As you walk down a store’s beauty aisle, it’s easy to choose the most popular brands and products that line the shelves. After all, they are on sale and the labels claim to be organic or all natural. Despite these perks, what consumers fail to realize is that these labels can deceive consumers into believing their items are safe and toxin-free.
The truth is the beauty market across the United States has lacked regulation compared to other areas around the world. While Europe has an official ban on well over 1,000 toxic ingredients, our nation has only banned 30 chemicals. This unsettling reality should be enough to inspire consumers to take a long hard look into the products they are applying to their hair, skin, and bodies on a daily basis.
Lack of Regulation
Although the FDA is responsible for protecting consumer health, there’s very little regulation surrounding cosmetics. Products on the market are not required to be pre-approved by the FDA, but rather monitored by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) to ensure all ingredients are safe. Only when approved products have failed to keep consumers safe can the FDA intervene.
In addition to lack of regulation, organizations are not required to report allergic reactions or medical issues experienced by consumers to the FDA. WEN by Chaz Dean Cleansing Conditioners, for example, was not investigated until after 127 consumers had filed reports to the FDA. It was soon discovered that the company had already received as many as 21,000 complaints, including scalp irritation and hair loss.
The importance of consumers using their voice is more relevant now than ever and is the most powerful tool we have in advocating for a healthier future. The first step towards this movement is to understand what ingredients to avoid and why.
Whether it’s lotion, body wash, or perfume, you may want to think twice before deciding to bring a product with fragrance, home. While the idea of fresh scented items is enticing for consumers, the term “fragrance” can disguise a number of undisclosed toxins.
The Environmental Working Group reports that approximately 14 chemicals could be hiding under this name, with 80 percent failing to be tested for human health and safety. Companies are protected under the Fair Package and Labeling Act of 1966, which claims they can’t reveal their ingredients for fear that they would be replicated. However, consumers remain wary of the lack of transparency with regard to their health. Once these products are sprayed, people have been known to experience skin irritation, allergic reactions, asthma, migraines, and many other side effects. It’s worth noting to always skim the label, as “unscented” products may still contain this ingredient.
Despite the European Union’s decision to completely ban phthalates in cosmetics, the U.S. continues to incorporate these chemicals throughout the industry. Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors that can harm the reproductive system and lead to developmental problems. Unfortunately, this ingredient can be found in almost any personal care product including body wash, lotions, hair care products, and nail polish.
Prior to purchasing or using a product, make sure to check its ingredients and avoid DEP, DBP, DEHP, and fragrance, as these are all associated with potential health risks. DEP is typically found in scented products and helps any given aroma last longer. This chemical is commonly hidden beneath the term “fragrance,” a primary example of how the industry can use the Fair Package and Labeling Act as a loophole to sneak toxic chemicals into the mix.
Talcum powder can be found in pressed powdered products including eyeshadow, foundation, face and baby powder. This ingredient has a notorious history of being found near asbestos mines, which has led to much controversy surrounding its use. As a result, talc has been found carry small traces of asbestos, a carcinogen known to cause the fatal cancer mesothelioma and other life-threatening diseases. This issue has recently been brought to light in the news after Johnson & Johnson was accused of selling contaminated baby powder that potentially caused thousands of women to develop ovarian cancer.
Although talc is associated with asbestos exposure, asbestos-free talc is still being investigated for consumer safety, as well. While the results are inconclusive, cornstarch is now recommended as a safe alternative for those with concerns.
Parabens are the most common synthetic preservative found in shaving cream, moisturizers, deodorant, shampoos and conditioners. After years of use in products, they were discovered to mimic estrogen in the body, which could qualify them as endocrine disruptors and potentially lead to reproductive issues and even breast cancer. While the CIR has found no issue regarding public health, research has linked breast cancer to excess levels of estrogen and studies have found parabens to remain intact and accumulate in human breast tissue, including tumors.
Despite these findings, parabens have been discovered in a variety of other tissues and have yet to be proven carcinogenic. Scientists are hard at work to understand the true risk behind their use, however, consumers are generally airing on the side of caution as more and more products are being made with paraben-free formulas.
The ingredients listed above are just a few of many toxins under investigation within the beauty industry. While many of these products have not been proven to harm human health, it’s important to remember there is little proof that they are safe. With the small amount of research on the matter, we must acknowledge that we aren’t aware of the long-term effects and should remain conscientious of the products we choose to use on a daily basis.
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