DMDM hydantoin has been used in the beauty industry for decades but has gained a lot of buzz in the past year. This is due to its involvement in the lawsuit against the hair company, TRESemmé®. Two women have come forward stating they suffered hair loss and painful scalp burns from their keratin shampoo and conditioner which contain DMDM hydantoin.
DMDM hydantoin is utilized as a preservative in cosmetics and personal care products due to its antimicrobial effect against fungi, yeast and harmful bacteria. It can be found in shampoos, conditioners, makeup remover and facial cleansers, etc. The concern over DMDM hydantoin is it releases small levels of formaldehyde which is a known human carcinogen that can cause detrimental reactions when absorbed. However, it has been studied that harm only occurs when exposed to high levels or over prolonged periods of time. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review, an expert scientific panel has evaluated the scientific data and concluded that DMDM hydantoin is safe as a cosmetic ingredient at current levels of use – 0.074 percent, or less. DMDM hydantoin is found naturally in safe, small amounts in many foods such as bananas, apples and grapes, etc. Adverse reactions include allergic contact dermatitis, hair loss, irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat and cancer.
The side effects the TRESemmé® consumers were experiencing were unlikely due to the cause of DMDM hydantoin but could be due to the main active ingredient keratin which can negatively impact the hair if overused.
“DMDM Hydantoin.” ChemicalSafetyFacts.org, ChemicalSafetyFacts, 7 May 2020.
Mazur, Gia. “What Science Has to Say about the TRESemmé Lawsuit and That Viral
Post.”Access NEPA, Times-Shamrock Communications, Jan. 2021
Safer Products? What to avoid?
With all sorts of fragrances incorporated into our sunscreen, some may be irritating to the skin. Everyone says “I have sensitive skin” but that means something different from person to person. However, generally speaking, people with sensitive skin are often also more sensitive to UV light so we should wear sunscreen daily –that we have in common.
When it comes to choosing the “best” SPF (sun protection factor), it is important to understand that a higher number does not necessarily mean the sun screen is stronger or better. SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays. SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays. SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays. And SPF 100 blocks 99% of UVB rays. With that said, they are so similar in terms of efficacy in blocking UVB rays, that it comes down to marketing. Higher SPFs may be more expensive than lower SPFs. Additionally, protection against UVA rays are equally important. It would be more useful to choose a sunscreen that states it is “Broad Spectrum” rather than focusing just on the number. Apply sunscreen to all skin that clothing might not cover and reapply every 2 hours or after water contact.
The FDA states only 2 ingredients that are “generally recognized as safe and effective” – GRASE, which are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Ingredients that are not GRASE cannot be legally sold in the United States. Examples would be PABA and tolamine salicylate.
There are many companies promoting their aluminum-free antiperspirants due to the infamous myth that the aluminum in antiperspirants can cause breast cancer. Additional rumors have surfaced about razor nicks in the underarm area facilitating the absorption of carcinogenic substances through the skin. However, there is no scientific evidence to support these claims and observational data comparing breast cancer patients to patients without breast cancer show no direct association between antiperspirant use and a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Aluminum compounds like aluminum chlorohydrate are commonly used active ingredients in antiperspirants and they work by blocking sweat glands from releasing sweat onto the skin surface. As skin cells naturally shed, the aluminum also gets removed from the skin. There have been concerns about aluminum being absorbed from the skin and altering estrogen receptors of breast cells, leading to breast cancer. Research has shown that the amount of aluminum absorbed through the skin is tiny and clinical trials have not been able to find an association between antiperspirant use and an increased risk of breast cancer. When comparing women with breast cancer and women without breast cancer, studies have not found conclusive evidence that antiperspirant or deodorant use or underarm shaving is linked to breast cancer risk. Razor nicks may increase the risk of infections and local irritation but it is unlikely that they would facilitate the entry and absorption of carcinogenic substances. Women are told to not use antiperspirants or deodorants on the day of a mammogram appointment because the aluminum present in the product may show up on mammograms and appear as microcalcifications that may mislead doctors into thinking that the patient may have breast cancer. However, that does not mean that the aluminum is causing the breast cancer if it shows up on the mammogram.
Antiperspirants and breast cancer risk. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/antiperspirants-and-breast-cancer-risk.html. Updated October 14, 2014. Accessed March 15, 2021.
Klotz K, Weistenhöfer W, Neff F, Hartwig A, van Thriel C, Drexler H. The Health Effects of Aluminum Exposure. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2017;114(39):653-659. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2017.0653
Mirick DK, Davis S, Thomas DB. Antiperspirant use and the risk of breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2002;94(20):1578-1580. doi:10.1093/jnci/94.20.1578
Written by: Denise Cotter and Niyati Doshi
All products were not created equally and with an abundant amount to choose from it’s important to take a close look at the ingredient list to determine which is best fit for you. Even more importantly, which ingredients should be avoided. With many over the counter products and cosmetics there is very little regulation on what a product actually contains. More and more we are hearing about how products labeled organic are the best way to go, but in fact there is no body or organization confirming and validating these claims. “Organic” or “natural” does not automatically make a product safer. Harmful chemicals may be found in products we use on a daily basis, such as soaps, toothpaste, haircare, nail products, make-up, shaving cream, and perfume/cologne.
