Your Beauty Products Could Be Making You Sick

By Robin Tolkan-Doyle
Posted on

Tinkerbell perfume, Bonnie Bell lip balm, Aqua Net. These items and so many more became my “pretty” arsenal growing up in a society where its marketing tentacles dug deep into my psyche and planted themselves there, making me believe they would help me look better and feel better about myself.

For the past 23 years, I’ve been writing about and promoting beauty products. I started off as a beauty editor for teen magazines and eventually opened a PR agency representing beauty brands from all over the world to the media. I guess like so many women, I was prepped for this job ever since I was a little girl.

Until the last few years with the whole “clean” beauty trend (products made without ingredients shown or suspected to harm human health) did I really start waking up to the reality of what I – and most of the cosmetics-loving public – was actually doing to ourselves every time we spritzed, lacquered or rubbed into our skin some fancy, often-times, scented formula concealed in pretty packaging. We were exposing ourselves to potentially harmful chemicals that may not be in the best interest of our health.

little girl putting make up on

Quick fact: When you see the word “fragrance” listed on a product, it could basically be any of the 3000 synthetic or natural chemicals formulators mix into their recipes to make something smell amazing.

Beauty Industry Accountability

This new level of accountability in the beauty industry can be applauded thanks to the rise of consumer consciousness and their demand for transparency. If you’re reading this, you probably make a point to scan the list of ingredients on the back of your face lotion. Kudos to you! We all have to be our own mini czars these days with what we put on our bodies. 

But in all seriousness, do you know the difference between Phthalates and Methylsilanols? FYI…the first one is a harmful chemical that makes plastic soft and flexible and the second one is a safe derivative of silicon and protects skin from free radicals among a host of other good-for-you functions. The thing is, they’re both in many cosmetic products and you can’t pronounce either one. But one is toxic (phthalates) and the other isn’t.

Here’s the reality; in the United States, the law does not require cosmetic products and ingredients to be approved by the FDA, making the beauty industry the wild, wild west. The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 hasn’t been changed since it was passed by Congress. That’s 82 years ago! To date, the U.S. only bans 30 harmful chemicals and ingredients from being formulated into products whereas the European Union bans around 1,400 and Canada bans approximately 600. Who knows what’s in your favorite face mask? Even though it may claim to tighten, refresh and smooth your skin, there’s no guarantee it will do any of those things. In fact, it may be doing more harm than good.

woman putting makeup on traveling

The Toxic side of beauty

Recent research findings have shown many toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, triclosan, lead, mercury, toluene, hydroquinone, parabens and talc found in everyday products linked to disease and even death. This brings me to the documentary Toxic Beauty, which I had the privilege of helping promote to the media earlier this year. 

Toxic Beauty takes a deep dive into the ingredient dangers lurking in personal care and cosmetics’ products, especially talc. Director Phyllis Ellis follows the class action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson and the plaintiffs, specifically whistleblower Deane Berg, an American woman who turned down a $1.3 million settlement from J&J in order to take them to court and publicize the health risks of their talc-laden products.

Another plot line throughout the film is the story of how medical student and beauty product fanatic Mymy Nguyen treats herself like a guinea pig as she studies the chemical burden her body undergoes with all the products she uses on a daily basis.

I remember when I saw the film for the first time,  just sitting there in the darkness of the theatre shaking my head back and forth and feeling sick to my stomach by the lack of transparency the behemoth corporation Johnson & Johnson has displayed throughout the years with their talc-laden baby powder, as endless women have lost their lives to ovarian cancer from using their products. Again, I knew talc wasn’t great, but even I (someone who has worked in this industry for almost half of my life) didn’t know to what extent. If this movie shook me, I could only imagine what it would do to all the women throughout the world who don’t have the faintest idea that their daily dosing of baby powder could end up killing them.

beauty products travel and woman

Quick fact: Talc is not just reserved for baby powder. Just about any personal care or cosmetic product that absorbs moisture can contain talc including deodorants, face powder, blush or eye shadow. Talc is also super cheap, which makes it even more attractive to formulators.

