Post contributed by Hallie Nelson, Office of Sustainability Intern
Actually, no one does. No government agency cares for or regulates personal care products sold in the United States. When you get ready tomorrow morning, flip over the bottle of shampoo you use everyday and look at the ingredients listed on the back. Chances are, the ingredients list looks like gibberish. Inside that bottle are things called parabens, phthalates, triclosan, sodium lauryl sulfate. You would have to be a chemist to know what all those random letters mean. Many of the chemicals in your innocent looking bottle of shampoo are the same ones that are found in petroleum products or on carcinogen warning lists. Some of these chemicals are banned in other places, such as Canada or the European Union. Without federal oversight in the United States, however, a product can go straight from development to production in a factory to the shelf at a store to your home without a testing or approval process of any kind. In order to change the system and protect the health of American consumers, it is important to be aware of what ingredients go into the products you use.
There are a few ways to become an informed consumer and protect your health by choosing truly good-for-you care products.
1. Download a personal care app on your phone.
There are plenty of apps to help you find safe products to use on a daily basis. These apps allow you to search the name or scan the barcode of your personal care products, including shampoos, deodorants, makeup, and other products. The apps provide health and safety ratings based on the chemicals listed on the ingredients label. All of the chemicals are listed clearly and the uses, risks, and warnings of each chemical are clearly laid out, so that you can quickly become an informed consumer. You can even find suggestions for safer products of the same type on the app.
Here are some of my personal favorites:
2. Only read the ingredients label.
Don’t pay any attention to the catchy slogans and bright words printed on the bottle. Yes, Herbal Essences sounds “natural,” but the words “natural” and “eco-friendly” have no legal definition, so they can be put on any bottle. The most truthful part of the product is the ingredients label. When you’re trying to decipher all of the gibberish in the ingredients list, pay close attention to these chemicals, as they are some of the most harmful and most frequently used.
· Benzophenone, PABA, avobenzone – chemicals typically found in sunscreens that cause cellular damage and cancer
· Formaldehyde – known human carcinogen
· Fragrance – stands for secret formula of up to 3000 chemicals used in product
· Parabens – associated with risk of breast cancer
· Phthalates – endocrine disruptors linked to breast cancer and early breast development in girls
· Propylene glycol – skin irritant with enhanced absorption into skin
· Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) / Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) – can combine with other chemicals to form carcinogens
· Synthetic colors (FD&C followed by a color name) – a human carcinogen derived from petroleum that is linked to ADHD
· Toluene – derived from petroleum, respiratory affects and damage to fetuses
· Triclosan – endocrine disruptor
In order to understand the system that has allowed for carcinogens in cosmetics, watch this 8-minute video by the Story of Stuff. After watching for a few minutes, you will gain insight into the problems and loopholes that occur at many levels in the production and consumption of these products.
4. Take action!
This problem is not going to go away without the action of concerned American citizens that want rules for safer creation and consumption of care products. There are many groups that are fighting for this cause and you can contribute your support to change the system.
Here are a few places to start getting involved:
There is federal legislation that has been proposed to better regulate the chemicals used in personal care products in the US. The bill is called the “Personal Care Products Safety Act.” Research this legislation and let your representatives know if this is something that you want to see passed through Congress.
I hope you take the time to become an informed consumer through these apps and other resources. When you care about your personal care purchases, you are not only caring for your body and health, but also caring for the health of all Americans. Buying power is an important tool for consumers to be aware of and we can change the market by purchasing sustainable, humane, and healthy personal care products.