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|Is Your Bodycare
by the Environmental Working Group
Have you ever counted how many cosmetics or personal care products you use in a day? Chances are it's over ten, and they could be harmful to your health.
Major gaps in public health laws allow cosmetics companies to use almost any ingredient they choose in everything from sunscreen and mascara to deodorant and baby shampoo, with no restrictions and no requirement for safety testing. And chances are good that this also includes your toothpaste, soap, hair conditioner, lip balm, body lotion, and shaving products. And what about your children? On any given day you might rub, spray, or pour some combination of sunscreen, diaper cream, shampoo, lotion, and maybe even insect repellant on their skin.
Most people use these products without a second thought, and believe that the government must certainly be policing the safety of the mixtures in these myriad containers. But they are wrong about this. The government does not require health studies or pre-market testing for these products before they are sold. Since people apply an average of 126 unique ingredients on their skin daily, these chemicals--whether they seep through the skin, rinse down the drain, or flush down the toilet in human excretions--are causing concerns for human health, and for the impacts they may have to wildlife, rivers and streams.
When estrogenic industrial chemicals called parabens were found in human breast tumor tissue earlier this year, researchers questioned if deodorant was the source. And when studies show, again and again, that hormone systems in wildlife are thrown in disarray by common water pollutants, once again the list of culprits include personal care products, rinsing down drains and into rivers.
Some products are truthful in their marketing claims and free of potentially worrisome ingredients. Other products might make claims like "gentle" or "natural," but since the government does not require safety testing, personal care product manufacturers can use almost any chemical they want, regardless of risks.
How to Read a Label
Every personal care product must list its ingredients. Here's how to navigate the label:
Start at the end, with preservatives.
Avoid the following:
* Words ending in "paraben"
* DMDM hydantoin
* Imidazolidinyl urea
* Triethanolamine (or TEA)
Next, check the beginning of the ingredients list, where soaps, surfactants, and lubricants show up.
Try to avoid ingredients that start with "PEG" or have an "-eth" in the middle (e.g., sodium laureth sulfate).
Finally, read the ingredients in the middle. Look for these words: "Fragrance," "FD&C," or "D&C" and avoid products with these synthetic chemicals.
It is a common myth that the cosmetics industry effectively polices itself, making sure all ingredients meet a strict standard of safety. Fact: In its more than 30-year history, the industry's safety panel (the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, or CIR) has assessed fewer than 20% of cosmetics ingredients and found only 11 ingredients or chemical groups to be unsafe (FDA 2007, CIR 2009, Houlihan 2008). And its recommendations are not binding on companies. In fact, cosmetics companies may use any ingredient or raw material, except for color additives and a few prohibited substances, without government review or approval. More than 500 products sold in the U.S. contain ingredients banned in cosmetics in Japan, Canada, or the European Union.
Many parents pay more attention to their kids' environmental health than their own, but adult bodies can be affected by toxic chemicals, too. EWG's Safer Shopping List has common-sense tips to reduce everyone's exposure. For instance, buy fragrance-free and use fewer products.
Products to Avoid
* Anti-aging creams - these often contain lactic, glycolic, AHA, and BHA acids.
* Hair dyes that contain ammonia, peroxide, p-phenylenediamine, diaminobenzene; and all dark permanent hair dyes.
* Liquid hand soaps with triclosan
* Nail polish and removers with formaldehyde
* Skin lighteners with hydroquinone
Just for Kids
Extra caution is in order for kids because, pound for pound, they are exposed to more contaminants in everyday products than adults. Their immature metabolism and organ systems are typically less capable of fending off chemical assaults. Even subtle damage to young bodies can lead to disease later in life.
Top 5 Tips for Kids:
1) Use fewer products and use them less often.
2) Don't trust ad hype. Check ingredients.
3) Buy organic and/or fragrance-free products.
4) Avoid the use of baby powder.
5) Always avoid these top 6 chemicals of concern for kids:
* 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3 Diol
* Boric acid and sodium borate
* DMDM Hydantoin
Fragrances are the great secrets of the cosmetics industry, in everything from shampoo to deodorant to lotion, and falling straight into a giant loophole in federal law that doesn't require companies to list on product labels any of the potentially hundreds of chemicals in a single product's secret fragrance mixture. It may smell great, but do you know what's in it? Fragrances can contain neurotoxins and are among the top five allergens in the world. Our advice? Buy fragrance free unless the product is certified organic.
Pronounced "tha'-lates," these little plasticizer chemicals pack a punch to male sex organs. Whether it's sperm damage, feminization of baby boys, or infertility, a growing number of studies link phthalates to problems in men and boys. Pregnant women should avoid it in nail polish (listed as "dibutyl phthalate") and everyone should avoid products with "fragrance" on the label, chemical mixtures where phthalates often hide.
If fat scraped from the back of the hide of mink or derived from emu isn't something you'd like to smear on your skin, you may want to avoid mink and emu oil, conditioning agents in sunscreen, shaving cream, hair spray and more.
Given everything we've learned over the past 30 years about mercury's ability to damage brain function at low levels, it's hard to believe it's still used in cosmetics. But it is. It's found in Paula Dorf mascara, as an example, listed as the mercury preservative "thimerosal." If you get a little bit of mascara in your eyes or face when it clumps or as you wash it off, you may also be getting a little dose of mercury. Watch out for mercury in eye drops, too.
Surprised to learn that the same factories making gas for your car also make emollients for your face cream? Meet the workhorse chemicals of the cosmetics industry--petroleum byproducts, and the cancer-causing impurities that often contaminate them. These ingredients include carcinogens in baby shampoo (such as 1,4-dioxane) and petrochemical waste called coal tar in scalp treatment shampoos.
Reprinted with permission from The Environmental Working Group
To help you navigate your store's aisles, Environmental Working Group researchers have scoured thousands of ingredient labels to bring you our top recommendations for what not to buy--products with worrisome or downright dangerous ingredients that don't belong in your shopping cart or on your skin. Learn more at www.ewg.org
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