It’s What’s on the Outside that Counts

By Riley Karbon, Field Intern

Every day, women and men around the country willingly (but unwittingly) put cancer-causing, toxic chemicals into their bodies. It’s not through food — there are laws to protect against that — it’s through the various cosmetics and body care products we use every day. The cosmetics industry swears that the amount of toxins in each product is too small to make a difference, but think about how many products we use each day. This morning, for instance, I used shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash, eye makeup remover, body lotion, face lotion, deodorant, and makeup. These chemicals can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled, or ingested. Little amounts of neurotoxins and carcinogens really start to add up.

How can such harmful chemicals be allowed in our personal care products? The government isn’t doing much about it. Major loopholes in the Food and Drug Administration allow for cosmetics and body care products to go on the market without their ingredients being approved for safety. The U.S. has banned just 10 substances, while the European Union, with more stringent product safety laws, bans more than 1,100 chemicals deemed unsafe for personal use. Their list includes toxins that cause cancer, birth defects, and reproductive problems. Why does the FDA need to be involved? Because manufacturers of personal care products cannot be fully trusted to enforce product safety all on their own. For example, requirements for testing include reactions like rashes or swelling, rather than long-term health effects like cancer or birth defects.

The word “fragrance” included in an ingredients list is a big concern in itself. The word can be substituted for any number of chemicals, but since a scent is considered a trade secret, companies don’t have to tell us what goes into it. Seeing this listed on the back of any of your product labels is cause for concern.

In order to put this in specific terms, let’s look at some common products used and their ratings on Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Safety Database. The scale is from 0 (safest) to 10 (most harmful). Products will be listed with their score, then harmful ingredients with their concerns in parentheses.

Secret Original Anti- Perspirant/Deodorant, Invisible Solid, Powder Fresh (6) contains fragrance (neurotoxicity, allergies/immunotoxicity) and silica (cancer, allergies/immunotoxicity, organ system toxicity).

Bath & Body Works Pleasures Body Cream Sweet Pea (7) contains fragrance and methylparaben (endocrine disruption, allergies/immunotoxicity, organ system toxicity, biochemical or cellular level changes).

Dove Face Care Deep Moisture Facial Lotion, Dry Skin (8) contains fragrance and triethanolamine (allergies/immunotoxicity, organ system toxicity, irritation).

Now that you’ve been enlightened to what you’ve really been rubbing on your body and putting on your face, here are a few products with lower numbers and higher chemical safety ratings.

Secret Original Antiperspirant and Deodorant, Solid, Unscented (2)

Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion (2)

Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm Tube/Tin (2)

Seeing the bigger picture, we need to take responsibility into our own hands. Companies that market products with dangerous chemicals in them cannot be trusted with our health. Armed with this knowledge, please take some time to investigate what’s really in your personal care products by searching the Skin Deep database at Patronize those companies who have taken steps to eliminate harmful chemicals from their products and spread the word to friends and family about the safety of their own products.

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