Written by our founder for Inside Look Magazine
It’s hard to ignore. Green is everywhere. Concerns over toxic environmental chemicals are constantly grabbing headlines, but are you aware of how many of these chemicals are found in cosmetics? A cosmetic, by definition is anything you put on your body. Many believe that today’s body care products are filled to the brim with a toxic brew that just may cost you your health, or your life. Why all the alarm? One look at the statistics will get even the most die hard toiletry junky to take pause. Before the average person leaves the house, they have already applied 100 to 200 synthetic chemicals to their body, and that’s before a splash of their favorite fragrance. Many of these chemicals have been linked to serious health threats including cancer, infertility and birth defects. Even worse, studies show that children, young adults, unborn children and nursing babies may be the most vulnerable. In case you doubt the legitimacy of these claims, concerns are being raised by some pretty credible organizations like the World Health Organization and the CDC for starters.
Not surprisingly, the beauty industry disagrees. Keep in mind they’ve built a massive empire that relies on synthetic chemicals that come in every shape, color, consistency and fruit-a-licious scent. They are one of the largest and most profitable of all industries spending more on advertising alone than any other industry on earth. So, as one might anticipate, when an industry rep from their leading trade association was questioned about the safety of today’s cosmetics he said not only are they generally safe, they are the safest of all the products that the FDA regulates. Let’s stop there for a moment. He did say “regulates”, didn’t he? If you're like most of us, you assumed that cosmetics are scrutinized under the ever watchful eye of the FDA. Under the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act cosmetics are not subject to any pre-market approval. That would be none. In addition, companies are not required to substantiate performance claims or conduct safety testing. Cosmetics simply must be "safe when used as directed in the labeling or under usual customary conditions of use." Is that regulation? When we look at the amount of revenue generated within this industry, has it proved prudent to handle them with such a laissez-faire approach? A review of some facts should answer that.
In 2004 the European Union banned the use of all chemicals that are known or strongly suspected of causing cancer, mutations, or birth defects in cosmetic or personal care formulations, the same ingredients identified by the World Health Organization, the CDC and others as known or potential health threats. The list is frightfully long, but some of the worst offenders are:
DEA a hormone disruptor and carcinogen that also depletes the body of choline needed for fetal brain development. DEA can show up alone in products or as a contaminant
like Cocamide DEA.
1,4-Dioxane a known carcinogen that can appear as a contaminant in products containing sodium laureth sulfate and ingredients that include the terms "PEG," "-xynol," "ceteareth," "oleth" and most other ethoxylated "eth" ingredients.
Formaldehyde has a long list of adverse health effects, including immune-system toxicity, respiratory irritation and cancer in humans. It’s found in baby bath soap, nail polish and hair dyes as a contaminant.
The term "fragrance" may mask phthalates, which act as endocrine disruptors and may cause obesity, reproductive and developmental harm.
Lead is one of the ingredients in many toothpastes. Lead acetate is found in some brands of men's hair dye. It is a neurotoxin.
Mercury, found in the preservative thimerosol, is used in some mascaras. It is a neurotoxin.
Nano-particles, which may penetrate the skin and damage brain cells. Most problematic are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide nano-particles, used in sunscreens to make them transparent.
Parabens (methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, butyl-, isobutyl-) which have weak estrogenic effects are common preservatives that appear in a wide array of toiletries. A study found that butyl paraben damaged sperm formation in the testes of mice, and a relative, sodium methylparaben, is banned in cosmetics by the E.U. Parabens break down in the body into p-hydroxybenzoic acid, which has estrogenic activity in human breast-cancer cell cultures.
Petroleum Distillates are human carcinogens and appear on the label as "petroleum" or "liquid paraffin."
Triclosan, widely used in soaps, toothpastes and deodorants, has been detected in breast milk and found to interfere with testosterone activity in cells.
This list is only the tip of the iceburg. Even more worrisome is the fact that we don't know the cumulative effects of these chemicals, nor has the synergistic effects been studied. While the cosmetic industry does not deny the presence of chemicals with a harmful profile, they claim the ingredients are present in such a small amount, the concerns are unwarranted. It is unlikely they will acknowledge harmful effects any time soon.
So what can you do? When choosing personal care products stick to those containing natural ingredients. We evolved along side these substances and consequently they do not possess the risks. Beware of “green washing” as you’ll find many of the products that are labeled “natural or organic” actually contain only one or two natural ingredients, or they are a natural base but the rest consists of the same old toxic brew. A good rule of thumb, if you can’t pronounce an ingredient that appears on the label, don’t buy it. Poison, even in tiny amounts, is poison you don't need.