Chemicals that should be avoided include: boric acid and sodium borate, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), coal tar dyes, formaldehyde, “fragrance,” hydroquinone, lead and lead acetate, and triclosan to name a few. Depending on who the product is for (i.e. babies or young children, women, and men) different concerns and considerations should be considered. For instance, babies have immature organ systems and are less equipped to protect against unwanted chemicals. Parents should avoid buying baby wipes that contain bronopol, DMDM hydantoin, and fragrance. Kids under the age of 2 should not use toothpaste that contains fluoride and use of fluoride-free toothpaste should be used until the child can rinse and spit properly. As kids get older and enter their teenage years they expose themselves to even more products due to the effects of puberty. Acne can have a negative impact on the way teens feel and may use every product under the sun to try and achieve clear skin. Ingredients to avoid in acne products include triclosan, parabens, PEGs, and ceteareth. For men it is important to be mindful or boric acid and sodium borate. These chemicals can interfere with hormones and cause a greater risk of decreased sperm count and libido. They are also unsafe to use for infants or damaged skin since they easily absorb in the body. Even with this knowledge boric acid can be found in some diaper creams. There are many resources that can help parents choose safe products for their babies.
One place that people may overlook when thinking about hazardous chemicals is in their perfume or cologne that they spray every morning. The average fragrance contains ~14 chemicals that are not listed on the label. These chemicals are associated with hormone disruption, allergic reactions, and ingredients not assessed for safety. Manufacturers do not list all chemicals contained in the product but rather lump all of them together and list then as “fragrance.” The FDA does not have the authority to require manufacturers to test cosmetics for safety before they are sold to the consumer. Even if you read the ingredient list you are probably missing a dozen or more ingredients they do not want you to know about.
Hidden Chemicals in Perfume and Cologne. May 2010. https://www.ewg.org/research/not-so-sexy
1. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Prohibited & Restricted Ingredients in Cosmetics. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetics-laws-regulations/prohibited-restricted-ingredients-cosmetics. Accessed July 2, 2020.
2. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "Organic" Cosmetics. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetics-labeling-claims/organic-cosmetics. Accessed July 2, 2020.
List of 12 chemicals that are hazardous to your health
butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)/butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT),
coal tar dyes,
diethanolamine (DEA)-related ingredients,
parabens, parfum (a.k.a fragrance),
polyethylene glycol compounds,
sodium laureth sulfate (SLS),
It’s important to realize that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t strictly regulate cosmetic products (with the exception of color additives) as much as it does foods and drugs. As such, manufacturers are allowed greater leeway in how they choose to produce, market, and sell their products. Products labeled as “organic” or “natural” do not undergo FDA testing to ensure that they are. Consumers need to be well-informed about the chemical makeup of any cosmetic product they purchase to guarantee that their product is safe to use.
Twelve harmful chemicals that are used in many products are referred to as the “Dirty Dozen”. These chemicals have been linked to a wide range of illnesses and potential harm to the patient. The “Dirty Dozen” consists of: butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)/butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), coal tar dyes, diethanolamine (DEA)-related ingredients, dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, parabens, parfum (a.k.a fragrance), polyethylene glycol compounds, petrolatum, siloxanes, sodium laureth sulfate (SLS), triclosan. Consumers should aim to avoid these products and instead choose alternative products with safer ingredients.
When choosing safer products, it is important to know the role of certain ingredients in order to make the best choice. Surfactants are used for cleansing, foaming, thickening, emulsifying, and solubilizing. They have special properties that allow them to mix well with both water and oil. They help break down oil on our skin and mix it with water, allowing it to be washed off. Surfactants like SLS are found in foundation, shower gel, shampoo, and body lotion. Conditioners are often used in hair products to allow for water or sweat resistance properties. They are also used to stabilize fragrances to ensure no scent leakage through their packages. Preservatives like parabens are used to slow antimicrobial growth in products and extend their lifetime. Fragrances make products seem more appealing as many cosmetic products have either no smell or uninviting.
Red List. Safe Cosmetics. http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/red-list/. Accessed June 29, 2020.
Top 7 Toxicants in Cosmetics: the most dangerous for our skin - Wellness - Luxiders Magazine. Sustainable Fashion - Eco Design - Healthy Lifestyle - Luxiders Magazine. https://luxiders.com/toxicants-cosmetics/. Published April 22, 2018. Accessed June 29, 2020.
Top Tips For Safer Products || Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database. EWG. https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/contents/top-tips/. Accessed June 29, 2020.
