With everyone stuck at home, we’ve been seeing a lot of buzz on the internet about using this time for self care and extra dedication to beauty routines. But, did you know that everyday personal care and beauty products contain potentially harmful chemicals and toxins?
According to the NYS Health Foundation, Americans are exposed to many of the 80,000 chemicals in use in the US on a daily basis. Few of these are tested properly to understand their effects on human health. On a daily basis, the average American woman uses a dozen products containing 168 chemical ingredients and the average man uses six products a day containing 85 chemicals (1).
You would think that these types of products would be toxin-free and safe since we use them everyday and apply them liberally onto our bodies. However, many of these include known carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, endocrine disruptors, plasticizers, degreases, surfactants, and other chemicals associated with asthma, allergies, hormone disruption, developmental problems, infertility, and cancer (2).
Exposure to these toxins may even begin while mothers carry children through everyday items like deodorant, toothpaste, cosmetics, lotions, and hair products. Then, when babies are born, they continue to be exposed through items like baby shampoo and diaper cream. Phthalates are a common example of deleterious toxins and are likely to be found in anything with a fragrance. They are known to disrupt testosterone production and cause babies of contaminated mothers to be born with malfunctioning and malformed male genitalia (1).
THE BIG QUESTION IS: HOW DID ALL OF THESE TOXIC PRODUCTS END UP ON THE SHELF AT MY LOCAL BEAUTY STORE AND WHY ISN’T ANYONE DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT?
In the US, the law does not require that the FDA approve cosmetic products and ingredients (with the exception of color additives) before they go on the market. The main laws that dictate how the FDA regulates cosmetics are through the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act. It is up to companies and individuals who make or market cosmetics to ensure that their products are safe. Talk about a serious conflict of interest. The FDA does not require companies to complete tests that show that ingredients or products are safe, nor do companies have to share their safety information with the FDA.
Companies can demonstrate product safety through “the safety of a product can be adequately substantiated through (a) reliance on already available toxicological test data on individual ingredients and on product formulations that are similar in composition to the particular cosmetic, and (b) performance of any additional toxicological and other tests that are appropriate in light of such existing data and information" (according to the Federal Register, March 3, 1975, page 8916). Is no one else concerned that this standard is from 1975? Laws restrict or forbid the use of several ingredients and require warning statements on labels for certain types of cosmetics (3). Even more concerning is that FDA is not authorized to recall hazardous products—it is completely dependent upon the manufacturer to take action.HOW TO APPROACH WHICH PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS TO USE:
On the bright side, some brands have already banned phthalates in their products, including Avon, Revlon, L’Oreal, and Estee Lauder. Johnson & Johnson has removed 1,4-dioxane, formaldehyde, many parabens, triclosan, and certain fragrance chemicals from their products (2). The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) panel is currently the only organization that tests the safety of products and it is funded and operated by the cosmetics industry via the Cosmetic, Toiletry, ad Fragrance Association. CIR focuses on short-term effects, i.e. swelling and rashes, but we really need is to understand the impact on long-term health, as well as the effects of interactions with other products and chemicals, and with genes (1).
Given the current status of limited regulation, it is really upon each of us as consumers to be responsible for what we put into our bodies. This is especially true for expecting mothers or those who are planning on getting pregnant.
Check out the Environmental Working Group’s “Skin Deep” cosmetics database. You can see how 70,000+ products across 2,000+ brands are rated. You can search by company, product, ingredient, and brand, as well as see top recommended products by category, i.e. makeup, sun care, hair, nails, fragrance, men’s, etc.
If you want a handy dandy app for your phone, download Think Dirty to see how personal care and household items are rated with an easy to understand 1-10 scale. You can search items, see recommended products, or even use your camera to scan the barcode.
Read packaging and ingredient lists carefully. Labels like “natural,” “pure,” or “organic” are not regulated for personal care products. Do your research before making a purchase.
Opt for simple products with minimal ingredients—the more ingredients you can’t pronounce, the better it is to stay away from. Avoid products with synthetic fragrances when you can, i.e. you see “fragrance” on the ingredient list. Using less products is also great for your wallet and for the planet—use this as an opportunity to downsize your skincare routine in name of all good things.
Try using safe ingredients at home for a DIY option, whether a face mask or salt scrub. Check out some example recipes from Wellness Mama (4).
As a reminder, beauty is on the inside (as much as the outside), so let’s make sure to shop non-toxic products that make us feel good.
Source: New York State Health Foundation
(1) Leonard, Annie. The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health-and a Vision for Change. Free Press, 2011.
(2) “Fact Sheet: Potentially Toxic Chemicals in Personal Care Products.” New York State Health Foundation, nyshealthfoundation.org/resource/fact-sheet-potentially-toxic-chemicals-in-personal-care-products/.
(3) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “FDA Authority Over Cosmetics: How Cosmetics Are Not FDA-Approved.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetics-laws-regulations/fda-authority-over-cosmetics-how-cosmetics-are-not-fda-approved-are-fda-regulated#Does_FDA_approve.
(4) “Top 5 Safe Cosmetics Tips.” Safe Cosmetics, www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/healthandscience/safe-cosmetics-tips/.