Access to the internet has not been utterly good for us. Social media has facilitated unprecedented levels of bullying. We now rely on technologies to drive, imagine, connect, and think. We are, in every way -- physically, neurologically, mentally -- addicted to screens.

But the internet can also make us smarter. We have access to information that can make us more selective voters and more responsible consumers. We’re no longer at the behest of companies with large marketing budgets; we can independently assess what we’re being told. 

Here’s an example. An ad in a 1970 issue of Life Magazine advertised processed sugar as pure energy, noting it could get you past the afternoon slump, the “fat time of day” in which overeating occurred. Spoonfuls of sugar, it suggested, would curb your appetite and increase your energy. That may have been believable then, but now, thanks to our pervasive, constant access to the internet, we know this ad makes statements that are categorically untrue. Documentaries, Netflix series, and blogs have ensured that no one wonders anymore whether white sugar is good for us, or not.

The internet is a portal to understanding more about the toxic chemicals in our food, but also in popular skincare and cosmetic products. We know, for example, that formaldehyde -- what’s used to embalm bodies -- has been found in eyelash glue. We know lipsticks and mascaras are made with lead and mercury, which have been linked to learning disabilities in children.

We know that some of the ingredients found in the products we put on our faces and bodies have been linked to some pretty serious side effects: cancer in living tissues, reproductive issues (including infertility, miscarriage, and premature births), and brain damage. 

Credo Beauty compiled a list of more than 2,700 ingredients that are reportedly harmful to our health. A thousand of them are banned in European products. Only 30 are off-limits in the United States. 

Another day, we can talk about why products are unregulated in the United States, but today we’ll focus on some products you’d be wise to avoid. There are some comprehensive online resources that cover the gamut of potentially harmful ingredients. We’ll start with five of them.

First up: parabens. These are used to increase a product’s shelf life, and they’re found in deodorants but also in makeup, shampoos, and moisturizers. The FDA has said there’s no evidence parabens can negatively affect our health. However, published studies show parabens can disrupt hormones in the body and even increase the risk of cancer.

Many cosmetic products, including lotions, perfumes, and nail polish, are made with phthalates (pronounced thallates), which act as binding agents. The Center for Disease Control raised concerns about this class of chemicals in 2003. Since then, these have been linked to hormonal imbalances, asthma, ADHD, breast cancer, obesity, behavioral issues, and fertility issues. 

Sulfates, sometimes called sodium lauryl (or laureth) sulfates, can be found in body washes, cleansers, and mascaras, among other products. They’ve been blamed for allergies and skin problems.

Beware of ingredients that end in “-eth,” such as laureth, or for such terms as polyethylene or ethylene oxide: they’re indicators there’s 1,4 dioxane in your product. These are commonly found in hair dyes, shampoos, lotions, creams, and tanners. Possible side effects include damage to the liver and kidneys. The Environmental Protection Agency has said 1,4 dioxane is probably carcinogenic, or cancer-causing.

Another ingredient to avoid is dyes made with coal tar, which color your products. Coal tar is recognized as carcinogenic; lab tests conducted by the National Cancer Institute linked it to tumors.

So until bureaucracy catches up and regulatory authorities begin making science-based decisions, it’s up to us to be conscious consumers. Look for products with labels that tell you what’s in them. Look for products that use natural, non-toxic ingredients. Harness the power of the internet. Do your research.

Written by Allyson Welch

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