In this day and age, it’s very important to be aware of every ingredient we use in the products we put on on a daily basis. Chemicals like DEA, formaldehyde, and parabens can be harmful to the body in more ways than one. Some chemicals can mimic endogenous hormones and cause imbalances and interruptions in hormone production leading to further complications and diseases. Other chemicals can lead to skin irritations, dermatitis, and even skin disorders depending on the percentage of harmful chemicals as well as the individual’s skin sensitivity. Such agents may also be carcinogenic. And while they may not directly cause cancers, the absorption of harmful chemicals through the skin can increase the risk of mutations that can lead to cancers. In particular, Diethanolamine (DEA) is an undesirable chemical that acts as a foaming agent and pH adjuster most commonly found in products like shampoo and conditioner. Certain moisturizers and anti-aging creams include harmful chemical like polyacrylamide, acrylamide contamination, placental extracts, UV filters, and even petrolatum. Instead of using safe products like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide; sunscreens can include toxic chemicals like homosalate, octinoxate, and oxybenzone. Formaldehyde is a preservative agent that is also harmful. It can be found in nail and hair products, baby shampoo, body soap, as well as cosmetics like blush, eye shadow, and face powders. This is why it’s very important to be aware of the products we use and avoid buying those with toxic ingredients. Always read the ingredient labels; keep in mind that organic claims doesn’t always mean safe; check expiration dates, and test new products before committing to them.
Top Tips For Safer Products. December 2019. <https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/contents/top-tips/#.WdQgMFtSyUk> [Accessed 3 June 2020].
There are many ingredients that go into making personal care products. Many of the chemicals have been linked to development of cancers, reproductive disorders, and other health conditions. It is important to be aware of possible harmful ingredients in cosmetic products and take extra measures to avoid them. What you put on your body is important; many chemicals in cosmetics can be absorbed into the bloodstream and long-term use can impact health.
The FDA does not regulate the chemicals and ingredients that go into cosmetic products. Therefore, ingredients don’t need to be approved before they are used, and products are not always tested for safety. It is entirely up to companies to test their own ingredients and products. Products labeled as natural or organic do not necessary mean that they are safe, since the word “natural” is not regulated. In addition, not all synthetic ingredients are harmful. It is important to always look at the ingredients list, and it’s best to choose products with fewer ingredients. Furthermore, note that not all harmful chemicals may be listed in the ingredients list; they may be hidden behind the word “fragrance” or “parfum”.
While many chemicals have only been linked to harmful effects and more research is needed to determine the extent of its effects, it is still best to avoid them. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit organization working to protect human health and the environment. Some ingredients they recommend avoiding include animal-based ingredients, BHA, coal tar, formaldehyde, parabens, petroleum-derived ingredients, resorcinol, toluene, etc. There are many resources available to help people choose safer products on the market. Try using online tools on apps and websites such as ThinkDirty, EWG’s Skin Deep, and the Good Guide.
Personal Care Product Tips. Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP). https://www.bcpp.org/our-work/tips-for-prevention/personal-care-products/. Accessed June 3, 2020.
How to choose safe cosmetics. Piedmont Healthcare. https://www.piedmont.org/living-better/how-to-choose-safe-cosmetics. Accessed June 3, 2020.
There are many products we use from day to day basis which can contain harmful ingredients and we might now even know they are damaging. It is always good to be aware of the ingredients you are using on your body, hair, face, etc. Some daily products we use are shampoos, conditioners, cosmetics, sunscreen, and many more. Very commonly used ingredients in shampoos and conditioners that are harmful are DEA, parabens and SLS. SLS is a product used in shampoos and conditioners, which is a foaming agent. However, it is a skin irritant and also produces nitrosamine which is an agent linked to cancer formation. It also produces 1,4 dioxane which is a byproduct of SLS, a potential carcinogen. Since it is a byproduct, it won’t be listed under the ingredients of the shampoos or conditioners. This byproduct has been linked to severe liver and kidney damage down the line. Therefore using products without SLS would be considered most beneficial. Most women use makeup, whether it is light makeup or heavy makeup. Makeup products also contain harmful ingredients that can affect our face and body. A few commonly seen ingredients in makeup are titanium dioxide, carbon black, talc, silica, and formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is shown to have potential DNA damaging effects and has been linked as a carcinogen.
There are many tips which can help guide people to avoid these ingredients and use safer makeup products. One of the best tips is to start reading the ingredients for the products you buy because it's very important to know what you are applying to your face, body or hair. Another tip to not be fooled by the products being advertised as organic or natural, since those words aren’t heavily regulated by these industries. Make sure to always replace your products even though you haven’t finished the products. A lot of makeup products have expiration dates, so it is important to educate people regarding these small things, which can make a big impact on your health.
Personal Care Product Tips. Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP). https://www.bcpp.org/our-work/tips-for-prevention/personal-care-products/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwlN32BRCCARIsADZ-J4thyE09Xfb2_lgMQ-XvORmbZTKutoESrd7b8tnf38ry5sdG3XYVGbAaAnf6EALw_wcB. Accessed June 3, 2020.
Monique, Bren, Shweta, et al. Blog. Ecology Center. https://ecologycenter.org/blog/shampoo-what-to-look-for-what-to-avoid/. Published June 6, 2012. Accessed June 3, 2020.