The Story of Cosmetics examines the pervasive use of toxic chemicals in our everyday personal care products, from lipstick to baby shampoo. This 7 minute film reveals the implications for consumer and worker health and the environment, and outlines ways we can move the industry away from hazardous chemicals and towards safer alternatives.
I consider myself a health advocate, and since we can’t always count on the FDA, I’m here to do my own research to share with you. About a year and a half ago, I started looking at what I was putting on my body in a whole new light. Of course I knew that what I put in my body was important, but I had no idea that what I put on my body was even more important. Your skin is your largest organ and is highly permeable. What you put on your body does end up in your blood stream, and will therefore be distributed throughout your body. I love the saying, “don’t put anything on your body that you wouldn’t eat if you had to…” Dr Mercola, explains it best:
“Putting chemicals on your skin or scalp may actually be worse than eating them. When you eat something, the enzymes in your saliva and stomach help to break it down and flush it out of your body. However, when you put these chemicals on your skin, they are absorbed straight into your bloodstream without filtering of any kind, going directly to your delicate organs. Once these chemicals find their way into your body, they tend to accumulate over time because you typically lack the necessary enzymes to break them down. When you add up daily exposure over the course of a lifetime, this adds up to an untold amount of chemical exposures.”
While there is a long list of dangerous toxins that appear in personal care products, here are some of the most dangerous ones that you want to avoid:
- Parabens: Found in deodorants, moisturizers & shampoos. Parabens mimic the action of the female hormone estrogen, which can drive the growth of human breast tumors.
- Phthalates: Found in, among other things, toys, food packaging, hoses, raincoats, shower curtains, vinyl flooring, wall coverings, lubricants, adhesives, detergents, nail polish, hair spray and shampoo. Phthalates have been linked to birth defects in the reproductive system of boys and lower sperm-motility in adult men, among other problems.
- Sodium lauryl sulfate: Found in nearly all shampoos, scalp treatments, hair color and bleaching agents, toothpastes, body washes and cleansers, make-up foundations, liquid hand soaps, laundry detergents and bath oils/bath salts. SLS is carcinogenic.
- Mineral Oil, Paraffin, and Petroleum: They coat your skin like plastic, clogging pores and creating a build-up of toxins. They also slow cellular development, which can cause you to show earlier signs of aging, and are a suspected cause of cancer and disruption to hormonal activity.
- Artificial Fragrances: The use of fragrances is unregulated, and there’s no need for manufacturers to specify what type of fragrance they’re using. It could be in the form of harmful cheap synthetic chemicals (which is the rule rather than the exception these days), and all they’re required to do is put “fragrance” on the bottle as an ingredient. Artificial fragrances can cause asthma and trigger asthma attacks.
- Toluene: Made from petroleum or coal tar, and found in most synthetic fragrances. Chronic exposure linked to anemia, lowered blood cell count, liver or kidney damage, and may affect a developing fetus.
- Methylisothiazolinone (MIT): A chemical used in shampoo to prevent bacteria from developing, which may have detrimental effects on your nervous system.
While I completely understand that this can be rather overwhelming if you look at all your products and they contain almost all of these ingredients. If you need to, take baby steps to cut back/avoid these toxic ingredients. When you buy new products, make sure you get ones without these ingredients. Come back tomorrow for tips on how to choose safer products and how to make your own.
Kristen M. Pardue, RD, LDN, CLC
Environmental Working Group