We all have our morning routine. On a good day, one of those rare occasions when I wake up before my alarm clock, I probably spend about 45 minutes “putting myself together” from start to finish. During those 45 precious minutes I use the following products: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash, shave gel, body lotion, deodorant, face lotion, blush, mascara and a dab of lip gloss – a grand total of 11 products!
I like to think of myself as low-maintenance, and I was shocked at how many different products I use, though I’m no different from most women. The average woman uses 12 products a day, while the average man only uses 6 products daily. Women are clearly the primary buyers and marketing audience for personal care products and cosmetics. Consumer expenditures on personal care products amount to 50 billion dollars each year, indicating that women are spending a significant amount of their incomes on these products.
As a woman who uses eleven products a day, I decided to look a little deeper into what those products are made of and how the ingredients might be affecting my health. I found that the products I am buying and applying to my body actually contain toxic and untested chemicals. Even worse, some of the most common chemicals in my products are linked to adverse reproductive health effects.
Did you ever wonder what the ambiguous term “fragrance” on the label of shampoo, perfume, or even deodorant actually means? Fragrance is code for phthalates. Phthalates are endocrine disrupting chemicals. An endocrine disruptor can either mimic or block the hormones in our bodies or disrupt the body’s normal functions. It can cause our bodies to produce more or less hormones and affect the various functions that these hormones control. An endocrine disruptor can harm the reproductive health tracts in both men and women because of its effect on the ovaries and testes. Phthalates are associated with reproductive abnormalities, lowered semen quality and miscarriage.
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Are you amazed by the fact that personal care products can literally last forever? Unfortunately, that’s because most of our personal care products are made with parabens, a harmful chemical preservative found in makeup, shave gel and moisturizers. Parabens have endocrine disrupting properties similar to phthalates. This means they can hurt our reproductive health in the same ways.
The Story of Cosmetics Teaser (watch the full video) Major loopholes in U.S. federal law allow the $50 billion beauty industry to put unlimited amounts of chemicals into personal care products with no required testing, no monitoring of health effects and inadequate labeling requirements—making cosmetics among the least-regulated consumer products on the market. Read more about The Story of Cosmetics here.
With all of this information, I felt disparaged, scared and a little overwhelmed. What can I do to protect my health from these toxic chemicals if they are in so many of the products I use every day? Through my research, I came across the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website. This website provides a comprehensive database of personal care products and cosmetics and rates them based on the dangerous chemicals they contain. Deciding to give it a test run, I looked up my favorite Cover Girl mascara and soon learned it was rated 9 out of 10 as one of the most health hazardous mascara products to use!
I should not have to search through an exhaustive database to find a safe product, especially when many of these safer products are not sold at my local grocery or drug store and are ridiculously expensive. It is ludicrous that manufacturers of personal care products and cosmetics do not test the safety of the chemicals they use, but even more disappointing that they are reluctant to innovate and find safer, healthier alternatives to put into my favorite Cover Girl mascara.
Why should the burden of safety be placed on me, the consumer? But more importantly, why and how are the products we use every day allowed to contain these toxic and untested chemicals? Cosmetics and personal care products fall under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, current legislation does not actually give the FDA any regulatory authority. For example, since the FDA cannot require any type of pre-market safety assessment, nearly 89 percent of all ingredients used in cosmetics have not been evaluated for safety by any government institution. Instead, the ingredients used in cosmetics are reviewed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, an industry-led, voluntary organization that has only actually tested the safety of 11 percent of the ingredients used in cosmetics and personal care products. With an inadequate regulatory system for cosmetics, we will continue to have products containing toxic and dangerous chemicals on the shelves.
Good news! The industry that soaks up 50 billion dollars a year from consumers might actually have to test their products, thanks to the introduction the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 that will reform the way the FDA regulates personal care products and cosmetics. The introduction of the this legislation means we may have a chance, to keep using the products we want and like, and also rest assured that they are being made with chemicals that will not harm our reproductive health. For more information on the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 and how you can take action, check out the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website.
So, what did I do about the 11 questionable products I put on my body every day? I’ve looked many of them up on the Skin Deep database—and I’ve replaced my shampoo, conditioner and body lotion with non-toxic alternatives. However, there are some things I’m just not willing to give up, and I shouldn’t have to. That’s why I’m advocating for FDA reform, because looking good and feeling good shouldn’t cost me my health.