are making these products via the Cosmetics Ingredient Review (CIR) panel. The CIR has reviewed less than 20% of the FDA estimated 12,500 chemicals used in cosmetics, and only eleven products have been banned.

The European Union thankfully has more firm and precise regulation for cosmetics. The EU Cosmetics Directive (76/768/EEC) was created in January 2003. It bans 1,328 chemicals from cosmetics that are known or suspected to cause cancer, genetic mutation, reproductive harm or birth defects. The law demands rigorous compliance which demands a pre-market safety assessment of products, government authorization for the use of nanomaterials and prohibits animal testing. All products must be registered with the Cosmetics Products Notification Panel. This means all products and their ingredients are listed and well documented. The EU law also requires all ingredients to be listed on the product label allowing customers to make informed decisions.

After all this research I was more confused than before. Why is Europe so safe but chemicals such as parabens and phthalates, triclosan are ingredients still in products in my bedroom? This required delving further into the world of E.U laws and legislation. In the EU Directive substances are split into those that cannot be included in a product full stop and those that cannot be added to a product unless it’s guarded by restrictions and conditions. It appears that once the substance does not reach a certain concentration and its toxicological profile has been thoroughly tested and deemed safe then it is safe for human use. For example only one phthalate is deemed safe, DEP. They have comprehensively tested the chemical nature of DEP and trust it is safe. Others have been banned. The maximum allowed concentration if triclosan is 0.3%. So therefore all ingredients listed on the back of cosmetic products have been safe for use.

When researching I find very conflicting information on ingredients such as Sodium Lauryl Sulphate, triclosan etc. Words such as ‘irritant’ and ‘carcinogenic’ are prominent throughout all the web pages but yet they are not banned under E.U law. But it all comes down to one thing; the SCCCP (Scientific Committee for Consumer Products) has not found any evidence itself to support claims of these chemicals being unsafe for use so therefore they are allowed.

Personally I have decided to air on the side of caution. If there are claims and have been independent studies performed showing the adverse effects of certain chemicals I will try avoid them. No harm right? If you were to avoid all chemicals you would be left with only water so it’s all about making informed choices. That starts from knowing the ingredients on the back of your product. I have pulled together a list of some of the ingredients to try avoid when purchasing products. Some have already been banned in the E.U but it’s a handy list for America too where they are still readily useable. Print it off, keep it in your wallet and you can use it when buying products.

Print this list of common ingredients found in products and keep it in your wallet. There you can easily pull it out and compare to a product when you are out shopping:

Ingredients found in personal care products


  1. Excellent article Sarah. Deserves to be published but my guess is mainstream media won’t dare for fear of the attack from large pharmaceuticals.

  2. It’s scary how unaware we are of dangerous chemicals in everyday cosmetics and how little it’s discussed, you are so right. This is a really interesting and I think you should send it in to one of the papers or their magazines or websites – the Irish Times or Indo Health supplement maybe? Or the website or And maybe one of these sites, or even a TV show like Midday on TV3 would be interested in you doing a regular column or features piece with them. You are a wonderful spokesperson and your site is so upbeat, positive, interesting and inspiring – more people would love to hear and see you! Best of luck with everything X

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