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The Story of Cosmetics

Posted Jul 26 2010 10:10am
This month's Green Moms Carnival is about the video  The Story of Cosmetics , which explains some of the issues surrounding the ingredients in personal care products.  I have written about the questionable ingredients in common personal care products several times and think this video is worth watching.  All of us use a lot of these products from toothpaste to hair spray, probably more than you realize.  Just think about it and take a quick inventory of some of them - toothpaste, mouth wash. face soap, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, deodorant, lipstick, mascara, eyeliner.

That is eleven and you can probably easily add more to the list.  The average American uses between 9 and 15 personal care products everyday.  You might think the ingredients in these products are well regulated.  Think again.  Only 11 percent of the 10,500 ingredients in personal care products have been assessed for safety by the cosmetics industry.  We use a lot of these products everyday and we put on many products in one day. How do the chemicals in multiple products interact? That issue is a big unknown.

There is good news on this issue.   U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky introduced legislation , July 20, that would toughen safety standards for cosmetics, including requiring regular government testing of products for hazardous ingredients.  Senator Dianne Feinstein is working on a similar bill in the Senate.  Schakowsky’s bill would require the FDA to determine which ingredients can or cannot be used in a product, not the manufacturer (as it is now).  In other words, the company will not be policing itself.  The bill also calls for stricter labelling and gives the FDA the ability to require recall of problem products.

The products that we put on every inch of our bodies are the most unregulated products in our lives. Cosmetic manufacturers may use any ingredient without approval from the FDA. Many of the ingredients that are in these products are suspect in contributing to asthma, early onset of puberty in girls, feminization of boys, and cancer, as well as other problems. Cosmetic companies maintain that none of their ingredients are health risks because of the small amount that is used in each product. They may be right – but we just do not know for sure. Keep in mind that we put these products on our skin, in our eyes, in our vaginas, on our lips. This is why we call them personal!

When you buy new cosmetic or personal care products, read the labels and avoid the following very common chemicals:

1.  Fifty percent of all personal care products contain fragrances. They are also found in many other products from fabric softeners to scented trash bags. You will see the word “fragrance” on the label but no further details because it is a trade secret. They are much more commonly used now than in the past and their affect on the environment is not known. They are implicated in skin problems, asthma, migraines, and disruption of the endocrine system. and brain.
2. Phthalates are chemicals that soften plastic, and are found in toothpaste, hair spray, nail polish, perfume and many other products. Scientific investigations have shown they are implicated in abnormal development of male genitals, lower semen quality, and premature breast development in girls.
3. Parabens are one of the most common cosmetic preservatives. They have been shown to accumulate in human tissue including breast tumors. Parabens are an estrogen mimic which means they disrupt the endocrine system which causes a multitude of problems such as breast cancer.  When present in personal care products, they enter our bodies through the skin and hair follicles.
4. Triclosan is an antibacterial substance found in antibacterial soap. This product is heavily marketed as a necessary product in today’s world. It is now being put into other products such as hand lotion, dish soap, and toothpaste. The problem with using an antibacterial everyday is that we are selecting for resistant bacteria. Triclosan kills the weak bacteria and the strong survive and become more numerous. We are playing the natural selection game and producing dangerous resistant strains of bacteria.
Sodium lauryl sulfate is used as a detergent.  It makes suds and is found in bubble bath, shampoo, hair conditioner, and even toothpaste.  It reacts easily with other compounds and has a bad reputation.

So what do you do? Read labels! Shop for natural ingredients and buy safer products. Buy products made with fewer ingredients and these ingredients should be familiar sounding. Pay attention to the shelf life of all your personal products.  If you use a mascara without preservatives like parabens, remember that mascara (and any product) will degrade and harbor bacteria.  Shampoo, mascara and other products come really close to your eyes or briefly end up in your mouth.  They should be harmless to our health.

Almost all of these products are packaged in plastic. If you look at the aisles for hair care, skin care, and cosmetics, you see that each is a wall of plastic bottles. I really doubt that the manufacturers are going to replace plastic bottles with metal or glass ones, although that is what they used to be. I am definitely not suggesting that shampoo bottles should be glass either. So if a consumer like myself wants to reduce the use of plastic in her life, what should she do? First reduce the use of these products. When I cleaned out my bathroom cabinet,  I threw out 16 pounds of products. At some time and for some reason, I thought I needed each one of them. I used a little of the product and that was it. I am so easily wooed by marketing to buy a product because it does something that sounds great to me – like reducing wrinkles, making hair look healthier, giving skin a smoother look, etc. I am going to work on making myself look healthier from the inside. How? By eating good, healthy foods and avoiding foods that are not healthy.

Besides reading labels and being an educated and discerning consumer, write your US representative and senators.  Ask them to support the bills that are being considered. Demand that something be done to protect the consumer from dangerous chemicals.

Watch this video, The Story of Cosmetics , to learn the ugly truth about some of the ingredients in personal care products.  It was made by the same people who made The Story of Stuff .

This month's Green Mom's Carnival is hosted by Lynn at Organicmania .

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