It’s Not Just Skin Deep

“I had no idea.”

Those are the words I said.  They are the words I’ve heard countless others say in the last year.  We just didn’t know.  We made an assumption that if a product is on the shelves of a store, then it must be safe.  But we were wrong.  Very wrong.

In fact, personal care products are one of the least regulated industries in the U.S. What does that mean, exactly?  Let’s put it into perspective.  Think about every product you use from the moment you wake up until you start your day.  Toothpaste, mouth wash, face wash . . . . The average woman uses 12 products.  In those 12 products there are 168 unique ingredients or chemicals introduced onto your skin and into your breathing air.  So?  Please read on.

The last major law passed in the U.S. regulating the personal care and cosmetic industry was passed in 1938.  That’s 76 years ago.  Pause for a moment and think about all that has transpired in our world since then.  It’s a long time.  Since 1938, over 80,000 chemicals have been introduced into our world.  Of those 80,000, roughly 12,500 of them are in cosmetics.

Here’s a smaller number:  11.  That’s how many of those 12,500 chemicals are banned in the United States.  ELEVEN.  The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act (FFDCA) includes 112 pages of standards for food and drugs, but just a single page for cosmetics. Because of the ancient law and loopholes in it, the FFDCA provides virtually no power to the FDA to perform even the most rudimentary functions to ensure the safety of an estimated $71 billion cosmetic industry.  More on this later.  First, let’s see why these numbers matter.

We are all exposed to toxic chemicals everyday through our use of cosmetics and personal care products as well as through the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink and the household products we use. As a result, we all carry toxic industrial chemicals inside our bodies. Some of these toxins remain in the body only a short time as our detoxification process eliminates them; however, many others remain in our bodies for weeks, months, and even years.

But, the effects of these toxins are not always obvious or immediate.  Of course, sometimes a product we use may give us a rash or irritation, but so many others don’t create a response that we can detect so easily.  Most commonly, these chemicals are endocrine disruptors.  In plain English, this means that these chemicals are messing with our hormones.

When we think about hormones, most often we think of testosterone and estrogen, but there’s much more to our endocrine system than the sex hormones that rule reproduction.

  • Every moment there are dozens of hormones acting in the body accomplishing numerous physiologic functions.
  • Physiologically speaking, hormones control how we feel, whether it is tired, hungry, horny, hot, or cold.
  • Hormones control chemical reactions, assist in transporting substances through membranes, and help regulate water balance, electrolyte balance, and blood pressure.
  • They manage development, growth, reproduction, and behavior.
  • They govern virtually all of our major organ functions and systems including our urinary, respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous, muscular, skeletal, immune, and digestive systems.

Put simply, hormones are the body’s little messengers being produced in the thyroid, adrenal or pituitary gland, and then passed into the bloodstream or other body fluid where they act to modify structures and functions in the organs and tissues.  Hormones are responsible for making everything in our body to run smoothly and efficiently.

So, when a chemical is an endocrine disruptor, it can throw off a lot of what’s going on in our bodies.  And it doesn’t take much.  Small doses of chemicals have big impacts.  For example, it takes only 0.035 parts per billion of specific doses of hormones in NuvaRing to prevent contraception.  That’s a miniscule amount.  But that’s hard to imagine.  This may help:  one part per billion is equivalent to a teaspoon of red food coloring in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Back to our products and what’s in our makeup bag or on our bathroom counter.  As the agency puts it on its website, the “FDA does not have the legal authority to approve cosmetics before they go on the market.”  As well, it acknowledges, “cosmetic companies may use almost any ingredient they choose.”  Marketing claims on cosmetics and personal care products are unregulated, and companies are not required to back them up, even for children’s products. The FDA says descriptions such as “hypoallergenic” or “natural” can “mean anything or nothing at all.” Products labeled “organic” or “natural” can contain petrochemicals, and those certified as organic can contain as little as 10% organic ingredients by weight or volume.

The FDA has no authority to recall harmful cosmetics. Furthermore, manufacturers are not required to report cosmetics-related injuries to the agency. The FDA relies on companies to report injuries voluntarily. So, you can guess how often that happens.

Because of loopholes in the ancient law, companies are allowed to leave some chemical ingredients off their product labels, including those considered to be trade secrets, components of fragrance and nanomaterials. Fragrance may include any number of the industry’s 3,100 stock chemicals, none of which are required to be listed on labels. According to the Environmental Working Group, tests of fragrance ingredients have found an average of 14 hidden compounds per formulation, including ingredients linked to hormone disruption and sperm damage.

EWG skin deep

If that’s not enough to scare you or piss you off, maybe this will.  You’ve seen the labels that say “Not Tested on Animals” or “Cruelty Free.”  Even if a product never was tested in animals, there’s a very good chance its ingredients were. A company might call its products “cruelty free” because it isn’t doing any animal testing on these ingredients now, although the ingredients may have been tested on animals in the past.

That’s a lot of doom and gloom I just wrote.  And I understand that after reading that, you may throw your hands up in the air and think, “what the heck am I supposed to do then?”  I get it.  I felt that way too, and still do sometimes.  So, here are some ways to feel safer.

There are companies dedicated to having safer products.   We will mention a couple here, but you can also do your own research.  One of the best sites to get your research started is EWG’s Skin Deep.  Here you can type in your product name or an ingredient and see how it is rated (0-9).  There are explanations as to what makes it unsafe.  There is also the app Think Dirty.  You can scan products with their bar code to find out the safety of the ingredients, also with a rating system with explanations.  The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is a great resource for how to take action in getting safer products into our homes.  From their website:  “The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics coalition, a project of the Breast Cancer Fund, works to protect the health of consumers, workers and the environment through public education and engagement, corporate accountability and sustainability campaigns and legislative advocacy designed to eliminate dangerous chemicals linked to adverse health impacts from cosmetics and personal care products.”

A great video that explains much of what I’ve written about and is fun to watch (well, the animation is fun to watch, not the information) is called The Story of Cosmetics.  Another organization called Healthy Child, Healthy World has great information on personal care and cosmetics, but also other areas of concern for our health, including environmental toxins. Women’s Voices for the Earth’s “15 Toxic Trespassers” webpage tells you where you’d find some of the common toxic chemicals hiding in products we use every day, as well as how to avoid them.

Wendy and I align ourselves with a couple of companies we’ve researched and found to have values that match our passion for health and transparency in what’s in our products.  Beautycounter is a personal care and cosmetic company whose mission is to get safe products in the hands of everyone.  This company has a vigorous screening process and has come up with a “Never List” of ingredients they vow to never have in their products.  They’ve banned over 1500 ingredients, which is something no other company has done.  They value education over profit and partner with several organizations all with the mission to clean up the environment and make the world a safer place.  Please explore the website to see all that Beautycounter is doing and to see their beautiful and high performing products, including a kid and baby line of products.  To learn more, contact me at Debbie@nourishcoaches.com

Young Living™ is an essential oil company that “inspires wellness, purpose, and abundance by distilling nature’s greatest gifts into pure essential oils.”  The company has a commitment to plant purity and essential oil potency using their Seed to Seal® process. Young Living practices sustainable cultivation and harvesting and works with extensive laboratory testing and independent audits. Young Living believes that people deserve products that are genuine, free of harmful synthetics, and of unmatched purity.  The oil-infused product line includes home cleaning, personal care oils, and a kids and animal product line as well. You can learn more about the company by contacting Wendy. wendy@nourishcoaches.com

We encourage you to do your own research in finding products that are safer for you and the environment and to spread the word by sharing this blog post and our podcast.


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