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Do Your Beauty Products Have A Dirty Side?

Photo Credit: Alex Rodriguez
Photo Credit: Alex Rodriguez

By Mariah Ross

Ethylhexylglycerin, diazolidinyl urea, and phenoxyethanol. Do any of these words look familiar? If the answer is no, it’s time to take a step back and learn about these and other unpronounceable ingredients commonly found in everyday beauty products.

Nicole Warren is a licensed esthetician with a studio in Sunnyvale, California. After a tumultuous year that put health at the front and center of people’s minds, Warren said she recommends learning about beauty products before using them on your body.

“It’s extremely important to know what you’re putting on your body because our skin is connected to every single system in our bodies. If the skin is impacted, our respiratory systems can be affected, along with nervous, digestive, blood, everything,” Warren said.

Luckily for us, we live in the age of technology and can find this information and more. Apps like Think Dirty and GoodGuide can help consumers take back power and control their health. These apps rate beauty products on their cleanliness and provide users with a detailed list of ingredients, their safety rankings, and the effects they can have on your body.

The reality that cosmetics can cause real harm came to light in early 2020 when DevaCurl, a popular brand in the curly hair community, was hit with a class-action lawsuit following allegations that their products were causing hair loss and severe damage. 

One of the damaging chemicals in the product was DMDM hydantoinImidazolidinyl urea, a formaldehyde-releasing agent used in several DevaCurl products, according to an online natural hair blog The Curl Market. People who used the product lost their texture, hair, and faith in products that claim to be made just for them.

The shock that such a respected product could cause significant damage rippled through the natural hair community, leading to a newfound distrust and skepticism.

Orange County resident Jessie Freeman said she uses the Think Dirty app religiously to find information about her cosmetic products and their ingredients. 

“I use the app simply because I care about what my body wears. Anything you wear seeps into your system. I care about what I eat, so it only makes sense to care about what I use,” Freeman said. 

While these apps can help answer questions, you may need to do additional research to make sure that the products you’re using won’t result in severe damage. The Food and Drug Administration misses the mark when it comes to transparency and ensuring the safety of cosmetic products, and the law does not require that those products or ingredients be approved before hitting the market.

“I trust international products far more than products made in the United States because the FDA is extremely lax when it comes to cosmetics. Most products don’t even have to be tested here,” Warren said.

Negative reactions can be scary, but they can also be a learning experience taking you closer to finding your perfect product. Trying new products by themselves before pairing them with others can help isolate which, if any, trigger an adverse reaction.

“I think it’s normal to have reactions. It’s your body telling you ‘This isn’t good for you.’ And maybe it will work for someone else, but you just have to see what works for you. I can personally tell the difference between chemically-driven products compared to holistic, all-natural products just because I’ve tried so many,” Freeman said.

Knowing what results you want from your products is also critical. For instance, many products that claim to prevent frizz may contain ingredients commonly found in relaxers, while others build the bonds of your hair cells to do the trick. 

“We have to take into consideration what the product is claiming to do for you. It’s almost impossible to avoid ‘human-made’ products so it’s about knowing which ones you should absolutely, positively avoid,” Warren said. 

Whether you choose to download an app or not, please remember that products make claims that may not meet your demands.

“My rule of thumb is to go with the company that provides the most transparency about their product and processes. That’s the company I trust,” Warren said.

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