Just a disclaimer: I'm not an scientist or an alarmist, and I'm not saying we're all going to die tomorrow. Some people have a lot of doubts about this stuff. But hopefully, as you click on my links throughout, you'll see that I'm not making this stuff up. I didn't link you to places like the Mossy Hippy Meadow of Earth Mother Beauty. I've done my homework.
You might be thinking (and people have actually said this to me), "If we believed everything they say, we'd think there's poison everywhere, and we're not all dead, right? So how could there be a problem?" Of course I'm not advocating running in terror from everything in the world. We all need to be careful and do our research about which "scares" are valid. But, it's obviously not true that that the more risks there are, the less likely ANY of them are to be valid. I'd also point out that many harmful chemicals have been around for only a few years, so there's no way long-term effects can be studied. But there are plenty of concerning health trends, most with no apparent cause: more kids with autism, decreased sperm count/quality, more heart disease and diabetes, deformed male genitals, earlier onset of puberty, more breast cancer, more lymphoma, more birth defects, etc. Of course there are many causes for these conditions, including our less-than-responsible food system. So yeah, we're not all dead. But maybe we're not all fine, either. Read the studies and articles I've linked to below. The only thing anyone can ask is that each of us makes an informed, rational decision, and not be ignorant on purpose.
The first thing to understand: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the stuff in your cosmetics. (Cosmetics=personal care products.) According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, 89% of ingredients in personal care products are untested before they hit the shelf. The FDA website says that their "legal authority over cosmetics is different from other products regulated by the agency...Cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to FDA premarket approval authority, with the exception of color additives." AND, the "FDA is not authorized to require recalls of cosmetics." If there's something wrong, SURPRISE! the government doesn't care. (Sorry if that actually surprised you.) Cosmetic companies, who are their own policemen, do test a few ingredients...for allergies and sensitivities. But when they do, they assume the subject is only being exposed to that ingredient in one way.
Yet, we young women might have a dozen or more products making their way into our blood and organs, at any given time. (Not surprisingly, research shows that hair salon workers have higher rates of infertility and spontaneous abortion.) Think about it: in the shower you use shampoo, conditioner, misc hair treatment, body wash/scrub, and shaving gel. Many of us also use any combination of leave-in conditioner, creme/gel/mousse/hairspray, perfume/body mist, deodorant, nail polish remover, finger/toe nail polish, cuticle cream, body oil/lotion/cream, foundation, concealer, powder, mascara, bronzer/blush, brow pencil/powder, eyeshadow/cream, eyeliner, lipstick and/or lip gloss, and chapstick... and then there's mouthwash, toothpaste, contact lens solution, eye drops, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, tanning spray and hand soap. And we use products to get our hair highlighted, our skin waxed...Sure, we don't all use all these all the time. But there are probably multiple toxins in each of our products, which affect us even if--and especially if--the amounts are extremely small. (For the guys reading this: just kidding. We don't wear any makeup ever, and are all effortlessly, accidentally beautiful.)
Many kids' products also contain toxins. The terms "natural" or "pure" or "safe" or "gentle," aren't regulated, so they can mean anything, or nothing, at all. Toxic products are bad enough for adults, and they're worse for younger children who are more vulnerable, and who were probably born with Mom's chemicals already in their bodies. If you're still doubtful, check out another interesting article: "Children more likely to have attention, behavioral problems when exposed to phthalates in womb."
Here are a few of the most harmful chemical families to stay away from.
Parabens. They're preservatives, and they're totally banned in cosmetics in the European Union. I first heard about it when I saw that my deodorant said "Paraben Free" on the label. Once I started looking into parabens, I was glad I had a paraben-free deodorant! One theory suggests that since you put the deodorant/antiperspirant in your armpits, which are close to the breasts, these toxins can affect breast health or even cause breast cancer. In my experience, antiperspirants literally caused painful lumps to grow under my arms. So I switched to a deodorant that didn't stop me from sweating. I haven't used antiperspirant in several years. (I sweat much less than I used to.)
Once you start looking for parabens, you'll find them pretty much everywhere. Look at your products, and you'll probably find methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, or others with -paraben as the suffix. Parabens mimic hormones like estrogen. The Skin Deep database says that "parabens are linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity and skin irritation" and they are especially linked to breast cancer. One famous study showed that parabens are found in cancerous breast tumors.
The American Cancer Society says that "larger studies are needed to find out what effect, if any, parabens might have on breast cancer risk." One thing is for sure: it's something to stay away from. Your skin is porous, and it absorbs what you put on it. What we put on our bodies ends up inside them, for better or worse. And exposures add up.
