You may not think too much about your bath soap, or even your face cream or hair gel, but the realm of personal care products is an important area to think green—for your health as much as for the planet.
Did you know that under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act, personal care products are not required to undergo approval before they are sold to the public? And while the European Union has made a list of 1,100 ingredients determined to be too hazardous for use in these kinds of products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned only 11 ingredients. The trick is knowing what to watch out for.
First of all, avoid synthetic fragrances. The National Academy of Sciences reports that 95% of the chemicals used in fragrances today are petroleum-based synthetic compounds, including known toxins capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders and allergic reactions. Avoid the soaps with the word “fragrance” listed, period. Another compound to avoid is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), which is used in many soaps, shampoos, and even toothpaste. SLS - a known skin irritant - is also regulated as a pesticide, and may also cause reproductive problems, according to the National Toxicology Program.
Antibacterial soaps should also be avoided. One of their main ingredients istriclosan—a chlorophenol compound suspected of causing cancer in humans. Triclosan has a similar structure to poisonous chemicals like dioxins and PCBs, and may depress the central nervous system. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency claims that triclosan—also registered as a pesticide—poses a risk to both human health and the environment. The World Health Organization advises against antibacterial soaps as well, since their overuse can lead to the development of stronger strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The good news is your local health food store has many natural soaps, shampoos, and other personal care products available. There are also many on-line sites that carry natural products at prices well below retail. Be an alert consumer, you and your health deserve it.