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Cosmetics Safety Series - Part 3: Why it's Time for Personal Care Products to Go on Sale

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I was about seven years old, and frustrated from trying to curl my straight, limp hair when my mom taught me a saying she had learned from her mom when she was a young girl: "What price beauty."

This classic line refers, of course, to the lengths  to which we go for "beauty." As a second-grader, having sore arms after 35 minutes of setting curlers was a steep bounty for the temporary effect. Today it's clear that there are bigger stakes - our health and that of our children and our environment - and these stakes are just too high.

We need safer personal care products.  Here's why:

They contain toxic chemicals that affect our health.

  • Phthalates are most commonly used for softening plastics. When it comes to their use in personal care products, they are a regular ingredient in fragrance and moisturizing beads. A 2008 report by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics brought the good news that companies are using less phthalates. However, until they're officially banned - they'll remain an ingredient of top concern due to their association with hormone disruption.
  • Parabens are preservatives found in products with higher water content (think shampoo, conditioner, and lotion). They have also been found in breast cancer tumors, as they are another notorious hormone disruptor. Play it safe, and skip products using ingredients ending in - "paraben."
  • Heavy metals - We took lead out of house paint over 30 years ago, so why is it still in lipstick? The FDA found lead in 100% of lipstick samples they tested. Arsenic, mercury and zinc are other heavy metals known to be in body care products. While some of these, such as zinc, are necessary in small amounts for the body, higher doses can lead to a variety of health effects. Lead and mercury are both known neurotoxins.Lets not forget that we have found all of these chemicals in people through biomonitoring studies, so not only are they in our products but they are in our bodies too.

As you can see, these chemicals come with health risks.

  • Immediate reactions - Allergies, contact dermatitis, asthma, migraines... they are all common reactions to ingredients in personal care products. Remember when a bank was evacuated in Ft. Worth, TX last summer because of someone's perfume?
  • Long-term consequences - What can be more frightening is what we don't see happen immediately after using these products. Cancer, endocrine disruption, and nervous system damage are some of the reported health effects of exposure to the ingredients in cosmetics products. This recent New York Time's article on skin lighteners is a good example.
  • Unstudied risks of unstudied ingredients - Recall our conversation a few weeks ago about the ingredient data gap? Until we know the effects of these ingredients AND the effects of combining these ingredients, day in and day out, we're still playing a game of chemical roulette with our personal care products

I can wait a few months for that sweater I've been eying to go on sale. But I've run out of patience waiting for the price of beauty to drop.

This is part of our "Not in My Cosmetics" series. The first two posts are here and here.
[Thanks to Flickr CC and Orin Zebest for the photo "Staring At It."]


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