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Don’t Poison Your Face

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Don’t Poison Your Face

We are aware of the presence of harmful chemicals in the water that we drink and the food that we eat. They are also in our personal hygiene and household products, furniture, cars, the air we breathe, and basically everywhere around us. While it is impossible to completely avoid exposure to harmful chemicals and contaminants, we can at least try to minimize exposure. The personal hygiene and cosmetics industries are areas of consumer products that are especially concerning due to the lack of governmental regulation and oversight.

Are the Ingredients in Personal Care Products Safe?

On the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website it states that “since 2009, 595 cosmetics manufacturers have reported using 88 chemicals in more than 73,000 products that have been linked to cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm1.”

The individual amount of a unique chemical compound, present in a single product, and used by one person, may pose little to no risk. However, most products are made with a combination of different potentially harmful chemicals and most people use several products daily, causing a compounding and cumulative effect on that person’s health that it’s hard to measure and impossible to pinpoint to a single chemical.

This effect is exponentiated and aggravated by the potential environmental contamination that the washout of these products causes, exemplified by the damaging of coral reefs from sunscreens. In short, long-term exposure and compounded and cumulative effects are rarely considered when evaluating the safety of a unique chemical compound, which makes safety regulations often inefficacious, and their widespread use even more concerning.

Average Daily Use of Personal Care Products

A 2023 survey commissioned by the EWG revealed that the average US adult uses 12 personal care products a day and that these products “could be made with 112 unique chemical ingredients, including some that may pose health risks2.”

The categories of products included in this survey included2:

  • Body care: shower gel, soap, body moisturizer, deodorant, etc.
  • Hair care: shampoo, hair softener, hair gel, hairspray, beard care, etc.
  • Skin care: sunscreen, face cream, eye cream, etc.
  • Cosmetics: concealer, mascara, eyeliner, lipstick, etc.
  • Baby care: baby powder, scented wipes, baby oil, etc.


Here is a summary of the results2:

  • Overall, the use of these products has increased.
  • Men’s product use almost doubled, from six products used daily in 2004 to 11 in 2023. This puts men’s use of products close to women’s, which went from 12 to 13 products daily.
  • Women’s average daily product use by category: six for body care, three for skin care, two for cosmetics, one for hair care, and one for baby care.
  • Men’s average daily product use by category: six products daily for body care, one for skin care, one cosmetic, two for hair care, and one product for baby care.

One of the scariest findings was that about 10% of adults use more than 25 products every day2!

On the good side, the EWG also found that, in general, these products contain fewer unique chemicals compared to products in 2004, which makes overall chemical exposure lower. However, due to the lack of regulation on the safety of personal care products, the average US consumer is still exposed to chemicals that can be linked to cancer, and create harm to the endocrine and reproductive system, among other health concerns2.

But who regulates whether a chemical used in your personal care product is safe or not? Or how to guarantee proper labeling of a skincare or cosmetic product you are using? Good question.

Here is the answer:

US law does not require cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, to have FDA approval before they go on the market3!

FDA Regulation – Prohibited & Restricted Ingredients in Cosmetics

If you consult the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website, it says that4:

“It’s against the law for a cosmetic to contain any ingredient that makes the product harmful when consumers use it according to directions on the label… this is true whether or not there is a regulation that specifically prohibits or restricts the use of the ingredient in cosmetics.” This means that it is up to the manufacturer to determine which chemical to use in their formulations, what amount, and how to use, since the FDA specifies that “cosmetics must have any directions for use or warning statements needed to make sure people use the products safely4.”

To reiterate, the FDA states that “under U.S. law, cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, do not need FDA approval before they go on the market. Cosmetic manufacturers have a legal responsibility for the safety and labeling of their products4.”

Yes, you read that right, it is up to the manufacturer to determine the safety and proper labeling of the product they are trying to sell to you. Indeed, there are only 12 chemical ingredients prohibited or with restricted use by FDA regulations.

