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CHECK THE LABEL: Reservations about Preservation

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Research suggests it takes 21 days to form a habit. I don’t know exactly when my wife and I have officially passed the 21-day threshold, but we are proud to say that we have successfully formed the good habit of checking the label of what we buy from the shelf. For example, when it comes to doing our groceries, we make it a point to read what the product contains before deciding on purchasing it, especially when we’re trying the goods for the first time.

Understandably, most if not all of these canned and bottled foods contain chemicals that are necessary to prevent spoilage. Unfortunately, many of these chemicals are actually harmful to us. What’s more unfortunate is the fact that many of us are either too lazy to check these substances or too uninformed of what these dangerous elements really are.

For obvious reasons, I don’t find myself checking out labels of cosmetic products. Perhaps my wife doesn’t either (she’s not much into make-up and stuff), but I’m pretty sure it would be more logical to think that she would spend more time at the beauty section than I would. Even though cosmetics are not food, they also contain preservatives to help prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold. Therefore, the same good habit of checking the label should become common practice. Below are some of the most common harmful chemicals used as preservatives in cosmetics that you should avoid.


Parabens are one of those chemicals that prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold in cosmetics. Unfortunately, according to Vanessa Cunningham, a contributor at huffpost.com, they also “possess estrogen-mimicking properties that are associated with increased risk of breast cancer.” Shockingly, biopsy samples for breast tumors have found traces of parabens! (To know more about them, you can read our previous blog entry by clicking here.)

Synthetic Colors

Did you know that there is an easy way to identify whether your beauty products (and even food and drugs) contain food coloring? According to Vanessa Cunningham, the labels FD&C or D&C actually represent artificial colors, where F stands for food and D&C represents drug and cosmetics, e.g., D&C Red 27 and FD&C Blue 1. She says that synthetic colors are “suspected to be a human carcinogen, a skin irritant and are linked to ADHD in children.” It is so harmful that The European Classification and Labeling considers it a human carcinogen while The European Union has banned it altogether. (Read more about the dangers of artificial colors from our previous blog entry here.)


This group of chemicals are most known for their ability to increase the flexibility and softness of plastics. The most commonly used phthalates in cosmetics are dibutyl, diethyl, and dimethyl phthalates, which are found in nail polish, perfumes, lotions, and hair spray. Like parabens, phthalates have been linked to increased risk of breast cancer. Moreover, they have also been associated with “early breast development in girls, and reproductive birth defects in males and females.” (You can read our previous blog about phthalates and plastics here.)


While phthalates are commonly used for plastics, triclosan is widely used in antimicrobial products, such as toothpastes, soaps, and deodorants. As good as it sounds, triclosan actually presents dangers to the thyroid and reproductive hormones. Vanessa Cunningham even adds that some studies are concerned that “triclosan contributes to making bacteria antibiotic-resistant.” I don’t know about you, but if the very thing we use to prevent harmful bacteria is actually making them more resistant, then that is a definite sign of danger right there! (If you’re interested to learn more about the hazards of triclosan, click here to read our previous blog about it.)

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) / Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)

SLS and SLES (as we mentioned in our previous blog) are surfactants, or chemicals that aid in forming foam in water, i.e., suds. Needless to say that these substances are potential skin and eye irritants, and even for the lungs. (Thinking about tear-free shampoos? Be warned. These actually contain other harmful ingredients that, while they prevent the stinging in the eyes, numb or paralyze tear ducts. Sounds equally risky to me!) What’s dangerous about SLS and SLES is that, when combined with other chemicals, they form carcinogens called nitrosamines, which ultimately lead to kidney and respiratory damage.


The common chemical used for embalming cadavers, formaldehyde is considered to be a human carcinogen by the IARC or The International Agency for Research on Carcinogens. It has strong links to nasal and nasopharyngeal cancers, is known to cause skin allergies, and may be harmful to the immune system. A more in-depth look at this substance and its hazards can be found here in our previous blog article.

Sunscreen Chemicals

Last but not least are the chemicals commonly found in sunscreen products. While these can absorb harmful ultraviolet rays, they can also be easily absorbed by the body. And once inside the body, they act as endocrine disruptors that can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. This is why we highly recommend that you first “screen your sunscreen” in our previous blog entry before you buy your next bottle of sunblock.

While the list of natural preservatives can be limited, there are still a good number of them that can be used and many other cosmetic companies are turning to (our Conditioning Shaving Cream uses sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate, both plant derived preservatives). Just like a good habit, we just have to be patient and persistent in finding the right products and supporting those who make a constant conscious effort to produce goods that are not only healthier for the consumers but also friendlier to the environment. So whenever you’re having reservations about the preservatives used in your drugs, food, or beauty products, equip yourself with the right information to help you make the best choice possible. 





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