As a licensed naturopathic doctor, I advise patients to educate themselves about choices they can make in a more mindful, educated way. None of us is perfect, but we can feel empowered to encourage health and minimize dis-ease when we can. What we choose to expose ourselves to matters for the optimal functioning of our bodies! This education includes ingredients in food, beverages, household cleaners, gardening products, health and beauty products, etc. The latter will be the focus here…
“Why does this matter?” you may ask. First, your skin is not a barrier to the outside world, but a porous system that can absorb what it comes in contact with. That’s what makes it possible for patch delivery systems for certain medications to be effective. And because what you put on your skin goes into your body, each application matters. Second, exposure to one chemical on any given day may not present a significant risk, but additively with all chemicals that you may be exposed to each day over the years of your life may increase your body’s chemical burden enough to have a negative impact. This is not only about make-up products, but also cleansers, moisturizers, shampoos, aftershave, etc.
“According to the current European legislation, the safety assessment of each individual cosmetic ingredient of any formulation is the basis for the safety evaluation of a cosmetic product.” – Almeida A, Sarmento B, and Rodrigues F
It’s important to know about the harm that can be done with exposure to some of the more toxic ingredients. You may think that products wouldn’t be sold if they weren’t safe. Sadly, this is not the case. Products are often developed with short-term reactions in mind – avoiding rashes, for example. While short-term health is important, long-term consequences may be more serious. Due to the hazardous health effects of some ingredients, the European Union (EU) bans close to 1,400 chemicals; the Canadian government prohibits around 600. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists only 30 ingredients on their “restricted in cosmetics” list. Clearly, more work on the part of you as a United States consumer is needed to limit your exposure to potentially harmful ingredients and, therefore, potentially harmful products.
Here are some (not all) examples of chemicals that you may want to look for when reviewing products, to minimize your exposure, and why:
- Phthalates: interfere with your hormones (endocrine disruptors), are linked to birth defects
- Parabens: endocrine disruptors, may trigger cancer (carcinogenic)
- Heavy metals (lead, cadmium, etc.): lower IQ, cause organ damage
- BHT & BHA: likely carcinogens (cancer causing agents), endocrine disruptors
- Benzalkonium chloride: severe skin, eye, respiratory irritation, allergies; interferes with body’s normal bacterial flora
- Formaldehyde: carcinogen, neurotoxin, developmental toxin
Making an educated decision requires information. Our US law that governs ingredients in health and beauty products has not been updated since 1938. This outdated regulation allows companies to use many ingredients that have been shown to be deleterious to your health. “Fragrance” is often used as an ingredient to hide potential toxins (more than 3,000 different possible chemicals) within that generic category. An upcoming “Personal Care Products Safety Act” would require personal care companies to register with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and disclose any ingredients and potential dangers of the products. This bill would also allow the FDA to recall products that threaten consumer safety.
What should you make of this information? I’d hope that you learn first about some of the chemicals to look for and avoid exposure to. Second, do your homework to find companies that are transparent about their screening and choices of ingredients. If you have time to get involved, work with organizing agencies to spread the word about ingredient toxicity and work to increase laws for accountability.
1) Email correspondence from Senator Jeff Merkley’s office. March 31, 2017.