As hard as it is to believe, the FDA does not require premarket testing for many chemicals used in most cosmetics, even though some are suspected or proven carcinogens, while others can irritate the skin. "One of the things to think about is how often you're using the products and for how long," says Gina Solomon, a physician and senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "If you're using one product every day, year after year, you'll really want to make sure it doesn't have any adverse effects." Try to avoid the most harmful ingredients in products you use regularly; consult the following chart for the worst offenders, and then check the ingredients list (if there is one).
The European Union generally has higher standards when it comes to the chemicals allowed in cosmetics, so you may find products manufactured in those countries to be safer. For a complete analysis of more than 25,000 products manufactured in the United States and abroad, visit the Environmental Working Group's "Skin Deep" Cosmetic Safety Database.