Chemical: Lead Concern: A neurotoxin that can lead to learning, language and behavioral problems such as lowered IQ. Young children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable. Use: Color stabilizer Where: Lipstick, hair conditioner, hair color for men, face paint for children The FDA in 2012 found lead in 400 lipstick brands with Maybelline and L'Oreal having the highest content. Of the 400 lipsticks tested, 380 tested above 0.1 ppm, which is the FDA's upper limit for lead in candy. The Maybelline and L'Oreal shades had 70 times more than that.
Chemical: Formaldehyde Concern: Carcinogen linked to several cancers, including leukemia Use: Preservative Where: Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives have been found in shampoos, body washes and baby products. Wet n Wild brand nail polish and some nail hardeners and eyelash glue contain formaldehyde.
Chemical: Phthalates What they are: a group of chemicals; the most widely used in beauty products are dibutyl and diethyl phthalates. Concern: Phthalates act as a hormone disrupter, impacting the reproductive system. Studies have connected phthalates to infertility, sperm production decrease, premature birth, obesity and birth defects. FDA: "It's not clear what effect, if any, phthalates have on health." Use: To prevent nail polish from cracking, to keep hair products flexible after applied to hair, to hold the scent in perfume and as a solvent for oils. Where: Fragrances, soaps, hand and body lotion, shampoos, sunscreen, hair spray, hair gel, hair mousse, deodorant, body wash and nail polish. The Skin Deep database shows about 66 products with dibutyl phthalates.
Chemical: Triclosan Concern: Linked to changes in hormone levels and increased risk of cancer, especially breast and prostate cancers. FDA: "Triclosan is not currently known to be hazardous to humans." Use: Preservative Where: Antibacterial soap, body wash, shave gel, face wash, deodorant, mascara, blush, eye shadow, hand and foot cream, and about 17 types of Colgate toothpaste. Procter & Gamble, manufacturer of more than 50 beauty brands, pledged to remove triclosan from products by 2014.
Chemical: Mercury Concern: Toxic to the human nervous system, potentially harming the reproductive and cardiovascular systems. According to the FDA, mercury "can damage the kidneys and the nervous system, and interfere with the development of the brain in unborn children and very young children. The FDA warns "consumers not to use skin creams, beauty and antiseptic soaps, or lotions that might contain mercury." Use: Preservative Where: The FDA has restricted mercury in cosmetics, but it is still found in some brands of mascara, including the brand Love My Eyes, and skin-whitening products. It has been found in creams and soaps made in other countries and sold in the U.S. .
Sources: FDA, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, National Cancer Institute, European Commission on Public Health, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the Personal Care Products Council, California Office of the Attorney General, Skin Deep database (Environmental Working Group)