The FDA regulations specifically prohibit or restrict the use of the following ingredients4:

  • Bithionol – may cause photocontact sensitization.
  • Chlorofluorocarbon propellants – use in cosmetic aerosol products intended for domestic consumption is prohibited.
  • Chloroform – use prohibited because it causes cancer in animals and is likely to be harmful to human health.
  • Halogenated salicylanilides – may cause serious skin disorders.
  • Hexachlorophene – toxic effect and ability to penetrate human skin. Restricted use.
  • Mercury compounds – readily absorbed through the skin on topical application and tend to accumulate in the body. They may cause allergic reactions, skin irritation, or neurotoxic problems. Restricted use.
  • Methylene chloride – causes cancer in animals and is likely to be harmful to human health.
  • Prohibited cattle materials – to protect against bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as “mad cow disease,” cosmetics may not be manufactured from, processed with, or otherwise contain, prohibited cattle materials.
  • Sunscreens in cosmetics – the term “sunscreen” or similar sun protection wording in a product’s labeling generally causes the product to be subject to regulation as a drug or a drug/cosmetic, depending on the claims.
  • Vinyl chloride – prohibited as an ingredient of aerosol products, because it causes cancer and other health problems.
  • Zirconium-containing complexes – prohibited in aerosol cosmetic products because of their toxic effect on the lungs of animals, as well as the formation of granulomas in human skin.

However, certain US States, such as California, are trying to get ahead of the FDA and follow some of the more restrictive steps that have already been taken in the European Union.

California Toxic-Free Cosmetic Act

The intent of the California Toxic-Free Cosmetic Act (AB 2762 – Muratsuchi) is “to enact a prohibition on the presence of intentionally added ingredients in cosmetics that is consistent with the prohibition… enacted by the European Union5.”

This bill, which was signed in September 2020, aims to ban 24 of the most toxic chemicals from beauty and personal care products sold in California and the law will go into effect on January 1, 2025.

Among the toxic chemicals that will be banned are5:

One way to avoid these heinous chemicals is to make your own personal care products for a fraction of the price. The good news is that you probably won’t even need to buy many ingredients, since most of them can be found in your kitchen pantry! What goes on your skin goes IN your skin to your bloodstream. The rule is: if you can’t eat it, don’t use it!

In upcoming posts, we will inform you which natural ingredients (aka foods!) to use instead of store-bought, chemically-laden products. Stay tuned!

References

  1. Faber S. Environmental Working Group. The Toxic Twelve Chemicals and Contaminants in Cosmetics. Updated May 5, 2020. https://www.ewg.org/the-toxic-twelve-chemicals-and-contaminants-in-cosmetics, accessed March 13, 2024.
  2. Swei H, Swanson S, Persellin K, Lacey A. Environmental Working Group. Survey finds use of personal care products up since 2004 – what that means for your health. July 26, 2023. https://www.ewg.org/research/survey-finds-use-personal-care-products-2004-what-means-your-health, accessed March 14, 2024.
  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA Authority Over Cosmetics: How Cosmetics Are Not FDA-Approved, but Are FDA-Regulated. Mar 02, 2022. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetics-laws-regulations/fda-authority-over-cosmetics-how-cosmetics-are-not-fda-approved-are-fda-regulated#Who_is_responsible, accessed Mar 18, 2024.
  4. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Prohibited & Restricted Ingredients in Cosmetics. Feb 25, 2022. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetics-laws-regulations/prohibited-restricted-ingredients-cosmetics, accessed Mar 18, 2024.
  5. California Legislative Information. AB-2762 Cosmetic products: safety. Oct 02, 2020. https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200AB2762, accessed Mar 18, 2024.
  6. Environmental Working Group. The ‘Toxic Twenty’ Cosmetic Ingredients and Contaminants. Mar 12, 2019. https://www.ewg.org/sites/default/files/u352/Toxic%2020%20List.pdf?_ga=2.36293026.364182527.1554126027-937396664.1520601435&_gac=1.259664632.1553597903.CjwKCAjwm-fkBRBBEiwA966fZF139RiUrtNyeYyElYAnOqpk3GtURCnrAjqAsTCXwDcJ1oSIgOtY1BoCOKcQAvD_BwE, accessed Mar 18, 2024.

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