Phthalates. Only my recollection of learning to pronounce the word "chthonic" in my Ancient Near East Literature class prepared me to encounter this word. (And here I thought that class wouldn't be useful in real life!) You just drop the ph- and say "thalates."
Again, this chemical family is illegal to use in cosmetics in all of Europe. But even though their use is restricted in some states here in the U.S., phthalates are everywhere. And you'd never know it. Bet you didn't know cosmetics companies don't even have to tell you what's in the bottle! Pick up a bottle of something, and it probably includes Fragrance. Hmm. The truth is that "fragrance" often contains phthalates, among other things. Nail polishes have high levels of phthalates, and nail salon workers have heightened rates of cancer and birth defects. These chemicals affect children in utero, especially the genitals/hormones/reproductive systems of little boys. Read the Body Burden case study for phthalates for more information. Then read Not Too Pretty: Phthalates, Beauty Products and the FDA. If this isn't icky stuff, I don't know what is. If a company won't tell me what's inside, they won't get my dollars.
BPAs. Bisphenol A (BPA) is found in plastic containers, baby bottles and sippy cups, and many food cans. Research is showing that BPAs, along with these other chemicals I talked about, are present in babies before birth, and give people increased risks of many conditions like heart disease and diabetes. I haven't done as much research into BPAs, but I've seen enough that I wanted to give you a heads-up. This issue has been hot for a while, and I'm probably way behind the curve, but perhaps you'll do your own research and make the appropriate changes in your purchasing habits.
It's hard to know what not to buy...especially when companies don't even have to disclose the ingredients! To help out, I've found a really great resource called the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database. You can search by product or by ingredient. They've researched and reviewed thousands of ingredients, and assigned each product and ingredient a simple number between 0 and 10 (0=harmless, 10=most hazardous).
In the search for better products, here's something that makes good sense to me. Next time you're at the drugstore perusing the mind-numbing rainbow of cosmetic options, look at what is being marketed as the "good ingredient" and then just go get some of that good ingredient! Some "good ingredients" often found (in small amounts) in commercial products are olive oil, shea butter, coconut oil, jojoba oil, avocado, and oatmeal. You've seen them on the labels. If that's the good stuff, why not just use that? You'll be saving money by not wasting your dollars on pointless filler ingredients, wasteful packaging, or pricey marketing, and you'll know there aren't toxic chemicals mixed in with the stuff we all know is healthy. Simple DIY beauty is popular for many reasons: it's less expensive, it's simpler, no worrisome chemicals, no contaminating the water system, it's fun, and it WORKS!
I know this is getting long, but just so you know I still use many products, here are a few that I use and recommend, which are much safer than what they replaced. I'm still working on makeup.
- Kiss My Face Deodorant - Lavender Scent
- Giovanni Styling Mousse
- Jason Naturals Fragrance Free Shampoo
- Honeybee Gardens: Mascara, Bronzer and Eyeliner
- California Natural Lavender hand lotion (no info on Skin Deep...purchased in Lincoln at Open Harvest)
- Dr. Bronner's 18-in-1 Soap (I use it diluted in foaming hand soap dispensers, but you can use it for pretty much anything)
I'm making good progress at replacing things! My bathroom has much more storage space now, and I'm getting rid of things that not only don't help me, but may be hurting me. See for yourself: the first photo is products containing parabens in the ingredients list. I'm getting rid of these, no questions asked. (I wasn't really using them anyways.)
Second group: there weren't any parabens listed on these (and the Mary Kay stuff had no ingredients list), but they all contained that mysterious Fragrance, and most weren't listed on Skin Deep. I decided to get rid of these as well. I had to search high and low to find Mary Kay ingredients, and I never did find out what was in my Arbonne face mask. Seems that these companies doesn't like to disclose ingredient information, which I found surprising and disappointing. As far as I could find, my two Mary Kay things (TimeWise cleanser and moisturizer) each contained several parabens, so they're on the GONE list. That's okay though! I already decided not to spend any more money on pricey products. That money could go to much better use. I'll dump the product into a plastic bag if I plan to reuse the bottle (otherwise the empty bottle will go in the recycling bin), and that bag will go in the trash...not in the sink or toilet. I don't want it in my body or my tap water.
I know this has gotten long, so I'll wrap it up now. I hope I've made you consider some things that, maybe, you hadn't before. The bottom line, the very undisputed fact, is that whatever we put on our bodies ends up inside our bodies. While research has yet prove exactly how extensively they affect us, there's plenty to consider.
So...what do you think?