Toxic Beauty Are The Beauty Products We Use Safe?
Are The Products We Use Safe?
The things we do for beauty!
Women have done some of the craziest things in the name of beauty over the centuries. In the 17th and 18th centuries, alabaster skin was the fashion. Women achieved the look of white skin by using powders that contained lead and mercury. They suffered many terrible side effects as a result. Hair loss, problems with teeth, skin that became blackened (ironically!), insanity, and sometimes even death.
Are We Safer Today?
From the ancient Egyptians to the Greeks and Romans, all had similarly scary methods of achieving beauty. Dangerous and questionable beauty treatments continued all the way into the early 20th century. Things became marginally better with the passage of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938. This gave authority to the FDA to oversee the safety of food, drugs, and cosmetics.
Most people think of the FDA as a good first line of defense against anything that might harm us, and this may be true when it comes to food and drugs. Regulations for cosmetics, on the other hand, are largely nonexistent.
Cosmetics companies can put nearly anything they want into their products – without restriction.
This lack of regulation means we have ingredients that can be untested or can cause all sorts of health problems. From links to cancer, infertility, birth defects, and much more.
It may seem like cosmetics should be less of a risk than the things we eat or the drugs we take, when we are only applying them to our skin, but what we put on our skin can end up in our blood. Think of those patches that release medicine slowly into your system. Many products, especially moisturizers, contain ingredients to help them penetrate more deeply, which makes it even easier for them to reach our bloodstream. From there, chemicals can end up in our liver and other organs, or stored in our fat tissue.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to be informed! Read the ingredients list on the products you use and educate yourself when you don’t know what something is.
There are several great ways to do this:
The Environmental Working Group has the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database . They have an easy to use rating system for both products and ingredients.
Think Dirty is worth mentioning as well. They have an app you can download to your phone in order to scan products right from the store shelf or your medicine cabinet. This makes it quick and simple to find out whether you are buying healthy products. They seem to have the largest database so far, and their rating system is easy to understand.
Last is the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.This is a project of the Breast Cancer Fund. They are all about fighting for change through public education, campaigns, and legislative advocacy. They have a list of “Chemicals of Concern”.
Here are just a few:
- 1,4 Dioxane is a chemical most commonly found in products that create suds – like shampoo, liquid soap and bubble bath. It is found in 22% of the 25,000 cosmetics in the Skin Deep Database. Except you won’t find it on ingredient lists because it forms as a result of other chemicals reacting together. Research shows that 1,4 Dioxane can readily penetrate the skin. The EPA considers it a probable human carcinogen while the National Toxicology Program lists it as an absolute carcinogen to animals (National Toxicology Program’s 1,4 Dioxane page). It has been banned in Canada.
- Phthalates are an ingredient talked about a lot and with good reason. There are many different kinds of phthalates, many of which Europe has banned. The two most commonly found in cosmetics, DEP and DBP, are used in scented products (it makes the scent linger) like lotion, nail polish, and hair products. Phthalates are connected to cancer, infertility in men, feminization of male fetuses, and a host of other awful things.
- Triclosan is my last pick from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics “Chemicals of Concern” list. Triclosan is used as an antimicrobial agent in things like antibacterial soaps, toothpaste and teeth whitening products, shaving creams, and other products. Triclosan accumulates in our bodies. It has been linked to endocrine disruption which can lead to irregularities in the development of our bodies as well as leading to several forms of cancer. There is evidence of the emergence of triclosan-resistant bacteria which aren’t affected by antibodies or antibacterial products (PubMed.gov paper). The Center for Disease Control identified triclosan in the urine of 75% of the people in their biomonitoring program. It also harms the environment by ending up in lakes, rivers, and streams, where it is toxic to aquatic life.
The Overwhelming Truth
The “Skin Deep Database” has information on how many synthetic chemicals we are exposed to every day. Women use an average of 12 personal care products per day, exposing them to 168 chemicals. Men use an average of 8 products, exposing them to 85 different chemicals daily. Don’t forget, that’s only the exposure we receive through cosmetics. We also have daily exposure from cleaning products, the water we shower in, pesticides on produce, processed food, carpeting, and many other things. I’ve read that we could be exposed to as many as 500 synthetic chemicals every day when you add things up.
It’s frightening to consider that no young person alive today was born without some in utero exposure to synthetic chemicals and to wonder how that affects the development of a fetus.
Finding a Safer Way
When it comes to the safety of the commercial products we use, my feeling is that there’s enough evidence to make a person wary. Better to play things safe, and for me, that means using products made from natural and organic ingredients.
Lead and mercury may have played a big part in the things women did to look beautiful centuries ago, but even today we still find lead in lipstick, and mercury used as a preservative.
Better laws will take time and will need stronger proof that can’t be swept under the rug. The testing we do on chemicals is insufficient and our laws are outdated. We have fallen behind the rest of the world. Europe has banned or restricted the use of over 1300 chemicals in cosmetics (Banned in Europe), while we have only banned 11 since the 1970’s (Banned and restricted in USA).
In the meantime, while we wait for better laws, it may become too late for our health to recover! The circumstantial evidence alone is strong enough for me. For instance, 55% of all breast cancer tumors are in the upper, outer quadrant. Closest to the underarm. Maybe it is coincidence, or maybe it is caused by the parabens and aluminum in deodorants. Whatever the case, I don’t think it’s worth risking my life over!
I’m not saying that all synthetic chemicals are bad. What I am saying is there are a lot of substances being used that haven’t been adequately tested. I also don’t want to imply that natural ingredients are always the right answer, either. Plants can be powerful things. Overall, the choice to use natural products is still the safest one, in my opinion. Most of all it takes educating yourself about what you’re using.
Making A Change
If you want to make changes toward more natural cosmetics, that’s great. It can also be a bit overwhelming. You don”t need to change everything overnight or throw out everything all at once. Here are a few suggestions:
- Replace things as they run out one at a time.
- Replace the products that cover the most area first, like body lotions or sunscreen.
- Make your own products. It’s the best way to know what’s in them and can be a lot of fun.
If you don’t want to make your own products, there are many people out there making great quality natural skin care. When you find a product that looks good to you, make sure to check the list of ingredients. If you don’t know what something is on that list, don’t buy it! Just because it says natural on the label doesn’t mean that it is. Always lean more towards the side of caution!
Whatever you choose to use, make an informed decision. Know what’s in your products. Knowledge is power. It feels good knowing you aren’t harming your own health in the name of beauty!
If you are interested in natural skin care using organic ingredients, visit the Pure Homespun Shop.
You will find items made from the highest quality and simplest ingredients, as close as possible to their raw and unfiltered state. All ingredients are non-GMO, fair trade, and cruelty-free.