“Toxic” Beauty – Will Consumers Finally Be Heard?
If current estimates are to be believed, then as much as eighty percent of the water in the United States contains traces of the ingredients from cosmetics and personal care products, washed away when we clean ourselves in the shower or bath each day.
As a result of this, scientists are reporting changes in marine life, such as the “feminising” of male fish and the bleaching and destruction of coral reefs. In Europe, over one thousand ingredients have been banned and branded as unsafe for use in cosmetic and personal care products. This is because they are seen to pose risks of cancers, reproductive problems and birth defects in humans. In the US, fewer than twelve of these ingredients are banned. The rules and regulations that govern formulations and ingredients in beauty products have had no serious review or overhaul in the States since 1938. That’s seventy four years!
The reason for this is likely due to a continued reverence for choice within the free market. For example, Dr. Joseph Mercola supplies a full line of household and cosmetic products, which offer little by way of unnatural or harmful ingredients. Traditional venues like Whole Foods and Sprouts offer a bevy of options as well. These alternatives, however, require an educated public to understand the detrimental effects of mainstream, albeit often cheaper options and therefore cost money to market. Organic, all natural and even “beyond organic” products are sometimes expensive, at least initially, but nothing less than adjusting our priorities is necessary to enjoy the full benefits of a healthy lifestyle. In the end cosmetics are just that – a luxury.
A New Report
The beauty industry is big business throughout the world, not just in the US. In the same way people take out specialist insurance to make sure they are protecting home valuables, or look for private healthcare insurance to protect themselves and their families in the even of becoming sick or having an accident, beauty products and cosmetics are seen by many as a form of “insurance” for the face and body, using layers and layers of creams, potions and lotions to try and defy signs of ageing, and using make up to give that “airbrushed” look to the skin. Women and men are seen to be trying to turn away from other more invasive forms of treatment such as surgery and Botox in order to use the latest wonder cream or serum. How many of us can honestly say we truly read the labels and ingredients on the packaging of the products we buy and therefore know exactly what we’re putting on our skin?
Hopefully, a new report will start to change all that as US Congress is about to take a tough new stance on the toxicity of cosmetics and beauty products. The first congressional hearing on this topic in well over thirty years took place at the end of March 2012, with the aim of reviewing levels of chemicals in cosmetics and personal care products. This was after serious concerns were raised by US consumers after it was found ingredients like lead, mercury and formaldehyde were found in every day items of skin and hair care such as face cream, lipstick, shampoos and conditioners. The levels of these compounds within the products listed were relatively low and well below the recommended safety levels, but it was felt a review was needed in order to fully examine the state of the cosmetic industry as a whole.
There is, however, considerable concern that these claims might not be taken seriously, previous attempts to pass a “Safe Cosmetic Act” have in the past come close and failed at the last minute, mostly due to the fact that large beauty companies and cosmetic giants wanted to protect their own interests and using the influence of money have ended up stopping updates to the laws currently in place.
What are “Toxic” ingredients? How do I recognise them?
Currently, beauty and cosmetic companies don’t have to report to the FDA, which seems very strange given the manifold scientific claims they make about their products! However, here are just a few of the ingredients listed in personal care products that you might want to look at the next time you’re in the cosmetic aisle of the grocery store:
Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulphate: A common detergent used in products diverse as toothpaste right through to shampoo and soap. This ingredient has in the past been used to clean oil spills on roads and de-grease engines! That gives you a measure of how strong it is. Some people are very sensitive to this, reporting itching and sore scalps and skin irritations. More and more companies these days are formulating their products without this.
Propylene Glycol: This is one of the constituent parts of anti-freeze! Used within beauty products to help bind together oils/waters and fragrance
Parabens: These cause much debate. Parabens are your preservative system which effectively stops your products from deteriorating quickly and inhibit microbial growth. Some are essential, but alternative ways of stopping products from turning bad are being sought. On your packaging look for “Propylparaben” or “Methylparaben” to see whether your product contains them.
Phthalates: These are what are used as skin softening agents in creams, and will give added moisturising benefits to things like deodorants. Repeated scientific tests have found that long term exposure to these can hinder and inhibit reproductive growth.
The above listed seem to be the main causes for concern amongst scientists and savvy consumers alike. Being label smart when you go shopping in the drugstore or cosmetic aisle in the grocery store is the first step in helping you to “green” your beauty routine. Looking to more natural and organic products which are becoming more widely available is the next step. However, don’t be fooled, some natural beauty products still require you to check the labels to make sure what you’re getting is a pure product. Many brands elect to claim their formulations are natural, but a swift check proves otherwise.
Hopefully, the results and findings of the US Congress Report will go some way to stemming the tide of potentially unsafe and irritating products on the market. After all, it’s been a long time coming. Watch this space.
Imogen Reed is a regular contributor to GreeneWave.com and a freelance journalist writing out of London, England. Imogen covers a wide array of topics from psychology to consumer advocacy.