Have you ever wondered what’s actually in all the various personal hygiene and cosmetic products that you apply to your skin or hair each day, and whether these products contain ingredients which could affect your health? Watch this seven-minute video called The Story of Cosmetics (by the Story of Stuff project) – it thoughtfully examines this exact question, and provides insight about how developing the awareness needed to avoid toxins in personal care products.
The Story of Cosmetics was produced in collaboration with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a national coalition which works for corporate, legal and regulatory reform that will better protect consumer and worker health as well as the environment.
As mentioned in the video, the cosmetics industry currently makes the rules then decides whether or not to follow them. Voluntary participation in the industry-controlled regulatory program has led to the evaluation of only 20 percent of chemicals in personal care products. Cosmetic products, especially those with fragrances, may and do contain any number of toxic chemicals linked to cancer and neurological and reproductive toxicity, as has been shown through independent testing. While cosmetic companies argue that each of their products contains low levels of toxic chemicals, people use a combination of numerous personal care products each day. Such long-term, repeated exposure from compounded sources places us at risk for much greater toxicity than the cosmetic companies lead us to believe.
So What Should You Do?
Simplify…& Visit SKIN DEEP!
Since your skin is porous and can absorb toxins as well as nutrients, an ideal rule of thumb is to only put on your body what you would put in it. Because even the safest personal care products contain ingredients that we shouldn’t or wouldn’t want to consume, however, the most convenient option is to choose those that are the least chemically offensive. Using the least amount of products possible will help limit exposure to toxic chemicals; ask yourself, do you really need, for example,this hair spray, lipstick or fragranced shampoo? If so, do you need it every day or only on special occasions?
For those personal care products you can’t live without, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has established Skin Deep, an electronic product database through which you can learn about the known chemical toxicity of almost 64,000 cosmetic products. Even though product labels don’t give you all the information you need to decide whether products are safe, reading them carefully is a good place to start. Choose products with the least amount of ingredients and chemicals, and avoid fragrances altogether. Essential oils make for good perfume substitutes, and some even have healing properties (e.g. antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, and/or hormone balancing, etc.).
For more detailed information about what to avoid and why, and what companies make safer products, see:
- What’s in Your Products?
- Chemicals of Concern
- “Not so Sexy: the Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance.” Safecosmetics.org, May 2010.
- The Compact for Safe Cosmetics (Companies that have pledged to make safer products)
- FDA Cosmetics: Product and Ingredient Safety
For more information about the laws governing the cosmetics industry:
- Cosmetics Laws (Campaign for Safe Cosmetics)
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