Parabens. Phthalates. Chemical fragrances. Sodium lauryl sulfate. These are among the behind-the-scenes ingredients in over-the-counter skincare and haircare products that have some of the big cosmetic companies changing the way they formulate moisturizers, soaps, shampoos and anti-aging products.
But are these inactive ingredients bad or merely perceived to be bad because of misinformation or different “spins” on the truth? And are their substitutes any better?The science behind many of these controversies is often misrepresented, according to Adam Friedman, M.D., assistant professor of medicine (dermatology), physiology and biophysics at Montefiore - Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York.
“You can easily find ways to demonstrate that these ingredients are toxic using the certain bench assays, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to the human body,” Dr. Friedman says.
Fears surrounding parabens and phthalates, for example, are derived from cell line studies, he says. And to compare the impact of these ingredients on a single cell type to the complexity of the human system — especially the skin, which is extraordinarily complex — is fuzzy math.
“A lot of what’s in the media about these different ingredients, causing consumers to be so concerned, is based on in vitro or cell-based assays, rather than human studies, of which there are very few. There really isn’t a lot of data out there, even in animals,” Dr. Friedman says.