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The list of potentially dangerous chemicals goes on to include fragrance preservatives, lanolin and its derivatives, phenylenediamine, lead (both found in hair dyes), formaldehyde (found in nail polish) and others. In fact, there are more than 50,000 possible ingredients used in personal care products, and many of them are deemed suspect by consumer advocates, health experts and meticulous researchers such as David Steinman and Samuel S. Epstein, M.D. , authors of The Safe Shopper's Bible, the 1995 book that singled out certain cosmetics companies for their potentially hazardous products.

Synthetic chemicals seem to dominate beauty isles, making them nearly impossible to avoid. But some beauty experts, such as "cosmetics cop" Paula Begoun, author of The Beauty Bible (Beginning Press, $18.95) and Don't Go To the Cosmetics Counter Without Me among others, believe that these chemicals don't pose a serious threat. "Chemists would argue that the carcinogenic risks of amines [found in hair dyes] minor," Begoun says. "Is [using hair dye] any better or worse than a lot of the other things we're doing? I don't know. It's a supposition. I'm sympathetic with the supposition, but what I see happening as a result of this information is disturbing to me. What often seems to come on the heels of this is that it endorses cosmetics lines that say 'We don't contain these things so we're better.'"

Begoun and Erickson agree that many cosmetics lines claiming to be "all natural" are anything but. "All natural' is a joke. It's one of the biggest hoaxes on the female world consumer that I have ever seen in my life," Begoun emphasizes.

So-called "natural" products can be found everywhere from drug stores to health food stores. Consumers are led to believe that products sold at health food stores contain more natural ingredients and are therefore safer, but that's not always the case. "The fact that a product shares shelf space with natural supplements and organic food doesn't necessarily guarantee that it's chemical-free," Erickson writes. The author discovered this fact for herself while shopping for a hand cleanser. "I found one with tea tree oil, but then I picked up one next to it, and the active ingredient was...the kissing cousin to pesticide."

Many products, however, live up to their claims of purity. Atlanta-based Jurlique, a natural skin-care company founded by Jurgen Klein, Ph.D., uses herbal extracts and natural oils in their products, and reportedly use no petrochemicals. Mastey hair care products claim to contain no alcohol, waxes, oils, or surfactants such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, or Propylene Glycol. Aveda and multilevel marketing company Neways International are both phasing out carcinogenic ingredients.

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