Just this past May, something incredible happened. A news story that had nothing to do with the pandemic came out, almost as if it were trying to slip through the cracks…”Johnson & Johnson is stopping the sale of talc-based baby powder in the U.S. and Canada. Two weeks after that, Chanel, Revlon and L’oreal – three of the biggest brands in cosmetics – quietly move away from including talc in their products as well

Being part of this movement and creating a push for change in this industry has been monumentally rewarding for me and I’m so grateful to be a part of it. However, in the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep database alone, there are still more than 2,000 products that contain talc out there for sale today. And Johnson & Johnson readily admit that they will continue to sell its products in other markets. They sell in over 175 countries, so do the math. There is still plenty of work to be done on this front. 

Back to the trend of clean beauty – which itself has to be handled with scrutiny because again, anyone can claim they’re clean and not be -the rise of clean beauty brands has skyrocketed, with revenue slated to hit $22 billion by 2024. 

The next time you need to stock up on shampoo, SPF, deodorant or you’re looking for a better mascara to try, visit the EWG’s Skin Deep website, which has vetted 1676 products with the EWG VERIFIED mark, deeming them free from chemicals of concern or download the ThinkDirty App, which allows you to scan products for toxicity level.

If this information makes you mad and you want to know how to push the need for change along, a couple things you can do right off the bat is write to congress and sign the Toss the Talc Petition.

Interested in checking out Toxic Beauty? It’s available on The Starz Network, or you can download it here for $4.99. You can use the discount code SOFE25 to receive 25% off.

girl on beach with sunscreen

My List of Clean & Travel Friendly beauty products

For those of you engaging in safe travel these days, I put together this round up for clean travel friendly beauty products worthy enough to take with you on your escapades!

Mermaid dry shampoo

Captain Blankenship Mermaid Dry Shampoo
Housed in a mini 2 oz. cardboard shaker, this talc-free dry shampoo absorbs oil and adds volume to unwashed hair ($14).

rahua shampoo travel size

Rahua Hydration Shampoo and Conditioner (Travel Sizes)
This Amazon rainforest grown beauty hair brand houses their strand quenching shampoo and conditioner in perfectly portable 2 oz. bottles ($9 – $9.50).

C'est Moi sunscreen

C’est Moi Sunshine Mineral Sunscreen Face Stick SPF 50
Enjoy the sunshine without 98% of the harmful rays with this reef-friendly, non-nano zinc oxide SPF face stick. Formulated with hydrating skin soothing shea butter, this water resistant sunscreen miracle promises to leave no ghostly white cast ($10).

Beautycounter Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Mist SPF 30 Travel Size – 3 oz. 
You gotta love a continuous mist sunscreen that’s clean and effective. This one provides physical block from UVA and UVB quickly and effortlessly without an oily residue ($20).

travel beauty products

RMS Beauty Lip2Cheek
Multi-tasking beauty at its best and brightest, Rose-Marie Swift’s eponymous brand has been at the forefront of clean beauty since 2009.  These lip & cheek stain formulations are available in 9 beautiful shades and come housed in mini pots to pop into any girl’s cosmetic case $36).

beauty products for travel

Shea Yeleen Coconut Peach Lip Balm
Made from 100% pure, unrefined shea butter, these toxic-free lip balms not only moisturize and nourish your lips, they also empower the female producers in West Africa who source and make the shea ($3).

Zit No More travel size

The Better Skin Co. Zit No More
Maskne sucks, but Zit No More can help. This zit zapping roller ball is formulated with a clear tree-oil/ salicylic acid wonder potion that attacks, banishes and soothes pimples on the go ($18).

Type A Deodorant

Type: A Aluminum Free Deodorant 
These cream to powder formulations have so many things going for them (they’re non-toxic, cruelty free, carbon neutral, and stain free), there’s no reason any traveler should suffer from B.O ($9.99).

Rosebud Ritual Travel Kit
Made with impeccable plant-derived ingredients, these intimate wellness products are a welcome addition to any wanderluster’s travel bag. This set comes with the brand’s four signature items; Cleansing Wipes, Calming Cream, Stimulating Serum and Everyday Balm ($28).

Elliot's Herbal Salve

Kellerworks Elliott’s Herbal Salve
Got a bug bite, scratch, rash or dry patch? Welcome to your new best friend. Made with beeswax, grapeseed and coconut oil, shea, zinc, lavender, peppermint and tea tree oil, there’s nothing this uber clean salve can’t solve ($8).

About the author

Robin beauty writer

Robin Tolkan-Doyle

Robin Tolkan-Doyle runs the boutique agency Charmed PR in Los Angeles, CA and recently created the site Beautyologie, a platform to highlight how we all find and create beauty in life.



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