Cosmetics. They are everywhere. They keep our face clear, our skin soft, our eyelashes fuller, and our teeth sparkle. Every year, the American people spend over 27 billion dollars keeping themselves pretty. Now I know that may not sound like a lot with all of this billion dollar bail-out-business that has been going on, but 27 billion dollars is A LOT of money. According to the Environmental Working Group, the average person uses 12 beauty product a day. One in four use 15. The average man even uses at least 6. The true cost however, may not be coming out of our pocketbooks. Recent research shows that many of us are paying with our health.
Ok, so I’ll admit, I am also part of the problem here. Until a few years ago, I was a beauty product junkie. I don’t know about you, but every time I walked into a CVS or a Walgreens, chances were pretty high that I was coming out with a new product. All those eye-catching packages, all the health claims; they got me every time. It might be something as simple as chap-stick (gosh, where do they all go??), but a product left the store with me nonetheless. Five years of trying to clear out my product stash, and I still have a host of unused products staring at me every time I open my linen closet.
So why the change? Well, it originally started with my attempt to eat healthier and more nutritious foods. I figured with all of the added emphasis to what was going IN my body, what was going ON my body should be just as important. After all, your skin is your biggest organ right? So I then fell into the marketing trap. I started purchasing more “natural”, more expensive products. While I bought less of them because they were so pricey, I still bought them. I was convinced that products containing organic sap moss from Iceland must be better for me…right? I read over each label making sure I could at least pronounce all the the ingredients listed and was sure to stay away from things like benzyl alcohol, animal parts, and petroleum bi-products.
Then as the years passed, I started reading about parabens. Parabens are the most widely used preservative in cosmetic products. And when I say cosmetic, I don’t just mean make-up. They are found in body lotions, shower gels, shampoos, over the counter topical creams, and pretty much just about everything. The most common parabens used in cosmetic products are methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. Check any product in your house and chances are very high that one, if not all three, are listed on the ingredient list. Although they are used in very small amounts, if you are using 10-12 products a day, you are being exposed to them in everything you use. While the FDA claims that they are safe, parabens have found in breast tumors from women with cancer. They tested 20 tumors and found parabens in ALL of them. The study did not make the claim that parabens actually cause breast cancer, but many other groups and companies have started taking precautionary measures and taking these parabens out of their products. ANd why not? Simply because that study didn’t prove parabens caused cancer, it also didn’t prove that they didn’t. The study was enough for me to make sure they are kept out of my products.
And as if reading reports on parabens wasn’t enough, I soon started reading about phthalates. Pronounced “thay-lates”, these chemicals are mainly used as plasticizers in order to increase flexibility in plastc. Think about all those rubber duckies, plastic teething rings, and shower curtain liners. Chances are, they are full of them. So whats so bad about that? Well, phthalates are also known endocrine disruptors. They mimic the body’s hormones and have, in laboratory animal tests, been shown to cause reproductive and neurological damage. In one report, I read that the application of phthalates actually changed the sex of the frogs they were being tested on! According to the Environmental Working Group, phthalates have been linked to all sorts of problems in men including sperm damage, infertility, and reduced testosterone levels. The unfortunate thing about them, is that unlike parabens, they are hard to find in products because they are not listed on the label. Due to patent laws, many companies can simply add the word “fragrance” to the list. It is under this, where many of these phthalates hide. They also hide them in acronyms such as DBP, DEHP, BzBp, and DMP.
Accoring to a PBS, Phthalates have been banned in the European Union since 2005. Nine other countries, including Japan, Mexico and Argentina, have also outlawed the chemicals. China, which makes 85 percent of the world’s toys, has developed two manufacturing lines, one for the European market and the other like-minded nations that ban phthalates, and another one for the United States and dozens mostly developing and third world countries that don’t restrict them. It took the US until the end of last year to pass a bill that would ban these and several other toxic chemicals from our children’s toys. The next step should be to get them out of ALL of our products.
So what can you do? Well, you can start by checking out the toxicity of your products by going to the Environmental Working Group’s safe cosmetic database. One their site they also have a research section where you can look at a list of some of the toxic ingredients going into your products. Simply by refusing to purchase products with these things in them with say a lot to these companies. Remember purchasing power just that… power. With this knowledge, you can begin to make safer choices for yourself and your family.