Posted By JenniferHogenson on April 30, 2011
What if a person was given the opportunity to help prevent cancer, birth defects and reproductive problems in their and their families lives today? Would they be grateful that they were given this knowledge and embrace it? Or perhaps they would rather rationalize and deny the facts, then slip back into an ignorantly blissful false sense of security? Unfortunately, nothing shatters ignorant bliss like cancer, miscarriage, or infertility. Although most people believe that personal care products are safe to use, many products contain toxic chemicals that are extremely harmful to our bodies.
Shampoo, conditioner, body wash, bubble bath, hand soap, shaving cream, face wash, face toner, lotion, serum, moisturizer, ointment, chap stick, sunscreen, bug spray, antiperspirant, deodorant, body spray, cologne, perfume, toothpaste, mouthwash, and if one wears makeup then additionally foundation, blush, eye shadow, eyeliner, mascara, nail polish, and lip gloss are all personal care products that could be used by a person on a daily basis. According to Malkan (2007), “72% of these products contain phthalates”; which are synthetic chemical fragrances. These phthalates are known to cause cancer and birth defects. They disrupt hormones in men, women, and children by acting as synthetic estrogen; causing tissue changes in our body, particularly detrimental to our reproductive organs (EWG, 2009). Phthalates are only one of the many types of hazardous chemicals allowed in personal care products.
There are many other ingredients allowed in personal care products that have equally detrimental side-effects to the human body; ingredients such as parabens, toluene, hydroquinone, BHT, EDTA, propylene glycol, sulfates, alcohol, and petroleum distillates all have extremely high health hazards. Some of these chemicals cause damage to our brain and nervous system. According to studies done or obtained by the Environmental Working Group (2009) this damage can range from subtle developmental delays to chronic nerve degeneration diseases (Skin Deep, 2009). In addition, all the above mentioned chemicals have Industry Safety Warnings; meaning that people who work in the factories where the chemicals are produced have to take cautious actions and precautions to avoid exposure to the chemicals, classifying exposure as an occupational hazard. Seriously though, can these ingredients truly be that dangerous to our bodies just by using them on our skin? Absolutely.
Our skin is the largest organ of our bodies and we absorb whatever we put on it. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year; it adds up. We cleanse, condition, and moisturize in vain while our skin absorbs, and our organs accumulate toxic chemicals that are known to cause free radical damage to our cells, reproductive malformations, and genetic mutations. To make matters worse, many of these products contain chemicals that enhance absorption; which means we are absorbing these chemicals into our bodies at an even higher rate than they would be naturally absorbed into our bodies through our skin. How much of a higher rate? Well, no one really knows because there is no required testing of cosmetics before they go on to our stores shelves. Should it not be the responsibility of the government, or the cosmetic companies to warn us of the consequences that long- term use of these ingredients have upon our bodies? Unfortunately, that responsibility falls solely on us and with most people unaware of what they are being subjected to they cannot make the conscious choice to protect themselves.
The fact is that our government does not regulate, test, or approve any of the personal care product ingredients that are available to consumers today. Surprisingly, the Food and Drug Administration does not even have the power to demand recalls on personal care products. (FDA, 2005) The FDA gives full responsibility to the cosmetic companies to make sure that their ingredients are safe, but most cosmetic companies are falling short of these responsibilities. Many companies fail to make sure that their ingredients are even entirely listed. For example, “fragrance” or “parfum” is actually a variety of phthalates that cosmetics companies are allowed to list as “fragrance” to keep the identity of their “secret ingredient” safe from competitors. (FDA, 2005) Not only do cosmetic companies disguise ingredients, but also include misleading information on their packaging. A product can be labeled with words like “organic, soothing, natural, gentle, or hypo-allergenic”, and still be loaded with multiple ingredients that are harmful to our bodies. These cosmetic industries are failing to test ingredients for safety and are knowingly using toxic chemicals in their products; which cause cancer, birth defects, and reproduction problems (EWG 2009).
