Soap. Shampoo. Lotion. Fragrances. They are all designed to make us look attractive and healthy.
But the large majority of the ingredients that are found in daily personal care products have not been tested for safety. Laws regulating the cosmetics industry go back to 1938, and they have not been updated much since then, reports The Huffington Post.
We’re Coating Ourselves With Poison
Skin — humans’ largest organ — is a pretty good absorber. It absorbs about 60% of the cosmetic products that go on it.
Lotion is the most problematic cosmetic product, says Gregg Renfrew, founder of Beautycounter, a toxin-free cosmetics line. “People are so concerned with avoiding pesticides in their food by eating organic, yet they slather chemical-ridden lotions all over their bodies.”
According to Christina Anderson at The Huffington Post, “The average American woman puts between 12 and 20 chemicals on [her] skin 365 days a year.” Gregg Renfrew got her inspiration to create cosmetics that are free of toxins when she watched 10 Americans, a film by the watchdog organization Environmental Working Group about fetuses being exposed to hundreds of chemicals and pollutants in the womb, reports the Los Angeles Times.
“Think about it,” Renfrew says. “You use a toxic cleaning product in your bathtub, which seeps into the skin of your baby, and then into the pipes and finally, into the earth.”
10,000 Untested Ingredients
Cosmetic products’ labels may say their contents are “natural” or “safe” but, given the lack of oversight, these words may have no meaning. “There are close to 12,000 ingredients used in all personal care products, from toothpaste to shampoo, lipstick to lotion, 80% of which have never been tested for safety on human health,” Renfrew says.
Europe takes a much more active role in regulating ingredients. The European Union has banned 1,300 chemicals that are used as ingredients in beauty products. In contrast, the United States has banned 11.
A “Never” List of Banned Ingredients
Realizing that there was a shortage of chic cosmetic products that also prioritized human health, Renfrew took action. She created Beautycounter, a company that strives to provide safe personal care products and a community that educates consumers. From its proceeds, the company donates to nonprofits that focus on eliminating unhealthful ingredients and harmful chemicals from the environment.
The products are free from carcinogens, endocrine blockers, or other chemicals that may be harmful to reproductive health. They also do not contain the chemicals that were banned in Europe or in the United States.
“We want people to feel we’ve done the homework for them,” Renfrew says. “Unless you have a Ph.D. in chemistry, you can barely begin to read the back of a beauty label.”
Staff at the company have created a “never” list of ingredients, those that will never be included in the cosmetics line: animal fats (which are often found in soaps, shaving products, and lubricants); benzophenone, a possible human carcinogen occasionally found in sunscreen and nail polish; and formaldehyde, a chemical that is known to cause cancer in humans and is sometimes found in shampoo and body wash.
Transparency Is a Guiding Principle
If the company knows what’s in a product, it wants the customer to know as well. The transparency policy is such that if an ingredient in an existing product is discovered to be potentially harmful, the company will reformulate the product so that it is safe.
“I just wanted a product that I could feel is safe for my health and allowed me to be the woman I am today,” Renfrew says. “I didn’t like having to choose between health or style or performance. I don’t think that’s right.”
Beautycounter’s efforts could get a response from the market. “I think you’re going to see more brands using ingredients that are safe for human health,” says Ken Cook, president and founder of Environmental Working Group. “And eventually, the big companies are going to have to respond and do something about safety and health, because companies like Beautycounter are leading the way, and pretty soon consumers aren’t going to settle for less.”
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Dale McGeehon is a professional journalist for Polymer Solutions Incorporated, an independent materials testing laboratory in Blacksburg, VA. Dale has been a journalist and editor for three decades, covering chemical regulation and testing for Pesticides, Toxic Chemical News, and many other industry publications.