The truth about beauty chemicals

How beauty products can affect your health and when you should choose the eco-option
By By: Jessalynn Keller
The truth about beauty chemicals

How much do we really know about the chemicals we put on our skin and hair every day? What affect do they have on our health? We spoke with Dr. Paul Cohen MD, a dermatologist at the Rosedale Dermatology Centre in Toronto, to help us determine what to toss in our quest for good-for-you beauty.

Toss it: Cosmetics with fragrance
Why: "Fragrance is a common allergen," says Dr. Cohen. "Even products that are perfume-free can [legally] contain fragrance, which is often used as a making agent." And because "fragrance" is a general term for what could be several different chemicals, there is no way to know what it really is, or what it's made of. It's known to include parabens and phthalates, two chemicals it's important to educate yourself about (see below).

Also found in: Everything from bubble bath to skin care products to antiperspirant.

Try: Look for products labelled fragrance-free. Companies like Clinique and Marcelle specialize in hypo-allergenic formulas. Dr. Cohen also suggests swapping your foundation for mineral makeup, such as Cover FX's Mineral FX Pure MineralFoundation, $37.

Toss it: Shampoo with parabens
Why: Although there is no conclusive scientific evidence, some studies have linked parabens, often used as a fragrance ingredient and preservative, to cancer and reproductive toxicity.

Also found in: Other hair products like conditioner and mousse, body wash and cleansers, and bath products like bubble bath, oil, and salts.

Try: Dr. Cohen recommends looking for products that explicitly state "paraben free", since parabens can be included under the label term fragrance. Try: Kiss My Face Miss Treated Shampoo Organic Hair Care, $8. Available at, Shoppers Drug Mart and Whole Foods.

Toss it: Lotion with phthalates
Why: Already banned from cosmetics in Europe, phthalates have been linked to reproductive development problems in baby boys and early puberty in girls. A recent U.S. study on infant exposure to phthalates recommended parents to limit the use of personal care products, such as lotions, on babies.

Also found in: Nail products, hair spray, baby powders, shampoos, and soaps.

Try: Because phthalates are often used as a fragrance ingredient, they might not always be listed on the label. Parents should opt for fragrance-free baby products, like Bug and Pickle Baby Butter, $16, (available at and retailers across Canada.

Toss it: Nail polish with toluene
Why: In addition to causing allergic reactions, toluene is a human developmental toxin if we're exposed to large quantities. While exposure in cosmetics is usually limited, several companies have recently ceased using toluene in their products.

Also found in: Cuticle treatment and base/top coats.

Try: Toluene-free polishes from Sally Hansen (available at Shoppers Drug Mart) or Zoya (also available at select salons). If you're unsure about what's in a product, Dr. Cohen recommends checking the label carefully. "We don't need to get hysterical, but people should be cautious about what they use [on]."


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