To add insult to injury, other countries such as Japan, Europe, and Canada have banned hundreds of these chemicals in personal care products; forcing cosmetic companies to remove any chemicals that are known to or highly suspected of causing cancer, birth defects, or genetic mutations. Japan has banned 274 toxic chemicals that were being used in cosmetics. Europe has banned 268 toxic chemicals. Canada is still ahead of the United States by banning 80 toxic chemicals while the United States has banned only six (EWG, 2009). I think it is fair to say that the United States is behind with industry standards. Perhaps this should be an indicator of what, if any, influence the cosmetic industry giants have over political decisions that could implement new laws to force companies to reformulate and make safer products available to Americans. It is doubted that mere coincidence could be in play when the cosmetic industry giant, Proctor & Gamble has made $2,407,647 in political contributions so far this year to special interest lobbyist groups (Center For Responsive Politics, 2009). The good news is that some cosmetic industry giants have removed toxic chemicals from the products that they sell….in Japan, Europe, and Canada. Here in the United States, the identical products can be purchased with all the toxic ingredients included (Skin Deep, 2008). Just because the government and cosmetic companies are doing nothing to warn us about this dirty little secret does not mean that we cannot protect ourselves.
Reading all of the ingredients listed on a product is the only way to know exactly what one will be absorbing into their skin. Do not assume that a product is safe because of: where one buys it from (such as the organic isle at a store or a health food store); what one hears or sees about it from the radio, television, newspaper, or internet; who is selling it (like a trusted friend, family member, or a beautiful 20 year-old salesperson); claims that are made by that particular product (such as “Aloe & E” or “Younger, healthier, more vibrant skin”) or how the product looks or smells (like a beautiful, ornate, little glass bottle of a concoction that is divinely fragranced). The absolute only way to know if a product is safe is to read every ingredient that is listed on the packaging and learn which chemicals to avoid.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics ( CSC) is working diligently to raise awareness of toxic chemicals in our personal care products. The CSC is also working to get the federal government to require cosmetic companies to remove all dangerous chemicals that are known or highly suspected to cause harm to our bodies. The CSC is also asking the cosmetic companies themselves to voluntarily reformulate their products so they are safer for us to use. In addition, The Environmental Working Group has paved the road for us to have access to a highway of information regarding cosmetics. They have compiled a database of products, companies, ingredients, toxicology research, and studies that tell us how dangerous a particular product or ingredient is to our bodies and why at www.cosmeticsdatabase.com. This incredibly useful tool will rate a product or ingredient on a scale of 0-10, noting its particular hazards.
Thankfully, someone has done the research that is so valuable in deciding what is and what is not safe to use on our skin. Who would have thought that the industry giant Johnson and Johnson’s would make a baby lotion so toxic that the ingredients add up to a hazard score of seven out of ten (Skin Deep, 2009)? The second ingredient is propylene glycol (the only ingredient in anti-freeze). In addition there are added parabens, BHT, and synthetic fragrances. It is amazing that this product is still accepted with open arms by new parents across the country. People simply have not been warned about these ingredients, and the actual scale of damaging effects these ingredients have to our bodies.
Right now is the time to start selecting safer products to use on our skin. Embrace this opportunity given here to protect oneself and one’s family from any further harm from personal care products. All the tools needed for selecting products that are free from harmful chemicals have been provided here. The only way to bring change in our government and cosmetic companies is to share information learned and expose the false sense of security others have about personal care products being safe with the truth about the cosmetic industry in the United States. And please, walk down the hall and find out…what’s in your bathroom?
Cancer, Aloe & E (7)
Environmental Working Group (2009) Chemicals banned in other countries Retrieved from: www.ewg.org/node/22624
Malkan S. (2007) Not Just Another Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry. British Columbia, Canada: New Society Publishers
Center For Responsive Politics, Lobbying Spending Database (2009) Retrieved from: http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?lname=Procter+%26+Gamble&year=2009
Skin Deep Cosmetics Database (2009) Ingredients in “Johnson & Johnson’s Original Baby Lotion” Retrieved from:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2005) FDA Authority Over Cosmetics
Retrieved from: http://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/ucm074162.htm